Local elections slated for October
President Rexhep Mejdani has called the much-anticipated fall municipal elections for 1 October 2000, ensuring that southeast Europe will have an interesting mid-fall political season with elections in Albania, Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
All political parties have launched their campaigns, but tensions between the parties continue, as do disputes over election procedures.
Given the frequently troubled domestic political scene, the October elections are an important opportunity for Albanians to move toward political stability. Meanwhile, however, tensions between the parties—ongoing since the Socialist Party's electoral win—continue to undermine the process.
The Democratic Party has yet to accept the composition of the Central Election Commission and, while it has declared it will fully participate in the fall contest, has also lodged complaints about the electoral code and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, accuse the ruling Socialist Party of being corrupt and inefficient, and the Socialists appear nervous about their election chances in major cities; including Tirana, Durrës, Elbasan and Shkodra.
Domestic observers hold the elections as a good gauge of each party's likely fortune in the upcoming spring 2001 general elections.
In-house diplomatic summit
Albanian ambassadors from around the world were recalled to Tirana for a series of high-level meetings with senior government officials including President Mejdani, Premier Ilir Meta, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Sabri Godo and Albanian Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe Commission President Fatos Nano.
The in-house summit meeting came as part of a three-year-old initiative to forge a new Albanian role in the region.
This most recent set of meetings focused on the ongoing issue of a democratic solution for Kosovo, the strengthening of Albania's international lobby efforts and the nation's interest in regional integration processes, particularly through the Stability Pact.
"We should aim for a free movement of people, commerce and ideas in the countries of Southeast Europe and beyond, to Western countries and more," Nano declared at the meetings' opening session.
NATO's Ralston in for a visit
Gen Joseph Ralston, NATO's top military leader as Supreme Allied Commander (Europe), was in Tirana on Wednesday for an official visit with President Mejdani, Premier Meta and Defense Minister Ilir Gjoni.
During his meeting with Ralston, Mejdani offered NATO continued use of Albania as a military staging base, adding that NATO is welcome to consider a use for the PashAliman base that had been used by the Soviet Union until 1961.
At a joint press conference with Meta, Ralston reassured the nation that NATO is not likely to stand idly by in the event of conflict in neighbouring Montenegro.
"NATO is following with great attention the regional situation and Albania as part of the region do have its own importance. Regional stability is important for Albania, and Albania is important for NATO," Ralston said.
"Albania will continue its strong collaboration with NATO, something that has already been tested and found valuable in past experiences," Meta added.
Both men later added that relations between the Albanian Army and NATO are "excellent."
US-Albania infrastructure agreement
In a meeting with Minister of Transport Sokol Nako, United States Ambassador to Tirana Joseph Limprecht inked an agreement providing two new USAID funds to improve Albanian seaports and develop economic and transportation infrastructure in Corridor 8.
A grant of USD 318,000 is to be used to carry out the second stage of a feasibility study examining the development of the cargo port at Durrës, which both parties envision as the sea gate of Corridor 8 and of vital importance to improving the flow of goods into Kosovo.
Meanwhile, an additional USD 300,000 has been provided to cover the costs of supply tenders for Durrës.
The Durrës port is presently embroiled in controversy as five Greek companies have allegedly constructed an illegal oil storage facility at the port. Prime Minister Meta has declared that the Greek project is "sabotaging" an instalment "vital to Albania's development" and has declared that the government has ordered the companies out of the port.
The Greek firms claim to have invested USD ten million in the storage facility, a figure the government has dismissed as "fictive." Meta said his government has formed an independent group of experts to investigate the Greek firms' claims.
Border talks with Montenegro...
Pellumb Molla and Milan Pohonovi, respectively the municipal chiefs of police of Shkodra and Podgorica, met last week to discuss enhanced cooperation in the two nations' efforts to curb illegal trafficking over their mutual border.
The two men signed agreements to launch joint investigations and exchange information on cross-border drug and prostitution rings as well as the lucrative trade in stolen vehicles.
...and progress with Macedonia
According to the newspaper Shekulli (Century), residents on the Albanian-Macedonian border now enjoy freedom of movement between the two countries for the first time since the outbreak of the Second World War. The paper continued to claim that this was merely the first step toward making the border "symbolic" only.
Artur Nura, 2 September 2000
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