Albanian Uprising: Tirana in chaos as tanks move in

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The Independent Online
THE ALBANIAN capital, Tirana, descended into chaos yesterday as tanks lumbered through the streets and the government declared that it was facing an attempted coup by opposition supporters loyal to the former president, Sali Berisha.

Armoured vehicles seized by opposition supporters fired repeatedly into the building that houses the office of Fatos Nano, the country's Socialist Party Prime Minister. Mr Nano's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is safe but not in his office for reasons that are clear."

Gunmen declaring their loyalty to Mr Berisha's Democratic Party were seen breaking into parliament, while elsewhere in the city, opposition supporters seized control of the state television building. Mr Berisha used the opportunity to broadcast a repeat of his demands for Mr Nano and his government to resign.

Last night, however, government forces said they had regained control of key installations in the capital, ending a day of chaotic violence.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said at least three Berisha supporters had been killed and 14 wounded in the government's counter-offensive. Government sources also said the Interior Ministry had told foreign diplomats they would try to arrest Mr Berisha unless he left the country.

Mr Berisha defiantly replied to this report on CNN television, insisting that he would "never leave the country". The former president said: "I really regret what is happening, but I'll never leave.

"These people who are in a great panic are inventing such things as a coup, but I never attempted and never will attempt such a move".

It was the second day of violence in the Albanian capital. Armed rioting by Democratic Party supporters began at the weekend after one of their leaders, Azem Hajdari, was shot dead by men dressed in police uniforms.

On Sunday Mr Berisha claimed that the government had organised Mr Hajdari's murder and demanded that Mr Nano resign within 24 hours.

At least 10,000 opposition supporters gathered for Mr Hajdari's funeral yesterday. Mr Berisha called for calm, but repeated his accusations. The trouble began after the funeral procession apparently attempted to take the coffin into government headquarters.

Witnesses reported that there was then an intense exchange of fire. Grenade blasts scattered the mourners.

The Socialist government then put tanks and armoured troop carriers on to the streets, but opposition supporters commandeered several of the vehicles.

As the crisis deepened, Rexhep Mejdani, the President, held meetings with parliamentary deputies, seemingly with a view to forming a new coalition government.

The US and European Union expressed fears that the violence could spread elsewhere in the Balkans.

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