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In 1990 Albania ended 44 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven difficult as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. International observers judged local elections in 2000 to be acceptable and a step toward democratic development, but serious deficiencies remain to be corrected before the 2001 parliamentary elections.

Update No: 063 - (23/07/02)

Albania has elected a new president. The post is largely ceremonial. But this time the choice is significant, both for who was the chosen and how he was elected.

Bipartisan president
The two main parties, who have been at loggerheads for over ten years, agreed to bury the hatchet in the presidential poll in parliament. The ruling Socialists and opposition conservative Democrats jointly supported the retired general and former defence minister, Alfred Moisiu, who is 74. He has been active in promoting the reforms required for Albania to be ready to join NATO. To choose him is a diplomatic act in itself, which NATO will duly note.
Of the 134 members of parliament present at the vote in mid-June, 97 voted for him, 19 against and 14 abstained, with four spoilt ballots. Moisiu's term of office is five years.
The smooth vote was the result of what is seen as an historic compromise between ruling Socialist Party Leader, Fatos Nano, and opposition Democratic Party head, Sali Berisha.
A tussle for the presidency has dominated Albanian politics in the last year, fuelling power struggles among the Socialists, bringing down Prime Minister Ilir Meta's government and delaying important privatisations and other reforms. Nano's desire to fill the post himself split his party, and Berisha had insisted on someone from the opposition as a compensation for an election last year that he says was rigged.
But once the two heavyweights of Albanian politics sat down for talks, tete-a-tete meetings produced a compromise that has pleased the public and the West. In a sign of their new cooperation, Nano and Berisha shook hands before the start of the voting session. Berisha, Albania's first non-communist president, had Nano jailed in the 1990s.
Albania's efforts to start talks in June on a stabilisation and association agreement with the European Union failed because of the political infighting, but Brussels has offered to resume talks as soon as political stability is restored.
The presidential post had earlier been turned down by Artur Kato, the Albanian ambassador to Brussels. Indeed, the symbolism of having wanted Kato first is also evident enough. The Albanians desire EU membership above everything else.

Socialists forge ahead
The twin goals of NATO membership and EU entry are the main aims of policy by the socialist government, re-elected last year. They may be remote, but they are not unrealistic. Everything changed in Albania when the Kosovo War took place in 1999. The unruly, gangster-infested country, known previously for its smuggling across the Adriatic, suddenly became a haven of stability for the Kosovar refugees of Albanian ethnic origin, a perception endorsed by the international community.
Aid flowed in, as did international officials and NATO troops. The economy, which had experienced a crash, suddenly took off. Growth of GDP was in the 7-8% range for several years and, remarkably, there was little inflation. Re-election became feasible so that opposition charges of electoral irregularities are mainly likely to be false.

Joint Stability Pact
1999, the turning point, also saw Albania join the South East Europe Stability Pact, which Germany set up on assumption of the EU presidency. It embraces all the Balkan states and aims permanently to engage the EU, the US, Japan and Russia in ensuring the stability of the region. Albania can expect its share of the 2.4bn Euros pledged in March 2000.
The former Austrian chancellor, Erhard Busek, is the EU Coordinator for the pact. He has set 2010 as the target date for the Balkan countries to be economically fit. That is about the earliest realistic date for the Albanians to joint the EU.
There is still a lot of work to do to bring Albania up to an EU level. Privatisation, legal and fiscal measures and a an effective campaign against organised crime and smuggling are all required. Busek expressed the view that the US would leave the region by 2005. But the Americans are not likely to forget about Albania, their ally against Milosevic, whose trial is likely to last years. 
Meanwhile, the Albanians have been very helpful in the campaign against terrorism. As a 70% Muslim nation it has been a contact point for Islamic extremists. The Albanian police have handed over suspected al-Qaeda extremists to the Americans. Albania is now firmly pro-Western and on the map.

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Districts will suffer less shortages

The Albanian Energy Corporation (KESH) has declared that the main districts would suffer less power shortages next winter. Sources close to KESH said that the corporation had instructed all the branches to make the necessary repairs to the energy network, extend new lines and improve the existing ones.

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Nearly 40,000 business activities in Albania

Albanian taxation authorities have registered around 38,800 business activities throughout the country during the first five-month period of 2002, said relevant sources from the General Taxation Department. 
Of this number, more than 7,000 businesses achieve an annual turn-over of more than Lek 8m, while the remainder, around 31,000 entities, are included in the category of small businesses with an annual turn-over below Lek 8m.

Finance Ministry puts Albania's long-term foreign debt at US$700m 

The long-term foreign debt of Albania at the end of the first quarter of 2002 was estimated at nearly US$705.769m, ATA News Agency has reported. 
According to sources from the Ministry of Finances, this debt was about US$8m more compared with the end of 2001, when the figure was put at US$697.468m. 
The foreign debt stock is predicted to increase with the implementation of the agreements on credits and guarantees, which are linked with the implementation of the projects of public investments in Albania. 
According to specialists at the Ministry of Finances, with the disbursements of direct foreign credits of the government a growth of the stock about 23.8bn lek is envisaged, while in the context of the foreign guarantees, the increase is estimated at nearly 5.3bn lek. 
The Albanian government has for two years started a process to reschedule the foreign debts with some partner countries like Italy, Germany, Russia, etc. 
Actually, Albania has rescheduled the foreign debt with the member countries of the Club of Paris, Russia and Turkish Banks. In the mean time, rescheduling of the long-term foreign debt is also expected with China and some countries of Eastern Europe like Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, etc.

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