Cool-Down Period

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TIRANA, Albania: A five-hour meeting between Albanian President Sail Berisha and opposition leaders has produced a 48-hour cease-fire agreement starting early Friday morning, local time. Despite the pause, the unrest still threatens to split the country between Berisha's ruling Democratic party in the north and socialist leaders in the south. "T he atmosphere in the country is increasingly nervous and paranoid," reported TIME's Massimo Calabresi, "and Tirana has an air of impending bloodshed." The deal gives a respite from escalating violence in the south, where heavily-armed insur gents in Vlore and Sarande have begun barricading their cities from approaching government tanks and troops. Albanian officials admitted Wednesday that both these cities and a third, Delvine, have fallen out of government control despite Berisha's recent severe crackdown to control the unrest. More than 25 people have died in the past month since protesters, desperate after some 90 percent of the population lost a total of somewhere between $1 and $3 billion in failed pyramid schemes, began raiding military arsenals and clashing with government forces. As Europe's poorest country careens towards further chaos, the U.S. fears for the stability a region already clinging to tenuous peace. Although U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen sai d yesterday that the U.S. would not yet move in to evacuate the 1,600 Americans now in Albania, the State Department is putting its weight behind efforts to send in a team of international representatives to calm the crisis. A delegation from the Cou ncil of Europe delegation was in Tirana today and a representative from the European Union was due to arrive on Friday. State is especially worried that unrest in Albania could destabilize neighboring Kosovo, where the 90 percent ethnic Albanian populat ion is undergoing an increasingly brutal repression from ruling Serbs. Trouble in either country could trigger a refugee crisis that might overwhelm Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria -- and perhaps spread conflict throughout the Balkans. %0 A