Albania Back to the Brink

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The ambitions of a former president have plunged Albania's capital into chaos, and Western leaders are understandably nervous. Three people have been killed and 14 wounded since Sunday in gun battles between government troops and supporters of ex-president Sali Berisha. Berisha, who was voted out in 1997 after the collapse of a moneymaking pyramid scheme plunged the country into anarchy, claims the current government assassinated one of his key aides. "Berisha's been trying to get back into power ever since his ouster," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. "The death of Adem Hajdari is his latest excuse for challenging the government."

The outbreak of violence is already having repercussions outside Albania's borders. Italy and Greece fear the turmoil will create a new influx of refugees, while NATO is concerned over the effect on its efforts to stabilize the conflict between ethnic Albanians and the Serb authorities in neighboring Kosovo. "The last thing the West needs now is for Albania to slip further into chaos, just as [the West's] hard-hearted policy in Kosovo appears to be containing that situation," says Calabresi. But there's little cause for optimism when opposition politics is conducted with machine guns and tanks.