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Albania: Communists Refuse To Back Italy's Military Mission

Rome, 9 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told Parliament today that if his Communist allies do not back Italy's military mission to Albania, he would let the president decide the government's fate. Prodi did not offer to step down, as the opposition has demanded. But correspondents say one outcome of a meeting with President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro could be his resignation.

The Communist Refoundation party has repeatedly refused to back the force, which is designed to protect aid to the chaos-wracked country. Prodi needs the party's votes to have a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

After the speech, a leader of the party, Armando Cossutta, said the Communists would not budge. The session was adjourned with a vote scheduled for this evening.

The Communists give Prodi the majority edge he needs in the Chamber. They fear soldiers' lives would be at risk because of anti-Italian sentiment in Albania fed by the sinking of an Albanian refugee ship last month in a confrontation with an Italian navy vessel.

Italy is to lead the 6,000-strong force, scheduled to go to Albania next week to provide security for humanitarian aid. Last night, Prodi won support for the mission in the Senate, where he has a comfortable majority.

Meanwhile in Albania, the main opposition Socialists ended a lengthy boycott of parliament today and helped lift a press censorship law.

Under emergency measures imposed last month, Albanian newspapers had to submit all material to military authorities for approval. Articles considered harmful for the public order were banned.

The Socialists said they ended their boycott to show support for Prime Minister Bashkim Fino's government. President Sali Berisha appointed Fino, a Socialist, in an effort to appease insurgent groups in the south who had been demanding Berisha's resignation.

The rebels blame Berisha for the collapse of dubious savings schemes, which cost many people their life-savings and led to an armed rebellion.