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Albania  

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ALBANIA


  
  

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)

Books on Albania

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
28,748

Population
3,544,808

Capital
Tirana

Currency
Lek

President
Alfred Moisiu


Update No: 109 - (29/06/06)

People and history
A profile of Albania's people and history is useful at this time of great transition, with a new government in place. What are the characteristics of the country on which it is impinging? 
Over 90% of Albania's people are ethnic Albanian, and Albanian is the official language. Religions include Muslim (Sunni and Bektashi), Albanian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic.
Scholars believe the Albanian people are descended from a non-Slavic, non-Turkic group of tribes known as Illyrians, who arrived in the Balkans around 2000 BC. Modern Albanians still distinguish between Ghegs (northern tribes) and Tosks (southern tribes). After falling under Roman authority in 165 BC, Albania was controlled nearly continuously by a succession of foreign powers until the mid-20th century, with only brief periods of self-rule. 
Following the split of the Roman Empire in 395, the Byzantine Empire established its control over present-day Albania. In the 11th century, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus made the first recorded reference to a distinct area of land known as Albania and to its people. 
The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania from 1385-1912. During this time, much of the population converted to the Islamic faith, and Albanians also emigrated to Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. Although its control was briefly disrupted during the 1443-78 revolt, led by Albania's national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg, the Ottomans eventually reasserted their dominance, after his death. 
In the early 20th century, the weakened Ottoman Empire was no longer able to suppress Albanian nationalism. The League of Prizren (1878) promoted the idea of an Albanian nation-state and established the modern Albanian alphabet. Following the conclusion of the First Balkan War, Albanians issued the Vlore Proclamation of November 28, 1912, declaring independence. Albania's borders were established by the Great Powers in 1913. Albania's territorial integrity was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, after US President Woodrow Wilson dismissed a plan by the European powers to divide Albania among its neighbours. In retrospect, that would have made Serbia's Kosovo look like a side show, when the forces of independence got to work since the 1990's. 
During the Second World War, Albania was occupied first by Italy (1939-43) and then by Germany (1943-44). After the war, Communist Party leader, Enver Hoxha, through a combination of ruthlessness and strategic alliances, managed to preserve Albania's territorial integrity during the next 40 years, but exacted a terrible price from the population, which was subjected to purges, shortages, repression of civil and political rights, a total ban on religious observance, and increased isolation. Albania adhered to a strict Stalinist philosophy, eventually withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in 1968 and alienating its final remaining ally, China in 1978. 
Following Hoxha's death in 1985 and the subsequent fall of Communism in 1991, Albanian society struggled to overcome its historical isolation and underdevelopment. During the initial transition period, the Albanian Government sought closer ties with the West in order to improve economic conditions and introduced basic democratic reforms, including a multi-party system. 
In 1992, after the sweeping electoral victory of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, became the first democratically elected President of Albania. Berisha began a more deliberate program of economic and democratic reform but progress on these issues stalled in the mid-1990s, due to political gridlock. At the same time, unscrupulous investment scams defrauded investors all over Albania using pyramid schemes. In early 1997, several of these pyramid schemes collapsed, leaving thousands of people bankrupt, disillusioned, and angry. Armed revolts broke out across the country, leading to the near-total collapse of government authority. During this time, Albania's already inadequate and antiquated infrastructure suffered tremendous damage, as people looted public works for building materials. Weapons depots all over the country were raided and emptied. The anarchy of early 1997 alarmed the world and prompted intensive international mediation. 
Order was restored by a UN Multinational Protection Force, and an interim national reconciliation government oversaw the general elections of June 1997, which returned the Socialists and their allies to power at the national level. President Berisha resigned, and the Socialists elected Rexhep Meidani as President of the Republic. 
In 1999 the nation gained much international respect by the way in which they 'took in' 450,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovar refugees from Milosevic's Serbian 'Security' troops' ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Kosovo. This also brought into their previously almost 'unknown' country, so long bypassed by mainstream history, large numbers of International agency refugee and relief personnel, NGOs and some 8,000 NATO troops who immediately did a good job by clearing off Albania's highways the brigand-controlled highway-robbery checkpoints, that had plagued travellers for many years. 
During the transitional period of 1997-2002, a series of short-lived Socialist-led governments succeeded one another as Albania's fragile democratic structures were strengthened. Additional political parties formed, media outlets expanded, non-governmental organizations and business associations developed. In 1998, Albanians ratified a new constitution via popular referendum, guaranteeing the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights and religious freedom. Fatos Nano, Chairman of the Socialist Party, emerged as Prime Minister in July 2002. 
On July 24th 2002, Alfred Moisiu was sworn in as President of the Republic. A nonpartisan figure, nominally associated with the Democratic Party, he was elected as a consensus candidate of the ruling and opposition parties. The peaceful transfer of power from President Meidani to President Moisiu was the result of an agreement between the parties to engage each other within established parliamentary structures. This "truce" ushered in a new period of political stability in Albania, making possible significant progress in democratic and economic reforms, rule of law initiatives, and the development of Albania's relations with its neighbours and the US 
The "truce" between party leaders began fraying in summer 2003. Progress on economic and political reforms suffered noticeably since the latter half of 2003 because of political infighting. Nationwide municipal elections were held in October 2003. Although a significant improvement over past years, there were still widespread administrative errors, including inaccuracies in the voter lists. 
The July 3rd 2005 general elections were considered a step in the right direction in terms of Albania's consolidation of democracy. The Democratic Party and its allies returned to power in a decisive victory, pledging to fight crime and corruption, decrease the size and scope of government, and promote economic growth. Their leader, Sali Berisha, was sworn in as Prime Minister in September 2005. 

New government forms
The EU and the United States duly welcomed the new government in Albania, headed by the Democratic Party (DP) and led by Berisha. The cabinet was sworn in on September 11th last year after receiving parliamentary approval the day before. 
"The EU welcomes the conclusion of the election process in Albania, which has resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power since the fall of communism,'' the British presidency of the EU at the time said in a statement. It urged lawmakers to begin implementing changes meant to "direct the country towards integration into Europe" -- particularly, boosting the rule of law and moving ahead with electoral reform. 
The date of the new government's formation, four years exactly after 9:11, is poignant. Albania has been a staunch ally in the struggle against terrorism, Tirana being a haunt of Islamic terrorists hoping to penetrate Europe by the back door of the only country on the continent, Turkey excepted, with an overwhelming 70% Moslem population, which being said should be qualified by the fact that after 45 years of communism, the Albanian version of Islam is moderate to irrelevant.
The United States, through Ambassador Marcie Ries, had greeted the "successful parliamentary elections and the power shifting transition," which she said at the time demonstrated the progress of democracy. Her comments had come during a meeting with Berisha, during which she presented him with a message of congratulations from US President George W. Bush. 
According to a White House press release, Bush told Berisha that his country should be proud of the peaceful transfer of power. He called on the new parliament and government to move forward with anti-corruption efforts and with creating a better business environment. He also thanked Albania for its contribution to the global war on terror. 
Berisha, meanwhile, has already met with World Bank experts to discuss the country's further economic development. At a seminar in the coastal city of Durres, he urged the Bank to assist the cabinet in implementing its programmes, including the key objective of fighting corruption. 

Berisha vows radical measures against crime, corruption
Prime Minister Berisha vowed radical measures to fight crime and corruption, during a news conference on 10th May. He said his government is drafting severe penalties against individuals or structures with proven links to organised crime. 
Also under consideration are budgetary changes aimed at allocating more funds to the police, as well as possible changes to the penal code, which would tighten sanctions against those trafficking women and children. 
In other news, local media reports suggest ties between Albania and China have grown strained over a case involving five Chinese Uighur Muslims, who were released recently from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and given asylum in Albania. According to the Albanian News, US authorities did not send them back to China, in light of human rights concerns there. China continues to seek their extradition. 

Albania's path to membership improves 
Albania has one of the lowest standards of living in Europe, although it is no longer the poorest country on the continent after years of 7% annual growth of GDP in the 2000s. That dubious distinction belongs now to Moldova. 
The European Union and Albania signed a stabilisation and association agreement in May, the first step on the western Balkan state's path to EU membership. 
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also gave the green light for a trade deal with Tirana. The 25-nation bloc has urged Albania to improve its public administration, create an independent judicial system and continue reforms to attract more foreign investment. 
Albania must also fight corruption and organised crime - a major undertaking - and ensure media freedom, the EU demanded. In March, the European Commission said it wanted the 25 EU members to give the go-ahead to the new agreement, which aims to bring Albania closer to the EU and provides for help with reform. 
The EU and Albania have been negotiating the deal since 2003. The agreement must be ratified by the Albanian government, each of the 25 EU members and the European Parliament before it comes into force. 
Out of the six countries of the western Balkans, Slovenia is now in full membership, Croatia and Macedonia have concluded stabilisation and association agreements with the EU and achieved the status of EU membership candidates. Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are negotiating similar deals with the EU. 

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BANKING

OK on sale of BKT's 60% to Turkish consortium 

Albania's Central Bank has approved the sale of 60 per cent of the local privately held National Commercial Bank (BKT) to a Turkish consortium, Calik-Seker Konsorsiyum Yatirim, the news agency reporter.gr reported. 
The central bank's approval was one of the conditions for the finalisation of the deal. In mid-April, 2006 BKT requested that Albania's central bank rule on the sale of the stake, the news report said. The Calik-Seker consortium, based in Istanbul, was formed by Calik group and Turkish Sekerbank. Its main business is investing in bank units and providing consultancy services on bank organisation, management and business. BKT, which is currently the second-largest bank in Albania in terms of assets, was established in July 1997 by the state-run Albanian Commercial Bank (BTSH) and the Commercial Bank of Albania (BKSH). It started operations in 1998.

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ENERGY

EBRD to finance power rehabilitation 

Korporata Elektroenergjetike Shqiptare (KESH) has applied for and intends to use the proceeds of a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) towards the parallel financing of the rehabilitation of six transmission substations crucial to the operation of Albania's transmission system and to its participation in the regional energy market, www.reporter.gr said recently.
This infrastructure development is part of an overall series of improvements needed in Albania and elsewhere in Southeast Europe for respective domestic purposes. It will also assist the region to achieve greater integration with the EU as planned under the ECSEE Treaty leading to a single electricity market. The proposed project has a total estimated cost of US$52 million and is due to be completed before July 31 2009. Tendering for the bank-financed packages is expected to begin in the third-quarter 2006. The bank-financed packages will be procured as single-point responsibility supply-and-install contracts with fixed price, it was reported.

Plans for privatisation of Power Co. KESH 

Albania plans to privatise state-owned power incumbent, KESH, by June, according to a statement made by Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Energy, Gjergji Bojaxhi, New Europe reported. 
Firstly, the Government plans to privatise the distribution arm of KESH within two years at the latest. KESH is a state-owned monopoly with production, transmission and distribution sectors, but lags in investments, consumer non-payment of bills and a lack of generation capacity. Albania's national energy strategy posted annual consumption of around 6.6 TWh, with 4.1 TWh generated domestically, news reports said. However, 98 per cent of this comes from hydro power plants, so the quantity of imports or amount of load shedding from major consumers depends on river conditions.

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FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Italian companies investments at 9.5 million Euro

The investments of Italian companies in Albania amounts to some 9.5 million Euro, according to the local office of the Italian Foreign Trade Institute (ICE), ANSAmed reported recently.
The most dynamic economic sectors are: building materials, housing, textiles, clothing, footwear, assemblage of electric parts and motors, wood processing, pharmaceuticals, services, food and agriculture. The biggest concentration, or 75 per cent of Italian investors, is in Tirana, Durres and Kavaja. Fifteen per cent are in Scutari, Puke and Kukes. After a decrease of Italian presence in the past, there is now renewed enthusiasm from Italian small and medium enterprises returning to the Albanian market. The Marches region's imports from Albania amount to some 25 million Euro, or 0.5 per cent of the region's total imports. Exports to Albania stand at some 52 million Euro, 0.6 per cent of the total exports. As many as 17 per cent of the foreigners with residence permits in Marches are Albanians, five per cent of Albanians legally living in Italy.

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