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Thousands of Albanian refugees cause chaos in Italian port

BARI, Italy -- An Albanian freighter defied a police blockade to land some 10,000 Albanian refugees in this Adriatic port Thursday and Italian authorities took immediate steps to return them home.

The skipper of the 9,000-ton fishing boat Vlora forced his way past a blockade of small police and navy launches in defiance of a ban on entry to Italian ports ordered by the Rome government a few hours earlier.

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Hundreds of the 10,000 refugees jumped into the water as the Vlora approached the harbor and were rescued by police launches.

The others crowded onto the quayside, creating scenes reminiscent of last March when more than 25,000 Albanian refugees flooded Adriatic ports in southeastern Italy within a few days.

A fleet of ambulances Thursday ferried several hundred refugees to hospitals for treatment of injuries suffered either in the scramble to board the ship in the Albanian port of Durres on Wednesday or in the scramble to get off it in Bari.

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Several pregnant women and small children were among those hospitalized, many suffering from the heat as temperatures reached the high 90s.

Police seized several knives and pistols from men in the crowd and arrested an Albanian who stabbed another refugee, injuring him slightly.

Port authorities transferred the refugees in buses to an old soccer stadium, where they were to camp out under tight police guard until ships and air force planes could return them to Albania.

In Rome, the Interior Ministry said it requisitioned five ships and five air force planes to take the refugees home, perhaps as soon as late Thursday. The ministry said the repatriation should be completed 'in a few days.'

In the interim, medical and other emergency aid was being provided the refugees by authorities in Bari and nearby Brindisi.

The orders to refuse entry to refugees and send all Albanians back home were issued after an emergency meeting of PrimeMinister Giulio Andreotti's Cabinet in Rome late Wednesday.

The ministers formed a committee to coordinate the repatriation and sent a delegation to Tirana to discuss the situation with Albanian leaders.

Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Claudio Vitalone, who headed the delegation, said in Tirana the Italian government promised increased humanitarian aid to poverty-ridden Albania in return for Albanian action to stop the exodus.

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'We are doing what is possible and fair,' Vitalone said. 'But we must make our national laws respected. All those who enter the country illegally will be expelled without any exception.'

Bari port authorities said the skipper of the Vlora probably would be charged with abetting illegal entry and with trying to ram an Italian frigate when he forced his way into the harbor.

The tough Italian response appeared to have an effect in the Albanian port of Durres where at least 10 Albanians were reported to have been killed, some by police, in efforts to keep them from the waterfront.

The Albanian authorities put all ports under military control and reports from Tirana said they sent thousands of would-be refugees home in 12 trains and two buses.

But two other refugee boats were reported approaching the Adriatic ports of Otranto and San Cataldo Thursday afternoon. One was a tanker with about 1,000 refugees aboard and the other a smaller vessel named 'Eremita' with about 60 refugees, including eight women and five children.

A lifeboat picked up two of the children who were ailing and took them ashore, where they were rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Lecce.

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The send-them-home technique was used Wednesday when about 900 Albanians crossed the Adriatic to Italy in three boats. They were taken to a shore sports center and then put aboard the requisitioned Italian ferry Tiepolo, which sailed for Durres shortly after midnight.

Hundreds of Italian police supervised the operation, which took place without major incident.

The Albanian government ordered Foreign Minister Muhamet Kapllani to ask all countries where Albanian citizens have taken refuge in recent months to repatriate the refugees immediately.

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