Albania sends in special forces to quell armed revolt

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The Independent Online
THE Albanian government sent special forces into the northern town of Shkoder yesterday to put down an armed revolt by supporters of the former president, Sali Berisha. It followed a day of mayhem in which public buildings were burnt, shops looted, the police run out of town and 35 convicted murderers sprung from the local jail.

Interior Ministry forces broke through barricades set up in front of the bridge leading into town and forced about 60 insurgents to flee back into town. Last night the forces were still making arrests. There was no reliable news of casualties.

The revolt - the most serious disruption of public order since the Socialist- led government was voted into office last July - is symptomatic of a disastrous security situation in which the population is heavily armed, crime is one of the few lucrative ways to earn a living and many areas of the country remain under the control of mafia-type gangs.

The activities of Mr Berisha and his supporters have been of particular concern, especially in the north, where their support is strongest. Two weeks ago, one of his henchmen, Azim Hajdari, provoked a firefight with police outside Shkoder after he refused to undergo a routine check at a roadblock. Several times in the past month there have been armed stand- offs between the government- appointed police chief, Mithat Havari, and a number of former policemen dismissed because of their suspected links to organised crime.

The latest revolt began on Sunday afternoon. A group of hooded men burst into the police station and opened fire, injuring at least three policemen and forcing the rest to flee. The rebels then began sacking the town, reminiscent of last year's anarchic uprising in the south against the Berisha government. They set fire to the town hall, the prosecutor's office, the courthouse, the police station and the university.

Banks were raided, shops looted and churches and mosques attacked. The ruling Socialist party accused Mr Berisha in parliament of inspiring the revolt. He said the mayhem was the government's fault.