Mob fury as Albanians torch ruling party's HQ

One day after running the police out of town in pitched street battles, the furious citizens of Vlora, Albania's second city, set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party yesterday. They chanted slogans accusing the government of murder as they joined the funeral cortege of a man shot dead during the riots.

As they walked across town behind the coffin which carried th body of Artur Rustemi, 33, a vegetable store owner who had piled hundreds of dollars into a local "pyramid" investment scheme, as many as 40,000 mourners shouted: "The police killed him! The government killed him!"

The anger of the population seemed unabated by the terrifying escalation of violence, which turned the city centre into a smouldering wreck on Monday, or by the threat to impose a state of emergency on the area. Deputies in parliament in the Albanian capital, Tirana, finally decided late last night against the latter measure.

Vlora has been badly hit by the failure of many of Albania's so-called pyramid schemes - pseudo-banks that offer unrealistically high rates of interest - because the amount of money at stake there is higher than in the rest of the country. The port city has grown rich on racketeering, whether of arms, drugs or illegal immigrants, and the collapse of the local pyramid company, Gjallica, last week - involving the estimated loss of more than pounds 300m - has robbed Vlora of much of its accumulated wealth.

The government has failed to convince the country that it had no part in the pyramid schemes and has maintained control in most areas through sheer intimidation, involving a heavy presence of armed and plainclothes police, mass arrests and random beatings.

The protesters in Vlora have ambitions to launch a "march on Tirana", joining forces with demonstrators in other towns lying on Albania's main south-north road, such as Fier, Lushnje and Kavaja.

So far that ambition has been thwarted, because army units have taken up positions in the hills around the city and on the main roads, but it could still become reality.

"It seems an impossible plan, but you have to remember that these are people who in the past have walked across almost all of Greece," said one Tirana journalist who did not wish to be named.

The crisis can only get worse, as it is probably a matter of days, or weeks at the most, before the largest of the pyramid schemes, holding the life-savings of hundreds of thousands of people, crumbles in turn.

The opposition, despite the constant harassment and physical attacks on its leaders, has demanded a cross-party dialogue and the establishment of a national unity government. Significantly, that proposal has met with some sympathy even in government circles. There are signs of cracks appearing in the power base of President Sali Berisha and his Prime Minister, Aleksander Meksi.

Bashkim Kopliku, a former deputy prime minister, has joined the calls for the government to resign.

There also appears to be a growing split between President Berisha and Mr Meksi, with each hoping to save his own skin by blaming the other for the debacle.

The foreign community, meanwhile, is hoping that the crisis can be resolved without a full-scale breakdown of public order.

Diplomats are starting to consider the possibility of a transitional period, followed by new parliamentary elections.

The envoys are worried, however, that President Berisha may not be an adequate guarantor for such a transition, and that no other figure of sufficient stature exists to do the job in his place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015