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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Balkans’

Albania holds local elections amid political turmoil

June 30, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanians were casting ballots on Sunday to elect mayors and city councils, or parliaments, amid a tense political conflict with the opposition boycotting the municipal elections.

While the Socialist-run government is insisting on holding the election, the opposition wants to stop it taking place. The opposition, led by the center-right Democratic Party, blames a corrupt government linked to organized crime and is demanding fresh national elections.

Albania’s President Ilir Meta is sympathetic to the opposition and declared that the vote is canceled, but the government under Prime Minister Edi Rama has refused to abide by that decision. Votes will be cast to pick authorities that will run 61 districts across the country for the next four years.

On late Saturday the Democratic Party’s leader Lulzim Basha called on Albanians to boycott the vote and said they would hold non-violent protests. Police have said protests are not allowed the voting day.

Rama cast his ballot in Surrel, a village near Tirana where he lives. “This day confirms that no one can play with the people … and who dares take sovereignty from the people finds no other end but a failing and a shameful one,” he told journalists.

The opposition has been holding anti-government protests since mid-February when they also relinquished their seats in parliament. They say the political crisis will be resolved when Rama resigns and vote-riggers are jailed.

Small groups of opposition supporters in Tirana and a nearby town rallied in front of some polling stations, shouting “Rama go!” The ruling Socialists are the only candidates in 35 out of 61 districts, with some smaller leftist and center-right parties running against them in the rest.

Thousands of police officers guarded the polling stations Sunday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said it was sending 174 election observers, who will give their preliminary findings on Monday.

Audrey Glover, head of the international monitoring mission, found the situation at a Tirana polling station “not conducive to observing.” Holding a free and fair election is considered key for the launch of EU membership talks for the tiny Western Balkan country, already a NATO member.

Voting ends 1700 GMT. Preliminary election results are not expected until Monday. The Central Election Commission, the institution running the election, said turnout at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) was about 12%.

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Albania’s local election is a test for its democracy

June 28, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s municipal elections don’t normally provoke much interest beyond the country’s border, but the holding of this weekend’s vote — or failure to do so — appears decisive for the tiny Western Balkan country in its bid to start full membership negotiations with the European Union.

While the Socialist-run government is insisting on holding the election, the opposition is boycotting the vote and says it will stop it taking place. Albania’s president, sympathetic to the opposition, has gone one step further by declaring that the vote is canceled, a decision that the government is refusing to abide by.

“Unfortunately we are showing our democracy is immature, weak and corrupt,” said Skender Minxhozi, an independent analyst. “We are unable to reach a sustainable dialogue and compromises.” After months of rowdy and sometimes violent opposition protests, where demonstrators have hurled projectiles at police officers who have responded with tear gas, the stage is set for a tense confrontation on Sunday.

The United States, the European Union, other international organizations and big Western powers have repeatedly called on the opposition to avoid violence and to engage in a dialogue to resolve the political deadlock. Though violence has been reduced recently, the standoff continues.

Leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is sending 280 election observers, on Friday called on Albanian political leaders to show restraint, engage in a “constructive dialogue” and ensure that Sunday’s election is peaceful. It added that “both the perpetrators and instigators of violent acts should be held legally accountable.”

Holding a free and fair election has been post-communist Albania’s Achilles’ heel, with regular reports of shortcomings, vote rigging and violence. The move toward democracy is considered key for the launch of the EU membership talks for the nation, which is already a NATO member.

Earlier this month, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania, as well as North Macedonia, despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

Sunday’s vote is due to elect mayors, town councils and district parliaments for the next four years. Some 3.5 million people are eligible to vote — that in itself is a problem, as the population of Albania is only 2.9 million. The other names on the electoral register represent Albania’s huge overseas diaspora, but no facilities are provided to allow Albanians outside the country to vote.

For the center-right Democratic Party-led opposition of Lulzim Basha, the issue is not really the local vote, however. They are trying to force the calling of early parliamentary elections, claiming widespread corruption in the government, vote-rigging and links to organized crime. They are boycotting the vote. Earlier in June, President Ilir Meta announced that he was canceling the elections, claiming they would be “undemocratic” without the participation of the center-right opposition. On Thursday he said the vote would now take place on Oct. 13.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling left-wing Socialist Party, however, continues to insist that the elections will take place as scheduled Sunday. Rama accuses the opposition of trying to disrupt efforts to launch EU membership negotiations.

The Socialists have started a lengthy procedure to oust Meta, though they don’t have the two-thirds majority they need in parliament, and the final say anyway is with the Constitutional Court, which has been defunct for the past year after its judges were fired.

Minxhozi says the opposition has failed to topple Rama but has managed to hurt the country’s image. “It has weakened Rama, but has not toppled him. It has damaged elections, but has not stopped them,” he said, adding that “such a tense situation hurts EU negotiations and has withered democratic standards.”

Basha insists “there will be no election without the opposition,” though he has not explained how the election will be prevented. He has said, however, that civic groups around the country will “defend democracy.” The opposition has tried to prevent preparations for the elections in the districts they govern. They tried to destroy election materials and ordered election offices moved from schools.

Currently, the opposition runs 27 districts, while the governing Socialists are in control of 34. With the opposition boycott, the Socialist candidates are uncontested in 35 races, while in the others they face some smaller leftists and center-right parties.

Minxhozi said Sunday’s vote will be a “mysterious day” focused not on a political race but rather on a “logistic, security and public order problem.” Some 7,000 police officers will be on duty for election security.

“June 30 is a negative test for Albania’s image, our economy and the political class too,” he said.

Albania president rejects ruling to hold municipal elections

June 25, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president on Tuesday condemned a decision by electoral authorities in favor of holding municipal elections this weekend, calling on the ruling Socialists to hold talks and not carry out an “imaginary” voting process.

President Ilir Meta said that full membership negotiations with the European Union wouldn’t open if Albania held Sunday’s elections without the opposition, which is boycotting them. The Electoral College ruled unanimously Monday that a small political party must take part in Sunday’s vote, a move against Meta’s decision earlier this month to cancel the elections. Meta said he feared the balloting would be “undemocratic” without the participation of center-right opposition parties.

Meta said the Electoral College was influenced by “political pressure and blackmail.” “Yesterday, the Electoral College considered the request of a political party against a decision of the Central Election Commission which didn’t allow it to deregister from the now imaginary election of June 30,” he said Tuesday.

“Only the Constitutional Court may judge the validity of a decree from the president of the republic,” Meta said. The court has been dysfunctional for about a year after most of its judges were fired.

The Democratic Party-led opposition also doesn’t recognize the ruling by election authorities. The opposition has threatened to physically prevent Sunday’s vote from being held. Last week, opposition supporters damaged ballot boxes and other election documentation to prevent the vote in some opposition-held districts.

“Albanians have united like never before to defend democracy and not allow an electoral farce and the constitutional crime of the autocratic-criminal regime,” Democratic leader Lulzim Basha said late Monday.

Left-wing Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama insists the elections will go ahead as scheduled. Rama also said the opposition’s main goal is to disrupt the country’s efforts to launch EU membership negotiations.

The opposition has been holding protests since mid-February, accusing the government of links to organized crime and vote rigging. The government rejects the accusations. Basha said the only solution is for Rama to resign and for those convicted of vote-rigging to be sentenced.

Last week, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

Albania: Public officials try to block election preparation

June 18, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Public officials in some parts of Albania aren’t cooperating with the independent election workers assigned to prepare for local elections at the end of the month, the Albanian Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

The apparent disruption in regional districts governed by opposition parties are part of a political crisis within the national government. Regional officials in Shkodra tried to prevent election personnel from entering their offices on Monday, while civilian supporters of the opposition stormed the Tropoja election authority office in northeastern Albania on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj warned mayors at the helm of opposition-led districts there would be consequences “if they use force” to block the election workers. The opposition runs 27 districts, the governing Socialists in 34.

“If they will do mindless acts or not in line with the law, they will be confronted with the law,” Lleshaj said. President Ilir Meta tried to cancel Albania’s June 30 municipal elections, saying they would be “undemocratic” without opposition participation.

Center-right opposition parties are boycotting the vote after months of demanding an early national election and accusing the government of vote-rigging and other wrongdoing. The Socialist-led government said the president exceeded his constitutional authority and is trying to oust Meta. Prime Minister Edi Rama insists the municipal elections will go ahead as scheduled.

Albania president cancels elections, citing tense climate

June 08, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president has canceled upcoming municipal elections, citing the need to reduce political tensions in the country. President Ilir Meta said he acted because “the actual circumstances do not provide necessary conditions for true, democratic, representative and all-inclusive elections” on June 30.

Thousands of Albanians who support the political opposition assembled for an anti-government protest on Saturday. After sundown, tear gas and flares clouded the streets of Tirana. The opposition, led by the center-right Democratic Party, accuses the left-wing government of links to organized crime and vote rigging. The government denies the allegations.

Opposition leaders are demanding an early general election. The United States and the European Union urged them to disavow violence and sit in a dialogue with government representatives to resolve the political crisis.

UN judges increase sentence for Bosnian ex-leader to life

March 20, 2019
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — United Nations appeals judges on Wednesday upheld the convictions of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and increased his sentence from 40 years to life imprisonment.
Karadzic showed almost no reaction as presiding judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark read out a damning judgment, which means the 73-year-old former Bosnian strongman will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.
In increasing the sentence, Joensen said Karadzic’s original 40-year sentence “underestimates the extraordinary gravity of Karadzic’s responsibility and his integral participation in the most egregious of crimes.”
Defense lawyer Peter Robinson said Karadzic vowed to fight on to clear his name. “He says that politics triumphed over justice today,” Robinson said. “The appeals chamber whitewashed an unjust trial and an unfair verdict.”
Robinson said Karadzic felt “moral responsibility” for crimes in Bosnia, but did not believe he was criminally responsible. Karadzic had appealed his 2016 convictions for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as his sentence for masterminding atrocities in his country’s devastating 1992-95 war — Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.
The former leader is one of the most senior figures tried by the Hague war crimes court. His case is considered as key in delivering justice for the victims of the conflict, which left over 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.
Joensen said the trial chamber was wrong to impose just a 40-year sentence given what he called the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of Karadzic’s crimes. Applause broke out in the public gallery as Joensen passed the new sentence.
Families of victims who traveled to the Hague welcomed the verdict. Mothers of victims, some elderly and walking with canes, wept with apparent relief after watching the ruling read on a screen in Srebrenica.
Bosnian Serb wartime military commander Ratko Mladic was also awaiting an appeal judgment of his genocide and war crimes conviction, which earned him a life sentence. Both men were convicted of genocide for their roles in the slaughter by Serb forces of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnia’s eastern Srebrenica region in July 1995.
Last week, Bosnian war wounds were revived when it was revealed that the white supremacist suspected in the mosque shootings that left at least 50 people dead in New Zealand appeared to show admiration for Karadzic and his legacy. In a video, the self-proclaimed white supremacist is seen driving apparently on his way to the attack and listening to a wartime Bosnian Serb song praising Karadzic and his fight against Bosnia’s Muslims.
Prosecutors had appealed Karadzic’s acquittal on a second count of genocide, which saw Serb forces drive out Muslims and Croats from Serb-controlled villages in a 1992 campaign. Judges on Wednesday rejected that appeal.
At an appeals hearing last year, prosecution lawyer Katrina Gustafson told a five-judge panel that Karadzic “abused his immense power to spill the blood of countless victims. Justice requires that he receive the highest possible sentence — a life sentence.”
Karadzic has always argued that the Bosnian Serb campaigns during the war, which included the bloody siege of the capital, Sarajevo, were aimed at defending Serbs. After his indictment by the tribunal in The Hague, Karadzic remained at large for years before he was arrested in Serbia in 2008 disguised as a new-age therapist.

Croatia’s top oyster farmers in alarm after norovirus found

March 11, 2019

MALI STON, Croatia (AP) — Oyster farming is the pride of this small town in the south of Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast. But tasting the famed local delicacy may not be a good idea at the moment. Authorities have detected norovirus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, in parts of the Mali Ston bay — triggering shock and alarm among the breeders.

The traditional oyster-tasting feast in March has been canceled and fears are mounting of huge financial losses to the local community that harvests about 3 million oysters each year. Experts are pointing their fingers at the outdated sewage system in the area that has seen a rise in the numbers of tourists flocking to Croatia’s stunning Adriatic coast.

“I am really sorry but people themselves are to blame that something like this happened,” explained Vlado Onofri from the Institute for Marine and Coastal Research in nearby Dubrovnik. “It’s something that has to be solved in the future.”

While some stomach bugs can be eliminated with cooking, norovirus survives at relatively high temperatures. “The problem with oysters is that they are eaten raw,” Onofri said. Stunned locals pointed out their oysters are famous for high quality — a 1936 award from a London international exhibition still hangs on the wall in Svetan Pejic’s La Koruna restaurant in Mali Ston.

“Our oyster here is really a special oyster … and this is the only place (in the world) where it can be found,” he insisted. “Everyone wants to take our oysters and try to breed them elsewhere.” Navigating the oyster fields in their small boats, the farmers proudly show visitors rows and rows of oyster-filled underwater farm beds spreading through the bay.

Top municipal official Vedran Antunica questioned the assumption that the local sewage system was to blame for the outbreak. “Viruses are everywhere, now as we speak, the air is full of viruses,” Antunica said. “We had the same sewage system in the past, so why wasn’t it (norovirus) recorded? What has changed?”

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