VIENNA, DEC. 12 -- Thousands of Albanians, rallying today in Europe's final bastion of Marxist orthodoxy, founded their country's first independent political party in 45 years of Communist rule.
"This is an immense achievement on the road to democracy," founding member Sali Berisha, a 45-year-old heart specialist and university professor, told a rally of the new Democratic Party on the campus of Tirana University.
Witnesses said "thousands upon thousands" of students, intellectuals and workers joined the peaceful gathering, held less than 24 hours after Communist leaders, following four days of student protests, announced readiness to accept opposition parties.
The witnesses said a draft program read by intellectual Arben Imami stated the party's aims as freedom of speech, assembly, movement, religion and other human rights in the U.N. Charter and Helsinki accords. It also called for a mixed market economy, integration in Europe and peaceful dialogue through parliamentary democracy.
"We do not want violations of public order. We don't want incidents. We want peace and stability," Imami told the crowd. He said the party would seek registration with the Ministry of Justice and plans to field candidates in next February's parliamentary elections.
Until this week, Albania had resisted the multi-party political systems that replaced Communist rule in popular uprisings elsewhere in Eastern Europe last year.
The party's Central Committee announced Tuesday it would allow independent political parties to operate and began a shakeup of top party and government members, including the firing of five members of the ruling Politburo.
Gramoz Pashko, a university economist who backed the new party's foundation, said the decisions marked a victory for President Ramiz Alia over Communist conservatives. Witnesses at the Democratic Party rally said participants had chanted "Long Live Ramiz Alia" and that speakers called for support for his reform program.
Alia, in a broadcast message, appealed for cool heads and wisdom to steer the country of 3 million people to peaceful change, saying, "The party has now expressed its view that the creation of independent political organizations is to the benefit of the country's further democratization."
Alia has gradually brought Albania out of its isolated shell since he succeeded Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, the small Balkan state's modern founder, on his death in 1985. He quickened the pace of internal reform this year amid sporadic unrest, including an exodus of 5,000 Albanians who fled into embassies in Tirana in July.