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Albanian leader Berisha resigns

Albanian President Sali Berisha July 23, 1997
Web posted at: 2:37 p.m. EDT (1837 GMT)

TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Albanian President Sali Berisha resigned Wednesday and said he would lead the opposition in parliament.

The resignation came as the country's newly elected parliament began its first meeting in the capital Tirana, amid a boycott by Berisha's Democratic Party representatives.

"Though I have been elected from a fairer and more honest parliament than this present one, I declare my irrevocable resignation to return to the post of a deputy for the Democratic Party," said Berisha.

Berisha's Democratic Party had previously dominated this small Balkan country but lost to the Socialists in parliamentary elections earlier this year.

Berisha and the Democrats suffered a huge loss of popularity because of the perception that they had profited from shaky investment schemes that collapsed at the beginning of this year, taking the savings of many Albanians and triggering months of violent street protests and lawlessness.

Berisha had promised to step down once the new parliament was in place, and his resignation had been eagerly awaited by his Socialist Party opponents, who feared he could try to influence the formation of the new cabinet.

Berisha's resignation clears the way for Fatos Nano and his Socialists to choose the president, as well as dominate the government.

Parliament is expected to elect Socialist Party Secretary-General Rexhep Mejdani as president to replace Berisha.

Following constitutional court rulings on disputes and some changing of alliances, the Socialists and their coalition allies will have 118 seats in the 155-seat parliament, while the Democrats will have 24.

The first tasks facing the new assembly is to restore law and order and to resolve the economic chaos left by the collapse of the high-interest investment schemes.

Albania's first non-communist president, Berisha was initially praised in the West for rapid introduction of market reforms. But enthusiasm faded as he resorted to increasingly authoritarian methods and failed to check the spread of the pyramid schemes.

The European Union on Tuesday urged Albanian political factions to do everything necessary to allow a new government with a popular mandate to be set up.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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