Nano provides aid to poor to compensate for utility price hikes

TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania’s Socialist government yesterday sought to ease financial pain caused by price hikes on public utilities after opposition protests demanding that Prime Minister Fatos Nano resign. The government allotted 235 million leks ($2.24 million) to 191,000 poor families to compensate for higher power prices, but these would not be lowered, and pardoned a decade of arrears on electricity bills – provided households install new meters. The Socialist-led coalition also proposed to a regulatory body to slash the price of domestic phone calls by 50 percent, still leaving them slightly above the December level. It took the measures on the eve of a protest called by the opposition Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, who has demanded Nano step down for «making Albanians poorer.» EU officials had backed rises for public utilities, saying they failed to cover production costs and that the state could not afford to carry on with heavy subsidies. Two weeks ago, several thousand opposition supporters protested against the price rises. Some tried to storm Nano’s offices but they were stopped by guardsmen firing into the air. The opposition has called a new rally for tomorrow. «The measures… should in no way be seen as an interruption of reform and a rollback,» Nano told a meeting of the economic policies committee convened to discuss the issue. «My government remains fully committed to speed up integration reforms,» he added.