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Rioting, Vandalism Reported from Second Albanian City

December 15, 1990

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Albania was rocked by a second day of riots Friday, and troops moved into the central city of Elbasan to halt a mob of about 1,000 who ″destroyed everything in their way,″ an Albanian journalist said.

Albanian radio confirmed the unrest in Elbasan, about 18 miles southeast of the capital Tirana. It said said six security force members were injured by stones and two had to be hospitalized. It also reported much damage on Thursday during seven hours of vandalism and looting in the northern city of Shkodra.

An editor of the Albanian ATA news agency said Elbasan, a city of about 80,000 residents with a giant steel mill, was quiet Friday night after soldiers and security forces moved in.

Albanian media reported that 10 people were hurt and 30 arrested in Thursday’s violence in Shkodra.

Albanian radio, monitored in London, also said an attempt was made Friday to gather in the main square of the central coastal city of Durres, but security forces intervened and dispersed ″these malevolent elements.″

The two days of riots followed government concessions that allowed formation of Albania’s first non-Communist party. The small Balkan nation south of Yugoslavia is ruled by the last Stalinist regime remaining in Europe.

Journalists and intellectuals had said Communist President Ramiz Alia was meeting with leaders of the Democratic Party of Albania, formed on Wednesday, as both sides appealed for calm and a halt to unrest in provincial cities.

But an intellectual said later the meeting never took place. He said he talked with others who had wanted to participate, and indicated the explanation by authorities was that no meeting was needed because ″All that must be done and said has been done and said. No more words. Now we must work.″

Alia decided this week to allow alternative parties. Popular uprisings last year toppled the other Communist governments in Eastern Europe, Alia appeared to be trying to avoid an explosion of popular discontent over living conditions and decades of Communist repression.

But on Friday, the angry crowd in Elbasan stoned official buildings, ″broke windows, looted food shops, set fire to different shops, cars and machinery,″ said the ATA journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

″They destroyed everything in their way,″ he said, indicating that local police failed to stop the crowd.

The official Tanjug news agency in neighboring Yugoslavia said footage shown on Albanian TV ″showed fire and police vehicles with water cannon on fire, turned-over police cars, smashed and vandalized store windows.″ It did not say where the footage was taken.

Other footage identified as being shot in Shkodra showed armored vehicles guarding the local radio and Communist Party buildings, Tanjug said.

Tanjug said Albanian Justice Minister Enver Halili appeared on TV and said that democracy and socialism were in danger in Albania.

The intellectual in Tirana, contacted by telephone from Vienna, expressed concern that the violence ″is commanded by a hidden hand. Who this is, I cannot grasp.″

Asked if he thought the violence might endanger what has been achieved in Tirana, he said: ″Exactly. It is done only for this, to get the new events, the new freedom into difficulty.″

An intellectual in Tirana said peaceful protests took place Thursday in the southern town of Saranda on the Adriatic coast.

The intellectual, speaking on condition of anonymity, said crowds in Tirana had gathered outside the Palace of Congresses on Friday evening in anticipation of the meeting between the president and the new party. When the party was formed, tens of thousands of people cheered party leaders at a peaceful rally.

The opposition had been expected to present its platform for economic reforms and adherence to international human rights guidelines.

On Wednesday, Alia appealed on nationwide TV and radio for peaceful change in Albania, which has been under rigid Communist rule since 1944.

His decision to allow alternative political movements may have touched off resistance among conservative elements of the ruling Communists and the Sigurimi, the secret police.

Alia also fired five hard-line members of his ruling Politburo.

Police and troops moved into Shkodra on Thursday to deal with hundreds of ″hooligans″ who attacked officials and buildings, wounding the local police chief and two other officers, official reports said.

Persistent reports this year, many from Yugoslavia and Greece, spoke of unrest in Shkodra and other northern areas that traditionally were Roman Catholic before the Communists took over.

Reports also surfaced of unrest in southern Albania, home to an estimated 40,000 ethnic Greeks.

Official newspapers carried a statement Friday from the new party condemning the Shkodra violence. It was also read on state by one of the party’s leaders, Arben Imame.