Near-Anarchy as Albanian Town Convulsed by Third Day of Looting
POGRADEC, Albania (AP) _ Thousands of looters, some armed and drunk, rampaged for a third day Thursday in this western Albanian town, and police seemed helpless or unwilling to stop them.
Mobs also raided a drug store and two goods depots and set them on fire in the central town of Lushnje, said Fadil Canaj, deputy minister of public order. Police repelled an attack on a plastics factory there, he said.
Unrest has been reported throughout Europe’s poorest country as citizens struggle to survive a tough winter and the legacy of 46 years of Communist rule.
State radio said Wednesday that two people were crushed to death during rioting in Pogradec, a town of 25,000 on the shore of Lake Ohrid. One man also was reported killed in earlier food riots in Lushnje.
On Thursday in Pogradec, 10 state warehouses were emptied of everything from Western food aid to wicker baskets and industrial chemicals, with entire families carting off all they could carry, said one policeman, Pirro Kacorri.
Chemicals steamed in the mud on a main street where they apparently were spilled, sending up fumes that caused watery eyes and headaches among people in the area.
Police said some looters appeared drunk after a stock of alcoholic beverages was taken from a warehouse. Police made occasional efforts to stop looters by firing over their heads, but with little effect.
The looters also ransacked stores - even taking windows that had been pried from their frames - and loaded their booty onto trucks, wagons and donkeys.
Looted goods included items like canned meat that some town inhabitants claimed they had not seen for seven or eight years.
While there were no reports of casualties on Thursday, Pogradec was a scene of devastation and chaos.
″It is impossible and illegal for police to open fire,″ said officer Kacorri, adding he would not shoot at people he knows ″because tomorrow their families would kill me.″
Some civilians also fired weapons in the air, and two journalists were warned at gunpoint to leave the town, 80 miles southeast of the capital, Tirana.
The Democratic Party, the country’s biggest anti-Communist group, charges that the Socialists - the former Communist Party - are encouraging unrest to discredit democracy. Albania is scheduled to hold national elections next month.
Edmomd Prishtine, a 31-year-old bricklayer, blamed the rioting on corruption by ″former Communists″ in the government and said they were manipulating foreign aid supplies for their own profit.
″People know that there is food in the depots, but it is not being sent to the shops,″ he said.
Kristo Laci, 36, owner of one of the town’s newly private shops, said crowds smashed his windows and took his goods. But he said his biggest fear was how people abroad would view the chaos.
″Foreign investors and foreign aid will not come here,″ he said.
The only apparent outside help appeared when an army truck with five armed soldiers rode through the streets distributing bread. They made no effort to stop looters.