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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)

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Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)

The Pope is coming
Pope Benedict is shortly coming to Albania. A symbol of the struggle against the Iron Curtain, the Polish pope was acclaimed by hundreds of thousands of Albanians during his visit, though the country has a Muslim majority. 

Addressing a mass audience in Tirana's central Scanderbeg square with Pope John Paul II at his side, Sali Berisha - at the time Albania's president - described the then pontiff as a major force in the collapse of communism. 

According to estimates, around 10 per cent of Albanians are Catholics. Some 70% are Moslems.

However, one Albanian Catholic says: " Albanians are crypto-Catholics. The Muslimanism is unnatural for them. That's the reason why the Serbian efforts to depict Albanians as Islamists, will never succeed."

Charming thought though that may be, it still remains the case that Albania like all the former communist states has very thin grasp on religion of any confession. The regimes that ran them brooked no ideological competition from priests or imams. The few that were tolerated during all of those years were no more than could present a veneer of toleration and perform such functions as funeral services, and weddings, for which the commissars had no satisfactory substitute. 

Prodi backs Albania
Italy is a very important country for Albania. It is so not least for being the European nation apart from neighbouring Greece with which Albania has had most to do. This was certainly true of the gangsters who moved all kinds of commodities, including human trafficking, across the water into southern Italy. Today, the Albanian gangs resident in Southern Italy have challenged the traditional Sicilian mafia for dominance. 

Berisha took part in New York in the 62nd assembly of the United Nations at the end of September, where he met several world figures.

One of them, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, has given his strong backing to Albania's aspiration to join NATO at a meeting with his Albanian counterpart on September 26th. Prodi expressed his appreciation for Tirana's policy on organized crime and corruption, and encouraged Berisha to push through reforms required for his country's integration into the EU.

After the meeting Berisha declared that he was pleased with the support he had received from Prodi. "The Italian Prime Minister assured me of his country's active support for Albania's integration into NATO", he said. 

Albania is hoping to receive a formal invitation from next year's NATO summit in Bucharest to join the Alliance. Given Albania's central role in the only war NATO had fought to that date, the Kosovo War in 1999, this would appear overdue. 

Closer to Turkey
Berisha also held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who restated Turkey's support for the independence of Kosovo, through the implementation of the plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

Erdogan acknowledged Tirana's reforms, especially in fiscal matters, as a major thrust to attract Turkish companies into investing in Albania. "Many Turkish companies already operate in Albania while others are interested in following suit", said Erdogan.

On September 26th Berisha took part in the opening of the world leaders' summit organized in view of the "Clinton Global Initiative," which aims to tackle major challenges through active engagement in fields like energy, education and climate change. The meeting was attended by over a thousand global decision makers from politics, the economy and civil society.

The battle against corruption
If NATO and particularly the EU, are reluctant to admit Albania, it is undoubtedly the scale of corruption there that largely accounts for it. They fear that their funds would end up in the wrong hands. They probably would.

The government is determined to do something about it, or so it says. Albanian police have arrested nine officials and businessmen on charges of bribery and abuse of office, officials said on September 25th. Deputy interior minister Genti Strazimiri said six officials, including deputy transport minister Nikolin Jaka, were arrested for "engaging in corrupt practises involving from hundreds of thousands to several million dollars".

The charges in the still ongoing investigation related specifically to bargaining for bribes while awarding road contracts. They risk up to 10 years in jail. "I do not exclude other arrests," Strazimiri told reporters.

Most of the arrested officials were from the small Christian Democratic Party, a minor partner in the ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

This year's global Corruption Perception Index shows most Balkan countries have moved up in the international league table, but they remain among the more corrupt states. 

The latest survey by the corruption watchdog, Transparency International, TI, shows Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia climbing up in the rankings, while Bulgaria has fallen back.

Albania, which comes last among the Balkan states in 105th place has climbed up marginally from last year's 111th.

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