Albania Erupts in Violence; 3 Killed, 58 Hurt
Albania’s political conflict exploded into violence Tuesday when authorities in the northern city of Shkoder shot to death an opposition politician, setting off anti-Communist rioting that killed two other protesters and injured 58.
Part of the crowd that had gathered to condemn incidents of what they called fraud and manipulation of Sunday’s election became enraged by the deadly crackdown and stormed the local Communist Party headquarters.
They seized a Communist cache of arms, set fire to some offices and refused to leave the building despite a threat by the city police chief to blow it up with the demonstrators in it.
Democratic Party leaders also reported finding a bomb at their party office in Elbasan, and riot police were deployed to break up a rally by nearly 1,000 opposition supporters in Tirana as unrest spread through this volatile Balkan nation after a landslide election victory by the Communists.
After massing in front of the Democratic Party’s headquarters here in the capital, police charged the crowd late Tuesday, firing shots in the air and beating several of the demonstrators.
The violence was sparked by friction between pro-democracy forces pressing for radical reform in impoverished Albania and the Communist regime that has interpreted its success at the polls as an endorsement of the iron-fisted rule exercised since World War II.
However, opposition Democrats won most parliamentary seats in the major cities such as Tirana, Shkoder, Elbasan and the port of Durres, which promises mounting confrontation between the new political forces and ousted Communist functionaries in those regions.
The Communists, who call themselves the Albanian Party of Labor, gained 64% of the 250-seat People’s Assembly primarily because of support from the remote and backward villages where most of Albania’s 3.3 million people live.
Official election results announced Tuesday showed that the Communists won 162 parliamentary seats, Democratic Party candidates 65, the Greek minority movement Omania 3 and the National Committee of Veterans one; runoffs are needed to decide the remaining 19.
On the violence in Shkoder, the Communist government issued an unusually swift statement but one that conflicted sharply with the Democratic Party’s account of events.
The Interior Ministry, which commands the police, issued a statement accusing demonstrators of shouting “destabilizing slogans” and making unspecified use of weapons and explosives while protesting the Communist election victory they blamed on monopolization of the media, transport and other resources.
“In these conditions, police were obliged to use arms,” the statement said, adding that three demonstrators were killed and 23 people, including 12 police officers, were injured.
Democratic Party spokesman Genc Pollo said later that 58 people were hurt in the clash and that four were in grave condition. He condemned the Interior Ministry account as “a lie,” insisting that the rioting broke out only after a Shkoder activist with the Democratic Party, Arben Broxi, was fatally shot in the back while imploring the protesters to disperse.
Pollo said he had been informed that the first shots came from inside the Communist Party building, where several hundred opposition supporters had gathered about 9 a.m.
The killing of Broxi enraged the crowd, touching off the riots that killed two more, Pollo said.
“Democratic Party members there are encouraging the people to calm down,” Pollo said. “We want to do everything in a legal, political way. We don’t want any riots.”
According to witnesses contacted by telephone in Shkoder, army troops and tanks were mobilized to break up the rioting in the city of about 70,000, where the Democratic Party posted its strongest electoral showing.
Pollo also told journalists that a bomb was found at Democratic Party headquarters in the steel-making city of Elbasan, about an hour east of Tirana, and that the party leader in the city of Vaqarr had been beaten by pro-Communist thugs.
Democratic Party chief Sali Berisha delivered a personal protest to Communist President Ramiz Alia, accusing authorities in Shkoder of provoking the violence.
But Alia, who lost his parliamentary seat after gaining only 36% of the vote in his Tirana district, blamed the rioting and casualties on “hooligans” who support the Democratic Party, Pollo said.
Although the Communists won the elections decisively, many of the party’s leading figures were defeated by the opposition in urban constituencies. In addition to Alia, the foreign minister, the party’s chief economist and the election committee chairman lost their parliamentary seats.