Child killed as chaos wracks southern Albania
Mar. 04, 1997
TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Army tanks, police and soldiers were headed toward southern Albania, local sources said today, one day after government officials acknowleged that a state of emergency had failed to restore order in the region.
Police prevented foreign journalists from reaching the south. But hospital officials contacted by phone said there was widespread random gunfire in the southern port of Vlora, the center of the most violent protests and unrest. One 4-year-old girl was shot and killed while playing in her garden.
Curfews and newspaper censorship are part of a nationwide state of emergency declared Sunday in a effort to quell the violence that has swept through this impoverished Balkan country the past six weeks.
Triggered by the collapse of high-risk investment funds in which nearly every Albanian lost money, the protests have been directed at a government blamed for not warning people away from the pyramid schemes.
Some political foes of President Sali Berisha's ruling Democratic Party accuse his government not only of negligence in connection with the schemes but also of profiting from them.
Berisha blames the unrest on his opponents, the largest of whom are the Socialists, successors to the Communists who kept Albania isolated and backward for decades.
Army units and police were trying to regain control of the south, and unconfirmed reports today from local sources said three convoys of 30 police vans and buses each passed through the town of Fieri on Monday headed south. There also were unconfirmed reports that army tanks were moving into place in the south.
Also today, an Albanian military jet landed in southern Italy and its crew of two asked for political asylum, the Italian Defense Ministry said.
State media reported that 1,700 people in the south had obeyed the state of emergency and turned in their weapons.
On Monday, at least one person was killed in shooting in Vlora, the Health Ministry said. It reported that rebels attacked hospitals there, stealing food and clothes, shooting in corridors and the operating room.
State TV accused communists of killing four people in Vlora on Monday to prevent them from turning in weapons. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Across the country, Albanians stocked up on flour, oil, rice, sugar and other staple foods to counter rising prices.
Police with shoot-to-kill orders patrolled Tirana overnight, arresting 48 people for breaking the 8 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew. Several people were arrested in other cities for carrying guns, state TV said.
Despite blanket police presence in the capital, a coffee shop popular with journalists and representatives of the political opposition was firebombed during the night.
State media said police were investigating the fire at the Bar West coffee shop as well as a blaze early Monday that destroyed most of the equipment at the Koha Jone daily newspaper _ the most critical independent voice in Albanian media.
The state of emergency has tightened usual restrictions on local media. News organizations must apply for permits for broadcasts and publication, and submit their texts to the local branches of the state of emergency committee headed by the secret police chief.
Albania's ambassador to Britain, Pavli Qesku, said today that foreign news coverage would be permitted.
``There is no ban on foreign correspondents or reporters in Albania _ they can broadcast anything without going through the restrictions,'' he said on BBC World TV.
Regardless, security forces are controlling the activities of foreign reporters, and today turned back TV crews heading south toward Vlora and confiscated their cameras. On Monday, authorities withdrew the license for the European Broadcasting Union, used to transmit TV pictures abroad.
Qeksu said Albania had lost control of the south.
``It seems that Vlora is out of control, and so is Saranda, and a stretch of land by the coast, but that's only a fraction of the country,'' he said. ``The rest of the country, the government has control of everything,'' he told Britain's Channel 4 news Monday.
At a news conference today in The Hague, Kofi Annan expressed his concerns.
``I am rather disturbed by the developments in Albania, the confrontations between the government and the population. I would hope that the government can restrain itself and not use undue force against the people.''
``Obviously the whole genesis of the problem is financial and if by offering financial assistance we can calm the situation I think that's the right way to go,'' Annan said without elaborating.