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Albanian police storm lawless marijuana village

on June 16, 2014 10:10 AM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Hundreds of Albanian police, backed by armored vehicles, stormed a lawless southern village today after suspected marijuana growers allegedly fired rocket-propelled gren-ades, mortars and machine guns at officers during a drug raid.

Police said no one was hurt in the hostilities in and around Lazarat, a major marijuana-producing center about 140 miles south of the capital, Tirana.

A police spokeswoman said officers managed to take control of the village of 5,000 people after exchanging fire with nearly 30 armed men hiding in a four-story building complex. Laura Totraku said the gunmen fled Lazarat and were heading for a nearby mountain, pursued by police.

Gangs based in Lazarat are believed to produce about 900 metric tons of cannabis a year, worth about $6.1 billion — roughly half of the small Balkan country’s GDP.

Around 500 lightly-armed police, including special forces officers and the country’s police chief, surrounded the village overnight after a smaller force was repelled over the weekend by small-arms fire that injured one villager.

Albania’s private A1 channel said its TV crew covering the Lazarat operation was robbed at gunpoint by masked men who also burnt their vehicle.

[PHOTO: Members of the Albanian police force patrol the southern village of Lazarat, 125 miles south of capital Tirana, Albania. (AP Photo)]

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