BELGRADE, DEC. 15 -- Albanian troops backed by tanks maintained tenuous control tonight over four cities where a week of demonstrations had threatened to drag Europe's last Marxist state into violent anarchy.

The army was deployed in the cities of Shkoder, Durres and Elbasan. In the capital, Tirana, troops and police guarded offices of the ruling Labor (Communist) Party and state television and radio stations.

Security was especially tight in Elbasan, a steel-manufacturing city about 20 miles south of Tirana where steelworkers joined demonstrators in the streets on Friday, chanting, "Freedom!" and "Democracy!" and looting shops and government offices. Rampaging protesters earlier had tried to storm the ruling party's local headquarters there.

Yugoslav television tonight showed Friday's street scenes in Elbasan with dense crowds marching past blazing vehicles, apparently unchallenged by police. After order was restored, the television showed shoppers walking past smashed and empty store windows.

In the Adriatic port of Durres, police moved in today to break up crowds apparently planning to demonstrate.

Government officials and the newly formed opposition Albanian Democratic Party continued to issue public appeals for calm. In a televised speech Friday night, the minister of justice urged citizens to observe order, warning that "the state will use all legal means to stop these destructive activities."

For the first time in more than 40 years of state-imposed atheism, a Catholic priest spoke today on Tirana radio, urging citizens to observe peace.

Diplomats in Tirana said that although the government of President Ramiz Alia was still in control, it was quickly running out of means for negotiating an end to the unrest.

"There is relative peace . . . at the moment, but things could flare up again," one diplomat told Reuter news agency. "The living situation is getting worse and a shortage of basic goods could cause more unrest."

Leaders of the Democratic Party -- launched earlier this week by Tirana students and intellectuals after the surprise decision by the Communist Party leadership to allow independent parties -- have not been allowed to visit the protest sites.