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Albanian Opposition Leader Calls for Western Election Monitors


The leader of Albania's largest opposition party, former President Sali Berisha, says government-wide corruption is undermining the rule of law in Albania. Mr. Berisha, who is running for president in elections expected in early July, is asking the United States to send monitors to ensure that the elections are free and fair.

Mr. Berisha brought his campaign to New York where he said dramatic change is needed to put Albania back on the road to democratic government.

Mr. Berisha served as Albania's president from 1992 until 1997, when his government oversaw a series of economic and political reforms. But now, he says reforms are being blocked and Albania shows up as a borderline failed state on several scales that measure the rule of law. Mr. Berisha says free and fair elections are vital to Albania's future stability and eventual NATO membership. He wants the United States to send election monitors to watch the vote.

"Monitoring is very important as a deterrent to the will of government to violate the elections," he said. "Once the elections are free and fair, I pledge that I will fully recognize the results, whatever they are. For me, what is most crucial is for my nation to vote free."

International observers found serious deficiencies in parliamentary elections in 2001, and municipal elections last year were embroiled in allegations of vote-rigging.

Mr. Berisha alleges that corruption reaches high levels of government, discouraging much needed foreign investment. He says unemployment is 40 percent and 100,000 Albanians a year are emigrating. Drug trafficking and crime, he says, are becoming the staples of economic life in Albania.

"We are mentioned in much of Europe as a big crime exporter," he said. "Albania's organized crime, it is one of the most dangerous in Europe. Albania has become a major road of trafficking, especially from Afghani drugs coming to the west. The bill [cost] of drugs is more than two billion dollars according to the [U.S.] State Dept. In this respect dramatic change is needed because organized crime is dealing with people in power. It is well-known".

Mr. Berisha says laws to combat corruption are in place but are useless if they are not respected. He says Albania's future is bleak without some outside help to institute the role of law.

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