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New Albanian premier begins talks on new government

March 12, 1997
Web posted at: 12:10 p.m. EST (1710 GMT)

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TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Albania's new prime minister on Wednesday began talks on forming an interim government to restore order in a country torn apart by an armed rebellion that has moved northward from its stronghold in the south.

Fearing more violence, the Italian, French and British embassies said they would send all non-essential embassy personnel out of the country. A source with the U.S. Embassy in Tirana said the United States was sending diplomats' families out of Albania.

On Tuesday evening, beleaguered President Sali Berisha handed the post of prime minister to Bashkim Fino of the opposition Socialist Party. Fino is to run an interim government until new elections can be held.

Fino flew in from the rebel-held southern town of Gjirokastar Tuesday night and opened talks on Wednesday with Berisha and political party leaders. Fino is a former mayor of Gjirokastar.

Appointment seen as concession

In a call for reconciliation, the new premier said: "We will aim for understanding throughout the country so that all people embrace each other rather than confront each other with arms and tanks."

"This government must speak to the people with understanding, asking them to hand in their weapons, because nothing is ever achieved by coercion," he told reporters before the meeting.

The appointment of a premier from the main opposition party, and from the south of the country now almost totally in rebel hands, was seen as a major concession by Berisha as he struggles to restore order.

Until last weekend the right-wing Albanian leader, elected in 1992 and re-elected in controversial circumstances earlier this month, had refused all cooperation with the ex-communist Socialists.

The appointment also was seen as a bid to bridge the traditional gulf between the impoverished north, with its closed mountain communities, and the relatively prosperous south, with links to Greece and Italy. Berisha is from the north.

Unrest moves closer to capital

But as the meeting started, around 100 people denouncing Berisha looted automatic weapons from an army depot near the town of Elbasan, only 40 miles (55 kilometers) south of Tirana, the closest the unrest has come to the capital since it broke out last month.

Shouting "Down with Berisha," many in the crowd demanded the return of money lost in the collapse of fraudulent investment schemes, which provided the initial spark to the anti-government uprising.

Many Albanians blame the government for not warning people away from the pyramid schemes, and some claim it profited from the funds.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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