Tag Archive: Land of the Balkans


June 30, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanians were casting ballots on Sunday to elect mayors and city councils, or parliaments, amid a tense political conflict with the opposition boycotting the municipal elections.

While the Socialist-run government is insisting on holding the election, the opposition wants to stop it taking place. The opposition, led by the center-right Democratic Party, blames a corrupt government linked to organized crime and is demanding fresh national elections.

Albania’s President Ilir Meta is sympathetic to the opposition and declared that the vote is canceled, but the government under Prime Minister Edi Rama has refused to abide by that decision. Votes will be cast to pick authorities that will run 61 districts across the country for the next four years.

On late Saturday the Democratic Party’s leader Lulzim Basha called on Albanians to boycott the vote and said they would hold non-violent protests. Police have said protests are not allowed the voting day.

Rama cast his ballot in Surrel, a village near Tirana where he lives. “This day confirms that no one can play with the people … and who dares take sovereignty from the people finds no other end but a failing and a shameful one,” he told journalists.

The opposition has been holding anti-government protests since mid-February when they also relinquished their seats in parliament. They say the political crisis will be resolved when Rama resigns and vote-riggers are jailed.

Small groups of opposition supporters in Tirana and a nearby town rallied in front of some polling stations, shouting “Rama go!” The ruling Socialists are the only candidates in 35 out of 61 districts, with some smaller leftist and center-right parties running against them in the rest.

Thousands of police officers guarded the polling stations Sunday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said it was sending 174 election observers, who will give their preliminary findings on Monday.

Audrey Glover, head of the international monitoring mission, found the situation at a Tirana polling station “not conducive to observing.” Holding a free and fair election is considered key for the launch of EU membership talks for the tiny Western Balkan country, already a NATO member.

Voting ends 1700 GMT. Preliminary election results are not expected until Monday. The Central Election Commission, the institution running the election, said turnout at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) was about 12%.

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June 28, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s municipal elections don’t normally provoke much interest beyond the country’s border, but the holding of this weekend’s vote — or failure to do so — appears decisive for the tiny Western Balkan country in its bid to start full membership negotiations with the European Union.

While the Socialist-run government is insisting on holding the election, the opposition is boycotting the vote and says it will stop it taking place. Albania’s president, sympathetic to the opposition, has gone one step further by declaring that the vote is canceled, a decision that the government is refusing to abide by.

“Unfortunately we are showing our democracy is immature, weak and corrupt,” said Skender Minxhozi, an independent analyst. “We are unable to reach a sustainable dialogue and compromises.” After months of rowdy and sometimes violent opposition protests, where demonstrators have hurled projectiles at police officers who have responded with tear gas, the stage is set for a tense confrontation on Sunday.

The United States, the European Union, other international organizations and big Western powers have repeatedly called on the opposition to avoid violence and to engage in a dialogue to resolve the political deadlock. Though violence has been reduced recently, the standoff continues.

Leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is sending 280 election observers, on Friday called on Albanian political leaders to show restraint, engage in a “constructive dialogue” and ensure that Sunday’s election is peaceful. It added that “both the perpetrators and instigators of violent acts should be held legally accountable.”

Holding a free and fair election has been post-communist Albania’s Achilles’ heel, with regular reports of shortcomings, vote rigging and violence. The move toward democracy is considered key for the launch of the EU membership talks for the nation, which is already a NATO member.

Earlier this month, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania, as well as North Macedonia, despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

Sunday’s vote is due to elect mayors, town councils and district parliaments for the next four years. Some 3.5 million people are eligible to vote — that in itself is a problem, as the population of Albania is only 2.9 million. The other names on the electoral register represent Albania’s huge overseas diaspora, but no facilities are provided to allow Albanians outside the country to vote.

For the center-right Democratic Party-led opposition of Lulzim Basha, the issue is not really the local vote, however. They are trying to force the calling of early parliamentary elections, claiming widespread corruption in the government, vote-rigging and links to organized crime. They are boycotting the vote. Earlier in June, President Ilir Meta announced that he was canceling the elections, claiming they would be “undemocratic” without the participation of the center-right opposition. On Thursday he said the vote would now take place on Oct. 13.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling left-wing Socialist Party, however, continues to insist that the elections will take place as scheduled Sunday. Rama accuses the opposition of trying to disrupt efforts to launch EU membership negotiations.

The Socialists have started a lengthy procedure to oust Meta, though they don’t have the two-thirds majority they need in parliament, and the final say anyway is with the Constitutional Court, which has been defunct for the past year after its judges were fired.

Minxhozi says the opposition has failed to topple Rama but has managed to hurt the country’s image. “It has weakened Rama, but has not toppled him. It has damaged elections, but has not stopped them,” he said, adding that “such a tense situation hurts EU negotiations and has withered democratic standards.”

Basha insists “there will be no election without the opposition,” though he has not explained how the election will be prevented. He has said, however, that civic groups around the country will “defend democracy.” The opposition has tried to prevent preparations for the elections in the districts they govern. They tried to destroy election materials and ordered election offices moved from schools.

Currently, the opposition runs 27 districts, while the governing Socialists are in control of 34. With the opposition boycott, the Socialist candidates are uncontested in 35 races, while in the others they face some smaller leftists and center-right parties.

Minxhozi said Sunday’s vote will be a “mysterious day” focused not on a political race but rather on a “logistic, security and public order problem.” Some 7,000 police officers will be on duty for election security.

“June 30 is a negative test for Albania’s image, our economy and the political class too,” he said.

June 25, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president on Tuesday condemned a decision by electoral authorities in favor of holding municipal elections this weekend, calling on the ruling Socialists to hold talks and not carry out an “imaginary” voting process.

President Ilir Meta said that full membership negotiations with the European Union wouldn’t open if Albania held Sunday’s elections without the opposition, which is boycotting them. The Electoral College ruled unanimously Monday that a small political party must take part in Sunday’s vote, a move against Meta’s decision earlier this month to cancel the elections. Meta said he feared the balloting would be “undemocratic” without the participation of center-right opposition parties.

Meta said the Electoral College was influenced by “political pressure and blackmail.” “Yesterday, the Electoral College considered the request of a political party against a decision of the Central Election Commission which didn’t allow it to deregister from the now imaginary election of June 30,” he said Tuesday.

“Only the Constitutional Court may judge the validity of a decree from the president of the republic,” Meta said. The court has been dysfunctional for about a year after most of its judges were fired.

The Democratic Party-led opposition also doesn’t recognize the ruling by election authorities. The opposition has threatened to physically prevent Sunday’s vote from being held. Last week, opposition supporters damaged ballot boxes and other election documentation to prevent the vote in some opposition-held districts.

“Albanians have united like never before to defend democracy and not allow an electoral farce and the constitutional crime of the autocratic-criminal regime,” Democratic leader Lulzim Basha said late Monday.

Left-wing Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama insists the elections will go ahead as scheduled. Rama also said the opposition’s main goal is to disrupt the country’s efforts to launch EU membership negotiations.

The opposition has been holding protests since mid-February, accusing the government of links to organized crime and vote rigging. The government rejects the accusations. Basha said the only solution is for Rama to resign and for those convicted of vote-rigging to be sentenced.

Last week, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

June 18, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Public officials in some parts of Albania aren’t cooperating with the independent election workers assigned to prepare for local elections at the end of the month, the Albanian Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

The apparent disruption in regional districts governed by opposition parties are part of a political crisis within the national government. Regional officials in Shkodra tried to prevent election personnel from entering their offices on Monday, while civilian supporters of the opposition stormed the Tropoja election authority office in northeastern Albania on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj warned mayors at the helm of opposition-led districts there would be consequences “if they use force” to block the election workers. The opposition runs 27 districts, the governing Socialists in 34.

“If they will do mindless acts or not in line with the law, they will be confronted with the law,” Lleshaj said. President Ilir Meta tried to cancel Albania’s June 30 municipal elections, saying they would be “undemocratic” without opposition participation.

Center-right opposition parties are boycotting the vote after months of demanding an early national election and accusing the government of vote-rigging and other wrongdoing. The Socialist-led government said the president exceeded his constitutional authority and is trying to oust Meta. Prime Minister Edi Rama insists the municipal elections will go ahead as scheduled.

June 08, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president has canceled upcoming municipal elections, citing the need to reduce political tensions in the country. President Ilir Meta said he acted because “the actual circumstances do not provide necessary conditions for true, democratic, representative and all-inclusive elections” on June 30.

Thousands of Albanians who support the political opposition assembled for an anti-government protest on Saturday. After sundown, tear gas and flares clouded the streets of Tirana. The opposition, led by the center-right Democratic Party, accuses the left-wing government of links to organized crime and vote rigging. The government denies the allegations.

Opposition leaders are demanding an early general election. The United States and the European Union urged them to disavow violence and sit in a dialogue with government representatives to resolve the political crisis.

November 24, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Tensions in Kosovo rose again Friday after police arrested three ethnic Serbs, including two police officers, on suspicion of involvement in the killing earlier this year of a leading Serb politician in the north of the country.

The three men were arrested in the Serb-dominated town of Mitrovica, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital, Pristina, as suspects in the January slaying of Oliver Ivanovic, police said in a statement. A fourth Serb was arrested for resisting police. A fifth person is still at large, police said.

Police said they seized evidence for the investigation into Ivanovic’s killing during raids in four locations. Police showed photos of a drone, automatic weapons and ammunition and other equipment found in the raids.

Prosecutor Syle Hoxha said they have questioned more than 40 witnesses to date in the case. Nobody has yet been charged in the slaying. Thousands of Serbs protested in Kosovo towns, some blocking all main roads leading to Northern Mitrovica, as well as several border posts with Serbia. No violence was immediately reported.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians fought a bloody war with Serbia from 1998-1999 which ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 which Belgrade still refuses to recognize.

Earlier this week, tensions soared after Kosovo failed to become a member of the international police organization, Interpol, following intense lobbying by Serbia. Kosovo slapped a 100 percent tax on goods imported from Serbia in apparent retaliation.

In Belgrade, Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic said the arrests were a “demonstration of force” that he said was designed to frighten the Serbs in Kosovo and avert attention from the taxes that Kosovo imposed in violation of a regional trade agreement.

“We must prepare ourselves for long-term support for our people (in Kosovo) that won’t be easy, simple or cheap,” said Vucic. “Serbia will not agree to new rules and new blackmail against our country and our people.”

Vucic spoke after a meeting with the members of the Serbian government. He held meetings earlier on Friday with security officials and the ambassadors or Russia and China, Serbia’s allies in its refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s Cabinet appealed for calm and said the police operation was not linked to any political development. NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, a force known as KFOR, also urged calm and said “there was no unlawful operation or military action and there has never been any threat to safety and security of the citizens.”

KFOR said in a statement that the situation “remains stable and under control on the ground,” but acknowledged rising tensions “at political level due to some international and economic developments.”

Haradinaj met with ambassadors of Western powers including the United States, Britain, Germany, and France, for talks on the country’s situation and to explain the tax on Serb and Bosnian goods. Ethnic Serb leaders in Kosovo also called for calm and asked Serbia and the international community to assist them.

Goran Rakic, mayor of Northern Mitrovica, told The Associated Press that ethnic Serb leaders had formed a crisis center and called on the international community and Serbia for help. He said he had talked by phone with Vucic.

Vucic’s adviser Nikola Selakovic said the arrests of four Serbs in Kosovo were designed to “spread fear, intimidate and demonstrate force” against the Serbs in Kosovo. “This is a game of nerves, a walk on thin line. The goal is to provoke our reaction which would be immediately used for measures against us,” Selakovic said.

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia. Bojan Slavkovic contributed from Northern Mitrovica.

October 28, 2018

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian authorities have forced their way into a private zoo and removed 12 animals due to fears they were malnourished. Police and conservation officials on Sunday forced their way past a locked main gate into the Safari Zoo Park in Mbrostar, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, Tirana. The zoo had been closed by owners after criticism emerged about the treatment of its animals.

Veterinarians from Four Paws, an international animal welfare charity, sedated 12 animals there — three lions, a bear, a waterbuck, four deer, a fox, a zebra and a turtle — to transport them to Tirana’s public zoo.

Albania’s environment and tourism ministry said it took the animals because their living quarters were too cramped and some were sick. Zoo owners have denied that the animals were sick or malnourished.

September 19, 2018

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister has called on Albania to work hard on its reforms so as to convince all European Union members to launch membership negotiations next year. Heiko Maas, visiting Albania’s capital on Wednesday, said that the EU members “have made it clear that June 2019 does not mean the talks will start automatically.”

In June this year the bloc’s member states agreed to open membership talks with Albania and Macedonia next year if the two nations continue with reform progress. Maas said that the bloc should see concrete results in the consolidation of the rule of law and independence of the justice system.

His Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati, said the country already has started the screening process with Brussels and added that he considers Germany’s assistance as “precious, irreplaceable.”

March 4, 2018

Around 200 Bosnian women on Saturday set off from Sarajevo to Istanbul to join an all-women convoy to raise awareness about the suffering of women and young girls imprisoned in Syria by the regime forces.

The International Conscience Convoy which describes itself as the “voice of the oppressed women in Syria” will set off from Istanbul on Tuesday with the participation of women from nearly 55 countries.

Among the women joining from Bosnia are women who shared the same fate with Syrian women during the Bosnian war between 1992-1995 including members of the Mothers of the Srebrenica group.

The President of the Association of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, Munira Subasic joined the send off ceremony of the Bosnian women. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, she said:

Srebrenica’s mothers are well aware of what pain means, now Syrian women are experiencing the same pain we went through

“We are in the 21st century, the United Nations, the U.S. and Russia need to be ashamed,” she added.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Balkan Cultural Alliance Association (BAKIDER) representative Enida Gujo said that the Bosnian women joined the convoy with the support of Turkey.

“On March 08 we will all together call out for help for the Syrian women held in Syrian prisons,” she said.

Nearly 150 buses will take part in the journey which will make stops at Izmir, Sakarya, Ankara and Adana cities before reaching the southern Hatay province at the Turkey-Syria border.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180304-bosnian-women-set-off-for-all-women-convoy-in-turkey/.

February 18, 2018

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The Kosovo Assembly, or Parliament, convened in a special session Sunday to celebrate the country’s 10 years of independence — a ceremony boycotted by the country’s ethnic Serb lawmakers.

Speaker Kadri Veseli pledged that “the second decade of independence would be focused on the economic well-being of Kosovo’s citizens.” The second day of celebrations continued with a parade of military and police forces and a state reception.

In Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo’s Parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo, one of poorest countries in Europe, has taken a first step to European Union membership by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. But the country faces serious challenges besides its relations with Serbia, including establishing the rule of law and fighting high unemployment, corruption and organized crime.

Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most Western powers but Serbia still sees Kosovo as part of its own territory and has the support of Russia and China. A day earlier in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo’s independence remains fragile and won’t be concluded without an agreement with Serbia.

Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed.