Tag Archive: Rumelia Land of Albania


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%.

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.

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.”

December 03, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian authorities say that despite less rainfall and lower river levels, thousands of homes and scores of schools have been damaged, and agricultural land is still submerged.

The government said Sunday that 600 families were evacuated Saturday in two southwestern districts. More than 3,000 homes, 56 schools and 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of agricultural land have been flooded. Many roads and 28 bridges have been damaged.

Authorities have started calculating the damage to consider financial compensation. At least one person has died in the last several days of heavy rainfall that has flooded many parts of Albania. Ports and the only international airport were temporarily closed for part of the weekend.

Schools were closed Friday and the Education Ministry will make a decision soon about Monday’s classes.

October 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Albania’s president has turned down a request from his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci to issue Albanian passports for citizens in neighboring Kosovo, the only nation in Europe excluded from a visa-free European travel zone.

Ilir Meta, who is visiting Kosovo Wednesday, said the solution was “through dialogue.” The European Union insists Kosovo must approve a border demarcation deal with Montenegro before its citizens can enjoy visa-free travel within the so-called Schengen zone.

Opposition lawmakers in Kosovo have refused to ratify that deal, saying it meant Kosovo would lose land. Albania has enjoyed access to the visa-free regime since 2010. Kosovo’s 1.9 million population is mainly ethnic Albanian.

August 02, 2017

SARANDA, Albania (AP) — Descending beneath the waves, the cloudy first few meters quickly give way to clear waters and an astonishing sight — dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tightly packed ancient vases lie on the seabed, testament to some long-forgotten trader’s unfortunate voyage more than 1,600 years ago.

A short boat ride away, the hulking frame of an Italian World War II ship appears through the gloom, soldiers’ personal items still scattered in the interior, its encrusted railings and propeller now home to growing colonies of fish and sponges.

Off the rugged shores of Albania, one of the world’s least explored underwater coastlines, lies a wealth of treasures: ancient amphorae — long, narrow terracotta vessels — that carried olive oil and wine along trade routes between north Africa and the Roman Empire, wrecks with hidden tales of heroism and treachery from two world wars, and spectacular rock formations and marine life.

“From what I’ve seen so far, you can’t swim more than a few meters without finding something that’s amazing, whether it’s on the cultural history side or the natural history side, here in Albania,” said Derek Smith, a coastal and maritime ecologist and research associate who has been working with the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation to explore the Albanian coastline for the past decade.

Now Albania’s National Coastline Agency is examining how best to study and protect its sunken attractions while opening them up to visitors in a nation that is virgin territory for the lucrative scuba diving industry.

“The idea of presenting the Albanian underwater heritage is a new idea for the country, because so far there is very little known about the rich history of the Albanian coastline, and in particular the shipwrecks,” said agency head Auron Tare, who has been involved for the past 12 years with RPM Nautical Foundation’s underwater research. “I believe the time has come now that we should present to the world the wealth of this heritage that we have in our waters.”

Once more isolated than even North Korea, Albania has gradually opened up to international tourism and shrugged off its former image as a hermit state that briefly turned into lawless bandit territory in the late 1990s. But coastal land development has been burgeoning in an often anarchic fashion, and there are fears the more accessible wrecks could be plundered unless adequate protections are put into place.

Legislation is expected to be passed soon to protect the country’s underwater heritage while also granting some access to visitors. Neighboring Greece, to Albania’s south, has struggled with balancing tourism with protecting its ancient artefacts. Greece was so fearful of losing its underwater antiquities it banned diving outright in all but a handful of places. Even today, diving is forbidden on any wreck — ship or plane — built more than 50 years ago, regardless of when it sank.

Albania is going for a more balanced approach. “I’d say that in the near future the ancient wrecks should be open to scholars and research,” said Tare, who noted the country has also lost some of its underwater heritage to plundering in the last 20 years. “Where(as) some of the modern wrecks which do not have much to lose in the sense of looting might be opened up to the dive industry.”

He estimated that with access to the more modern wrecks from WWI or WWII, diving could pick up in Albania in the next five years. The RPM Nautical Foundation, in cooperation with the coastal agency, has mapped out the seabed along about a third of the Albanian coastline, from Saranda near the Greek border to Vlora. Using a combination of divers and high-tech equipment including sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle, or ROV, its research vessel has discovered nearly 40 shipwrecks.

“So far RPM has documented from about 3rd and 4th century BC through to World War I and World War II contemporary shipwrecks,” said Smith. “So we’ve got quite a big range of maybe 2,500 years, 2,300 years’ worth of cultural resources here on the Albanian coastline that have really largely been unexplored.”

One of them is the tightly-packed amphora pile near the shore. Known as the Joni wreck, it was a merchant vessel estimated to have had about four crew members and a cargo of mainly of north African amphorae.

The fact that the pottery was north African “is really important because it shows the trade connections between the Adriatic and the north African coast,” said underwater archaeologist Mateusz Polakowski, who has been working with RPM.

Small fish peer out from the necks of the jugs, which the passage of time has concreted into the seabed. The site hasn’t been excavated and archaeologists believe several more layers of amphorae, as well as the wooden hull of the ship, might still lie intact beneath the seabed.

“A lot of these wrecks are very important as national heritage treasures,” said Polakowski. “Just as much as the biology of it is, just as important as the reefs and the fish populations are, I think these shipwrecks not only become artificial reefs, but they also instill a sense of cultural identity, cultural heritage.”

Albania sits at a strategic point at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea and along ancient trade routes from Italy to the Balkan peninsula, Polakowski said. Much more remains to be explored. “They have about 200 miles of coastline here,” said Smith, the maritime ecologist. “Even though we feel like we’ve covered a tremendous amount of it … there’s always more to be discovered.”