Iron man of Tirana agrees to talk to his enemies

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The Independent Online
Albania's President Sali Berisha agreed with opposition parties yesterday that his armed forces would not try to seize rebel towns in the southby force and that he would offer an amnesty to insurgents who surrendered weapons within two days.

A statement issued by the President and 10 parties after more than five hours of talks also said Mr Berisha would seek a political consensus on replacing the Prime Minister, Aleksande Meksi, who stepped down last weekend. Three days into a state of emergency sparked by an armed rebellion across the south of the country, Mr Berisha's resolve to use an "iron hand" appeared to have been softened by the force of international condemnation of his repressive and dictatorial behaviour. His meeting with the opposition leaders came two days after he cut off all ties with them.

He also eased the curfew in operation in Albania and the restrictions that had been imposed on foreign journalists.

A delegation from the Council of Europe began a two-day fact-finding mission yesterday, and the Dutch Foreign Minister, Hans Van Mierlo, was due to arrive in Tirana today to mediate in the crisis on behalf of the European Union. EU governments are pressing for the formation of a broad- based coalition which could heal the rifts opened up by the conflict and steer Albania back towards democracy.

Mr Berisha also warmed slightly to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, agreeing in principle to a visit by the newly appointed special envoy, Franz Vranitzky, although he did not agree to any specific date.

On Wednesday, Mr Berisha ruled out an OSCE visit, even though Albania is a member.