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Albania: Prime Minister Resigns Amid Threat Of Socialist Party Split

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned yesterday at a time when his Socialist Party is facing the risk of a split. Meta accuses the party's chairman, Fatos Nano, of forcing him to quit after Meta refused to support Nano in this year's race for a new president. The opposition is applauding the resignation and is demanding the formation of a broad-based coalition government.

Tirana, 30 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned on 29 January after failing in his efforts to put an end to four months of feuding within the ruling Socialist Party leadership.

Meta, who is just 32 years old and who had been in office for 26 months, accused the chairman of his Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, of what he described as "destructive pressure," "unprecedented aggression," "cheating," and "immoral attitudes" toward his government.

Meta explained his decision to the news media after refusing two offers of compromise from Nano.

"In this situation, after my last motion to agree on a new legal structure of the government -- and being totally open to including in it most of the well-known names of the Socialist Party in order to guarantee a long-lasting governance -- all I got for an answer were destructive conditions, which are aimed at keeping the government hostage to the personal intentions of the Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano," Meta said. "I am forced to give up my function as prime minister, expressing my confidence that such a step will pave the way for the creation of a new government."

Meta expressed concern that Nano's decision to run for president will isolate the country and prevent it from opening talks in March on an association and stabilization agreement with the European Union. In Meta's words, "I cannot vote for closing down Albania's integration and putting the country in quarantine."

"The future of a government cannot depend on the fact of who chairs it, or on conditions which counter the country's stability, which will produce an interim cabinet, a government kept hostage by the presidential elections in a few months' time or by the party's referendum initiated by Mr. Nano," Meta said. "Furthermore, the message made in Brussels [in recent talks with the EU] is very clear: The new president should be elected with a large consensus."

The outgoing prime minister said he is confident the Socialist Party will overcome its leadership crisis. He called on the party structures to take action against what he called irresponsible politicians.

"At such a moment, the Socialist Party has to find its responsibilities," Meta said. "It should wake up and not permit anyone to make it a hostage or keep Albania hostage to an irresponsible group of people."

Opposition parties welcomed Meta's decision, stressing the need for a broad-based coalition government. Democratic Party leader and former President Sali Berisha applauded what he called Meta's maturity and asked Nano to give up his desire to be president in direct elections expected to be held in July.

"I am convinced [Meta] resigned in order to help the country. I consider this the result of profound learning by a politician, who realized that no one should or could play with the free will of the Albanians," Berisha said.

Berisha told reporters that the opposition intends to take advantage of the apparent split in the Socialist Party to create majorities with some dissident Socialist members of parliament on certain issues. He said the aim would be to stop any challenges to the main priorities of the country, especially European integration.

Berisha's party, together with the other four opposition parties grouped in the Union for Victory, have boycotted parliament over allegations of ballot tampering. Deputies from the five Union for Victory parties are expected to take their seats in parliament tomorrow for the first time since June's parliamentary elections.

The ruling Socialist Party's public relations chief told journalists after an emergency meeting of the Socialist Steering Committee that Meta has lost a battle but not the war. Deputy Bardhyl Agasi admitted that Meta's supporters appealed for him to be reappointed. But Agasi noted that after the June parliamentary elections, the procedure by which the Socialist Party had elected Meta as prime minister had been manipulated.

"You should be asking it to the prime minister himself [that is, whether he'd be willing to serve again as prime minister]. He has not defined his resigning as irrevocable. He just resigned," Agasi said. "We'll continue the meeting [of the Steering Committee] to reach the solutions we mentioned. The Socialist Party's Statute Warranties Commission found irregularities [in the voting process for electing Meta as prime minister]. Of course, this commission cannot be contradicted, either by the Steering Committee or by anyone else."

In announcing his resignation, Meta did not deny that he may be re-elected to head a new Socialist Government, since he controls most of the party's leading structures.

Political analysts in Tirana foresee the growing risk of an eventual Socialist Party split. The party is due to hold an emergency congress soon to face this challenge.