Tirana in two minds over Himare

Albania’s ruling Socialists bristled yesterday at Greece’s complaints to the European Union that irregularities in ethnic Greek areas during recent municipal elections showed Albania to be unfit to join the bloc. At the same time, the Albanian ambassador in Athens promised Deputy Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis an investigation would be carried out into the incidents. Albania’s acting Foreign Minister Luan Hajdaraga said anyone found guilty of causing trouble in ethnic Greek areas of Albania would be punished. However, Socialist Party secretary-general Gramoz Ruci firmly denied any tampering with results and said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s comments were «emotional, untrue and not based on fact.» «I would like to tell him that the politics of well-known European politicians of his stature requires that we Europeanize the Balkans and not Balkanize Europe with nationalistic approaches,» Ruci said. Papandreou told EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday there had been serious incidents in both rounds of local elections, at the weekend and a month ago, mainly in the southern Himare region which has a substantial ethnic Greek population. The vote was closely watched by monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose Albania head, Osmo Lipponnen, said Sunday’s rerun in Himare had been worse than the October 12 first round. Suspected Albanian extremists targeted the minority candidate for Himare, Vassilis Bolanos, with a bomb on Sunday, while another ethnic Greek barely survived a stabbing outside a polling station. Bolanos won the first vote, after which a repeat was ordered. Unofficial results yesterday indicated he had lost the second vote, with number of votes counted far exceeding turnout. (Kathimerini, Reuters)