VIENNA, DEC. 11 -- Albania's Communist rulers, facing unprecedented student unrest, called today for legalization of opposition political parties.
The historic move to multi-party politics was announced in an official statement after a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee, which dismissed five members of the ruling Politburo and demanded changes in the government.
The decision came a year after popular uprisings overthrew communist rule in the rest of Eastern Europe and left Albania, a Balkan country of 3 million people, as Europe's last Marxist state.
Diplomats in the Albanian capital, Tirana, said it appeared to mark a victory for President Ramiz Alia over conservatives in the party who had long balked at reform.
They said the announcement was greeted by loud cheers at Tirana University's campus, where weekend protests over living conditions had swelled into a strike for democracy by its 12,000 students.
Alia, who succeeded Enver Hoxha on his death in 1985 after four decades of hard-line Stalinist rule, met student leaders tonight to discuss their grievances, Albanian radio said.
Alia has instituted cautious political and economic reforms in the past year, but until today's Central Committee meeting the Communists had rejected allowing multiple parties.
It was not clear from today's announcement when or how new parties could register. One Albanian journalist said the Justice Ministry had been asked to draw up a law on political parties as soon as possible and in time for planned parliamentary elections Feb. 10.
Those elections were to have taken place under a new law allowing secret ballots and a choice of candidates for the first time -- but not formal opposition parties.