aMore Guns Than Food in Tirana Panic

TIRANA, Albania -- The people in Tirana were in shock Friday, fearing the country's downward slide into anarchy will get worse before it gets better and can only be solved by outside intervention.

"We can't comprehend what has happened here," a young woman said after the orgy of looting of weapons that has left civilians across the country armed to the teeth and the army and police disintegrated.

In the dusty capital, whose potholed roads bear testimony to four decades of Stalinist rule, you can buy a Kalishnikov automatic rifle for $3, but chances of getting a potato are slim.

Food stores and warehouses were emptied Thursday in a wave of panic buying and looting by civilians making early use of weapons seized from army barracks in the capital and other towns across the country.

"There are no potatoes, eggs, apples, cheese or bread, not in the shops or in the warehouses," said the lone stall-holder in Tirana's main open market as he offered his last stock of nuts, with no new supplies expected.

"We are afraid of getting looted," he said as he surveyed his meager stock. "The situation is terrible. The only hope for us is Europe. If we had peacekeeping troops, people will hand in their arms."

All but a couple of the wholesale food stores were closed. At one of the few still open, a truck driver was unloading potatoes and onions brought from neighboring Greece after running the gauntlet of armed looters who fired at the truck.

Indicating the bullet holes in the side of the vehicle, he said that despite the danger he would make another trip "because we have to eat."

A young man insisted on conducting discussions under shelter for fear of wild shooting in the air. Falling bullets have killed three people and injured more than 70 in the capital. Many bullets lie scattered on the city's streets.

"We need to be armed because everyone else is armed," he said, adding that he had obtained one gun -- "one is enough."

"I want a weapon in case we get attacked by thieves or someone trying to rape my wife or sister," he said. "We are very, very frightened."

"If we don't get peacekeeping troops from abroad, Albania is finished."

The gloomiest prediction came from a middle-aged man.

"If they are shooting in the air today, they will be shooting at each other tomorrow," he said. "When someone is killed there will be revenge killings, there could be civil war."

There is no real reason for a civil war here, but in Albania these things can spread very easily."