Security forces took control of Albania's main port of Durres on Saturday after clashing with hundreds of Albanians packing the harbor in a bid to join an exodus of refugees to southern Italy, witnesses and official Tirana Radio said.
The main Albanian opposition group, the Democratic Party, said a 20-year-old woman and a 2-year-old child were killed in the violence in the port, which had been paralyzed for days by Albanians fleeing their impoverished and politically unstable homeland aboard commandeered ships and boats.
There was no immediate confirmation of the deaths by the Marxist regime of President Ramiz Alia, although Tirana Radio reported at least 10 people were injured.
The port was sealed off by two tanks and hundreds of troops and riot police, who moved in late Friday to clear the area of crowds and take control of the Albanian ship Partizani, which was jammed with hundreds of would-be refugees, witnesses said.
The security forces fired warning shots in the air in a bid to disperse the crowds, who refused to leave. Witnesses said they then began throwing tear gas, some directly into the crowds on the Partizani.
Clashes erupted, but by early Saturday the ship and the port were cleared and under the control of security forces, the witnesses said.
As people left the ship they reportedly had to pass through two lines of police, who beat them with clubs, a spokesman for the Democratic Party said.
Witnesses said the ship's motors had been dismantled and fuel supplies were removed to prevent the vessel from leaving the port.
At the port of Shengjin, 40 miles north of Tirana, some 300 people seized a ship that lacked a motor or fuel in hopes the tides and winds would carry it some 200 miles across the Adriatic Sea to southern Italy, witnesses said by telephone.
Another 300 people milled around the harbor area hoping to climb aboard the vessel.
The witnesses said troops using loudspeakers appealed to the crowd to leave the ship peacefully. They said people would be transported back to their homes without trouble. The crowd rejected the appeals.
"We need help," a young man was quoted as saying. "But there is no way we will leave this port. We will either go on this ship, or we will die."
The crackdown in Durres came two days after the government declared the harbor a military zone and sought to restrict access to it and other Adriatic ports to stem the flight of Albanians seeking to escape their country's desperate economic conditions, including food shortages and massive unemployment.
Many of Albania's 3.2 million people also fear a civil war because of Alia's refusal to accelerate economic and political reforms in what was Europe's staunchest Stalinist bastion.
The exodus continued, however, despite the regime's measures and Italy's refusal to accept new arrivals in Brindizi and other southern Italian ports, where authorities struggled to care for more than 15,000 Albanian refugees who have landed throughout the week.
If confirmed, the deaths reported in Durres would be the fourth and fifth in less than a week. At least three people were killed Wednesday when police clashed with thousands of Albanians who tried to storm foreign embassies in Tirana in a bid to leave the country.