Protesters fear Berisha's army is out for blood

A major security operation, including soldiers equipped with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, was under way throughout southern Albania yesterday, but armed civilians appeared to come out ahead in early fighting. Protesters in the southern port of Saranda fired assault rifles and rounds from a commandeered tank at jets flying overhead.

Journalists in Saranda saw Chinese-made MiG-15 warplanes drop a bomb next to two houses in the village of Delvina, and saw smoke from two more bombs. About 400 families, most belonging to Albania's ethnic Greek minority, live in the town. It was not clear if anyone was hurt.

The Defence Ministry denied there had been any order to fire against civilians. But on Tuesday, the crew of an Albanian military jet who landed in Italy seeking political asylum said they had been given orders to bomb civilian targets near the southern town of Gjirokaster, 123 miles south of Tirana.

About 400 hooded and armed protesters are guarding the entrance to the port of Saranda, which is under the control of the insurgents.

Trucks and cars were seen carrying weapons and explosives into the town, most of it looted from army warehouses.

In the town of Stiari, four men were reported injured in a battle with army troops. The fight apparently broke out when four truckloads of troops opened fire on a roadblock.

Vlora, the centre of anti-government protests, has yet to come under attack according to residents. They said most civilians were staying indoors fearful of the military and of the armed protesters. Gunmen are in position on rooftops in the town, they said.

The defenders of Vlora are believed to be well organised and have shored up positions outside the town.

Many Albanians fear that President Sali Berisha will aim at a bloody victory rather than political compromise in Vlora and Saranda. But Western diplomats say the army is poorly equipped and cannot be relied on to enforce the President's will. Among the soldiers are conscripts who invested their meagre wages in the pyramid schemes whose collapse sparked the unrest in January.

The police are another matter. Most come from the north, home of Mr Berisha, and are loyal to him. The regular police have been put under command of the Shik, the secret police, who are much in evidence around Tirana in buildings frequented by opposition and the media.

The capital is quiet. However, the calm imposed by the state of emergency, which includes a night-time curfew and press censorship, has not calmed the fears of those who know they are seen as enemies by the government.

Rome (Reuters) - A group of 29 Albanians fleeing violence in Vlora arrived in Italy yesterday after their small boat was intercepted by a navy frigate in the Adriatic, coastguards said.

The West launched diplomatic moves to find a political solution to the crisis, ruling out military intervention. The Dutch Foreign Minister will travel to Tirana tomorrow to seek talks between the government and opposition, and the Council of Europe is to send a mission there today.

Europe and the US condemned President Berisha. Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, called him "dictatorial".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot