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Factory Workers Appear To Heed Strike Call After Crackdown On Protest

April 4, 1991

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Factory workers stayed home today after the democratic opposition called a general strike to protest the deaths of anti-Communist protesters in a police crackdown.

But the overall response to the strike call was mixed. While many factories appeared idle, the capital was bustling and shops were open for business.

The number of people who died in Tuesday’s violence in the northern city of Shkodra rose to four today following the death of a man wounded in the fighting, an opposition spokesman said.

The Communists won weekend multiparty elections that were the country’s first in more than 60 years, getting strong support in the backward countryside, where most Albanians live.

The opposition Democratic Party prevailed in all major cities, and called the election unfair because the ruling party controls the media and didn’t give the Democrats enough time to campaign effectively in rural areas.

At a large tractor factory on the outskirts of Tirana today, a few of the 5,000 workers kept conveyor belts running. Some said they had been pressured to work by their Communist boss but most said they needed the money.

″It seems in many enterprises in Tirana, people have stopped working,″ said Genc Pollo, spokesman for the opposition Democratic Party.

He said the strike called Wednesday was also observed by workers in Shkodra.

″The problem is that the strike call was made quite late and many workers might not have heard about it,″ said Pollo.

Nazmi Kryeziu, 46, died late Wednesday at a hospital in Tirana, Pollo said. He said Kryeziu’s body was to be taken back to Shkodra and buried today.

Gramoz Pashko, co-leader of the Democratic Party, had urged workers in vital sectors such as bread and milk supply, electricity and transport to turn up for work.

The opposition appealed through pamphlets and Voice of America Albanian- language radio broadcasts for all citizens to extinguish lights at 9 p.m. tonight in mourning of the three who died at Shkodra.

″Let us show who is the real force, let us show we won’t let them go on in this way forever,″ said the pamphlets distributed in major towns by the Democrats or independent trade unions.

Albania’s state-run enterprises, however, have been closed or have operated part-time in recent months because the ravaged centrally planned system has failed to supply them with necessary raw materials.

At the Valias mine just outside Tirana, scene of a massive strike in January, most of the 3,500 workforce decided not to follow the strike call, independent trade union leader Ilir Muftari said.

″We don’t agree with this strike, because it is organized by a political party. It’s a political strike,″ Muftari said.

He stressed, however, that the workers shared the Democratic Party’s condemnation of police violence on Tuesday in Shkodra and Tirana.

In the capital two days ago, riot police fired into the air and repeatedly clubbed youths in front of Democratic Party headquarters to disperse crowds protesting the Communists’ election victory.

The outcome of Sunday’s elections exacerbated divisions in a society already roiling with tension as it struggles to emerge from nearly five decades of repressive Stalinist rule.

If protests widen, this small, long-isolated Balkan nation could become virtually ungovernable.

Many of the desperate youths in Europe’s poorest and demographically youngest nation - the average age is 27 - are threatening renew the exodus that helped spark reforms when it began last spring with a run on Tirana embassies.

The exodus peaked a month ago when at least 20,000 fled to Italy.

The Democratic Party claimed throughout the campaign that the Communists had an unfair advantage through their domination of media and control of security forces.

In Washington, the State Department said the Communists had an unfair advantage in the elections, having at the very least restricted the opposition’s ability to campaign effectively.

Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called on Albanian authorities to investigate charges of electoral abuses and to redress grievances.

There were credible reports, she said, of widespread intimidation against opposition candidates and activists during the campaign and on election day.

The barely 3-month-old opposition, besides winning in all Albania’s major cities Sunday, defeated President Ramiz Alia in his Tirana district.

But the Communists captured the rural areas where two-thirds of Albania’s 3.2 million people live.

Update hourly