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Albania seeks a place at the UN Security Council

Albania seeks a place at the UN Security Council

TIRANA, Sept. 25 – Albania’s Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati announced on Tuesday the country aims for a non-permanent position at the United Nations’ Security Council. Bushati said this in the context of his New York visit that opened the UN’s

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Police arrest 11 during action against Northern ‘Bajri’ criminal group

Police arrest 11 during action against Northern ‘Bajri’ criminal group

TIRANA, Sept. 24 – Albanian police and the Serious Crimes Prosecution announced on Monday the attack on one of the country’s most dangerous criminal groups – the ‘Bajri’ group, which operated mainly in the North of the country but had

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Habilaj assets of several million euros seized by Serious Crimes Prosecution

Habilaj assets of several million euros seized by Serious Crimes Prosecution

TIRANA, Sept. 22 – The Serious Crimes Prosecution announced on Friday the court has accepted its request to seize 29 assets of various kinds from the so-called ‘Habilaj Group’, Albanian brothers from Vlora accused of being involved in narcotics trafficking

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Gov’t-opposition clash over National Theatre bill amendments

Gov’t-opposition clash over National Theatre bill amendments

TIRANA, Sept. 19 – Albania’s Socialist majority in the Parliamentary Committee of Productive Activities voted on Tuesday for amendments in the law for the building of a new National Theatre building, opening a competition for the realization of this project

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Parliamentary boycott continues, as opposition holds meeting in Vlora

Parliamentary boycott continues, as opposition holds meeting in Vlora

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – As the country’s Socialist majority put on the vote President Ilir Meta’s decree on the new National Theatre building accompanied by a few amendments on Thursday in parliament, the opposition marked its fourth absence since the

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German foreign minister says 2019 won’t automatically open negotiations for Albania

German foreign minister says 2019 won’t automatically open negotiations for Albania

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that June 2019 doesn’t mean automatic opening of accession negotiations for Albania, during his meeting in Tirana with Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. “On June this year a heuristic decision was

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Senior US diplomat Elisabeth Millard visits Tirana

Senior US diplomat Elisabeth Millard visits Tirana

TIRANA, Sept. 19 – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard began a visit to Tirana on Wednesday. She was welcomed by President Ilir Meta, with whom she discussed Albania’s main

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Gov’t-opposition clash over National Theatre bill amendments

Gov’t-opposition clash over National Theatre bill amendments

TIRANA, Sept. 19 – Albania’s Socialist majority in the Parliamentary Committee of Productive Activities voted on Tuesday for amendments in the law for the building of a new National Theatre building, opening a competition for the realization of this project

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Start of academic year highlights deep gaps in Albania’s education system

Start of academic year highlights deep gaps in Albania’s education system

TIRANA, Sep. 17 – The new academic year began today in Albania, with approximately 480,000 new elementary and high-school students. The education ministry announced this year’s curricula is more relaxed and further away from old teaching methods. Around 32,000 children

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US Ambassador says war on drugs will only end when “big heads” are caught

US Ambassador says war on drugs will only end when “big heads” are caught

TIRANA, Sept. 16 – US ambassador to Albania Donald Lu said Friday night that the fight against marijuana cultivation and distribution in the country can not be considered complete without arresting the people organizing it. Ambassador Lu, who will be

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 25 - Albania’s Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati announced on Tuesday the country aims for a non-permanent position at the United Nations’ Security Council.

Bushati said this in the context of his New York visit that opened the UN’s General Assembly session. 

“Albania comes with its own ambition in these sessions, as it is looking for a non-permanent sit at the Security Council for the 2022-2023 period and our communication campaign with partners and countries that know little or nothing about Albania has started in order to fulfill this foreign policy objective,” Bushati said from New York.

According to a statement by the Albanian Foreign Ministry, in bilateral meetings, Minister Bushati, in addition to matters pertaining to the agenda of relations between Albania and other countries, will also seek the support of these countries for candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council.

The UN Security Council is composed of 15 members, of whom five are permanent (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia), while ten others are elected for two-year terms (five seats each year).

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 24 - Albanian police and the Serious Crimes Prosecution announced on Monday the attack on one of the country’s most dangerous criminal groups - the ‘Bajri’ group, which operated mainly in the North of the country but had also extended its activity in other European countries as well.

The operation, organized under the ‘Force of Law’ police action aiming to strike the largest criminal organizations in Albania, was closed with the arrest of 11 persons, two of them in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the rest in Tirana and Shkodra.

Three group members were arrested during the intervention the police conducted earlier this month in Shkodra following a series of serious criminal events that occurred in the city. Two other suspects as members of the group are being wanted.

One of the arrested is reported to be Safet Bajri, a highly-sought individual by the Belgian police. 

The charges against the criminal group’s members are numerous: attempted intentional murder in collaboration, intentional murder in collaboration, unauthorized manufacturing and possession of arms and ammunition and manufacturing and sales of narcotics, among others.

According to the official announcement, these offenses were committed within the framework of the structured criminal group. 

The police announcement explained that the investigations which led to the full blow of the Bajri criminal group lasted over the six months. According to the announcement, their success came after hours of wiretapping, exchanged information with partners, thousands of analyzed pages of data and other intensive observations.

“The serious criminal offenses documented so far are two murders in Shkodra, on Feb. 7, 2001, where citizen A.T. was killed, and on June 20, 2002, where the citizen F.H., 15-years-old, was killed. During investigative actions it has also been proved in recent weeks that members of this criminal group have threatened citizens to giving them considerable sums of money,” the announcement continued.

The ‘Bajri’ group, in cooperation with other criminal groups inside and outside of Albania, is suspected of also trafficking hard narcotics in European countries and then investing the profits in Albania.

In the framework of this operation, the police, executing the order of the Serious Crimes Prosecution, also seized one resort in Velipoja and one bar in Shkodra owned by the group and suspected of being a product of criminal activity.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 22 - The Serious Crimes Prosecution announced on Friday the court has accepted its request to seize 29 assets of various kinds from the so-called ‘Habilaj Group’, Albanian brothers from Vlora accused of being involved in narcotics trafficking and allegedly related with former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri.

The long list of assets appears in the name of Moisi Habilaj, allegedly the leader of the group that dealt with the dispatch of large quantities of marijuana to Italy, where last October the Catania authorities targeted the Albanian group as part of an Italian- Albanian criminal organization.

Among the sequestered assets and properties are also those belonging to people connected with the Habilaj group. Among them are at least ten apartments with a total value of several hundred thousand euros.

In addition, three buildings, a garage, a piece of land, four trading units, four other real estate and five cars were seized. In total, according to the Prosecutor's Office, the value of assets under seizure mounts to several million euros.

Alleged ties with the Habilaj brothers, with whom he is related, placed former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri under scrutiny last year.

Investigations against him started after the Italian authorities hit the criminal organization in Catania, while in the interceptions carried out Tahiri’s name was mentioned several times in conversations among traffickers.

In this context, the prosecution requested Tahiri’s arrest several times, however the socialist majority refused on the grounds the prosecution had not provided any evidence.

In May 2018, Tahiri resigned from his mandante as an MP. Shortly thereafter, the prosecution appealed again for his arrest, but the court only sentenced him to house arrest - a decision that was again changed a few weeks later by the Court of Appeals.

Tahiri has denied any links with the Habilaj group and their illegal drug trafficking, while investigations towards him are ongoing. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 19 - Albania’s Socialist majority in the Parliamentary Committee of Productive Activities voted on Tuesday for amendments in the law for the building of a new National Theatre building, opening a competition for the realization of this project as well as the development of the surrounding area, in the center of the capital.

However, the amendments adopted on Tuesday in the commission seem to actually open a mere formal contest and other companies that might be interested are in uneven conditions with the company ‘Fusha Shpk.’

The previous version of the law provided for the new NT to be built by the Fusha company, which undertook construction of the new facility under the project of renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels in exchange for the possibility of building a high-rise complex in the area surrounding the theatre, which is mainly state-owned. 

The projects’ submission deadline has been set at 30 days, a time which, according to experts contacted by VoA, is considered too little from the technical point of view for putting together a serious proposal, while ‘Fusha Shpk’ has one ready already.

Ingels himself has said the new NT building project has been under development since December 2016, in Top Channel’s Top Show.

In addition, Ingel’s project has been presented as if commissioned by ‘Fusha Shpk.’ However, in another instance, Ingels also said Prime Minister Edi Rama and Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj were the ones to request the new building. 

The proposed left-wing changes were presented today in the Productive Activities Committee in the framework of reviewing the decree of President Ilir Meta, who turned the Theatre law back after it was adopted in July, accompanied with a big number of remarks.

The commission voted against the president’s decree, but the Socialist MPs did not want the changes to pass at a second moment, instead choosing to amend the law within the context of reviewing the decree.

This method makes sure the latest changes don’t pass through the country’s president again, but rather automatically go into power. 

The development was opposed by the country’s opposition, however the majority argued for all the past cases the opposition acted similarly when it was in power.

The meeting took place in complete chaos, amid fierce discussions between the parties. The essence of the proposed changes was not discussed, and the left, after the quick reading of all the articles, cast the to the vote, while almost all opposition MPs were standing to argue against the decision. 

The Chairman of the Commission, Socialist Eduard Shalsi, chose to not even formally put each individual article on the vote, bypassing Article 8 directly to the last Article 11 of the draft law proposed by them, thus opening the way to send it immediately to parliament on Thursday. 

The majority withdrew from the special bill proposed by the Government after encountering objections from the European Commission, which in its letter to the Albanian authorities emphasized that it encouraged them “to pursue compliance with EU public procurement principles and provide non-discriminatory access to the market.” 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 - As the country’s Socialist majority put on the vote President Ilir Meta’s decree on the new National Theatre building accompanied by a few amendments on Thursday in parliament, the opposition marked its fourth absence since the start of the parliamentary season, instead holding its own meeting in Vlora.

Thursday’s parliamentary session was only attended by two Socialist Movement for Integration MPs, allegedly for the purpose of renewing their mandate, while the opposition continued in yet another location what it has called “public denouncement” of the links between crime and corruption. 

On Wednesday, after meeting actors opposing the demolition of the old NT building altogether, opposition leader Lulzim Basha made a public announcement saying “voting the bill is a coup d'etat and whoever votes is considered a terrorist.”

According to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the opposition’s efforts to protect the old national theatre building are hypocritical, adding the government’s project will turn the theatre into one of the region’s most modern.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that June 2019 doesn’t mean automatic opening of accession negotiations for Albania, during his meeting in Tirana with Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. 

“On June this year a heuristic decision was made on EU’s framework regarding a possible start of accession negotiations for Albania in 2019. It is a decision which shows evaluation for the undertaken reforms in the last years in Albania and I think that it has been a quite energetic political engagement. At the same time, as we know it, EU member states have made it clear that June 2019 is not an automatic date regarding the start of membership negotiations, the criteria is clear, there are steps or other results expected in terms of reforms that will convince the sceptics on this process,’’ said Maas. 

Maas is taking a tour around the Balkans this week, following the itinerary Bucharest, Skopje, Tirana, Athens. 

The aim of the visit and his agenda’s goal specifically focus on a united Europe, declaring that Europe cannot be separated into separate regions.

“Europe cannot be separated into geographic regions - there is only one Europe,” said Maas before starting the tour.

Maas spoke of his good impression regarding the enthusiasm of Western Balkans citizens for the shared EU values. He said the region deserves a realistic perspective regarding accession, but he put emphasis on fulfilling the set conditions. He mentioned that what is crucial for WB countries is for the reforms on stronger democracy, judicial state and good governance to be put forward.

On Wednesday, he stopped in Tirana to talk with Bushati regarding Albania’s EU accession negotiations, Germany’s support and expectations towards our country. 

He praised the vetting reform and called it an important step in ensuring a stronger democratic state and independent judicial system with the verification of judges and prosecutors. However, he said that Germany expects Albania to make further progress in fighting corruption and organized crime and fulfill the EU conditions by achieving concrete results, so that it will fully deserve the starting of the negotiations.

“The fact that accession talks for Albania might start by June 2019 shows an evaluation for the efforts done so far,’’ said Maas. “Germany gives its political support in this direction through the commitment of high-level counselors and through the framework of various projects.” 

Germany’s support and promotion to Albania’s European perspective is also motivated by its positive role in the stability of the region. 

In this context, Maas referred to Albania as “the anchor for regional stability.” 

Bushati said Germany’s support to Albania is irreplaceable during the visit of his German

counterpart. The comment comes in context of the generous financial assistance that Germany gives to Albania, in addition to its political support. Germany is the biggest financial donor to Albania, with around one billion dollars, which in global terms comprises the greatest financial support per capita from Germany.

The Albania-Germany economic cooperation for development, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, is described as excellent by the German Ambassador to Albania, Susanne Schütz.

In his visit in Tirana, Maas had meetings and talks with Bushati, Prime Minister, Edi Rama, opposition leader Lulzim Basha, and vetting commission representatives.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 19 - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Elisabeth Millard began a visit to Tirana on Wednesday.

She was welcomed by President Ilir Meta, with whom she discussed Albania’s main developments and the progress of the reforms, as well as the situation in the Balkans, the referendum in Macedonia and the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Millard also met Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati.

After meeting government representatives, Millard also met with opposition leader Lulzim Basha who, according to an official announcement by the Democratic Party, listed the main problems the country is facing today, as well as the opposition’s proposal to verify politicians’ assets and their potential links with crime.

During her meetings in Tirana, according to a statement from the US Embassy, ​​"Mrs. Millard praised the strong friendship between the United States and Albania and discussed the strategic partnership between the two countries.” 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 19 - Albania’s Socialist majority in the Parliamentary Committee of Productive Activities voted on Tuesday for amendments in the law for the building of a new National Theatre building, opening a competition for the realization of this project as well as the development of the surrounding area, in the center of the capital.

However, the amendments adopted today in the commission seem to actually open a mere formal contest and other companies that might be interested are in uneven conditions with the company ‘Fusha Shpk.’

The previous version of the law provided for the new NT to be built by Fusha, which undertook construction of the new facility under the project of renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels in exchange for the possibility of building a high-rise complex in the area surrounding the theatre, which is mainly state-owned. 

The projects’ submission deadline has been set at 30 days, a time which, according to experts contacted by VoA, is considered too little from the technical point of view for putting together a serious proposal, while ‘Fusha Shpk’ has one ready already.

Ingels himself has said the new NT building project has been under development since December 2016, in Top Channel’s Top Show.

In addition, Ingel’s project has been presented as if commissioned by ‘Fusha Shpk.’ However, in another instance, Ingels also said Prime Minister Edi Rama and Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj were the ones to request the new building. 

The proposed left-wing changes were presented today in the Productive Activities Committee in the framework of reviewing the decree of President Ilir Meta, who turned the Theatre law back after it was adopted in July, accompanied with a big number of remarks.

The commission voted against the president’s decree, but the Socialist MPs did not want the changes to pass at a second moment, instead choosing to amend the law within the context of reviewing the decree.

This method makes sure the latest changes don’t pass through the country’s president again, but rather automatically go into power. 

The development was opposed by the country’s opposition, however the majority argued for all the past cases the opposition acted similarly when it was in power.

The meeting took place in complete chaos, amid fierce discussions between the parties. The essence of the proposed changes was not discussed, and the left, after the quick reading of all the articles, cast the to the vote, while almost all opposition MPs were standing to argue against the decision. 

The Chairman of the Commission, Socialist MP Eduard Shalsi, chose to not even formally put each individual article on the vote, bypassing Article 8 directly to the last Article 11 of the draft law proposed by them, thus opening the way to send it immediately to parliament on Thursday. 

The majority withdrew from the special bill proposed by the government after encountering objections from the European Commission, which in its letter to the Albanian authorities emphasized that it encouraged them “to pursue compliance with EU public procurement principles and provide non-discriminatory access to the market.” 

 
                    [post_title] => Gov’t-opposition clash over National Theatre bill amendments 
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                    [ID] => 138508
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-09-17 14:03:49
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-17 12:03:49
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sep. 17 - The new academic year began today in Albania, with approximately 480,000 new elementary and high-school students. 

The education ministry announced this year’s curricula is more relaxed and further away from old teaching methods.

Around 32,000 children will be going to first grade, while 32,000 seniors will try out the new senior program which, according to the ministry, is based on what will follow in university and the work market.

The ministry also said this academic year free academic textbooks were distributed from the first to the fourth grade for approximately 190,000 children, while from grade five to grade nine children still had to pay for their textbooks.

However, the Coalition for Education said on Monday Albania remains one step behind all other European and even regional countries in financing education. According to the coalition, the government has been promising to raise the budget for education by up to 5 percent of the GDP for 6 years, but the state budget for education has actually stagnated at only 3 percent.

This lack of investment in the education of children and young people places Albania among the last countries in Europe for the results and achievements of students compared to the OECD countries.

The lack of public investment in education and the scarce government spending on quality and inclusive programs continue to leave a small proportion of children and adolescents without access to education, the Coalition for Education said.

To make matters concrete, the coalition quoted the World Health Organization, according to which nearly half of the schools have no drinking water and about 70 percent of them do not have adequate hygiene conditions for child education.

Almost 64 percent of children with disabilities remain out of the secondary education system and only 35 percent of schools in Albania are accessible to these children, the Coalition said. Although this school year finds public high-schools with a doubled number of teacher assistants, most children will not benefit from this support measure. 

The coalition added that education of Roma and Egyptian children remains another big problem, as 38.6 percent of Roma and Egyptian children do not attend mandatory education.

One of the main problems of education remains violence and bullying at school: nearly 40 percent of students are victims of physical and psychological violence, while 22 percent of them feel threatened by teachers. Almost 20 percent of students are bullying victims, while 50 percent of students are witnessing discrimination of students in their school, the coalition concluded. 

 
                    [post_title] => Start of academic year highlights deep gaps in Albania’s education system 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-16 10:39:31
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-16 08:39:31
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 16 - US ambassador to Albania Donald Lu said Friday night that the fight against marijuana cultivation and distribution in the country can not be considered complete without arresting the people organizing it.

Ambassador Lu, who will be leaving the country next week at the close of his term, made these comments in a last interview given for Vizion Plus TV’s ‘Real Story’ show.

Albanian authorities claim the phenomenon of cultivation has disappeared in Albania.

“Failing to arrest the organizers will cause a comeback of cannabis fields, cocaine and heroin will only increase in the country. Some of them are petty criminals, some of them are politically protected criminals. And this is a serious issue in your country,” Lu said.

Speaking of the activity of Albanian criminal groups, Lu said the fight against organized crime is a difficult one and will require real sacrifices from the government.

“Two and a half years after the Greek government issued a warrant, we have not yet arrested Klement Balili. It’s scandalous that Lul Berisha is released early from prison and can freely walk the streets of Durres. And it’s scandalous that only this week the trial of Shullazi will take place, when Shullazi himself has threatened judges and prosecutors, so that prosecutors do not even go to court. How is this place to move forward when these things happen? I know that Fatmir Xhafaj and Arta Marku and Ardi Veliu will be judged on whether they will be able to put these criminals behind bars,” Lu further said.

However, he also added it is important the Albanian people realized that their government, police and prosecution are serious when it comes to fighting organized crime and that cooperation with foreign anti-criminal services have lead to the arrest of some dangerous criminals over the last months.

Concerning former General Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla, with whom Lu has had public confrontations with, he said the ex-GP represents many of the officials that tried to hamper the judiciary reform. 

“We have praised the decision of the judges to sequester his many unexplained assets and have prompted the country’s judiciary to limit his moves so that he doesn’t run away from justice,” Lu said.

An issue for which the US ambassador has been pronounced several times has been the investigation into former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri. 

“The US government believes that this issue is sufficiently important to deserve to be taken to court by a judge who has passed the vetting and be judged according to evidence, and not according to political pressure. This is what we seek. We support efforts to move forward transparently,” Lu concluded.

 
                    [post_title] => US Ambassador says war on drugs will only end when “big heads” are caught 
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            [post_date] => 2018-09-25 07:09:48
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-25 05:09:48
            [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 25 - Albania’s Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati announced on Tuesday the country aims for a non-permanent position at the United Nations’ Security Council.

Bushati said this in the context of his New York visit that opened the UN’s General Assembly session. 

“Albania comes with its own ambition in these sessions, as it is looking for a non-permanent sit at the Security Council for the 2022-2023 period and our communication campaign with partners and countries that know little or nothing about Albania has started in order to fulfill this foreign policy objective,” Bushati said from New York.

According to a statement by the Albanian Foreign Ministry, in bilateral meetings, Minister Bushati, in addition to matters pertaining to the agenda of relations between Albania and other countries, will also seek the support of these countries for candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council.

The UN Security Council is composed of 15 members, of whom five are permanent (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia), while ten others are elected for two-year terms (five seats each year).

 
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