Opposition leader denies illegal party lobbying at prosecution

Opposition leader denies illegal party lobbying at prosecution

TIRANA, Mar. 25 – Head of the opposition’s Democratic Party Lulzim Basha appeared on Monday in front of Tirana’s prosecution over the DP’s lobbying contracts in the US before and during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign. “This investigation began a

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Opposition alleges new interceptions prove gov’t links with criminal networks

Opposition alleges new interceptions prove gov’t links with criminal networks

TIRANA, Mar. 25 – The opposition’s Democratic Party made public on Saturday two more phone interceptions which, it alleges, prove the strong ties between the ruling Socialist Party and the country’s criminal networks. DP representative Ervin Salianji showed the media

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AIIS conference: “70 years of NATO, 10 years of Albania membership”

AIIS conference: “70 years of NATO, 10 years of Albania membership”

TIRANA, Mar. 21 – The Albanian Institute for International Studies, in partnership with Hanns Seidel Stiftung, held on Thursday the conference “70 Years of NATO, 10 years of NATO membership for Albania,” In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the

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Albanians are the region’s unhappiest, according to World Happiness Report

Albanians are the region’s unhappiest, according to World Happiness Report

TIRANA, Mar. 23 – Albania ranked last among Balkan countries on the 2018 World Happiness Report, written by a group of independent experts and produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The annual survey of 156 countries found

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Albania’s internal political crisis intensifies

Albania’s internal political crisis intensifies

The united opposition protested on Saturday and again on Thursday against the Rama’s government, which it accuses of being closely tied with criminal networks in the country, of winning the last elections through illegal ballot buying and of corruption. The

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President Meta: “Ready to resign to solve political crisis”

President Meta: “Ready to resign to solve political crisis”

TIRANA, Mar. 20 – Albanian president Ilir Meta said on Wednesday he would be ready to resign from his post if it would help resolve the deadlock the country is facing, be it from the non-functioning Constitutional Court to the

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Socialist minister says generation of post-90s politicians should go

Socialist minister says generation of post-90s politicians should go

TIRANA, Mar. 19 – In an interview for North Macedonian media on Monday, Socialist Diaspora Minister Pandeli Majko said that only an agreement between the government and the opposition can get the country out of the deadlock it is currently

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Opposition officially heads towards local elections’ boycott

Opposition officially heads towards local elections’ boycott

TIRANA, Mar. 20 – The Central Election Commission announced on Tuesday that only the governing Socialist Party handed in its members list for the Local Electoral Administration Commissions within the March 18 deadline, while the opposition’s Democratic Party and Socialist

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Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”

Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”

TIRANA, March 20- President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping will be visiting Rome on March 21, Voice of America reports. The purpose of the visitation is a discussion and an expectation of Italy to join the Chinese

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EP says Albania and the Balkans are losing ground in rule of law establishment

EP says Albania and the Balkans are losing ground in rule of law establishment

TIRANA, Mar. 20 – During a hearing on Tuesday to examine the progress made and persisting challenges current EU candidate countries face in fulfilling fundamental EU criteria, the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Civil Liberties, Justice, and

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 25 - Head of the opposition’s Democratic Party Lulzim Basha appeared on Monday in front of Tirana’s prosecution over the DP’s lobbying contracts in the US before and during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign.

“This investigation began a year and a half ago, the answers arrived from the US and the UK six months ago. They prove that neither the DP, nor the DP’s leaders have broke any laws in Albania, the UK or the US. I call for the prosecution to make those answers public,” Basha said.

The prosecution began verifying PD lobbying contracts with several US companies in November 2017 to clarify funding sources for these contracts and to see if the transactions were legal.

The one-year open investigation is done on the basis of filling in the Central Election Committee forms. The issue being investigated at the request of the DP is whether these are filled or not properly. This is the investigation, not lies and defamations on which the government that fueled this investigation is strongly invested, whenever they meet its political needs” Basha, who emphasized that he was summoned by the prosecution as a person who could have been aware of the circumstances of the investigation. 

The issue of lobbying payments made by the DP opened in November 2017, when American lobbying firm 'Muzin Capitol Partners' supplemented with additional information its legally binding declarations for the Department of Justice.

According to 'Muzin’ statements, the entity has received three payments in the amount of $675,000 for its work in favor of the Democratic Party in 2017: the first payment on March 24, 2017 and is made by the firm "Biniatta Trade LP ", worth $150,000, the other two payments were made by the Democratic Party, one on March 27, for $25,000 , and the other on June 9 for $500,000.

Basha said the DP has only made a payment of $25,000, leaving the other two payments or they sources unclear.

The Democratic Party has also denied any connection with the "Biniatta Trade LP" firm, which is registered in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is owned by a chain of companies registered in Belize - a Central American state, known as a fiscal haven.

According to a Mother Jones magazine investigation, “Biniatta Trade LP” is a partnership created by two companies: Asverro Corp and Liminez Commerce, for which "there is no public information for any commercial activity". 

Behind these two companies, according to Mother Jones, there are two other registered companies in the United Kingdom, "Babyonica" and "KF Global Management", whose shares are owned 75 percent by two Russian citizens, Evgeny Sheremetyev and Kostantin Ferulev.

Another investigative material, published by Top Channel, regarding the investigations in Scotland, states that the real owners behind Biniatta Trade LP are two Russian nationals, Victoria Valkovskaya and Natasha Radysheva, the first living in the Seychelles Islands , a country known as "fiscal haven" for offshore companies, while Radysheva in Belize.

When the debate on lobbying funds broke out last year, with the publication of Mother Jones articles, the DP publicly stated that "it has not broken any law, neither Albanian, nor American nor any other country. The Democratic Party has not had and has no direct or indirect links with Russian individuals or companies.”

Meanwhile, the “Muzin Capitol Partners” stated it is “compensated by ‘Biniatta Trade LP’ for activities organized on behalf of the Democratic Party to promote the Albanian conservative leadership among businessmen and political leaders in the United States.”

What the lobbyist has done and how he’s done it, is business. These are relations of Muzin with third parties,” said Mr. Basha last March, giving the same reasoning for the of $500,000 amount  which in the documents Muzin said was paid by the DP.

But while DP has admitted paying only $ 25,000 on its part, the company Muzin Capitol Partners has stated that its expenses for subcontractors engaged in activities in favor of the Albanian party only go over 100 thousand dollars. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 25 - The opposition’s Democratic Party made public on Saturday two more phone interceptions which, it alleges, prove the strong ties between the ruling Socialist Party and the country’s criminal networks.

DP representative Ervin Salianji showed the media two phone conversations between the head of the Fier police and Alfred Alizoti - who a few months back said he was a false witness hired by the opposition - which he said prove the efforts to hide the ties between former Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj and the socialist government with drug-trafficking networks, as well as the involvement of the SP Secretary General Taulant Balla.

“The prosecution’s official surveillance records prove the fabrication of a false witness and the facilitation of drug-trafficking conditions for the brother of the former interior minister, Socialist MP Fatmir Xhafaj,” Salianji said.

According to him, the prosecution is in possession of a number of official interceptions which point at the criminal affairs of the general police director and high-level SP officials in fabricating a false witness against the opposition.

The DP stated the prosecution is in violation of the law and the Constitution by not investigating the collected phone interceptions, where the police chief's illegal political services in favor of the Socialist government and Prime Minister Edi Rama are proven. 

The opposition stated that prosecution’s official interceptions prove the state and police degradation to the point of easing drug trafficking and protecting drug traffickers.

“The fact that a police officer sends payments to the fake witness against the opposition shows how criminals hold real powers in the Edi Rama government, shows the subordination of the police and the prosecution to them,” Salianji said.

According to him, the facts in the file indicate the abuse of office by the former interior minister, the general chief of police and the Fier head of police, as well as the involvement of the ruling party's number two man in fabricating a false witness to save drug traffickers from justice and criminals.

“In a country with normal justice, all of them today should be in trial,” said the opposition representative.

Back in January, dozens of surveillance and documents ensured by BIRN through investigations initiated by the Serious Crimes Prosecution after denouncements made by the opposition’s Democratic Party revealed the influence of organized crime networks in buying votes in the districts of Lezha, Durres, Diber, and Kavaja

Brought forward by once-threatened journalist Klodiana Llalla, Files 339 and 339/1 are filled with documents and numerous surveillance CDs dating back in 2016 still to be fully investigated by the authorities, while the evidence is thought to have mounted from all the tapes collected throughout 2017 and 2018, when the country’s prosecution announced it was also surveilling Durres Mayor Vangjush Dako.

A second investigation by the Serious Crimes Prosecution, initiated after the DP denounced the Diber Country electoral process of September 11, 2016 was manipulated, also exposed people with a precedent at the local state apparatus in vote orientation or manipulation.

Recruiting people involved with organized crime to fill the voting void is considered one of the main reasons behind Albanians’ lack of trust in free and fair elections.

Alizoti, who first came forward as impersonating the brother of Xhafaj, accused of drug trafficking in the past and political protection by his minister brother, was a key actor in the DP’s accusations until he said his story was fake and sought political asylum in Kosovo.

The phone interceptions now published by the DP point to real phone calls between Alizoti and the head of the Fier police, mentioning drug trafficking and Balla’s name. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 21 - The Albanian Institute for International Studies, in partnership with Hanns Seidel Stiftung, held on Thursday the conference “70 Years of NATO, 10 years of NATO membership for Albania,” In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Alliance, which coincided with Albania’s 10 year anniversary of joining the Alliance.

Supported by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division, US Embassy in Tirana and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland to Albania, the conference, which consisted of three experts’ panels, addressed the achievements and challenges of Albania’s first decade in NATO, and in the Western Balkans, in context of the new global security environment. 

Invited to hold the opening remarks were AIIS Executive Director Albert Rakipi, HSS Regional-Director for South-Eastern Europe Klaus Fiesinger, US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Leyla Moses-Ones, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Albania Susanne Schütz and Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Albania Karol Bachura.

In his opening remarks, Rakipi recollected the unfolding of the Bucharest Summit in 2008 when Albania and Croatia received the formal invitation for joining the alliance. He reiterated the importance of the membership for Albania, emphasizing its subsequent contributions. Namely, membership has helped the country reconnect with the West and rebuild its institutions. 

“Albania’s NATO membership 10 years ago has been one of Albania’s most notable events and achievements since the fall of communism, if not the most notable one. Over the last ten years, NATO membership has helped the process of state-building and the build-up of a democratic society and its further democratization.”

In his closing remarks, Rakipi underpinned that NATO is above all else an alliance of democracies and values, and as such Albania and other member states must continue to adhere to them. 

“Above all else, NATO is a community of democratic states, not of autocratic regimes or fake democracies,” Rakipi concluded. 

Fiesinger, on his side, emphasized the importance of democratic democratic values in domestic politics. 

Following, Moses-Ones recollected the statement of President Truman at the signing ceremony in April 4, 1949, where he noted that the pact was "a shield against aggression that would enable governments to concentrate on achieving a fuller, happier existence for their citizens."

That aspiration remains unchanged, according to her. 

She added that the "U.S. commitment to NATO is absolute" adding that each new member has strengthened the alliance's collective capabilities in protecting our common peace and prosperity. 

However, Moses-Ones also reminded the audience that despite the achievements of the alliance in its 70 years of existence, it is not done. 

“Russia is determined to undermine our democratic institutions and sew divisions among us and within our nations.  Russian hybrid threats aimed at our democracies have included nerve agent attacks and malicious cyber activities. Russia is one threat, but not the only threat.  North Korea and Iran, led by their rogue regimes, threaten to upset the world order through their dangerous tactics. And terrorism remains a constant and pervasive threat to our alliance.  NATO is as important to our security today as at any time in our 70-year history,” she said.

In reference to Albania's membership, she emphasized that the country has made the Alliance "stronger," pointing to its contribution with forces in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia or Iraq. As such, Albania plays an out-sized role in the alliance, that should serve as an example to other member states. 

However, as its role and contribution grow, so do its responsibilities. In this regard, she reiterated the need for Albania to root out corruption, improve rule of law and fight organized crime. She mentioned the Justice Reform as an indicator that the country is headed in the right direction, despite the hard work that remains to be done. To those that claim the reform is either compromised or has failed, she added, "my message to you is this: You are wrong." 

In her remarks, Schütz reiterated the important role of NATO for Germany. 

Regarding the region, she emphasized the EU and NATO’s enlargement policy impact, particularly in helping build and maintain peace in the Balkans. 

Since 1994, when Albania became a member of the Partnership-for-Peace program, through its full membership, the country has undertaken significant domestic, political, and military reforms.

“Albania has since significantly contributed to security and stability in this strategically important region in South Eastern Europe. In addition, Albania has also contributed to international NATO led missions, i.e. Albania deployed over 3.000 troops with ISAF. It has also been an active supporter of the campaign against terrorism since 2001, and continues its participation in the face of new and emerging threats such as the Islamic State,” Schutz said.

She emphasized Germany's support for enlargement with Montenegro and North Macedonia and noted that NATO relations with Serbia have also improved.

Bachura, who kept closing remarks in the first panel, drew back on the history of NATO and its importance to Poland. He noted that Poland has adapted on open door policy on enlargement. Today NATO's mission is to "keep third parties out, American's in and threats down" according to him. To underline the importance of the alliance, he noted that regions such as the Balkans or the Baltics can "sleep at night" due to security provided by NATO. 

However, despite its importance, for him NATO does not stand alone as a guarantor of security in Europe. Organizations such as the OSCE also play an important role in this regard. Reminding the audience of the Russian threat, he noted that it is easy to be considered as a Russophobe, but one only needs to consider what happened in Georgia, Ukraine and particularly Crimea to understand the magnitude of the threat Russia presents. In his closing remarks, he emphasized that "our alliance endures because its principles are timeless." 

Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Mimi Kodheli and Former Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Albania Valentina Leskaj spoke on the first panel, moderated by AIIS Deputy Director Alba Cela.

Kodheli reiterated the strong support for NATO among Albanians, and the firm belief on its unique function. As an alliance, member states need to focus on commonalities. 

In respect to the Summit of Wales, she noted that the Government of Albania has ever since changed its downward spending trend on defense and continues to work toward fulfilling its obligations. 

However, she noted that security starts at home, and Albania must do more to ensure democratic principles are upheld at home.

In her speech, Leskaj noted the importance of the alliance for Albania. In regards to the latter’s contribution, she noted that despite being a small country and possessing modest capabilities, Albania has demonstrated serious commitment to contribute to the alliance.

The second panel of the conference, moderated by Toni Gjuraj, took a wider approach in examining and interpreting the regional dynamics. 

Sanja Bujas-Juraga, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia who shares the same anniversary of NATO membership as Albania, opened her speech by mentioning the asymmetric threats that can be faced only due to the existence of the NATO umbrella that shields all member countries. Going back to NATO’s birth, she highlighted that the Alliance’s relevance is as strong as ever and that its enlargement has been one significant component of its success. 

The Croatian Ambassador expressed her content at seeing the NATO flag being raised almost in all the countries of region and said that it was a testament to the success of NATO’s ‘open doors policy’.

“Albania and Croatia’s accession was important for all the region, it was the reward for their hard work and the fulfilment of the vision that both countries had,” the Ambassador said. 

Bujas- Juraga also expressed positive evaluation for Bosnia’s membership Action Plan. Declaring the Adriatic Charter as a key instrument for enlargement the Croatian Ambassador urged for Kosovo to be included in this Charter and said she was hopeful a concrete invitation would be made soon to Kosovo.  

The Ambassador of the Republic of North Macedonia, Dancho Markovski reminisced at the beginning of his speech about May 2003 when in Tirana, the states of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia (at that time) and the US signed the US-Adriatic Charter which was later joined by others. Expressing his positive feeling about the perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO as the 30th member state, the Ambassador said that it was not easy for his country to return to the path of Euro-Atlantic progress but that the government has achieved this. 

It was done according to him especially by opening the strategic dialogue and trust building with its neighbor Greece, finalized in the historic Prespa Agreement.  

Charge d’affaires of Kosovo to Albania, Syle Ukshini in his speech focused on the intensive relation between Kosovo and NATO given the 20th anniversary of the NATO intervention in Serbia and Kosovo.

“Without NATO we would not have a homeland,” was his emotional opening continued by his description of NATO as an instrument of global security which cannot be substituted. Ukshini said that Kosovo’s approach was very clear and its western orientation very resolute. He said that Kosovo sees its own membership in NATO as the finalization of the security architecture in the region. He thanked all the men and women in uniform who served and are serving in Kosovo for their contribution. 

Former deputy minister of foreign affairs and current adviser to the Prime Minister office, Odeta Barbullushi in her presentation focused on the multiple anniversaries that this year marks, describing NATO’s enlargement to the Central and Eastern European countries as the natural fulfillment of its profile. Barbullushi brought up again the vulnerability of the Western Balkans region which is exposed to threats and security issues coming from both the East and the South and in this context the guarantee of NATO for regional security.

Barbullushi focused on NATO as a “community of security” where the word ‘community’ was as important as the other one, since what unites the member states, their commitments and their values are as crucial to the Alliance as the interest to safeguard their countries. 

Gjuraj, who is also a Rector of the European University of Tirana also mentioned some of the current challenges and parallel dynamics such as the state of regional cooperation, democratic development and good governance for both NATO members and aspiring countries as well as external issues such as perceived Russian impact and other external actors efforts to exert influence in the region. 

The third panel, chaired by journalist Lutfi Dervishi, sought to explore the new security environment and the NATO future.

Marko Bello spoke about the dangers NATO is facing from doubts cast from within, and especially from US President Donald Trump. 

According to Bello, Trump’s ideology of putting ‘America First’ has definitely worried many Europeans, but other American officials do not share the same doubts and NATO’s last actions in the region prove that. 

On his side Plator Kalakula, from the foreign ministry’s NATO Directorate, said that since 2014, the international security situation has been unprecedented since the Cold War. 

“NATO is misunderstood in many countries. Member States do not lose their sovereignty by joining NATO. Even a small country like Albania can block a NATO decision if it does not coincide with its interests. The approach towards the south, because the threat came from a non-state actor, such as ISIS. The budget issue is key, especially with the current US administration,” Kalakula said.

Meanwhile, AIIS researcher Alfonc Rakaj concluded by saying that Albania’s initiative in participating in far away missions fails at home, where we don’t take care of our democratic values.

The conference took place at the Tirana International Hotel, on March 21, 2018. 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 23 - Albania ranked last among Balkan countries on the 2018 World Happiness Report, written by a group of independent experts and produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The annual survey of 156 countries found again this year that Scandinavian countries - already known for their high standard of living and rewarding work-life balance - rank first when it comes to happiness, the first four spots going to Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

The Netherlands overcame Switzerland from last year, coming in fifth.

Last in the report came impoverished and war-stricken Afghanistan, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Out of the former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia ranked the happiest - an indicator of its relatively wealthy and peaceful context, while Kosovo surprised in the report by reaching 46th place - over passing even economically progressing Romania - reflecting that when it comes to happiness, perceptions of contentment count far more than money and standard of living alone.

Most Balkan countries came in the 70s band. 

Serbia ranks first among the region’s countries, in 70th place, followed by Montenegro in 73rd place and Croatia in 75th. Bosnia and Herzegovina came 78th and North Macedonia 84th.

Surprisingly, Bulgaria - which is a part of the European Union since 2007, ranked lower than most Balkan countries at 97th place, only surpassed by Albania, which ranks as low as 107th place. 

Albania ranks only above economically destroyed Venezuela and Palestine - a reflection of the grim political and socio-economic situation the country has been facing over the last years.

Of other countries in the world, the UK comes in at 15th place, the US in 19th and Russia at 68th place.

The survey reaches a score for countries by drawing on a wide range of factors – not just wealth – from interest in elections to pro-social behavior, such as generosity and treatment of migrants, media freedom and even rates of digital technology use. 

 

*The full report for 2018 can be found here: http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/

 
                    [post_title] => Albanians are the region's unhappiest, according to World Happiness Report 
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            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 140990
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2019-03-21 21:12:34
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-21 20:12:34
                    [post_content] => The united opposition protested on Saturday and again on Thursday against the Rama's government, which it accuses of being closely tied with criminal networks in the country, of winning the last elections through illegal ballot buying and of corruption.

The protest’s main demand is the resignation of the Rama government and the establishment of  a caretaker government which can facilitate early elections.

The joint opposition protest in Tirana on Saturday was accompanied by tensions in front of the parliament, when protesters tried to break the protective police line. Police used tear gas, while protesters were reported to throw strong items to law enforcement officials. 

Later, police also used water to disperse protesters. Some protesters were injured, falling on the ground, along with police officers.

A day after the protest, police notified it arrested 14 people and is searching for seven others, all to be punished for the acts of violence during the rally. 

For 11 other protesters, criminal proceeding has began in a free state. 

The same decision was reached for the Secretary General of Democratic Party Gazmend Bardhi, as he was the person who requested permission to protest.

The detainees are charged with the criminal offenses "Organization and participation in illegal gatherings and manifestations", "Violence due to duty", "Violent opposition to a police officer", "Disruption of public order and peace" and "Keeping and using explosive materials.”

On Thursday too, the situation in front of the parliament, while an ordinary plenary session with the government only in parliament was taking place, got intense after protesters tried to break the line of policemen.

This time, police did not use tear-gas or water against the protesters, some of whom were throwing fireworks towards the police lines.

Police explained that "procedural actions were conducted on the basis of an analysis of film footage, service reports, and other evidence collected by the investigative group. At the scene police have collected as material evidence about 130 capsules banned as life-threatening.”

For its part, the DP accused the police on Sunday of escalating unprovoked violence towards the protesters with the sole purpose of scattering them, scaring them and keeping them away from the protest, but that it got its answer from the people. 


Basha: We are not a destabilizing factor 


Opposition leader Lulzim Basha denied criticism that the opposition’s decision to resign its parliamentary mandates is destabilizing the country.


"Albania is destabilized by crime, we will put an end to this destabilization, Edi Rama should leave an hour early," said Basha.
The president of Albania, Ilir Meta, who cut his visit to Azerbaijan short, reacted on Saturday. He said that he is following the developments with concern, and has called for the avoidance of confrontation and violence.

In a later interview, Meta added that all political parties involved in the serious deadlock that’s been created should take responsibility and not hide behind international representations in the country.
“I think that the political class should assume its responsibility and not hide behind any international as it has been so far and issues should be resolved in a transparent, principled manner, away from the bargains and misuses even of any internationals,” Meta said.

Meanwhile, both the US Embassy to Albania and the EU Delegation warned ahead of the protest that violence during rallies is “illegal” and “intolerable,” through two different statements.

The international community has openly criticized the opposition's decision to abandon  parliament by resigning their lawmakers’ mandates collectively. 

The opposition, however, has clearly announced that there will be no stepping back until the government's departure. Democratic leader Lulzim Basha said yesterday “the protest will be another chance for Albanians to unite and raise their voice.”

 

Reactions from Germany


Last Thursday, German Minister of State Michael Roth told Deutsche Welle that they consider the opposition’s parliament boycott is irresponsible.

"Because it's not just parliament or government boycotting, but also democracy. The parliament is the place to debate. We asked for intervention seeking moderation. But I'm afraid the situation is already very poisoned.”

Meanwhile, rapporteur for Albania in the Foreign Commission Christian Schmidt thinks the government is also responsible for the crisis.

"This is not normal. The parliament lives by debate. It is up to the government to guarantee parliamentary cooperation,” said the former German minister for DW. Schmidt has been Albania’s rapporteur at the Bundestag’s Foreign Commission for a year - one of the commissions that decide to open EU negotiations for the country.

Schmidt told DW that he plans to travel to Albania soon to be informed about the situation. 

"I particularly want to see how much the opposition is involved in parliamentary procedures," he stressed.

Germany's decision to open negotiations will depend on the progress report of the European Union Commission that will be published on May 29th. But to give final approval to the EU Council on 19 June, Germany will have to get the Bundestag's approval.

 

Opposition officially heads towards local elections’ boycott 

The Central Election Commission announced on Tuesday that only the governing Socialist Party handed in its members list for the Local Electoral Administration Commissions within the March 18 deadline, while the opposition’s Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration chose not to propose any candidates.

The local electoral administration commissions (KZAZ) play a vital role in administering local elections, which are to take place on June 30.

By submitting its candidate list on time, the SP attempted to show everything is going normally in the country. Prime Minister Edi Rama gave the same message of maintaining a normal parliamentary situation to the Socialist MPs - the only MPs remaining in parliament after the opposition collectively resigned its mandates two weeks ago - one day before submitting its candidate list.

Meanwhile, refusal to submit their KZAZ candidates list is the first sign from the DP and the SMI that they will be boycotting the upcoming local elections. 

Missing the KZAZ deadline has occurred before in the past. 

During the 2017 election campaign, all parties failed to submit a full list until a few days before the elections, leaving large areas of voting without sufficient preparation.

The tactic of postponing the publication of the names of commissioners in polling stations is a party-recognized tactic and aims to reduce the risk that opposing parties "buy" commissioners ahead of the election.

The electoral reform, required by the EU and OSCE/ODHIR, is supposed to remove any political influence in the selection process of election commissioners. 

However, now that the opposition has left parliament, there is little chance that the reform will be adopted and implemented before the next elections.

On Monday, Rama also assigned former minister Damian Gjiknuri as electoral reform coordinator, although he was dismissed from duty in December 2018 due to his involvement with the DH Albania scandal - a ghost company that received almost 30 million euros through government tenders.

Relying on the prosecution's interceptions, which were published by VOA last month, the opposition also claims Gjiknuri was the chief SP official who led the vote buying in Dibra district during the 2017 elections.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania’s internal political crisis intensifies 
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            [5] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 140984
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2019-03-21 12:38:10
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-21 11:38:10
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 20 - Albanian president Ilir Meta said on Wednesday he would be ready to resign from his post if it would help resolve the deadlock the country is facing, be it from the non-functioning Constitutional Court to the opposition’s parliamentary mandates resignation and the risk of a junte installment.

Meta said that after failing to mediate a solution he was ready to resign if he were “assured the country has a political, constitutional and solid solution.”

“I am willing to sacrifice myself first in the name of a political solution that restores constitutional, institutional, political, democratic normality in the country and guarantees quick progress towards the opening of EU negotiations, I am ready for both extremes: starting from the resignation of my mandate as president after I make sure that the country has a principled, constitutional, solid political solution, up to the sacrifice of my life as Salvador Alende to stop installing a junta that could take Albania thirty years in the past,” Meta said in an interview during his trip to Pogradec.

According to Meta, the constitutional and institutional crisis is nothing new, but initiatives to not let it escalate have been hindered, even when they came from him alone.

However, he believes the situation has gotten much worse now that the institution is officially boycotting parliament and the upcoming local elections.

Now the crisis is further deepened after an unprecedented action by the Albanian opposition which is an inadmissible and reprehensible act that has seriously deepened the representation crisis of Albania as the main representative institution of the Republic of Albania and Albanian citizens

“Now, the crisis is further deepened after an unprecedented action by the Albanian opposition which is an inadmissible and reprehensible act that has seriously deepened the Albanian  parliament representation crisis as the main institution of the Republic of Albania and Albanian citizens,” Meta said.

Though Meta was elected two years ago with the votes of the ruling leftist Socialist Party, he has not been at peace with the government since.

The center-right Democratic Party-led opposition has resigned from its parliamentary mandates and has been holding protests accusing the leftist Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of being corrupt and linked to organized crime, and asking for an early election.

Speaking to reporters in the eastern city of Pogradec, Meta also compared himself to the Chilean President Salvador Allende, who killed himself in 1973 as troops surrounded his palace following a military coup.

Meta said he would be ready to “sacrifice my own life like Salvador Allende to stop the installation of a junta that would turn Albania back 30 years.”

The opposition has not heeded calls from the United States and the European Union not to incite violence and to sit down for talks with the government.

 
                    [post_title] => President Meta: “Ready to resign to solve political crisis” 
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                (
                    [ID] => 140982
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2019-03-20 22:59:13
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-20 21:59:13
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 19 - In an interview for North Macedonian media on Monday, Socialist Diaspora Minister Pandeli Majko said that only an agreement between the government and the opposition can get the country out of the deadlock it is currently facing.

Majko, who was also the country’s Prime Minister in the past, said that the opposition’s decision to resign its parliamentary mandates was quite extreme and that only a bilateral mediation between both sides could help the situation.

In an interview for the Macedonian media "Almakos," Rama's government minister said he believes that if there is no agreement, then a definitive solution will be imposed by the internationals on the parties.

“Obviously, the opposition has chosen a very radical way to create events that draw full attention on it. How much will it succeed, that is a question weighting on the opposition more than the government. Will we have mediation? I think yes. We will have mediation. The good thing would be to close this story between the parties. But now I think we have come to a point where things are getting worse, they are not getting easier. My concern is that the internationals will come and say: you will do this,” Majko said.

High opposition ranks have also suggested Majko’s name as a possible option for temporary PM until early elections can take place, or as an official mediator between the parties, but he denied both options due to what he deems conflict of interest.

“No, I will not accept to be a mediator between the parties. I have a conflict of interest because I am a member of the government. Do I have friendly relations with my opposition colleagues? Yes, it is true that I have good relationships with them. I started political career not in the Socialist Party directly, but in the Student Movement, being one of its leaders. Then I stood left, starting from family reasons,” said Majko.

According to Majko, the political crisis in the country was created as a result of the fact the era of a generation of politicians who entered politics after the 90s has ended.

“Politics, in all its reach, is a relationship with the dream of the future. When you lose sight of that, you are old in politics and it's time to leave.”
                    [post_title] => Socialist minister says generation of post-90s politicians should go 
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                    [ID] => 140978
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-20 15:46:55
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-20 14:46:55
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 20 - The Central Election Commission announced on Tuesday that only the governing Socialist Party handed in its members list for the Local Electoral Administration Commissions within the March 18 deadline, while the opposition’s Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration chose not to propose any candidates. 

The local electoral administration commissions (KZAZ) play a vital role in administering local elections, which are to take place on June 30.

By submitting its candidate list on time, the SP attempted to show everything is going normally in the country. Prime Minister Edi Rama gave the same message of maintaining a normal parliamentary situation to the Socialist MPs - the only MPs remaining in parliament after the opposition collectively resigned its mandates two weeks ago - one day before submitting its candidate list.

Meanwhile, refusal to submit their KZAZ candidates list is the first sign from the DP and the SMI that they will be boycotting the upcoming local elections. 

Missing the KZAZ deadline has occurred before in the past. 

During the 2017 election campaign, all parties failed to submit a full list until a few days before the elections, leaving large areas of voting without sufficient preparation.

The tactic of postponing the publication of the names of commissioners in polling stations is a party-recognized tactic and aims to reduce the risk that opposing parties "buy" commissioners ahead of the election.

The electoral reform, required by the EU and OSCE/ODHIR, is supposed to remove any political influence in the selection process of election commissioners. 

However, now that the opposition has left parliament, there is little chance that the reform will be adopted and implemented before the next elections.

On Monday, Rama also assigned former minister Damian Gjiknuri as electoral reform coordinator, although he was dismissed from duty in December 2018 due to his involvement with the DH Albania scandal - a ghost company that received almost 30 million euros through government tenders.

Relying on the prosecution's interceptions, which were published by VOA last month, the opposition also claims Gjiknuri was the chief SP official who led the vote buying in Dibra district during the 2017 elections.

 
                    [post_title] => Opposition officially heads towards local elections’ boycott 
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                (
                    [ID] => 140975
                    [post_author] => 338
                    [post_date] => 2019-03-20 15:27:41
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-20 14:27:41
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 20- President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping will be visiting Rome on March 21, Voice of America reports. The purpose of the visitation is a discussion and an expectation of Italy to join the Chinese project “One Belt, One Road.”

According to analysts during president Xi’s visitation, Italy is expected to sign a non-compulsory memorandum of understanding. This treaty will open the pathway to construction and financing projects from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) centers in Beijing.

“The memorandum is percepted more as a way to ensure more exports in China and more opportunities to get funds from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” said Alessia Amighini, co-chief of Center for Asia in ISPI, a research group based in Rome.

Rome is thus trying to reduce the trade deficit with China and avoid some major expenses by attracting Chinese investments as also the AIIB in grand infrastructural projects. The agreement will also give a better approach to Chinese companies in the overloaded seaport of Trieste, and thus to the entire Mediterranean region. According to Italian sources, Rome is considering the option to invite Chinese companies to expand or menage three other Italian marinas, that of Genova, Palermo, and Ravenna.

“Italy is thirsty to attract investments, to improve her competitive position in relation to other northern European corridors and ports,” said Amighini.

Analysts claim that China is obviously exploiting the competition within the Eurozone and is trying to take away an important member by offering a number of attractive conditions. The signing of the Memorandum of understanding would amount to a major political success for China in a time when concerns and criticism surround its infrastructure plan.

The United States are critical towards this billion dollar project and have warned of its risk to a “debt-trap diplomacy,” which is a type of diplomacy based on debt carried out in the bilateral relations between countries. The countries of EU are concerned that this plan can increase the disruptions to an already tense coalition, and Italy is one of the founding member of the EU. Thus, it can open Beijing some doors to Eurozone. 

So far, the largest road infrastructure projects have been linked to countries with considerable financial difficulties, such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, and Greece. With Italy’s decision to join this plan, China will work with a country that the fear for a debt-trap is small. However, the decision can challenge Europe’s connecting infrastructure strategy, a plan published in September 2018 which aims the connection within Europe and Asia by echoing the stability standards and practices based on rules. 

Analysts are waiting to understand whether president Xi will offer Italy a modified project in accordance to the European standards. These standards however, would strip China from its ability to lower costs and reduce its competitive advantage.

“I don’t expect China to display more flexibility. In any case, I don’t the financing conditions as a realistic matter in Europe,” said Amighini.

 

Europe’s disruption

Teresa Coratella who serves as program manager at the European Council of Foreign Affairs in Rome said that this step that the Italian authorities are undertaking, has the potential to create disruptions within the European Union in a time when the block is working on mutual approach towards the Chinese investments.

Both the US and France have expressed a dissatisfaction on this move Rome is taking, as German officials are said to be lobbying against the memorandum of understanding. Italy is the only country from G7 that is joining the “One Belt, One Road.” G7 is a group of seven countries,  Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which are the seven largest advanced economies in the world, representing 58 percent of the world’s GDP. 

“Italy is a major global economy and great investment destination. No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project,” tweeted Garrett Marquis, the US National Security Council spokesman. 

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed discontent on Rome’s decision and has called out to all European Union members for a “coordinated approach” towards China’s plans. Zhiqun Zhu who is the Chair of Department of International Relations  at the Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, said that the United States are overreacting to the idea of a Chinese threat in all matters, the infrastructure plan included.

“Italy and other countries should take their own decisions instead of being forced to choose over USA or China,’’ said Zhu.

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative  is a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa. "Belt" refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called "the Silk Road Economic Belt"; whereas "road" refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future,” but some observers see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.

 
                    [post_title] => Italy to join China’s “One Belt, One Road”
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                    [post_date] => 2019-03-20 13:13:17
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-20 12:13:17
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 20 - During a hearing on Tuesday to examine the progress made and persisting challenges current EU candidate countries face in fulfilling fundamental EU criteria, the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) criticised Albania and other Balkan EU candidate countries on “stagnation” over rule of law issues. 

Danielsson commented during the hearing that the rule of law is a core and essential value and that a country must respect and promote common values including rule of law. 

Although he noted that there have been some improvements in the region, limited progress has been made, with some countries even going backwards rather than forwards.

“A lot of countries that wish to join the EU are far from reaching the criteria and in some we have backsliding” he said, adding that candidate states such as Albania need to show their determination to move forward with EU accession processes.

President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio stated that Constitutional Courts need to be independent so they can adequately defend the rule of law, noting that politicians are prone to attempting these courts when they do not like the judgement. 

Albania at present, has no functioning constitutional court. This has resulted in situations where unconstitutional laws that benefit the government have been passed with no challenge, to the detriment of the country and the rule of law.

Buquicchio added that the presence of the rule of law should be a “key element” in deciding if a country is accepted into the EU. He added that candidate states need to reform the judiciary, not just to satisfy membership requirements but for the benefit of citizens as well.

Meanwhile, political experts in the room underlined the importance of civil society in each of these countries in partnering with the EU to hold leaders accountable for their actions and their policy making.

So far, civil society has largely been ignored in Albania by the EU, in favour of “propaganda” that has been presented to them by the incumbent government.

Naim Rashiti, Executive Director at Balkans Policy Research Group in Pristina added that the Albanian government is using agenda reforms negatively against the opposition, adding to signs of tension across the region.

This statement may well refer to the Albanian government trying to portray the opposition’s recent anti-government rallies and its decision to give up its parliamentary mandates as an effort to hinder the ongoing justice reform, instead of a protest against credible links that tie the Socialist with criminal networks and ballot-buying.

In its annual human rights report, the US Department of State last week stated once more that the rule of law and corruption within the country’s judiciary has not improved since last year, highlighting issues with impunity, corrupt practices within law enforcement, lack of media freedom,and allegations of vote buying. 

Before acceding to the European Union, each candidate country have to fulfil the Copenhagen Treaty criteria, which comprise of fundamental rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the bloc or not.

Current EU candidate countries are Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Potential candidates are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

 
                    [post_title] => EP says Albania and the Balkans are losing ground in rule of law establishment 
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        (
            [ID] => 141055
            [post_author] => 281
            [post_date] => 2019-03-25 16:36:55
            [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-25 15:36:55
            [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 25 - Head of the opposition’s Democratic Party Lulzim Basha appeared on Monday in front of Tirana’s prosecution over the DP’s lobbying contracts in the US before and during the 2017 parliamentary election campaign.

“This investigation began a year and a half ago, the answers arrived from the US and the UK six months ago. They prove that neither the DP, nor the DP’s leaders have broke any laws in Albania, the UK or the US. I call for the prosecution to make those answers public,” Basha said.

The prosecution began verifying PD lobbying contracts with several US companies in November 2017 to clarify funding sources for these contracts and to see if the transactions were legal.

The one-year open investigation is done on the basis of filling in the Central Election Committee forms. The issue being investigated at the request of the DP is whether these are filled or not properly. This is the investigation, not lies and defamations on which the government that fueled this investigation is strongly invested, whenever they meet its political needs” Basha, who emphasized that he was summoned by the prosecution as a person who could have been aware of the circumstances of the investigation. 

The issue of lobbying payments made by the DP opened in November 2017, when American lobbying firm 'Muzin Capitol Partners' supplemented with additional information its legally binding declarations for the Department of Justice.

According to 'Muzin’ statements, the entity has received three payments in the amount of $675,000 for its work in favor of the Democratic Party in 2017: the first payment on March 24, 2017 and is made by the firm "Biniatta Trade LP ", worth $150,000, the other two payments were made by the Democratic Party, one on March 27, for $25,000 , and the other on June 9 for $500,000.

Basha said the DP has only made a payment of $25,000, leaving the other two payments or they sources unclear.

The Democratic Party has also denied any connection with the "Biniatta Trade LP" firm, which is registered in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is owned by a chain of companies registered in Belize - a Central American state, known as a fiscal haven.

According to a Mother Jones magazine investigation, “Biniatta Trade LP” is a partnership created by two companies: Asverro Corp and Liminez Commerce, for which "there is no public information for any commercial activity". 

Behind these two companies, according to Mother Jones, there are two other registered companies in the United Kingdom, "Babyonica" and "KF Global Management", whose shares are owned 75 percent by two Russian citizens, Evgeny Sheremetyev and Kostantin Ferulev.

Another investigative material, published by Top Channel, regarding the investigations in Scotland, states that the real owners behind Biniatta Trade LP are two Russian nationals, Victoria Valkovskaya and Natasha Radysheva, the first living in the Seychelles Islands , a country known as "fiscal haven" for offshore companies, while Radysheva in Belize.

When the debate on lobbying funds broke out last year, with the publication of Mother Jones articles, the DP publicly stated that "it has not broken any law, neither Albanian, nor American nor any other country. The Democratic Party has not had and has no direct or indirect links with Russian individuals or companies.”

Meanwhile, the “Muzin Capitol Partners” stated it is “compensated by ‘Biniatta Trade LP’ for activities organized on behalf of the Democratic Party to promote the Albanian conservative leadership among businessmen and political leaders in the United States.”

What the lobbyist has done and how he’s done it, is business. These are relations of Muzin with third parties,” said Mr. Basha last March, giving the same reasoning for the of $500,000 amount  which in the documents Muzin said was paid by the DP.

But while DP has admitted paying only $ 25,000 on its part, the company Muzin Capitol Partners has stated that its expenses for subcontractors engaged in activities in favor of the Albanian party only go over 100 thousand dollars. 

 
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