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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Policeman Murdered In Volatile Albania City

TIRANA, Albania -- The shooting death of an off-duty police officer and an explosion in another officer's home raised tensions Thursday in the port city of Vlore, the scene of violent clashes in recent days.


Police in Vlore have stayed off the streets and away from their headquarters since clashing early this week with protesters angered and desperate after losing money in get-rich-quick schemes. Two civilians were killed during the violence Monday.


Officials announced Thursday that schools in the city would be closed for the rest of the week. For the ninth straight day, several thousand people gathered in the main square, demanding the return of their lost investments and, for the first time, bread to eat.


Many people in Vlore and throughout Albania lost not only their life savings, but sold property and took out lines of credit to invest in high-risk schemes that began collapsing in the fall. Early investors were paid high returns, creating a feeling of prosperity in Europe's poorest country, but the funds began collapsing when no new investors were found. It was not clear whether the attacks on the officers were reprisals for the civilian deaths, simmering anger over the collapsed pyramid schemes, or random violence. The Interior Ministry said it was investigating.


The ministry said Shezai Zani, 32, was gunned down at the entrance to his building Wednesday night.


Zani, who was out of uniform and off duty, did not belong to the riot police squad that battled protesters Sunday and Monday, and the circumstances of the killing suggest a personal feud.


Also Wednesday night, an explosive device went off in the home of a riot police officer, the Interior Ministry said. The family was not at home and no one was reported injured.


The kidnapping overnight of a 17-year-old girl contributed to the sense of lawlessness in the town.


The Interior Ministry said the girl's father was shot three times trying to rescue her from three masked men who stormed into the house at 1:30 a.m. Thursday. The kidnappers sped away with the girl, and the father has been hospitalized.


The southern coastal town, home to at least five of the pyramid schemes that have devoured many Albanians' investments, has been the scene of daily protests since Feb. 5.


Mobs took out their anger on police officers on Sunday and Monday, battering police and stripping them of their uniforms and equipment. In an effort to diffuse public distrust and anger in the wake of the violence, the governing Democratic Party on Wednesday installed a Vlore native as police chief. His predecessor had been a northerner, like President Sali Berisha.


The new chief, Ethem Kurti, said officers would begin returning to duty soon, and traffic police were back at work Thursday.


The Democrats also considered, but rejected, imposing a partial state of emergency in Vlore, apparently fearing more violence.


Investors' anger also has been aimed at the Democratic Party, accused of not protecting citizens from the fraudulent schemes -- if not for direct involvement in the funds. Mobs in Vlore set fire to the Democrats' headquarters there Tuesday.