Albania heads back to chaos

PM calls for help as electoral clash threatens new violence, writes Andrew Gumbel

Albania was teetering on the edge of another political explosion yesterday as the country's bitterly feuding parties failed to agree on a mutually acceptable electoral law. The Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino, issued a last-minute cry for help from the international community, warning that renewed chaos was just around the corner.

The country has been convulsed over the past week by a stand-off between President Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party, who have steamrollered their own electoral law through parliament and are now actively campaigning for a poll called for 29 June, and the rest of the political spectrum, which feels affronted, upstaged and cheated.

In theory, parliament was supposed to approve an electoral law only after Mr Fino's government of national reconciliation had negotiated a consensus decision on it. But President Berisha has deliberately ignored his own commitment to all-party rule, resorting instead to his familiar sledgehammer tactics and thus imperilling his country's future.

"The failure of the debate on the electoral law has brought Albania to the brink of an even deeper crisis, with unforeseeable consequences," a statement from Mr Fino's office read.

"At this point the government is completely divorced from the election process. The law as it stands does not provide the framework necessary to ensure that the vote leads to political and social stability in the country. It is no longer a technical problem, the key issue is restoring the country's faith in a free vote."

The international community has a peace-keeping force of several thousand men in Albania, but is effectively powerless to act. Not only does the force's mandate preclude it from intervening in the present crisis, but it has tied its fortunes entirely to Mr Fino's government. Since Mr Fino is by his own admission now powerless, the force has effectively lost what little role it ever had.

Yesterday, the Italian Defence Minister, Benjamino Andreatta, acknowledged that the next few hours would be crucial. The Greek Defence Minister, Akis Tsohatzopoulos, warned that the force might be forced to withdraw if an agreement on the elections could not be found. The international community looks uncertain, however, what to do next except keep pressing for dialogue between the parties.

President Berisha was in no mood for conciliation, choosing instead to make a provocative trip to the southern town of Fier, one of the most virulent centres of revolt against his rule, to boast that the Democratic Party was going to win 75 per cent of the vote on 29 June.

Since the president is without doubt the most hated man in Albania, his words could only be interpreted as a threat that the Democratic Party intended to hold on to absolute power by whatever means it took.

There are signs that the relative calm that Albania has enjoyed since Mr Fino's government was sworn in in March is beginning to break. Gangland shootings and random violence are on the increase, while in the capital, Tirana, the presidential guard has imposed a climate of fear by firing its weapons every night at the start of curfew - thus triggering an inevitable response from the city's gun-crazy teenagers and keeping the city hospitals busy with a stream of gunshot wounds.

UK fears Bosnia withdrawal

The Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, met the commander of the Nato-led Stabilisation Force (S-For) in Bosnia yesterday among signs of disagreement between Britain and the US about the feasibility of withdrawing the force on schedule by July next year, writes Christopher Bellamy. Mr Robertson's visit coincided with growing frustration about the attitude of the local Bosnian Muslim, Croat and Serb factions which have failed to reunify the country as the Dayton peace treaty demanded.

Mr Robertson met US General William Crouch, S-For's commander, in Sarajevo, to discuss efforts to build a lasting peace. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, warned on Monday that the failure of the local parties to fulfil the Dayton accord may mean the Nato-led presence has to be extended beyond July 1998 to prevent a return to civil war. US officials have insisted the deadline cannot be moved. Mr Robertson met Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic at Banja Luka and saw members of the Bosnian "collective presidency" - Muslim, Croat and Serb - in Sarajevo.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Life and Style
Men with beards rejoice: Your beard probably doesn't harbour faeces-like bacteria
health
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before