Albanian cities 'out of control,' foreign minister says
SARANDE, Albania (CNN) -- Government forces maintained
control in Albania's capital Tirana Wednesday evening, but
the country's foreign minister said that in three other
restless southern cities, the situation was "out of control."
Conditions deteriorated throughout the day Wednesday in
Sarande, Vlora and Delvina. In the morning, witnesses
reported that government forces had bombed an area near
Sarande, Albania's southernmost city.
By evening, insurgents there had looted a checkpoint,
carrying off guns and parading them through the city. Armed
protesters staged a boisterous rally in the main square
Wednesday evening, defying a nighttime curfew, chanting
anti-government slogans and holding guns aloft.
East of Vlora, soldiers and insurgents shot at each other
across the Vjosa river. And after fighting in Delvina,
insurgents claimed victory when soldiers retreated.
The anti-government protests in the south were triggered by
the collapse of wildly popular pyramid-type investment
schemes in which many Albanian families lost savings. Those
who lost money blame the government of President Sali Berisha
for failing to warn them about the risks.
Meanwhile, frightened by the violence, a steady stream of
people left the south for the north.
Government seeks to isolate cities
The government was trying to isolate Sarande, Tirana and
Delvina and defuse the unrest before it spreads to the rest
of southern Albania.
Albanian Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu said the goal was to
calm things down without resorting to armed conflict. Four
civilians in Sarande have died in the insurgency.
Fieri, south of Tirana, has become the front line for
Albanian government forces. An army checkpoint was set up
there and armed with at least five T-55 tanks and half a
dozen armored personnel carriers. Other government
checkpoints were also set up.
And the government continued to impose a series of emergency
measures, including a curfew and media censorship.
Authorities are banning journalists from traveling to the
southern part of the country.
The evening curfew was working so well in Tirana Wednesday
that it was extended to give residents an extra two hours
outside. But the calm there was uneasy.
U.S. concerned, but holding off on action
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen expressed concern
Wednesday about the crisis in Albania, and said the United
States was watching the situation closely. But he said he
saw no need for any evacuation of American citizens.
The U.S. State Department estimates there are some 1,600 U.S.
citizens in Albania.
State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said there was a
limit to what the United States could do to help quell the
crisis in Albania, beyond bonding with neighboring countries
such as Italy and Greece to pressure Tirana to resolve the
situation peacefully and democratically.
Burns said an effort was being made to have the United States
and the Europeans, possibly in the Organization on Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), adopt a unified position on
Albania. He did not know if OSCE would take action.
As the division between north and south deepens, the fighting
threatens to turn into a struggle between the ruling
Democratic Party and a coalition centered around former
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