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Greek candidate wins Albanian mayoral election from prison, sparking a diplomatic war of words

FILE: Voting in Albania local elections, 2017
FILE: Voting in Albania local elections, 2017 Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Sudesh Baniya with AP
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Greek minority candidate Fredi Beleri, arrested on vote-buying charges, has won an Albanian mayoral election by a slender margin.

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A mayoral candidate from the Greek minority community in Albania has won his election from behind bars. 

Dhionisios Alfred Beleri was arrested by Albanian police while he was allegedly offering some 40,000 Albanian leks (€360) to buy eight votes in municipal elections. A second person was arrested on the same charges and a court confirmed Saturday that they would both remain in custody.

Beleri won by just 19 votes in the southern municipality of Himare – a town with a significant Greek minority presence. Beleri belongs to the Human Rights Union Party of the ethnic Greek minority, and was running as part of an opposition coalition on this ballot. 

The arrest of the ethnic Greek politician has re-ignited tensions between Tirana and Athens over issues of minority rights and the sizeable Greek community in Albania.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry demanded Beleri’s immediate release, hinting that the case could negatively impact Albania’s application to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka responded angrily to Athens’ remarks, saying it was “nearly impossible to understand how our friends have the right to dispute a court decision in our country."

Xhacka added that "the hard evidence they were looking for couldn’t be any harder — Beleri has been caught engaging in criminal activity against free and fair elections.”

"We do not understand how being a Greek national exempts him from the law as a citizen of Albania. We urge our Greek friends to refrain from making statements that disrespect the independent institutions of our country," the minister said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had been “very pleased” to hear of Beleri’s victory, during a campaign stop in Athens ahead of next weekend's general election in Greece.

“I hope this incident will soon be over," he said on Monday, adding that "Albania’s path to Europe goes through respecting the rights of the Greek national minority”.

Beleri remains imprisoned and it is unclear whether he will take the mayoral post or if another round of elections will be held in the municipality.

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