BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Hundreds of thousands of state-owed enterprise workers in Albania stayed home Thursday on the first day of a general strike called for higher pay and prosecution of those responsible for the April deaths of four protesters, the main independent trade union said.
Western diplomats contacted by telephone in Tirana said the walkout appeared to be a major success.
'It is being more or less followed,' said one senior diplomat, noting that the capital's bus service, the main transportation mode because only a handful of people own private cars, was idled.
There was no comment from the government.
'Nobody is working. The buses are not running. Some shops are open but the big plants and other enterprises have stopped working,' said Genc Pollo, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, the country's main opposition organization, which endorsed the call or an indefinite strike.
'It is a great success because in most places and industrial centers there was a 90 percent to 100 percent response,' said Gezim Shima, a member of the strike organizing committee of the Union of Independent Unions, which was legalized in February under communist President Ramiz Alia's reform program.
Shima estimated that 220,000 workers walked off the job in the main industrial centers, 40,000 of them from government enterprises in the Tirana area.
The union's main demand was for the communist government to identify and prosecute the gunmen who killed four Democratic Party activists during an April 2 demonstration in front of the ruling Albanian Labor Party headquarters in the northern town of Shkoder.
Witnesess said the shots were fired from within the headquarters building. The victims were trying to soothe thousands of opposition supporters protesting fraud in the March 31 opening round of the first democratic parliamentary elections in what was Europe's most hardline Stalinist bastion.
Alia's party won a landslide victory in the polls.
The government says its investigation is hampered by a lack of witnesses and obstructions by citizens of Shkoder, a major opposition stronghold. It also agreed to form a bipartisan parliamentary commission of inquiry.
Opposition leaders contend the regime knows who the killers are and is protecting them.
The independent union, which claims a membership of 180,000, also demanded a 50 percent increase in workers' wages to compensate for growing hardships caused by the country's worsening economic problems.