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Street Fighting Leaves Three Dead, Dozens Injured Across Albania

April 3, 1991

SHKODRA, Albania (AP) _ A morning of street fighting Tuesday following protests over alleged vote- rigging left three people dead and a local Communist Party office in northern Albania a smoking ruin. Dozens were reported injured in post-election unrest in at least five towns and villages.

Hundreds of riot police firing live ammunition restored order by late afternoon in the center of Shkodra, Albania’s fifth most populous city, in the first violence linked to the Balkan nation’s multiparty elections.

The violence was considered to bode ill for Albania in the light of the Communists electoral victory Sunday in this poor, mountainous nation of 3 million people wedged between Yugoslavia and Greece.

Officials in the capital, Tirana, released final results of the elections. The Party of Labor, the official name of the Communist Party, won 162 of the 250 seats, the Central Election Commission reported.

The opposition Democratic Party won 65 seats, an ethnic Greek minority party won three seats and the National Veterans Committee, a Communist front, won one. Nineteen seats will be at stake in a runoff next Sunday.

Tuesday evening, about 40 baton-waving riot police charged a crowd of about 1,000 people outside Democratic Party headquarters in Tirana. Witnesses watching from party headquarters said some people were badly beated.

Police withdrew after half an hour and the crowd began to gather once more. At least two other clashes were reported between stone-throwing youths and riot police.

Scattered violence and protests occurred earlier in Elbasan, where an unexploded bomb was found and defused; in Vaqarr, where the chairman of the opposition party was beaten; and in Kavaje, Democratic Party spokesman Genc Pollo said in Tirana.

In front of the gutted four-story Communist headquarters in Shkodra were the charred remains of two armored personnel carriers and three military trucks torched and turned on their sides.

A pile of books, documents and furniture stripped from the party building burned into the night on the square.

Groups of people remained on the streets, jeering police.

Large-caliber machine gun bullet casings were scattered about on the ground of this city of 78,000 residents.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement in Tirana that the anti-Communist crowd was endangering the lives of those inside the Shkodra party building.

For these reasons, the statement said: ″The police were obliged to open fire. ... The situation is tense.″

Thousands of protesters led by high school students had gathered early Tuesday outside the Communist headquarters to protest what they claimed was vote-rigging in Sunday’s election, witnesses said.

It was the second such protest in two days in Shkodra, even though the opposition Democrats won the city and most other population centers but lost nationwide because of overwhelming rural support for the Communists.

Witnesses said a local Democrat leader, Arben Broci, 24, was shot in the back from inside the Communist Party headquarters Tuesday morning as he tried to disperse an angry crowd outside the building. He later died.

A small group of armed civilians and riot police were inside, witnesses said.

Eugen Zeka, a 17-year-old high school student who had been in the crowd, quoted Broci, a recent graduate of Tirana University in mechanical engineering, as telling them to ″keep calm and be quiet.″

But then, he said: ″Ben was shot from the windows of the party building.″

As the shooting began from inside the party building, as many as 300 police moved into the crowd, beating demonstrators with truncheons, he said.

The crowd threw rocks and gasoline bombs at the police, who were forced to retreat, and then torched the party headquarters.

Two other people, identified by the Democrats as Bujar Zerberi and Besnik Ceka, also were killed, but it was unclear whether they were opposition officials or participants in the demonstration.

Pjeter Arbnori, head of the Democrats in Shkodra, said the crowd found machine guns and other firearms in the building as well as empty, unmarked ballot boxes.

The Interior Ministry said 23 people - 12 police and 11 civilians - were injured in Shkodra. But Arbnori said 59 people were hurt, none of them police.

The violence confirmed the fears of Democratic leaders Gramoz Pashko and Sali Berisha, who have expressed fears that polarization resulting from the Communists’ victory could translate into violence.

The Presidential Council and the parliamentary presidium issued an appeal for ″prudence and calm″ after a joint session, the state ATA news agency reported.

They authorized police to use ″all legal means″ to stop what they said were illegal demonstrations and defend public buildings, ATA said.

Sali Berisha, the chairman of the Democrats, met with Communist President Ramiz Alia to demand an inquiry into the shootings.

Alia reportedly blamed the crowd for the violence.