Albania blames riots on Stalinist plotters

After the public anger, now comes the official paranoia and the menace of repressive violence. Two days after almost losing control of the country to street demonstrators who were furious about the loss of their life savings, the Albanian government yesterday sought to depict itself as a crusader for democracy under ambush from gangs of left-wing terrorists.

Tritan Shehu, the powerful Foreign Minister, denied all responsibility for the collapse of three of the country's so-called "pyramid" schemes, investment scams offering sky-high rates of interest which have kept the population afloat for the past four years. He denied he had been warmed for months by the IMF and other international bodies about the precarious state of the financial system.

Instead, he blamed the pyramid schemes, their collapse and the riots that broke out across the country over the weekend, on the opposition, in particular the Socialist Party.

"The destruction of state and public buildings ... the strategy of the `burned soil', all these features are a complete proof that the Albanian left extreme is led by a terrorist- Stalinist clan."

Mr Shehu, who was kidnapped for several hours by an angry mob in the town of Lushnje on Saturday, issued a list of names of people he said had been responsible for the violence in different parts of the country. All of them were active members of the opposition parties.

President Sali Berisha added to the official climate of fear by refusing to address a rally in the centre of Tirana, citing fears for his security, even though he was surrounded by at least 3,000 supporters and cordons of police and army troops.

The ruling Democratic Party is desperate to shift blame for the banking collapse away from itself - a delicate task, since the investment schemes were advertised on state television and even featured in the Democratic Party campaign for last October's municipal elections.

The government has promised to compensate disappointed investors for around 70 per cent of their lost capital, starting next week, though it has not said how it plans to organise or finance such a payout.

Prominent anti-government intellectuals and politicians have also been approached by thugs and beaten up over the past few days. One of them, the former Socialist deputy Ndre Legisi, was in such poor condition yesterday that doctors feared he had suffered permanent brain damage.