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Albania: Protesters Occupy City's Main Square

Vlore, Albania; 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - More than 20,000 protesters today took to the streets of Vlore in southern Albania in a second day of anti-government protests following this week's collapse of another get-rich-quick investment scheme.

Western news agencies report that thousands of demonstrators pushed through police cordons to occupy the main square of the port city where they were joined by thousands more. Yesterday, at least six people were injured in Vlore when police halted a similar demonstration by firing plastic bullets and using water cannon.

The protests were sparked by the failure earlier this week of the Vlore-based Gjallica fund, with losses estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Often violent protests across the country began last month after other investment schemes began collapsing. The earlier protests were stopped by a government crackdown.

President Sali Berisha's government started a partial compensation program for investors from two failed funds earlier this week. But he says the government cannot fully refund lost investments.

Berisha, in an interview published today in the French newspaper "Le Monde," blamed protests on the opposition. He denied accusations that his government had backed the schemes.

Investment schemes, which promised huge returns on investments, had flourished in Albania following the end of communism. Observers say their collapse was inevitable once the number of new investors declined.