Albanian ties jolted

Shaky ties between Greece and Albania came under unexpected pressure yesterday when the neighboring country allowed a demonstration to disrupt talks between President Karolos Papoulias and his Albanian counterpart Alfred Moisiu, prompting an official government protest. Papoulias canceled a meeting with Moisiu yesterday in the southern Albanian town of Saranda after some 150 demonstrators gathered outside the hotel where he was due to meet with the Albanian leader. Papoulias waited at the local Greek Consulate for about two hours for the crowd to disperse but decided to cancel the meeting and leave the country after police failed to break up the gathering. «The ambassador to Albania has been instructed to proceed with a strong protest. Albanian authorities did not take the necessary measures… at a time when Albania is attempting to make steps toward fulfilling its European ambitions,» the Greek Foreign Ministry said. Tensions, however, rose further between the two countries after the Albanian president described Papoulias’s actions as «unprecedented» and «undesirable». «To the surprise of us all… the Greek side has decided to cancel this meeting using a peaceful gathering by a small group as a pretext,» said Albania presidential spokeswoman Aferdita Sokoli. The protesters were members of an Albanian minority, thousands of whom were expelled from Greece after World War II when they were accused of collaborating with the Nazis. They are calling on the Greek government to provide compensation for their family homes. Papoulias’s predecessor Costis Stephanopoulos said on a visit to Albania last year that there is no outstanding bilateral issue concerning the Cams – the name the minority is collectively known by. Relations between Greece and Albania have been strained several times in recent years over the status and treatment of ethnic minorities and employment issues facing several hundred thousand Albanian immigrants in Greece. The Athens News Agency reported that Moisiu called Papoulias as he was returning to Athens and apologized for the incident and they agreed to meet in the future.

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