Albanian government threatens firepower against rioters
Amid crisis, President Berisha wins second term
March 3, 1997
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EST (1705 GMT)
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Protesters in southern Albania had
until 2 p.m. Monday (1300 GMT) to lay down their weapons or
security forces would be authorized to shoot without warning,
the government said. Protest leaders responded by cautioning
people to stay indoors.
The order was part of a state of emergency declared by the
Albanian parliament following two months of civil unrest. The
riots and demonstrations were sparked by the collapse of
pyramid savings schemes that wiped out many people's savings
in Europe's poorest nation.
As secret police and protesters prepared for what could be
another bloody confrontation, the parliament elected
President Sali Berisha to serve a second five-year term. The
election result, a foregone conclusion, came in the wake of
protesters' calls for Berisha's resignation.
The vote was 113 in favor to one against with four
abstentions, Speaker Pjeter Arbnori announced. Members of
Berisha's party hold 122 seats in the 140-seat parliament and
Berisha was the only candidate in the previously scheduled
The president, who required a two-thirds majority for
election on the first ballot, was in the chamber with his
wife and was sworn in after the vote. Several diplomats also
observed the session. Deputies chanted "Berisha, Berisha"
when the result was announced.
Crackdown on civilians, media
The state of emergency, which went into effect at 1 a.m.,
included tough new media restrictions, wide arrest powers for
police and restrictions on public gatherings and
The emergency laws also include an ultimatum to protesters in
towns throughout southern Albania to lay down arms they have
seized from abandoned army bases. Protesters in several
towns, including Vlora, drove out security forces in a series
of violent confrontations over the weekend, burning police
buildings and even ransacking Berisha's summer home.
Sporadic violence had marked the demonstrations in Albania
that began after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes
in January, but the riots in southern towns that left 12
people dead over the weekend brought the crisis to a head.
Protesters vow to defend themselves
After hearing of the government's shoot-on-sight ultimatum,
protesters suspended plans to march north to the capital
Tirana to demand the resignation of Berisha, whom they blame
for the failure of pyramid investment schemes.
Despite the crackdown, protesters continued to raid weapons
stockpiles from army bases left unguarded by troops
withdrawing to Tirana.
Protest leaders said they wanted to avoid bloodshed but were
preparing to defend themselves if attacked.
Genc Pollo, a member of parliament for the ruling Democratic
Party and Berisha's spokesman, told Austrian state radio
Monday that the government can resolve the crisis.
"The problems can be solved," he said. "Order has to be
restored in this country. There was dissatisfaction, but the
risk that Albania is now facing is much greater."
Protesters target secret police
Rioters have aimed their anger primarily at the non-uniformed
"Shik" secret police, whom locals believe are being
paid large sums of money to break up the protests. The
government was relying on the secret police to quell the
riots since many uniformed police and even army troops, some
of whom are thought to have lost money in pyramid schemes
themselves, have offered little resistance to protesters in
The violence in Vlora started when rumors spread that secret
police teams were getting ready to use force to end
a hunger strike by students at the university.
The students decided to end their hunger strike Monday
following the president's announcement of a state of
Tight media restrictions
In Tirana Monday international news organizations were being
severely restricted in their efforts to gather news.
Uniformed and plain clothes police and security forces
harassed and threatened to arrest reporters and television
crews attempting to cover the events in the capital Monday
morning. Newspapers were required to submit their material to
Berisha's Defense Council before publication.
International news agencies said they were hampered in their
ability to gather information in Tirana and video they
recorded in southern Albania was not being allowed through
army checkpoints on the road to Tirana.
The government also announced a nighttime curfew from
8 p.m.-7 a.m. local time every night throughout the country
and shut down schools and universities until further notice.
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