Soldiers in tanks and police with shoot-to-kill orders rushed Tuesday into southern Albania, where crowds looted state grain reserves, trashed factories and fired guns in the streets.
Across the country, Albanians stocked up on staple foods as special forces in black uniforms and ski masks manned roadblocks, backed by men in civilian clothes carrying rifles.
A pair of air force pilots defected to Italy in their MiG-15, requesting political asylum, they said, because they had been ordered to open fire on a column of civilian vehicles.
Opposition members claimed the government bombed one southern town, and in the port city of Vlore, children played in the abandoned police station.
Vlore has been at the center of violence that began six weeks ago to protest failed investment schemes in which nearly every Albanian lost money and has since escalated into general anti-government unrest.
The defecting pilots, a major and a captain, said they were on an observation mission when they were ordered to open fire.
“We fled because they gave us the order to fire on a column of civilian vehicles near Gjirokastra,” Capt. Agrae Dasci told reporters in Lecce, southern Italy.
Vlore, 60 miles south of Tirana, appeared to remain outside state control.
The citizens in Vlore have their own tanks and armored personnel carriers captured from deserted army barracks.
“We are waiting,” said a local businessman reached by telephone. “If the army comes there will be a war.”