Uneasy Albania prepares for elections
President Berisha says he'll resign if Socialists win
June 27, 1997
Web posted at: 12:51 p.m. EDT (1651 GMT)
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TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- On the last day of a bitterly fought
and sometimes violent election campaign, Albanian leftist
leaders told thousands of supporters in the capital they were
the last hope for restoring order in the troubled European
Sunday's parliamentary elections are meant as a step toward
ending months of violence and anarchy.
Nearly 1,500 people have been killed since March, when
protests over failed pyramid schemes turned into armed
rebellion. Many Albanians, especially in the south, blamed
the financial collapse on President Sali Berisha.
While his office is not at stake in the election, Berisha
has pledged to resign if the opposition Socialists win
control of Parliament. First results are expected Tuesday,
and some seats will be contested in a July 6 runoff.
Socialists: Berisha a 'dictator'
"Albania is at risk and we are living in difficult times,"
Socialist leader Fatos Nano told about thousands of
supporters on Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square on Friday.
"That's why our country must be safe from the claws of the
The square had been off-limits for the Socialists since they
were ousted from power by Berisha's dominant right-leaning
Democratic Party in 1992.
Berisha was due to speak to his supporters in the same place
later in the day. He has called the elections the last
chance for Albanians to "save their democracy."
The president, too, has been a target of pre-election
violence. Berisha escaped injury on Thursday when gunmen
fired assault rifles at his motorcade during a campaign
rally, wounding three guards.
Anarchy persists in some areas
The rallies mark the end of an electoral campaign waged
against the backdrop of anarchy and violence, particularly in
the south of the poverty-stricken nation, which remains
largely outside government control.
Earlier this year, Berisha helped calm some of the unrest by
agreeing to form a coalition government pending new
elections, but by then a mass of weapons had been stolen from
police and army depots.
Now, despite the presence of an Italian-led multinational
protection force of nearly 7,000 troops, it's bullets rather
than ballots that threaten to decide who will wield national
authority in Europe's poorest country.
More than 500 observers will monitor the elections, a job
given to the 54-nation Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe. Most observers left Tirana on Friday
under armed escort.
Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
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