Adriatic tragedy probe

TIRANA – Albania plans to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate last week’s boat accident that killed 21 would-be illegal immigrants, the government said yesterday. Also yesterday, two Albanian ships and a Greek helicopter resumed the search for at least five people who remain missing following the accident. No one was found. Eleven people were rescued on Saturday, a day after the engine of their 13-meter-long (43-foot-long) boat failed, leaving it stranded near the Italian coast amid waves that reached heights of 6 meters (20 feet). Most of the victims died of exposure. In response to the accident, Albania’s ruling coalition said in a statement yesterday that it would intensify its fight against organized crime, including human smuggling, «in order for 2004 to be the year of the final knock against organized crime.» Police have arrested six people and are searching for eight more in connection with the attempted illegal transport. Six police officers in the Vlore district, where the boat left from, were fired, four others were suspended and 15 were reassigned to other districts. Police also seized property belonging to traffickers, police spokesman Florian Serjani said. The government also said it would lobby foreign countries to ease travel restrictions on Albanians. To get a visa to Western Europe, Albanians usually need a letter of invitation and proof of their financial status. A non-governmental organization, Mjaft – Albanian for «Enough» – is organizing a rally tomorrow to protest at what they say is Prime Minister Fatos Nano’s lack of leadership on the issue. The organization argues that Nano should have interrupted a vacation abroad and returned to Albania after the accident. The opposition Democratic Party sought a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government. A debate in the chamber was scheduled for today. Many Albanians, whose country is among Europe’s poorest, see getting to Western Europe as their only chance for a better life.

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