Albanian, 30, set to be Europe's youngest PM

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PANDELI MAJKO, Albania's 30-year-old Socialist Party secretary- general, is about to become Europe's youngest head of government.

Mr Majko, who took part in the 1990 student protests that helped to bring down the Stalinist regime, has never held government office. But as head of the Socialist parliamentary group since elections in June 1997, and the party's secretary-general, he has worked closely with the outgoing Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, and is a key, if low-profile, figure in the country's politics.

Nano resigned on Monday night after failing to get the backing of his five-party coalition for a cabinet reshuffle in the wake of an eruption of political violence two weeks ago.

The Socialists, whose coalition has a comfortable parliamentary majority, nominated Majko as their candidate to succeed Nano yesterday, and his appointment by President Rexhep Meidani appeared to be a formality.

Western diplomats believe the fact that Majko is untainted by past association with the Communist regime that ruled for four decades could enable him to improve Albania's highly polarised political climate.

His appointment should remove a factor that has poisoned Albanian politics since the Nano coalition took office 14 months ago: the personal animosity between the outgoing Prime Minister and the former president Sali Berisha.

"He's a technocrat, open,well-disposed towards the outside world," said a Western diplomat. "His English is quite good, and he doesn't have the baggage that people in their fifties and sixties have."

Another diplomat said: "Majko represents a new generation, the generation of students who toppled the Communist regime. He represents hope for Albania."