Muslims were allowed to pray at a mosque in the Albanian capital Friday for the first time in more than 20 years and, in another sign of reform, Albania proposed legalizing strikes.
Albania, which had been the last haven for hard-line Communists in Eastern Europe, began introducing gradual changes last year. A ban on religion was lifted in November.About 10,000 people massed for the first Friday prayers at Tirana's Ethem-Bej mosque since Albania's Stalinist founder, Enver Hoxha, outlawed religion in 1967, the Yugoslav news agency HINA reported from Tirana.
About 70 percent of Albania's 3.2 million people are thought to be Muslims, 20 percent Orthodox and 10 percent Roman Catholic.
Catholics in the northern Albanian city of Shkodra have held Mass since the ban on religion was lifted. Ethnic Greeks in southern Albania have held Orthodox rites.
On another front, the government proposed to alter several laws in keeping with its newly declared commitment to democratic principles.
It forwarded to the presidium of the Parliament draft decrees on legalizing strikes, creating a "financial police" to crack down on speculators, allowing early retirement and increasing private activity in trade and services, the state news agency ATA said.
However, the proposal allowing strikes stipulates that the presidium can suspend work stoppages if it deems it necessary for the national interest, ATA said.
In a television address late Thursday, President Ramiz Alia appealed for his countrymen to end debilitating strikes and help rescue the nation's moribund economy, according to ATA.
He was responding to a wave of strikes the past week by workers emboldened by the democratic changes. On Wednesday, the government and opposition agreed to seek a ban on strikes until May.
In his broadcast address, Alia seemed to rule out pay increases.