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Albania: Government Says It Controls Town Overrun By Gang

Tirana, 23 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - The Albanian government says special forces backed by helicopters today regained control of the northern town of Shkoder which had fallen into the hands of an armed gang. Chaos erupted in the town yesterday when gunmen stormed the main police station to free 35 inmates. Three policemen were reported hurt. Other armed civilians then went on a rampage, torching government and public buildings, robbing banks, and looting shops.

The Interior Ministry said riot police and troops have begun patrolling with the town's police forces and are checking cars for weapons. Locals contacted by phone said roadblocks were in place.

Special forces got inside the town after helicopter gunships fired on armed civilians at a barricaded bridge on a main approach road. The gunmen fled and government forces have not come into further contact with them. There are no immediate reports of any casualties.

The Shkoder region is a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Party headed by former president Sali Berisha, a bitter foe of the ruling Socialist regime in Tirana.