Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivered a fresh stern message to Albania on Monday stressing that its aspiration to join the European Union hinges on its upholding of ethnic Greek minority rights.
“Albania’s road to Europe passes through respect for the rights of the Greek ethnic minority,” he said during a visit to the Athens suburb of Zografou in the wake of the detention last Friday of Fredi Beleri, the Greek minority candidate in the Himare region of southern Albania, which is a significant center of the Greek ethnic minority.
Even though he is currently detained on charges of vote-buying, Beleri won in the local elections on Sunday.
Mitostakis welcomed the news of Beleri’s victory.
“I was very pleased to hear that Fredi Beleri won the municipal elections in Himare,” Mitsotakis said, while expressing confidence that the difficulties Beleri was facing would soon be resolved.
Beleri’s arrest on Friday by Albanian special forces occurred just two days before the municipal elections and sparked a crisis in relations between Athens and Tirana. An Albanian court confirmed Saturday that he would remain in custody, with the Greek Foreign Ministry releasing a statement demanding his release. It said the decision by the court constituted “a scandal” if there is no irrefutable evidence and that the arrest of a mayoral candidate “is not within the rule of law.”
However, Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka issued an angry response.
“[It is] nearly impossible to understand how our friends have the right to dispute a court decision in our country, when the hard evidence they were looking for couldn’t be any harder – Fredi Beleri has been caught engaging in criminal activity against free and fair elections,” she said.