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Albanian Leader Promises Cabinet Shake-Up

March 02, 1997| From Times Wire Services

TIRANA, Albania — Bowing to weeks of anti-government protests, President Sali Berisha said Saturday that his Cabinet ministers will resign to be replaced by leaders acceptable to the opposition.

Berisha's brief announcement on state TV followed unrest that began last month with the collapse of high-risk investment schemes and that escalated Friday into riots between police and demonstrators in the southern city of Vlore that killed at least six people.

The president, speaking from Tirana, the capital, said the removal of Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi and his ministers had been agreed upon at talks with opposition leaders.

"To resolve the problems that have been created, the leaders of the political parties . . . came to the conclusion that the Meksi government will resign," Berisha said. "Meksi himself said he considered it reasonable to quit without any [confidence] vote."

Berisha added that the new government will still be made up of members of his Democratic Party of Albania but that a "round table" of opposition Socialists and other parties will approve new ministers.

It was unclear, however, whether the opposition would sanction any government made up purely of Democratic Party members. Relations have traditionally been hostile between the Socialists--the renamed Communists--and the anti-Communist Democrats.

Violent protests shook the tiny Balkan state Saturday after the Vlore deaths, in the fiercest confrontation in Albania since 40 people died in food riots in 1991.

In Tirana, riot police were put to flight by stone-throwers in a crowd of about 5,000 demonstrators marching in defiance of a police ban to the city's university campus.

Elsewhere, scores of villagers erected roadblocks in at least five places on the only road connecting Tirana with Vlore, about 70 miles to the south, reporters said.

In response to Friday's violence, the government had dispatched soldiers and police to Vlore on Saturday. But halfway there, in the town of Lushnje, a mob attacked some of the army vehicles, setting fire to two trucks, taking pistols from some of the soldiers and forcing two trucks to turn back to Tirana, witnesses said.

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