Collapsing Pyramid

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TIRANA, Albania: Rebels have so far rejected President Sali Berisha's offer of amnesty if they lay down their arms. Instead, insurgents in Albania's southern cities organized self-defense units a nd vowed to continue fighting until Berisha resigns and new elections are called. "Weapons will not be turned in until this problem is solved," said Faud Karaliu, the new police chief in the southern city of Sarande. Civilians, who are enraged over lost life savings in corrupt investment schemes, have commandeered tanks, raided military armories and barricaded the cities of Vlore, Delvine and Sarande against government troops. Berisha's offer to absolve the rebels extends throughout a 48-hour cease-fire signed Thursday by the president and opposition leaders. The agreement, which halted government tanks and troops in their approach to the besieged southern cities, expires Sunday at 6 am local time. Berisha entered talks with opposi tion leaders yesterday to try and allay the uprisings aimed against him and his ruling party. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians who lost millions in the failed schemes are blaming Berisha's ruling Democratic party of profiting from their losses. Leader s of Berisha's political foe - the socialist party based in the south - have taken advantage of the unrest and called upon the president to form a coalition with the socialists and call early elections. Berisha remains cold to these demands. Meanwhile%2 C residents in the south are scrambling to stock up on food and blankets and today the Italian coast guard intercepted fishing boats filled with 65 Albanians desperate to flee the chaos at home. Independent media has all but disappeared under police press ure as reporters have been attacked and beaten and several are seeking amnesty at Tirana embassies. "This is no more a matter of having an independent press or not," said Koha Jonė publisher Nikollė Lesi in a press conference on Wednesday, acc ording to Albanian Daily News reports. "The question now is life security."