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Albania: Berisha Rejects Demands For Resignation, Elections

Tirana, 7 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Albanian President Sali Berisha today rejected opposition demands for his resignation and for early parliamentary elections. Rene Van der Linden, a deputy chief of the Council of Europe who met separately with Berisha and opposition leaders today, says the president insists on a continued political dialogue using "only peaceful means."

Van der Linden says Berisha refuses to accept a coalition government that includes former Communists in the Socialist Party. The Dutch envoy also says Berisha sees no room for new elections in the short term.

A recently formed 31-member council that calls itself the "Salvation Committee for Vlore" says weapons seized from the army in their southern port city will be surrended only on three conditions. They want a date set for new elections, the withdrawal of Albanian army forces from hills around Vlore and the formation of a new government of experts.

Berisha decreed an amnesty last night for those who surrender weapons stolen from the army in recent days. He also froze offensive military operations for 48 hours effective at 0600 this morning (local and Prague time).

A member of the insurgents' town council in the southern port of Saranda, former policeman Fuat Karali, responded today by demanding the president's resignation. He told a cheering crowd in the main square, "we are not giving up our weapons until Berisha resigns."

An official in the government's press office, Agim Neza, says the chief of Berisha's bodyguards was stopped at an insurgent checkpoint yesterday near Tepelena and led away at gunpoint. His fate was not know.

Meanwhile, Albanian television reports government authorities have detained three senior naval officers for allowing the theft of guns, ammunition, and heavy equipment -- including tanks and torpedo boats.

A European Union delegation led by Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Merlo arrived in Tirana today.