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Albania: Opposition Rallies Despite Ban

Tirana, 15 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - Supporters of Albania's opposition Democratic Party went ahead with a downtown rally in Tirana today in defiance of the Socialist-led government, which has banned gatherings and authorized police to shoot without warning if opposed. Democratic Party head and former president Sali Berisha told some 1,000 supporters to march peacefully to the central square from his party's headquarters, which is guarded by two tanks in rebel hands. The violence, which follows the shooting death of a leading politician over the weekend, is the worst in Albania since it plunged into anarchy 18 months ago after the collapse of fraudulent banking schemes.

Berisha promised no violent acts today but warned violence could break out again tomorrow if the interior ministry does not withdraw an order authorizing police to shoot without warning.

Police, who have called on Democratic Party supporters to surrender their weapons, said at least three people were killed and 14 wounded in violence yesterday.

The deaths came as police reclaimed key buildings, including state radio and television, after they were seized yesterday by Berisha supporters. The situation remains tense today. Vans with armed police, along with gangs of unidentified armed men and looters are roaming the streets. Dozens of shops were looted yesterday.

The violence follows the shooting death of a Democratic Party leader over the weekend as he left his party headquarters. Berisha has blamed Prime Minister Fatos Nano and his Socialist Party for the murder and called for Nano's resignation.