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Albania: Political tensions high after grenade attack

April 6, 1997

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ One day after gunmen hurled hand grenades at the motorcade of Premier Bashkim Fino, police and government officials argued Sunday over who was responsible for the attack.

Fino’s government blamed police in the town to which Fino had been traveling _ a stronghold of President Sali Berisha. But police blamed the Interior Ministry, saying it misinformed them about Fino’s travel plans and that’s why they did not provide adequate security.

With Albania in chaos since late January, Fino has been traveling around the country trying to unite Albanians divided into southern insurgents, who want Berisha to resign, and the president’s supporters in the north.

Ongoing violence in the south, as well as the attack on Fino’s motorcade, shows just how hard it will be to restore order in a politically split country where almost everyone has a gun.

The hand grenade attack apparently was designed to prevent Fino and his Cabinet members from visiting Shkodra, a northern stronghold of the president. The convoy was just outside the city. No one was injured

Fino’s caretaker government _ appointed until new elections can be held _ called the ambush ``planned and criminal.″ Fino suggested the gunmen were too well equipped to be common criminals.

Fino’s security chief, Hasan Ahmetaj, blamed police, saying they waved the convoy on, suggesting the road was safe.

But Shkodra Police Chief Martin Gjoni told state television Sunday that the Interior Ministry misinformed him about the premier’s travel plans.

``We were not asked by the Interior Ministry to provide security for the road ... the deputy minister told us the premier was coming on a helicopter,″ Gjoni said.

The Interior Ministry said it was informed that Fino would travel by road only 20 minutes before the convoy left. But it was unclear why it failed to contact Shkodra police in the more than two hours it took for Fino to near his destination.

Fino’s Socialists on Sunday demanded the resignation of Deputy Interior Minister Agim Shehu, who is close to Berisha, and of other senior officials they blamed for the ambush.

More than 200 people have died _ at least six of them over the weekend _ and at least 700 have been injured since public rage over failed investment schemes swelled to anti-government rebellion. More than 13,000 Albanians have fled to Italy.

A multinational European force is being sent to Albania later this month to secure ports for the delivery of badly needed food and medical supplies.

On Sunday, youths protesting Italy’s participation in the mission hurled eggs at a navy cruiser docked in the Italian port Brindisi, which has taken in most of the Albanian refugees.

Italy’s parliament is expected to approve the mission, despite political opposition. The Greens party fears the deployment will cost the Italians a special tax, and hard-line Communists say Italian soldiers could be at risk after the sinking of an Albanian refugee boat that collided with an Italian navy patrol.

The bodies of three Albanians who drowned when the boat capsized March 28 arrived Sunday in the southern port of Durres. One of the three was buried Sunday. As many as 80 people are missing.

Update hourly