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Skenderbeu to face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League play-off

Skenderbeu to face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League play-off

TIRANA, Aug. 13 – Albania’s Skenderbeu will face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in its historic Champions League play-off as the first Albanian team to have made it to this stage of Europe’s most prestigious football competition for clubs. The two sides

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Albania climbs to historic 22nd in August FIFA rankings

Albania climbs to historic 22nd in August FIFA rankings

TIRANA, Aug. 6 – For the very first time Albania’s national football team has made it to the world’s top 30 following a surprise positive performance in its Euro 2016 qualifiers. Albania climbed 14 places to a historic high of

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New mayor promises to clean up littered capital

New mayor promises to clean up littered capital

TIRANA, Aug. 6 – Tirana’s new mayor, Erion Veliaj, is a man with a mission: To make Tirana the cleanest capital in the Balkans. He has started his new job with the promise to clean up the city’s public areas,

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Skenderbeu becomes first Albanian club to reach Champions League play-off

Skenderbeu becomes first Albanian club to reach Champions League play-off

TIRANA, Aug. 6 – Skenderbeu has become the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round. The Albanian five-time consecutive champions won 2-0 in the

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Q&A: Work on reforms, don’t dwell on EU ‘enlargement fatigue,’ Norwegian ambassador says

Q&A: Work on reforms, don’t dwell on EU ‘enlargement fatigue,’ Norwegian ambassador says

The region’s European perspective is clear, and rule of law, an inclusive justice reform and regional cooperation are key areas for further progress, says Ambassador Jan Braathu, Norway’s top diplomat for Albania and Kosovo. He spoke to Tirana Times about

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German dream sours for thousands of Albanian would-be migrants

German dream sours for thousands of Albanian would-be migrants

In the hopes of stemming the tide of asylum seekers from Albania, Germany wants to designate the small Balkan republic as a ‘safe country,’ which makes it possible for German authorities to quickly deport thousands of people deemed to be

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Veliaj sworn in as Tirana mayor

TIRANA, June 30 – Erion Veliaj has been sworn in as Tirana’s new mayor, taking office after the new municipal council was formed Thursday. “The real challenge for us is to plan for the Tirana of the next 10 or

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Bulgarian speleologists in love with Albanian caves

Bulgarian speleologists in love with Albanian caves

TIRANA, July 30 – While Albanian boast hundreds of ancient caves, it is little known that Bulgarian speleologists are among the most interested in them and have been conducting research for the past 25 years after the collapse of communism.

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New tourism law adopted amid debates over sector’s future

New tourism law adopted amid debates over sector’s future

TIRANA, July 30 – The ruling left Socialist-Party-led coalition approved this week in a special parliamentary session ahead of the summer vacations a law on tourism amid debates by tourism associations and the opposition Democrats. Economy and Tourism Minister Arben

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A Greek perspective on Cham history

Greek historian Eleftheria Manta, who has authored research about Albanians in Greece before WWII, speaks about the history of Chams in Greece and the background of how Muslim Albanians were made part of population exchanges with Turkey and the climate

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                    [post_content] => skendTIRANA, Aug. 13 - Albania's Skenderbeu will face Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in its historic Champions League play-off as the first Albanian team to have made it to this stage of Europe's most prestigious football competition for clubs.

The two sides are meeting for the first time in European competition and it is also Skenderbeu's first encounter with Croatia's most successful club.

"Skënderbeu are through to their first play-off and are sure to make Albanian history, since they will become the first Albanian club to appear in a major UEFA club competition group stage regardless of the outcome against Dinamo," wrote UEFA, Europe's football governing body, on its website.

Skenderbeu, who have been unbeaten in seven European home games, will host Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday evening, August 19, at the Elbasan Arena stadium in the first leg of the Champions League play-offs.

The five-time Albanian consecutive champions lost the Albanian Supercup against Laçi on penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night but Albanian coach Mirel Josa is optimistic of a historic qualification for the southeastern Albanian club of Korça.

“I was in general satisfied with the team. We made some changes and this not because we underestimated Laçi but because we were thinking of Dinamo Zagreb all the time. I had no strategy in misleading Dinamo with the performance because they have also seen us in previous matches," Josa told reporters.

Skenderbeu was lucky again to be drawn against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League play-offs as the Croatian champions are facing a tough start in their championship and the club's reputation has been marred by arrest of its two bosses on suspicion of tax evasion and bribery.

Both clubs feature Albanian and Croatian players.

Skënderbeu's Croatian defender Marko Radas came through the Dinamo academy yet never made a professional appearance for the club.

Several other Skënderbeu players have Croatian league experience including Sabien Lilaj, Arbër Abilaliaj and Bulgarian forward Ventsislav Hristov.

Midfielder Lilaj played alongside Dinamo's Domagoj Antolić and Josip Pivarić at Lokomotiva.

Dinamo boast Albanian talent in the form of 18-year-old midfielder Endri Çekiçi, an Albanian Under-21 international. His father, Ylli Çekiçi, is a former Skënderbeu player.

Albanian-Macedonian Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi was born in Croatia and plays international football for Macedonia.

Skenderbeu became the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round.

The club has already made history in European football as they have already automatically qualified for the less prestigious Europa League group stage even if they fail to qualify in the Champions League play-offs.

Much of the club’s European success is also dedicated to striker Hamdi Salihi who has joined the club only recently but proved decisive in the club’s success with his goals. The striker who has played in Austria, U.S., China and Israel is now the competition’s top scorer on five.

Skenderbeu’s European dream has also been lucky as it previously beat Northern Ireland’s Crusaders, a semi-professional club and was drawn against Moldova’s Milsami in the third round.
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                    [post_content] => albanieTIRANA, Aug. 6 - For the very first time Albania's national football team has made it to the world's top 30 following a surprise positive performance in its Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Albania climbed 14 places to a historic high of 22nd in the August FIFA Men's ranking after Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport gave Albania a 3-0 victory in last October’s abandoned match away to Serbia in a final decision ending a legal battle which reversed a previous ruling by Europe’s football governing body.

The FIFA monthly ranking includes 208 football associations from all over the world.

With one game in hand, Albania now see themselves rank third in Group I of France 2016 Euro qualifiers with 10 points, level on points with Denmark which holds an advantage only thanks to a goal away to Albania in last October’s 1-1 qualifier.

"Albania continues its climb in the FIFA ranking, improving from 36th to 22nd in August and leaving behind countries like France, Denmark and Ghana," wrote Italian coach Gianni De Biasi, who has been leading Albania since late 2011.

Albania was sandwiched between Ivory Coast and France in the August ranking leaving behind even the U.S., Russia, Sweden and neighbors Greece and Serbia.

With four games to go before the qualifiers close, Albania sees itself in a comfortable position which has also worried favorite rivals Portugal and Denmark in the Euro qualifiers group stage.

As never before, Albania has almost mathematically secured a spot in the play-offs in case of finishing third in group but also stands good chances to secure a place in the top two which means direct qualification as it currently stands two points behind group leaders Portugal with one game less.

Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark on September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.

Meanwhile, Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_123023" align="alignright" width="300"]In a meeting with hundreds of employees of several companies the municipal government hires to clean up various parts of the capital region and to collect trash, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the evaluation of how they were doing their job would be left to the residents themselves. (Photo: MoT)  In a meeting with hundreds of employees of several companies the municipal government hires to clean up various parts of the capital region and to collect trash, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the evaluation of how they were doing their job would be left to the residents themselves. (Photo: MoT)[/caption]

TIRANA, Aug. 6 – Tirana's new mayor, Erion Veliaj, is a man with a mission: To make Tirana the cleanest capital in the Balkans.

He has started his new job with the promise to clean up the city's public areas, which are often full of litter and otherwise unclean.

In a meeting with hundreds of employees of several companies the municipal government hires to clean up various parts of the capital region and to collect trash, he said the evaluation of how they were doing their job would be left to the residents themselves.

Veliaj gave the companies until the end of year to show they can do better in cleaning the city and the surrounding areas, implying he would cancel the contracts with nonperforming companies.

- Major clean-up next month -

The municipality also said would start a major clean up operation of Tirana on Sept. 4, asking for support of the armed forces in certain areas, as the central government has done to clean up some major highways.

“In early September, I invite all citizens to join the operation on cleaning up the city of Tirana. This action will be supported by the Municipal Police and the Local Urban Construction Inspectorate and all other structures of the municipality so that the work of cleaning operators can become easier,” Mayor Veliaj said.

The mayor has placed into office 24 new administrators for municipal units and has asked them to draw up reports on the state of all sidewalks, streets and other public spaces that fall under their jurisdictions.

Veliaj also told the administrators to analyze every service their municipal units provide to residents, so they can better address problems citizens of Tirana encounter.

“Assess how we are providing services,” Veliaj said. “If the public service office is in the fourth floor, move it to the first, because someone with a disability cannot get up the stairs to the fourth floor.”

- War on vandalism -

Mayor Veliaj also said he would end vandalism on public property, vowing to press charges on anyone who damages monuments.

He made the comments in front of a monument in downtown Tirana that commemorates 100 years of independence, which Albania marked in 2012. The monument had been repeatedly vandalized, its bronze plating stolen in places and people would often take advantage of its room-like shape to urinate on it out of immediate public view.

Any such acts would be prosecuted as a crime in the future, Veliaj said, and the municipality would press criminal charges.

“If these people cannot live like civilized people in this city of ours, then they will have to pay the price,” Veliaj said.

The municipal government is now repairing the monument and other monuments around the city, which Veliaj said would be ready for commemorations at the end of November, when Albania celebrates its national day.

“We have to get rid of the practice of leaving things for the last minute,” Veliaj said.

The Democratic Party, through the former deputy mayor of Tirana, Enno Bozdo, said it was not the municipality's legal responsibility to take care of the monuments, but rather of the Ministry of Culture. He added Veliaj was performing a political show to hide the failures of the central government.

 
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                    [post_content] => skend 2TIRANA, Aug. 6 - Skenderbeu has become the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova's Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round.

The Albanian five-time consecutive champions won 2-0 in the home match on Wednesday night with two goals by Salihi and Progni in each half, making history in European football as they have already automatically qualified for the less prestigious Europa League group stage even if they fail to qualify in the Champions League play-offs. Milsami, who also suffered a 2-0 defeat in the first-leg match, played in ten men from the 14th minute after having a player sent off.

“Skënderbeu are the first Albanian team to get to the play-offs and will make their nation's debut in the group stage of either this competition or the UEFA Europa League,” wrote Europe’s football governing body on its website.

Skenderbeu striker Hamdi Salihi who has joined the club only recently but proved decisive in the club's success with his goals described the qualification as a golden moment for Albanian football.  The striker who has played in Austria, U.S., China and Israel is now the competition's top scorer on five.

"We are very happy. The team showed maturity up to this stage and we are still with our feet on the ground. Albanian football is having a great moment and this should make us all happy," said Salihi, who is willing to continue his European dream with the southeastern Albanian club.

Skenderbeu's European dream has also been lucky as it previously beat Northern Ireland’s Crusaders, a semi-professional club and was drawn against Moldova's Milsami in the third round.

The play-off draw will be held on Friday August 7 with a tough tie expected for Skenderbeu.

Meanwhile, UEFA's disciplinary committee has awarded Poland's Legia Warsaw a 3-0 victory with Kukes and fined the Albanian team Euro 70,000 after the Europa League qualifier in Albania was abandoned following crowd trouble and the injury of a Legia player who was hit with an object.

On the club front, Skënderbeu, five-in-a-row Albanian Super League winners between 2011 and 2015, became the first Albanian club to reach the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in 2013/14 and that same summer, together with FK Kukësi, were the first Albanian team to contest the UEFA Europa League play-offs.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122966" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambassador Jan Braathu is based in Prishtina, from where he also covers Albania. (Photo: Embassy of Norway)  Ambassador Jan Braathu is based in Prishtina, from where he also covers Albania. (Photo: Embassy of Norway)[/caption]

The region’s European perspective is clear, and rule of law, an inclusive justice reform and regional cooperation are key areas for further progress, says Ambassador Jan Braathu, Norway’s top diplomat for Albania and Kosovo. He spoke to Tirana Times about EU integration, judicial reform, investments and security cooperation, among several topics discussed in an exclusive interview.

- Norway is not an EU member, but works with the EU in many programs. Your country has also assisted in the Western Balkans for years in terms of reconciliation and development. How do you see Albania's and the region's European perspective?

You are right: Norway is not a member of the EU. However, we are an integrated part of the Single European Market through the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA) and we are part of the Schengen cooperation. There is broad support both in the Norwegian people and in the Storting for Norway's continued cooperation through the EEA Agreement, the Schengen agreement and other agreements with the European Union. We cooperate with the EU and its member states because we share a common set of values and because we all - as European states - need to find joint solutions to shared challenges. Norway is fully committed to European cooperation, at all levels. Cooperating with the EU ensures economic growth and secure jobs in Norway. EU member states are important partners for Norway, not only in economy, but in security, education, culture and many other areas.

Together with allies, Norway has contributed to stability and economic development of the Western Balkans since the 1990's. We firmly believe that the Thessaloniki Declaration from June 2003 remains valid, namely that "The EU reiterates its unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union." Successive Norwegian Governments have supported that objective. We do so because we believe that Europe's security and prosperity is indivisible. We believe that no European country can be secure if there is insecurity somewhere else in Europe. We also believe that prosperity in Europe is best served by raising the standard of living throughout Europe. Perhaps this is a "Scandinavian" perspective, we believe in equitable distribution of economic benefit, not only nationally, but throughout our continent, Europe, and beyond. As the European Council concluded on 20 June 2003, "(The Council) reiterated its determination to fully and effectively support the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, which will become an integral part of the EU, once they meet the established criteria." Please note the last part of the sentence: "..once they meet established criteria." Norway supports Albania's EU-membership aspiration, and we align ourselves with policies and measures adopted by our fellow-Europeans in the EU. The European Commission's annual progress reports give indications of the tasks that are required for moving the accession agenda forward. As EU Commissioner Hahn pointed out recently (Wirtscaftsblatt, 22.07) progress is being made, but the road is long. Hahn also underlined the importance of judicial reform, not only in Albania, but in the region.

On that score we do see a positive approach in Albania, with the Parliamentary Committee on Judicial Reform and the Government's strong commitment to the justice reform process. I have noted that Prime Minister Rama has underscored the importance of Justice Reform for Albania and for the EU accession process. Let me add that the participation of the opposition in this process is of utmost importance. Judicial reform is a national interest and all parliamentary parties should take responsibility for its successful completion through constructive engagement.

The countries of the Western Balkans are European countries and they do have a perspective for membership in the EU. As Mr Hahn pointed out, it is a long road. The accession process requires strong national commitment. All factors must be agreed and aligned in order to move ahead as quickly as possible. I am aware that many in Albania and in the region feel that the process is taking too long, that it is too slow. I can understand the feeling of frustration. The EU today is a vast structure of consensual cooperation, encompassing 28 member states. It is a cooperation based on shared values and shared standards. It is a political project, but also a practical project. Therein lies a certain tension, between the political and the practical. What may be politically desirable can sometimes be difficult to achieve in practical terms. As the years have progressed, the body of "Acquis Communautaire" has expanded to over 108.000 documents. Adoption and implementation of the Acquis are the basis of the accession negotiations. The candidate countries are required to adapt their administrative and institutional infrastructures and to bring their national legislation in line with Community legislation in the areas of the different chapters. This is a daunting task, not the least the actual implementation of the Acquis. Justice reform and rule of law constitute key chapters (23 & 24) of the 35 chapters of Aquis.

From a more political perspective, we see that the Berlin process, or the Western Balkans 6 process, has opened new avenues for concrete cooperation, both within the region and between the region and the EU. This process again demonstrates that the EU and its member states remain committed to the region and to the region's European perspective. Norway supports this perspective, both politically and through various support activities.

Speaking as a Norwegian, from a non-EU member country, I can say that there is no alternative to European cooperation. EU standards are the "benchmark" standards for all European countries, whether they are EU members or not.

- For some, EU now appears to be a club Europe's wealthiest choose not to join, others are contemplating leaving altogether, while the poorest parts of Europe, including Albania, have a fervent desire to join. Should Albanians still hope for a better European future now that appetite for enlargement is clearly not what it once was?

Well, most European countries are in fact members of the EU. Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein are not EU members and are cooperating within the framework of EFTA. Of these countries, Switzerland is not a party to the EEA Agreement. Yes, the EFTA countries are well to do, but they are all highly dependent upon the EU and EU member states. Norway's prosperity is unthinkable without a prosperous European economic space. The EU is Norway's most important trading partner, while Norway is the EU's fifth largest trading partner (after USA, China, Russia, Switzerland). More than 80% of Norway's exports are to EU member states, and almost 70% of all Norwegian imports are from EU countries.

There is much talk about "enlargement fatigue". I would not dwell too much on this. The fact remains that the EU has an enlargement strategy for the region and for Albania. The Enlargement Strategy document from October 2014 is worth reading. Candidate status was given in June 2014. The Stabilization and Association Agreement was initialled with Kosovo in July 2014 and we hope that it will be signed soon. Of the countries in the region, Albania and Kosovo, together with Montenegro and Serbia are making headway. Rule of Law and Public Administration reform, together with inclusive regional cooperation, are key sectors for further progress. The Commission admits that the accession process is "rigorous", but based on established criteria and the principle of own merits. I think we should take the stated objective of enlargement for Western Balkan countries at face value, and then work as hard as possible to fulfil the accession criteria. There has been progress to date, and there will be further progress in the future as well.

- Norway is part of the Schengen Area and among the wealthiest countries where Albanians can travel without visas. There has been a rise in asylum claims from Albanians in wealthy northwestern European countries in recent months, largely due to bad economic conditions at home. Is Norway seeing a rise in asylum claims from Albanians? If so, what are you doing to deal with the situation?

Yes, this is hugely problematic. The dramatic increase in asylum applications from European countries, not to mention countries that are candidates for EU membership is worrying. The statistics are quite stark: There has been a large number of asylum seekers from Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro during the last year. While asylum statistics for Kosovars are declining, the figures for Albanians in increasing, especially to Germany. This is difficult to explain to ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs in Schengen countries. Norway does not define Albania or Kosovo as "asylum-producing" countries. We do not consider asylum applications from these countries as well-founded and we apply a "fast-track" procedure that entails that almost all such applicants are returned after 48 hours. This procedure is known to many, with the result that we do not have too many asylum applications from Albania or Kosovo. In the six months from January 2015 to end June 2015, Norway had 188 asylum applications from Albanians and 146 asylum applications from Kosovars. Almost all of these can be expected to be rejected. It does seem strange that we receive asylum applications from a country that is on the verge of accession negotiations for membership in the EU.

- There are some large Norwegian investments in Albania, primary in the energy sector. How are economic relations between the two countries and what is the perspective for further Norwegian investments?

Yes, Norway has a profile of an "Energy nation". The Devoll Hydropower project is until now the single largest investment project in Albania. Work is ongoing and the first production will begin in the second half of 2016. The project consists of two hydropower plants, Banja and Moglicë, with an installed capacity of 256 MW. When in full production, the two hydropower plants will produce 729 GWh annually, increasing the Albanian electricity production by almost 17 per cent. The investment decision for a possible third plant will be considered when the first two plants have been completed in 2018.

Successful completion and operation of the Devoll projects will hopefully encourage other Norwegian investors to look for opportunities in Albania.

- A recent Reuters article noted that Statoil, which is majority owned by the Norwegian Government, might be selling its 20 percent stake in TAP. The company hasn't confirmed this yet. Do you have any comment on the matter?

Statoil is a Norwegian international petroleum and energy company operating in more than 30 countries. The Norwegian State owns 67% of Statoil's shares and the company is listed on the New York and Oslo stock exchanges. The company operates fully on commercial basis. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry has not been informed by Statoil regarding its plans regarding its 20% share in TAP.

- Norway and Albania are both NATO members. With growing challenges on the continent's outskirts, has there been any increased cooperation in terms of defense?

Yes, we are NATO allies. Our cooperation with the Alliance is on-going and good. Norway has cooperation with the Albanian Ministry of defense, currently in a project involving mapping of coastal waters, the Norwegian-Albanian Hydrographic project. The project will contribute to competence and capacity building for the Albanian Hydrographic Service (AHS) and the Military Geographical Institute (MGI). Both institutes are led by the Ministry of Defense. In 2012, we completed a project on sea-rescue and pollution control in cooperation with the Norwegian Coastguard. A regional sea exercise, "Adriatic 12" was conducted successfully in September 2012 with Norwegian and regional participation. The main objectives of the exercise were to promote regional cooperation and enhance existing national and regional emergency preparedness and response systems at sea.

- There is increasing anecdotal evidence that more Norwegians and other northern Europeans are traveling to Albania's beaches and mountains each year as tourists. Has there been any growing interest in travel to Albania that you are aware of?

Indeed there has. This year, for the first time, there are charter tours for tourists from Norway to Saranda. There have been many articles in Norwegian media about tourism in Albania and we expect the statistics for this summer to show record numbers of visitors from Norway.

- On the other side of the equation, are the fjords as magnificent as they look on television?

For sure! However, the weather can be variable and the fjords always look their best in good weather! Albania has the advantage of having magnificent nature, combined with a more enjoyable climate than farther to the north in Norway. I expect that more Norwegians will discover Albania as a holiday destination in the years to come.

 
                    [post_title] => Q&A: Work on reforms, don’t dwell on EU ‘enlargement fatigue,’ Norwegian ambassador says
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                    [post_content] => In the hopes of stemming the tide of asylum seekers from Albania, Germany wants to designate the small Balkan republic as a 'safe country,' which makes it possible for German authorities to quickly deport thousands of people deemed to be economic migrants

[caption id="attachment_122962" align="alignright" width="300"]Official numbers show more than 70,000 Albanians left the country for over six months in the past year. (Photo: Archives)  Official numbers show more than 70,000 Albanians left the country for over six months in the past year. (Photo: Archives)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 29 – Kosta, an 18-year-old with sun-bleached blond hair and tanned skin, sits in a minivan on his way back to his hometown of Korça as he tells his story.

He finished high school earlier this summer, borrowed €1,000 from his parents and promptly traveled to Germany with friends, seeking a better life the only way available to him – by making an unfounded asylum claim.

“Everybody will be forced to come back,” Kosta says, a few days after being deported back to Albania. “Unless they have schooling or trade skills, getting a job over there seemed impossible.”

Kosta, who refused to give his real name to a reporter, is one of about 22,000 Albanians who have tried to migrate to Germany since the beginning of the year.

Their goal is to find a better life, not safety, German officials say, thus they don't qualify for asylum, something designated for those escaping persecution in their home countries.

In the hope to stem a tide of asylum seekers from Albania, Germany wants to designate the small Balkan republic as a “safe country,” a designation that would make it possible for German authorities to quickly deport thousands of Albanians who have sought asylum in the northern European country, but who Berlin has deemed to be economic migrants.

Charter planes will start to fly hundreds of failed asylum seekers back to Albania by the end of the week, officials told the local media.

German Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann said this week Albanians should stop looking for asylum in Germany as their hopes of obtaining it are zero.

Albanians have increasingly flocked to Germany and other northern European countries, bringing worries among Albanian officials that the trend will endanger the visa-free regime Albania enjoys with most of Europe since 2010.

Hoffman said migration from the Western Balkan countries is becoming a concern for Berlin, as the numbers have grown.

“During the first six months of this year, 65,000 people have gone to Germany from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. About 22,000 are from Albania alone. Only in June, 6,000 people from Albania asked for asylum,” Hoffmann said.

He added Germany would speed up the procedures of repatriation within four weeks.

“All these citizens will be repatriated, and they have no chances to stay,” the ambassador said.

Last week, a charter brought home 40 Albanians from Spain, Germany and France. This week, another group of 70 people were deported from Germany.

All these Albanian citizens will be banned from traveling to the Schengen area for the next five years, officials said.

For Kosta, the failed young asylum seeker, the travel ban seems to be of little deterrence.

“I heard France was granting a lot of the asylum claims. Maybe I ought to give it another shot there. God knows what's next,” he says, touching the cross on his neck nervously.

But he has little regret for his failed attempt.

“At least I got to see some of the world,” the teenager says.

Official numbers show more than 70,000 Albanians left the country for over six months in the past year, continuing a massive migration trend that has left the country's resident population dwindling to record lows.




                    [post_title] => German dream sours for thousands of Albanian would-be migrants
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 30 – Erion Veliaj has been sworn in as Tirana's new mayor, taking office after the new municipal council was formed Thursday.

“The real challenge for us is to plan for the Tirana of the next 10 or 20 years,” Mayor Veliaj said at the ceremony.

He said he would start work on an emergency list of the city’s needs, which include missing manhole covers and ruined sidewalks and roads.

The Socialist mayor will have four deputies, with three coming from smaller allied parties, officials said.

His swearing in ceremony was marred by a walkout of opposition councilors who protested the presence of a cabinet minister in the hall, saying it was a breach of local autonomy. The ruling majority has 45 councilors, while the opposition has 19.

Veliaj was elected Tirana’s new mayor by a comfortable margin in the June 21 elections.

Veliaj’s victory in Tirana, where nearly one in three Albanians live, was the crown jewel for the Socialist Party-led coalition of Prime Minister Edi Rama, which also won 45 out of 61 municipalities across the country.

Veliaj is a 35-year-old former civil society activist and the previous welfare affairs minister.

Many observers view him as Rama's heir apparent at the helm of the Socialist Party.

 
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                    [post_content] => bulgTIRANA, July 30 - While Albanian boast hundreds of ancient caves, it is little known that Bulgarian speleologists are among the most interested in them and have been conducting research for the past 25 years after the collapse of communism.

A team of Bulgarian speleologists has just concluded its 40th expedition in Albania led by Alexey Zhalov, the President of the Balkan Speleological Union.

"This was the fourth expedition organized by the "Heliktit" club. In fact it is the 40th for Bulgarian speleologists. In 1991 I was among the first to study objects in Albania and I am very happy for this special anniversary trip," says Zhalov as quoted by Radio Bulgaria in the Albanian version.

The latest expedition was conducted in the Lura area whose upper part is composed of icy lakes.

Zhalev has recently published his latest book Bulgarian Speleological Studies 1991-2013, featuring 269 discovers caves in Albania.

Alexey says that Albania is his big cave passion. He visited Albania back in 1991 for a first time. He also feels the warm attitude of people there. On July 4 – 11 this year he participated in another research, when two caves where explored and mapped in the eastern part of the country.

The first reconnaissance expedition was carried out in Albanian Alps in November 1991, when the first five caves were explored by A. Jalov, N. Gladnishki and N. Landjev. The most impressive cave is Shpella Gjolave, near to Bratosh village, Shkodra district.

The main explored territory covers an area of approx. 320 km2 and is located in southern and central part of the Albanian Alps. Some explorations have been carried out also in Mt. Dejes and Mt. Gollobordes and in South Albania in Mali i Thate Mt. and its surroundings.

The most important vertical caves are: BB-30 (-610 m); Shpella Cilicokave (-505 m) and B33 (-205 m). 14 other caves are deeper than 100 m. The most important horizontal cave is Shpella e Majes te Arapit with total length 840 m. The largest cave chamber is in Shpella e Gjolave with an area of 8875 m 2 and volume 443 750 m3. The deepest and longest explored karst spring is Syni i Sheganit (160m long, 52 m deep).
                    [post_title] => Bulgarian speleologists in love with Albanian caves  
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                    [post_content] => KakomeTIRANA, July 30 - The ruling left Socialist-Party-led coalition approved this week in a special parliamentary session ahead of the summer vacations a law on tourism amid debates by tourism associations and the opposition Democrats.

Economy and Tourism Minister Arben Ahmetaj said the new tourism law guaranteed integrated and sustainable development.

"What this law targets is structuring tourist movement and tourism investment both in coastal and other areas... to promote sustainable tourism and give an end to massive constructions as happened in Durres," said Ahmetaj.

Strategic investors in Albania's tourism sector will be offered state-owned property for a symbolic 1 Euro under 99-year concession contracts to develop tourist resorts, according to the new law which also shifts power on investments from local government to the central government.

A new law on strategic investments passed earlier this year, says investors in the tourism sector will be offered the status of strategic investor and assisted procedures for investments of more than 5 million euros creating 80 jobs. For investments of more than 50 million euros in the tourism sector, investors are granted the ‘special procedure’ assistance status.

The incentive is part of a law granting foreign investors to Albania simplified and accelerated procedures in the next three years for strategic investments in energy, mining, transport, telecommunication, infrastructure, urban waste, tourism, agriculture and fishing and special economic zones.

Immovable property owned by central or local government situated in priority tourism development areas will be made available to investors for the construction of accommodation or other tourist infrastructure by the ministry responsible for tourism.

“The goal of this law is to promote Albania as a top Mediterranean destination and attract foreign and domestic visitors based on sustainable tourism. It regulates the activity of domestic and foreign tourism operators, making sure that the available tourism services meet tourists' expectations in a healthy and safe environment," says the report of the law.

The Albanian government is expected to make the tourism industry more competitive through tax incentives, public-private partnerships and the opening of new airports in southern Albania, minister Ahmetaj has earlier said.

“The law will not work wonders but is a good start for tourism. It will offer more opportunities to enterprises in the exploitation of beach territories. We target reducing informality and increasing the quality of services. The law also sets the foundations for the standardization of hotels and their star rating," said Ahmetaj.

The minister, also responsible for economy and trade, said he will introduce a package which also envisages reducing VAT on tourism from a current 20 percent to 10 percent.

Reducing VAT on tourism has been a perennial request by the Tourism Association to make one of the key industries in Albania more competitive compared to other regional countries where VAT on the tourism sector ranges from 5 to 8 percent.

The Albanian government also says it is in its final stage of negotiations with the TIA concessionaire over lifting its exclusive rights on international flights to pave the way to the operation of the new United Arab Emirates-funded Kukes airport in north-eastern Albania and the construction of a new airport in southern Albania serving the tourism industry.

The law clarifies competences among tourism institutions, targets making operational the Tourism Development Fund, certifying and licensing tourism operators, classifying accommodation units and tour guides based on international standards in a bid to make tourism in Albania sustainable, environment-friendly and year-round.

Bank of Albania data shows the foreign investment stock in hotels and restaurants dropped to 64 million euros in 2013, down from 94 million euros in 2008 just before the onset of the global financial crisis.

Tourism association, opposition concerned

The Albanian Association of Tourism described the approval of the new tourism law as hurried and not taking into consideration proposals by tourism association to reduce widespread informality.

“Failure to include in the law accommodation units such as villas and apartments which account for 65 percent to 70 percent of the market is a real issue of concern because they don't meet standards or pay taxes," says Zak Topuzi, the head of the Hotel Association.

The Association is also concerned over the reduction of the 20 percent VAT, a perennial request which the government has promised to give a solution through a package of incentives on the tourism sector.

Opposition Democratic Party MP Edmond Spaho said the new law did not make the tourism sector a priority.

“The law tries doing everything but does not provide a solution to any of the issues. It does not provide guarantees to foreign investors,” said Spaho. “Laws have not managed to guarantee the development of tourism and despite some 4 million tourists a year, deducting immigrants and Kosovars, there are few foreign tourists remaining. We only need to apply successful models," he added.

A last-minute amendment to the law approved by 79 votes shifted the power on the criteria and tariffs for the classification of the tourist establishments from the minister responsible for tourism to the Council of Ministers.

Government officials consider the new law a good opportunity to attract strategic foreign investors considering the chaotic development of tourism and urban massacres in the past two decades in the key tourist destinations and that a considerable part of the Albania's coastline remains virgin.

Back in 2009, France's Club Med withdrew from a major holiday resort project in Albania's southern Ionian coast under a similar deal after continuous land disputes with local inhabitants despite a court ruling in favour of the investor's 99-year concession deal with the Albania government, unveiling the long-standing issue of clear property titles which is often one of the key barriers to foreign investors in Albania.

Tourism revenue registered a record high of 1.2 billion euros in 2014 when more than 3.6 million foreign tourists visited Albania, according to data published by the central bank and INSTAT.

Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro account for three-fifths of foreign tourists visiting Albania, with local experts often referring to this market as ‘patriotic tourism.'

Albania's tourism competitiveness lost considerable ground in the past couple of years on deteriorating travel and tourism policy and enabling conditions, a biennial report published by the World Economic Forum has shown.

The travel and tourism industry, which employs around 41,000 people in Albania, is estimated to have contributed by $639 million or around 4.8 percent of the GDP in 2014
                    [post_title] => New tourism law adopted amid debates over sector’s future
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_122969" align="alignright" width="200"]Greek historian Eleftheria Manta Greek historian Eleftheria Manta[/caption]

Greek historian Eleftheria Manta, who has authored research about Albanians in Greece before WWII, speaks about the history of Chams in Greece and the background of how Muslim Albanians were made part of population exchanges with Turkey and the climate behind the Chams’ forced deportation to Albania at the end of WWII.

Interviewed by Ben Andoni

Why is there so far no real dialogue between Albanian and Greek historians about the Cham issue? Your publication, for example, has just few Albanian sources, and Albanian publications also don’t rely much on Greek sources.

As you already know and has been written in the Prologue of the Albanian edition of the book about the “Chams of Epirus”, the Albanian text is a translation of the Greek original written and edited in 2004. No alterations have been made in the text since.

The Albanian books I have studied and which you can find in the Bibliography in the end of the book were the only then existing books on the issue. Albanian (and Greek) historiography have later made great progress on the matter. As I pointed in the first Prologue of the book: “I hope that, with the passage of time, new archival collections, Greek and other, will see the light of publicity and illumine with new data aspects of the issue, which until now had remained obscured.” I believe that my book was a contribution to the dialogue that began to flourish afterwards”.

Your study uses the title: 'Muslim Chams’. Doesn’t it sound a bit prejudicial?

The choice of talking about Muslim Chams was not a matter of prejudice, but simply a technical one. Meaning that since the documents (Greek, English, American, Italian, German and Albanian) I had in possession gave me a lot of information about Muslims of Albanian origin, and just a few hints about Christians of Albanian origin I couldn’t form a clear image about what have happened to the second group in the long term. So, in order to protect my scientific approach and to avoid any misunderstandings, I limited myself to the group about which I had more and most certain data to elaborate.

Greek state did not pay much attention to the Chams before population exchanges with Turkey. Why was it that the Chams only become an issue in 1923?

As historians usually say, there is not an “IF” in history; things have happened the way they have happened and all we can do is to try to understand why.

Before 1923, Greek state had so many other problems to attend, that the Albanian population of Epirus was not its first priority. Internal and diplomatic conditions were so highly uncertain by then that there was little room for any interest about local populations (and Albanians were not the only example of that kind).

You have used a rich bibliography, a valuable one. However, it seems lacking in depth for Albanian sources, although a lot of books on Chameria have been published in Albanian. Is it difficult for Greeks to explore Albanian archives? What about Greek archives? Which archives have been more helpful in your research?

Additionally (from the first question), yes I had problems in reaching Albanian archives, which I couldn’t study except the documents edited by Kalliopi Naska (an excellent work by the way, but ending on 1939). I had the opportunity to study in the National Library in Tirana, several times.

All the other European archives were easy to approach and were very illuminating.

Albanian governments have made proposals for population exchanges since before WWII? Should we see this as a very harsh measure? Why did the Greek state not show the same attitude for the Chams as Albania for the Greek minority?

Exchange of populations is always a severe measure, and Greek side considered it as such, especially after 1923.

As far as concerns minority populations, there isn’t any question of ‘parity’. Such approaches can easily conduct to ‘quid pro quo’ policies. Minorities’ rights should be protected according to international law and this is the ultimate principle.

In your first chapter, you underlined that Chams, in interviews with an international commission in 1924, declared massively that they were of Turkish origin and also they wanted to be involved in the population exchange procedures, except a few who self-declared as Albanians. Do you have more evidence based on different sources on this point? Can you clarify this point more for Albanians?

As you can notice, bibliographical notes about the subject you mention are multiple: From publications already know years ago, to official documents form the League of Nations, and to documents edited by Albanian historians also.

Nevertheless, it was a common conclusion from both Greek and European officials then that national consciousness was still not cultivated among Albanian populations of Epirus. Religious feelings were stronger: as I say in a line “they felt more Muslim than Albanian.” The exemption from the exchange and the developments of the next two decades played their role in the alteration of their national consciousness.

There had been pressure on the Cham property rights since the 1920s. What motivated Greek authorities in this?

The arrival in Greece of the refugees from Asia Minor in 1922 necessitated the taking recourse to a radical rearrangement of the land, through which all properties, including Albanian, were expropriated. Under the government of Theodore Pangalos (1925-6), during a period of relative normalization in Greek-Albanian relations, a treaty “On the Establishment of a Consular Service” was signed between Greece and Albania, Article 3 of which gave the Albanian citizens the right to get better compensation treatment than the Greeks, analogous to that which the Greek government would have had in store for the British, French and the Italians. However, keeping in mind that the total extent of Albanian lands which had been expropriated was especially large, the economic load for the Greek state would have been unbearable. For this reason the Greek parliament did not vote in favor of this specific treaty. In the meantime, Greece had overturned the military regime of Pangalos and the next legal government was not disposed to be so yielding to the Albanians. This resulted in freezing the issue of the Albanian lands into a state of limbo for the whole of the mid-war period.

On the other hand, economic situation in Greece was far from satisfactory for all rural populations during the inter-war period. The Albanian lands’ problem just deteriorated their situation. The improvements of the 1930s, after Venizelos’ initiative, gave a short-living solution to the problem, but subsequent Greek governments overturned all previous positive settlements.

The Greek state showed a different attitude when Mr. Venizelos was in power? Was this simply out of good will?

Venizelos’ policy was aiming at a broad improvement of inter-Balkan relations, including Greek-Albanian ones. So, resolving some of the most serious existing problems was a prerequisite for the success of this policy.

How did the local administration function in the territory inhabited by Chams during the previous century. Is this administration also responsible for the problems with the of Chams’ property, schools, etc.?

There are indications that in many cases local authorities had their own views about how to treat Albanian issues in Epirus: distractions, tergiversations, arbitrariness, were usual phenomena.

In your book, noted that Chams’ resistance began even before the arrival of the fascists. Why did the Greek government not try to solve their problems? What are the reasons behind some Chams’ cooperation with the invading forces?

There is not any meaning of the word ‘resistance’ before the Italian and German occupation of Greece in 1941.

The groups of Albanian Chams that collaborated with Italians and Germans aimed at, first, retaliating former oppressions suffered by Greek authorities under Metaxas dictatorship; second, improving their economic and social status by annexing Epirus to the new Albanian state under fascist control. They believed in Italian promises for the creation of a ‘Greater Albania’ that would include all Albanian populations in the Balkans.

Do you have exact names of who these Cham fascist collaborators were? Do you think it is normal to label the entire population as collaborators?

As a researcher and a scientist, I personally never accepted opinions characterizing all Albanian Chams as collaborators indiscriminately.

I always strongly supported the fact that “the vast majority of the Albanian population did not participate in arbitrary acts”; these were committed by groups armed by Italian and German authorities and led by prominent and well-known Chams (names are referred to in my book). Nevertheless, Albanians welcomed and supported Italian and German occupation as a promising new situation and aspired to an alteration of Greek-Albanian borders.

Your book notes that Zervas appealed to Cham formations to unite with Greek forces against fascists. Did some Chams join the Greek resistance?

This isn’t quite clear still. It seems that, as officers of the Greek Communist Party and ELAS admitted, Chams were not persuaded by their vision of self-determination after the war. Only in the Philiates area they managed to gather some support in order to enforce the anti-fascist front.

On the other hand, I think that Chams didn’t trust Zervas’ promises either. On the contrary, as the last orders of the Chams’ leaders indicate (July 1944) they were determined to fight to the death “for the liberation of Chamuria”.

One of the orders given to Zervas to deport the Chams allegedly came from the Allies. You have a reference to a certain Woodhouse who said "They (the Chams) got what they deserved." Are the Allies to be condemned for the deportation of the Chams too?

History is not a court to ‘condemn’ or to ‘excuse’ anyone. Our goal is to understand what had happened and why. So, I can say that that was an Allied decision of strategic importance, aiming to facilitate operations against the Germans in Epirus. And that is the context in which we have to place all the events of those days.

And, as I state in my book, by quoting C. Woodhouse’s assessments it doesn’t mean in any way that I concur with them.

Who conceptualized Congress of Chams in Albania? How were they able to organize such an event at a chaotic time? Who sponsored it?

I’m not quite sure about that, since I lack any positive information. But it seems that it had the support of the Albanian communist leaders of that period, who tried to take advantage of the developments for their own strategic moves towards Greece.

As far as I know the participation was limited.

Is it true that Enver Hoxha too asked for a population exchange, to get rid of the Greek minority? Could this have happened?

There isn’t any information about it, at least as far as I know. For Enver Hoxha and the Albanian communists, the Chams comprised a controversial, if not suspect community, but useful as much as they could serve his political and propagandist goals.

How can the Greek people (as stated in your book), have such hatred against the Cham population as a whole?

This is not true and as I said before I don’t like to use general and unfair characterizations including peoples’ thoughts and feelings indiscriminately.

A lot of Greek people in Epirus suffered by the violent acts that Cham armed groups perpetrated during Italian and German occupation (a fact that is usually covered by silence by Albanian historiography, which limits itself in describing Albanian suffering by Greek government’s, Metaxas’ or Zervas’ acts), so they had their reasons for not wanting Albanians to return after the war. On the other hand, there were a lot of cases of friendly coexistence and even mutual help between the two communities when that was necessary.

Is it possible for their current property quest to find a solution?

This is not a question for a historian to answer. It is a matter of international law and practice.

Why does the Greek government refuse to discuss the Cham issue with the Albanian authorities

You can ask the Greek government.

Is there any common ground among Albanian and Greek historians on this issue? Is it possible to have a dialogue at a certain point?

See the answers in the question one, but scientific dialogue can comprise everything.

Why did you take this research on? Have you shed any new light on this matter?

Because as I state in the Prologue of the Greek edition, I believe that the history of the Cham population of Epirus was a forgotten issue which for quite a few decades was covered under a shroud of silence and virtually ignored, voluntarily or involuntarily, by Greek historiography. So, it was an intriguing challenge for me to confront with. If I managed to illuminate the problem, this is not for me to answer. You will be the judge. [post_title] => A Greek perspective on Cham history [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-greek-perspective-on-cham-history [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-07-31 10:40:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-07-31 08:40:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=122968 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 123072 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2015-08-13 10:21:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-08-13 08:21:57 [post_content] => skendTIRANA, Aug. 13 - Albania's Skenderbeu will face Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in its historic Champions League play-off as the first Albanian team to have made it to this stage of Europe's most prestigious football competition for clubs. The two sides are meeting for the first time in European competition and it is also Skenderbeu's first encounter with Croatia's most successful club. "Skënderbeu are through to their first play-off and are sure to make Albanian history, since they will become the first Albanian club to appear in a major UEFA club competition group stage regardless of the outcome against Dinamo," wrote UEFA, Europe's football governing body, on its website. Skenderbeu, who have been unbeaten in seven European home games, will host Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday evening, August 19, at the Elbasan Arena stadium in the first leg of the Champions League play-offs. The five-time Albanian consecutive champions lost the Albanian Supercup against Laçi on penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night but Albanian coach Mirel Josa is optimistic of a historic qualification for the southeastern Albanian club of Korça. “I was in general satisfied with the team. We made some changes and this not because we underestimated Laçi but because we were thinking of Dinamo Zagreb all the time. I had no strategy in misleading Dinamo with the performance because they have also seen us in previous matches," Josa told reporters. Skenderbeu was lucky again to be drawn against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League play-offs as the Croatian champions are facing a tough start in their championship and the club's reputation has been marred by arrest of its two bosses on suspicion of tax evasion and bribery. Both clubs feature Albanian and Croatian players. Skënderbeu's Croatian defender Marko Radas came through the Dinamo academy yet never made a professional appearance for the club. Several other Skënderbeu players have Croatian league experience including Sabien Lilaj, Arbër Abilaliaj and Bulgarian forward Ventsislav Hristov. Midfielder Lilaj played alongside Dinamo's Domagoj Antolić and Josip Pivarić at Lokomotiva. Dinamo boast Albanian talent in the form of 18-year-old midfielder Endri Çekiçi, an Albanian Under-21 international. His father, Ylli Çekiçi, is a former Skënderbeu player. Albanian-Macedonian Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi was born in Croatia and plays international football for Macedonia. Skenderbeu became the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round. The club has already made history in European football as they have already automatically qualified for the less prestigious Europa League group stage even if they fail to qualify in the Champions League play-offs. Much of the club’s European success is also dedicated to striker Hamdi Salihi who has joined the club only recently but proved decisive in the club’s success with his goals. The striker who has played in Austria, U.S., China and Israel is now the competition’s top scorer on five. Skenderbeu’s European dream has also been lucky as it previously beat Northern Ireland’s Crusaders, a semi-professional club and was drawn against Moldova’s Milsami in the third round. [post_title] => Skenderbeu to face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League play-off [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => skenderbeu-to-face-croatias-dinamo-zagreb-in-champions-league-play-off [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-08-13 10:23:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-08-13 08:23:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=123072 [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. 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