Saturday, January 15, 2011

Albania and Bulgaria Top Destinations for 2011

Published on Jan 15, 2011 by Mihaela Lica Butler

CNN picked only 9 top destinations for travelers in 2011, and two Eastern European countries are on that list: Albania and Bulgaria. The list was made based on expert recommendations from Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet; Pauline Frommer, creator of Pauline Frommer’s guidebooks; and Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure sales at Altour. Other top 2011 travel destinations were New York, New Zealand, the Peruvian Amazon, Spain (Barcelona), Norway, Japan and Guatemala. Albania was ranked 6, and Bulgaria finished the list last.

Albania was also the top pick on Lonely Planet’s top ten countries for 2011, while Bulgaria ranked fifth. The two are the only Eastern European countries that got the media attention as potential travel destinations at the end of 2010, beginning of 2011. While Bulgaria has a strong tourism tradition, for Albania, the mention could be the beginning of a much needed trend.

In Focus: Albania

Albania gives travelers a taste of the Mediterranean without the crowds and the prices, writes CNN’s A. Pawlows, citing Robert Reid. Indeed, the country’s scenic beauty could make for an unforgettable romantic holiday. Its brave peaks are a challenge for hikers and backpackers, and the Albanian sea resorts rival in beauty with some of the best, and most popular in the world.

Main Square of Tirana, Albania

Main Square of Tirana, Albania - photo by Lassi Kurkijärvi

This is was the country Mother Theresa called home, and by the beauty of her heart you know the beauty of the people inhabiting these historic lands. Albania is a fascinating country, with friendly people, and a rich history.

Lonely Planet recommends that you visit Gjirokastra, a city whose historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We tell you to adventure to Butrint as well, one of the world’s archaeological wonders – and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On the Adriatic Coast, don’t miss Vlora, a sea resort with a rich history, known in antique times as Aulona. Beautiful beaches, a lively harbor, and the proximity to the Sazan Island and Karaburun Peninsula, make Vlora a destination not to be missed.................................

Ieronymos receives Israeli FM

Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos on Friday received visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Archdiocese in Athens.

The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere, with the top Israeli diplomat citing the particular importance of dialogue between faiths.

He also extended an invitation to Ieronymos to visit Israel.

Albanian deputy PM quits amid corruption allegations

TIRANA | Fri Jan 14, 2011 1

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned Friday, saying he wanted to fight allegations of corruption, after the release of a videotape appearing to show him lobbying for favors.

"I resigned from my government jobs to fight against the accusations made by the monster Dritan Prifti," Meta, who replaced Prifti as economy minister in September, told a news conference.

Meta's party is the minority coalition partner in Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government and is important for the country's political stability. Berisha said the two parties would continue to cooperate after Meta's resignation.

Wednesday, Meta gave up his immunity from prosecution to allow an investigation of allegations of corruption made during a conversation filmed by then Economy Minister Dritan Prifti, a former ally who belongs to the same political party.

Corruption has bedeviled Albania's efforts to take the first steps toward membership of the European Union. Brussels refused last year to give Albania candidate status, urging Tirana to tackle corruption and other problems first, and has called for an investigation into the allegations against Meta.

Excerpts from Prifti's videotape show Meta, a former prime minister, entering Prifti's office at the economy ministry in March, and starting to give him orders on granting favors.

The video shows Meta asking Prifti to cancel a tender by state-owned Albpetrol to help another company take part, and to give a concession for a hydro-electric plant to another company despite an ongoing court review.

Berisha denounced the video, shown on a local television station, saying it was fabricated by opposition Socialists. Meta dismissed the video as a "fabrication" and an "ugly political and moral bluff."

That line of defense appeared to weaken when Prifti showed the entire 13 minutes of the footage on primetime television on Thursday and added a number of potentially incriminating accusations against Meta.

"It was my duty to document the mafia-style pressure Ilir Meta has applied against me for more than a year, asking me to grant public tenders to whomever he chose. It was my duty to show what kind of mafioso I had to deal with," Prifti said.

"That man is the most corrupt person on Albanian soil. He has been stealing, accusing, threatening and cheating for 12 years. He has not been caught so far."

Listing a number of alleged abuses of public money, Prifti said Meta did not really want to sell the state-owned Albpetrol oil firm because he wanted to use its tenders for illegal profit.

He also said he had many more videos.

(Editing by Adam Tanner and Tim Pearce)

Friday, January 14, 2011



Regarding the statement of former Minister Dritan Prifti, who accuses Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta as the owner of a resort, in Dhermi, Himara Region, the license taken by the Company "Merkaj Construction" in an area of 300 thousand square meters.

The Himara Community, calls the Albanian government, to explain fully transparent, all activities of the Council of Territorial Adjustment, in relation to giving out the title, "Villages and tourist resorts, in Ionian Coast area, and especially in Himara Region.

Also The Himara Community, asks Himara Municipality, to introduce transparence in the community, for the title of the property that the Company "Merkaj Construction" and other, related alleged affair with the policy of the Albanian mafia, possess the legitimate documents of a place called Dhrale, in Dhermi.

We emphasize that in a very decisive and a historic moment for Himara Region, and the inhabitants in the Ionian coast, remains the registration of properties by the OSCE, for which The Himara Community, is determined to contribute that the lands, to be taken by the legal successor in the basis of the constitution of the country.

Albania Opposition Calls Protest to Oust Government

Opposition leader Edi Rama has called for a massive protest to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, as the minister at the centre of a corruption scandal announces his resignation.

Besar Likmeta

“On January 21 those who want to be saved should rise up,” Rama said during a speech of the general assembly of the Socialist Party on Friday. “Berisha and his deputy, every additional day that they put off their resignation and early elections, they only further damage their position before the people,” Rama added.

The call for a mass protest on January 21 comes after the publication of a video allegedly showing deputy prime minister Ilir Meta and former minister of economy Dritan Prifti discussing corrupt deals.

The transcripts of the videotape, the authenticity of which has not been verified, allegedly show Meta asking the former minister of economy Dritan Prifti to intervene over a hydropower plant concession tender, naming an alleged recompense by a businessman of a seven per cent stake and €700,000 bribe.

In a press conference on Friday, Meta, who also serves as minister of economy, denied any wrongdoing and announced his resignation.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha called the tape a fabrication orchestrated by opposition leader Edi Rama and added that the government “would not collapse over [spying] bugs.”

Albania Deputy PM Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal

Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned on Friday following the publication of a video allegedly showing him and former minister of economy Dritan Prifti discussing corrupt deals.

Besar Likmeta

Meta, who is also Albania's minister of economy, told reporters in a press conference that he had presented his resignation to Prime Minister Sali Berisha in order to face justice and prove his innocence.

“I resigned because in order to face justice it’s very important that I forfeit my government duties in order to appear before prosecutors as a regular citizen,” he said.

The transcripts of the videotape, the authenticity of which has not been verified, allegedly show Meta asking the former minister of economy Dritan Prifti to intervene over a hydropower plant concession tender, naming an alleged recompense by a businessman of a seven per cent stake and €700,000 bribe.

Meta also allegedly asks Prifti to hire activists of their party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI. Meta, who is the LSI head and at the time of the recording served as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, also allegedly brags in the videotape about influencing a Supreme Court trial over the same hydro-power plant concession,.

Meta is overheard saying that because he is on good terms with Chief Justice Shpresa Becaj - after having hired her daughter as a diplomat at an embassy - he can influence the ruling of the court.

In repeated media appearances over the last two days Meta has denied any wrongdoing and has attempted to explain some of his comments in the videotape.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dritan Prifti: Ilir Meta owner of a resort in Dhermi

Continues the Albanian government corruptions scandals in Himara Region

Former Government Minister Berisha, Dritan Prifti, denounced, among others, the Deputy Prime Minister of Albania Ilir Meta, even as the owner of a resort to be built in Dhermi, Himara Region.

During an interview on National Television "Top Channel", Dritan Prifti, said that, "Ilir Meta also has some illegal activity, as a tourist village in Dhermi that is building with the Company "Merkaj Construction".

The denunciation is one of the documents necessary for the Region f Himara, in wake of registration of property in this area, for which residents complain that their properties are taken from the mafia and illegal activity groups, with the help of the government and Albanian institutions.

The Statement of former Minister Prifti, opens more complicated cases, in which not only community, but also Greece, has sought through OSCE, to have a transparent process and the return of their properties in Himara Region, to legitimate owners.

The issue in this case of Prifti, opens here some questions:

1. Is aware, the Municipality of Himara, and where is the transparency for the construction of the resort from "Merkaj Construction" Company and that has taken land ownership documentation?

2. Are the property owners, a part of them live in USA and Greece, informed for "Merkaj Construction" Company, which owns an area of 300 thousand square meters in Dhralea area of Dhermi (Drymades)?

3. When it is adopted and with what permit "Merkaj Construction" Company, will start work in Dhermi?

Meanwhile, remain to denounce tourist villages in the region of Himara, for which, Dhermi, Palas, Yale and Qeparo, the Albanian Mafia in government has approved in collaboration with the Municipality of Himara, with ouit trasparence for Himara Community, during the Berisha government.

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Albanian ex-minister accuses successor of bribery

By The Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's former economy minister has told prosecutors that the deputy prime minister has tried to influence a tender in return for a kickback.

Dritan Prifti says the footage showing the country's deputy prime minister, Ilir Meta, asking him to influence the tender, which was aired by a private TV channel Tuesday, was genuine.

He said Thursday he handed the original video to prosecutors.

Meta, who was foreign minister at the time of the tender for building a power station, denies wrongdoing and says the footage was fabricated by the country's main opposition party.

The opposition has called for Meta's resignation. Scores of people demonstrated in Tirana Thursday to back the demand.

Meta, who is also the economy minister, heads a small leftist party that is a key partner of the ruling center-right Democrats.

Kosovo, Albania seek investigation into organ crime report

Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:50am EST

* Albania, Kosovo want Western probe on organ crimes report

* Kosovars petition against Council of Europe report

By Fatos Bytyci and Benet Koleka

PRISTINA/TIRANA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Kosovo and Albania offered full cooperation on Thursday to international authorities to investigate allegations of crimes including organ trafficking blamed on some wartime liberation fighters.

A report last month by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, a Swiss senator and ex-prosecutor, accused members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army of abductions in Kosovo and organ harvesting there and in Albania in 1999-2000.

By naming Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who won a second mandate to govern days before the report was released, as head of a mafia-style cartel, Marty's report provoked a fury of denials, including from Thaci who said he would sue.

"We believe and think the best answer to this completely racist and defamatory report is our request for a direct investigation by EULEX and the International (Criminal) Tribunal at The Hague," Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

Flanking Berisha at a news conference, Kosovo's acting President Jakup Krasniqi added: "We are ready to face international justice. We have asked (the European Union's) EULEX administration to resume the investigation."

Albanians are the dominant ethnic group in Kosovo and Albania and the neighbouring countries share a common language.

In recent days ordinary Kosovars have also rallied behind Thaci by waiting in lines to sign a petition to urge parliamentarians at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly not to vote in favour of Marty's report.

In six days, the Kosovo war veterans association has collected 120,000 signatures in the impoverished landlocked Balkan country of two million.

"Every Albanian should sign this because it has damaged us a lot, but he has no facts about what he said," said Xhever Kelmendi, 45. "If this is a lie then he should go to prison but if it is true those responsible should face justice."

Muharrem Xhemajli, a representative of Kosovo Liberation Army veterans, said the group was organising protests in Kosovo, Albania and Strasbourg, France, later this month when Marty is due to present his report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

"These accusations are unimaginable, only sick people could think that such things happen. In reality, it was impossible," Xhemajli said. (Writing by Benet Koleka, editing by Adam Tanner and Philippa Fletcher)


Albania, Partly Free (2010)

Capital: Tirana

Population: 3,196,000

Political Rights Score: 3
Civil Liberties Score: 3
Status: Partly Free


Prime Minister Sali Berisha retained his post after his Democratic Party won parliamentary elections in June. However, the opposition Socialist Party mounted protests to demand a recount and boycotted the new parliament through the end of the year. Albania achieved a major goal in April, when it formally joined NATO; it filed an application to join the European Union later that month.

Ruling from World War II until his death in 1985, communist dictator Enver Hoxha turned Albania into the most isolated country in Europe. The regime began to adopt more liberal policies in the late 1980s, and multiparty elections in 1992 brought the Democratic Party (PD), led by Sali Berisha, to power. Continuing poverty and corruption, along with unrest after the 1997 collapse of several vast investment scams, resulted in the election of a new government led by the Socialist Party (PS).

Berisha and the PD returned to power in the 2005 parliamentary elections. While the poll was not free from fraud, it was praised for bringing Albania’s first postcommunist rotation of power without significant violence. In 2007, the parliament elected PD candidate Bamir Topi as the country’s new president.

Berisha’s government was plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse of office in 2008, including a case stemming from a weapons depot explosion that killed 26 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in March. Nevertheless, the PD secured a narrow victory in the June 2009 parliamentary elections, which were held under a new electoral code passed in late 2008. The ruling party took 68 seats in the 140-seat parliament and eventually formed a coalition government........

Joint Greece-Israel Ministerial Council

(ANA-MPA) -- Greek prime minister George Papandreou had a telephone discussion Tuesday night with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, during which they agreed to set up a joint Greece-Israel ministerial council and also discussed the next steps in the procedure of enhancing their bilateral ties that was commenced last summer.

The ministerial council, which will be chaired by the two prime ministers, will comprise ministers from both countries, for the purpose of boosting Greece-Israel cooperation in specific sectors. (ANA-MPA)

The first meeting of this new inter-state body is planned sometime in the next two months, and has been assigned by the prime ministers to their respective foreign ministers, Dimitris Droutsas of Greece and Avigdor Lieberman of Israel, who begins a two-day visit to Athens on Wednesday. (ANA-MPA)

Lieberman's visit is in reciprocation of a visit by Droutsas to Israel last October. (ANA-MPA)

The two ministers will meet at 13:30 on Wednesday and are expected to review bilateral cooperation, as a continuation of the agreement they had signed for the deregulation of charter flights and the agreement on cooperation and exchanges between the two countries' diplomatic academies. (ANA-MPA)

The Israeli official is also expected to discuss energy cooperation issues, as well as regional issues, with Iran and the Middle East issue as the focus, in planned meetings with President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister George Papandreou and Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Albania Parties Agree Strategy on Marty Report

MPs from opposition and ruling majority are to present a united front in the Council of Europe assembly against report that criticises Albania.

Besar Likmeta

Arben Ahmetaj, a Socialist MP, said Albania's normally warring parties had hammered out a joint position for their delegation to the Council of Europe, ahead of an assembly discussion on the Dick Marty report.

"We aim to form a common position," the opposition MP said.

The Marty report, released in December, linked former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, including Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, to organised crime and accused them of harvesting the organs of Serbian prisoners and others in Albania.

The Council of Europe Rapporteur criticised Albania for allegedly not cooperating in investigating the alleged abuses mentioned in the report.

A resolution based on the report, approved by the Council of Europe on December 16, is expected to go before the assembly for a vote on January 25.

Apart from the Albanian delegation, the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha is expected also to attend the assembly debate and make a speech countering Marty’s allegations.

Politicians in both Kosovo and Albania condemned the report of the Swiss senator as baseless but have declared they will not impede any possible investigation launched into the allegations contained in it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Albania opposition demands deputy PM's resignation

By The Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's main opposition party has demanded the resignation of the deputy prime minister over an alleged attempt to influence a tender in return for a kickback.

Private Top Channel TV aired footage it said was of Ilir Meta pressing a cabinet colleague to favor a contractor in a state power station tender and share a kickback.

Meta, who is also an economy minister, denied any wrongdoing over the allegations on Wednesday, and said he was willing to forgo his parliamentary immunity to face a possible investigation.

Meta leads a small leftist party which is a key government partner with the ruling center-right Democrats who won elections in June 2009. The opposition has accused the government of electoral fraud.

Copyright © 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

World Bank managing director visits Albania

To stay ahead in an increasingly integrated world, Albania will require a more sophisticated strategy to create the foundation for long-term competitiveness and sustainability, World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on January 11 2011 at the close of a three-day visit.

"Some key elements of this strategy would be further reforms in education, skills creation, information and communications technologies, and the energy sector. It is also important to improve the enabling environment for businesses, including secure land property rights and the effective implementation and transparent enforcement of existing laws and regulations," Okonjo-Iweala said.

The visit was part of her first trip to some Western Balkans countries.

The aim of the visit was to emphasise the importance of Albania’s new Growth Agenda as well as reiterate the Bank’s support to the government under the new Country Partnership Strategy, the World Bank said.

In addition, Okonjo-Iweala expressed the Bank’s solidarity with people affected by the recent massive floods in Shkodra area, and discussed possibilities for additional support to mitigate the risks of future floods.

Okonjo-Iweala met prime minister Sali Berisha, key members of the government, the governor of the Bank of Albania Ardian Fullani, leader of the opposition Edi Rama, and representatives of civil society, and private sector.

The discussions during these meetings were centered on the progress in the implementation of the new Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) and the challenges that Albania faces to resume high rates of growth in the post-crisis world, the World Bank statement said....

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