Tens of thousands of Albanians battled riot police and set fire to government buildings Sunday in protests to demand payments from failing, high-risk investment schemes.
Police retreated under a hail of rocks thrown from an angry mob of about 35,000 people on Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square. But they returned to disperse the crowd, opening water cannons and turning dogs loose on the protesters.
Witnesses said police badly beat a group of protesters who tried to reach Parliament, where an emergency session was under way. At least two policemen were injured.
Albanians raged across the small Balkan country Sunday, even though President Sali Berisha went on state TV the night before to promise that their investments will be refunded.
Hundreds of thousands of Albanians, who on average earn $60-80 a month, sold homes and livestock to invest in the private funds, thought to be pyramid schemes. Protests began a week ago when two of the funds failed.
Although the funds are operated by private owners, many protesters are focusing their anger on the government. Berisha’s political foes accuse his party of using money from the funds to finance his campaigns.
State TV actively promoted some of the funds, giving the impression of official approval.