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New choir brings ‘Joy of singing’ to blind singers

New choir brings ‘Joy of singing’ to blind singers

“This is one of the most heartfelt concerts I have given in all my life. It’s a small choir composed of blind people. You can’t imagine their joy when singing,” says conductor Suzana Turku TIRANA, May 11 – Amateur and

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As incomes decline and living costs rise, households struggle to pay off debt

As incomes decline and living costs rise, households struggle to pay off debt

Three-quarters of Albanian households in debt report having an income of less than 351 euros per month  TIRANA, May 4 –  Albanian households are having trouble paying off debts due to a decline in income and an increase in the

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Albania’s democracy at 25: Challenges and opportunities

Albania’s democracy at 25: Challenges and opportunities

By ELEZ BIBERAJ* Twenty-five years after the demise of communism it is appropriate to consider Albania’s democratic trajectory and to highlight its successes and challenges.  I will attempt to review Albania’s accomplishments in the past quarter-century, as well as current

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Q&A: New Investment Council aims to increase dialogue, improve business climate

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism, Trade and Entrepreneurship of Albania officially helped launch Albania’s Investment Council this week. The head of the EBRD office in Tirana, Christoph Denk, says the Investment Council

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Albania complains of UEFA double standards

Albania complains of UEFA double standards

TIRANA, April 15 – The Albanian Football Federation has accused UEFA of double standards over its decision to award Serbia a forfeit victory in a European championship qualifier last year, after UEFA made an opposite ruling over another abandoned game

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Kurum steelmaker suspended over environmental pollution

Kurum steelmaker suspended over environmental pollution

The State Inspectorate for Environment says it has fined Kurum 1 million lek (Euro 7,000) and left the company a 40-day deadline until May 20 to meet its environmental requirements over waste management TIRANA, April – Turkey’s Kurum has had

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Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts

Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts

By DEWI VAN DE WEERD Dewi van de Weerd, the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ ambassador to Albania, made these remarks at the Albanian Institute for International Studies’ European Forum, focusing on current developments within the EU, the upcoming Dutch EU

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Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation

Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation

The Fier Prosecutor’s Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company’s environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity TIRANA, April 1 – Canada-based Bankers

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Coalitions shift as parties gear up for municipal elections

Coalitions shift as parties gear up for municipal elections

Basha makes it official he won’t seek reelection; Socialists and Democrats prepare candidate lists; Socialists enlarge coalition with Cham party TIRANA, April 2 – The upcoming municipal elections are quickly moving to the top of the country’s political agenda, with

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Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive

Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 30 – Albania kept alive their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes after a spectacular win home to Armenia as they came from behind an early goal to claim a 2-1 victory. It all started badly for

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                    [post_content] => “This is one of the most heartfelt concerts I have given in all my life. It's a small choir composed of blind people. You can't imagine their joy when singing,” says conductor Suzana Turku

TIRANA, May 11 - Amateur and professional blind singers have come together to form the unique "Joy of singing" choir in Albania under an initiative by renowned conductor Suzana Turku.

“This is one of the most heartfelt concerts I have given in all my life. It's a small choir composed of blind people. You can't imagine their joy when singing. We have been rehearsing for months to give this modest concert,” says Turku, a professor at the University of Arts, a conductor and former deputy Culture Minister.

Suzana Turku is also the founder of the Pax Dei choir in the early 1990s just after the collapse of the communist regime. She also leads the National Choral Center of Iso-polyphony which has been proclaimed by UNESCO a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

“Choral singing in Albania, apart from being part of the national folklore and an intangible folk heritage value, is also considered of great value within the artistic culture which was fostered by Albanians throughout their national history,” says the Choral Centre.

The art of choral singing - other than the ancient Albanian folk tradition - despite its comparatively short life-span of hardly more than a century, has played a very important part in the history of musical culture in Albania. Choral music is well-known and liked all over the country, maintaining a predominant role over other musical genres.

Apart from being a national heritage and wealth, choral singing is also the best way to express solidarity and mutual affection, and it possesses not only cultural values but also an educational role for the new generations.

 
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                    [post_content] => Three-quarters of Albanian households in debt report having an income of less than 351 euros per month 

TIRANA, May 4 -  Albanian households are having trouble paying off debts due to a decline in income and an increase in the cost of living, a survey conducted by the country's central bank has found.

One out of three households in Albania has borrowed money from banks and through informal channels, according to the official data.

A Bank of Albania survey with some 1,200 households nationwide unveiled 30 percent of the households had at least one debt to pay at the end of 2014, around 1 percent more compared to the first half of 2014, but their ability to repay considerably deteriorated at the end of the year.

The survey showed both the number of people with an income and those having a job declined at the end of 2014.

“The total number of household members with an income declined by 1.8 percent compared to the first half of 2014 and was down by 5.5 percent compared to the end of 2013. The number of employees also declined, especially in the private sector," said the survey, adding that households' financial situation deteriorated due to lower income and higher spending.

Around three-quarters of Albanian debtor households (74 percent) report modest income of 17,000 to 50,000 lek (Euro 120 to 351), a sharp deterioration compared to the first half of 2014 when only 55 percent of households reported such modest income for an average family of four in Albania.  

Due to tight lending standards and high interest rates in the banking sector, informal borrowing among debtor households remains widespread with an estimated 60 percent.

A Bank of Albania survey in the first half of 2014 showed three out of five households in need address friends and relatives as well as local groceries where they buy on credit usually in interest-free informal borrowing.

The debtor households' ability to repay loans sharply deteriorated at the end of 2014 when one out of three cited a decrease in household income and a rising cost of living.

Prospects over the ability to repay for the first half of 2015 remain pessimistic with an overwhelming majority of 84 percent expecting no improvement.

Meanwhile, the situation for businesses slightly improved at the end of 2014 with enterprises in the industry, construction and services sectors reporting an increase in sales, according to another Bank of Albania survey with some 721 companies nationwide.

More than half of enterprises (some 57 percent) reported having a loan to pay mainly for long-term investments. Differently from households, only 8 percent of businesses are reported to be involved in informal borrowing.

Asked about their relations with banks, businesses described the process of being granted a loan as somehow difficult, mainly because of the high loan costs.

The Albanian economy is estimated to have slowed down in the first quarter of 2015 when the country suffered severe floods and exports declined on lower international oil and base metal prices.

The situation is also confirmed by the latest survey conducted by the country's central bank showing that after recovering for four consecutive quarters, Albania's Economic Sentiment Indicator, measuring both business and consumer confidence, dropped by 4.6 percentage points in the first quarter of this year, but yet remained 0.5 percent above its long-term historical average.

“The decline was affected by a confidence drop in all sectors of the economy, including industry, construction, services, trade, and deteriorating consumer confidence,” the Bank of Albania said.

Other indirect data published by INSTAT and the Finance Ministry show both consumption and private investments remain sluggish as indicated by the performance of the value added tax and imports of machinery, equipment and spare parts.

Top trade partners Italy and Greece escaping recession and the start of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline construction are expected to have a major impact on the Albanian economy in 2015 when government and international financial institutions expect a recovery to 3 percent after sluggish GDP growth rates of 1 to 2 percent in the past three years.

Public debt at around 70 percent of the GDP, non-performing loans at around a quarter, lending struggling to remain at positive growth rates and a slowdown in exports are considered key barriers to Albania's growth.

This is a web update, read more on this topic in Friday's print edition.
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                    [post_content] => By ELEZ BIBERAJ*

[caption id="attachment_121212" align="alignright" width="300"]Elez Biberaj Elez Biberaj[/caption]

Twenty-five years after the demise of communism it is appropriate to consider Albania’s democratic trajectory and to highlight its successes and challenges.  I will attempt to review Albania’s accomplishments in the past quarter-century, as well as current and near-term challenges that it confronts in fully consolidating its democracy.  I do this from the vantage point of an outside observer, but an observer that cares deeply about the progress of Albania and the Albanian nation.

I have always considered myself extremely lucky and very grateful for the opportunity that the Voice of America has given me to closely watch developments in my mother country. VOA has been intimately connected with developments in Albania, having been a constant across the different eras of Albania’s post-World War II history.  Arguably the most memorable period of VOA’s coverage of Albanian affairs was the post-Hoxha period, and more specifically the dramatic events in 1990. VOA offered a countervailing narrative that debunked the regime’s propaganda and emphasized that communist rule had trampled on Albanian aspirations to build a modernized country, based on political pluralism and market economy. Thus VOA served as an external influencer and an agent of change by successfully challenging the regime’s monopoly on news and information, providing an outlet for Albanian dissent, and promoting the ideals of a free, pluralistic, and democratic society. But VOA was just one of the many internal and external factors that together contributed to the fall of communism.

The demise of Albania’s communist system unleashed a democratic momentum and ushered in a diverse and dynamic political landscape. With significant political support and financial assistance from the United States and the European Union, Albania embarked upon rapid political and socio-economic reforms: revamping the constitutional order, and creating a new system with checks and balances, safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms, and judicial reform.  Albania also reintegrated itself in the international community, pursuing a distinctly pro-Western course, developing close political and military ties with the United States and NATO.  A succession of rapid reforms was followed by social dislocations and then an implosion in 1997, which came close to turning Albania into a failed state.  The crisis resulted in political fragmentation, and a dramatic erosion of state power.  However, Albania recovered from the pyramid scheme crisis within a relatively brief period, and continued its reform agenda, making progress on many fronts.  Albania is now a NATO member and a candidate for membership in the European Union, and its regional saliency has increased significantly.

Thus Albania has seen its transition to completion.  I would submit that twenty-five years after the demise of communism, the use of the terms “transition” and “post-communist” is of limited, questionable utility.   A country that has held eight parliamentary elections since 1991, with power alternating between two major political parties, and is a full member of NATO and an EU candidate member cannot be classified as “a country in transition”  or as a “post-communist” country.

The issue is what type of a regime has Albania transitioned to? Have Albanians fully attained their democratic aspirations? And is the current system or current level of democracy the highest form of a democratic order that the Albanians can achieve?

Developments in Albania during the last quarter-century should be viewed within the broader regional, East European context.  Eastern Europe’s political transition has resulted in several types of regimes: full-fledged democracy, hybrid, and authoritarian regime. The Baltic, East and Central European countries, and two former Yugoslav republics – Slovenia and Croatia – have had a relatively rapid and successful transition and have largely succeeded in consolidating their democratic order.

Albania, on the other hand, has lagged significantly behind, and its shift to democracy has been slow and more challenging.  Albania is part of the cluster of former communist countries – Armenia, Bosnia, Georgia, and Montenegro – that are beset by democratic deficits and classified as “hybrid regimes.”  While rating higher on democracy indices than “authoritarian” regimes, such as those of Russia and other former Soviet republics, “hybrid regimes” are characterized by semi-democratic political arrangements; elections that do not always fully conform to international standards for free, transparent and credible ballots; prolonged post-election disputes; lack of rule of law; superficial checks and balances; widespread corruption; weak civil society; and governments that are largely not accountable to the citizenry.

The slow pace of Albania’s democratization has been conditioned by a multitude of interrelated factors, which go well beyond the totalitarian nature of Hoxha’s regime and the lack of a democratic tradition. They span a host of political, social, and economic factors.  These obstacles, combined with the general failure of political elites to deepen democratic institutions, provide effective governance and pursue greater economic growth, have weighed heavily on Albanian democracy.

This is neither the time nor the place to go into details, but let me just mention several factors that continue to impede Albania’s democratization. The persistence of the old elite – most of those in leading positions had been part of the communist nomenclature that made a seamless transition into the post-communist system – has adversely impacted the country’s democratic maturation. These elites in general did not display democratic views about the nature of politics, proved to be poor politicians, and tended to show little appreciation for the give-and-take of democratic governance.  While paying lip service to democratic ideals, once in power political leaders make efforts to assert control over all levers of power, impose control over the media and business, and divide and marginalize internal opponents as well as the opposition. The elites tend to demonize their opponents, often resorting to highly confrontational, accusatory, populist, and arrogant rhetoric.  Few of the top elites can be viewed as a model for the rest of the society.

Albanian politics remain deadlocked and deeply dysfunctional, having essentially deteriorated to a struggle for power between the country’s two major political parties, although they no longer offer stark and consequential choices.  The 2008-2009 constitutional and electoral code changes resulted in the concentration of power in party leaders, leading to a significant degradation of intra-party democracy. Party leaders control and determine the list of candidates – witness the current process for the selection of candidates for the June local elections.  Invariably, they promote or install people in higher positions that are personally loyal to them.  Members of the parliament adhere closely to their leader’s stance and officials across the political spectrum rarely project flexible or independent positions.

Corruption is pervasive across all levels of the government and society.  Wealth and access to power have been concentrated in the hands of a small group, while sizeable parts of the population still live in poverty.  This situation has created widespread resentment and is politically destabilizing.  There is a widespread perception that all are corrupt.  This of course is a gross oversimplification, but perceptions can be as important as reality.

The widespread malfeasance is a very serious obstacle to good governance and a fair distribution of the country’s resources. The very institutions that are critical to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law – government officials and politicians, the parliament, political parties, courts, judges, prosecutors, and the police – have undermined the campaign against corruption.

While current challenges should not obscure the progress Albania has made in the last quarter-century, there is growing evidence that Albanians are not satisfied with the level of democracy that their country has achieved.

The question now is will the current system endure or will it evolve into a less or more democratic regime?  Given the many internal challenges it faces, the global and regional trend of democratic backsliding, and the growing clout of authoritarian alternatives, is Albania likely to experience deterioration in its democratic performance?

In the near term, chances appear low for major and rapid political change.  It is painfully clear that established elites are not likely to fundamentally change their style of governing or how they treat each other. They remain firmly entrenched and politics highly informal and personal. The pace of democratization has largely lost its momentum, resulting in political malaise and an incremental advance in democratic development. While in the initial stage there was political will, immense drive and appetite for radical reforms, now there seems to be an absence of political will to move to the next level of deep reforms. There are no indications that Albanian leaders are seeking ways of lowering the volume of the rancorous relationship between the ruling coalition and the opposition, engage in an inclusive debate, and reach a national consensus on major issues that would make it easier to carry out far reaching political changes, deepening democracy and improving governance.

The 2013 parliamentary elections were widely seen as a watershed moment.  However, the country rapidly slipped back into the old style of conflictual politics. The prolonged political impasse, slow economic growth and increased social challenges, and a series of corruption scandals have severely undermined good governance.

The international community has invested significantly in Albania’s democratization process.  But the international community has been increasingly less inclined to use the important levers it has to influence the Albanian leadership, apparently having resigned itself to the fact that the situation in Albania is likely to change very slowly.  This reinforces the view that the European Union is not likely in the near future to absorb Albania with its current political troubles and corrupt institutions.

Real change, therefore, would have to be advanced from within.  For radical reforms to take place, the current system would need to be shocked to action. But despite growing dissatisfaction with the current political and economic situation, there seems to be little pressure from below that would force Albanian politicians to fundamentally change course.  The civil society is too weak to administer a dose of reality to Albanian elites to take serious measures to end the maddening patterns of contested elections, protracted disputes, and boycotts. Similarly, the society at large seems to condone the politicians’ misguided policies, political shortsightedness, unprincipled political struggle between the ruling party and the opposition, greed and corruption.

If these negative trends persist, the best that Albania can expect in the near term is to muddle through, at times muddle up and at other times muddle down.  But business as usual will delay Albania’s integration into the EU, exacerbate internal problems, and promote bad governance. The divisive polarization and the poisonous relationship that characterizes Albanian politics could lead to democratic backsliding and an erosion of the progress that the country has made.  Pervasive corruption, organized crime, and the culture of impunity present an existential threat to Albania’s democracy. Some might even be tempted to question democratic values and norms, and view less democratic or authoritarian systems as viable alternatives.

This leads us to pose some provocative questions:  Are Albanians in a position to challenge with real action the current widespread narrative that this country has no future?  Do the Albanians have the capacity and political will to achieve a higher level of democratic maturity, and implement fundamental reforms that would shift the country to a full-fledged democracy?

While the formidable challenges that Albanians currently face cannot be overstated, there are several factors that in the longer term – I emphasize the longer term – are likely to promote sustainable democratization.

Albanians at large are not likely to resign themselves to the current situation. There is widespread dissatisfaction, especially among the youth, with the status quo, which is likely to lead to increased demands for more responsible and responsive leaders that focus on strong institutions and rules, economic development, and have the ability to deliver public goods.

Albania has a dynamic, highly educated, young generation that tends to think in a Western, democratic context and is poised to move into influential positions. The eventual emergence of a new generation of political and economic leaders is a promising factor. As a result of the impact of globalization, technological innovation, and study abroad, many young Albanians have new ideas and a new vision of the future of their nation.  And the growing middle class, with its many intelligent, highly motivated, and aspiring entrepreneurs, is likely to demand greater transparency and accountability of officials and politicians.

While Albania has witnessed economic growth – this year the GDP is likely to increase by 3 percent – it has not experienced significant economic development. The gulf between the rulers and the ruled is huge. Many citizens are alienated, and likely to demand a voice in shaping their country’s future and influencing policy decisions that affect their vital interests.

The prospect of EU membership continues to serve as a strong impetus to implement the necessary reforms.  Albanians cannot afford to lose this opportunity and the electorate is not likely to forgive the politicians if they do.  For most Albanians, there are no viable alternatives to their European, democratic path.

What happens in Albania is important and is likely to have an impact across much of the Western Balkans.  While the current system is not likely to be accepted by the Albanians as the endpoint of democracy, Albania will require a fundamental course correction to become a fully consolidated democracy.  Albania needs capable, forward-looking leaders that are equipped to navigate the way forward.  But if Albania is to move ahead in meaningful ways, its leaders must take serious measures to eradicate corruption, establish public trust in the state and its institutions, ensure good governance, promote accountability toward all citizens, and foster economic development that will lead to growing opportunities and a higher standard of living.  This is a tall order and these goals are not easily attained.

These are times of unique challenges and opportunities. Albanians can resign themselves to the status quo and the real possibility of being marginalized or they can seize the opportunity, capitalize on the significant achievements of the last quarter-century, regain the democratic momentum, move decisively in a democratic direction and make their democratic vision a reality.

*Dr. Elez Biberaj is the director of the Eurasia Division of the Voice of America. This was his keynote address at the Conference on 25th Anniversary of Albania’s Transition on April 24. This analysis is published exclusively in English by Tirana Times. The opening paragraph of the original remarks included the following: “Thank you so much for the invitation to participate in this important conference and that very generous introduction.  I am very pleased to be here in the company of such distinguished personalities and friends and colleagues.  I am also honored to be here on this extraordinary occasion – the 25th anniversary of Albania’s transition from a dictatorial, one party-state to a multi-party, democratic system.”

** If copying this article for republication, please note that it first appeared in English on Tirana Times.
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                    [post_content] => The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism, Trade and Entrepreneurship of Albania officially helped launch Albania’s Investment Council this week.

[caption id="attachment_121010" align="alignright" width="213"]Christoph Denk Christoph Denk[/caption]

The head of the EBRD office in Tirana, Christoph Denk, says the Investment Council is a platform set up by the Albanian government with support from the EBRD to intensify the dialogue between the authorities and the private sector, to improve the business climate and promote good governance.

In an interview, he answered several questions on the new council as well as the business climate in Albania in general.

What is the purpose of the Investment Council? What are the main objectives of this new body?

The Investment Council is a platform set up by the Albanian government with support from the EBRD to intensify the dialogue between the authorities and the private sector, to improve the business climate and promote good governance.

It will bring together businesses and policymakers to tackle obstacles frequently faced by both domestic and foreign investors in Albania. It will be chaired by the Minister of Economic Development, Ahmetaj.

EBRD supports the Investment Council by setting up a professional secretariat – with the help of a generous contribution from Italy. The secretariat is a go-to body for businesses to raise issues and to propose solutions to improve the investment climate. Its staff, led by Diana Leka, will analyse these issues, propose options and bring them to the attention of the Investment Council and the National Economic Council. It will also follow-up their implementation.

For the government, the Investment Council is thus an opportunity to generate practical suggestions and to receive feedback on improving existing or planned legislation and regulation.

How does the creation of the Council tie in with the overall EBRD strategy in the country?

Supporting the competitiveness of the private sector and unlocking access to finance are key priorities for EBRD in Albania. We finance both foreign and local companies with debt and equity and also support SMEs through consultancy services. But this can only succeed if the business climate is conducive to investment.

In February 2014, Prime Minister Rama and EBRD President Chakrabarti signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at strengthening the investment climate and promoting good governance. As a first step, the EBRD is now helping to establish the Investment Council that is being launched this week.

How do you assess the investment climate challenges in the country and what the government should do to tackle them?

Albania has made progress in improving the business environment but the remaining challenges are big. A lot remains to be done. It requires coordinated action between the government, the businesses and the country’s international partners. This is where the Investment Council can help.

But the most important piece of advice is the perhaps the simplest: To attract new investment you need to treat existing investors in a fair, consistent and predictable manner. As a government, If you have happy investors they will be your best ambassadors.

What are the legal mechanisms that need to be implemented?

Over the last decade, Albania has adopted a number of significant reforms aiming to support investment. The legislative frameworks in many areas are relatively advanced. But sometimes there are problems of inconsistencies between different pieces of legislation and conflicting titles. Consistent and rigorous implementation of legislation is a further challenge . Serious concerns also remain in connection with law enforcement through the courts, which do not enjoy a high level of public confidence. Finally, it will be very important to create legal security on land ownership rights. This is essential for future investment.

What are the key obstacles listed by the business or the concerns you hear from the business community? Can you give us some examples?

Just recently, we presented the results of the EBRD/ World Bank survey on business environment. Over 15,000 managers from 29 countries in transition region, including Albania, listed their primary concerns.  Top obstacles for businesses in Albania were identified as the unfair competition from the informal sector and corruption. It’s difficult to compete as a law abiding business that pays its taxes and electricity bills if the competition does not. It is therefore very encouraging that the government is tackling these issues.

What kind of projects has EBRD already done to help the investment climate?


The EBRD has helped boost confidence of depositors by providing the Albanian Deposit Insurance Agency with a credit line of EUR 100 million as well as technical assistance. A well-functioning deposit insurance scheme is an important part of the financial infrastructure that helps build public confidence in a country’s banking system.

In December 2014, alongside OSCE and government of Italy, we helped launch the new Anti-Corruption Initiative. This new partnership aims to strengthen the investment climate and economic governance in Albania by enhancing the capacity of civil society organisations, business associations and the Albanian School of Public Administration to foster transparency and accountability.

How do you assess the overall progress of Albania over the last 2-3 years? What impresses you most in this country?

There is a strong drive and a high level commitment to purse far reaching reforms to fulfill Albania’s economic potential. I find this impressive, particularly when taking into account Albania’s still limited administrative capacity. At the EBRD we applaud the government’s reform drive and this is why we support it through the Investment Council.

On a personal note, I was deeply touched by friendly reception I received in Albania and by the Albanians' extraordinary hospitality.
                    [post_title] => Q&A: New Investment Council aims to increase dialogue, improve business climate
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                    [post_content] => uefaTIRANA, April 15 – The Albanian Football Federation has accused UEFA of double standards over its decision to award Serbia a forfeit victory in a European championship qualifier last year, after UEFA made an opposite ruling over another abandoned game in a similar setting.

Albania is currently awaiting for a final verdict at an international sports arbitration court in its effort to get three points after Serbian fans invaded the pitch and hit Albanian players before the game was abandoned.

Last week, UEFA gave a default win to Russia over a similar incident in its qualifier with Montenegro.

On Oct. 14, 2014, Serbia vs. Albania Euro 2016 qualifier was stopped before halftime when a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist banner hovered above the Belgrade field.

Players clashed and Serbian fans attacked Albania team members. UEFA ruled that Albania refused to play on and UEFA awarded Serbia a 3-0 win by default, but then deducted the three points because of team violence.

The Albanian federation, FSHF, contrasted UEFA's treatment with the decision to call off a qualifier between Montenegro and Serbia because of fans throwing objects at the Russian players and awarding the visiting team a 3-0 win.

It said UEFA "did not apply the same standard of judgment" in the two cases, adding that violence against its players in Belgrade was at a much higher level and there was a serious risk for their lives.

Both Albania and Serbia have appealed their sanctions and expect later this week, on April 17, to likely have the final verdict from the court.

Many Albanians were shocked by UEFA's initial ruling after both Albania and Serbia received sanctions from UEFA, as the European soccer body appeared set on punishing both Balkan rivals for the on-field violence.

There were no Albanian fans in the stadium as Serb fans hurled hate chants, hard objects and fireworks during the game in Belgrade, before its was abandoned after an Albanian banner being flown by a drone over the stadium led to a brawl and pitch invasion by the Serb fans.

UEFA ruled that Albania forfeited the match because its players refused to return to the pitch amid the disorder.

It is a charge Albanian coach Gianni De Biazi said this week does not stand.

“We were never asked if we wanted to go back,” he said in an interview with an Italian channel, adding some of his players were bleeding from being hit by Serb fans in the pitch.
                    [post_title] => Albania complains of UEFA double standards
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                    [post_content] => The State Inspectorate for Environment says it has fined Kurum 1 million lek (Euro 7,000) and left the company a 40-day deadline until May 20 to meet its environmental requirements over waste management

TIRANA, April - Turkey's Kurum has had its activity in the central Albanian city of Elbasan, where it operates a huge steel plant, suspended  over environmental pollution, a state inspectorate has ruled.

The State Inspectorate for Environment says it has fined Kurum 1 million lek (Euro 7,000) and left the company a 40-day deadline until May 20 to meet its environmental requirements over waste management.

"The company will have its suspension lifted only after meeting all legal requirements and after an assessment that will be carried out by the Environment Ministry and the State Inspectorate for Environment and Forests based on procedures and legal deadlines," chief inspector Ergys Agasi has said.

The ministry's decision to suspend Kurum has also been hailed by environmentalists who have been continuously protesting the company's dangerous waste disposal in river banks and its failure to activate its filters even after their installation, making Elbasan Albania's most polluted city with a rising number of environmental-related diseases including cancer and genetic mutations.

The Environment Ministry has asked Kurum to submit a waste management plan determining all kinds of waste and its treatment cycle until their final destruction, including measures, deadlines and investments the company has to make.

Kurum’s suspension comes few days after the Inspectorate also suspended the activity of Canada-based Bankers Petroleum which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield in south-western Albania and is the country’s largest foreign investor, after a blast incident at two of its oil wells, endangering local residents

Turkey's Kurum, which is one of the country's biggest investors, has recently expanded its activity in Albania in energy and port services by acquiring four small and medium sized hydropower plants and operating the container terminal in the country's biggest port of Durres.

Established in 1999, Kurum International Albania, a subsidiary of Turkey's Kurum Group, is the largest steel producer in Albania with 70 percent of the country's market share, manufacturing and selling a variety of hot-rolled construction iron products to clients in Albania, the EU and the Balkans. The company is also involved in the production of liquid oxygen, lime and in boat construction and dockyard repair.
                    [post_title] => Kurum steelmaker suspended over environmental pollution
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120722" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS) Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd speaks at the European Forum as AIIS Director Albert Rakipi listens on. (Photo: AIIS)[/caption]

By DEWI VAN DE WEERD

Dewi van de Weerd, the Kingdom of the Netherlands' ambassador to Albania, made these remarks at the Albanian Institute for International Studies’ European Forum, focusing on current developments within the EU, the upcoming Dutch EU presidency, the Western Balkans, Albania and EU enlargement policy. 

Let me start with something significant. Albania has become a candidate member state to the EU. I would like to congratulate you with that status. The Netherlands is fully supportive of your European integration efforts. Albania belongs within the EU and the Netherlands stands ready to support the country in the accession process.
  1. I would first like to discuss some of the recent developments in the EU. Let’s zoom in at some of the plans of the new Commission.
  2. I would then like to focus on the Dutch position witin the EU, as we are preparing to take over the Presidency of the European Union in January next year.
  3. Let us, thirdly, have a look at the EU and the Western Balkans and where we are with the EU’s enlargement policy.
  4. In closing, I will come to the best part, Albania’s future within the EU.
  5. The EU today
There is a ring of unrest around Europe. The situation is much more serious then we have seen in the past decade. Not only does it lead to insecurity for many people, there are also immense streams of refugees. We cannot ignore them. It is in these uncertain times that the EU has to operate. Also within the Union we have been facing a severe economic crisis. Luckily in many member states the prospectives are better now. But the necessary austerity policies have also led to unrest and less support for Europe, as we all know. This led to less trust, not only between member states, but also within them. After elections last year the European Parliament has been renewed. A new Commission started, with a president, Claude Juncker, who was actually the preferred candidate of the European Parliament. My former minister, Frans Timmermans, who has visited Albania in the past, has left the Netherlands to become vice-president of the Commission in Brussels. The new Commission has presented its strategic agenda. This agenda sets out five priorities that will guide the Union’s work over the next five years:
  1. a Union of jobs, growth and competitiveness;
  2. a Union that empowers and protects all its citizens;
  3. towards an Energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy. We want less dependence on energy suppliers that violate human rights. And with regard to climate we are late, it really is 5 to 12;
  4. a Union of freedom, security and justice, that focuses on solidarity and
  5. the Union as a strong global actor.
The agenda also considers how EU policy should be shaped and implemented. Subsidiarity and proportionality are key principles in this process: the Union should concentrate on areas where it can make a difference. It has to refrain from taking action where the member states can do that themselves. National parliaments should be more involved. What does this actually mean? Let me give you an example. It means that we should not ask Brussels to look at the size and shape of, for instance, bottles for olive oil. There is no added value. But we will count on Europe to set health and food safety standards.
  1. Focus of a small - or rather - medium sized member state
The Dutch position is well reflected in the EU’s strategic agenda. We advocate a Union that focuses on the essentials, on the main things, not on details. A Union that increases its added value for Europe’s citizens and companies. We think the EU should reduce the administrative burden. For example, it should be possible for a young IT specialist from let’s say Germany to sell stuff from his webshop in the Netherlands, without too many regulations, paperwork, etc.  We have to come to one digital market. We have presented the programme for our EU Presidency next year, I brought it with me, please take a copy if you like. I would like to mention our focus area’s: - We think one of the key tasks is to create jobs and economic growth, with a focus on innovation and decent work. - The EU, with the Netherlands as one of its founding states, was intended as a legal community, based on shared values, aimed at furthering common interests. We need to continue to listen to our citizens and make sure they still recognize themselves in this European idea. We need to make their voices heard, have debates, reach out for their ideas. - We think the EU will have to further strengthen its common foreign and security policy. We believe in an integrated approach, more defense cooperation, between member states, but also with NATO and other allies. We will now need to give priority to areas south and east of the EU. If you would ask the question where are Europe’s borders? The answer is they are there where its values are disputed most. - The rule of law is one of those core values that needs to be respected in each member state. I would like to zoom in on this topic. It can be viewed from two perspectives: that of the citizen and that of member states’ cooperation within the EU. The core principle of European citizenship is that nationals of one member state who are in another member state enjoy the same rights as the nationals of the latter member state. So that everyone has access to the EU’s freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. These freedoms can only be guaranteed if the rule of law functions effectively in all member states. Harmonised legislation creates a level playing field. It positively influences companies working in different member states, so that they know what kind of legislation to expect. It is not only the existence of this legislation, but also to know that it will be enforced, which makes the difference. Lastly, it is essential for the credibility of the external policy of the EU and the member states that the member states themselves are governed by the rule of law. Coherence is needed between external and internal human rights policies. Before arriving here, I headed our human rights team in The Hague. We promote equal rights for women, for LGBT or press freedom, in countries like Zimbabwe or Russia. But as Europeans we cannot point fingers to others, when human rights are not being respected within our own borders. We therefore need to ensure that member states may hold another member state or even a candidate country to account. Even within the Union, we are not there yet. Look at Hungary for instance. There is progress in this field though. This year member states will start talks assessing the state of their national rule of law, monitored by the Commission. This has been and will remain high on the Dutch agenda. We think rule of law should not only be regarded as a formal structure. Cultural factors are important too. Authorities should act in the spirit of the rule of law, that should indeed be the culture. Legal proceedings, complaint procedures, etcetera are not enough. The decisive factor is the operating culture among state agencies and officials who play a key role in the rule of law. Strengthening the rule of law also depends on vigilance of and respect for the independence of the judiciary. Politicians and others in positions of authority, such as senior judges and police chiefs, should set a good example.
  1. EU Enlargement: On the road
So looking at what Europe is, we can say, and I quote my ex-minister Timmermans, that Europe is a way of life, a way of thinking. All European states have a mix of the same ingredients of freedoms and human rights and respect for rule of law, be it in different compositions. It is not something that is easy to achieve, or to maintain, like we see at the moment. It requires a great deal of political, financial and social investment. But there is a high return, and this is clearly seen by the countries in the Balkans. Despite calls for “less Europe”, due maybe to a bit too rapid expansion of the Union in the past, there are also calls for “more Europe”. With Croatia joining the EU, opening of negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia, the candidate status granted to Albania and the Kosovo-Serbia rapprochement – we have indeed seen a positive trend for the Western Balkans during 2013 – 2014. The whole of the Western Balkans has an accession perspective and rightly so. These countries are part of Europe and should eventually join the Union. But enlargement of the EU is not self-evident these days, just as is the support for it. Critics and sceptics are on the rise. This trend can only be countered through arguments and through action. Ultimately, support for enlargement can only be maintained by a rigorous process, in which strict conditions are leading. The current focus in the enlargement process on rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights, has done just that. It has put what is the essence of the EU into the heart of the accession process. It is good to see that the countries in the Western Balkans are taking up this challenge and are increasing their efforts on these fundamental issues. The EU and its member states want to assist countries in the Western Balkans to meet the conditions. This is why the Netherlands has devoted its bilateral assistance in the Western Balkans almost entirely to the rule of law. We have just started a regional rule of law pilot, with experts in all our embassies throughout the Balkans. Albania is playing an active role in the region. At the same time it is clear that sensitivities with regard to regional cooperation remain, especially concerning Serbia and Kosovo. We think it is important that all parties are aware of this and avoid creating misunderstandings. Good neighbourly relations are an important aspect of the accession process in all Western Balkan countries. We also need to realise that the EU we see today, is not the EU the countries in the Western Balkans will join in time. The Union is changing rapidly, especially with respect to economic governance. Look at, for example, at the banking sector. Accession countries need to also be prepared for the economic governance demands that will be put on them as soon as they join the Union. The EU needs to help out there too, that is why improving economic governance is one of the priorities for Albania. This also implies assisting acceding countries to improve and strengthen their capacities, for example in statistics. The Netherlands has been asked to look into energy efficiency and to see if our energy regulator can work with his Albanian counterpart. Following Croatia’s accession in 2013, it is not expected that new member states will be joining the EU soon. The countries of the Western Balkans all have a genuine prospect of EU accession – their integration in the EU will contribute to regional and European stability – but they are responsible for determining the pace of their accession.
  1. Albania and its future in the EU: It takes two to tango
The Netherlands is supportive of Albania’s European integration efforts. Yesterday and today, minister Bushati and minister Gjiknuri are visiting the Netherlands. They had lunch with our minister of foreign affairs Koenders and they met our economic affairs minister, Kamp. The granting of candidate country status in June is an important milestone, both for the country and for the government. It is a deserved recognition of the progress that has been made so far. Great to see that there is so much public support for the EU here, 91 percent. We have a lot in common. The Netherlands sincerely appreciates that Albania is a NATO member and a country that fully aligns itself with the common foreign and security policy of the EU, especially as the current geopolitical situation is in flux. Both the Netherlands and Albania are now members of the UN’s Human Rights Council. As like minded countries we can work together on human rights issues, such as more political participation of women or ending violence against women. The Netherlands is a candidate for the UN Security Council, and so is Albania. Getting back to the EU, we think that the EU candidate status means reforms here need to be stepped up. The merging of municipalities through the local territory reform is a good start. Hopefully this will contribute to combating corruption. We believe that justice reform should provide for a new system that Albanians in daily life will be able to trust. This is essential to progress: a more reliable justice sector will attract more foreign investment. Public administration reform and progress in media digitization are necessary and welcomed. I would like to stress again the importance of including Albanian citizens in decision making. We will continue to support that. The Netherlands has been critical of Albania’s readiness for the candidate status in the past. And we still are. Please allow me to mention some bottlenecks that have to be tackled from the Dutch perspective: The proper functioning of political dialogue, especially where it belongs, in parliament. Full or partial boycott of parliament and extreme polarisation is not helpful. Both the government and opposition have their own responsibility in making cooperation work. It struck me that recent research showed the trust of the Albanian people in their political parties is at 15 percent, that is very low. Improving the functioning and independence of the judiciary is crucial. Why is the High Council of Justice not participating in the justice reform? Ensure that the fight against corruption does not limit itself to small fish, but equally focusses on large-scale corruption. There has been an impressive number of 4300 complaints on the new e-portal. But I am actually more interested in the number of cases that will get a thorough follow-up. The freedom and independence of the media needs improvement. It is clear that a lot of work remains to be done before the opening of negotiations could realistically come into sight. Since the start of the enlargement policies in 1993 the Netherlands has taken an approach to assess progress on the enlargement agenda through a method which we call “strict and fair”. What does this mean? Strict means that we take the starting point of the ‘acquis’ serious. The acquis sets out the basic principles of the EU and the Copenhagen criteria stipulate the minimum conditions that need to be fulfilled before a new country can become a member of the EU. These are: Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; The ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. In the strict and fair approach ‘fair’ means that the EU and the member states are prepared to help candidate countries in fulfilling the minimum conditions of the Copenhagen criteria. We are, for example, looking into the request to assist Albania with setting up its negotiation teams. Dutch funds are used to support Albania in the field of the judiciary, human rights and the rule of law. Some examples of these projects are: Training of police on diversity and how to deal with domestic violence, Improving the implementation of e-procurement procedures leading to reduction of corruption, increase of transparency and competitiveness among businesses/economic operators Drafting of the Whistleblowers Protection Law. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end with a quote by Erasmus, he was a famous Dutch philosopher and one of the founding fathers of the concept of Europe. “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; And then there are those who turn one into the other.” I have set my hopes on a dynamic young generation of Albanians to do just that. * The title of this op-ed has been written by Tirana Times.   [post_title] => Op-Ed: The Netherlands remains critical, but fully supports Albania’s European integration efforts [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => op-ed-the-netherlands-remains-critical-but-fully-supports-albanias-european-integration-efforts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-03 09:32:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:32:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120690 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120714 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-04-03 09:04:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:04:35 [post_content] => The Fier Prosecutor's Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company's environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity TIRANA, April 1 - Canada-based Bankers Petroleum, which operates the Patos-Marinza heavy oilfield in south-western Albania and is the country’s largest foreign investor, has had its activity suspended after a blast incident at two of its oil wells, endangering local residents. Some 60 local households were evacuated after the explosion of the two oil wells in the Marinze village, with nobody reported injured. Video footage showed fountains of gas, mud, sand and water coming out of the ground. Energy Minister Damian Gjiknuri who visited the explosion site on Wednesday assured the situation was under control and there was no room for panic. "Experts say the gas leak is not poisonous and cannot cause explosions," said Gjiknuri, asking the company to cover costs of damages. A company spokesman told the Reuters news agency that Bankers usually has to drill down to 1,300 meters to reach oil layers in Patos-Marinza, but Wednesday's well had been drilled to just 500 meters when the venting occurred. Bankers Petroleum said it has activated its emergency response plan as a result of an uncontrolled carbon dioxide release during the drilling of a horizontal well within the Patos-Marinza oilfield, "Bankers has regained surface control of drilling operations, returning most impacted residents to their homes, however, as a precautionary measure, continues to maintain a small evacuation area immediately adjacent to the affected well," the company said in a statement. Meanwhile, the Fier Prosecutor's Office has launched a probe into Bankers Petroleum after the national inspectorate announced it had suspended the company's environmental permit a month ago and the company had illegally continued its activity. Prosecutors are investigating whether Bankers used inappropriate drilling methods and techniques. The Environment Ministry had suspended Bankers activity since late February 2015 after the environment inspectorate identified violations in waste management, pollution of water resources also affecting agricultural products and social and health problems caused to local residents.  The ministry says Bankers will have its suspension lifted only after it meets the environmental requirements. Canada-based Bankers Petroleu posted record high profits of around $129 million in 2014, more than double compared to 2013, on higher oil production despite a significant cut in international oil prices in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, royalties to the Albanian government and related entities were $86 million (15 percent of revenue) during 2014 compared to $94 million (17 percent of revenue) for 2013. Bankers Petroleum 2015 prospects are less optimistic as international oil prices have more than halved to around $54 a barrel since their peak level in mid-2014, forcing the company to revise downward its 2015 program of investments and production. In early February 2015, Bankers announced it had reduced its 2015 capital program to US$ 153 million, down from a previously announced 2015 capital program of $218 million in early December 2014. [post_title] => Authorities suspend Bankers Petroleum’s activity following well blast that forced village evacuation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => authorities-suspend-bankers-petroleums-activity-following-well-blast-that-forced-village-evacuation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-03 09:41:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-03 08:41:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120714 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120688 [post_author] => 5 [post_date] => 2015-04-03 08:47:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-03 07:47:41 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120692" align="alignright" width="300"] Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama has entered into an agreement with the Democracy, Integration and Unity Party (PDIU) of the Cham community, led by Shpetim Idrizi, which has seven lawmakers.[/caption] Basha makes it official he won't seek reelection; Socialists and Democrats prepare candidate lists; Socialists enlarge coalition with Cham party TIRANA, April 2 - The upcoming municipal elections are quickly moving to the top of the country's political agenda, with several candidates and new political coalitions being announced this week. Voters will elect 61 new mayors in administrative elections that will be a serious test for Albania's governing leftist Socialist Party-led coalition as well as the main opposition Democratic Party and its leader, Lulzim Basha, the incumbent mayor of Tirana. Basha had earlier indicated he won't run again, and this week he made it official he won't seek reelection in order to focus on party affairs. "I have decided not to run for the Tirana mayor's seat, but instead will lead the opposition in a race that touches every village, every neighborhood and every city,” Basha said. “I will lead the opposition in ousting the government. My race is against the prime minister.” Basha had for years criticized Prime Minister Edi Rama for refusing to step down as Tirana mayor while seeking the prime minister's seat. Rama, who lost a tight race to Basha for the mayor's seat in 2011, said Basha had done nothing to improve the lives of the city's residents. “Basha is leaving with nothing to show,” Rama said this week. Prime Minister Rama has also been busy holding intensive talks to discuss on potentials candidates across the country. The party had set almost all the names, most of whom are new arrivals, but the top post, that of the Tirana mayor candidate, remained up in the air. The Democrats have been tight-lipped with their candidates, while Socialists have announced three names: Blendi Klosi, a lawmaker and former minister, Erjon Veliaj, minister of social affairs, and Pandeli Majko, former prime minister of Albania during the Kosovo war. Veliaj is seen as the most loyal to the prime minister and is likely to be the ultimate candidate of the three. Majko would probably be far more popular with the average voter, according to analysts. Rama has also extended his coalition with small political parties in order to gather more ballots for tight races. The Socialists have entered into an agreement with the Democracy, Integration and Unity Party (PDIU) of the Cham community, led by Shpetim Idrizi, which has seven lawmakers. It ran in coalition with the opposition Democrats in the general elections. The alliance has further shifted the weight of the coalitions in parliament, giving the governing Socialists a massive majority that allows them to make any constitutional changes if needed to implement its reforms in the justice system. However, not all PDIU lawmakers were happy with the new alliance with the Socialists, particularly because of the presence in the coalition of another small party that represents the ethnic Greek community in Albania. The Cham community PDIU represents are Albanians who were brutally ethnically cleansed by Greek militias at the end of WWII. Despite the new allies, Rama has to strongly rely on the coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta, the second largest party in the ruling coalition. [post_title] => Coalitions shift as parties gear up for municipal elections [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => parties-gear-up-for-municipal-elections [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-06 14:41:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-06 13:41:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120688 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 120646 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-03-30 09:04:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-03-30 08:04:34 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_120647" align="alignright" width="300"]Mergim Mavraj (center) scored the first goal. Mergim Mavraj (front) scored the first goal.[/caption] By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 30 - Albania kept alive their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes after a spectacular win home to Armenia as they came from behind an early goal to claim a 2-1 victory. It all started badly for Albania as they conceived an early goal in the fourth minute and squandered lots of scoring opportunities with Split forward Cikalleshi also hitting the post. The turning point came in the 70th minute when Armenia had one man sent off and Albania made full use of its numerical advantage with two winning headers by Koln defender Mavraj and Basel midfielder Gashi who came in as a substitute in the second half. The Sunday evening victory against Armenia has strengthened Albania's position in Group I with the Red and Blacks now ranking third with seven points in four matches level on points with second-placed Denmark which holds an advantage on goal difference. Portugal which beat Serbia 2-1 have taken the lead of the group with nine points, having lost only home to Albania in their first four qualifying matches. Serbia and Armenia rank bottom in the five-team Group I having collected only one point each in their first round of matches. Italian coach Gianni de Biasi, who just a couple of days before the decisive qualifier was granted the Albanian citizenship, described the victory as historic. "It was a historic victory for Albania and the most important match of my career but now its over. We did a good job. The next qualifier against Denmark will be the match of my life," he told reporters. Armenia's Swiss coach Bernard Challandes said his team had a chance to win until the 70th minute when one of their defenders was sent off with a second yellow card. "We had a very good first half, we scored and we were playing well, but in the second half, Albania were better than us. I told my team at the break that we had to score again to win the match," he was quoted as saying by UEFA. Celebrations over the victory against Armenia continued until the early hours of Monday in Elbasan where the match was played and all over Albania, but also Kosovo, Macedonia, the Presevo Valley and the Diaspora. Prime Minister Edi Rama who encouraged Albania as they were one goal behind in several tweets congratulated the national side and the newest Albanian citizen, coach De Biasi. Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages. The top two group teams and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers. Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark in September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.   [post_title] => Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-claim-historic-victory-to-keep-their-euro-qualifying-hopes-alive [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-03-30 10:27:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-03-30 09:27:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=120646 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 121370 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-05-15 08:44:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-15 07:44:46 [post_content] => “This is one of the most heartfelt concerts I have given in all my life. It's a small choir composed of blind people. You can't imagine their joy when singing,” says conductor Suzana Turku TIRANA, May 11 - Amateur and professional blind singers have come together to form the unique "Joy of singing" choir in Albania under an initiative by renowned conductor Suzana Turku. “This is one of the most heartfelt concerts I have given in all my life. It's a small choir composed of blind people. You can't imagine their joy when singing. We have been rehearsing for months to give this modest concert,” says Turku, a professor at the University of Arts, a conductor and former deputy Culture Minister. Suzana Turku is also the founder of the Pax Dei choir in the early 1990s just after the collapse of the communist regime. She also leads the National Choral Center of Iso-polyphony which has been proclaimed by UNESCO a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. “Choral singing in Albania, apart from being part of the national folklore and an intangible folk heritage value, is also considered of great value within the artistic culture which was fostered by Albanians throughout their national history,” says the Choral Centre. The art of choral singing - other than the ancient Albanian folk tradition - despite its comparatively short life-span of hardly more than a century, has played a very important part in the history of musical culture in Albania. Choral music is well-known and liked all over the country, maintaining a predominant role over other musical genres. Apart from being a national heritage and wealth, choral singing is also the best way to express solidarity and mutual affection, and it possesses not only cultural values but also an educational role for the new generations.   [post_title] => New choir brings ‘Joy of singing’ to blind singers [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => new-choir-brings-joy-of-singing-to-blind-singers [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-05-15 10:55:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-05-15 09:55:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=121370 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 37 [name] => Free to Read [slug] => free [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 37 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Want to read some of our articles, but are not ready to become a full paid subscriber? Register for free, and read all articles in this section — for free. [parent] => 0 [count] => 1044 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 37 [category_count] => 1044 [category_description] => Want to read some of our articles, but are not ready to become a full paid subscriber? Register for free, and read all articles in this section — for free. [cat_name] => Free to Read [category_nicename] => free [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 37 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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