Berisha tries to pull a fast one over poll

President Sali Berisha of Albania pushed his country's government to the brink of collapse and angered the international community yesterday by threatening to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections using an electoral law contested by every political party except for his own.

Ignoring the principles of consensus government agreed in March to prevent the country collapsing, he went to his old constituency to inaugurate the campaign. The night before, MPs from his Democratic Party had pushed through their own draft of an electoral law still theoretically under discussion with the opposition.

They acted while the Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino, of the main opposition Socialist Party, was in Washington for talks.The law they approved accommodated enough of the opposition party's demands for greater proportional representation to avoid looking like a total whitewash, but fell far short of a satisfactory compromise. The opposition threatened to boycott the poll and leave Mr Fino's government of national reconciliation.

Mr Berisha appeared to be testing the international community's resolve, to see how much he could get away with. Signals yesterday were that Italy, leader of the multinational peace-keeping force in Albania, and the US were not prepared to indulge him. By late afternoon, Mr Berisha appeared to have taken stock of the criticism and his order to dissolve parliament showed no signs of having been carried through, but the situation remained on a knife-edge.