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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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)

Books on Albania

Update No: 122 - (26/07/07)

New president at last after a stalemate
Albania has been suffering a grave crisis in its polity. Its political parties were unable to agree on a new president after three rounds of voting by parliament (which elects the president) and the deadlock was pushing the country towards fresh general elections, potentially bad news for its fragile stability. Moreover, the timing - at the height of the tourist season - would have been particularly unfortunate.

A majority of Albanians opposed early elections. A survey by the Democratic Institute for International Issues and the research company Agenda in early July said 61 per cent of respondents thought early elections would have a negative impact on Albania, while only 22 per cent thought elections would be positive.

Fully aware of these facts the politicians had second thoughts. A fourth round of voting for president were scheduled in parliament for Friday July 20th and a fifth, if needed, for Tuesday the 24th. But it became clear that an inconclusive election was highly undesirable, indeed would jeopardise the public's view of allowing parliament, not the people, to decide the issue in future. Opposition politicians, who had boycotted three previous rounds to deprive Bamir Topi, deputy head of Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, of the necessary quorum for election, changed their minds.

Bamir Topi is Albania's new president. Albania's parliament elected him on July 20th as the country's new president. 85 MPs voted in favour - one more than required by the Albanian Constitution.

Topi replaces the outgoing President Alfred Moisiu, who held the post for five years. The newly elected Albanian president is 50 and a biologist by profession. Topi was elected president thanks to the votes of some MPs from the oppositional Socialist Party, who refused to boycott the vote. 

There could be repercussions all the same
The crisis has left a lot of rancour behind it. The opposition and the majority political parties had earlier negotiated a deal that General Arjan Zaimi, Albania's representative to NATO, would stand as their compromise candidate.

But the agreement, negotiated in early July, collapsed after Berisha's government insisted the deal also shorten the mandate of Chief Prosecutor Theodhori Sollaku to five years. The chief prosecutor has a lifetime position under Albania's constitution. He can be removed only by the president on parliament's recommendation. 

Sollaku has responded that Berisha was unfairly placing him in the middle of the political standoff by accusing him of corruption. "It is a problem for the politicians to resolve the crisis. They either agree or should go into early elections. Berisha should not slander my name. He is turning himself into a banana republic premier," Sollaku said.

In a bid to woo MPs from the left to vote for Topi, Berisha had dangled the possibility of inclusion in his centre-right coalition.

"We are open to deputies and political forces who want to cooperate for the selection of the new president," he said.

Popular presidency may result
The Democratic Institute poll found that if the president was elected by popular vote, Topi would be the choice of 40 per cent of Albanians. Moisiu the choice of 27 percent. Nano drew support from 15 per cent. 

The poll also found dissatisfaction with the political process, with 60 per cent of Albanians saying they wanted to elect the head of state. Seventy-five percent of respondents believed a popularly-elected president would be more responsive toward the people than one selected by parliament. 

"After they get elected they disappear from their electoral zones for the next four years. It is always about what is convenient, while they don't really bother about the people who elected them. It would be better if we could vote for the president on our own", said Arjan, a young Tirana taxi driver. 

Tourists balk at Albania's sewage-filled sea 
There are many reasons why Albania's tourist industry is in trouble, quite apart from the unwanted distraction of general elections. The country is really beautiful, a jewel on the Adriatic. But the competition is stiff. Croatia and now Montenegro can be similarly described. And then there is always Greece, with its eternal monuments and glories.

By contrast, beer bottles and plastic wrappers are a common sight along Albania's coast, which lacks the garbage cans necessary to contain waste produced by the country's growing tourism industry. The piles of trash contrast sharply with the sight of beautiful, high mountains reflected in the transparent sea of the southern riviera, which tourists enjoy as they drive along the coast of the Adriatic and Ionian seas from the capital of Tirana to Betrint in the south. 

Albania cannot hope to become a major tourist destination unless it solves its waste management problem. "One of the things tourists coming here complain most about is garbage," said Kate Yarhouse, who promotes tourism in Albania as part of her job with Peace Corps USA. 

Albania's waste management facilities were overwhelmed by the rapid increase in consumption in the 1990s after the fall of state socialism and the consequent opening up of the country. Proper waste treatment systems were not set up. Garbage collection facilities since then have simply not coped with the mounting waste. 

The sewage produced by Albanian cities flows untreated into the sea. Merita Mansaku-Meksi, an expert in waste management working for the Environmental Center for Development Education and Networking, said that although the water is largely safe for swimmers at the moment, the situation is not sustainable. "Not only is sewage water dumped into the sea, but also used oil from restaurants and industrial production, and this increases the danger," Mansaku-Meksi said. 

Arian Gace, national coordinator at the Global Environment Facility in Albania, said most coastal towns in the country now have plans to develop sewage collection and treatment facilities. Kavaja, close to Tirana, has already built a modern system of sewage collection, with financial assistance from the German KfW Development Bank. But most municipalities are still at the planning stage. 

The country faces similar problems with solid waste management. Traditionally, the authorities have simply dumped trash into empty fields close to the residential areas. Two decades ago, when the rates of consumption and waste production were much lower, the inappropriateness of the method passed unnoticed. Now, the trash is too much and too pollutant. 

Over the past years, the authorities and specialized civil society organizations have started working their way through the problem of solid waste. Fadil Nasufi, mayor of Berat, said his municipality is preparing to build an ecological waste processing system. The population will be charged a yearly tax for a solid waste plant to be built and operated close to the town. The mayor offered few details about the project, or about how waste is being handled presently. But from the beautiful medieval castle towering over the town, one can see piles of trash emitting clouds of smoke. 

The picture is similar in most Albanian cities. Tirana and the nearby urban areas that make up the large city of Durres dump their waste in the nearby fields of Shara. The population of the neighbouring villages is now getting increasingly concerned about the health risks arising from the garbage, and the municipality is planning to build a landfill. 

Tirana is one of only three cities in Albania to have concrete plans for constructing a landfill. The other two are Vlora and Shkonder. The rest of the municipalities, such as Berat, have good intentions, not projects on the way. 

But people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to deal with the garbage ecologically. Xhemal Mato, executive director of the Eco-movement Center sees hope in the successful campaign led by his organization against the building of an incinerator for Tirana. 

The authorities had signed an agreement with an Italian company called Albanianbeg Ambient regarding the building of such a plant. Under those plans, the Albanian government would support the cost of constructing the incinerator with credit from the Italian government. Given that an incinerator needs to be used at full capacity to operate properly, and that the trash produced by Tirana would only require 40 percent of the capacity, it was planned that Albanianbeg would bring waste from Italy to be incinerated in Albania. 

The local population, however, did not want Italy's trash to be burned in Tirana. Mobilized by NGOs, they staged protests against the incinerator and forced their politicians to cancel the deal. "We are not sure that this means the incinerator will never be built," Xhemal Mato said. "But it is an important step for us." 

Merita Mansaku-Meksi has also won some small victories in the battle against waste. Her NGO is running awareness campaigns about recycling in 14 schools in Tirana. She is also involved in a project to teach small local communities around the capital how to separate and recycle their trash. 

Heat Wave Helps Fires Raging Across Albania 
There is another problem right now. The weather is intolerably hot and the forests are in a highly combustible state. A heat wave driving temperatures over 40 degrees has sparked a series of fires across Albania. Blazes burning hundreds of hectares raged outside the coastal towns of Vlora and Himara on July 19th. 

Fifty hectares of forest also burned in the remote Karaburun peninsula. Other fires have been reported burning hundreds of hectares of forest in the prefectures of Diber, Kukes, Korce, Fier and Tirana.

Firefighters, police officers and local residents fighting the blazes have had to struggle against rugged and steep terrain. The driver of a fire engine was injured when the vehicle overturned on a mountain road outside the town of Librazhd in northeastern Albania. 

The Albanian government held an emergency meeting on July 19th and formed a task force to organize the response of structures including the army and the police. The working group coordinated by Deputy Prime Minister Gazmend Oketa also includes Interior Minister Bujar Nishani and Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu. The helicopter squadron of the armed forces was mobilized to monitor the blazes. 

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EVN to invest in hydroelectric plants

Austrian regional utility EVN AG plans to invest in three mega hydroelectric power plants in Albania, AENews reported. 
Albania's government has endorsed its proposal for the power plants to be built on the Devoll River following the positive outcome of a feasibility study. The three plants will generate more than 400 megawatts of electricity for the Balkan country. Sources close to the deal were cited by AENews as saying that if EVN's tender is successful, the investment volume will be around one billion Euro, considering the cost of building a single hydro plant. 

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World Bank gives 10m loan to help mortgage lending 

The World Bank recently approved a loan worth 10 million Euro to Albania's Banka Popullore (People's Bank) to help the country's mortgage lending market, reads a press release, New Europe reported.
The duration of the loan is 12 years. The loan will help to expand the housing finance market in Albania adding over 1,000 long-term residential mortgages, according to a statement. It would introduce new products such as mortgage finance and increase the depth and liquidity of the country's financial markets. The investment will also support growth in the construction industry and related sectors, said Shahbaz Mavaddat, regional director of the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank's private sector arm. The World Bank would also provide advice to both Banka Popullore and the Albanian regulatory authorities to help standardise mortgage credit and mortgage operations. World Bank commitments to the country have so far reached US$925 million (695 million Euro.) Banka Popullore, one of 17 private banks in Albania, started operations in March 2004.

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