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US opposes ex-Albania leader taking seat in new parliament

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The United States on Friday pressed Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party to exclude from its lawmakers in the new parliament its former leader Sali Berisha, who is barred by Washington from entering the U.S. due to alleged corruption.

U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim met with Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha in a visit designed “to emphasize … the responsibility that party leaders have to ensure that when they walk into parliament, they walk in accompanied by members who are worthy of representing Albania,” she said.

The ambassador did not mention Berisha’s name when talking to journalists but he has been at the center of a dispute between Washington and Albania’s Democratic Party over his allegedly corrupt acts.

Berisha said he considered the ambassador’s words “offensive” and “a flagrant violation of her mission.” In a statement, he said that the ambassador had “asked the Democrats’ leader not to let Sali Berisha enter the future parliament,” according to syri.net online portal.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken barred Berisha and his immediate family from entering the United States, accusing Berisha of being “involved in corrupt acts…including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members,” interfering in the judiciary “at the expense of independent investigations, anticorruption efforts, and accountability measures.”

Berisha, 76, served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005 until 2013 and as president from 1992-1997. He was re-elected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in last April’s parliamentary election.

Berisha was the first leader of the center-right Democratic Party, which was created in December 1990 after a student protest ousted Albania’s communist regime.

The U.S. ambassador stressed “the historic role that the DP has played.”

“It is irreplaceable, it is indispensable,” she said, adding: “It would be a historic irony, but also a tragedy for this country, not just the party, if the party were to eat grass for the sake of one man’s personal interest.”

Fighting corruption has been a stubborn problem in post-communist Albania, strongly affecting the country’s democratic, economic and social development.

An essential reform of the judiciary was approved in 2016 after direct involvement from Washington and the European Union. Many judges and prosecutors have been dismissed for alleged corruption and illegal earnings.


Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini

Llazar Semini, The Associated Press