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Albania: Violence Flares As Opposition Seizes Tanks, State TV

Tirana, 14 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - Opposition demonstrators in Tirana seized at least three tanks and took control of the state television headquarters today after violence erupted at Prime Minister Fatos Nano's office.

Correspondents say two tanks seized by supporters of former President Sali Berisha were patrolling in front of Nano's office this afternoon. Another was posted at Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square. Public Order Minister Perikli Teta said officials outside of Tirana have repelled armed attacks on at least four local police stations.

In a recorded statement broadcast after the seizure of the television headquarters, Berisha asked Albanians not to destroy state institutions.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana called for Albanian demonstrators and political leaders to show restraint and establish conditions for a return to peace.

A NATO press release said Solana urged all sides to work together to preserve the democratic institutions of the state. He said NATO is committed to promoting stability and security in Albania and is actively cooperating with it through the Partnership for Peace program.

Meanwhile, Nano has issued a call "on all Albanians to defend democracy," saying that the violence could plunge Albania back into the kind of chaos that swept the country last year.

Today's violence erupted during the funeral of a slain opposition politician when anti-government protesters carrying his coffin attempted to storm Nano's office. Daan Everts, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Tirana, said there were grenade and dynamite explosions. At least one explosion went off inside the government headquarters.

At least three people were injured when Nano's security forces fired on the crowd. Opposition supporters yesterday had burst into the government building and set fire to offices. The demonstrators are calling for Nano's resignation.