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Stiff smoking fines hit clubs, bars

TIRANA, Dec. 22 – Police and the health inspectors have fined six clubs in Tirana for letting people smoke indoors. The move comes months after authorities started to apply strict rules that ban smoking in public places, especially in night

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Year in Review: Culture in 2014

Year in Review: Culture in 2014

January  Albania ranked on the top four global destinations  The New York Times ranked Albania as one of the top four global destinations to go to for 2014, placing the Balkan country as the single European destination on top of

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Rule of law efforts led the news in 2014

Rule of law efforts led the news in 2014

TIRANA, Dec. 26 – As 2014 ends, Tirana Times looks at the top stories of the year, dominated by the authorities’ efforts to establish strong rule of law, EU integration successes, the Bank of Albania scandal and several other stories.

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Albania to select Eurovision representative

TIRANA, Dec. 25 – The Albanian public broadcaster, RTSH, is making its last preparations for the traditional year-end national song contest which serves to pick Albania’s Eurovision representative.  Some 26 songs have been selected to compete. Elhaida Dani, who in

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‘Return to the museum of gods’

TIRANA, Dec. 24 – The Zeta art gallery in Tirana is closing its 2014 series of events with the “Return to the museum of gods” exhibition by painter and photographer Edmond Gjikopulli. “With an extensive and rich artistic activity and

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The Missal displayed at President’s office

TIRANA, Dec. 25 – A special copy of the 16th century first book written and published in Albanian brought as present by Pope Francis in his visit to Albania last September was displayed at the President’s office this week in

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 22 – Police and the health inspectors have fined six clubs in Tirana for letting people smoke indoors.

The move comes months after authorities started to apply strict rules that ban smoking in public places, especially in night clubs, coffee bars and restaurants.

The clubs were fined Lek 350,000 each, or about $3,500, a stiff fine by Albanian standards, which officials hope will convince the club owners to police smokers away from indoor areas.

After several failed previous attempts, authorities have already achieved the best results ever in stopping smoking in public places.

 
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                    [post_content] => January

 Albania ranked on the top four global destinations

 The New York Times ranked Albania as one of the top four global destinations to go to for 2014, placing the Balkan country as the single European destination on top of the list. The prestigious daily newspaper ranked the Albanian coast the number four destination to visit, describing it as Europe at its best on a rugged shore.

The rating by New York Times comes after Lonely Planet tourist guide ranked Albania as the top destination for 2011 and the country was placed sixth in CNN's top 10 destinations.

Back in 2012, The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest national newspaper, selected Albania as a top tourism destination in 2012. In a travel slideshow on its website, the newspaper placed the Albanian Riviera as the top destination among the six best places to visit in 2012.

Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past few years being nicknamed as "A New Mediterranean Love" and "Europe's Last Secret".

 

March

Francophone Spring stages 100 events

 More than a hundred events were staged in Albania's main cities for ten days as part of Francophone Spring celebrations in Albania, an annual event celebrating French culture which revives cultural life each March.

Music, cinema, theatre, exhibitions, conferences, dances, poetry, gastronomy and even wine tasting were some of the events held in Tirana, Shkodra, Korça, Fier, Elbasan, Durres, Vlora from March 20 to 29.  Organized by the French Embassy in Albania and the French Alliance in cooperation with Albanian state institutions, the Francophone Spring events are expected to revive cultural life in Albania, further promoting the French culture and arts in the country which numbers thousands of French speakers.

French is widely taught subject in Albanian schools. Several schools have also established bilingual Albanian-French sections.

 

April

Ermonela Jaho makes comeback

Internationally renowned Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho returned home after a seven-year absence to perform one of her favourite pieces, the title role of Cio-Cio San in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."

Jaho returned to the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Tirana after shining in the lead roles of Manon Lesacat at the Royal Opera House in London and as Mathilde in Rossini's "Guillame Tell" in Brussels in early 2014.

"I have always considered the role of Madama Butterfly connected to Albanian women in general because to me, the role of Cio-Cio San, is the embodiment of a woman's spirit because of loving like a teenage, hoping like a child and self-sacrificing like a prophet," said Jaho.

Born in Albania, Soprano Ermonela Jaho was hailed as a “revelation” by the French musical press after her debut as Violetta in La Traviata at L’Opera de Marseille in December of 2005 and has since gone on to debut at major theaters internationally including the Royal Opera House.

 

Porto Palermo named top undiscovered destination

Fodor's Travel Guide listed Porto Palermo as the number one of Undiscovered European Destinations. “Nestled among rolling green hills just south of the town of Himarë is Porto Palermo. This Albanian village keeps a low profile, but features a towering 18th-century castle that overlooks a sparkling bay. Visitors can explore its well-preserved grounds, and take in the coastline's picturesque scenery.”

The Ali Pasha castle in Porto Palermo, southern Albania serves as an art venue bringing together international artists for three days in the annual ArtKontakt international festival.

Sotiri photo collection digitized

Thousands of negatives from the early 20th century Sotiri photo collection in the southeastern town of Korça were inventoried in a project carried out by the National Centre of Cultural Heritage Inventorisation. The project which concluded with an exhibition of the Sotiri photo collection made possible the preservation, identification, registration and promotion of this important piece of Albania's cultural heritage, which is testimony to traditions and society in the region of Korca in the early 20th century.

"This heritage has now been documented in a digital system with identifying physical and technical data enabling the study and promotion of the collection," said the culture ministry.

The Sotiri photo collection includes 12,000 negatives, cameras and historical items belonging to people photographed by the Sotiri and is part of the Golden age of Albanian photography along with the Marubi collection in the northern Albanian city of Shkodra.

 

Inva Mula becomes a fellow of World Academy

Internationally renowned Albanian soprano Inva Mula was accepted as a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science for her distinction in art and remarkable international accomplishments.

"My acceptance as a fellow of the Academy is an achievement which I share with you," Mula commented on social networks with her fans.

Mula was born in Albania in an artist family. She graduated as a soprano singer from the Academy of Arts, Tirana, Albania, with the final performance as Violetta in La traviata, by G. Verdi.

May

French-Albanian choreographer home

Renowned French choreographer of Albanian origin Angelin Preljocaj was back to Albania this time with a collaboration with the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet troupe.

Almost two years after the latest performance of the Ballet Preljocaj, the contemporary dance choreographer staged in Tirana "La Stravaganza" and "Royaume Uni" ballet shows. Preljocaj himself returned to Albania 20 years after his Noces show soon after he first visited Albania following the collapse of the country's communist regime in the early 1990s.

The famous Albanian-French choreographer Angjelin Preljocaj was honoured with the Nation's Honour presidential order for representing the best of Albania's values in choreography internationally and making everyone proud of being Albanian.

“Born in Paris just five days after his parents escaped from communist Albania, Preljocaj felt French while at school and Albanian when at home with his parents and their tight-knit community of Albanian friends,” The Guardian writes about him.

 Albania at Venice Biennale

In a pavilion exploring how modern architecture in Albania is inhabited, transformed, rejected, modified and absorbed, two contemporary artists represented Albania in the 14th international architecture exhibition of the Venice Biennale.

Edi Hila and Adrian Paci participated with the "Potential Monuments of Unrealized Futures" exhibition which aimed at developing a new point of view on the Albanian cities and to invent new aesthetics to dwell the unfinished traces of modernist architecture that are disseminated in the urban fabric and in the countryside of the Albanian territory.

“Through a multimedia exploration of modernism, the artists weave real and constructed references, past and present, fictional stories, and form readings of such buildings beyond the traditional lexicon of architectural representation,” said the curators.

The Albanian pavilion was displayed from June 7 to November 23 at the Arsenale, Venice.

 July

Saranda among ten great cruise ports

  “Sarandë. Get to this Albanian beach town on the Mediterranean, near Corfu, on Windstar and SeaDream. Also known as Saranda, the town is near Butrint National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on a picturesque lagoon. Archeological ruins in the park reflect the fact that Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans ruled the area at various times.” That’s how USA Today news portal described the southern Albanian town of Saranda which it has recently named one of the ten great cruise ports people have ever heard of.

Known as the pearl of Albanian Riviera, the southernmost Albanian district of Saranda is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring. Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines, Saranda remains one of Albania's top destinations despite the boom of uncontrolled constructions somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania's southernmost coastal town.

In 2013, Saranda, known for its beautiful pure Ionian waters, was named by the United States Price of Travel portal as the third cheapest beach destination in Europe.

 Albanian director wins award at Czech film festival

Albanian movie Bota (World) was announced the best film in the East of the West category at the 49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic where it made its world debut."The jury found Bota a remarkable film with a rich script, three-dimensional characters, exquisite photography of current day Albania and beautiful nostalgic music soundtrack of past heritage," the festival said on its website.

Selected in the East of the West competition and presented at a world premiere at Karlovy Vary, Bota is the directorial debut of a duo comprising Albania’s Iris Elezi and American-Albanian director Thomas Logoreci.

 August

Berat hosts first multicultural festival

 The cultural, ethnographic and architectural heritage of Berat in southwestern Albania, known as “the city of 1,001 windows” were showcased for three days in late August in the first multicultural festival promoting this popular international destination which since 2008 has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The three-day event held from August 21 to 23 brought dozens of events including performances from the city band, exhibitions of young and veteran painters, contemporary art video projections in the ancient city's characteristic cobbled neighbourhoods, concerts, movie screenings, handicraft and agri-business trade fairs, cultural heritage conferences and other events involving the local Roma and Egyptian communities.

Since 2008, Berat has been inscribed as a rare example of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period.

September

 Strati sets ninth Guinness record

Soon after setting his eighth Guinness World Record for the largest mosaic using industrial materials, Albanian artist Saimir Strati set his ninth Guinness record with a giant mosaic dedicated to Jose Saramago, the Portuguese 1998 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, using hundreds of thousands of corks.

Strati created creating the mosaic in Portugal's Ponte de Sor town using 300,000 corks to create a 108 m2 mosaic which is 24 metres long and 4.5 metres high.

Born in Fier, Saimir Strati, 45, is an Albanian artist who is regarded as one of the world’s most renowned modern mosaic artists.

Saimir Strati is primarily an artist who works in mosaics. He has used materials including nails, toothpicks, corks, sea glass, eggshells, compact discs, coffee beans, porcelain and mirror glass among other materials. He is also a painter.

 Kosovo movie wins Golden Gladiator

"Three windows and a hanging," a feature film by Kosovo director Isa Qosja was awarded the top Golden Gladiator prize in the seventh edition of the Durres international film festival. The movie originally titled "Tri Dritare dhe një varje" was appreciated for portraying the extreme drama and violence faced by Kosovo women during the armed conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s and the aspect of mercy and understanding.

The best director award went to Italian director Roberto Ando for his “Long Live Freedom” movie "because of the veracity that he brings to the cynicism of modern day politics and their attempts to manipulate the common people."

Prominent Turkish actress Turkan Soray, nicknamed as the "Sultan of Turkish cinema, was also present at the film festival as the guest of honor and was given the Life Time Achievement award.

The festival which came at the end of tourist season in one of the country's most popular summer destinations showcased movies for six consecutive days in its two traditional venues, the Roman amphitheatre and the local cultural centre.

 October

German October brings wide range of events

Theatre, films, music, exhibitions and discussions were the highlights of the eighth edition of the German October events in Albania. For four weeks, the German October events focused on cross-border projects linking Albanian culture to that of Germany, bringing together Germans and Albanians exchanging their experience in arts and culture.

Renowned Albanian director Stefan Çapaliku staged  the Hamletmachine, a postmodernist drama by German playwright and theatre director Heiner Muller, in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Tirana.

“Eight years of German Weeks in Albania is a great success and at the same time an ongoing tradition. Uniting people, crossing borders and establishing communication networks has been the leitmotif of the German October,” says German Ambassador to Albania Hellmut Hoffmann.

In its previous 2012 and 2013 editions, the German October marked the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and the 25th anniversary of German-Albanian economic cooperation.

 Ben Blushi wins EU prize for literature

Albania's Ben Blushi was announced as one of the best new and emerging authors by the European Union Prize for Literature.

Blushi, a journalist, writer and politician was awarded at the Frankfurt Book Fair for his Otello, Arapi i Vlorës (Othello, Arap of Vlora) book published in 2009.

The narrative style, rich language and profound erudition contained in the novel Otello, Arapi i Vlorës place it among the most beautiful and accomplished works of Albanian literature, organizers said. The book is set in the years 1300-1400, in two well-known urban centres of the Middle Ages, Venice and Vlora. The background is realistic, and the author's literary creation is tied so tightly to historical fact, it seems that these events really happened in Vlora 600 years ago, and that Shakespeare simply took the events and set them in Venice.

 November

 Kadare receives ‘De Rada’ award

Internationally renowned Albanian author Ismail Kadare was handed the special Jeronim De Rada award in this year's 17th edition of the Tirana Book Fair, the largest book event bringing together Albanian publishing houses. The perennial Albanian nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded the special prize on the 200th birth anniversary of De Rada, who is not only the best known writer of Italian-Albanian literature but also the foremost figure of the Albanian nationalist movement in nineteenth-century Italy.

Speaking at the prize award ceremony, Kadare said he felt moved for the award which is named after the first genius of the Albanian national renaissance.

"I feel appreciated for this prize named after this genius who oriented the Albanian literature toward the European literature as it was losing its pace. De Rada was a great poet and a prophet of the future of Albania," said Kadare.

An internationally renowned poet, novelist and essayist, Ismail Kadare has been perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature. His international acclaim for his works peaked in 2005 when he won the Man Booker International Prize.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 26 – As 2014 ends, Tirana Times looks at the top stories of the year, dominated by the authorities’ efforts to establish strong rule of law, EU integration successes, the Bank of Albania scandal and several other stories.

January

Police bust murder-for-hire group

Albanian police say they have scored a major victory on organized crime with the discovery of a group suspected to be involved in a series of serious deadly crimes in the past two years in four major Albanian cities. Three people have been arrested, among them a 30 -year-old man who is suspected of being a contract killer and has allegedly committed at least 20 murders in Albania and Greece. Police found an arsenal of weapons and explosives in his Tirana apartment. Using a confidential informant, police said they caught the group as they were preparing to murder of another businessman in Tirana. The police operation came as Albanians have become increasingly worried about a series of remote-controlled explosions that have killed or wounded several people in Tirana, Vlora, Durres and Shkodra.

February

Authorities look to tame deadly roads

Under pressure from the rising death toll and high profile crashes, authorities have been prompted to act with a series a series of measures to strengthen law enforcement, including banning the use of the workhorse of passenger transportation in Albania – furgon minivans – from serving as alternative to buses in inter-city transportation. The country’s transport and interior ministers, Edmond Haxhinasto and Saimir Tahiri, have presented a package of legal amendments and reforms that will aim at improving the road security in the country. The new package has 60 measures as part of operational and institutional reforms. In addition to the furgon ban, there will be investment in road safety like the closure of surplus access points into highways, adding more signals and improving signal quality. Fuel stations will be more limited in number to avoid unnecessary entry-exit point on national roads.

March

Institutions move to address rule of law concerns

Albania’s government and state institutions are moving to amend legislation and increase enforcement to address growing concerns over rule of law in the country. The government said earlier this week it plans to amend the country’s key crime legislation, the penal code, in an effort to introduce tougher punishments for a variety of criminal trends that have created negative perceptions about rule of law in Albania, including the use of explosives, electricity theft and drunk driving.  The illegal possession of the explosive devices will see sentences of to 20 years in prison, a steep increase from the current five years. The proposed change comes following more than a dozen instances in which small amounts of explosives have been used in acts or targeted violence across Albania in recent months.  New penalties are also to be introduced against electricity theft, with individuals up to three years for individuals and up to five years for heads of businesses or institutions.

April

Officials deny military trafficking accusations

Allegations launched by the opposition Democratic Party that the army logistics have been exploited for illegal drug trafficking continued to dominate headlines over the months, despite earlier strong and harsh denials from the army and other government institutions. The army chief-of-staff made a strong statement denying that army logistics or its basis have been illegally exploited by organized crime to transport drugs. There exists no evidence to prove the conjecture expressed in the last weeks. Air forces have documentation from the specialized structures of the Alliance monitoring Republic of Albania’s airspace, which confirm there have been no renegade planes in our space at the date and the time quoted in the media, said a statement of the armed forces.

Demand growing for second international airport

Demand for lower prices, more competition and easier geographical access is placing increased pressure on the Albanian government to review a 20-year concession agreement with an international consortium that forces Albania to have Tirana International Airport as the country's sole international gateway. After upgrading its facilities to European standards from 2005 to 2008, Mother Teresa International Airport, which is managed under concession by an international consortium, has seen its passenger numbers more than double to a high number of 1.8 million per year in 2011. TIA is largely seen as a success story from the business standpoint, but it has an ace up its sleeve. The airport has a monopoly on international flights from and to Albania. A clause in the concession contract between the Albanian government and international consortium, achieved following an international tender in 2003, stipulates that TIA must be Albania's sole international airport for 20 years. Critics say the clause puts Albania at a disadvantage compared to neighboring countries and allows the airport to charge higher fees due to a lack of competition. They also argue that parts of Albania that are a long drive away from Tirana need easier geographical access for their residents and for attracting foreign tourists.

May

Albania goes on integration offensive

The Albanian government says it is determined to prevent any further delays in its application to become a candidate for EU membership and urges EU member states to look at the big picture. Albania’s prime minister, Edi Rama, has been pretty open in interviews with international media with his displeasure with EU members states over Albania’s bid to join the union. Calling a decision by five members states last December to delay granting Albania official candidate for membership “not very European,” he said it was “ridiculous” that Albania is still stuck in its EU bid. Rama’s comments appear to be part of a concerted effort in the last month by the Albanian government to pressure EU members states to prevent any further delays in its EU application and to present not only the benefits Albania would get from integration in the European Union, but also to also to focus on the benefits EU member states would get from having Albania join the bloc.

June

Police storm Lazarat ending years of lawlessness

Albania’s government decided to end years of lawlessness in Lazarat, a small enclave in southern Albania often referred to as “Europe’s marijuana capital” for its massive production of cannabis. About 800 police officers, backed by armored vehicles, stormed the village Monday in a  multi-day operation that has netted more than 10 tons of drugs and tens of arrests. Suspected marijuana growers fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns at officers during the raid, but police advanced slowly capturing the village in a couple of days. At least two police officers and one civilian were wounded during the operation.  Lazarat had become a symbol of lawlessness in Albania and internationally as a no-go area for Albanian police who feared a confrontation with gangs inside the village would lead to loss of life in among officers and residents in the village located 230 kilometers south of Tirana. Gangs based in Lazarat are believed to produce about 900 metric tons of cannabis a year, worth about 4.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) — roughly half of the small Balkan country’s GDP. Over the past few weeks, Albanian authorities have launched a nationwide operation to uproot the cannabis plantations as an effort to show Albania is serious in its pledge to fight organized crime as part of its bid to join the European Union.

[caption id="attachment_517" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania became an official candidate for membership in the European Union in 2014. Albania became an official candidate for membership in the European Union in 2014.[/caption]

EU grants candidate status

Albania has taken the next step in its long path to European Union membership, as EU members states officially agreed this week to make Tirana an official candidate to join the bloc. The decision was welcomed by the entire political class in Albania. “It is a very important step forward in what is set to be a long and difficult journey,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a press conference. Albania had repeatedly failed to obtain the status since first applying in 2009, including six months ago when despite a positive recommendation by EU's executive branch, member states decided they wanted to see more results before granting the status. The decision is the first major hurdle for Albania, which wants to become a member of the EU, a bloc of half a billion people that forms the world’s biggest economy. Full membership could take a decade or more as Albania will have to now go through a lengthy process to meet many requirements in tackling crime and corruption, and bringing its judiciary and administration to European standards.

July

Parliament passes administrative, judicial reforms

Albania's governing coalition approved a major territorial and administrative reform before parliament went on vacation in August. The opposition boycotted the vote and vowed it will never recognize it. The government says the current high number of municipal units is expensive and inefficient for a small country like Albania, and apparently communes spend about 24 million dollars a year, on salaries alone, while generating little or no tax income on their own or making any investments into their local communities. As such, a new territorial map that would trim the number of local governing units down to 61 is aimed at better management, officials say. Later in the year, the reform would hold up in Constitutional Court.

The parliament also passed a draft law this week that reforms the High Council of Justice. KLD as it is known by its Albanian acronym, is the highest institution governing the judiciary in Albania, and the government says reforming it is the first step to fight graft among judges and restore public trust in the system. The government wants to make it easier to prosecute judges accused of corruption and have a greater say in the work of KLD, a constitutionally independent institution.

August

Central bank reeling after $7-million inside job heist

In what constitutes one of the largest thefts in the history of Albanian state, authorities are investigating the illegal removal of more than $7 million in Albanian currency from a transfer area of the central bank over the past four years. One of the central bank’s staff members has confessed to stealing the cash over four years to feed his gambling addiction, prosecutors said. But prosecutors are not convinced that all the money was gambled away and are looking at bank transfers and property transactions to determine if any of it is was transferred outside the country or whether it can be recuperated through property confiscation. The theft has sparked concern over the security measures at the central bank and has led to parliament members calling for an investigation of the independent institution. The bank’s governor, Adrian Fullani, would ultimately be arrested and sacked for failing to prevent the theft.

Gov't moves against ‘pyramid’ private universities

A Ministry of Education investigation into the practices of private institutions of higher learning in Albania has led to a government decision to close 17 private universities ahead of the new academic year and to suspend enrollment in another 13. In addition, the government has closed seven public university satellite campuses. The move means about two thirds of the country's private higher education institutions are to be closed or suspended following Ministry of Education investigation that found they did not meet legal and quality standards. Among the ones to be suspended is Albanian University, formerly known as UFO, one of the country's largest. Twelve private universities were allowed to continue operations, noting conditions for improvement. The government decision comes after years of concern that many of the private universities in Albania failed to meet basic standards. Critics had pointed out some of the private universities were little more than diploma mills.

September

Central bank governor arrested, sacked

Following the arrest of the central bank governor, Ardian Fullani, and his dismissal by the bank's board, authorities are looking to shore up operations at the key financial institution by finding a replacement for Fullani and others bank officials who have been either sacked or resigned as a result of an investigation into the theft of nearly $7 million at the Bank of Albania. Prosecutors arrested Fullani and the bank's senior auditor, Elivar Golemi, on Sept. 5, charging them with abuse of office for alleged mismanagement in connection with a the large theft from the bank's reserves that was discovered in July.

 

Prosecutors indict three MPs

Two lawmakers from the ruling Socialist Party have been indicted for allegedly punching an opposition counterpart inside the parliament building earlier this year, according to prosecutor general’s press office. Arben Ndoka and Pjerin Ndreu have been accused of violence they have exercised on an opposition lawmaker, Gent Strazimiri, of the main opposition Democratic Party. The alleged incident happened in July, and video from the parliament's close circuit television cameras clearly shows at least one of the accused MPs punching the other. Strazimiri’ case was used by the opposition Democrats as a key reason to boycott parliament for months, a boycott that is ongoing.

Pope hails Albania’s inter-faith harmony in historic visit

In a historic visit to Albania, Pope Francis led an open-air mass attended by 300,000 in Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square, praising Albania’s religious harmony as an example for the rest of the world. He also urged Albanians not to forget the crimes of the atheist communist regime and to be hopeful and have faith in a better future. The Pope had a busy agenda during his 11-hour visit to Albania -- the first European trip outside Italy -- including meeting with the country’s political and spiritual leaders as well as honoring members of the clergy that suffered under Albania’s former communist regime. Albanians had prepared a warm welcome. Wherever Pope Francis went, the streets were lined with thousands of people. The capital's main Nation’s Fallen Boulevard was decorated with Albanian and Vatican flags – as well as giant portraits of 40 Catholic priests who were persecuted or executed under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha.

October

[caption id="attachment_480" align="alignright" width="300"]An Albanian flag is flown over the pitch during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match between Serbia and Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade October 14, 2014. The Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania was halted in the first half. An Albanian flag is flown over the pitch during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match between Serbia and Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade October 14, 2014. The Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania was halted in the first half.[/caption]

Albania-Serbia match abandoned, relations suffer setback

After years of tension over Kosovo, Albania and Serbia were moving forward to having normal relations toward the shared goal of European integration, and that the ice had thawed. That vision suffered a major setback this week, following violence after the interruption of a football game between the two countries and extreme political reactions to it, which have quickly brought relations to a new low point.  The game was tense from the beginning as the Serb crowd hissed loudly over Albania's national anthem and chanted "Kill, Kill, Kill the Siptars," using the Milosevic-era derogatory name for Albanians. They pelted Albanian players with fireworks, coins and lighters when they got the got too close the sidelines. And then the Serb fans saw a small drone-like craft carrying an Albanian banner. And the violence took an entirely new nature with players brawling and fans invading the pitch. The game was ultimately interrupted due to the violence, which saw several Albanian players hurt and left all psychologically traumatized. Instead of condemning the violence of their fans, Serb political leaders quickly went into action to say that the violence was due to the lone Albanian banner, which they said was an officially-sanctioned Albanian provocation.

In mass shooting leads to MP resignation

By the time authorities tallied up the death toll in a shooting at a nightclub in Tirana, four people had died and three suspected assailants were arrested. But prosecutors believe there was a single shooter -- Kostandin Xhuvani -- a name that has both shocked and angered the Albanian public. The son of a prominent Socialist member of parliament, he had already been convicted in another killing in 2011, only to be set free after a short prison sentence, which many commentators at the time saw as application of double standards for the well-connected and the powerful. The MP, Luiza Xhuvani, resigned in tears at a press conference Tuesday night, flanked by Prime Minister Edi Rama, who had earlier been pelted with a torrent of angry comments on social media seeking the MP's resignation and accountability for those responsible for the shooter's light sentence in the earlier killing.

November

Serbia visit breaks ice, highlights tensions

Albania’s prime minister has made the first official visit to Serbia in 68 years to promote cooperation demanded by a joint EU path, but a public spat over Kosovo’s independence placed the spotlight on long-lasting tensions. As Rama, pronounced the words "Kosovo" and "independence" in a joint Belgrade press conference with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, the face expressions and gestures of the host spoke to the quickly souring mood in the room. Vucic grinned unhappily, took off his translation headphones for a few seconds, as to protest to what he just had heard, then went on to listen again. A few moments later, he jumped to the podium, calling Rama's remarks an unacceptable "provocation in the middle of Belgrade." The very public spat between the two prime ministers over Kosovo quickly put the spotlight on long-lasting tensions during the Nov. 10 first official visit by an Albanian prime minister to Serbia in 68 years, aimed at breaking the ice in bilateral relations as part of a joint European integration path.  However, the mere fact that Rama's two-day visit to Serbia took place at all was seen as a step in the right direction for Albania and Serbia. Both countries aspire to join the European Union over the next decade, and EU leaders have made it clear they want the two countries to have warmer relations and saw the meeting as an important first step to that end.

 

December

Crackdown on unpaid and stolen electricity
After arresting tens of business owners caught stealing electricity, authorities are continuing their crackdown on electricity theft and unpaid bills, with the government already implementing plans to sack public sector employees if they don’t pay what they owe immediately. Prime Minister Edi Rama has said repeatedly government action will not end until all unpaid bills to the state-owned power corporation will be collected. “Not one cent will be tolerated,” Rama said has he fired a deputy minister in December. The government has also offered to cut 80 percent of accumulated interest on overdue bills if the total amount is paid. Payments with installments of no less than 2,500 leks per month are also offered on top of the consumers regular bills. In a move that has caused a lot of debate over its legality, authorities have undertaken another drastic measure -- firing hundreds of employees of the power corporation, prison departments and other public institutions -- because they had overdue electricity bills. However, Albania's ombudsman, Igli Totozani, has asked the government to stop the practice as it is not justified under Albania's laws.
                    [post_title] => Rule of law efforts led the news in 2014
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 25 - The Albanian public broadcaster, RTSH, is making its last preparations for the traditional year-end national song contest which serves to pick Albania's Eurovision representative.  Some 26 songs have been selected to compete.

Elhaida Dani, who in 2013 made every Albanian proud by winning the Voice of Italy song contest seems to be this year's favourite to represent Albania in the 2015 Eurovision song contest in Austria. She recently performed in an open-air concert at the Mother Teresa square on the evening of Nov. 29 when Albania marked its 70th Liberation anniversary along with British pop star Jessie J who was the special guest.

Conchita Wurst, Austria's drag queen who won the 2014 Eurovision, did not respond to the invitation to perform in the Albanian festival, organizers said.

The festival is scheduled to be held from Dec. 26 to 28 with Floriana Garo, Turjan Hyska and Liberta Spahiu as hosts.

Back in 2012, Rona Nishliu became the most successful Albanian Eurovision representative after ranking fifth among 26 finalists in the 2012 song contest held in Azerbaijan. Nishliu collected 146 points to see herself rank 5th, the best result since 2004 when Albania made its Eurovision debut with Anjeza Shahini who came sixth.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 24 - The Zeta art gallery in Tirana is closing its 2014 series of events with the “Return to the museum of gods” exhibition by painter and photographer Edmond Gjikopulli.

“With an extensive and rich artistic activity and professional maturity, Gjikopulli displays in this exhibituion, filled with nostalgic elements, the lesser-known part of creative beginnings, a period when, for most Albanian artists, new doors were opened, doors formerly closed and considered blasphemous, and the influence of these ‘untested’ concepts became a new fashion and a second school for the Albanian artist of the 1990s,” curators say.

The focus of this exhibition which will remain open until December 30 consists of paintings and drawings influenced by the best known modernist artistic currents and leading figures and supported by other works which, although completed more recently, are in great harmony with this journey back in time.

 
                    [post_title] => ‘Return to the museum of gods’
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 25 - A special copy of the 16th century first book written and published in Albanian brought as present by Pope Francis in his visit to Albania last September was displayed at the President's office this week in an exhibition.

In his visit to Albania on Sept. 20, Pope Francis also brought a digital copy of the 16th century book written and published in Albanian. The Missal (Meshari), whose original version preserved at the Vatican Library, was displayed in Albania for the first time in November 2012 as part as part of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence.

Known as Meshari (The Missal), the book was written by Gjon Buzuku, a northern Albanian Catholic cleric, who probably lived in or around Venice.

“Since the frontispiece and the first sixteen pages of the only copy of the book we possess, preserved in the Vatican Library, are missing, we unfortunately know neither its exact title nor its place of publication. In Albanian, it is known simply as the Meshari (The Missal), and was written in 1555. The scant information we do possess about the author comes from the colophon (postscript) of the missal which Buzuku wrote himself in Albanian, not unaware of the historic dimensions of his undertaking,” says Albanian studies specialist Robert Elsie.

 
                    [post_title] => The Missal displayed at President’s office
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 22 – Police and the health inspectors have fined six clubs in Tirana for letting people smoke indoors.

The move comes months after authorities started to apply strict rules that ban smoking in public places, especially in night clubs, coffee bars and restaurants.

The clubs were fined Lek 350,000 each, or about $3,500, a stiff fine by Albanian standards, which officials hope will convince the club owners to police smokers away from indoor areas.

After several failed previous attempts, authorities have already achieved the best results ever in stopping smoking in public places.

 
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