FM warns Tirana on election

In an unusually strongly worded statement yesterday, Foreign Minister George Papandreou warned that Albania’s conduct of Sunday’s repeat municipal elections in an area inhabited by a Greek minority pointed to «a deficit in democratic standards.» The ethnic Greek minority party’s candidate for the southern Albanian municipality of Himare, Vassilis Bolanos, was the target of a bomb attack by suspected Albanian extremists on Sunday, while another ethnic Greek had to be flown to hospital in Corfu after being severely stabbed outside a Himare polling station. Bolanos was unhurt, while Theodoros Lazaris, 30, was out of danger yesterday. Doctors said his life had been saved by a wallet in his breast pocket, which deflected the knife thrust. Papandreou said the «serious incidents, both during the first round of voting [on October 12] and [on Sunday]» had been registered by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and from the US. «The behavior of the [Fatos] Nano government and the Albanian authorities gives rise to concern over their true aims and proves that there is a significant deficit in democratic standards in a country that is trying to draw close to the European Union,» Papandreou added. He said the European Commission «must be strict in assessing Albania’s behavior,» and called on the Italian EU presidency and on officials in Brussels to «send a clear message» to Tirana. Bolanos and the Party of Human Rights Union won the October 12 vote – during which ethnic Greeks also suffered attacks – but Albania’s electoral committee ordered a repeat following claims of irregularities. The results are not expected for some time, although ethnic Greeks complained that Albanian authorities had tampered with the process.