Broken heads follow fury at bank scam

Albanian turmoil: Clashes sparked by catastrophic collapse of phoney saving schemes bring chaos to the capital's streets

Thousands of Albanians who have lost their money in failed "pyramid" saving schemes thronged into the main square of the capital, Tirana, for an anti-government rally yesterday, only to be beaten back by police who lashed out at the crowds with truncheons and smashed up the stage and sound system being used by opposition leaders.

The incident was the culmination of four days of street protests in Tirana and other big cities sparked by the latest banking collapse. It raised the political temperature higher than it has been since opposition leaders were beaten up in the wake of last May's rigged general elections.

Several demonstrators stumbled away from the rally with bloodied faces. People closest to the opposition leaders in the centre of Skanderbeg Square were the most roughly handled, as plainclothes officers swooped in to stop the speeches. The thousands of uniformed riot police who ringed the area were less brutal, partly because many have lost their savings too.

The pyramid schemes, which have thrived over the past four years in the absence of a conventional banking system, offer extraordinarily high rates of interest on hard-currency deposits - more than 10 per cent per month. But they rely on depositors coming forward to keep going. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians have entrusted their last assets to them in the hope of getting rich quick, but without asking themselves how the banks operated and how long they were likely to survive.

President Sali Berisha has taken pains to dissociate himself from the schemes in the past few days, but it is inconceivable that they could have operated without the government's active approval.

In Serbia, where pyramid schemes thrived in 1992-93 before disappearing overnight, they were a perfect vehicle for money- laundering and illegal government manipulation of people's savings.

Like Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, Albania has a heavily clientelistic economy that is strictly controlled by the country's political leadership.

With Serbia's street revolution very much in the news in Albania, many of yesterday's demonstrators used the occasion to vent their fury at the government. "Down with the dictatorship!" was a common cry. "First the government stole our votes, now it is stealing our money," was another.

Albania has in effect been a one-party state since last May's fraudulent elections and the opposition has refused to take up the few seats it was grudgingly offered. The European Union has been reluctant to call President Berisha to order as it feels it needs him to exert a stabilising influence on Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia. It also fears a return of the Socialist Party, heirs to Enver Hoxha's Communists.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea