Icy grip of fear returns to haunt Albanian streets

Brutal crackdown brings night raids and torture

Albanian authorities have rounded up, arrested and beaten hundreds of young men all over the country, sending some for "special treatment" in the capital, Tirana, and herding the rest into local police stations in a ruthless attempt to scare the restive population off the streets.

In the southern town of Berat and in other provincial towns in the area, the atmosphere is icy with fear. Not only will ordinary people not speak, they will not even sit at the same table as visiting journalists. The towns are crawling with police and with sinister men with short cropped hair and leather jackets who stare at everyone who passes. Only the bravest describe how the police, some of whom are masked, set up roadblocks and swooped on homes at three in the morning.

The repression in progress is by far the most brutal in Albania since the dying days of the Communist regime in 1990. According to the government's own figures, 247 people have been arrested with the charge that they were responsible for the destruction of state property in last Sunday's riots, and 72 committed to trial. In repeated bulletins, state television has announced that the proof against this hard core is overwhelming and they can expect to serve up to 15 years in prison.

The extent of the repression appears to be much wider than officially acknowledged. The Independent has seen detailed evidence of more than 200 people having been rounded up in Berat alone. Of these, 46 have been sent to Tirana, 30 have been released and 120 or more have been crammed into two tiny rooms in the police station.

Those released have all been treated for beatings, and have reported appalling violence and torture. The doctors involved are so terrified that their official diagnoses include such surreal conditions as "axial neurosis" and "toxic influenza". In private, the same doctors say some of the released detainees are too roughed up to move.

Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the latest prisoners, too numerous for the police station, are being held in sewers and underground military tunnels.

The fate of those sent to Tirana is unknown.

With the crisis over Albania's failed pyramid investment schemes entering its final, most devastating phase, the government is clearly terrified of a repeat of the riots that pushed the country to the brink of chaos a week ago, and bewildered about how to prepare its people for the next round of bad news.

This week, the state is supposed to begin compensating people with assets frozen from two of the pyramid schemes, but it is not clear that it will be able to do so. The largest of the schemes still in operation, involving hundreds of thousands of investors and hundreds of millions of dollars, are just a step away from collapse. Their disappearance would almost certainly bring the government crashing down with them.

Berat is the Albanian town worst-hit by the wave of arrests, partly because it saw some of the worst violence last weekend and partly because it is a traditional Socialist Party stronghold that bitterly resents the looming presence of the ruling Democratic Party, which has taken power locally through a mix of intimidation and electoral fraud.

The arrests appear to be targeted at anyone who might try to stir up trouble. Relatives' attempts to locate detainees have proved fruitless.

The government is due to begin pay-outs on Wednesday, but it is not clear if these will be in cash or in some kind of bond or voucher. Either way, a major issue of currency risks triggering hyperinflation. The lek has already nose-dived against the dollar in the past few days.

The authorities are praying that the biggest scheme, run by the conglomerate Vefa, can keep going since the company is the Albanian equivalent of General Motors - if it blows, the whole country blows. But Vefa hasdefaulted on its investment contracts, withholding customers' capital, paying interest in lek even on hard-currency deposits (at a terrible exchange rate), and cutting its interest rate in half.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
people
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
News
people... and stop them from attacking people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
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

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?