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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Traffic to Resume In Albanian Capital

TIRANA, Albania -- Tirana airport reopened for business on Thursday, the most visible sign so far that Albania's capital is returning to normal after days of unrest, although it could be some days before scheduled flights resume.


The chief of police at Rinas airport, 25 kilometers west of Tirana, said the facility had been secured by special forces, all key staff were in place and it was ready to operate at any moment.


Western airlines say they do not plan to resume regular flights to and from Tirana until Sunday at the earliest. However, the Bulgarian Embassy said it planned to fly out a group of its own and other nationals later Thursday.


The airport is Albania's main gateway to the outside world, and the staging point for any flow of humanitarian aid, which its government and European observers say it will require soon to cope with food and other shortages.


Some 40 kilometers west of the capital the Italian navy on Thursday completed a dramatic rescue operation to save an Albanian fishing boat packed with 350 refugees that had risked sinking in stormy seas off the Albanian coast, an Italian spokesman said.


The rescue, lasting nearly 24 hours, took place in strong winds that had blown the ship to within 14 miles of the Albanian coast.


The Italian frigate Espero towed the boat to a calmer bay north of the Albanian port of Durres.


The refugees, including 45 children, were then taken by landing craft to a beach in the Bay of Rodon, from where they were to be taken by bus to Tirana and other destinations.


Navy officials denied Italian media reports that marines had landed in Albania to begin a humanitarian operation.


The reopening of Tirana airport, foreshadowed in a government announcement Tuesday, was a further indication the capital was returning to normal after days of near-anarchy last week sparked by looting of weapons from army depots.


However unrest was reported from some other parts of the country, mainly in the south which is mostly under the control of rebels demanding the resignation of President Sali Berisha.


In the town of Korce, some 180 kilometers southeast of Tirana, residents reached by telephone reported that gunmen had looted all the town's shops and that shooting was continuing.


Two days ago, the town's medieval museum, the only one in the country, was also looted.


In the south rebel leaders were still awaiting a visit by Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, who heads an all-party government called to restore order and organize elections by June.