Police, overwhelmed in riots a day earlier, gave up the streets of this southern port city Tuesday to 40,000 angry demonstrators who accuse the officers of murder.
The protesters had assembled to bury the first victim of a month of nationwide rioting over collapsing pyramid schemes, but nobody tried to stop them when they set fire to the ruling Democratic Party headquarters.
“Police killed him!” the crowd chanted, marching behind the open casket of Artur Rustemi, a 30-year-old store owner. “The government killed him!”
“He did nothing but ask for his own money,” said Rustemi’s 23-year-old wife, Donika.
There was no firm evidence of who fired the shot that killed Rustemi, one of two who died in Vlora’s rioting Monday. Eighty-one were hurt.
It was the worst unrest in the month since high-risk investment plans, many resembling pyramid schemes, began collapsing.
Many Albanians, for decades Europe’s poorest people, desperately invested in the schemes and blame the government for failing to act quickly to stem their losses. Many also believe President Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party directly benefited from the shady ventures.
With the police out of sight and other targets - such as public buildings - already ransacked, there was little other violence Tuesday.
Socialists, the largest opposition party, called on Berisha to fire local police, top Interior Ministry and intelligence officials and to prosecute them for using violence.
It also accused Berisha and Prime Minister Alexander Meksi of trying to retain power “even at the cost of blood and terror.”