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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 00:45 GMT
Albania minister quits over blast
Fire from munitions dump explosions burns overnight in Albania
Saturday's explosions continued for several hours

Albanian Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu has resigned following a series of fatal explosions at an arms dump near the Albanian capital, Tirana.

The blasts killed 16 people and injured nearly 300. Ten are still missing, Health Minister Nard Ndoka said.

More than 300 buildings were destroyed as shells rained down on nearby villages from the site where workers had been dismantling old munitions.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha has ordered an investigation into the blasts.

He said Mr Mediu's resignation was "an act of political responsibility" for the string of blasts, which started on Saturday and lasted for several hours.

But Mr Berisha shrugged off opposition calls for his own resignation as an attempt to exploit the disaster for political purposes.

Emergency zone

Mr Berisha said the explosions, which happened during work to destroy 100,000 tonnes of excess ammunition stockpiled during Albania's communist past, were an accident.

map

The village of Gerdec adjoining the base some 10klm (six miles) outside Tirana has been declared an emergency zone, and Mr Berisha promised aid for those who had lost their homes.

"As soon as the damage is fully assessed, the government will commit all its resources to quickly react and rebuild the totally destroyed zone," he said.

But Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said that was not enough.

"I ask the prime minister and the defence minister to stop making excuses, help families bury their dead and offer them financial assistance," he said.

"In the next few days, they [should] send their resignation [to] the president," he added.

Albanian military experts were being assisted by employees of a US company contracted by Nato to help them dispose of surplus munitions.

Destroying the old munitions is one of the conditions Albania must fulfil to become a member of Nato.

Along with Croatia and Macedonia, Albania hopes to be invited to join the Western military alliance at a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest early next month.



SEE ALSO
'Shrapnel falling from the sky'
15 Mar 08 |  Europe
In pictures: Albania explosions
15 Mar 08 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Albania
05 Mar 08 |  Country profiles



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