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German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

TIRANA, Feb. 5 – Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government’s hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the

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Video of Albanian priest blessing sports betting shop goes viral

Video of Albanian priest blessing sports betting shop goes viral

TIRANA, Feb. 1 – A video featuring an Albanian Orthodox priest blessing a sports betting shop in the city of Korça, southeastern Albania, went viral this week in Albania, causing hilarity among viewers and being misinterpreted as a gamblers’ blessing.

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Polish-Albanian centuries-old ties featured on new Europa magazine issue

Polish-Albanian centuries-old ties featured on new Europa magazine issue

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Featuring a picture of Krakow, Poland’s second largest city and one of its eldest, the Europa magazine launched this week its latest issue with a special opening section dedicated to Poland and insight and a critical

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Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw. The 26-year-old Albanian

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Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding

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Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages

Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages

TIRANA, Jan. 23 – Europe’s once cannabis capital, the Lazarat village in southern Albania, has been selected by the government as one of the 100 villages that will have their infrastructure upgraded in a bid to make them agribusiness oriented

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Turkish consortium bids to build Vlora airport as Albania prepares to launch national carrier

Turkish consortium bids to build Vlora airport as Albania prepares to launch national carrier

TIRANA, Jan. 17 – A Turkish-consortium that is building Istanbul’s third airport has offered to build Albania’s second airport in a regional project that also paves the way for Albania to set up its national flag carrier and reduce current

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Albania condemns assassination of key Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic

Albania condemns assassination of key Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic

TIRANA, Jan. 16 – Oliver Ivanovic, a top Kosovo Serb politician, was shot dead Tuesday morning outside his party headquarters in northern of part of Mitrovica. Several bullets were fired at Ivanovic from a moving vehicle, according to chief prosecutor

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Ismail Kadare wins Nonino 2018 prize in Italy

Ismail Kadare wins Nonino 2018 prize in Italy

TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Albania’s most internationally acknowledged contemporary author Ismail Kadare won the prestigious Nonino prize this year during the event’s 43rd edition in Udine, Italy, dedicated to honoring the most prominent cultural figures. The jury evaluated Kadare as

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Skanderbeg’s Year to begin on Jan. 17 in Lezha

Skanderbeg’s Year to begin on Jan. 17 in Lezha

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – 2018 has been declared Skanderbeg’s Year. Albania’s national hero passed away 550 years ago, on Jan. 17. In his honor, Prime Minister Edi Rama has launched a calendar of activities in different Albanian cities. In a

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135678" align="alignright" width="300"]Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon © Taulant Bino Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon
© Taulant Bino[/caption] TIRANA, Feb. 5 - Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government's hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the World Wetlands Day, one day after the Socialist Party majority approved a bill in Parliament, paving the way for fast-track contract negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new international airport outside the southern Albanian coastal city of Vlora at a site which is part of a protected lagoon and ecosystem. The new airport, set to become the country’s second international airport, is projected to be built along the Narta Lagoon, where one of Europe's last wild rivers flows and the endangered Dalmatian pelican feeds, the German environmental foundation says. The projected airport lies within the Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast and is internationally recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area, with a central role for bird migration along the Adriatic Flyway, German environmentalists say. "It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast," EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, calling for an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards before concluding project negotiations. “We are convinced that a serious assessment can only conclude that the planned airport is incompatible with preserving the Narta-Vjosa ecosystem,” the EuroNatur director says. "We believe that Albania as part of the most important multilateral environmental agreements (Ramsar, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention), cannot afford to lose one of its natural crown jewels along the Adriatic coast," concludes the letter to the Albanian prime minister. [caption id="attachment_135679" align="alignright" width="300"]flamingo The Narta Lagoon is also a valuable habitat for flamingos. © Ferdinand Bego[/caption] The Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, also a valuable habitat for flamingos, has also been officially nominated a candidate Emerlad site as an area of special conservation interest. EuroNatur and several other European environmental watchdogs have also condemned the Albanian government's approval without proper environmental assessment of hydropower plant concessions along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe's last remaining wild rivers. The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, a local environmental NGO, had earlier warned the airport’s proposed location at Akerni village, some 20 km outside Vlora in an area where a small military air base used to operate, threatens the local ecosystem's integrity. The Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape is a 194 km2 area rich in wetlands and aquatic birds encompassing the Narta Lagoon along with the delta of the Vjosa River and its surrounding areas with freshwater wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. “The construction of this kind of infrastructure threatens the ecologic integrity of this area because of the habitat alienation during the investment phase and disturbance during the operational phase. In addition, this construction violates the regulatory and legal norms on protected areas," PPNEA warned in late January as the government approved fast track negotiation procedures with a Turkish consortium. The Albanian government has not yet responded to environmental concerns, but stressed the importance that a second international airport would have on breaking the monopoly the Tirana International Airport has enjoyed so far, leading to lower ticket prices and giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry. Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the Turkish consortium has offered to invest €100 million for the new airport in Vlora in details that will be determined during a 90-day negotiation period with government representatives. The Turkish consortium that has offered to build the Vlora airport is composed of Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction, three companies also involved in the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a multi-billion dollar investment that is set to become the world’s largest. While the airport investment will be private, the Albanian government is expected to guarantee the concessionaire a minimum annual income in traffic guarantees in return for the investment and operation over a period of time that will be determined during the negotiations. Meanwhile, local residents see the construction of the new airport as a new opportunity that gives added value to their lands, where the salt business is one of the few employment opportunities in the local marshlands. The airport, whose construction is expected to begin this year, is located 133 km, a 2-hour drive from Tirana, making it competitive only in case it attracts low-cost carriers. Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years. The Tirana International Airport, which until mid-2016 enjoyed exclusive rights on international flights says it supports "any initiative that aims to stimulate the economic development of the country, including the establishing of airports that enable a freer movement of Albanian citizens, as well as foreigners wishing to visit Albania." Last year, the Chinese-run consortium managing TIA, the country’s sole international airport, handled a record 2.6 million passengers, an 18 percent increase compared to 2016. [post_title] => German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => german-environmentalists-slam-albanias-new-airport-project-in-protected-area [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-05 10:52:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135676 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135611 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-01 13:00:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-01 12:00:52 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135614" align="alignright" width="300"]basti Screen grab. Full video below[/caption] TIRANA, Feb. 1 - A video featuring an Albanian Orthodox priest blessing a sports betting shop in the city of Korça, southeastern Albania, went viral this week in Albania, causing hilarity among viewers and being misinterpreted as a gamblers’ blessing. Spiro Katundi, a 63-year-old priest was shown this week in a video, singing prayers and blessing a sports betting shop among about a dozen of young men as football matches and game results and betting odds aired live on the bar's monitors, leaving viewers stunned about the message and meaning of the blessing at a time when all major religions preach against gambling. In a reaction after the video went viral, the priest said his blessing had been misinterpreted and that he did not bless gamblers, but the business and investment under a ritual meant to bring good luck and prosperity. "I don't go to sports betting to bless gamblers, I only go to bless their business as long as they use it for good purposes," the priest told a local TV. "The misinterpretation is a result of lack of knowledge. That's only a blessing for goodness and prosperity. We only convey God's blessing," he added. According to him, the Orthodox Church has a number of blessing rituals involving buildings that start with the laying of foundations. “We respond to people for the investment they have made and give our blessing so that they prosper. Then, whoever uses the business for good purposes, may they prosper, otherwise only God knows what can happen to them," he added. The 63-year-old priest used to be part of the comedy theatre in Korça under communism when Albania banned religion for more than two decades before deciding to follow in his father's footsteps and become an Orthodox priest in the early 1990s when the communist regime collapsed and freedom of religion was restored. Gambling is a booming business in Albania and varies from casinos to sports betting. Thousands of betting shops are scattered across the country, with Albanians estimated to spend more than €100 million annually. A gambling law, which has been in force for several years, bans people under 18 from entering betting shops. Regardless, teenagers are often seen there. Albania is a secular country that has a long tradition of religious tolerance and coexistence that is praised internationally as an example to be followed. According to the latest 2011 census, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, Orthodox Christians nearly 7 percent, and the Bektashi, a form of Shia Sufism, 2 percent. The rest belong to either smaller groups or are non-religious. The Orthodox Church rejects the census numbers as underrepresented, claiming that about a quarter of Albania’s population is Orthodox Christian. Surveys show residents of Albania to be among Europe’s least religious people in terms of practicing any of the country’s main four faiths. In 1967, religious practices were officially banned in then communist Albania, making the country the first and only constitutionally atheist state to ever exist. Religious activities resumed just before the fall of communism in 1990. [embed]https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6dwmr9[/embed]   [post_title] => Video of Albanian priest blessing sports betting shop goes viral [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => video-of-albanian-priest-blessing-sports-betting-shop-goes-viral [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-01 13:06:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-01 12:06:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135611 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135605 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-01 10:47:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-01 09:47:17 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135607" align="alignright" width="300"]europa 1 Participants at the launch ceremony of the new Europa magazine issue. Photos AIIS[/caption] TIRANA, Jan. 31 - Featuring a picture of Krakow, Poland's second largest city and one of its eldest, the Europa magazine launched this week its latest issue with a special opening section dedicated to Poland and insight and a critical approach on developments in Albania and the region with a focus on EU integration. The special Poland section comes as the two countries marked in 2017 their 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and at a time when Poland is celebrating its 100th anniversary of regaining independence this year. Ties between the two countries date back much earlier during the 15th century under Skanderbeg’s era when the two nations aligned against the Ottoman Empire. An Albanian language publication of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, AIIS, one of Albania’s top think tanks, the Europa magazine is now on its fifth year, with dedicated sections examining bilateral relations with some of Albania’s key partners, having previously featured special coverage on Germany, Austria and China. Speaking at a launch ceremony this week at the Tirana Times book house, Karol Bachura, Poland's ambassador to Albania, reconfirmed his country’s support to Albania’s EU integration bid as Albania hopes to open long-awaited accession talks this year. “We are NATO allies and we certainly support the EU integration process for the Western Balkans and Albania. We see the puzzle as unfinished without the Western Balkans,” the Ambassador said, quoting late Pope John Paul II in saying that ‘Europe needs two lungs to breathe,’ the second being the Western Balkans. europa“In Poland, Albania can have a strong advocate in the EU integration process,” the Polish ambassador said, also reconfirming the support of Visegrad Group which in addition to Poland, includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. The ambassador said the implementation of the long-awaited justice reform could pave the way for Polish investment in Albania which has emerged as one of the top ten tourist destinations for Poles in the past few years. Some 115,000 Polish tourists visited Albania last year, almost double compared to 2016, making it to the top 10 of foreign tourists by citizenship in Albania, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT. “Polish tourists are driven by the Albanians’ sincere welcome, the excellent climate, wonderful sea, sandy beaches, mountains and stunning views and lots of natural and historical values Albania has. The Poles have always been fond of the Adriatic and Ionian,” the Ambassador writes in an op-ed opening the Poland section of the Europa magazine. “The number of Polish tourists could multiply, but in order to achieve this, good infrastructure is needed. I don’t mean only road, sea or air infrastructure, but tourist infrastructure that involves hotels, motels, hostels, camping sites, restaurants, clean beaches, yachts and boat rentals,” he adds. The Poland section features articles on the beginnings of Polish independence and Jozef Pilduski, the Polish revolutionary and statesman regarded as the 'father of Polish independence' as well as a selected part from “The Pianist,” a memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman. In an op-ed on the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Albania-Poland diplomatic relations, Albanian professor Genc Luarasi, whose mother was Polish, says relations between the two countries, established during King Zog's reign in 1938 just before the beginning of World War II marked a turning point in the early 1990s following the collapse of the communist regime. Relations with Poland came to a standstill in 1967 as then-Stalinist Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact on ideological grounds. "In 1992, both countries after opening up to Europe, reassessed their relations with the reopening of their embassies and raising their representation level, giving a mutual impetus to various deals especially on the exchange of experts and experience, cultural and art exchanges, rule of law, scientific studies, especially in archaeology, literary publications, the reactivation of Albania-Poland Friendship Society, translations from Polish literature, movie screenings, concerts by the Albanian Chopin Society, exhibitions, participation in the spiritual world of the Catholic representatives and Mother Teresa Sisters,” Luarasi writes. "Some 50 Polish citizens permanently reside and work in Albania. In International relations, both countries are NATO members and EU member Poland helps Albania prepare for EU membership," Luarasi says. Albert Rakipi, the head of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, described Poland as an early supporter of Albania and a success story which has its own voice in the EU. “Poland has been one of the key players in Europe’s modern history. It is also now the most successful story in the European Union,” Rakipi said. Relations between Albania and Poland date back to the 15th century when a Polish-Hungarian court recognized Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero who ousted the Ottomans for more than two decades. Polish geologist Stanisław Zuber discovered oil and minerals in Albania  1927-1947 before he was killed after World War II by the communist regime of late dictator Enver Hoxha. The author of Albania’s first geological map in use even today, Zuber has been immortalized with a monument in the southern Albanian town of Kuçova. Polish Father Alfons Tracki was one of 38 martyrs killed by the Albanian communist regime from 1945 to 1974 who were beatified in 2016 at the St. Stephen Cathedral in Shkodra, northern Albania. The Albanian and Polish prime ministers have met twice in official visits in Tirana and Warsaw during the past couple of years, discussing EU integration and economic cooperation which currently remains quite modest. In addition to the Poland section, the remaining two-thirds of the Europa magazine offer insight and critical approach on key local, regional and international developments. A special section is also dedicated to arts and culture accompanied by poems by Albanian writer Natasha Lako. 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Levante wrote on social media[/caption] TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw. The 26-year-old Albanian international has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Spanish top league club for a reported transfer fee of about €1 million. Sadiku is one of the reinforcements Levante has made in the January transfer window as the Valencia-based club is struggling just above the relegation zone and remaining in the La Liga is its top priority. In addition to competition with Spain forward Ivi Lopez, Sadiku will also face competition from Italian Giampaolo Pazzini, the new Levante signing from Verona football club. Sadiku will join Enis Bardhi, an ethnic Albanian who represents Macedonia internationally, at Levante, becoming the sole Albanian international to play in what is considered one of the world’s toughest leagues. Rey Manaj is another Albanian international who plays in Spain's second division with Granada. The Levante move is a turning point for Sadiku who has already joined the club's training and could make his debut this weekend as the Valencia-based club host giants Real Madrid who have been playing one of their worst seasons. His transfer comes after only six months with Legia Warsaw and a six-year spell in Switzerland. Sadiku, who was recently being used as a second-half substitute in Poland played 24 games for Legia since joining last July but scored only seven goals, four of which in the Polish Cup, one in the Champions League qualifying campaign and only two in 17 Polish league appearances. The 26-year-old striker has scored 11 goals in 29 appearances with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification in a major tournament such as Euro 2016. He also scored Albania’s sole goal in the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage. In last November’s friendly away to Turkey, Armando Sadiku scored a double to help 10-man Albania claim a surprise victory and increase his goal tally to 11. Last June, he also scored a brace as Albania avenged Israel’s first-leg home defeat with a 3-0 away victory. Having started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, Sadiku played in Switzerland for six years with clubs such as Zurich and Lugano before joining Legia Warsaw in July 2017. Albania who were recently drawn against Scotland and Israel in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, will play Norway in a friendly on March 26. [post_title] => Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-international-joins-spains-levante-in-surprise-move [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-31 14:26:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-31 13:26:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135598 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135520 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-24 17:37:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-24 16:37:41 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs. Having been previously lined up in League C, Albania was drawn in Group 1, the only one featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams. Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before is the toughest team in the group, with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, currently 32nd in the FIFA world rankings, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup. Israel, a team which Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, finished fourth in the group stage last September, trailing third-placed Albania by one point as both sides got 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters.  Both Albania and Israel played in a tough qualifying campaign that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy, the latter failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing a play-off with Sweden. Based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face for the League C winner and a place in the Euro 2020 in case it tops its own Group 1. Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci described the group as balanced, saying he would have preferred a four-team group. "That is a very balanced group with three tough teams. It's a group with three teams that allows you to make fewer mistakes. We will rival for the first place," said Panucci. A former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager, Panucci has been in charge since mid-2017, succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016. "We have a team that can lead the group and we will play to the end. In order to secure qualification, all you have to do is win the matches. It is not important how many opponents we will be playing with, we will play an offensive and courageous football," Panucci said. Featuring 55 European national sides divided into four leagues, the UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018. Albania, who was drawn in three-team group, will only play four matches against Scotland and Israel. The UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020. The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer. Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the National League tournament as the third-placed team is no longer provided a play-off opportunity. Chances increase as if a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. Last November, Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time in the fifth match under coach Panucci who has been set a Euro 2020 qualification task. The Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is scheduled to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018. Albania will play Norway in a friendly on March 26, but coach Panucci says the national side staff is also negotiating to play two teams who have qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup. [post_title] => Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-drawn-against-scotland-israel-in-inaugural-uefa-nations-league [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-24 17:37:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-24 16:37:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135520 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135495 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-23 16:25:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-23 15:25:01 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 23 - Europe's once cannabis capital, the Lazarat village in southern Albania, has been selected by the government as one of the 100 villages that will have their infrastructure upgraded in a bid to make them agribusiness oriented by promoting local agriculture products. Since a mid-2014 police crackdown, Lazarat, a village some 7 km off the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gjirokastra, has lost its shine and lavish lifestyle and much of its population of few thousands has left. Almost four years after the collapse of its internationally acclaimed pot industry, the village has lost most of its youngsters and luxury cars and agriculture and sheep farming is the only thing the elderly people remaining there can do to earn a living. Ironically enough, Albania’s most famous cannabis cultivation site was one of the few villages where pot was not grown in 2015 and 2016 when cannabis cultivation boomed almost nationwide, triggering international concern over Albania as Europe’s largest outdoor cannabis producer and trafficker. "Now the only thing that has remained of Lazarat is poverty that sits within the luxury villas, many of which built on illegal proceeds. The Lazarat young men who used to carry guns and drive luxury cars have now left their home village and moved abroad or to Tirana for a better life," local media wrote about Lazarat in the early days of 2018. Meanwhile, the elderly people who have remained there hardly manage to make ends meet and buy on credit from the local village store. Lazarat, 200 kilometers south of the capital, Tirana, was cracked down in mid-2014 in a police operation that destroyed 102 metric tons of marijuana and 530,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of some €6 billion, worth about half of the country’s annual gross domestic product. A veteran officer of the Albania’s elite commando army unit who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq with NATO troops was shot dead during the crackdown. With agriculture and its sheep farming as its strongest points, the once cannabis capital is trying to return to normality after more than a decade as an outlaw village. The Theth and Valbona mountain tourism villages in northern Albania, Shengjergj and Pellumbas on Mount Dajti outside Tirana, the Dhermi and Vuno coastal villages along the southern Albanian Riviera and Lin and Tushemisht across the Albanian part of Lake Ohrid, southeast of the country, are among the 100 villages selected as part of the integrated rural development project Albania intends to apply from 2018 to 2020. Albania's Agriculture Minister Niko Peleshi says the ‘100 villages’ project will upgrade the selected villages' infrastructure and public services and promote agritourism by offering incentives and grants to support local characteristic agriculture products. Italian actor Gabriel Garko will star in “Lazarat Burning” a Hollywood movie based on the real story of world famous notorious Albanian marijuana growing village of Lazarat. Residents of this village had earlier voiced concern the movie scheduled for release in 2018 will further worsen stereotypes about them and Albania as a cannabis producing country. [post_title] => Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => europes-former-cannabis-capital-selected-as-one-of-albanias-future-agribusiness-villages [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-23 16:25:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-23 15:25:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135495 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135404 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-17 14:23:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-17 13:23:17 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 17 – A Turkish-consortium that is building Istanbul’s third airport has offered to build Albania’s second airport in a regional project that also paves the way for Albania to set up its national flag carrier and reduce current ticket prices, among the region’s highest. The project to build a regional airport in Vlora, southern Albania, comes as part of the assistance the Albanian government has been receiving from the Turkish government and its Turkish Airlines, to open up new airports and set up its national carrier in a bid to offer passengers a new alternative to Tirana International Airport, the country’s sole international airport. The airport is also expected to benefit Albania’s rapidly growing tourism industry and southern Albanian destinations such as Vlora, Saranda and Gjirokastra, making access to Ionian coastline and UNESCO World Heritage sites easier. "We have received a request for the great strategic investment on the new Vlora national airport. Construction of works to begin by next June," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on social media on Wednesday. The country's infrastructure ministry later unveiled it had received a bid by three Turkish companies, Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction to build the Vlora airport, and that it would set up a special group to examine the technical aspects of the proposal. The three companies are part of the consortium that is building the multi-billion dollar airport that will partially launch operations by February 2018. The infrastructure ministry says the airport will be a completely private investment, providing no details on the form of partnership. The investment will likely be made through a build-own-transfer concession, the same as the Tirana International Airport was upgraded in 2005 under a 20-year deal with the Albanian government. "We are at an advanced stage on the launch of our national carrier. I believe we will create conditions for more competition and then lower prices," Rama said at a TV interview earlier this week. Prime Minister Rama has earlier unveiled the 'Air Albania' national carrier will initially connect Tirana to regional unserviced countries such as Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina and several Western Europe destinations. Back in May 2017 at a meeting with the CEO of Turkish Airlines in Tirana, Prime Minister Edi Rama said he was optimistic that with the support of the Turkish government and President Erdogan, Albania would have its own ‘Red and Black’ national carrier, open up its second international regional airport in Vlora, and a smaller tourist airport in Saranda, southernmost Albania. Turkish Airlines, whose 49 percent stake is held by the Turkish government, serves more than 275 destinations in five continents, being one of the fastest growing airlines. Turkey is one of Albania’s strategic partners, top investors and main travel destinations. Some 97,000 Albanians travelled to Turkey in the first 11 months of 2017, mostly on holiday to its tourist resorts, a 25 percent increase compared to the same period in the previous year, according to Turkey's tourism ministry. The Prime Minister has earlier blamed the expensive air transport situation in the country on the problematic concessionary deal Albania has with country’s sole international airport, preventing the entry of low-cost carriers. Almost two years after lifting TIA’s exclusive rights on international flights in return for having its original 20-year concession contract extended by two years until 2027, Albania continues to have a sole international airport and one of the region’s highest ticket prices. Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years. Some 17 airlines connect Tirana to European destinations, mostly Italy where most passengers fly considering an estimated community of some 500,000 Albanian migrants in the neighbouring country across the Adriatic. The Tirana International Airport, which in October 2016 was taken over by a Chinese consortium, handled about 2.2 million passengers in 2016, being the country’s main hub. Italian carriers have the major market share in Albania's air transport industry following the bankruptcy of an Albanian-owned company in 2013. [post_title] => Turkish consortium bids to build Vlora airport as Albania prepares to launch national carrier [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => turkish-consortium-bids-to-build-vlora-airport-as-albania-prepares-to-launch-national-carrier [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-17 14:28:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-17 13:28:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135404 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135375 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-01-16 12:13:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-16 11:13:19 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 16 - Oliver Ivanovic, a top Kosovo Serb politician, was shot dead Tuesday morning outside his party headquarters in northern of part of Mitrovica. Several bullets were fired at Ivanovic from a moving vehicle, according to chief prosecutor Shyqyri Syla. Ivanovic died shortly after in the hospital. Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi strongly condemned the crime through a Facebook post and called on local authorities to put justice into place. Authorities in Albania also strongly condemned the killing, calling it a threat to peace. President Ilir Meta said this incident should not halt the dialogue process between Serbia and Kosovo, which is an important element in the region’s peace and stability. The day Ivanovic was assassinated was also when the Serb delegation arrived in Brussels to restart the technical talks between Serbia and Kosovo, but the incident had them urgently return to Belgrade. A spokeswoman for EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, asked all actors in Kosovo and Serbia to use all means to find the perpetrators of the crime. Seen as one of the most moderate Kosovo Serb leaders, Ivanovic was the head of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice Party. This was not the first time someone had tried to harm Ivanovic and those close to him, according to reports. He had previously asked Kosovo and Serbian authorities, as well as EU representatives, to help him. Last summer, Ivanovic said his car was set on fire in north Mitrovica by unknown perpetrators due to “political reasons.” The incident happened ahead Kosovo’s local elections, in which Ivanovic was running against Serb “Some people obviously find my views unpleasant,” Ivanovic had said back in July concerning the arson incident, while also adding he did not believe ethnic Albanians were behind the attack, which he asked municipal authorities in northern Mitrovica to condemn. A similar incident had happened in 2005, when a bomb was placed under his car parked outside of his building. In September 2013, an unknown men had entered Ivanovic’s apartment and attacked his wife. “I do not expect anything from the police, because so far nothing has been done in similar situations. Either it is a matter of incompetence, which I doubt, or a lack of courage to enter into conflict with the criminals and solve such cases,” he’d told regional media in July. Heading a Kosovo Serb citizen initiative, Ivanovic’s views concerning Serbia and Albania were seen as peace-aspiring. Expert of Balkan issues Edward Joseph spoke with local media after Ivanovic’s assassination, saying Ivanovic’s murder could bring “a general tension in Kosovo’s situation,” as ethnically related murders tend to cause upheaval in this part of Kosovo. In January 2016, EU Kosovo judges sentenced Ivanovic to nine years for allegedly committing crimes during the Kosovo 1999 war. In February 2017, however, the decision was overruled by an appeals court and a retrial was scheduled. Ivanovic was born in Peja, in 1953, and began his political career during the Kosovo War, in July 1999.     [post_title] => Albania condemns assassination of key Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kosovo-serb-politician-oliver-ivanovic-assassinated-in-north-mitrovica [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-19 09:53:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-19 08:53:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135375 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135341 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-01-12 12:30:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-12 11:30:35 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Albania’s most internationally acknowledged contemporary author Ismail Kadare won the prestigious Nonino prize this year during the event’s 43rd edition in Udine, Italy, dedicated to honoring the most prominent cultural figures. The jury evaluated Kadare as a “troubadour who is in love, but also critical towards his country. Between the historical reality and the legends that remind the grandiosity and tragedy of the Balkan and Ottoman past, Kadare created great stories.” The Nonino prize is one of Kadare’s many international acknowledgements through the years. The author’s most famous novels are “The General of the Dead Army”, “The Palace of Dreams” and “Chronicle in Stone”. Kadare became a life member of France’s Moral and Political Sciences Academy in 1996. He has been awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca award, the Man Booker International Prize, the Prince of Asturias award of arts and the Jerusalem Prize. In addition, Kadare has been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature several times, while his works have been published in about 45 languages. Born in Gjirokastra in 1936, Kadare is regarded by some as one of the greatest European writers, intellectuals of the 20th century and a universal voice against totalitarianism. However, Kadare cannot be categorized with other dissident writers. While he was accused of cooperating with Hoxha’s regime during communism in Albania, many of Kadare’s books were also banned during the time for the strong parallels he drew in them with the totalitarian regime and the devastating outcomes he described. Nina Sabolik, from the World Literature Today site, wrote back in 2013 concerning the author that “unlike other dissident authors from various dictatorial regimes, Kadare does not see a light at the end of the historical tunnel. There’s no escaping the eternal cycle of strife and reconciliation. There is no salvation in the other side of the borderline, nor at the front lines of a noble revolution.” In this sense, Kadare is almost an existential writer, one who cannot be perceived through traditional frameworks of literature analysis and it might be this exact reason his works are still relevant and celebrated to this day. “Kadare belongs to the invisible multitudes that resisted dictatorial regimes from the inside, a much more daunting and heroic act. Kadare survived for more than forty years publishing his quietly but unmistakably anticommunist novels under the very Stalinist nose of dictator Enver Hohxa,” Sabolik concludes. The Nonino awards ceremony will be held on Jan. 27 in Italy’s Udine. [post_title] => Ismail Kadare wins Nonino 2018 prize in Italy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ismail-kadare-wins-nonino-2018-prize-in-italy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-12 12:30:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-12 11:30:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135341 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135332 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-01-12 12:18:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-12 11:18:43 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 12 – 2018 has been declared Skanderbeg’s Year. Albania’s national hero passed away 550 years ago, on Jan. 17. In his honor, Prime Minister Edi Rama has launched a calendar of activities in different Albanian cities. In a Facebook post last year, Rama said the government’s first decision would be declaring 2018 International Skanderbeg Year. “A special commission will be established to organize and promote this year, when except for the 550-year-anniversary of our national hero’s death, three other anniversaries of outermost importance for our nation stand out,” Rama said. Rama referred to the 140-year-anniversary of the founding of the national Prizren League and the 110-year-anniversary of Manastir’s Congress and the establishment of a unified alphabet of the Albanian language. Lezha is one of Skanderbeg’s Year main cities, as it is in Lezha where Skanderbeg was buried and where memorials of his patriotic activity can be found. Positioned between two of the most touristic Albanian cities, Kruja and Shkodra, Lezha is already preparing for Skanderbeg’s Year activities. The memorial of Lezha’s Assembly, where Skanderbeg united all Albanian princes against Ottoman invasion, and Skanderbeg’s grave memorial will kickstart the year’s activities. Firstly, honoring ceremonies will take place next to Skanderbeg’s grave memorial, which the most notable personalities from all Albanian-speaking territories will attend. “Lezha has prepared its own activities. Naturally, this is a death commemoration, but it will not be treated as such; it will be treated as an event that should be honored as often as possible by all generations,” Fran Frrokaj, Lezha’s mayor, told the Voice of America. The memorial was built in 1981 in an archeologically rich area, where new objects and artifacts are still found every year by experts. Frrokaj valued the government’s initiative to declare 2018 Skanderbeg’s Year, saying it would lead to a heightened interest to visit the small Northern city and discover its historical and cultural values. “I have also asked the government and the president to declare March 2nd a national holiday and honor Skanderbeg with a statue in Lezha. He is a figure with almost biblical importance – at least for us he is – and so we have asked for the government to do what the municipality’s funds can’t,” Frrokaj said. During the country’s 105-year independence anniversary last October, Rama made the logo that is to officially represent the activities of Skanderbeg’s Year public. “550 years after his death, he remains the symbol of unbreakable war for freedom and the strategist of the art of war that has inspired the nation for the last half century. Albanians had a figure that marked our nation’s continuation,” Rama said in Vlora back in October. Frrokaj concluded that Skanderbeg’s life story should also become a powerful message for Albania’s current political situation. “It is a good way to show politicians that Albanians, despite their religion, ethnicity or beliefs, can unite and this is a good chance to remind Albanians and politicians alike that we should unite and do more for our country, which is small in numbers but big in its idea,” Frrokaj said. [post_title] => Skanderbeg’s Year to begin on Jan. 17 in Lezha [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => skanderbegs-year-to-begin-on-jan-17-in-lezha [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-17 12:38:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-17 11:38:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135332 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135676 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-05 10:52:16 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135678" align="alignright" width="300"]Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon © Taulant Bino Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon
© Taulant Bino[/caption] TIRANA, Feb. 5 - Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government's hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the World Wetlands Day, one day after the Socialist Party majority approved a bill in Parliament, paving the way for fast-track contract negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new international airport outside the southern Albanian coastal city of Vlora at a site which is part of a protected lagoon and ecosystem. The new airport, set to become the country’s second international airport, is projected to be built along the Narta Lagoon, where one of Europe's last wild rivers flows and the endangered Dalmatian pelican feeds, the German environmental foundation says. The projected airport lies within the Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast and is internationally recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area, with a central role for bird migration along the Adriatic Flyway, German environmentalists say. "It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast," EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, calling for an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards before concluding project negotiations. “We are convinced that a serious assessment can only conclude that the planned airport is incompatible with preserving the Narta-Vjosa ecosystem,” the EuroNatur director says. "We believe that Albania as part of the most important multilateral environmental agreements (Ramsar, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention), cannot afford to lose one of its natural crown jewels along the Adriatic coast," concludes the letter to the Albanian prime minister. [caption id="attachment_135679" align="alignright" width="300"]flamingo The Narta Lagoon is also a valuable habitat for flamingos. © Ferdinand Bego[/caption] The Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, also a valuable habitat for flamingos, has also been officially nominated a candidate Emerlad site as an area of special conservation interest. EuroNatur and several other European environmental watchdogs have also condemned the Albanian government's approval without proper environmental assessment of hydropower plant concessions along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe's last remaining wild rivers. The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, a local environmental NGO, had earlier warned the airport’s proposed location at Akerni village, some 20 km outside Vlora in an area where a small military air base used to operate, threatens the local ecosystem's integrity. The Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape is a 194 km2 area rich in wetlands and aquatic birds encompassing the Narta Lagoon along with the delta of the Vjosa River and its surrounding areas with freshwater wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. “The construction of this kind of infrastructure threatens the ecologic integrity of this area because of the habitat alienation during the investment phase and disturbance during the operational phase. In addition, this construction violates the regulatory and legal norms on protected areas," PPNEA warned in late January as the government approved fast track negotiation procedures with a Turkish consortium. The Albanian government has not yet responded to environmental concerns, but stressed the importance that a second international airport would have on breaking the monopoly the Tirana International Airport has enjoyed so far, leading to lower ticket prices and giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry. Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the Turkish consortium has offered to invest €100 million for the new airport in Vlora in details that will be determined during a 90-day negotiation period with government representatives. The Turkish consortium that has offered to build the Vlora airport is composed of Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction, three companies also involved in the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a multi-billion dollar investment that is set to become the world’s largest. While the airport investment will be private, the Albanian government is expected to guarantee the concessionaire a minimum annual income in traffic guarantees in return for the investment and operation over a period of time that will be determined during the negotiations. Meanwhile, local residents see the construction of the new airport as a new opportunity that gives added value to their lands, where the salt business is one of the few employment opportunities in the local marshlands. The airport, whose construction is expected to begin this year, is located 133 km, a 2-hour drive from Tirana, making it competitive only in case it attracts low-cost carriers. Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years. The Tirana International Airport, which until mid-2016 enjoyed exclusive rights on international flights says it supports "any initiative that aims to stimulate the economic development of the country, including the establishing of airports that enable a freer movement of Albanian citizens, as well as foreigners wishing to visit Albania." Last year, the Chinese-run consortium managing TIA, the country’s sole international airport, handled a record 2.6 million passengers, an 18 percent increase compared to 2016. 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