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‘Balkan’s Escobar’ Klement Balili surrenders to Albanian authorities

‘Balkan’s Escobar’ Klement Balili surrenders to Albanian authorities

TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Klement Balili, one of Albania’s most notorious crime scene protagonists, handed himself in to the authorities on Tuesday, after almost two years of playing hide and seek with justice. Balili has been listed along some of

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Four under charges for failing to guard military base

Four under charges for failing to guard military base

TIRANA, Jan. 14 – The Vlora court remanded in custody four people after the weapons’ warehouse of  the Pashaliman military base was raided last week. Two base guards Lesko Ramosaco and Edlir Nelaj, student Ardit Ramaj and nurse Ervist Memsulaj

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“Albanians are the UK’s kings of cocaine,” the Guardian says

“Albanians are the UK’s kings of cocaine,” the Guardian says

TIRANA, Jan. 15 – A recent Guardian article has dubbed Albanians in the UK as the “kings of cocaine,” saying in particular that “the Albanian organized criminal syndicates are consolidating power within the EU criminal underworld and are on their

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Students clash with police trying to continue protests inside faculties

Students clash with police trying to continue protests inside faculties

TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Videos that went viral on social media on Friday showed state policemen physically clashing with smaller groups of students that have decided to continue the massive rallies of December in quest of the improvement of education

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Albania orders ban on more than 340 online betting sites

Albania orders ban on more than 340 online betting sites

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albania’s electronic communications watchdog has ordered the country’s internet service providers to ban access to hundreds of local and international online sports betting and casino portals following a nationwide ban on online gambling, effective since Jan.

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Democracy Index: Albania remains hybrid system between democracy and autocracy

Democracy Index: Albania remains hybrid system between democracy and autocracy

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – British renowned magazine The Economist ranked Albania among the last in Europe in its 2018 Democracy Index, stating the country’s political system is a mixture between democracy and autocracy, without making any steps towards a full-functioning

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Eurostat: Albania is one of Europe’s top citrus, medicinal plant producers

Eurostat: Albania is one of Europe’s top citrus, medicinal plant producers

TIRANA, Jan. 8 – Although one of Europe’s smallest countries in terms of area and population, the favorable Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine ranks Albania one of the top agricultural producers among 38 European nations. Data published by Eurostat,

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Candidacy for US Ambassador to Albania returned to President Trump

Candidacy for US Ambassador to Albania returned to President Trump

TIRANA, Jan. 7 – According to aides at the US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Commission, the candidacy of Kathleen Ann Kavalec, proposed to succeed Donald Lu as US Ambassador to Albania, was sent back to US President Donald Trump unapproved on

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Poles lead Albania tourist growth for second year in row

Poles lead Albania tourist growth for second year in row

TIRANA, Dec. 26 – Poles led Albania tourist growth for the second year in a row, with their visits to an emerging destination such as Albania having quadrupled in the past six years. More than 152,000 Poles visited Albania during

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EU Ambassador urges Albania’s political parties to agree on electoral reform

EU Ambassador urges Albania’s political parties to agree on electoral reform

TIRANA, Dec. 21 – The recently assigned EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca called on both sides of the political spectrum to reach an agreement in approving the electoral reform. He, as well as other EU representatives, have called the

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 - Klement Balili, one of Albania’s most notorious crime scene protagonists, handed himself in to the authorities on Tuesday, after almost two years of playing hide and seek with justice. 

Balili has been listed along some of the Balkans’ most sought-after criminals, leading an illegal network also operating in some EU countries, mainly Greece.

The Voice of America reported that albanian police has been under negotiation over the last year with Balili’s family members to have him surrender, in addition to operational actions.

These negotiations were reportedly led by the head of the Albanian State Police Ardi Veliu. It was to Veliu that Balili handed himself in on Tuesday, at 9.45 am, in an area between Saranda and Finiqi.

The exchange was witnessed by two of Balili’s family members and he was later driven off by Veliu to Tirana.

“Albanian police finalized today a long, complicated and very important operation for the surrender of Klement Balili, after an operational tracking process, in cooperation with the secrete state service and our international partners,” Minister of Interior Sander Lleshaj said.

His surrender comes at a time when the serious crimes prosecution has just completed the investigations and has sent Balili’s file to trial.

Balili is accused of "narcotics trafficking" committed in collaboration, in the form of a structured criminal group, "participation in the structured criminal group", "refusal to declare, non-declaration, concealment or false declaration of assets", and for "money laundering.”

Balil's name emerged during an investigation finalized in early May 2016 as part of an operation undertaken by Greek authorities in cooperation with the US DEA, where over 670 kilograms of marijuana were seized on the island of Zakynthos in eastern Greece .
Implicated in this operation was the Albanian police, as well as the authorities of several European Union countries where the network operated were allegedly, one of whose heads was Balili, dubbed by Greek media as the “Balkans’ Escobar.”

As a big number of the criminal organization’s members and leaders were caught in Greece, Balili managed to escape.

He initially appeared publicly in Saranda denying the charges, and then disappeared without a trace. This kick-started a long-standing ping-pong game among the Albanian institutions, with the police claiming to have demanded a warrant from the prosecution, while the latter had explained that it could not act for as long as the investigation did not provide evidence for the illegal activity in Albania,which is why it had requested evidence from Greece.

Balili’s file arrived from Greece late last year, and a couple of police operations to capture him at the end of December proved unsuccessful.

From the very beginning, strong doubts accompanied the Balili case. 

Greek media such as Greek CNN at the time clashed with the Albanian Embassy to Athens after publishing a paper which, referring to the sources of Greek authorities, stresed that Albanian police officers had declared to Greek partners during a secret meeting in Albania that they could not arrest the “Albanian baron” because he enjoyed political protection.

Balili was appointed director of the Saranda Regional Transport Directorate in Saranda in 2014. One of Balili's nephews was then elected mayor of Delvina Municipality, south of the country, under the Socialist Movement for Integration leadership, while his brother was also SMI coordinator in the country’s south.

The Balili brothers have had numerous commercial activities, ranging from transport services to those of object security, or fishing.

In 2015, they inaugurated a very expensive investment which turned the former Saranda Labor Camp into a luxury hotel. High state officials also attended the inauguration ceremony, while last year, quite ironically, most of Balili’s assets were sequestered. 
Klement Balili’s arrest was considered an important test for Albanian authorities by former US Ambassador Donald Lu, who in several public speeches mentioned his name as a sign of Albania's challenges in the area of ​​public order and security.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 14 - The Vlora court remanded in custody four people after the weapons’ warehouse of  the Pashaliman military base was raided last week.

Two base guards Lesko Ramosaco and Edlir Nelaj, student Ardit Ramaj and nurse Ervist Memsulaj are accused of “violating guarding rules on important facilities, resulting in armed robbery.”

Official data suggests that on January 9, at midnight, two automatic weapons, a carbine, 40 grenades and about 5500 different types of cartridges, including high power rifle bullets, were stolen. 

The investigation revealed the theft was carried out when the guard responsible had abandoned the post and was located in another environment while the practices of service control and guard shifts were also not respected.

Through their defense attorneys and self-declarations, the military officers claimed in court that the naval base had no security measures because there were no lighting and cameras, and that they were forced to perform long service hours in difficult weather conditions due to lack of effectives. 

Immediately after the incident was recorded the General Staff of the Armed Forces condemned the act and assured that the security, readiness and operationality of the Naval Force had not been compromised.

The Pashaliman base is one of the most important military facilities that serves the coastal fleet, carrying out controls of the Albanian maritime border regime and operations in the framework of NATO forces in Albania.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 - A recent Guardian article has dubbed Albanians in the UK as the “kings of cocaine,” saying in particular that “the Albanian organized criminal syndicates are consolidating power within the EU criminal underworld and are on their way to a near total takeover of the UK’s five billion pound cocaine market.”

The British newspaper described Albanian drug dealers as “sophisticated” and “professional,” while going in length to describe Albanians’ complicated take-over of the country’s entire illegal drug market. 

“They are quite charismatic and known to prioritize relationship-building rather than competitive feuds. Also, when you come from a country where there’s been conflict and you have a reputation for ruthlessness the charisma is underlined with an element of ‘actually, we do need to get on with these people,” Anna Sergi, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Essex who specializes in mafia relationships told the Guardian regarding Albanians. 

According to data collected by police and UK intelligencia, the Guardian reported Albanians turned the existing cocaine business model in the UK upside down by buying cocaine straight from South America’s cartels for about £4,000 to £5,500 a kilo as opposed to the usual £22,500 a kilo their rivals would get. 

“The Albanians lowered the price of cocaine – and increased its purity. The Albanian effect has profoundly shaped the use, production and economy of cocaine. The drug is at its cheapest in the UK since 1990 and purer than it has been for a decade, which has caused record fatalities,” the Guardian writes. 

Its sources include specialists and academics studying criminal networks, who reportedly say that another key element of the “Albanian mafia” success is collaborating with the powerful Italian ‘Ndrangheta’ to control the main European cocaine ports such as the Netherlands’ Rotterdam and Belgium’s Antwerp. 

Further studies conducted by the UK scholars and experts have shown the Albanians are not only collaborating with the Italian mafia, but are actually creating tight alliances. 

“Sources say the Italian mafia consider the Albanians as equals,” the Guardian writes.

The article doesn't fail to add that a determining factor in Albanians’ efficiency is “the Albanian code of besa - to keep the promise” and the “ancestral code of kanun, the right to take revenge.”

Meanwhile, the article concludes, the Albanian model has, according to some, even fueled knife crimes and drug disputes by making cocaine affordable to smaller gangs, while recruiting teenagers to the Hellbanianz way of life has never been easier.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-11 19:39:10
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 11 - Videos that went viral on social media on Friday showed state policemen physically clashing with smaller groups of students that have decided to continue the massive rallies of December in quest of the improvement of education by closing themselves inside their respective faculties. 

The video specifically showed policemen being violent towards students of the Faculty of Economics in order to push them away from the university environments, but without success.

A group of students stayed inside Tirana’s University Economics Faculty on Thursday night, persisting on their eight economic and academic demands.

Police intervened when protest groups were changing in the morning to continue the protest.
At the same time the police was under conflict with the protesters, Prime Minister Edi Rama was holding a meeting concerning universities.

Students have said they have decided to escalate the protest because they claim the 11 government decision undertaken by Rama by the end of December do not fulfill their demands, that the government is regarding this protest with arrogance and indifference, although they have been protesting for a month on the streets and boycotting the classes.

They say they will stay there until the government meets their demands, although the rectorate has called on students to return to their studies.

Meanwhile, local media has reported part of students from other faculties have resumed lectures since January. 

However, in the main faculties the protests remain massive. 

 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-09 15:09:21
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 9 – Albania’s electronic communications watchdog has ordered the country’s internet service providers to ban access to hundreds of local and international online sports betting and casino portals following a nationwide ban on online gambling, effective since Jan. 1, 2019.

The electronic communications authority, AKEP, has identified 343 local and international sports betting and online casino portals, including global giants such as williamhill and bwin.

“Every [ISP] entrepreneur is obliged to act immediately on the ban of access to illegal content and immediately notify AKEP on blocking their access,” the electronic communications authority says in a statement.

While many of the red-flagged websites are still accessible, including some key Albanian ones, experts say imposing a complete ban will be an almost mission impossible due to a variety of technological options.

In addition, the Albanian government has hinted the ban will be temporary and could also consider new legal changes to turn sports betting into a state monopoly.

Albania has more than 25 internet service providers with the four largest having a market share of 85 percent.

Internet is accessed in the majority of the country either through ISPs or mobile phone operators.

Dritan Shakohoxha, a renowned sports commentator in Albania, says gambling continues secretly in the country despite the ban, alleging that powerful Russian companies have entered the country.

"The betting shops that used to accept bets [until Dec. 31, 2018], have only removed signs and continue operating the same to before. Powerful Russian companies have entered the Albanian market. They run their own portals in Albanian," Shakohoxha has told a local TV talk show.

Albanian police have identified more than a dozen cases of illegal gambling activities in Tirana and outside the Albanian capital city in the past few days and initiated legal action against ten people, including three gamblers, for organizing and participating in illegal gambling activities, in legal sanctions that could see them fined or face a prison sentence of up to six months.

 

Read more: Albania launches crackdown on illegal gambling following nationwide ban
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 9 - British renowned magazine The Economist ranked Albania among the last in Europe in its 2018 Democracy Index, stating the country’s political system is a mixture between democracy and autocracy, without making any steps towards a full-functioning democracy.

The Democracy Index of the Economist’s Intelligence Unit observes 165 independent states and two territories, in five categories: election process and pluralism; civil liberties; the government functionality; political participation; and political culture.

Based on the results of each category, countries are then categorized into four types of regimes: full democracy, troubled democracy, hybrid regime - between autocracy and democracy, and authoritarian regimes.

Amongst these indicators, Albania's lowest rating goes for goverment functionality, with a grade of 4.71 (in a 0-10 rating system), while the highest grade rating of 7.65 was awarded to its civil liberties. The electoral process and pluralism in Albania for 2018 is rated at grade 7, political participation is estimated at 5.56, while political culture is rated at grade 5. The overall score for Albania is 5.98.

The results for Albania have not changed over the last three years. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, it was again government functionality that received the lowest grade. 

Evaluation as a country with a hybrid regime comes as a result of government non-functionality, electoral irregularities, spread of corruption, weak rule of law and the lack of an independent judicial system.

The report particularly highlights the country’s main parties’ inability to cooperate, thus becoming a democracy stagnation factor.

At international level, Norway ranks first as the country with the highest rating in all observed indicators. Then rank Iceland and Sweden. In fourth place is New Zealand, while in fifth place comes Denmark. 

North Korea remains at the end of the classification with a score of 1.08 out of 10 points in total.
Costa Rica is the only country that climbed up the rank in 2018, moving from a country with troubled democracy to a country with full democracy. 

The report notes that over the last decade, among the 60 indexes that value the index in total, the most significant improvement occurred in the participation of women in politics. This progress can be easily illustrated by the percentage of women in the US Congress, which this year reached the highest level so far, at 20.3 percent.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 8 - Although one of Europe's smallest countries in terms of area and population, the favorable Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine ranks Albania one of the top agricultural producers among 38 European nations.

Data published by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, shows Albania is among Europe’s top ten producers when it comes to citrus fruit, aromatic and medicinal plants as well as chestnuts.

Albania had 1,000 hectares of citrus fruit in 2016 with a production of 40,000 metric tons, ranking the country the Western Balkans' top producer and Europe's ninth largest producer on a list topped by much larger Spain, Turkey and Italy.

Citrus production in Albania is primarily represented by mandarin cultivation in the southern Albanian region of Saranda, where a mandarin cooperative has turned into a success story in Albania's underdeveloped agriculture sector.

Mandarin production from the country’s most famous private-run collective farm in Xarre village, Saranda, a rare example in Albania’s fragmented and individually-run farms, is estimated at 18,000 metric tons from about 500 hectares of mandarins in a joint enterprise where about 450 farmers have come together.

Located in southernmost Albania just off the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint, the Xarra cooperative near the Ionian coastline also benefits from a Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine.

Still notorious because of the legacy of the communist regime, Xarra farmers were the first to join and establish a commercial cooperative in 1995, only few years after the shift to a market economy.

Experts describe the cooperative, where the famous clementine mandarin is successfully produced, as a wise way of breaking with the Albanian tradition of individual farm business and a model which has paved the way for the introduction of Albanian products to foreign markets.

Albania also performs well in orange production with a production of more than 9,000 metric tons from 200 hectares, ranking the country’s Europe’s eighth largest producer, according to Eurostat.

Mandarin and orange are also successfully cultivated in Vlora and Berat, two other southern Albania region with an early tradition, but also recently more and more in central Albania.

Aromatic and medicinal plant, producing Albania’s traditional top agricultural exports, also rank the country Europe’s seventh largest producer, with a production of around 13,000 metric tons from 5,400 hectares.

Albania exports around €30 million in medicinal plants each year in an industry that employs thousands of farmers, especially in northern Albania. Sage-dominated exports are mostly destined for America. Experts say that if the plants were cultivated instead of being picked wild as they have been so far, the harvest could increase as much as six fold.

Chestnuts are also among Albania’s top dried fruit products. Eurostat data shows Albania produced 6,200 metric tons of chestnuts in a surface area of 2,300 hectares in 2017, ranking Europe’s sixth largest producer.

Mainly produced in the northeaster Albanian region of Tropoja, Albanian chestnuts have been rapidly penetrating EU markets in the past few years, with most exports destined for Italy.

A key sector of the Albanian economy, agriculture employs about half of the country’s population, but due to its poor productivity provides only about a fifth of the national output.

Experts say unclear property titles for around half of the country’s agricultural land is a key barrier for the development of larger farms and access to local and EU subsidies that could make Albania’s products much more competitive.

In addition to land fragmentation, poor financing, lack of subsidies and key infrastructure such as irrigation as well as a high tax burden are a serious problem for Albania’s agriculture sector, with high costs often making local products uncompetitive, especially traditional crops such as wheat and corn facing tough competition from regional markets applying subsidies.

Agriculture is also one of the most informal sectors of the Albanian economy with only a tenth of farmers possessing tax ID numbers that make that eligible for local and EU funds.

In late 2018, Albania launched applications that enable local farmers and agribusinesses access to EU funds after the European Commission officially greenlighted the start of the implementation of IPARD II, the Instrument for Pre-accession for Rural Development programme.

Albania’s agriculture still faces a huge trade gap with the country exporting only about a quarter of what it imports. Canned fish and medicinal plants are Albania’s top agricultural exports.
                    [post_title] => Eurostat: Albania is one of Europe’s top citrus, medicinal plant producers
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-08 12:14:03
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-08 11:14:03
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 7 - According to aides at the US Senate's Foreign Affairs Commission, the candidacy of Kathleen Ann Kavalec, proposed to succeed Donald Lu as US Ambassador to Albania, was sent back to US President Donald Trump unapproved on Friday, Jan. 4.

Kavalec was appointed by Trump in July 2018 and since then, her candidacy has been pending confirmation by the Senate Commission.

Kavalec was scheduled to appear in a session in front of the Senate last September as part of the confirmation process, but eventually did not testify and her name was removed from the announcement for the session.

A week before the session, Kavalec’s name was mentioned in a Washington Examiner article related to the correspondence of a Justice Department official with former British agent Christopher Steele. 

The former agent was the one to hand in to American intelligence services a report on the possible ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russians.

However, Kavalec’s name still appears on the White House website as a candidate for the post.

According to Senate rules, when the waiting time for confirmation exceeds 30 days, the candidacy is returned to the president, but the Senate committee can bypass this rule by a consensual vote.

Kavalec’s candidacy has been one of the longest awaiting confirmation from all those submitted to the Senate Commission.

It is still unclear why the commission didn’t take the candidacy into consideration. 

 
                    [post_title] => Candidacy for US Ambassador to Albania returned to President Trump 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-26 11:58:31
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 26 – Poles led Albania tourist growth for the second year in a row, with their visits to an emerging destination such as Albania having quadrupled in the past six years.

More than 152,000 Poles visited Albania during the first eleven months of 2018, up 35 percent compared to the same period in 2017, ranking Poland the sixth most important host of foreign tourists to the country, according to INSTAT, Albania’s state-run statistical institute.

The hike in Polish interest to discover Albania is also confirmed by PZOT, the Polish Tour Operators Association, which has rated Albania among the top seven popular destinations for 2017-18, with a 3.8 percent market share in Poland's outbound tourism.

Albania was quite an undiscovered destination for Poles until 2013 when only around 35,000 visited the country, but their numbers almost doubled to 66,000 in 2016 and rose to around 115,000 in 2017 when they first made it to the ten of foreign tourists visiting Albania, according to INSTAT.

Authorities report that about 5.4 million foreign tourists, dominated by ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia, visited the country in the first eleven months of this year, a 17 percent hike compared to the same period last year.

However, experts say the number of foreign tourists also includes Albanian migrants resident in Italy and Greece, the hosts of about 1 million Albanians, 300,000 of whom have obtained Italian and Greek citizenship since the early 1990s exodus following the collapse of the country’s hardline communist regime.

“Practically what we currently call foreigners, if carefully analyzed are Albanian-speaking markets from Kosovo, Macedonia, or migrants in Greece, Italy, Germany etc. The real highest number of foreigners is from Poland with about 100,000 tourists or only about 5 percent of the total,” Kliton Gerxhani, a travel expert who heads the Albanian Tour Operators Association, has said.

While lacking direct flights throughout the year, regular charter flights from Warsaw, Gdnask and Kotowice have linked Poland to Albania from June to September during the peak tourist season in the past few years. Thousands of Poles also travel to Albania by car.

Poles are mostly interested in the southern Albanian Riviera offering a mix of rocky and sandy beaches and ancient sites dating back to ancient Illyria, the predecessor of Albania, as well as Roman and Greek heritage sites, but there is also huge interest in discovering northern Albania and the emerging mountain tourism there.

A combination of quality beaches, affordable accommodation units, good food and hospitality are key factors in bringing Poles to Albania.

“We are back to Albania because the people are great, prices are much cheaper compared to Greece where we earlier went on holiday,” a Polish tourist told a local Albanian TV last summer, visiting Albania on a bike tour for a second time, this time exploring the southern Albanian Riviera after a mountain tour north of the country a couple of years ago.

Poles are also reported to have become the third largest buyers of apartments along the Albanian Riviera after Norwegians and Russians, according to real estate agents.

With a population of 38 million, Poland is a huge potential market for Albania’s emerging tourism industry.

Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz who visited Tirana earlier this year said tourism is great potential to bring closer the two countries that have eight decades of diplomatic relations.

“I am aware that tourism is an important sector of the economy. Albania is a beautiful country and Poles appreciate it, which is confirmed by an increasing number of my compatriots among tourists visiting your country,” minister Czaputowicz told Tirana Times in an interview ahead of his Albania visit last May

Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura says Albania has become a new discovery in the old continent.

“I think Albania is relatively close, it has great potential as a tourist destination, a wonderful climate and it’s a safe country,” Ambassador Bachura has earlier said.

“Polish tourists are present all around Albania, but the majority of them certainly prefer the coastline, especially the southern part of the country. However, there are tourists seeking new forms of tourism such mountain hiking, motorcycling etc.,” the Ambassador says.

Albania and Poland established diplomatic relations in 1937 soon before WWII but ties between the two countries date back much earlier during the 15th century under Albania's Skanderbeg era when the two nations aligned against the Ottoman Empire.

Nordic tourists have also been visiting Albania in much bigger numbers during this year, with regular charter flights bringing tourists from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland who booked some of the best hotels along the country’s Adriatic coast last summer.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2018, generating around €1.5 billion in income in the first three quarters of 2018 when the country was visited by around 5 million tourists, with a key contribution to Albania’s expected 4 percent GDP growth for 2018, according to Albania’s central bank and INSTAT.
                    [post_title] => Poles lead Albania tourist growth for second year in row 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-21 10:42:18
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-21 09:42:18
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 21 - The recently assigned EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca called on both sides of the political spectrum to reach an agreement in approving the electoral reform.

He, as well as other EU representatives, have called the electoral reform one of the most important steps that can lead Albania to the opening of EU negotiations and eventual membership.

“We call on all the parties to show responsibility and finalize now in parliament the good work done by the ad-hoc committee by passing the necessary amendments to the electoral code,” Soreca wrote on Twitter. 

In order for the electoral code to be applicable to the June 2019 local elections, the electoral reform should have been approved within December, however media has reported majority and opposition lawmakers will most probably not reach an agreement within the deadline.
                    [post_title] => EU Ambassador urges Albania’s political parties to agree on electoral reform 
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            [post_date] => 2019-01-15 16:40:28
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 - Klement Balili, one of Albania’s most notorious crime scene protagonists, handed himself in to the authorities on Tuesday, after almost two years of playing hide and seek with justice. 

Balili has been listed along some of the Balkans’ most sought-after criminals, leading an illegal network also operating in some EU countries, mainly Greece.

The Voice of America reported that albanian police has been under negotiation over the last year with Balili’s family members to have him surrender, in addition to operational actions.

These negotiations were reportedly led by the head of the Albanian State Police Ardi Veliu. It was to Veliu that Balili handed himself in on Tuesday, at 9.45 am, in an area between Saranda and Finiqi.

The exchange was witnessed by two of Balili’s family members and he was later driven off by Veliu to Tirana.

“Albanian police finalized today a long, complicated and very important operation for the surrender of Klement Balili, after an operational tracking process, in cooperation with the secrete state service and our international partners,” Minister of Interior Sander Lleshaj said.

His surrender comes at a time when the serious crimes prosecution has just completed the investigations and has sent Balili’s file to trial.

Balili is accused of "narcotics trafficking" committed in collaboration, in the form of a structured criminal group, "participation in the structured criminal group", "refusal to declare, non-declaration, concealment or false declaration of assets", and for "money laundering.”

Balil's name emerged during an investigation finalized in early May 2016 as part of an operation undertaken by Greek authorities in cooperation with the US DEA, where over 670 kilograms of marijuana were seized on the island of Zakynthos in eastern Greece .
Implicated in this operation was the Albanian police, as well as the authorities of several European Union countries where the network operated were allegedly, one of whose heads was Balili, dubbed by Greek media as the “Balkans’ Escobar.”

As a big number of the criminal organization’s members and leaders were caught in Greece, Balili managed to escape.

He initially appeared publicly in Saranda denying the charges, and then disappeared without a trace. This kick-started a long-standing ping-pong game among the Albanian institutions, with the police claiming to have demanded a warrant from the prosecution, while the latter had explained that it could not act for as long as the investigation did not provide evidence for the illegal activity in Albania,which is why it had requested evidence from Greece.

Balili’s file arrived from Greece late last year, and a couple of police operations to capture him at the end of December proved unsuccessful.

From the very beginning, strong doubts accompanied the Balili case. 

Greek media such as Greek CNN at the time clashed with the Albanian Embassy to Athens after publishing a paper which, referring to the sources of Greek authorities, stresed that Albanian police officers had declared to Greek partners during a secret meeting in Albania that they could not arrest the “Albanian baron” because he enjoyed political protection.

Balili was appointed director of the Saranda Regional Transport Directorate in Saranda in 2014. One of Balili's nephews was then elected mayor of Delvina Municipality, south of the country, under the Socialist Movement for Integration leadership, while his brother was also SMI coordinator in the country’s south.

The Balili brothers have had numerous commercial activities, ranging from transport services to those of object security, or fishing.

In 2015, they inaugurated a very expensive investment which turned the former Saranda Labor Camp into a luxury hotel. High state officials also attended the inauguration ceremony, while last year, quite ironically, most of Balili’s assets were sequestered. 
Klement Balili’s arrest was considered an important test for Albanian authorities by former US Ambassador Donald Lu, who in several public speeches mentioned his name as a sign of Albania's challenges in the area of ​​public order and security.

 
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