Albania said it was ready on Sunday to temporarily host hundreds of Afghan refugees bound for the United States, including women leaders, government officials and others in danger from the Taliban.
“NATO member Albania is ready to shoulder its share of the burden,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said on his facebook page on Sunday.
“Washington has already asked Albania to consider the possibility of serving as a transit country for a number of Afghan political immigrants whose final destination would be the United States,” he said.
Rama said Tirana had already received requests for Albania to provide refuge for “hundreds of people from intellectual circles and women activists. Afghan women on the Taliban execution lists”.
“We will not say ‘no’, and not just because our great allies ask us to, but because we are Albania,” Rama said.
The US, Britain and other Western countries are in a race against time to evacuate their own citizens as well as vulnerable Afghans who worked for them and fear reprisals by the Taliban.
Canada has also expressed its readiness to welcome more than 20,000 refugees.
At the request of the United States, in 2006, Albania agreed to host five Chinese Uyghurs detained at Guantanamo, considered by Beijing to be terrorists.
In 2013, at the request of Washington and the UN, Albania hosted 200 members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMPI). Their number has since increased and there are now about 3,000 in Ashraf and Manze, the largest group of PMOI exiles in the world.
Albanian Minister of Interior Sander Lleshaj resigned after a young man was shot dead by the police, an incident that triggered tense protests, Prime Minister announced Thursday.
For the past two days, angry protesters rallied in Tirana, hurling stones and firecrackers at the police, demanding resignation of Interior Minister over the shooting of 25-year old Klodian Rasha.
“Sander Lleshaj submitted his resignation, I accepted it,” PM Edi Rama said on television as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators protesting outside the Interior Ministry building, an AFP journalist reported.
After being pushed back from the building, smaller groups of protesters retreated to the streets, clashing back and forth with the police forces.
The victim was killed while violating a 10pm curfew declared to control the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Balkan country.
Relatives claim he went out around midnight to buy a pack of cigarettes.
“He was killed by the police force, but what happened is not in the spirit of the police”, Rama said.
He added that “nothing justifies violent demonstrations”.
According to the Ministry of Health, eight police officers were injured during the unrest, one of them seriously, while two demonstrators were admitted to the emergency ward of the Tirana hospital during clashes between security forces and angry demonstrators the previous day.
“Justice will be done,” the prime minister promised, speaking of an “unforgivable fatal episode” in which the officer suspected of shooting acted in an “inexplicable and unreasonable manner,” he added.
The Interior Ministry launched an investigation to determine the exact circumstances of the death, while the suspected officer was arrested.
Albania’s prime minister said the country had been “wounded” by the violent earthquake this week that killed whole families and pulverised buildings, as he gave a new toll on Friday of 49 dead and 5,000 displaced.
The 6.4 magnitude quake that jolted Albania before dawn on Tuesday was the most deadly and destructive in decades.
Entire families were crushed by their homes while they were sleeping.
“We have all been touched and wounded” by the tragedy, said Prime Minister Edi Rama, his voice strained as he mentioned the death of a close friend of his son, a medical student whose body was found in the rubble with her brother and two parents.
The damage was most concentrated near the Adriatic coast in the port city of Durres and the town of Thumane, where scores of people were trapped beneath the wreckage of toppled apartments and hotels.
Loved ones and neighbours have watched in agony this week as rescue teams pulled corpses from the ruins.
On Friday the search effort wound down to focus on one or two sites in Durres, including a collapsed beach-side hotel.
Around 45 people were rescued from the ruins alive by relief teams, who were backed up by experts from around Europe with dogs, cameras and other equipment to comb through the rubble.
In Durres and Thumane, almost 2,000 people have been moved into hotels or other buildings — either because of severe damage to their homes or because hundreds of aftershocks made their apartments unsafe.
Another 3,480 people in the capital Tirana fled in panic to shelters, with some now housed in reception centres and many staying in the homes of relatives, Rama said.
There were no casualties in Tirana but nearly 70 buildings and 250 homes were damaged, he said.
Teams of experts are being organised to assess the risk of damaged buildings, said Defence Minister Olta Xhacka, who urged residents to leave any homes affected by the quake.
“The situation of buildings with damaged structures is as dangerous as on the first day, so don’t stay there, leave them,” she said.
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe and its urbanisation developed chaotically after the fall of communism in the 1990s.
A lot of construction has been done “without a building permit, without respecting rules… using non-standard materials,” local architect Maks velo told AFP.
The government has promised to build new houses for earthquake victims by 2020.
Donations in multiple currencies have poured in and are expected to exceed five million euros ($5.5 million), as well as $1.5 million, Rama said.
The death toll from the most powerful earthquake to strike Albania in decades rose to 40 on Thursday, after 10 more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight, the defence ministry said.
The 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the Balkan state before dawn on Tuesday, levelling buildings and trapping bodies underneath the wreckage in towns near the Adriatic coast.
“Ten more victims were found during the night, bringing the number of dead to 40,” the ministry said in a statement.
With the help of experts flown in from across Europe, rescuers have been working tirelessly to clear away the debris of collapsed apartments and hotels in the coastal city of Durres and the town of Thumane, the two areas hardest hit by the quake.
Forty-six people have been pulled out alive so far and have been hospitalised, the defence ministry spokeswoman told AFP.
The number of people who may still be buried in the rubble is unknown.
Hundreds of aftershocks have continued to rattle the country, sparking panic and temporarily halting search efforts.
Among some 650 who were injured, at least 10 are seriously wounded, the health ministry said.
Thousands have been displaced, either because their homes were severely damaged or because it is still unsafe to return home because of the aftershocks.
Albanian rescuers searched rubble through the night looking for survivors trapped in buildings that toppled Tuesday in the strongest earthquake to hit the country in decades, with more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.
Teams of soldiers, police and emergency workers sifted through the debris of shredded apartment blocks and hotels in towns near Albania’s northwest Adriatic coast, close to the epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rattled the country before dawn.
By evening the toll was 22 dead, according to the defence ministry.
Most were pulled from wreckage in the coastal city of Durres and Thumane, a town north of the capital Tirana.
In neighbouring Kurbin a man in his fifties died in the morning after jumping from his building in panic. Another perished in a car accident after the earthquake tore open parts of the road, the ministry said.
More than 40 people have also been retrieved alive in marathon rescue efforts that continued with headlamps and spotlights after the sun went down.
“The rescue teams will continue all night,” defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qehajaj told AFP.
“We must be careful because the night makes any operation more difficult,” she added.
Earlier in Thumane, locals watching emergency workers comb over a collapsed building shouted the names of their loved ones still inside: “Mira!”, “Ariela!”, “Selvije!”.
Dulejman Kolaveri, a man in his 50s in Thumane, told AFP he feared his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old niece were trapped inside the five-storey apartment, because they lived on the top floor.
“I don’t know if they are dead or alive. I’m afraid of their fate… only God knows,” he said with trembling hands.
There were also brief bursts of joy during the day as rescuers delicately extracted survivors.
One thin, middle-aged man covered in a film of grey dust was seen being carried out of the rubble on a stretcher in Thumane.
In Durres, onlookers cheered “Bravo!” as a team used ropes to rescue a young man from the wreckage of a toppled seaside hotel in a two-hour operation.
Night In The stadium
Afraid to return home after a series of powerful aftershocks, hundreds of people in Durres took shelter for the night in tents set up in the city’s football stadium.
The health ministry said that more than 600 people have received first aid for injuries, mostly minor.
During a visit to victims in a hospital in Tirana, Prime Minister Edi Rama told local media that Wednesday would be a national “day of mourning”.
“We have lost human lives, we have also saved a lot of lives,” he said.
Some 300 local soldiers and 1,900 police were sent to Durres and Thumane to assist with the rescue efforts, according to authorities.
Aid also poured in from around Europe, with teams from Italy, Greece and Romania among those deployed to help.
Albania’s cities and coastline have undergone rapid development in recent decades, and illegal construction ignoring building codes is rife.
Felt Across the Balkans
Tuesday’s quake was the strongest to hit the Durres region since 1926, seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television.
Albanian authorities described it as the most powerful in the last 20-30 years.
It struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT), with an epicentre 34 kilometres (about 20 miles) northwest of Tirana, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.
In Tirana, panicked residents ran out onto the streets and huddled together after the quake struck.
Several powerful aftershocks followed, including one of 5.3 magnitude.
The tremors were felt across the Balkans, from Sarajevo to Belgrade and the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometres away, according to reports in local media and on social networks.
The Balkan peninsula lies near the fault line of two large tectonic plates — the African and Eurasian — and earthquakes are frequent.
The movements of the small Adriatic micro-plate also produces earthquakes, according to Kresimir Kuk from the Croatian seismological institute.
The most devastating quake in recent times hit North Macedonia’s capital Skopje in July 1963, killing around a thousand people and destroying some 80 percent of the city.
A strong earthquake hit Albania Saturday afternoon, forcing residents into the street in several cities, triggering power cuts in the capital and the collapse of some buildings in a nearby village.
“There are no deaths,” Albania’s defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.
“Some 20 people went to the hospital for light injuries caused by (falling) objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks,” she told AFP.
She added that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.
Albania’s defence ministry said it was “the strongest earthquake in the country in last 20 to 30 years”.
The epicentre of the quake, with a magnitude of 5.6 and a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), was located near Durres, less than 40 kilometres west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.
AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital. Merchandise in a supermarket was seen strewn over the floor.
Falling masonry had damaged parked cars in Tirana.
At the University of Tirana, the building housing the geology department was also damaged, according to witnesses.
Media reported that a big building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.
According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.
In Tirana, many people fearful of aftershocks remained outside their homes for several hours.
“I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others,” a resident in her fifties, Drita Lohja, told AFP.
Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
Electricity and telephone lines were cut off in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.
Albania’s law to ban gambling will take effect on January 1st,2019 to curb domestic violence and poverty to lining the pockets of criminals, Albania’s love of gambling has spawned a scourge of social ills in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
But at the start of 2019, the Balkan state is taking a nationwide resolution to break the addiction in hopes of curbing suffering that has consumed many families.
On January 1 a law will go into effect shuttering the 4,300 betting venues that have cropped up on nearly every street corner in the country of 2.8 million people.
It is an “extremely high” ratio of one shopper 670 people, far above that seen in both neighboring Balkan states and more developed Western European countries, says economist Klodian Tomorri.
The betting blackout will also outlaw online gambling and restrict casinos — some of which are currently near schools — to five-star hotels in licensed tourist resorts.
For people like Arta, a 31-year-old mother of two, the move is welcome although it comes too late to shield her own family from a devastating loss.
Last July her husband leaped off a building after betting for the losing team in Belgium-France football match, she recalls with tears and trembling hands.
“He bet on Belgium, but in fact, what he got was misery,” said Arta, who is now relying on around 100 euros of monthly state aid to raise her young kids.
According to a study by the University of Tirana, one out of four gamblers has attempted suicide at least once.
Another 70 percent have struggled with stress and psychological problems.
“We also found a close link between domestic violence and gambling, which has led many families to experience very serious crises,” said Iris Luarasi, who runs a counseling line for victims of violence.
Ilir Musta, a heavyset 35-year-old man, experienced that type of family catastrophe first hand.
“I don’t know how to get out of this, please help me,” he recently told a doctor in Tirana, where he was seeking help for anxiety.
“The game was good at first, but now it’s cancer. I lost my life, my wife, my daughter, I’m a living dead,” added Ilir, speaking in a shaky voice as his eyes darted around the room.
He started betting on sports just two years ago, convinced he was on the verge of making a fortune.
But instead, he found himself drowning in debt and ended up in prison for violently beating his wife after she asked for a divorce.
There are scores of other families who have been ruptured by the destructive addiction.
According to Tirana lawyer Vjollca Pustina, some 70 percent of divorce cases brought to court in the capital this year have been linked to gambling.
The government says rehabilitation centers will be opened to help gamblers who will be forced to quit cold turkey.
But there is concern that the centers will not be ready soon enough.
“Gambling addiction is a disease and must be managed once the betting rooms are closed for players, but for the moment rehabilitation centers are completely missing,” said Menada Petro, professor of social sciences at the University of Durres.
Cash and crime
The industry has also been criticized for draining money from families in a country where the average monthly salary is below 300 euros ($342).
According to official figures, Albanians spend some 140 to 150 million euros ($170 million) on sports betting annually, which amounts to 70 percent of what the average family spends on healthcare.
But when accounting for illegal betting, the real figure is estimated to be around 700 million euros ($798 million), according to the government.
For Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, another core goal is cutting off cash flow for organized crime groups who profit from the industry and use it to launder money.
But he admits that the new law will not end the fight against gangs, a key task for a government that wants to kickstart EU accession talks.
“The war will continue as criminals change their skin and strategy,” Rama said in a recent TV interview.
Some betting shops already closed in December while others are trying to profit from a final year-end rush, said Artan Shyti, president of the Federation of Albanian Betting Companies.
The next battle will be controlling illegal venues, especially online.
Betting firms “have started to move to Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo where they already have their subsidiaries and can operate quietly (online),” Shyti told AFP.
Albania tried to reduce the number of betting clubs in 2013, but politics and special interests got in the way.
Now the new law, passed in October, will put some 8,000 people out of work.
“The authorities have allowed (this industry to grow) and now they are forcing us to suddenly close our business without distinguishing between clean and dirty (operations),” says Arjan Gumi, 47, who has run small betting club in Tirana for 16 years.
He says he doesn’t yet know what to do next and is hoping the government follows through on a promise to assist the unemployed.
Wales lost 1-0 to Albania in a friendly in Elbasan on Tuesday as Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale was restricted to a second-half cameo as a substitute.
The only goal of the game came as Bekim Balaj converted from the penalty spot after 58 minutes as Derby winger Harry Wilson brought down Taulant Xhaka — brother of Arsenal and Switzerland midfielder Granit — in the box.
Bale came onto the field as did Arsenal playmaker Aaron Ramsey shortly after as coach Ryan Giggs attempted to avoid a surprising defeat to the team ranked 60th in the world but it was to no avail.
In a frustrating evening for the visitors, Bale was shown a yellow card after 83 minutes for a needless tackle on Xhaka.
The best chance for Giggs’s outfit fell to Burnley forward Sam Vokes whose weak effort from five yards out was parried away easily by Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha during stoppage time in the first half.
Defender Chris Gunter captained Wales to became his country’s most-capped male footballer of all time, surpassing former Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall on 93 appearances.
The result was Wales’ second straight loss after being beaten 2-1 to Denmark in the Nations League on Friday.
“It will hurt for a while because we don’t like to lose back-to-back games so it’s disappointing and we’ll take a few days to get over it,” Gunter told television channel S4C.
“I said before the game it wasn’t about myself, it was about the team coming here and putting on a good performance and a good result to end the year which is disappointing,” he added.
Host country France had to battle from a goal down to beat the Republic of Ireland to reach the quarter-finals at the ongoing euro championship.
Ireland got off to a stunning start in the second minute, as Robbie Brady converted a penalty after Shane Long was fouled in the box.
But the French team hit back through Antoine Griezmann, who nodded in the equaliser before driving in the winning goal, both in the second half.
“I knew it was going to be a difficult match, and when Ireland took the lead it made us a bit more uncomfortable in the first half.
They showed a lot of enthusiasm but we had to dig deep, get through the situation and get in front,” France coach, Didier Deschamps, said.
He also explained his half time change which brought in Conman for Kante, “It was to get more presence up front. Ireland were quite deep so we wanted to get Griezmann closer to Giroud, bring on some speed with Coman and use the wings a bit better.
“But above all, to get more presence up front – the four attacking players all created chances.”
The Republic of Ireland ended the match with 10 men as Shane Duffy was sent off for a professional foul on Griezmann.
Didier Deschamps’s side will face England or Iceland in the next round at Stade de France on Sunday.