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Western Press Review: Albania Takes A Great Leap Backwards

Prague, 4 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "Albania is staring into the abyss," a commentary by Kevin Done says in today's issue of the British newspaper "Financial Times." Other commentators in the Western press also discuss the worst turmoil in Albania since it broke free from communism.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The country is in danger of slipping back into chaos

Done's commentary continues: "In the first fearful hours of a state of emergency, the country is in danger of slipping back into the chaos that marked its traumatic emergence six years ago from decades of Stalinist isolation. Mr. Sali Berisha, Albania's president, has failed to find a political solution to the rising wave of violent unrest that has swept the country during the past six weeks. On Sunday night, after the fall of the government led by Mr. Aleksander Meksi, he took the desperate gamble of deploying troops to try to end the riots."

Done writes: "The turmoil triggered by (the collapse of a group of fraudulent nationwide investment schemes) is jeopardizing much of the undoubted achievement of the early Berisha years. At the start of his presidency in early 1992, Albania was close to starvation, its economy at a standstill, its agriculture and obsolete heavy industries in collapse." He says: "The country pulled back from the brink in remarkable fashion and enthusiastically espoused the transition reform programs put forward by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other Western institutions."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Berisha was warned of the pending collapse of the pyramid schemes

The paper says today in an editorial: "Albanians aren't the first in Eastern Europe to be suckered by speculative investment schemes, but the effects there have been much more severe." The newspaper says: "Yet if the situation in Europe's poorest country is bad -- and Mr. Berisha's government clearly has its flaws -- the prospective alternatives look a lot worse." It contends: "The former Communist Party is reputedly the least reformed of Eastern Europe's ex-ruling parties."

The paper goes on: "The World Bank and IMF as well as Western governments repeatedly warned Mr. Berisha of the pending collapse of the pyramid schemes; wisely, they are not eager now to dispatch a rescue mission until it becomes clear that the country has a stable, accountable government committed to real reform." The editorial concludes: "If Albania is to find its way again, its leaders will have to be honest about the hard road ahead."

DIE WELT: If the government attacks people, donations from the West will not be forthcoming

Boris Kalnoky comments today in the German newspaper: "Accusations that members of the government maintained close links with the swindlers who operated the investment schemes (cannot) be entirely refuted. It is clear that the government allowed the pyramid investment schemes to continue operating for more than a year after first receiving alarming information on their solvency, and despite warnings from the World Bank. At the very least, the government of Albania was guilty of negligence in the current crisis. And if a government with such questionable legitimacy attempts to resolve the crisis by firing on its own people, it is not difficult to foresee the international reaction.

"Albania urgently needs the world's help. (Ousted) Prime Minister Meksi hopes that donations from abroad will see the swindled masses' money returned to them; the depleted national treasury is unable to offer compensation. But donations from the West will not be forthcoming if the government orders the army to attack the people. For in such a scenario, Albania's political collapse would inevitably be followed by an economic one. The option of violence can only lead President Berisha into a dead end."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Europe's poorest country is on the brink of civil war

In the paper today, Bernhard Kuppers comments: "Even in the capital of Albania, police have now taken to their heels in the face of a rebellious mob. Under the newly-introduced state of emergency the regime has threatened soldiers who refuse to obey orders with court martial, not without reason. Europe's poorest country has reached the brink of civil war that now threatens Tirana. Italy and Greece are taking measures to deal with a feared mass exodus across the Adriatic and the southern border."

Kuppers writes: "From the beginning of his term in office in 1992, Berisha has failed to function as president of all Albanians and has installed a high-handed, one-party rule, and since last May's unfair elections the opposition has only been represented outside the parliament." He says: "It will need a lot of effort to pull the Albanian population out of their dream of living on interest and back to hardworking reality. To do that, there first has to be a political compromise in Tirana."

LONDON TIMES: Desperate Albanians will pour into Italy and Greece

Richard Owen comments today: "If Mr. Berisha is brought down, there are honorable and liberal-minded people in (Albania's opposition coalition) Forum for Democracy who might put Albania back on track. But the Forum was brought together only by the crisis, and if it came to power it swiftly would be revealed as a front for the Socialists, some of whom remain militant communists."

Owen writes: "The likelihood is that southern Europe will pay the price as tens of thousands of desperate Albanians pour into Italy and Greece. Yesterday's airlift by the Italian navy of foreign nationals stranded in an Albanian port may prove just a foretaste of the exodus to come."

WASHINGTON POST: Berisha has dwindling public support

In an analysis today, Christine Spolar writes: "This impoverished Balkan country, reeling from a weekend of violent anti-government protests, shuttered itself (last) night as a state of emergency and a nationwide curfew went into full effect. President Sali Berisha, although grappling with the most serious crisis of his five-year tenure, earlier in the day accepted a second term in office from a cheering parliament packed with his supporters. The celebration belied Berisha's dwindling popular support after months of public protests by Albanians who lost their life savings in failed investment programs."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Roadblocks, censorship and curfews are part of the state of emergency

The paper carries today the following analysis by Tracy Wilkinson: "Embattled President Sali Berisha was re-elected (yesterday) by an obedient parliament stacked with party faithful." Wilkinson writes: "With parts of this impoverished country awash in anarchy, Berisha posted police roadblocks on major highways, slapped censorship on news reports and imposed a nationwide curfew that transformed the capital into a ghost town after nightfall."

The analysis continues: "Under the emergency law, the leadership of the army, Interior Ministry and the secret police were merged into a Council for Defense that will enforce the new measures. Berisha named Baskim Gazidede, head of the feared secret police force SHIK, to run the defense council. Albania effectively has no other government, since Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi and his Cabinet were forced to resign this weekend -- an unsuccessful attempt by Berisha to throw a bone to his opponents."