New citizenship drive

The government yesterday pledged to implement measures to naturalize tens of thousands of ethnic Greek immigrants from Albania, provided they have a special identity card certifying their status. «Following talks (with Albania) and a constitutional amendment (in that country) we can now begin awarding citizenship,» Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said. The process would begin «immediately,» he added. According to the ministry, some 30,000 minority Greeks from Albania, who are known as Northern Epirotes in Greece, have already applied for naturalization. Around 200,000 Northern Epirotes are believed to possess the required identity card certifying their status at ethnic Greeks. Of these, some 78,000 have a card, issued at the beginning of this year, which is valid for 10 years. The remainder have the old three-year identity cards. Apart from these 200,000 with ID cards, the offer is also open to other ethnic Greeks from Albania, who must first apply for an identity card before filing for citizenship. The decision by the government to offer such a large social group citizenship fueled speculation about early general elections next year. Rumors in yesterday’s press on the subject were dismissed by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis as «satanic» although top-ranking ministers conceded in private that early elections were quite likely. Ethnic Greeks from Albania have been seeking Greek citizenship for years. But successive governments had blocked this demand, worried that any such move may compromise the rights of the minority group in the neighboring country. Pavlopoulos yesterday explained the delay in granting Northern Epirotes their longstanding wish by noting that «the necessary guarantees had to be secured to avert any repercussions on the ethnic Greeks’ property and other rights.» Synaspismos Left Coalition spokesperson Panos Trigazis praised the decision as a «significant move for the integration of (ethnic Greeks from Albania) into Greek society.» But he stressed that the process should be carried out according to «transparent, objective and unimpeachable criteria so that it does not fall hostage to political favoritism.» PASOK also hailed the move as «a step in the right direction.»

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