Albanian riot police fired in the air and lashed out with clubs to disperse hundreds of would-be emigrants who flocked to the port of Durres Monday in the hope of leaving for Italy.

Dozens of helmeted police swept through the steets, dragging off people they suspected of arriving in the town to try to board a ship from the communist state for a new life in the West.Police beat several of the detainees before bundling them into a waiting truck. The limp body of one man, his head streaming with blood, was transferred to another truck, apparently to take him to a hospital.

Later police, banging their riot shields with clubs, ran through the streets, chasing stone-throwing youths from the town center.

Several police officers pushed a small group of Western journalists, shouting at them to leave immediately.

Monday's clash was the first violence in Durres since the communist authorities clamped the harbor area under military control two weeks ago in an attempt to stem a mass exodus of some 20,000 refugees to Italy in commandeered ships.

Albanians in the town said hundreds of would-be refugees had begun to arrive in Durres Sunday after hearing rumors that two foreign ships were due to dock the next day.

Communist President Ramiz Alia has introduced cautious reforms and allowed opposition.

But the changes have not been enough to stop three mass exoduses of Albanians to the West since July.