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ALBANIA: Premier claims coup as mobs erupt

September 15, 1998

ALBANIA: Premier claims coup as mobs erupt
By Guy Dinmore in Belgrade, FT

Albania’s prime minister, Fatos Nano, went into hiding yesterday, claiming a coup was being organised by opposition mobs in Tirana who plunged the capital into violence for a second day.

Last night police claimed they had wrestled back control of a broadcasting centre which supporters of the former president, Sali Berisha, seized earlier in the day after commandeering tanks. Three people were reported killed and 14 wounded.

The government denied reports that the prime minister had resigned. “He considers this a coup d’état,” said his spokesman. “He is not going to resign.”

He said Mr Nano had been in contact with foreign leaders and had told them the situation was intolerable. The spokesman added: “I do not exclude interventions like last year.”

Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister, told defence ministry officials to prepare to evacuate Italian nationals if necessary. An Italian-led multinational force helped to restore calm after months of anarchy last year caused by the collapse of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes which Mr Berisha had allowed to flourish while he was president.

In an appeal for calm earlier, Mr Nano said: “I call on everyone not to allow anyone to bring back the chaos of last year, to hijack Albania and all of us with it.” The riots came a day after Mr Berisha’s supporters, infuriated by the assassination of Azem Hajdari, a leading member of his Democratic party, had set fire to the prime minister’s office.

In the civil uprising that exploded across Albania last year army arsenals were looted of hundreds of thousands of weapons and more than 2,000 people died.

Mr Berisha’s Democratic party was heavily defeated by Mr Nano’s Socialists in elections that followed.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which has been mediating between the two parties, blamed the latest violence on a minority of hardliners and said there was no comparison with last year’s unrest.

The OSCE was pressing Mr Berisha to call off the armed mob.

Rumours that Berisha supporters were planning a coup had been circulating in Tirana for several weeks. The spark for the current violence came on Saturday night when unidentified gunmen killed Mr Hajdari and his two bodyguards. Mr Berisha blamed the deaths on Mr Nano and called on the prime minister to resign.

Yesterday large crowds gathered for the funeral of the three men in Tirana’s main Skanderbeg square. Addressing the rally, Mr Berisha again accused Mr Nano of being behind Mr Hajdari’s death but called for a day of peace in his honour.

Demonstrators then carried the three coffins to the prime minister’s office where gunfire erupted, apparently from guards inside.

Mr Hajdari had been a fiery student leader who played a leading role in Albania’s anti-communist revolution in 1991. He came from Tropoje, the same northern town as Mr Berisha, and had galvanised opposition among the tight-knit clans there against Mr Nano, a southerner.

Mr Hajdari also had ties to ethnic Albanian rebels fighting for independence in Serbia’s Kosovo province, just across the mountains from northern Albania. Yesterday in Tirana demonstrators chanted “UCK”, the Albanian acronym for the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The international organisations administering intensive care to Albania since last year have credited Mr Nano with restoring a degree of stability and economic revival to Europe’s poorest country.
A recent World Bank report warned, however, of the weakness of state institutions. It concluded: “Even without a full-fledged international conflict or border war, the situation in Kosovo is already aggravating the precarious internal security situation in Albania.”

Under intense US pressure Mr Nano has opposed the rebels’ goal of an independent Kosovo or a “Greater Albania”.

But his attempts to soothe nationalist passions have given Mr Berisha the opening to relaunch his political ambitions.

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