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Berisha rejects Albanians' demands

Tirana (Reuter) - Furious Albanian investors staged more protests yesterday, ignoring the government's suggestions to shrug off millions of dollars in losses from failed pyramid investment schemes and to get back to work.

Several thousand protesters marched through the southern towns of Fier and Vlora, chanting anti-government slogans and demanding compensation for losses.

In Vlora, where the Gjallica scheme went bust and wiped out the savings of many residents, about 2,000 people carried the picture of a protester who was shot dead last week.

In Fier, another 2,000 people staged a protest, denouncing President Sali Berisha and carrying local opposition Socialist Party leader Petro Koci through the town on their shoulders.

In Tirana, police put on a show of force to ensure a rally called by the main opposition Forum for Democracy yesterday did not take place.

Police vans cruised the area and officers made sure people did not loiter near the football stadium where the rally was due to be held. Officers forced customers in nearby cafes out into the rain to make sure if any of them were potential protesters they would disperse or get wet.

Mr Berisha admitted on Saturday it had been a mistake to use riot police against protesters and said protests would be allowed in Tirana if organisers had a permit.

But Sunday's actions showed the government is still loathe to let demonstrations take place in the capital and was hoping protests in the countryside would diminish.

Mr Berisha said on Saturday that the government had warned the public too late about the dangers of the unregulated schemes. But he said responsibility also lay with those who had put millions of dollars into the high-interest schemes - and lost everything.

He said the state had no intention of reimbursing hundreds of thousands of Albanians who lost their savings and often sold valuables or property to invest in the schemes.

"We will not take this debt on our shoulders. No democratic government would do this. It would be cheating, printing money to pay and creating hyperinflation", he said.

Mr Berisha acknowledged many Albanians were homeless, having sold homes to join a frenzy of investing in the schemes which paid interest of 60 per cent or more a month.

Albania has been swept by demonstrations and riots since five high-risk schemes collapsed last month. Investors blame the government for failing to warn them of the dangers of the schemes, which said they were building tourist resorts, supermarkets and petrol stations but were pocketing the cash. Bankers estimate $1 (pounds 600m) to $2bn may have been poured into the fraudulent schemes.