Supporters of former President Sali Berisha seized government buildings in the Albanian capital Monday and demanded the government resign. Government forces launched a counterattack hours later, killing three Berisha supporters and wounding 14.
Interior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga, who reported the casualties, also said the parliament building and the offices of Prime Minister Fatos Nano were back in government hands.The shooting began in Tirana after protesters carried the bodies of a slain politician and two others to Nano's office. The opposition blames him for the deaths.
A daylong insurrection followed in which gunmen seized government television, the parliament and at least four government tanks. At one point, thousands of people milled about central Skanderbeg Square, firing weapons in the air.
At least three people were wounded in front of Nano's office; a complete count of casualties was impossible.
The unrest threatened a repeat of nationwide riots that swept Albania last year after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes that cost many people their life's savings. The turmoil sent refugees into Italy, Greece and elsewhere in Europe.
The United States and the European Union have expressed fear that the current violence could spread elsewhere in the Balkans, including the Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanian rebels are fighting for independence.
Thousands of mourners scattered in terror Monday as guards inside the main government building began firing at those who brought the bodies of opposition leader Azem Hajdari and two others to Nano's office following a service at Skanderbeg Square. Hajdari and a party member were slain Saturday outside their Democratic Party headquarters, and the third victim was a protester killed during rioting Sunday.
Berisha, who has called for Nano's immediate resignation, appealed for calm in a televised address. He urged his followers to seek a political solution to "this deep crisis."
"The attempts of Sali Berisha to come back to power through a coup are in vain," Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told a private radio station. "The international community is acting very fast. This government has won the vote of the majority of the Albanian people and it has the responsibility for governing the country."
Government spokesman Ben Blushi said Nano would not resign because his removal would threaten further instability throughout the Balkans. He said Nano was in Tirana.
Late Monday afternoon, police cars reappeared in Skanderbeg Square and firefighters battled a blaze in an electronics shop that had been looted and set afire.
Early in the day, opposition members seized at least four government tanks, and civilians climbed atop the vehicles while they moved down the streets.
Another group stormed the government's television studios, sending many of the staff fleeing. An unidentified man appeared on television, announcing "we have taken over."
Young men were breaking into shops, which had closed for Hajdari's funeral, and could be seen carrying off jeans and other goods. A luxury hotel on Skanderbeg Square sealed off its entrances.
Residents were stocking up on food.