The government gave permission Friday for the first legal opposition rally in Albania and said all statues and symbols bearing the name of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin should be removed.
Authorities also said enterprises and institutions bearing Stalin's name should receive new ones, the state ATA news agency reported. It said this was decided "taking into consideration that historic circumstances have changed."Workers on agricultural cooperatives and residents in housing blocks named after Stalin should similarly decide on new names, the report said.
Clusters of Tirana residents watched all morning as workers toiled to dismantle the marble-covered pedestal in a central park on which a statue of Stalin had stood for decades. The statue itself came down at midnight.
A second Stalin statue at the Stalin Textile Combine in Tirana was also taken down overnight.
Stalin, who was born this day in 1879, was the father-figure of the harsh brand of communism that Albania's founder Enver Hoxha imposed on his country for 41 years.
"Now let's take down the statue of the dictator who ruled here for 50 years," said one youth, referring to a giant bronze statue of Hoxha that towers nearby over Tirana's showcase Skanderbeg Square.
Demonstrators in northern Shkodra last week reportedly blew up that city's giant statue of Hoxha. Authorities there took down a Stalin memorial in August. Flowers have been planted on the spot where the statue of Hoxha once stood.
The decisions to permit a rally Saturday by the new opposition Democratic Party and to remove Stalin statues indicated pro-reform forces were gaining the upper hand in the ruling Albanian Labor Party.