Albanian communist-era dissidents end hunger strike

Mon Oct 22, 2012 1:08pm EDT
 
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By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) - Six former political prisoners in Albania ended a 31-day hunger strike on Monday but promised to continue their fight for full compensation for time they spent in jail under communism.

The protest hit the headlines in Albania when two of an original group of 20 set themselves on fire to draw attention to their plight. They both survived.

The group's members say they have only been paid a fraction of the money owed to them under a 2007 law meant to compensate political prisoners held during the Stalinist regime of late Albanian leader Enver Hoxha.

Albania's justice ministry has received more than 20,000 requests for compensation under the law, but Prime Minister Sali Berisha has said his ruling Democratic Party has already paid all former political prisoners, one of the party's pillars of support, $100 million in cash and privatization vouchers.

His government has branded the protesters puppets of the political opposition, refused dialogue, and rejected accusations of callousness.

Camped in sodden green tents in the capital Tirana, the six hunger strikers accused police of denying them water, sugar and tea in the past week, provisions they said were allowed even in communist jails.

"The hunger strike is declared over," striker Besim Valteri told reporters. "Our problem has not been solved. We shall continue with more democratic protests and strikes," he said.

"We could not hang on any longer. We're old and it's been 31 days, the last 20 under psychological terror by police. They wanted to kill us slowly; this was genocide."

Some 6,000 people were executed under Albania's communist regime, which collapsed in late 1990.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Osborn)