Albanian officials on Friday closed an imposing marble-and-steel museum honoring their Communist founder as public wrath tore away at a personality cult crafted over more than four decades.
Communist Party officials called on citizens in a radio announcement late Thursday to "halt the dark forces in their tracks.""The power of the people is imperiled, and the victories we have achieved and the freedom of the homeland are in danger," the appeal said.
But founder Enver Hoxha's cult that held the country captive and ensured the Communists' power appeared to be unraveling rapidly.
Troops and tanks guarded key buildings in Tirana, the capital, but residents said in telephone interviews that the streets were calm and people were back at work.
President Ramiz Alia has begun limited reforms and promised elections March 31. But protesters Wednesday and Thursday demanded quicker change in the Balkan country kept isolated and backward by more than four decades of communism.
Alia on Wednesday agreed to form a new government, but it was unclear what role the opposition would play.
Two days after an angry crowd toppled a giant bronze statue of Hoxha, officials said the museum crammed with exhibits in his honor had been shut down.
Agron Fico, a museum official reached by telephone from Vienna, said a sign saying "closed for reconstruction," had been hung on the doors of the 100-foot-high pyramid-shaped building.
Several people were inside sorting through the 700 or so exhibits to decide which should be moved to the National History Museum on Skanderbeg Square, or to the national archive on the capital's outskirts, Fico said.
The museum itself could be turned into a cultural center, including a library, art gallery and a youth center with a discotheque in the basement, he said.
An official journalist said three or four families, including those of Interior Minister Hekuran Isai; Tirana Mayor Llambi Gegprift; and former Interior Minister and Politburo member Simon Stefani, had moved out of a housing area reserved for party elite. They had promised to do so back in December.
The journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that cadets at the military academy were guarding a bust of Hoxha there and had warned they would shoot anybody who tried to remove it.
Two tanks were standing near the Hoxha museum, said a journalist at Radio Tirana reached by telephone today. A small group of soldiers was on patrol in front of Radio Tirana.
Tirana, crippled Wednesday by strikes, was back to normal, "with stores open and people back to work," said the radio reporter, Vladimir Cicani.