Funeral rally turns fury on Berisha

Permet - Albanian rebels who seized the southern town of Permet began to bury their dead in a funeral that swelled into a protest rally, with crowds demanding President Sali Berisha's resignation. About 3,000 people shouting "Down with Berisha, down with the murderer" marched to the cemetery, where youths fired in the air with Kalashnikov rifles before a school teacher and a young father were buried.

The crowd paused to shout anti-government slogans in front of the prefecture hall, where a pool of blood lay on the floor. Locals said this was where the 24-year-old father of a young child was shot. The rebels took control of Permet on Sunday and vowed not to surrender their weapons until Mr Berisha resigned. Five people were killed and six injured in the fighting, hours before Mr Berisha struck a deal with opposition parties to hold early elections.

The parents of Eduart Theodori, head of Mr Berisha's Democratic Party in Permet, were killed by soldiers. Their coffins stood inside his house, where 15 women sat weeping. "When we saw things flaring up I asked my father and mother to take my two children to a nearby village," Mr Theodori said.

"When they passed by a police station the soldiers opened fire. They shot at people like they were sheep. We had given the soldiers an ultimatum to leave and as they left they sprayed bullets everywhere."

Lefteri Kiriako, a doctor at Permet hospital, said all the injured had been wounded by bullets and one was in critical condition.

A witness, Hecuran Bejollari, said: "A group of soldiers left yesterday and as they were leaving they started shooting at people in the main square. There were many dead and injured. People took guns from the police station and two barracks and we shot back."

Speakers in the main square urged the town's 12,000 people to remain calm and not fire their guns aimlessly in the air.

"We will try to find a way to calm people. A rebel council that has been elected will distribute food, gas and other necessities," said the mayor, Spartak Kondi. "We will return our weapons when Berisha resigns." Most public buildings in the town had been sprayed with bullets and the police station was burning. The town's two army barracks had been looted but it was unclear how many weapons were taken.

The rebels have turned down Mr Berisha's offer of amnesty if they give back thousands of weapons, including tanks and heavy artillery , seized from state arsenals.

Journalists driving from the rebel-held town of Gjirokaster found no roadblocks on the way to Permet on the main highway south-east from rebel- held Tepelene. The rebels said they also controlled about nearby 36 villages.

Rebel leaders, including many former army officers, were in contact with each other in the main towns of Gjirokaster, Vlora, Sarande and Delvine to discuss Mr Berisha's deal with the opposition. They said they would also discuss it with opposition leaders in Tirana.

Mr Berisha, accused of standing by when pyramid investment schemes collapsed in January, wiping out the savings of thousands, agreed with all parties to hold elections by June.

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