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Albania: Italy Says Peacekeepers Begin Pullout July 18

Rome, 4 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Italian Defense Ministry Undersecretary Massimo Brutti said today that about 4,000 Italian peacekeepers will start pulling out of Albania on July 18 and will complete their mission by mid-August.

The original withdrawal date for the 7,000-strong multinational peacekeeping force was June 28. But the mandate was extended until August 12 to provide security for Albania's parliamentary elections.

In Tirana today, international troops moved in to guard the headquarters where election results are being tallied. A second run-off round of voting is scheduled for Sunday. Correspondents say the failure of Albanian officials to declare a final result after the first round of voting last Sunday is testing the patience of international monitors in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen, who is currently the OSCE's chairman, threatened yesterday to block aid to Albania unless all sides cooperate in the democratic process.

Supporters of Albania's would-be king Leka Zogu yesterday exchanged gunfire with police outside of the Central Election Commission headquarters following a royalist rally. The royalists, who accuse the Socialists of rigging last Sunday's referendum on the restoration of the monarchy, say they will rally again tonight