Parliamentary boycott continues, as opposition holds meeting in Vlora

Parliamentary boycott continues, as opposition holds meeting in Vlora

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – As the country’s Socialist majority put on the vote President Ilir Meta’s decree on the new National Theatre building accompanied by a few amendments on Thursday in parliament, the opposition marked its fourth absence since the

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German foreign minister says 2019 won’t automatically open negotiations for Albania

German foreign minister says 2019 won’t automatically open negotiations for Albania

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that June 2019 doesn’t mean automatic opening of accession negotiations for Albania, during his meeting in Tirana with Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. “On June this year a heuristic decision was

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Senior US diplomat Elisabeth Millard visits Tirana

Senior US diplomat Elisabeth Millard visits Tirana

TIRANA, Sept. 19 – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard began a visit to Tirana on Wednesday. She was welcomed by President Ilir Meta, with whom she discussed Albania’s main

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Start of academic year highlights deep gaps in Albania’s education system

Start of academic year highlights deep gaps in Albania’s education system

TIRANA, Sep. 17 – The new academic year began today in Albania, with approximately 480,000 new elementary and high-school students. The education ministry announced this year’s curricula is more relaxed and further away from old teaching methods. Around 32,000 children

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US Ambassador says war on drugs will only end when “big heads” are caught

US Ambassador says war on drugs will only end when “big heads” are caught

TIRANA, Sept. 16 – US ambassador to Albania Donald Lu said Friday night that the fight against marijuana cultivation and distribution in the country can not be considered complete without arresting the people organizing it. Ambassador Lu, who will be

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Gov’t sways under EU advice to launch open call for new National Theatre building

Gov’t sways under EU advice to launch open call for new National Theatre building

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The Albanian government confirmed it aims to change the new National Theatre bill by launching an open call for the area’s urban construction and development, after a letter by the European Commission suggested so on Tuesday.

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Ignored veto divides president, majority over booming gambling industry

Ignored veto divides president, majority over booming gambling industry

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The ruling Socialists ignored a presidential veto this week as they turned into law some legal changes which the president had previously turned down by arguing they eased the tax burden and failed to discourage a

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Opposition: “No place for us in parliament, meetings will be held in districts”

Opposition: “No place for us in parliament, meetings will be held in districts”

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The country’s opposition Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration skipped Thursday’s parliamentary session for the second week in a row, rather conducting their respective parliamentary group meetings in Durres. In his speech, head of

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Five arrested in Kruja’s Nikël village for criminal activities

Five arrested in Kruja’s Nikël village for criminal activities

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – Albanian police made public on Wednesday evening the results of an operation undertaken by it in the early hours of the morning against several criminal groups in Kruja’s Nikël village. According to the police, during the

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Albania commemorates Azem Hajdari

Albania commemorates Azem Hajdari

Several activities were organized on Wednesday in Tirana to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the assassination of former Democratic Party MP Azem Hajdari, one of the key figures of the student movement that led to the collapse of the communist

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 - As the country’s Socialist majority put on the vote President Ilir Meta’s decree on the new National Theatre building accompanied by a few amendments on Thursday in parliament, the opposition marked its fourth absence since the start of the parliamentary season, instead holding its own meeting in Vlora.

Thursday’s parliamentary session was only attended by two Socialist Movement for Integration MPs, allegedly for the purpose of renewing their mandate, while the opposition continued in yet another location what it has called “public denouncement” of the links between crime and corruption. 

On Wednesday, after meeting actors opposing the demolition of the old NT building altogether, opposition leader Lulzim Basha made a public announcement saying “voting the bill is a coup d'etat and whoever votes is considered a terrorist.”

According to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the opposition’s efforts to protect the old national theatre building are hypocritical, adding the government’s project will turn the theatre into one of the region’s most modern.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that June 2019 doesn’t mean automatic opening of accession negotiations for Albania, during his meeting in Tirana with Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. 

“On June this year a heuristic decision was made on EU’s framework regarding a possible start of accession negotiations for Albania in 2019. It is a decision which shows evaluation for the undertaken reforms in the last years in Albania and I think that it has been a quite energetic political engagement. At the same time, as we know it, EU member states have made it clear that June 2019 is not an automatic date regarding the start of membership negotiations, the criteria is clear, there are steps or other results expected in terms of reforms that will convince the sceptics on this process,’’ said Maas. 

Maas is taking a tour around the Balkans this week, following the itinerary Bucharest, Skopje, Tirana, Athens. 

The aim of the visit and his agenda’s goal specifically focus on a united Europe, declaring that Europe cannot be separated into separate regions.

“Europe cannot be separated into geographic regions - there is only one Europe,” said Maas before starting the tour.

Maas spoke of his good impression regarding the enthusiasm of Western Balkans citizens for the shared EU values. He said the region deserves a realistic perspective regarding accession, but he put emphasis on fulfilling the set conditions. He mentioned that what is crucial for WB countries is for the reforms on stronger democracy, judicial state and good governance to be put forward.

On Wednesday, he stopped in Tirana to talk with Bushati regarding Albania’s EU accession negotiations, Germany’s support and expectations towards our country. 

He praised the vetting reform and called it an important step in ensuring a stronger democratic state and independent judicial system with the verification of judges and prosecutors. However, he said that Germany expects Albania to make further progress in fighting corruption and organized crime and fulfill the EU conditions by achieving concrete results, so that it will fully deserve the starting of the negotiations.

“The fact that accession talks for Albania might start by June 2019 shows an evaluation for the efforts done so far,’’ said Maas. “Germany gives its political support in this direction through the commitment of high-level counselors and through the framework of various projects.” 

Germany’s support and promotion to Albania’s European perspective is also motivated by its positive role in the stability of the region. 

In this context, Maas referred to Albania as “the anchor for regional stability.” 

Bushati said Germany’s support to Albania is irreplaceable during the visit of his German

counterpart. The comment comes in context of the generous financial assistance that Germany gives to Albania, in addition to its political support. Germany is the biggest financial donor to Albania, with around one billion dollars, which in global terms comprises the greatest financial support per capita from Germany.

The Albania-Germany economic cooperation for development, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, is described as excellent by the German Ambassador to Albania, Susanne Schütz.

In his visit in Tirana, Maas had meetings and talks with Bushati, Prime Minister, Edi Rama, opposition leader Lulzim Basha, and vetting commission representatives.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 19 - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard began a visit to Tirana on Wednesday.

She was welcomed by President Ilir Meta, with whom she discussed Albania’s main developments and the progress of the reforms, as well as the situation in the Balkans, the referendum in Macedonia and the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Millard also met Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati.

After meeting government representatives, Millard also met with opposition leader Lulzim Basha who, according to an official announcement by the Democratic Party, listed the main problems the country is facing today, as well as the opposition’s proposal to verify politicians’ assets and their potential links with crime.

During her meetings in Tirana, according to a statement from the US Embassy, ​​"Mrs. Millard praised the strong friendship between the United States and Albania and discussed the strategic partnership between the two countries.” 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sep. 17 - The new academic year began today in Albania, with approximately 480,000 new elementary and high-school students. 

The education ministry announced this year’s curricula is more relaxed and further away from old teaching methods.

Around 32,000 children will be going to first grade, while 32,000 seniors will try out the new senior program which, according to the ministry, is based on what will follow in university and the work market.

The ministry also said this academic year free academic textbooks were distributed from the first to the fourth grade for approximately 190,000 children, while from grade five to grade nine children still had to pay for their textbooks.

However, the Coalition for Education said on Monday Albania remains one step behind all other European and even regional countries in financing education. According to the coalition, the government has been promising to raise the budget for education by up to 5 percent of the GDP for 6 years, but the state budget for education has actually stagnated at only 3 percent.

This lack of investment in the education of children and young people places Albania among the last countries in Europe for the results and achievements of students compared to the OECD countries.

The lack of public investment in education and the scarce government spending on quality and inclusive programs continue to leave a small proportion of children and adolescents without access to education, the Coalition for Education said.

To make matters concrete, the coalition quoted the World Health Organization, according to which nearly half of the schools have no drinking water and about 70 percent of them do not have adequate hygiene conditions for child education.

Almost 64 percent of children with disabilities remain out of the secondary education system and only 35 percent of schools in Albania are accessible to these children, the Coalition said. Although this school year finds public high-schools with a doubled number of teacher assistants, most children will not benefit from this support measure. 

The coalition added that education of Roma and Egyptian children remains another big problem, as 38.6 percent of Roma and Egyptian children do not attend mandatory education.

One of the main problems of education remains violence and bullying at school: nearly 40 percent of students are victims of physical and psychological violence, while 22 percent of them feel threatened by teachers. Almost 20 percent of students are bullying victims, while 50 percent of students are witnessing discrimination of students in their school, the coalition concluded. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 16 - US ambassador to Albania Donald Lu said Friday night that the fight against marijuana cultivation and distribution in the country can not be considered complete without arresting the people organizing it.

Ambassador Lu, who will be leaving the country next week at the close of his term, made these comments in a last interview given for Vizion Plus TV’s ‘Real Story’ show.

Albanian authorities claim the phenomenon of cultivation has disappeared in Albania.

“Failing to arrest the organizers will cause a comeback of cannabis fields, cocaine and heroin will only increase in the country. Some of them are petty criminals, some of them are politically protected criminals. And this is a serious issue in your country,” Lu said.

Speaking of the activity of Albanian criminal groups, Lu said the fight against organized crime is a difficult one and will require real sacrifices from the government.

“Two and a half years after the Greek government issued a warrant, we have not yet arrested Klement Balili. It’s scandalous that Lul Berisha is released early from prison and can freely walk the streets of Durres. And it’s scandalous that only this week the trial of Shullazi will take place, when Shullazi himself has threatened judges and prosecutors, so that prosecutors do not even go to court. How is this place to move forward when these things happen? I know that Fatmir Xhafaj and Arta Marku and Ardi Veliu will be judged on whether they will be able to put these criminals behind bars,” Lu further said.

However, he also added it is important the Albanian people realized that their government, police and prosecution are serious when it comes to fighting organized crime and that cooperation with foreign anti-criminal services have lead to the arrest of some dangerous criminals over the last months.

Concerning former General Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla, with whom Lu has had public confrontations with, he said the ex-GP represents many of the officials that tried to hamper the judiciary reform. 

“We have praised the decision of the judges to sequester his many unexplained assets and have prompted the country’s judiciary to limit his moves so that he doesn’t run away from justice,” Lu said.

An issue for which the US ambassador has been pronounced several times has been the investigation into former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri. 

“The US government believes that this issue is sufficiently important to deserve to be taken to court by a judge who has passed the vetting and be judged according to evidence, and not according to political pressure. This is what we seek. We support efforts to move forward transparently,” Lu concluded.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 - The Albanian government confirmed it aims to change the new National Theatre bill by launching an open call for the area’s urban construction and development, after a letter by the European Commission suggested so on Tuesday.

“One point where we are thinking of interfering and improving is to not have a predetermined subject, but to launch an open call for any subject interested in competing for the project,” MP and Head of the Production Activities Commission Eduard Shalsi said. 

The letter was sent to the authorities after it assessed the government’s proposed special law, which encountered strong opposition by the public opinion and later failed to be decreed by President Ilir Meta.

The NT bill, approved by the majority’s ballot papers power at the start of July, foresees the construction of a new, modern National Theatre building with the funds of private company Fusha Shpk., which in turn will be given thousands of square meters of public property in the city centre to build a high-rise concrete complex.

More than debating the necessity of a new NT building, the controversy following the issue focused on the special procedure that was used to exclude other companies from competing for the building’s construction.

In this context, Head of the EU Enlargement Directorate for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina Michela Matuella requested that the Albanian government change the proposed special law and remove the predetermined private company Fusha Shpk from the legal proposal.

“The Commission services welcome the commitment of the Albanian authorities to amend the Special Law with a view of introducing an open call for the implementation of the National Theatre development project, whereby any private party could submit a proposal for the project. At the same time, the Commission services would like to emphasise the importance of defining clear, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria for the selection of the successful bidder in implementing the Special Law,” the letter read.

Although the letter clarifies no violations of the Stabilization and Association Agreement can be noticed, the commission does encourage the government to follow the EU’s public procurement principles and ensure non-discriminatory access to free-market competition.

The Albanian opposition, which has strongly opposed the project, calling it a corrupt affair, called the letter a victory.

“Brussels’ answer is clear: the government has violated the law. The European Commission’s response clearly supports the opposition’s main concerns. We were right to say the law violates the principle of fair competition. We were also right when we accused the government of having a predetermined and preferential customer, like Fusha Shpk,” Democratic Party MP Jorida Tabaku said.

However, the opposition still opposes any bill aiming to destroy the current National Theatre, calling it a “monument of cultural heritage.”

“The Democratic Party is against any law that affect public property by alienating it and offering it to the private sector for clientelistic criminal affairs. The DP is against any law that is subjected to alienating public property depending on the local government, as it violates constitutional principles,” DP MP Albana Vokshi said. 

On the other hand, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj, who has been a frontrunner in protecting this project, described the European Commission letter as “excellent news.”

“While the law doesn’t violate the SAA, we have the opportunity to improve it,” Veliaj wrote in social media.

In fact, Veliaj’s position is different from that of a few weeks before, when he reacted harshly to the President Meta not decreeing the law, stating that within 40 days it would be approved without alterations.

“I believe that through a draft agreed with the European Commission, we will soon have the necessary legal basis, the necessary legal and open process for everyone and finally a new theatre for Tirana,” Veliaj stated. 

It currently remains to be seen which procedure will be followed. If the majority will decide to change the law, it would have to approve Meta’s decree for the return to parliament of the present text and then present the new law, that would foresee an open and fair competition for everyone. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The ruling Socialists ignored a presidential veto this week as they turned into law some legal changes which the president had previously turned down by arguing they eased the tax burden and failed to discourage a booming business with negative effects for the country’s economy and society.

In a session boycotted by the opposition and not attended by representatives of the President’s office who said they had not been informed about it, ruling majority MPs cancelled the presidential veto to finally turn into law some legal changes which they say apply a unified 15 percent profit tax on gambling companies.

The president’s office argues the legal changes approved by the ruling Socialists in early July and vetoed by the president in late July cut the gambling tax to 15 percent of gross earnings calculated as the amount remaining after the distribution of profits to gamblers compared to a current 15 percent turnover rate, significantly reducing the tax burden on gambling operators.

However, the government says the legal changes have been misinterpreted by the president as the gambling tax remains unchanged and the sole change to the 2015 gambling law is that the gambling tax on the loss-making Austrian-run national lottery has been unified to 15 percent compared to a current 10 percent.

Austrian Lotteries launched its Albania operations in 2013 after it was given a 10-year licence to organize Albania’s first ever national lottery and offered a 10 percent tax rate. Back in mid-2016, the Austrian Lotteries Albania operations were taken over by another Austria-based company already present in Albania with a chain of electronic casinos following accumulated losses.

In his suspensive veto returning the legal changes for reconsideration by Parliament, President Ilir Meta argued the amendment also failed to curb a booming phenomenon that has not slowed down despite nationwide campaigns and legal changes aimed at discouraging gambling in downtown areas.

“The gambling business model does not produce added value for the society, on the contrary the expansion of this industry brings potential risk that impoverish Albanian households and cause social drama,” argued the president.

 

Casinos no longer in town

Speaking at the parliamentary economy committee this week, Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj defended the legal changes as applying equal 15 percent tax rate on all companies and said 2016 legal changes disciplining gambling in downtown areas would finally come into force starting January 2019 following a two-year extension in 2017.

Minister Ahmetaj said electronic casinos will no longer be allowed in downtown areas starting January 1, 2019 and the booming sports betting shops also serving as coffee bars be disciplined at a distance of not less than 200 meters from each other.

The legal changes initially scheduled to come into force in January 2017 were postponed for two years in late 2016 ahead of the mid-2017 general elections after some ruling Socialist MPs described the legal changes as premature and posing a threat to the industry employing 1,800 people and generating an annual $125 million in turnover and taxes.

Legal changes limit the geographical location of casinos only to areas determined for tourism development or five-star hotels or tourist resorts and set restrictions for the booming sports betting industry.

Transferring casinos outside Tirana is an initiative that began in 2012 when former Tirana mayor Lulzim Basha, the current leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, imposed higher tax burden for casinos operating in downtown Tirana, but failed to displace them outside Tirana, including the country's sole casino that still operates in the city center.

Back in October 2013, soon after Edi Rama took office as the country’s Prime Minister, he initiated a nationwide campaign dubbed “The End of Madness” that closed down dozens of illegal gambling businesses, vowing zero tolerance to an activity which he said “cannot be the future of the country even legally.”

Five years on, gambling remains a booming business and casinos and betting shops have grown in numbers and are even found close to schools or religious institutions.

A 2017 report by Albania’s Supreme Audit Institution, identified about 50 billion lek (€390 million) in gambling income that state authorities failed to collect from 2014 to 2016. The revenue miss is related to the Gambling Supervisory Authority’s failure to impose and collect fines following seizure of games of chance equipment, often operated informally or not meeting technical requirements following the late 2013 nationwide campaign that closed down dozens of illegal gambling businesses in a bid to curb widespread informality in a sector that generates more than €100 million in income annually.

 

Albanians gambling more

Finance minister Ahmetaj says government revenue from gambling have increased to $54 million compared to $37 million in 2013 when the Socialists took over and there are fewer companies operating, some 20 compared to 40 five years ago.

However, data shows Albanians are spending more and more on gambling and sports betting shops have flourished in the past few years, making Albania one of top countries with the highest per capita betting shops.

Albania had more than 3,900 betting shops at a rate of 1 per 730 local residents this year, setting a European record, according to data obtained by local media.

Albanians reportedly spent a record 16.6 billion lek (€132 mln) in gambling in 2017, up 10 percent compared to the previous year, according to turnover data reported by the main electronic casino, lottery and sports betting companies.

Gambling is a booming business in Albania and varies from lotteries, electronic casinos and more numerous sports betting shops. A gambling law, which has been in force for several years, bans people under 21 from entering betting shops, but regardless, teenagers are often seen there.

The booming gambling businesses is often linked to gangs laundering crime and drug proceeds. There have been also cases when even senior officials and judges have justified some of their income through winnings in betting shops or casinos in their wealth declarations.

Albanian authorities have selected an Austrian-Polish-Albanian concessionaire to set up, operate and maintain an online central monitoring system on Albania’s gambling industry for the next 30 years amid opposition by gambling authorities who unsuccessfully appealed the law at the Constitutional Court over an increase in the tax burden.

 

President-Gov’t clash

The final approval of the gambling legal changes by Parliament also marks the first official clash between President Meta and the ruling majority.

The president, whose powers are largely ceremonial, had previously exercised his suspended veto power on a bill paving the way for the demolition of an Italian-built WWII building in downtown Tirana that has served as the country’s national theater for about eight decades in a controversial project that has divided Albanian politicians and actors. The new contemporary architecture theater is supposed to be built by a private company in return for being offered public land to build business towers next to it, but the president argues the bill has violated market competition through its negotiated procedure and fails to preserve national heritage values. The bill is back for reconsideration and the ruling majority MPs seems to have withdrawn following a European Commission letter suggesting open competition for the project.

President Meta is a former experienced politician who has served as the country’s Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker and also led the country’s third largest party for more than a decade until he took office as president in mid-2017. The now opposition Socialist Movement for Integration which he led served as a kingmaker with both the Democrats and the Socialists from 2009 to 2017.

The final approval of gambling legal changes by the ruling Socialist in Parliament also comes at a time when the country’s constitutional court is non-operational due to a vetting process underway as part of a judiciary reform having dismissed several judges after failing to justify their financial assets.

The main opposition Democratic Party and its allies have also been boycotting Parliament this month following the summer beak, arguing their absence with alleged rising corruption and government links to gangs hampering rule of law.

The ruling Socialists, who won 74 out of 140 seats in the mid-2017 elections allowing them to govern on their own, had 78 votes in favour this month as they approved a mid-year budget cut amid a boycott by the opposition. The ruling Socialists are yet short of the three-fifths of votes, 84 MPs, required to push reforms.
                    [post_title] => Ignored veto divides president, majority over booming gambling industry
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-13 07:51:37
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 - The country’s opposition Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration skipped Thursday’s parliamentary session for the second week in a row, rather conducting their respective parliamentary group meetings in Durres.

In his speech, head of the DP Lulzim Basha stressed gambling games.

“Today, the parliament will reject the president’s decree on gambling. Honest businesses pay 23 percent tax, while for casinos taxation is being decreased. The came boasting they’d close gambling centers, but they have actually increased. Ask Agron Xhafaj and Olsi Rama why this is happening. Starting tomorrow, the DP will publish shocking facts to show that Rama and Xhafaj have used political power to help bands take over gambling games and use them to launder cocaine and heroin money,” Basha said.

Continuing, Basha said Prime Minister Edi Rama has been hiding in New York for the last five days for a reason.

“Rama is in New York to steal the territory of the Albanian Consulate there, as he will construct a high-rise building there,” Basha concluded.

 
                    [post_title] => Opposition: “No place for us in parliament, meetings will be held in districts” 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 - Albanian police made public on Wednesday evening the results of an operation undertaken by it in the early hours of the morning against several criminal groups in Kruja’s Nikël village. 

According to the police, during the operation, which saw the engagement of many forces, including its special units, several people were taken for questioning, while five people were arrested: Lutfi Haka, 67, a resident of the village Zeza, Kruja, previously convicted; Marklen Haka, 27, resident in the village of Zeze, Kruja, previously convicted; Ylli Çangu, 42, resident in the village of Nikel, Kruja, previously convicted; Skender Leza, 34, resident in the village of Larushk, Kruja; Valter Bami, 32, resident in Larushk, Kruja.

The police said the arrested are “elements of high social risk, members of criminal groups active in this territory, but also beyond it.”

With search warrants approved with a court decision, the police searched flats used by the suspects, sequestering various weapons, amounts of money in dollars and euros and a bullet-proof vehicle.

The police stated that it intervened “after several months of intensive investigation into the activity of criminal groups in Nikël of Kruja, conducted under the ‘Force of Law’ operation and in the function of investigating recent criminal events occurred.

In its announcement, the Police clarified that "the several months investigative activity conducted in this framework consisted in the interception, prosecution and tracing of these criminal elements as well as the collection of data in the operational way in order to ascertain as fully and as clearly as possible of the criminal activity of persons suspected of carrying out this activity.” 

 
                    [post_title] => Five arrested in Kruja’s Nikël village for criminal activities 
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                    [post_content] => Several activities were organized on Wednesday in Tirana to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the assassination of former Democratic Party MP Azem Hajdari, one of the key figures of the student movement that led to the collapse of the communist dictatorship in Albania and one of the protagonists of Albanian politics in the 1990s.

Hajdari was assassinated near the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Tirana.

The main activity dedicated to Hajdari was inaugurated by his daughter Rudina Hajdari, who is now a DP MP, like her father was in the 1990s. Numerous speakers brought back memories, appreciating Hajdari’s special role in the student movement that toppled communism.

“Rarely one can find a historical figure that turns into a leader within an hour, a posicion he risked paying every day with his life,” former Prime Minister and former head of the DP Sali Berisha said.

For current President Ilir Meta, Hajdari has left traces in history with his courage, bravery and actions.

This figure invites us today to reflect and understand that democracy neither comes as a gift nor does it remain as such. Democracy requires courage to win, but also courage to defend every day, because the smallest tolerance of human rights violation today leads to an advance of even greater authoritarianism tomorrow,” Meta said.

Besnik Mustafaj, Hajdari’s colleague and friend, constructed his speech as an imaginary open letter directed to the deceased. 

“The country is going the wrong direction, dear Azem. Azem’s dream for Albania to be like the rest of Europe is stalled. Corruption has become a gangrene that erodes our society’s morale and is hindering economic development. The Democratic Party is not where history requires and where Azem would like to be, giving a voice to political dissatisfaction, embodying what is vital today, people’s hope, and leading them towards fulfilling your dream, to make Albania like the rest of Europe,” he said.

Among speakers was renowned journalist Blendi Fevziu, who said that Hajdari, in addition to his courage, knew how to negotiate with his opponents, had the instinct to avoid authority and guarantee freedom’s dimension.

While paying homage near the monument raised at the site Hajdari was assassinated 20 years ago, DP leader Lulzim Basha pledged that “we will not be subjected to evil, we will not be subject to state violence either; nor the crime of violence. Let us commit today to Azem Hajdari, God and the Nation, that we will purge the policy of the crime to open up for Albania the road that has been blocked during the last five years. That there will be freedom and democracy in Albania as well. You are alive! Your dream ‘For Albania like all Europe’ leads us into the battle of the victory of good above evil.”

Hajdari's murder continues to be a matter of controversy and debate. Although the Albanian courts have given sentences to the perpetrators accused of assassinating him, one of them, Izet Haxhia, extradited only recently from Turkey, demands that the file and the judicial process be reopened. 

 
                    [post_title] => Albania commemorates Azem Hajdari 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 - As the country’s Socialist majority put on the vote President Ilir Meta’s decree on the new National Theatre building accompanied by a few amendments on Thursday in parliament, the opposition marked its fourth absence since the start of the parliamentary season, instead holding its own meeting in Vlora.

Thursday’s parliamentary session was only attended by two Socialist Movement for Integration MPs, allegedly for the purpose of renewing their mandate, while the opposition continued in yet another location what it has called “public denouncement” of the links between crime and corruption. 

On Wednesday, after meeting actors opposing the demolition of the old NT building altogether, opposition leader Lulzim Basha made a public announcement saying “voting the bill is a coup d'etat and whoever votes is considered a terrorist.”

According to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the opposition’s efforts to protect the old national theatre building are hypocritical, adding the government’s project will turn the theatre into one of the region’s most modern.

 
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