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Albania  

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ALBANIA


  
  



In-depth Business Intelligence

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 6,124 4,695 4,100 109
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,740 1,380 1,340 120
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
28,748

Population
3,544,808

Capital
Tirana

Currency
Lek

President
Alfred Moisiu


Update No: 101 - (27/09/05)

Turbulence in the heart of Albania's capital 
Albania remains a turbulent, gang-infested country. For many in the West, indeed, Albania has become almost synonymous with organized crime, particularly with its seedier and more brutal businesses. Albanian human-, arms- and drug-traffickers have often made headlines in Western capitals, giving the country and its nationals - as well as those of Kosovo - a serious image problem. 
An incident can bring this to life, worth bearing in mind before addressing wider issues.
Unknown assailants gunned down four men in the centre of Albania's capital, Tirana, on September 16th. Police said the killings occurred shortly after midnight when several armed men approached the group in a bar in downtown Tirana and shot the four, according to Top Channel, a local television station.
The assailants escaped from the scene in a car, and police launched a search for them.
Preliminary investigation suggested the shooting was part of fighting between rival gangs, Top Channel said, and that the victims were suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.

New premier performs?
His promise to rid Albania of corruption has redeemed Sali Berisha politically. He now needs to deliver. It may not have been exactly smooth, but for the first time since the fall of communism power in Albania has changed hands peacefully. 
That is great news and Western representatives have therefore been right to shower the new prime minister, Sali Berisha, with praise and promises of support since his Democratic Party (PD) and its right-wing allies were sworn into government on 11th September.
But even though it was largely violence-free, the election that returned this former president to power "complied only partially" with international standards, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a reminder of the deficiencies of Albanian democracy. And even though calm and relatively uneventful, the legal wrangling that followed the July poll - as well as the refusal of Berisha's arch-rival Fatos Nano to concede defeat gracefully - serve as reminders of the country's turbulent election past. Indeed, when ex-Prime Minister Nano declares that "the elections are politically unacceptable and the legitimacy of the winners is limited," he has a point, at least in the strictest sense.

Nano's doubtful legacy
Still, Nano is hardly the person to preach about electoral legitimacy, for whatever dirty election tricks and downright illegal means Berisha has resorted to during his long journey through the country's troubled post-communist era, Nano has been no stranger to any of them either.
More importantly, Nano, who earlier in September also resigned the leadership of the Socialist Party, bequeaths Berisha a country riven with problems. Today's Albania may be a more orderly place than it was in 1997, when power changed hands amid country-wide unrest and a total collapse of authority. It may even, on the whole, be less poor and less miserable. But one thing seems clear: it is also far more corrupt.
According to a World Bank report published earlier this year, the level of corruption in Albania has increased by 300 percent since 1997. Corruption, now routinely described as "endemic," costs the country some US$1.2 billion in lost revenues, the report claimed. International police officials have estimated that the value of drugs passing through Albania each year is now about two billion euros (US$2.4 billion).

Anti-corruption drive
So far, Berisha has made all the right noises, identifying corruption and the inadequacy of the country's institutions as key problems. Throughout his campaign and since his victory he has maintained that fighting corruption, enhancing the rule of law, and establishing the basis for more successful economic development will be his priorities. When asked how he would deal with Albania's organized-crime bosses, Berisha pledged to put them all behind bars. In a reference to the Nano government, many of whose members were themselves seen as corrupt, Berisha claimed that there would be no conflict of interest in his government. 
He has even made some of right moves on the corruption frontline. A week before his cabinet was to be presented to the parliament, he ordered his nominee for the culture and tourism portfolio to sell his stake in a motel.
Though highly welcome, moves like that should be considered as barely even equivalent to the opening salvo in the all-out war on organized crime that Albania needs. The opening campaign should perhaps be tough shock therapy followed by a sustained offensive on vested criminal interests. 
This, of course, is easier said than done in the best of circumstances - and Albania's capacity to wage such a war on crime is perhaps feebler than in any other European country. Its law enforcement is (and is widely seen to be) incompetent, politicized, and - even - pervaded with tribal rivalry. Berisha himself and many of his aides are themselves, in some senses, spoiled goods. These are no virginal newcomers yet to muddy their hands in the messy business of politics; and it is not unreasonable to assume that in a country blessed with more political choice many of them would now be regarded as hopeless have-beens.
Many of his aides have also been willing participants in Albania's unhappy post-communist clash between its two main political blocs, its rival clans, and even between much of the north and the south of the country. Berisha himself bears primary responsibility for the developments leading to the 1997 collapse of the country. It is for reasons like these that some Berisha's moves against corruption, if he indeed makes them, will immediately be interpreted as revenge, narrowing his room for manoeuvre even further.
For those reasons too many of those who in July voted for Berisha and his allies may not be enthusiastic supporters. Still, Berisha won and it can reasonably be assumed that Berisha's victory was secured not by his past, but by his pledge to fight organized crime. Berisha's background may be rather different from those of the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents, Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko, but he now finds himself in a situation that bears many similarities with Georgia and Ukraine immediately after the revolutions. Like Saakashvili and Yushchenko, Berisha has a mandate to carry out far-reaching reforms - and to fight organized crime and corruption in particular.
He may also wish to consider what lessons can be learned from the experience of Yushchenko and other leaders of former communist countries to whom electorates looked to rid their societies of corruption. One is, of course, that leading by good personal example is always smart. Another, perhaps of critical importance, is the issue of timing: a good time to start taking the rule of law utterly seriously is always now - and the best of all good times is in the first month in office. An electorate's stock of patience runs out quickly, especially in a new and unstable democracy. 
Berisha's credit with his own electorate is rather limited, though his majority in parliament should at least provide him with enough stability for him to be able to act. But given Albania's history of extra-parliamentary political struggle, Berisha may need to be able to show concrete results soon if his coalition is to survive long enough to leave a mark.

Into the EU?
Berisha's ability to move fast will also be of crucial importance for the country's bid to join the EU.
Albania hopes the European Commission will soon recommend that it is ready to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, although this is unlikely to happen by November, when the EC is due to issue its annual progress report.

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AVIATION

British Airways to fly to Tirana 


In a potential boost to travel and tourism in Albania, British Airways has announced that it plans to begin regular flights to and from Tirana in March 2006, SETimes reported.
British Airways will join a number of international airlines that offer regular direct flights to Tirana's Mother Teresa International Airport. UK flagship carrier British Airways (BA) will begin regular direct flights between Gatwick Airport and Tirana, the company announced in a press release. The flights are expected to give a substantial boost to travel in and out of Albania. 
The flights, due to start by March 2006, will be scheduled for Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Boeing-737-400 planes will be used on the route, with an estimated time of about three hours to travel one way. 
The BA office in Pristina will serve as a liaison regional bureau, providing customers with Albanian-language information about the service. The airline has been flying into the Kosovo capital since September 2001. 
"What we have seen during these last five years is that Tirana, as a city, has been expanded and lots of construction is under way. As we know, there are many Albanians in London who would go to Albania to visit their families back home. This will be a good market for BA," the company's executive-manager, David Roucham, told reporters. BA projects that 25,000 travellers will use the new London-Tirana route in the first year, with the number rising incrementally afterwards, Roucham said. 
In recent years, Albania has drawn the attention of a number of international airline companies. Austrian Airlines, Hungary's Malev, Greece's Olympic Airlines, Serbia-Montenegro's JAT, Italy's Alitalia, Slovenia's Adria Airways, Turkish Airlines and Bulgaria's Hemus Air all offer regular, scheduled flights to Tirana. Several domestic companies, such as Albanian Airlines, Albatros Airways and Ada Air, also offer direct flights to and from European cities. 

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FOREIGN LOANS

World Bank invests in irrigation and river protection 

The World Bank announced that it will allocate US$3m for the repair of the irrigation system, drainage channels and rivers in the District of Elbasan, Albania. The current situation is a real concern, because the lack of proper care in the past has seriously depleted the overall safety and security of the system, New Europe reported. 
Also, in the past, the system has been used outside its technical specifications, with the added danger of illegal fishing using dynamite and other explosives. Combined with the fact that the majority of dams were build 40 years ago, they present serious danger to the local population. The Director of the District Board of Irrigation and Water Management, Shkelqim Sinani, says that the funds donated by the World Bank will be used for repairs to both the primary and secondary drainage and the irrigation system in the area. Overall, the whole district has over 80 dams with height up to 30 metres, and 30 additional small dams up to five metres high. The dams range in capacity from 100,000 to three million cubic metres of water.

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