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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK


World: Europe

Anatomy of a leader: Dr Sali Berisha

Sali Berisha: Known for fiery speeches

Dr Sali Berisha came to prominence as Albania's first non-communist president, introducing democratic politics and market economics to Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe.

In early 1990, Mr Berisha, once a card-carrying member of the communist party, transformed a student protest into a nationwide anti-communist protest that prompted Albania's first multi-party elections.

Two years later the Democratic Party he founded was swept to power and Mr Berisha, a former cardiologist, into the office of president.

But his rapid liberalisation of the economy brought hardship for many Albanians and riches for the only the select few.


[ image:  ]
In 1994 his efforts to give the presidency more power led to critics accusing him of returning to the heavy-handed authoritarianism practised by the communists.

Two years later he was accused of instigating electoral violence at the polls to maintain his party's position.

But his downfall came three years later, in 1997, when the dubious pyramid investment schemes collapsed.

Many Albanians had invested their life savings into the schemes and the financial collapse brought the country to the brink of anarchy.

Government loses control

Up to a million weapons were looted from army stores as angry mobs took to the streets and, as the popularity of the Berisha presidency nose-dived, the government lost all control.

"I admit we have no army," said Mr Berisha in the midst of the crisis.

"We have no police, and we have no government. But we still have a president."

But not for long. The Democratic Party was defeated in August elections and Mr Berisha quit the presidency.

In spite of the economic troubles, Mr Berisha remains a vocal advocate of Albania's integration with Western economic and military organisations.


[ image: Poverty: 1997 Financial collapse led to hardship]
Poverty: 1997 Financial collapse led to hardship
His supporters say that his sharp political sense and fluent French and English helped drag Albania to the attention of international credit agencies, something that could not otherwise have been achieved.

Since leaving office, he has retained his seat in parliament, but frequently boycotts the body in protest at alleged government corruption and incompetence.

He has also accused the current government of Prime Minister Fatos Nano of masterminding a number of murders and assassination attempts on opposition politicians.

The government in turn has accused Mr Berisha of being behind the upsurge in violence following the murder of opposition ally Azem Hajdari.

They say he is using the Mr Hajdari's death as an excuse for a coup in order that he can return to power.

But above all, Dr Berisha is a man who gives the impression he knows how the wheels of politics turn.

Speaking to the UK's Sunday Telegraph newspaper in 1997, amid the continuing financial turmoil, he said: "There are ups and downs in politics.You have applause and flowers and then criticism and bullets."

Despite being thrown from power last year, there is political life left in the former doctor.

But it is up to him to convince the people that he has the perfect prescription to restore health to Albania.



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