Albanian government tries to isolate armed protesters
President meets with insurgency leaders
March 6, 1997
Web posted at: 9:54 a.m. EST (1454 GMT)
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Albania's military fought with
armed protesters in the south Thursday while
President Sali Berisha
promised that force would not be used to retake towns
where the government has lost control.
In Rome on Thursday, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini
told reporters Berisha had given his assurance that the army
would try to isolate the towns and then try to reach a
settlement for insurgents to lay down their arms.
Meanwhile, Berisha met in Albania's capital Tirana with
political opposition leaders. Attending the Thursday talks
were Neritan Ceka, head of the Democratic Alliance, and
Skender Gjinushi, leader of the Social Democratic Party --
two of Berisha's strongest critics.
Key bridge bombed
Army tanks and armored personnel carriers roamed roads in the
region and protesters prepared for a violent confrontation.
They were building up defenses around Saranda, one witness
said, using trucks to block access roads to prepare against
any possible assault by the army.
The witness also reported that a key bridge to Saranda had
been bombed, limiting access to the coastal town near
Albania's southern tip.
It was unclear who had blown up the bridge during heavy
fighting in the region on Wednesday. Soldiers and heavily
armed civilians fired on each other across a river and
government warplanes bombed a mountain village.
One wounded insurgent told reporters the army had operated
under a shoot-on-sight order.
Saranda residents, contacted from Athens, Greece, said
protesters staged an evening rally in a main square, defying
a curfew and holding and babies aloft while chanting
Official acknowledges anarchy in south
Government authorities in Tirana portrayed life as normal
throughout the impoverished southern European country. State
television showed shops and services operating normally.
However, Albania's foreign minister, Tritan Shehu,
acknowledged Wednesday that the southern cities of Vlora,
Saranda and Delvina were "out of control."
He said the government was intent on containing the growing
rebellion without force, but the deployment of jets, tanks
and armored personnel carriers appeared to show Berisha's
determination to end the insurrection quickly.
The anti-government violence was sparked by the collapse of
risky investment funds that took the life savings of hundreds
of thousands of Albanians.
Anger over the failed pyramid schemes has spread across the
country, and over the weekend rioters in the southern Albania
had burned, looted and stolen thousands of arms from
The rebellion has exposed a deep north-south divide between
Berisha's supporters in the north and those who back the
opposition Socialists in the south. Overall, southern
Albanians are wealthier -- and therefore lost much more than
northerners in the schemes.
Reuters reported at least 20 people have been killed in the
past week, but the government has barred reporters from
traveling to the region and there was no way to verify the
number of deaths.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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