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Albania: Rebels Seize More Towns

Tirana, 10 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Latest reports from Albania say armed rebels are ignoring calls to surrender weapons and have taken control of more large towns in the south of the country. One of the latest towns said to fall to the rebels is Berat, just 70 kilometers south of Tirana, the capital. Reached by phone, residents said the town's army barracks had been looted for weapons after soldiers had withdrawn en masse.

There is so far no confirmation of reports that rebels had tried to seize a military airport -- the country's biggest -- close to Berat.

The Albanian Health Ministry and State television says 25 people were wounded by gunfire in Berat, Kutocova and the Adriatic port of Vlore. Reports emerging today spoke of at least five people being killed in fighting for control of the key town of Permet yesterday,

President Sali Berisha yesterday agreed with political opposition parties to form an all-party interim government and stage fresh elections by June. But rebels insist Berisha resign. They blame him for not protecting people from losing money in the collapse of dubious investment schemes in January which triggered the initial unrest that led to anti-government rioting.

The president's office says Berisha met the opposition again today to discuss sharing out posts in a interim coalition government.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today welcomed Berisha's move to form an all-party interim government and to hold early elections.

Chairman Niels Helveg Petersen said in a statement that the deal was a "significant" move to meet the demands of the situation.

The statement added that the early restitution of arms and ammunition is particularly important. It said that the OSCE does not accept the use of violent means and calls for its principles to be respected.