Some 50,000 demonstrators chanting "freedom" rallied in Tirana Saturday for what appeared to be Albania's largest anti-government protest since the country was founded in 1944, and Marxist President Ramiz Alia implemented a cabinet shakeup.
In another in the flurry of unprecedented developments to shake the tiny Balkan nation, the main labor organization, the Syndicate of Professional Unions, voted to sever it ties with Alia's Albanian Party of Labor and become independent.Alia replaced four ministers in the Cabinet realignment, apparently continuing a series of personel changes aimed at renovating the image of the regime as it confronts rising dissent and girds for February parliamentary polls called under a program of political and economic liberalization.
The official Albanian Telegraphic Agency said the shakeup involved changes in the transportation and finance portfolios, the general secretaryship of the Cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers, and the chairmanship of the State Control Commission, a key economic planning agency.
There was no word on Adil Carcani, who senior sources in the ruling party said submitted his resignation to Alia on Thursday and was installed as head of the Democratic Front, the main mass communist organization, replacing Nexhmije Hoxha, the widow of the founder of the communist state, Enver Hoxha, and reputedly a doctrinaire Marxist opposed to reforms.
News of the latest personel changes came shortly after about 50,000 people gathered at Tirana's Enver Hoxha University for a protest called by the Democratic Party, the first opposition group to be formed under the new political dispensation.
It was the biggest gathering of its kind held since Hoxha founded the hardline communist state in 1944.
The rally ended peacefully, although police with loud hailers moved quickly to disperse several thousand people who gathered afterward in central Skanderbeg Square.