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Former Political Prisoners Fasting for Compensation

August 5, 1994

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ About 2,500 former political prisoners began a hunger strike Friday, accusing the government of abandoning them to poverty since their release from Albania’s dreaded Communist jails.

The government declared the strike illegal and a judge ordered it halted pending a ruling on its legality. From three towns came reports of police dispersing strikers.

The strong official reaction indicated authorities are nervous about civil unrest ahead of a controversial treason trial that opens Aug. 15. The trial will bring foreign reporters and observers to Europe’s poorest nation, struggling with the legacy of harsh Communist rule.

Kurt Kola, head of the Association of Ex-Political Prisoners, pledged that the fast would continue.

There are an estimated 120,000 former political prisoners and people persecuted by the Communists in this nation of 3 million. When communism collapsed in 1991, they were left without jobs or even homes to return to.

Some have resorted to making homes out of the concrete bunkers that Communist dictator Enver Hoxha had built across the land in case of invasion.

The government has offered some compensation but says it doesn’t have the money to meet all the inmates’ demands.

The former prisoners are demanding the government confiscate the property of the Communist Party, now renamed the Socialist party and the main opposition force.

Some of that property could then be given to the former political prisoners and the surviving relatives of some 5,000 people executed by the Communists. Pjeter Arbnori, speaker of parliament and himself a former political prisoner, denied there is any Communist Party property, saying the buildings used under Communist rule belonged and belong to the state.

The hunger strike began with 100 former political prisoners fasting Thursday night in Tirana, the capital. By Friday, that number had risen to 150, and there were some 2,500 hunger strikers in about 40 towns nationwide, Kola said.

He said police intervened and removed hunger strikers from Association offices in Fier, the coastal port of Durres and a nearby town, Shijak, Kola said. There was no official confirmation.

On Thursday evening, hours before the former prisoners began fasting, state TV read a government declaration accusing the group of trying to destabilize the country. It offered new concessions but Kola rejected them as insufficient.