Albanian parliament passes state of emergency

TIRANA, Albania (AP) —Facing growing anti-government unrest, parliament declared a state of emergency on Sunday, allowing the army to be deployed to ensure public order and weapons to be used to protect public buildings and key roads.
Police, though, will remain the first line of defense in quelling riots and protests that have grown out of public rage over the collapse last month of popular, high-risk investment schemes.
In a televised address Sunday afternoon, President Sali Berisha called the unrest “a communist rebellion backed by foreign intelligence agencies. … We promise you we will employ all measures under the law, even the most difficult ones, against this rebellion.” He gave no further details.
Bending slightly under pressure from protesters, Berisha on Saturday announced that his Cabinet would resign to be replaced by new ministers — still from his Democratic Party but approved by the Socialists and other opposition groups.
But Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi told The Associated Press on Sunday that a new government would not stop the country’s descent into chaos. He said he agreed to step down only because a government must resign “when it’s not able to handle a situation.”
“The situation is more serious than ever,” Meksi said.
The government hopes the political shuffling will mollify protesters, who blame the Democratic Party-led administration for not warning them about the riskiness of the pyramid schemes, in which nearly every Albanian lost money. The schemes pay generous interest rates to early investors but collapse when deposits dry up.
Berisha, who did not say he would resign, said the new government would face huge challenges, including restoring public order and winning the trust of the political parties in Albania, tucked in between Greece and Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea.
By Saturday, Albania’s southern region had erupted in lawlessness. Carloads of weapons were distributed throughout the countryside, and young men in the port city of Vlora fired a constant barrage of bullets into the air.
Meksi said it would take at least a year to regain control of the country’s arsenal.
“It will be difficult to gather again tens of thousands of guns that the Defense Ministry left in the hands of criminals, rebels or desperate people,” he said.
He blamed “the most extremist elements” in the Socialist Party — the renamed Communists — for the chaos.
Just before the vote, several foreign journalists were attacked outside parliament by several men the reporters believed were secret police. An Associated Press reporter was violently shoved and staff from the British Broadcasting Corp. and World Television News also were attacked. It was not immediately clear if there were any serious injuries.
Protesters in Vlora, the town 70 miles south of Tirana that exploded in violence on Friday, rejected Berisha’s offer of a new Cabinet. They called for him to announce by Sunday night that a government of non-partisan technocrats would be formed.
If he did not meet the deadline, the protesters pledged they would march to Tirana, the capital, on Monday to press their demands.
But after Berisha’s announcement, protest organizers urged the thousands of people massed outside Vlora University not to make the march.
“We don’t want blood,” one organizer yelled through a megaphone.