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Albania: Italy Declares Emergency Over Refugee Crisis

Tirana, 19 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Italy has declared a "state of emergency" after officials said the country has been flooded by more than 10,000 refugees from Albania's turmoil in less than a week. The state of emergency gives Italian officials access to $36 million the government set aside to assist the refugees.

A special Italian cabinet meeting today also decided that genuine refugees would be allowed to stay in the country for no more than three months while troublemakers would be immediately sent back. Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano said 289 "undesirables" had already been repatriated to Albania. He also said the exodus had brought 10,629 people to Italy since March 13. Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini warned today the outflow of refugees in Albania threatened all Europe.

Meanwhile, fresh violence was reported in Albania, which was thrown into chaos following the collapse of several get-rich-quick schemes which left many Albanians penniless. The Albanian Interior Ministry said 14 people had been killed in the past 24 hours, mostly in shooting incidents. As armed gangs continue to terrorize several cities, Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela today appealed for international assistance to rebuild the country's police and justice system. A European Union mission that visited Tirana said it would only provide assistance once Albanian authorities could restore order.