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Albania experienced further turmoil in 1998. The assassination of a leading opposition figure and a violent anti-government demonstration led to the prime minister’s resignation. High levels of crime, violence, and corruption, as well as the influx of refugees from Kosovo, destabilized the country and adversely affected the protection of human rights.

On September 12, unknown individuals killed a leading member of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), Azem Hajdari. DP leader and former president Sali Berisha blamed the government, but there was no conclusive evidence to support this claim. On September 14, Hajdari’s funeral procession turned into an violent attack on the prime minister’s office by armed DP supporters. For a brief period, the prime ministry and the Albanian state television and radio building came under their control.

On September 28, Prime Minister Fatos Nano resigned; he was replaced by thirty-one-year-old Pandjeli Majko, also from the Socialist Party. Parliament lifted Berisha’s parliamentary immunity due to his role in what the government called a coup d’etat, but, as of October 19, he had not been arrested.

1998 saw a number of violent incidents involving armed gangs and the police. In contrast to the aggressiveness of the police forces during Berisha’s rule, the police under the new government sometimes suffered from an inability or unwillingness to establish control, especially in the more remote areas. There were also times, however, when the police exceeded their authority by using excessive force.

On January 5, police in the town of Fier forcibly removed an injured citizen, Agron Pasha, from his hospital bed and reportedly beat him to death; as of October, no one had been held responsible for the crime. In February, the former chief of criminal police in Shkoder, Gjergj Deda, was severely beaten while in a Tirana prison. In January, the police also reportedly beat an activist of the opposition Democratic Party, Petrit Jatchoe, in Kutchova. Also in January, the chairman of the municipal council in Fier and member of the Democratic Party, Durim Lekdushi, was beaten by the police in Vlora.

A number of policemen were killed by criminals during the year. On February 25, parliament passed a new anti-crime law that allowed the police to shoot without warning on armed groups who resist the police.

In late August, the police arrested six former senior officials from the Berisha government, including the former ministers of defense, the interior, and state control. All six were charged with ordering the use of chemical weapons, helicopters, and airplanes against the civilian population during the uprising in 1997. The charge of “crimes against humanity” leveled against them carries a sentence ranging from fifteen years in prison to the death penalty, which is in force in Albania.

Sali Berisha and the DP organized protest rallies, despite a police ban on demonstrations because of what the Interior Ministry called, "terrorist threats." In one demonstration on August 27, six Berisha supporters and six policemen were injured in scuffles.

Despite some improvements, the judicial system continued to suffer from the low number of trained professionals, corruption, and a disrespect for legal norms. Due process violations were commonplace, such as the unlawful extension of detention periods, restricted access to lawyers, and irregularities during trials.

By October, a constitutional drafting commission— made up of representatives from the main political forces, and Albanian and foreign legal experts—was nearing completion of its work. Throughout the year, the commission was hampered in its work by political fighting between the government and the opposition, mostly due to an ongoing boycott by the DP.

On February 14, Chairman of the Constitutional Court Rrustem Gjata was removed from his post by parliament because he had been a member of the communist-era secret police. Gjata was removed on the basis of the so-called “Genocide Law” from 1995, which bars from public office any person who held power in a pre-1991 government or was a collaborator with the former secret police. The law does not provide adequate due process guarantees or establish clear criteria to determine who should be banned from public office. Ironically, Gjata defended the law when it was before the Constitutional Court in 1995.

The head of the Court of Cassation, Avni Shehu, came under fierce verbal attack from the government in March. The pro-government media labeled the court a “nest of criminals” and accused Shehu of corruption, but he was not removed.

Freedom of the media improved, especially with a proliferation of private radio and television stations which were never allowed under the previous government. However, there were some disturbing incidents of violence against journalists, and media sympathetic to the political opposition complained of restrictions.

In February, the police in Librazhd reportedly beat two journalists, Rexhep Polisi and Ylli Dosku, because of their writings. Shortly thereafter, the police in Elbasan beat Irena Vreto, a correspondent for Republika newspaper. On May 10, a bomb planted by unknown individuals exploded at the Vlora home of Koha Jone journalist Zenepe Luka, injuring his two children and two neighbors. The attack took place one day after top DP officials had gone to Vlora for the first time since last year’s uprising, and Luka had written about the tense situation in the city.

In March, the news agency Enter, considered close to the opposition, complained that its electricity and telephone lines had been cut. On February 24, the government pressed charges against Vjollca Vokshi, an announcer at the pro-DP Radio Kontakt, fordisseminating misinformation with the intent to incite panic. During an attack by armed gangs on the police station in Shkoder two days before, Vokshi had changed a government statement from “the government will eliminate the criminals by all means” to “the government will suppress the revolt in Shkoder with violence and blood.” The charges were dropped in May. On September 8, the director of Radio Kontakt, Agron Bala, was attacked by unknown assailants while leaving the station’s studio.

Women’s rights remained an issue, especially the problem of domestic violence. The participation of Albanian women in foreign prostitution rings was reported. In some cases, women were clearly deceived into leaving Albania by criminal gangs or even abducted.

In July and August, Albanian authorities, together with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, arrested at least five non-Albanians suspected of being members of militant Islamic groups. One of them faced the death sentence in his home country, Egypt, and was extradited. On August 16, the U.S. Embassy in Tirana evacuated all non-essential staff because, according to the U.S. government, there was a terrorist threat to the embassy.

An estimated 15,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo sought refuge in Albania from attacks by the Serbian police and Yugoslav Army (see chapter of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). Most refugees were accommodated in the north, a region largely out of the government’s control, but by September many had relocated to areas in the center and south of Albania, with help from international aid agencies; some of these people subsequently fled to Italy. In August, the Albanian government announced that there had been forty-one “incidents” along the Albania-Yugoslav border involving the Yugoslav armed forces.





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