Four Chinook helicopters landed in Tirana on Thursday to
begin an evacuation of all non-essential U.S. government
personnel, their dependents "and as many civilians as we can
take out," said U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas
The helicopters sent out troops to help in the evacuation.
They evacuated 50 American civilians, mostly children.
About 170 U.S. government employees and dependents will be
brought out by the military in the next day or so, Burns
said. There are about 2,000 U.S. civilians in Albania, and
all who want to leave will be evacuated as well.
U.S. ambassador to remain
Burns said the U.S. embassy remain open with a core staff,
including the U.S. ambassador and about 17 other officials.
The North Atlantic Council was meeting in Brussels, Belgium,
to discuss coordinating the evacuation among several Western
governments, including the United States, Italy, Germany and
the United Kingdom, Burns said.
The Italian government Thursday began evacuating people from
Albania and joined Albania in calling for an emergency
meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The two nations urged
the 15-member body to issue a statement before possible
massacres broke out in the Balkan state. Italy fears a flood
of refugees from across the Adriatic Sea.
Burns said the U.S. military evacuation was ordered when it
became apparent that the Americans could not be evacuated by
sea or by commercial flights. Officials in Albania said
Tirana's airport was closed for a 48-hour period for security
reasons. (341K/16 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
'Situation will ... deteriorate'
"There's been a breakdown of public order now in Tirana,"
Burns said. "We believe the situation will continue to
Earlier Thursday, at least 12 people were killed and 50
injured as looters raided military bases for weapons, fired
rifles into the air and hunted for food.
Overnight, the capital city of Tirana turned into a
shooting gallery as weapons were carried off from two
military sites and gunfire was heard from many parts of the
Panic-buying began in the city and a warehouse belonging to
Vefa, Albania's largest investment fund, was ransacked.
About 600 prisoners, including former President Ramiz Alia
and ex-Prime Minister Fatos Nano, fled Albania's central
prison in Tirana when guards deserted their posts, said a
guard who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Alia, Albania's last Communist ruler, went on trial on
February 18 on charges of sending innocent people to labor
camps and other crimes against humanity. Nano was serving the
last part of a 12-year sentence for falsifying documents and
abuse of humanitarian funds.
In Shkodar, northern Albania's biggest town, a night of
mayhem left four people dead, including two military
officers, and at least a score wounded, hospital officials
In Lezha, a town 45 miles (70 kilometers) north of Tirana,
armed youths on motorcycles and in cars patrolled the
streets, repeatedly firing their looted Kalashnikov assault
Protesters force prisoners' release
In nearby Lac, a crowd of several hundred people, many armed,
gathered outside the police station, where relatives were
demanding the release of about 40 prisoners held there.
Eventually the police decided it would be safer for them to
release the prisoners rather than risk a confrontation.
Overnight looting and violence were also reported in Korca in
the east; Durras on the western Adriatic coast; and in
Elbasan, in central Albania.
The new eruption of violence left virtually no community of
any size untouched by the revolt against President Sali
The insurgency began after high-risk investment schemes
collapsed, swallowing the savings of thousands of Albanians.
Government asks for help
In an effort to stem the armed revolt, Berisha formed a
coalition government. But the appointment of Bashkim Fino of
the opposition Socialist Party as the new prime minister did
nothing to calm the country.
Fino has asked the outside world for help and promised his
new government would open a dialogue with the armed areas.
Berisha and all political parties on Thursday called for
NATO's European members to provide military assistance to
Correspondent Siobhan Darrow and Reuters contributed to this report.