VIENNA, Austria — Albania today reimposed travel restrictions, the Austria Press Agency reported, after hundreds of its citizens stormed foreign embassies or gathered outside them in an effort to flee their homeland.
The reported government move, only two days after the restrictions were lifted, came as diplomats were deadlocked over the fate of more than 200 Albanians who have taken refuge in the embassies.
The Austrian report, apparently based on official sources in Tirana, the Albanian capital, said the measure was necessary because of the "alarming situation" in front of the foreign missions.
On Tuesday, a new Albanian law went into effect allowing any adult to apply for a passport. The law also said that Albanians holding passports could apply directly to foreign embassies for visas.
The Austria Press Agency said the government announced today that Austrians could no longer apply to the embassies for visas. The report mentioned nothing about any change in the new passport law.
The Austrian news agency, which has had a reporter in Tirana for the last few weeks, said another 15 people had asked for asylum at the West German Embassy, and at least 20 refugees were said to have climbed the fence of the Czechoslovak Embassy, already sheltering 25 people.
If the figures are correct, the total of refugees now holed up inside foreign missions would be between 270 and 290.
Witnesses in front of the West German Embassy claimed that a man was brutally beaten and dragged away by security forces, but a German government spokesman in Bonn said there were no reports of new disturbances outside the mission.
The asylum-seekers, many of whom crashed through gates or scaled walls to enter embassies earlier this week, present one of the biggest challenges in 45 years to the rulers of Europe's poorest, most isolated country.
Albania, the last hard-line communist country left in Eastern Europe, in recent months has expressed interest shedding its isolationist ways and broadening ties with other nations.
But the Communist Party monopoly on power continues. Communist Party chief Ramiz Alia, who succeeded Stalinist strongman Enver Hoxha, has firmly rejected the type of multiparty system that has taken hold in the rest of Eastern Europe.
The lifting of the travel restrictions on Tuesday was part of a reform package adopted in May. Under it, Albanians who previously were not allowed to travel freely were entitled to passports. A ban on religion was lifted and the death penalty for defectors was abolished.
Earlier today, a diplomat said by telephone that as many as 500 Albanians assembled in front of the Yugoslav Embassy, waiting for travel visas. Another crowd of several hundred people was waiting outside the West German mission and a smaller group in front of the French Embassy, the diplomat said.