Germany promises to reward migrants who willingly go home

Germany promises to reward migrants who willingly go home

TIRANA, Nov. 29 – In face of the dropping number of migrants and asylum seekers agreeing to voluntarily return to their countries of origin, Germany only recently engaged in a new advertising campaign aiming to encourage voluntary returns by offering

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Official commemorations take place in honor of 74th anniversary of Liberation Day

Official commemorations take place in honor of 74th anniversary of Liberation Day

TIRANA, Nov. 29 – The highest Albanian state authorities commended honors and placed wreaths of flowers near the cemeteries of the Albanian martyrs of World War II on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of the country’s liberation by Nazi

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Special justice reform bodies underway to functionality after months of frozen courts

Special justice reform bodies underway to functionality after months of frozen courts

TIRANA, Nov. 27 – The procedures to establish the High Prosecutorial Council (HPC) and the High Judicial Council (HJC) are expected to shortly begin, as the process of re-evaluating the candidates for members in these two institutions has been completed.

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Albania celebrates Independence Day

Albania celebrates Independence Day

TIRANA, Nov. 28 – Albania celebrated the 106th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on Wednesday, The highest state authorities of the country, President Ilir Meta, Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruçi and Prime Minister Edi Rama gathered in the city of

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Great Ring protests persist despite injuries and arrests

Great Ring protests persist despite injuries and arrests

TIRANA, Nov. 27 – The Astir area residents looking to revoke the Great Ring project that foresees demolition without compensation of all houses lacking mortgage resumed their protests on Tuesday, despite the violent clashes with police last Thursday in front

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Albanian PM: National unification with Kosovo by 2025

Albanian PM: National unification with Kosovo by 2025

TIRANA, Nov. 26 – At the joint meeting that took place in Kosovo’s Peja between the Albanian and Kosovo governments on Monday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke about the cooperation between the countries’ foreign ministries to achieve the national

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Albanian citizen killed by Greek police during anti-drug raid near Albanian-Greek border

Albanian citizen killed by Greek police during anti-drug raid near Albanian-Greek border

TIRANA, Nov. 23 – Greek media sources reported on Thursday 39-year-old Altin Mulla was killed by Greek police and a Greek police officer’s hand was lightly wounded allegedly during a shootout in the context of an anti-drug operation conducted against

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‘Corruptive PPPs to oligarchs’ take public debt to unaffordable 80% of GDP, opposition warns

‘Corruptive PPPs to oligarchs’ take public debt to unaffordable 80% of GDP, opposition warns

TIRANA, Nov. 22 – Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party says the 2019 budget that the ruling Socialists are about to approve poses a huge threat to the country’s economy through what it calls corruptive public private partnerships that take public

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Kosovo declares ‘war’ on Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Kosovo declares ‘war’ on Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

TIRANA, Nov. 22 – One day after blaming “aggressive Serbian politics” for failing to secure enough votes to become an Interpol member, Kosovo decided on Wednesday to raise at 100 percent trade tariffs of all products with Serbia and Bosnia

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US Embassy nudges Albanian justice system to fully investigate former MoI

US Embassy nudges Albanian justice system to fully investigate former MoI

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – The US Embassy to Tirana said on Wednesday it expects a full investigation into the Ervis Martinaj case, who was wounded during a shoot-out inside a bar in downtown Tirana a few weeks ago, but also

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 29 - In face of the dropping number of migrants and asylum seekers agreeing to voluntarily return to their countries of origin, Germany only recently engaged in a new advertising campaign aiming to encourage voluntary returns by offering migrants and asylum seekers a monetary reward. 

The German interior ministry, led by Angela Merkel’s ally and Bavarian Chancellor Horst Seehofer, decided to call on potential repatriates with an allegedly bright future to voluntarily go back to their home countries by offering them a sum of money in return.

The ads, which have been put on for display in all the main German cities during November 2019, show a motivation slogan reading: “Your country! Your future! Now!”

The ad also promises to those who take up the offer to return home before the end of 2018, that the German government will be paying the housing rents in their origin countries during the following year.

In turn, asylum seekers should revoke their asylum applications and give up further legal proceedings to stay in Germany.

According to data, 29,000 people joined the voluntary return programs in 2017, a number which drastically dropped to 14,000 by the end of this year’s October. 

While the ads’ results are still expected to be seen, the idea itself has caused contradictory stands on the matter. 

“The Interior Ministry's recent campaign looks like adverts for winter sales and that's cynical,” Konstantin von Notz, the deputy chairman of the Bundestag Green Party, told reporters of the Berlin Morgenpost newspaper. “It is apparently intended to conceal the ministry's failures and to improve figures related to people who voluntarily left the country before the end of the year."

A big part of common citizens, on the other hand, have not appreciated the initiative as many have translated the campaign’s real meaning to be: “ Germany is not your home and your future is not here.”

Others have simply called it “terrible,” labeling the initiative as “inhumane,” while thousands have signed an online petition asking for an end to the campaign.

Regardless, offering money to migrants so they return home is not a completely new approach of Germany, which has been struggling with its big number of migrants and asylum-seekers since Merkel’s 2015 “open door policy.”

In 2017, Berlin offered compensation to refugees who were denied a residence permit and who would accept the government’s decision. Each voluntary returnee usually receives 1,200 euros from German authorities, however local media reported the new program offers them at least 3,000 euros. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 29 - The highest Albanian state authorities commended honors and placed wreaths of flowers near the cemeteries of the Albanian martyrs of World War II on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of the country’s liberation by Nazi invaders.

The President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruçi, Prime Minister Edi Rama and other officials participated in the state ceremony devoted to Nov. 29, placing wreaths near the “Mother Albania” monument at Tirana’s Martyrs Cemetery at one hill over the capital.

Thursday's ceremony was attended by family members of World War II martyrs and citizens from Tirana and other provinces who honored their relatives who had fallen in the war.

Opposition representatives did not attend the ceremony, as according to them, Albania's Liberation Day is November 28th, while November 29th is a holiday artificially invented by the communist regime of dictator Enver Hoxha to mark the dependence and servility to Belgrade’s communist regime after the end of the war.

The opposition celebrates Liberation Day on the same date as Flag Day, on Nov. 28.

After the end of the official ceremony, those nostalgic for the communist regime placed flowers and photos of dictator Enver Hoxha near the monument "Mother Albania.”

Last year, communist dictatorship nostalgics and the opposition’s Democratic activists clashed at the martyrs' cemeteries for displaying communist symbols and flags during the commemoration festivities. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 27 - The procedures to establish the High Prosecutorial Council (HPC) and the High Judicial Council (HJC) are expected to shortly begin, as the process of re-evaluating the candidates for members in these two institutions has been completed.

On Tuesday, the Independent Qualification Commission (IQC) issued a decision for prosecutor Besnik Cani, last on the list of those running for the HPC. While the day before, with the dismissal of the Shkodër Appeals Judge Luan Dervishi, the list of candidates for the HJC was closed. 

According to the law, the IQC will need to forward the respective lists to the General Prosecutor and the President of the High Court within three days, while the latter, within a further three-day deadline, should call the general prosecutors’ meeting on the one hand and the judges' meeting on the other to elect the members to represent two new institutions which the Justice Reform recognizes as key in the revitalization of the country’s judicial system.

On its part, the General Prosecutor's Office announced it had received the notification from the IQC and that within the same day temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku summoned the general prosecutors' meeting on December 11. 

The two councils will consist of 11 members, out of which five come from outside the system, while the other six members are selected according to court and prosecution-level division: three of the first instance courts, two from the appeals courts, where at least one should represent the bodies operating in the districts, and one from the General Prosecutor's Office in the case of the HPC and one from the Supreme Court in the case of HJC.

First instance prosecutions candidates for the three spots available at the HPC are five: Dritan Prençi from the Kukes Prosecution; Vat Staka from Shkodra’s Prosecutor's Office; Antoneta Sevdari from Tirana’s Prosecution Office; Gentian Osmani from the Serious Crimes Prosecution and Besnik Muci also from the Serious Crimes Prosecution. From all of them, Prenci is the only who is expected to automatically pass, while all others will be subject to the vote for both posts.

For the two spots reserved for appeals prosecution judges there are only two candidates: Arben Dollapaj from Shkodra's Appeal and Bujar Sheshi from the Serious Crimes Appeals. The other two candidacies, Besa Nikelhasani from Shkodra's Appeal and Luan Kaloci from Tirana's Appeal, were disqualified by the vetting process.

As for the one spot reserved for the General Prosecution, both prosecutors who passed the test have been qualified: Anila Leka and Kostaq Beluri. 

Six first instance courts judges have so far been confirmed for the HJC at the end of the reevaluation process. Among them, Marcela Shehu from the Kurbin court, already meets the criterion for a spot to be given to district judges, thus automatically securing a spot at the future HJC, while the other five (Manjola Xhaxho from Tirana’s Court, Alma Brati from Tirana’s Court, Astrit Faqolli from Tirana’s Court, Dritan Hallunaj from the Serious Crimes Court and Brunilda Kadi from Tirana’s Court) will be subjected to voting for the other two spots. 

As for the two spots to be given to judges coming from appellate courts, three candidates have so far been confirmed - Ilir Toska from Tirana’s Appeals Court, Nertina Kosova from the Serious Crimes Appeals Court and Brikena Ukperaj, from Vlora’s Appeals Court. The latter passes automatically, as she meets the criteria for a spot reserved for district judges.

For the spot reserved for a High Court representative, the only reconfirmed person for the post after the re-evaluation process is member Medi Bici. The next candidate for the HJC, Artan Zeneli, was ousted under the vetting process.

The functionality of these two institutions puts in motion the mechanisms for other bodies foreseen by the Justice Reform. The establishment of the HPC opens the way for the election of the new General Prosecutor, as well as the establishment of the Special Prosecution Office (SPAK), from which the National Bureau of Investigation will also depend - the two legal bodies expected to mark a turn in the fight against corruption and organized crime.

Meanwhile, the HJC will replace the role played so far by the High Council of Justice, restoring the judiciary back to normal. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 28 - Albania celebrated the 106th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on Wednesday, 

The highest state authorities of the country, President Ilir Meta, Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruçi and Prime Minister Edi Rama gathered in the city of Vlora, where in 1912 patriots from all Albanian lands raised the national flag.

After the flag raising ceremony, also attended by Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Behgjet Pacolli, state leaders paid homage to the monument of the “Unknown Warrior.”

“Happy National Flag Day, to all Albanian wherever they may be. A special emotion to participate today in Vlora, the "capital" of independence, at the state ceremony in honor of the most iconic symbol of the Albanians. I bend with respect to the eternal work of the founder of the Albanian state, Ismail Qemali,” President Meta told reporters covering the event.

On his part, Prime Minister Edi Rama expressed his wishes by posting on Monday where he and Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj are seen with their hands united on top of an Albanian flag.

The main opposition Democratic Party missed out on the commemoration ceremonies organized in Vlora. During the same time as official celebrations at the “Flag City,” highest DP representatives were paying homage to the “Mother Albania” monument at Tirana’s Martyrs Cemetery.

“Today we bow with the highest honor before our national symbol, the Kastriot flag that was first raised on their castle Nov. 28, 1443. We bow with gratitude to Ismail Qemali and all other who signed Albania’s Independence, to their sublime sacrifice which led Nov. 28 to become the next sacred date in our country’s history,” DP leader Lulzim Basha told reporters. 

Another ceremony on the occasion of Independence Day was organized at the capital’s centre by the Tirana Municipality. 

Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj expressed his gratitude towards everyone who sacrificed their lives for the country’s independence.

“Glory to the martyrs of the motherland. Acknowledgments to the veterans and family members of those who gave their lives for freedom in the only country in Eastern Europe liberated by its own forces - without the march of Soviet troops on our land," Veliaj wrote.

 

Warm wishes from the US 

The United States also congratulated Albania on the occasion of the country’s 106th independence anniversary, emphasizing the traditional friendship between the two countries.

Via a message, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US appreciates Albania's commitment to NATO and the Global Coalition for the defeat of ISIS, contributing to stability and peace around the world.

"We welcome the ongoing efforts of the Albanian government in terms of justice reform and the building of strong democratic institutions, and we support Albania's important steps towards Western integration," the congratulating message read. 

Pompeo said the US is proud of the close relationship between the two peoples and that partnership and cooperation between the two countries will continue.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 27 - The Astir area residents looking to revoke the Great Ring project that foresees demolition without compensation of all houses lacking mortgage resumed their protests on Tuesday, despite the violent clashes with police last Thursday in front of Albania’s parliament which left 13 police officers injured and 11 citizens under arrest. 

Local media reported on Tuesday morning these protests again saw clashes with the municipal police, which is in charge of making sure that Great Ring project works continue in Astir.

Opposition lawmakers, especially those from the main opposition Democratic Party, have attended the protests, which have been scattered in different parts of Tirana for more than two weeks now, almost daily.

On Sunday, local media even reported the State Police had taken penal action against DP leader Lulzim Basha and a number of other opposition lawmakers who were attending the protest on Sunday without taking permission to rally.

A day after Thursday’s violent display of protest towards what the protesters have called “corrupt government plans to empower private businesses, all behind the facade of supporting a street expansion project,” Prime Minister Edi Rama and Basha exchanged public accusations on who is to blame for the situation.

Basha again blamed Rama and his socialist government of corruption, as the DP claims there was no real competition behind the construction companies bidding to win the tender and that the street expansion’s  40 million euro cost has set a record high, while being made a reality without a building permit and in total violation of the law. 

On Friday, Basha also said the government is obliged to compensate all citizens’ whose houses will be demolished from the street expansion project - even those whose houses are under legalization process.

Rama, on the other hand, during a media statement in Fier, said that according to him the law is clear and that objects standing in the way of important projects will not be legalized. He blamed the opposition of leading citizens’ in a protest to receive what doesn’t belong to them unlike any other time and said its political interests and struggle for power is what fuels its support of the citizens’ protests.

Among the injured during Thursday’s protest were also residents, while one of the thirteen police officers that were injured was reported to have lost he fingers of one hand after a firecracker thrown during the protest exploded close to her hand.

Local media reported on Sunday Tirana’s Court released ten out of the 11 protesters who were arrested on Friday after the protest. Dorjan Protoduari, 31-year-old protester who allegedly threw the firecracker that harmed the police effective who lost her fingers and who was arrested while visiting his mother in the hospital, has remained in prison.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj published pictures showing that some of the families whose houses will be demolished under the Great Ring project have moved in the designated social homes in the area of Shkoza, all furnished and equipped with household appliances. 

“A new beginning for everyone! The first families affected by the Great Ring project left primitive residences without permission on the footsteps of the road, for a new start with dignified social housing. Time for people to make their own accounts” Veliaj wrote on Facebook. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 26 – At the joint meeting that took place in Kosovo’s Peja between the Albanian and Kosovo governments on Monday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke about the cooperation between the countries’ foreign ministries to achieve the national unification between Albania and neighboring Kosovo.

During his joint meeting speech, Rama invited Kosovo counterpart Ramush Haradinaj to approve that both the Albanian and Kosovo foreign ministry begin working on a common strategic draft that will unite Albanians by the year 2025.  

“Albania, Kosovo and the way to Albanian union in the horizon of 2025. A demographic, economic, social document of both political systems, and all of this. I know very well what Belgrade or any other place will say but I see Albanian union as a necessity in the path to the EU and the EU should stop employing a two-faced approach,” Rama said. 

He added that Albania cannot indefinitely wait for the European Union to take a decision regarding the country’s eventual membership, while Kosovo is already tired of waiting for the EU to approve visa-free travel for its citizens within the union, although all other countries in the region already benefit from visa liberalization and Serbia “keeps opening accession chapters.” 

Having conducted five governmental meetings with little substance so far, Rama said the time has finally come to pass from words to action and the governments went on to sign a number of other agreements which foresee that within the first six months of 2019 there will be no trade tariffs and roaming tariffs between Kosovo and Albania but an established customs union.

Additional agreements mentioned during the speech for the media was unification of all issued documents and driving licenses. 

Concerning Kosovo’s decision last week to place a full trade ban with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and which had both official Belgrade and the EU calling for the Kosovo government to back down immediately, Rama said it is “Serbia’s stabs on Kosovo’s back” which fully explain it.

It is an irrational decision under normal conditions, but quite normal in irrational conditions such as those outlining the two-faced approach of Serbia. Whoever sees the 100 percent trade tariff as an economic decision is wrong. No, 100 percent tariff is a political response to the continuing excesses of Serbia's supremacist behavior towards Kosovo,” he said.

Kosovo’s government decision to place a full trade ban came only two weeks after official Prishtina had imposed a ten percent trade tariff tax from all products coming from Serbia and Bosnia - a decision which had Vucic immediately call for a pause on normalization talks until it was revoked. 

Failing to become an Interpol member last week and continuously struggling to be recognized on the international arena, Kosovo politicians and government members blamed Serbia’s “angry lobbying” against Kosovo and called the ban a “necessary political maneuver.” 

This time, in response to Kosovo’s decision, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade will not be reciprocating Kosovo’s trade ban, but added alternative reactions were being looked into.

According to official numbers, last year Serbia’s exports to Kosovo reached a market value of 440 million euros (502.3 million dollars), while its imports reached 21 million euros (23.97 million dollars). Currently, Serbia is Kosovo’s biggest trade partner, significantly surpassing the trade volume of Kosovo with Albania.

 

Int’l community continues to urge Kosovo to remove full trade tariff with Serbia, Bosnia

Although there has been little to no reaction from the international community regarding Rama’s unification plans so far, EU and US representatives alike have focused again on urging Kosovo to remove the full trade tariff with Serbia and neighboring Bosnia.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini again called on Wednesday the abolition of 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods imposed by the Kosovo government.

Local media reported she discussed the latest developments over the phone with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci “in the context of ongoing normalization talks with Serbia.”

In a statement by Mogherini's office, she is quoted to have announced that "the Kosovo government decision to increase tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to 100 percent only further complicates the situation and does not bring any solution to the problems of people or the aspirations of Kosovo for the present and its future.”

Commander of NATO forces headquartered in Naples and US Admiral James Foggo also expressed concern on Wednesday for Kosovo’s government decision, which according to him do nothing more but isolate the country.

He made these comments during the NATO-led peacekeeping command shift change ceremony in Kosovo.

“However, I am concerned with some recent actions, such as a marked increase in tariffs on Serbia's goods, and Kosovo’s risk of becoming more isolated. So, my question to those in this room is, are you aiming for Euro-Atlantic integration? If so, how can we move forward in 2019?” he said, calling on Kosovo and Serbia to co-operate in order to reduce tensions in the country.

KFOR forces started training in northern Kosovo since Tuesday, claiming it’s a normal exercise and not related to the latest developments that sparked protest amid Kosovo Serbians. 

 
                    [post_title] => Albanian PM: National unification with Kosovo by 2025
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-24 00:44:51
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 23 - Greek media sources reported on Thursday 39-year-old Altin Mulla was killed by Greek police and a Greek police officer’s hand was lightly wounded allegedly during a shootout in the context of an anti-drug operation conducted against an Albanian criminal ring. 

The incident took place near the Greek-Albanian border in the Visan area of Pogoni, but on the Greek side. 

According to Greek media, which in turn referred to police sources, Greek police responded to a gunshot by killing Mulla, while three others are suspected to have escaped the area and are now being wanted.

The Greek police of Ioannina has not made any statements on the event, while Greek sources have reported the operation is still underway. Preliminary Greek sources have reported two firearms and about 100 kilograms of marijuana have been confiscated so far. 

While the country’s foreign ministry is taking all necessary steps with Greek counterparts, the Albanian State Police issued a statement ensuring citizens and the victim’s family members that all necessary steps are followed in context of diplomatic and bilateral police cooperation in order to clarify the circumstances that led to Mulla’s death. 
                    [post_title] => Albanian citizen killed by Greek police during anti-drug raid near Albanian-Greek border
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-22 17:02:22
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 22 - Albania's main opposition Democratic Party says the 2019 budget that the ruling Socialists are about to approve poses a huge threat to the country’s economy through what it calls corruptive public private partnerships that take public debt to a staggering 80 percent of the GDP if hidden obligations are taken into account.

The warning came on Thursday by opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha during a meeting at a hotel in Tirana of the united opposition parties that have been boycotting Parliament for about three months now in protest of alleged government ties to criminal gangs hampering rule of law and rising corruption.

Addressing business representatives, opposition leader Lulzim Basha described the 2019 budget as the most catastrophic ever during the past 28 years of Albania's transition to democracy and a market economy, mainly threatened by what he calls corruptive PPP awarded without race to a dozen local oligarchs, in a situation which according to him, already takes public debt to 80 percent of the GDP if hidden debt stemming from road, health and waste management PPP contracts are included in the debt stock.

The 80 percent public debt rate that the opposition claims is 10 percent of the GDP higher compared to the officially reported debt 70 percent of the GDP, a level already estimated too high for the current stage of Albania’s economic development which the ruling Socialists target bring down to down to 60 percent of the GDP by 2021 when Albania will be heading to the next general elections following two consecutive terms under the lead of the center-left Socialist Party.

"The Euro 1 billion PPP project which is heading to Euro 3 billion is the most corruptive project in the Balkans, favoring several oligarchs and leaving Albanians a terrible bill to foot. Some 97 percent of Albanians are paying more in taxes compared to five years ago, one out of six Albanians has left the country during Prime Minister Rama's governance and 150,000 households remain in extreme poverty," says Basha.

The Democratic Party leader says the way out of this situation is cancelling what he calls corruptive concessions, reducing taxes and providing incentives to the agriculture sector in reforms that he claims can be applied only after three of the opposition’s proposed legal initiatives and targets involving the vetting of politicians on alleged crime links and unjustified wealth, stripping oligarchs of corruptive PPPs through an anti-mafia platform and decriminalizing elections to enable free and fair elections.

"The debt increase, concessions and tax favors to a handful of people have led to a terrible bill for all sectors of the Albanian economy, including a terribly bad investment, doing business and tax environment, and poor social spending on pensioners, people in need, health, education, youngsters and students," says Basha.

"This is not only a battle of the Democratic Party and the opposition, but an existential battle for an Albania offering opportunities to everybody, opportunities for free competition, a better life and chances for a European Albania," Basha told business representatives.

Similarly to its 2017 electoral platform, the opposition is again offering a 9 percent flat tax, lower taxes on small businesses, reduced fuel taxes in addition to newly proposed rule of law reforms involving politicians, so-called oligarchs and free and fair elections.

The platform that Basha unveiled this week comes at a time when the ruling majority is about to approve a 2019 budget and fiscal package where taxpayer support to PPP projects increases by 50 percent to €100 million, but remains within the 5 percent of the annual tax income threshold it has set for such PPP contracts.

The platform also comes seven months before the country heads to the June 30 local elections that will be a test for the united opposition ahead of the 2021 general elections. The Socialist Movement for Integration, the country’s third largest party that served as a kingmaker in the 2009 and 2013 elections, has now united with the opposition Democrats.

The ruling Socialists currently comfortably rule with 74 MPs out of 140-seat Parliament, but are short of the 84 votes to press reforms alone.

International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF have also voiced concerns about Albania’s PPP agenda especially the transparency related to them and unsolicited proposals favoring companies that propose them as well as possible accumulated arrears which could hamper the debt reduction agenda.

The ruling majority says the PPP projects are essential to give an impetus to the country’s road, health, education and waste management infrastructure in projects which the government cannot fund and manage on its own. The government will repay concessionaires for about 13 years in annual instalments for the investment and management costs in return for initial private investment that is expected to complete the projects in three years, in costs that some economy experts have described much higher compared to traditional public procurement.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 22 - One day after blaming “aggressive Serbian politics” for failing to secure enough votes to become an Interpol member, Kosovo decided on Wednesday to raise at 100 percent trade tariffs of all products with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, both of which have not recognized its independence. 

The Kosovo government decision came only two weeks after applying a ten percent trade tariff for imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina - a decision which already incited harsh reaction from Belgrade, but also the European Union.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the trade tariff towards Serbia is already legitimate, that it should be fully applied and that it can be removed only when Serbia recognizes Kosovo as an independent state. 

“It has been twenty years since the war, ten years since independence, it is clear that Serbia doesn’t understand another language unless it is forced to understand and the EU and US know this, that Serbia is not being understanding towards the normalization process, so there are not many solutions left but to protect our own interest,” Haradinaj said.

He added this measure is nothing more than respect which Kosovo is showing towards its own statehood and that its a trade tariff placed “out of need rather than out of pleasure.”

“Dialogue should exist but the protection of our interest is also inevitable. So, this action doesn’t have a time limit, if someone thinks this is a matter of days and it will go away, it’s good they understand we don’t have many ways out, Kosovo is with its back up against the wall. It’s been ten years, the EU-five doesn’t recognize us, we are blocked on the international level, there is no recognition from Serbia, what are we to expect? For how long will this continue?” Haradinaj said after the governmental meeting which decided upon the new tariff.

Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj wrote on Twitter the decision aims to protect the state’s vital interests, also referring to the Interpol block blamed on Serbia’s lobbying against Kosovo’s membership which fueled it.

“Serbia is continuing its aggressive campaign against Kosovo in the international stage. It is also undermining the normalisation process. To defend our vital interest, Government of Kosovo has decided today to increase the customs tariff to 100 percent. Further measures to be announced soon!,” he wrote. 

On November 20, Interpol's general assembly voted not to approve membership for Kosovo, the result of what the U.S. Embassy in Pristina said was "a campaign, led by Serbia, to pressure countries to oppose Kosovo’s bid."

This decision is expected to further worsen the already tense and stalled relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, especially since Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic only recently said there would be no further dialogue to normalize relations with Kosovo with the initial ten percent trade tariff in place.

 

Vucic says Serbia will not be retaliating 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with EU, US, Chinese and Russian ambassadors to discuss Kosovo’s new economic measures and called its own Security Council shortly thereafter.

For the media, he said official Pristina might have some specific motives with its position.

“The first goal is the great pressure that would lead to the capitulation of Belgrade and the recognition of Kosovo's independence. The second goal is to silently carry out the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo. The third goal is pressure on the international arena so that it makes concessions on Kosovo’s visa liberalization, Vucic said. 

He called the decision a trade ban and said it is “unfortunately possible due to the 2011 agreement which placed borders between Serbs and Serbs.”

Vucic said official Belgrade is already taking all possible counteractions into consideration, but that it would not be undertaking similar measures or violate the CEFTA and the Stabilization and Association Agreement.

 

EU seeks immediate removal of trade tariff 

The European Union called on official Pristina to give up the trade tariff imposed on the goods it imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a press release from EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini it is stated the decision is a clear violation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between Kosovo and the European Union.

“It exacerbates the situation that followed the initial tax setting of ten percent. The Kosovo government should withdraw from this decision immediately,” Mogherini's office statement said.

International news agency Reuters reported the Kosovo government decision also seeks to apply the trade tariff to products not addressed to Kosovo with its constitutional name, the Republic of Kosovo, which Serbia and Bosnia do not recognize. 

According to official numbers, last year Serbia’s exports to Kosovo reached a market value of 440 million euros (502.3 million dollars), while its imports reached 21 million euros (23.97 million dollars). 

Bosnia’s exports to Kosovo reached 80 million euros last year, but it’s Serbia that is Kosovo’s biggest trading partner in the region. 

Bosnian Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Minister Mirko Sarovic called the tariffs “the biggest blow to the regional free-trade zone."

CEFTA, which comprises Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Moldova, aims at stimulating its members’ economic development and EU path.

So far, there have not been further reactions by other states, including Albania, on Kosovo’s unexpected decision and its possible implications for the region and beyond. 

 
                    [post_title] => Kosovo declares 'war' on Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-11-21 18:10:14
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 21 - The US Embassy to Tirana said on Wednesday it expects a full investigation into the Ervis Martinaj case, who was wounded during a shoot-out inside a bar in downtown Tirana a few weeks ago, but also for the case of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri.

Last week, the US Embassy and several other diplomatic missions in Albania hailed the Serious Crimes Court decision towards the Shullazi group, which gave a jail sentence of 14 years to ‘big fish’ Emiljano Shullazi. In the statement it issued today, the US Embassy said it expects to witness continuous development in Albania’s path to a stronger rule of law. 

Speaking about Tuesday’s Court of Appeals’ decision which sentenced Martinaj to indefinite imprisonment, the embassy said it expects “a full investigation,” adding it expects the same rule of law to be further applied in the Tahiri case investigation as well. 

A few weeks ago, the Albanian prosecution requested to postpone the investigation deadline for the former MoI under the argument it was still waiting for documents which will be issued by international authorities.

Tahiri himself appeared in a press conference a couple of weeks back to declare investigations towards him and the Habilaj brothers - relatives of Tahiri and heads of an international drug trafficking ring - in Italy have been terminated due to the inexistence of evidence, thus claiming his complete innocence in front of the Albanian law.

Tahiri again reacted to the embassy’s statement swiftly after it was issued.

“As it shouldn’t have happened in a normal country, it has unfortunately happened the US Embassy has said more about the investigation toward me than I have myself,” Tahiri wrote in social media, adding he doesn’t believe the US Embassy to Tirana has turned into a court or a prosecution and trusting both him and the US officials expect the same thing: justice.

The country’s main opposition Democratic Party said two weeks back concerning his claims of definite innocence that Tahiri is being accused and investigated of crimes conducted in Albania rather than in Italy and called for the special investigative body that has been established to investigate his case to stop postponing the process. 

However, other than resigning his lawmaker’s mandate back in May after what many analysts said was due to international pressure, more than a year has passed without conducting any real investigation to Tahiri’s involvement in the Habilaj criminal ring, while last week Prime Minister Edi Rama went as far as to jokingly suggest Tahiri deserved to receive apologies from those doubting his innocence.

Tahiri turned into a controversial topic since last year’s October, when Italian police arrested the Albanian-Italian criminal ring led by the Habilaj brothers.

Wiretaps made public in Albania included the Habilaj brothers mentioning Tahiri in their conversation from the time the latter was minister of interior.




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            [post_date] => 2018-11-29 10:51:21
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 29 - In face of the dropping number of migrants and asylum seekers agreeing to voluntarily return to their countries of origin, Germany only recently engaged in a new advertising campaign aiming to encourage voluntary returns by offering migrants and asylum seekers a monetary reward. 

The German interior ministry, led by Angela Merkel’s ally and Bavarian Chancellor Horst Seehofer, decided to call on potential repatriates with an allegedly bright future to voluntarily go back to their home countries by offering them a sum of money in return.

The ads, which have been put on for display in all the main German cities during November 2019, show a motivation slogan reading: “Your country! Your future! Now!”

The ad also promises to those who take up the offer to return home before the end of 2018, that the German government will be paying the housing rents in their origin countries during the following year.

In turn, asylum seekers should revoke their asylum applications and give up further legal proceedings to stay in Germany.

According to data, 29,000 people joined the voluntary return programs in 2017, a number which drastically dropped to 14,000 by the end of this year’s October. 

While the ads’ results are still expected to be seen, the idea itself has caused contradictory stands on the matter. 

“The Interior Ministry's recent campaign looks like adverts for winter sales and that's cynical,” Konstantin von Notz, the deputy chairman of the Bundestag Green Party, told reporters of the Berlin Morgenpost newspaper. “It is apparently intended to conceal the ministry's failures and to improve figures related to people who voluntarily left the country before the end of the year."

A big part of common citizens, on the other hand, have not appreciated the initiative as many have translated the campaign’s real meaning to be: “ Germany is not your home and your future is not here.”

Others have simply called it “terrible,” labeling the initiative as “inhumane,” while thousands have signed an online petition asking for an end to the campaign.

Regardless, offering money to migrants so they return home is not a completely new approach of Germany, which has been struggling with its big number of migrants and asylum-seekers since Merkel’s 2015 “open door policy.”

In 2017, Berlin offered compensation to refugees who were denied a residence permit and who would accept the government’s decision. Each voluntary returnee usually receives 1,200 euros from German authorities, however local media reported the new program offers them at least 3,000 euros. 

 
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