Government  approves construction of power plants in protected area

Government approves construction of power plants in protected area

TIRANA, Feb. 7 – The government approved this week construction of two hydropower plants on the Osum canions even though the area is a natural monument, the plants’ location is inconsistent with the coordinates of the construction permit documents and

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In new strategy, EU repeats old promises, leaves timeline uncertain

In new strategy, EU repeats old promises, leaves timeline uncertain

TIRANA, Feb. 7 – The EU’s executive arm has released a much-touted new strategy for enlargement in the Western Balkans, setting goals and repeating the old open-door policies, but leaving the timeline for Albania’s membership uncertain and excluding the country

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New Spaç copper plant angers former politically persecuted

New Spaç copper plant angers former politically persecuted

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – The construction of a copper ore enrichment plant near the notorious former Spaç prison for the politically persecuted under communism has angered some of the personalities who were imprisoned in the forced labor camp for about

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Former road authority officials arrested over public tender funds’ misuse

Former road authority officials arrested over public tender funds’ misuse

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Two former directors of the Albanian Road Authority are among 11 people arrested by the Elbasan district court concerning a 2009 tender to upkeep a 23 km road segment connecting the city of Elbasan with the

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Severe mudslide damage in Gjirokastër to cost millions to fix

Severe mudslide damage in Gjirokastër to cost millions to fix

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – This week’s heavy downpour throughout the country caused severe mudslides in Gjirokastër, risking the collapse of a building, several houses and a street segment. Local authorities evacuated residents from their houses and called geology experts to

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Habilaj money man’s extradition leads to political accusations

Habilaj money man’s extradition leads to political accusations

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Prime Minister Edi Rama said this week the extradition of Nezar Seiti — the money man of the Habilaj brothers and a key witness in the Tahiri-Habilaj case — was not in anyway aimed to hamper

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Political dispute on Albania’s UN Jerusalem vote lingers

Political dispute on Albania’s UN Jerusalem vote lingers

TIRANA, Feb. 2 – Albania’s opposition has accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of lying in statements related to Albania’s vote in favor of a UN resolution urging the United States to withdraw recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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Justice reform bodies’ candidate list voted down

Justice reform bodies’ candidate list voted down

TIRANA, Jan. 30 – The list of ten selected candidates to be appointed to the High Council of Prosecution (HCP) and the High Judicial Council (HJC) – new bodies part of the justice reform – was voted down in parliament

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After Davos meetings, PM says EU talks to open soon

After Davos meetings, PM says EU talks to open soon

TIRANA, Jan. 29 – Prime Minister Edi Rama told the Socialist parliamentary group this week that Albania is a step closer opening EU accession negotiations. He made the comments shortly after returning from the Davos World Economic Forum meetings and

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Albania’s Bregu seeking to be next RCC head

Albania’s Bregu seeking to be next RCC head

TIRANA, Feb. 1 – Former Democratic Party MP Majlinda Bregu declared her candidacy for Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) this week through a Facebook post. Bregu’s post aimed to clarify that election for this position does not

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 7 - The government approved this week construction of two hydropower plants on the Osum canions even though the area is a natural monument, the plants’ location is inconsistent with the coordinates of the construction permit documents and despite Prime Minister Edi Rama’s past reaction to such kind of constructions as “barbaric.”

Local media published documents showing the government’s hydropower plants’ construction permit, although experts, civil society representatives and even politicians have warned it would have devastating environmental effects.

Last March, former head of parliament and current President Ilir Meta asked Prime Minister Edi Rama, the Ministry of Energy and former Minister of Environment Lefter Koka to suspend the project.

Last month, Minister of Tourism Blendi Klosi also officially urged the ministry of energy to suspend the concessions for hydropower plants on Osum on the grounds they are legally inconsistent and due to their devastating environmental effects for the area, which should be protected.  

The hydropower plant project dates back to 2013, when the Democratic Party (DP) was in power. A week before losing elections, the DP approved a concessionary contract for the construction of two power plants in Bigas-Veleshnja.

With the Socialist Party (SP) coming to government, the project was suspended.

At the time, Prime Minister Edi Rama said building numerous power plants is “crazy,” especially in protected areas, and accused then Prime Minister Sali Berisha of corruption. 

The recent reportage made by Top Channel, however, showed the Ministry of Energy did not in fact suspend the concessions, but rather approved a new contract with HP-Bigas-Veleshnja Energy.

The new contract foresees an increase in power of the Bigas-Veleshnja hydropower plant from 0.5 to 1.2 mega and the construction of an additional plant. 

According to a leaked memo sent by the National Agency of Protected Areas to the Ministry of Environment, the environmental permit for the construction of the plants has legal inconsistencies, as well as altered construction coordinates.  

The environmental permit is issued by the agency as one of the most important permits in approving a project, as it needs to certify the environmental impact of any given project.

The legal inconsistencies and coordinate changes make the permits illegal, according to the National Agency of Protected Areas. 

In addition to being one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, Osum has also boosted the economy lately by promoting tourism and fostering the possibility to open businesses in the area surrounding it. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 7 - The EU’s executive arm has released a much-touted new strategy for enlargement in the Western Balkans, setting goals and repeating the old open-door policies, but leaving the timeline for Albania’s membership uncertain and excluding the country from the next enlargement wave in seven years. 

The European Commission’s expansion strategy for Western Balkans highlighted this week the countries’ duties, such as long-lasting rule of law establishment and resolution of open bilateral issues, as well as the increasing EU engagement in supporting Western Balkan countries in their integration path.

The document was published by EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and its enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, in the context of offering a strategy that will speed-up the region’s integration process.

This strategy offers concrete and clear perspective for European integration for each one of our six partners, based on their progress merits, which are very well-known,” Mogherini said.

For Serbia and Montenegro -- the only two countries which have already opened membership negotiations -- the strategy offers concrete steps for membership in 2025, like a strong political will, stable and lasting reforms and final solution of issues with neighboring countries.

However, the document read, all Western Balkan countries can make progress in their European path, as the EC objectively values their merits and improvement speed.

For Albania and Macedonia, the EC said they are making visible progress in their EU integration and that, in turn, the commission is ready to prepare recommendations for negotiation talks based on the fulfilled negotiated conditions.

Integration experts in the country have seen the strategic document as a sign of EU’s renewed interest in the region and a chance that shouldn’t be missed, especially on Albania’s side, to start the negotiation process.

We don’t get any favors in the duties we have to fulfill. But on the other hand, it is important the EU has awoken from some sort of sleep. They have understood investing in expanding the EU through the Western Balkans is a security issue of Europe itself, it’s not foreign policy, it’s internal policy that will serve stability and avoidance of all influences present in the region,” Majlinda Bregu, former Minister of Integration, told the Voice of America.

Other experts, such as Afrim Krasniqi, head of Institute for Political Studies, view the expansion strategy as a response to geopolitical tendencies in the region.

It is more a political declaration that refers to Russia or other powers in the region, and that wishes to offer the younger generation, which is disappointed from the lack of perspective, some food for thought,” Krasniqi said.

Concerning Kosovo, the document highlights the possibility for stable advancement in its European path through the implementation of the Stabilization-Association Agreement and creation of objective circumstances.

Hahn added, however, that no Western Balkan countries will become members without first solving respective bilateral issues.

In this context, I’d say this should serve as motivation for Kosovo to help foster the positive results of negotiations eased by Mrs. Mogherini. It is not just in Serbia’s interest, but also in Kosovo’s interest, to find a positive solution that will open its road towards the EU,” Hahn said.

Though the document recognizes the improvements made through the years, it still sees all-inclusive reforms that will strengthen democracy as necessary, especially in fields such as the rule of law, security and immigration issues, transport and energy connection and regional conflict resolution.

As for the EU’s duties, the document foresees the need for specific strategies to ensure future member states won’t be able to block other Western Balkan states from becoming members.

The EU will publish the Western Balkans progress report in April, while the Western Balkans summit will be hosted in Sofia in May. The expansion strategies will then be discussed in June, during the EU summit and in July the London Summit of the Berlin Process will be hosted in the UK.

All these developments fit the wider context of rebuilding the EU through the Balkan region as it faces new challenges, such as the Russian influence, the immigration crisis, Turkey’s increasing slip to authoritarianism and Brexit.

 
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                    [post_content] => fabrikaTIRANA, Feb. 6 - The construction of a copper ore enrichment plant near the notorious former Spaç prison for the politically persecuted under communism has angered some of the personalities who were imprisoned in the forced labor camp for about two decades until the early 1990s.

Fatos Lubonja, a writer and media analyst who spent 11 years of imprisonment in the notorious Spaç prison camp, a remote site in northeastern Albania, describes the investment "criminal violence against remembrance."

"Building a white factory that is twice or three times bigger than those buildings is criminal violence against the remembrance. It is the same like going to Auschwitz and building a plant there because there is free space," Lubonja told a local TV this week.

His comments came as Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Spaç in the past few days to examine a $25 million investment by a Turkish company that is building a copper ore enrichment plant.

According to Lubonja, the site where the factory has been built next to the protected area is even more important than the main complex of buildings.

"The site used to be surrounded by barbed wire, it's the second area. The building itself is not the most important thing, but the whole area surrounded by barbed wire. It was a memorial that should have been left untouched, even the mine itself," says Lubonja, a TV commentator and one of the leading critical voices in the country.

"We have spoken up and asked the ministry of culture to extend the so-called protected area," he adds.

 

In his visit to Spaç, Prime Minister Rama described the copper ore enrichment plant, an investment by Turkey's Tete Mining, as very important for the country's mining industry and increasing the value-added at home.

The plant currently employs some 200 people and investors plan to increase its staff by another 100 with professionals from a mining vocational education training school in Bulqiza, a northern Albanian town which relies on chrome mining.

Albania has a bigger copper plant in the northeastern district of Puka, operated by a Turkish-Chinese concessionaire where Tete Albania, the Albanian subsidiary of Turkey’s Tete Mining, was a shareholder for five years until 2006.

Oil and mining is one of the country’s top industries, producing the country’s second largest exports, but has been suffering following the mid-2014 slump in commodity prices.

 

Spaç labour camp

Back in 2016, New York-based World Monuments Fund declared the former Spaç prison as one of the world’s 50 at-risk cultural heritage sites.

A notorious labour camp in communist Albania, the organization described the forgotten site as a powerful place of memory that deserves to be preserved for future generations.

“Spaç Prison, the notorious labor camp, is in an extremely advanced state of deterioration, and deserves to be transformed into a modern place of remembrance,” said the organization in its 2016 World Monuments Watch.

Sweden-based Cultural Heritage without Borders, which is implementing an emergency conservation project in Spaç, says preserving Spaç prison means protecting fundamental rights and democracy.

“Sites of memory like Spaç enable society to seek justice, acknowledgement and honor for the victims of communist persecution and serve as places of witness and education for the younger generations,” says the CHwB.

Spaç prison was a notorious labor camp established in 1968 by the communist government of Albania at the site of a copper and pyrite mine, in a remote and mountainous area in the center of the country. While only one of many such sites, the political prisoners held at Spaç included some of the most prominent Albanian intellectuals of the twentieth century, granting it a special place in the collective memory of that era, says U.S.-based World Monuments Fund.

“The site of the labor camp, on a terraced slope below the tunnel entrances to the mine, was so remote and unforgiving that no perimeter wall was needed to secure the complex, only barbed wire fencing punctuated by occasional guard posts and a front gate.”

In May 1973, Spaç Prison became the site of a famed prisoners’ revolt, one of the first moments of resistance to the oppression of the regime. Nevertheless, Spaç continued to operate as a labor camp until the fall of the communist party from power in the early 1990s. It was completely abandoned several years later.

A protected monument of culture, Spaç is located in northern Albania, about 8 km off Reps village along the Milot-Kukes highway.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 6 - Two former directors of the Albanian Road Authority are among 11 people arrested by the Elbasan district court concerning a 2009 tender to upkeep a 23 km road segment connecting the city of Elbasan with the mountainous village Gjinar.

Former general director of roads for the time period 2008-2013 Andi Toma and his successor, Dashamir Xhika, who held the post until September 2017, were arrested for power abuse and misuse of public funds.

Xhika is an official of the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) -- third biggest party in Albania and part of a coalition with the governing Socialist Party (SP) until last year, when it joined the opposition. 

Toma was in power until 2013, when the Democratic Party (DP) was governing and had a coalition with the SMI. 

The supervisor of the construction works Rexhep Tarba and the three administrators of the construction firms were given house arrest, while five other persons in charge of test running the road, are being investigated without security measures.

The village Gjinar has long experienced infrastructure problems, as the road has collapsed in several places. 

In 2008, Toma, along with head of PD and opposition Lulzim Basha, was accused for the procurement of the highway Rrëshen-Kalimash, but the penal case was closed through a 2009 verdict from the High Court.

The Elbasan-Gjinar road was procured in 2009 for €3.75 million, according to local media, but prosecutors say it was never finalized.

Last December, Xhika was accused by Minister of Infrastructure Damian Gjiknuri of amending the building contract of the Tirana-Elbasan highway with damages mounting to $16 million.  

While there is no further information for this case, the Tirana-Elbasan highway was supposed to be finalized in 2015, but the deadline was constantly postponed and the costs of construction raised. 

Public procurement corruption in Albania is deemed to be high, while investigation and measures against violations rare. 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135728" align="alignright" width="300"]road Destroyed road segment in Gjirokastër (Photo: Facebook/Handout)[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 6 - This week’s heavy downpour throughout the country caused severe mudslides in Gjirokastër, risking the collapse of a building, several houses and a street segment.

Local authorities evacuated residents from their houses and called geology experts to help with the situation, as the area has undergone an excessive building process in the last years.

People were inside their houses when a big amount of dirt from the mudslide got into their houses during the night.

One of the building’s resident told local media this was the result of unplanned construction and lack of expert consultation.

All constructions affected by the mudslide were built on a hillside allegedly reported to be unstable.

Mayor of Gjirokastra Zamira Rami said she expects an experts’ report on this case of emergency.

First we have to wait for the team of geology experts we sought since last night, and then based on their evaluation of the risk level for the buildings and houses affected, we will take the appropriate steps,” Rami first told local media.

Following up, Rami made a request to Prime Minister Edi Rama to declare a partly extraordinary situation for Gjirokastra for other downpour damages, such as the complete isolation of the Zhularat village and its population, a high risk of destruction for 40 houses and an archeological site due to the overflow of rivers, as well as damages on roads linked with the country’s main highway.

According to Rami, Gjirokastër’s hilly areas were showing signs of possible mudslide occurence lately due to the frequent and heavy downpours the country has undergone in the last months.

In this context, she said the entirety of Gjirokastër’s hilly area is in need of a geological report and action plan supported by the government, as the costs for all these issues cannot be handled by the municipality’s budget.

Preliminary calculation estimate the government’s monetary help towards Gjirokastra should mount to several million dollars.

Before the 1990’s mass constructions, the above-mentioned hilly area was a forest whose sedimentary compilation was deemed risky for construction of high buildings.

A 200-year-old bridge in the Zagori Valley declared a first-class cultural inheritance sight also collapsed this week despite constant warnings from citizens for the protection of the bridge, according to local media. 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135725" align="alignright" width="300"]burg Nezar Seiti during a court session (Photo: TV screengrab)[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 6 - Prime Minister Edi Rama said this week the extradition of Nezar Seiti -- the money man of the Habilaj brothers and a key witness in the Tahiri-Habilaj case -- was not in anyway aimed to hamper an investigation in Albania of the ties between the gang and his former interior minister, Saimir Tahiri.

Rama said Seiti was “handed over to the hands of the Italian prosecution, as a person officially wanted by the Italian prosecution.”

The Seiti case caused turmoil last week, when the Ministry of Justice overrun a first instance court and Serious Crimes Appeal ruling of imprisonment as a security measure of a witness and suspect of international drug trafficking.

Seiti’s investigation began parallel to the Tahiri-Habilaj investigation, while his extradition happened the day Seiti’s lawyer signed papers postponing investigation results for another three months and, allegedly, without his knowledge.

The Serious Crimes Appeal ruling of imprisonment does not allow extradition once the suspect is under investigation in a country, according to the penal procedure code.

The Ministry of Justice, however, signed Seiti’s extradition saying Tirana’s district court did not inform it on any security measures.

The court has expressed there is no legal obstacle that does not allow extradition in accordance to all internal and international legal predictions,” the ministry’s press release said.

According to the ministry of justice, Seiti’s extradition was decided in line with the penal procedure code, the European Convention of Extradition, a treaty between Albania and Italy, as well as the European Convention for Judicial and Penal Assistance.

In this context, the High Justice Council (HJC), headed by President Ilir Meta, has begun a disciplinary investigation toward judge Kastriot Gramshi, who allowed the extradition, while the opposition’s Democratic Party (DP) said it will call Minister of Justice Etilda Gjonaj for an emergency interpelance.

The records of the police show the financier of the Habilajs was arrested on Oct. 19, not on Oct. 20, as said by the minister of interior, who is also part of Rama’s scheme to extradite the only arrested witness who could testify on Tahiri’s drug money,” former Minister of Justice and current DP MP Enkelejd Alibeaj said last week.

The HJC investigation will focus on alleged professional violations which, if proven, are unconstitutional and against the penal procedure code.

It was in this context that Rama referred to Italian Minister of Justice, Andrea Orlando, who thanked Albanian authorities for handing over a witness also under investigation for international drug trafficking in Italy.

His handing over was in line with international engagements that are binding for both Albanian and Italian authorities, according to the European Convention for extradition dated 13.12.1957 and a bilateral agreement signed in Tirana on 3.12.2007,” Orlando said in a press conference.

Despite this declaration, political unrest did not subside in Tirana concerning Seiti. Last Thursday’s parliamentary session was interrupted by the opposition, as its representatives approached the pulpit, blocking it temporarily.

Experts have also said Seiti’s case is unprecedented in the country, as it has not previously happened that a suspect under investigation in his own country be handed over to another country.

The Tahiri-Habilaj case has been under investigation since last year, when Italian authorities busted a criminal gang of marijuana traffickers led by alleged distant cousins of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri – the Habilaj brothers.
                    [post_title] => Habilaj money man’s extradition leads to political accusations
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                    [post_date] => 2018-02-03 16:09:12
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-03 15:09:12
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 2 - Albania’s opposition has accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of lying in statements related to Albania’s vote in favor of a UN resolution urging the United States to withdraw recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha said his Socialist successor, Edi Rama, lied during a talk show on Thursday, when he said the United States did not ask Albania and other strategic partners to vote against the UN resolution.

“The request against the resolution that denounced the sovereign decision of the U.S. President and Congress was presented officially by the U.S. government through a letter by U.S. Ambassador at the UN Nikki Haley towards all partner states in the UN, including Albania, three days before the vote,” Berisha said in a statement. “So, Rama lied saying he wasn’t asked to vote against it.”

During the last ten minutes of a television talks show, Rama was asked whether Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, was happy that Albania took a stand against the U.S. in rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

It was to this question that Rama answered he was neither asked nor received an expression of gratitude, because Albania’s vote was in line with the EU.

“Our vote in the UN was coherent with the long standing and correct line which says that in times of such duality, we stand by the EU,” Rama said.

Rama’s statement is in line with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ earlier explanation of Albania’s vote in the UN.

The country’s UN vote became an issue of major debate in the country, to the point the opposition’s Democratic Party said this year it would make an official request to revoke it.

The opposition’s concern is that the vote goes against Albania’s best interest and refers to Trump’s statement that monetary help towards the countries that voted against the US will be interrupted.

Several analysts have also deemed the vote as a normal diplomatic move which is being politicized in the country.

“The resolution was supported by 128 member states, Albania being among them. I think it is a wrong reading to interpret Albania’s vote as a vote against President Trump, and even more so as a vote against the United States. Albania has joined the international community, which calls on the United States to reflect on the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said Albert Rakipi, of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, speaking in a recent interview for Tirana Times.

According to Rakipi, Albania’s vote at the UN will not have any consequences, while the U.S. leadership in international relations has only been successful with the support of its strategic allies, such as the EU, which Albania ultimately supported in the UN.

“This is a normal vote for Albanian diplomacy, and, why not, the most normal move it has taken in the past five years,” Rakipi said.

Rakipi added that Albania could have also abstained, like other countries did, however, the vote was in line with 128 other UN members, a normal move in foreign policy.
                    [post_title] => Political dispute on Albania’s UN Jerusalem vote lingers
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135652" align="alignright" width="300"]ref There was a televised draw for the HCP and HJC candidate selection (Photo: Handout)[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 30 - The list of ten selected candidates to be appointed to the High Council of Prosecution (HCP) and the High Judicial Council (HJC) – new bodies part of the justice reform – was voted down in parliament last Thursday.

The reason is that the country’s opposition said it sees the candidates selected as illegitimate, because they allegedly don’t meet the legal requirements for the post on professional and moral grounds.

This week, new candidates were shortlisted among lawyers, professors and civil society representatives. Two former candidates are no longer running, after the opposition’s public complaints.

Saimir Visha resigned, saying he refused to be appointed based on a draw and not as a result of political consensus for the functionality of the country’s new judicial organs.

Altin Hazizaj, on the other hand, was disqualified after the parliament added a missing document from the prosecution in his evaluation portfolio.

The document disqualifies Hazizaj on the grounds of the decriminalization law, under which a crime committed but not declared by Hazizaj was discovered.

Oerd Bylykbashi, Democratic MP, said only a politically corrupt affair can produce these kind of candidates.

Socialist MP Ulsi Manja, however, said this is just the opposition’s way to delegitimize the process and block the implementation of the country’s judicial reform.

Meanwhile, Kozma Jano, who was accused of being tied to Albania’s notorious Sigurimi communist-era secret police and who is still part of the candidates, is undergoing a detailed investigation by the Authority for Information on documents of the State’s Former Security.

This is the result of the opposition publishing documents which allegedly proved lawyer Jano was once a cooperator of Sigurimi.

According to the authority, this investigation is relevant because during the first examination of documents no traces of the alleged cooperation were found as parts of the generalities were filled in with mistakes, while the authority was also not in possession of all files.

Nonetheless, first investigations have shown the proof published by the Democratic Party (DP) concerning Jano is not part of the authority’s available documentation.

Jano previously reacted to the DP’s accusation, saying he was never a cooperator of Sigurimi. According to the DP, however, he was even part of the Mezini Commission established in 1995 to prevent opposition members at the time from running for office.

Concerning Jano’s case, Manja said that further judicial evidence against him could provide ground for argument and discussion concerning his candidacy.

If the list of candidates doesn’t get approved with 94 votes for three times in a row in parliament, the final list compiled will be considered approved even if it lacks parliamentary consensus.

However, this way the establishment of the HCP and the HJC won’t be final until the vetting process of judges and prosecutors is complete.
                    [post_title] => Justice reform bodies’ candidate list voted down
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                    [post_date] => 2018-02-02 10:20:20
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 29 - Prime Minister Edi Rama told the Socialist parliamentary group this week that Albania is a step closer opening EU accession negotiations.

He made the comments shortly after returning from the Davos World Economic Forum meetings and two days after the opposition’s anti-government protests in Tirana.

Local media reported Rama told MPs the opposition is not devoted to the country’s best political interest to open EU accession negotiations, but that nonetheless the majority should attempt to foster dialogue.

According to Rama the opposition’s accusations of hampering the judicial reform are nonsense, as the international political scene would not accept that.

Concerning Albania’s participation in Davos’ forum, Rama reported EU officials are considering opening negotiations soon.

As we speak, Albania is considered to have done its homework to the point. There is no turning point and the process continues everyday. Progress has been made,” Rama sad during the meeting.

He highlighted the country’s justice reform, the start of the vetting and the trust that these processes can no further be hampered as the solid ground that will get the country a recommendation by the European Council.

 
                    [post_title] => After Davos meetings, PM says EU talks to open soon
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                    [post_date] => 2018-02-02 10:15:41
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 1 - Former Democratic Party MP Majlinda Bregu declared her candidacy for Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) this week through a Facebook post.

Bregu’s post aimed to clarify that election for this position does not depend on the Albanian government.

Election of the Secretary General is a long process, multi-leveled selection from all South-East European (SEE) countries and with the European Council as its main partner. It will not cost anything to Albanian taxpayers,” Bregu wrote.

A former minister of integration, Bregu has separated her stand from her former political party in many occasions as she is a chief rival of the party’s current leader. Opposition-friendly media indicated she was being helped by the Socialist government as payback for hurting her former party.

It is a charge both Bregu and Prime Minister Edi Rama deny.

The RCC aims to foster cooperation among SEE countries and help their Euro-Atlantic integration through economic and social development, energy and infrastructure, justice and home affairs, security cooperation and building human capital.

If Bregu wins, she will be the first Albanian to hold the post of Secretary General in the RCC, something she said will be honoring both for her and for Albania.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania’s Bregu seeking to be next RCC head
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            [post_date] => 2018-02-07 09:56:14
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-07 08:56:14
            [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 7 - The government approved this week construction of two hydropower plants on the Osum canions even though the area is a natural monument, the plants’ location is inconsistent with the coordinates of the construction permit documents and despite Prime Minister Edi Rama’s past reaction to such kind of constructions as “barbaric.”

Local media published documents showing the government’s hydropower plants’ construction permit, although experts, civil society representatives and even politicians have warned it would have devastating environmental effects.

Last March, former head of parliament and current President Ilir Meta asked Prime Minister Edi Rama, the Ministry of Energy and former Minister of Environment Lefter Koka to suspend the project.

Last month, Minister of Tourism Blendi Klosi also officially urged the ministry of energy to suspend the concessions for hydropower plants on Osum on the grounds they are legally inconsistent and due to their devastating environmental effects for the area, which should be protected.  

The hydropower plant project dates back to 2013, when the Democratic Party (DP) was in power. A week before losing elections, the DP approved a concessionary contract for the construction of two power plants in Bigas-Veleshnja.

With the Socialist Party (SP) coming to government, the project was suspended.

At the time, Prime Minister Edi Rama said building numerous power plants is “crazy,” especially in protected areas, and accused then Prime Minister Sali Berisha of corruption. 

The recent reportage made by Top Channel, however, showed the Ministry of Energy did not in fact suspend the concessions, but rather approved a new contract with HP-Bigas-Veleshnja Energy.

The new contract foresees an increase in power of the Bigas-Veleshnja hydropower plant from 0.5 to 1.2 mega and the construction of an additional plant. 

According to a leaked memo sent by the National Agency of Protected Areas to the Ministry of Environment, the environmental permit for the construction of the plants has legal inconsistencies, as well as altered construction coordinates.  

The environmental permit is issued by the agency as one of the most important permits in approving a project, as it needs to certify the environmental impact of any given project.

The legal inconsistencies and coordinate changes make the permits illegal, according to the National Agency of Protected Areas. 

In addition to being one of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, Osum has also boosted the economy lately by promoting tourism and fostering the possibility to open businesses in the area surrounding it. 

 
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