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Last updateFri, 24 Oct 2014 3pm

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Tensions resurface in Albanian-Greek Relations

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Ethnic tensions resurface in Albania as a member of the Greek minority was killed. The ethnic minorities of both countries significantly affect the relations of the two NATO allies.

The death of a 37-year-old ethnic Greek man in the coastal Albanian town of Himare on Thursday, who was reportedly run down for speaking Greek in his own shop, sparked a demonstration by local residents, who blocked a busy main highway for several hours on Friday morning [date] in protest.

According to eyewitness reports from the township, Aristotelis Goumas was rammed by a car while riding his motorcycle and fatally injured. Three Albanian men from the central Albanian town of Vlore reportedly first confronted him in his shop, before assaulting him and finally crashing their car into his motorcycle.

Three suspects were charged in the incident, as Albanian authorities initially arrested six men, while local media on Friday referred to a traffic accident instead of a possible homicide. No police press release was issued.

In statements after the deadly incident, Himare Mayor Vassilis Bolanos emphasized that this is "a premeditated crime, as the perpetrators had been provoking the victim for days." Bolanos also referred to phenomena of ethnic intolerance, which he said harm Albanian society.

In Athens, foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said the incident and information that the alleged perpetrators acted out of ethnic prejudice have unnerved the ethnic Greek minority in the neighbouring country.

"Such unacceptable and criminal acts aim to generate ethnic tension, with unforeseen consequences, and to undermine Greek-Albanian bilateral relations . The Albanian government must guarantee the proper and swift dispensation of justice, something that will comprise the only answer, in practice, to the reasonable concerns of the Greek national minority in Albania," the spokesman added.

Finally, Delavekouras said the Greek foreign ministry is closely and continuously monitoring all of the issues affecting the Greek minority in Albania, underlining that the respect and protection of ethnic Greeks' rights and security, beyond the self-evident obligation of the Albanian government, is also mandated by international law and the European acquis communautaire, "for which Albania desires integration".

The main opposition New Democracy (ND) party and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also sharply condemned the incident and called on Athens to take all necessary measures to ensure that a full investigation and subsequent judicial actions are taken.

Fall-out continues

The prime suspect in the alleged homicide of an ethnic Greek man in the southern Albanian coastal town of Himare, a fatality that sparked heated local protests and top-level official statements in both Athens and Tirana, surrendered to police late on Sunday, Albanian police said.

The man's arrest comes on the heels of a high-profile statement by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha over the weekend, who touched on the possibility that ethnic hatred may have been the real motive behind 37-year-old Aristotelis Goumas' death last Thursday. The victim was rammed by a car while riding his motorcycle, an incident initially attributed by the local press to "road rage".

"The deliberate death of a human being, in every instance, is a deplorable and condemnable crime. The motives, in case (the information) circulated is confirmed, are even more deplorable. The government has asked and is asking from the public safety authorities to make every effort to bring before justice the chief perpetrator of this crime. Let me once again stress, if the motives cited by the mass media and other people are confirmed, then it makes this crime even more inhumane. This is an act of extreme and blind fanaticism," Berisha said, adding:

"I do not believe that there is an Albanian that does not know that the community which lives in that city (Himare) is bilingual, and not just today, but 100 years and 200 years ago."

Eyewitnesses in the coastal Albanian town said Goumas quarrelled with at least three men in his shop on Wednesday because the latter demanded he stop speaking Greek. He was subsequently assaulted by the trio, a day before one of the men allegedly ran him over.

Goumas' death sparked a demonstration by local residents, who blocked a busy coastal highway for several hours on Friday morning in protest. Municipal workers in Himare also held a work stoppage on Monday.

The suspect allegedly driving the vehicle was identified as one Ilir Muca from the town of Vlore.

Speaking on Monday, the leader of the Unity for Human Rights Party, Vangelis Dule, called for a restructuring of police services in the town -- which has see unprecedented growth as a resort over the past decade -- as well as a more ethnic Himariotes on the local force.

The incident also drew stern condemnations from Albania's main opposition Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration party.

In statements after the deadly incident, Himare Mayor Vassilis Bolanos emphasised that this is "a premeditated crime, as the perpetrators had been provoking the victim for days." Bolanos also referred to phenomena of ethnic intolerance, which he said harm Albanian society.

In Athens, foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said the incident and information that the alleged perpetrators acted out of ethnic prejudice have unnerved the ethnic Greek minority in the neighbouring country.

"Such unacceptable and criminal acts aim to generate ethnic tension, with unforeseen consequences, and to undermine Greek-Albanian bilateral relations. The Albanian government must guarantee the proper and swift dispensation of justice, something that will comprise the only answer, in practice, to the reasonable concerns of the Greek national minority in Albania," the spokesman added.

Finally, Delavekouras said the Greek foreign ministry is closely and continuously monitoring all of the issues affecting the Greek minority in Albania, underlining that the respect and protection of ethnic Greeks' rights and security, beyond the self-evident obligation of the Albanian government, is also mandated by international law and the European acquis communautaire, "for which Albania desires integration".

The main opposition New Democracy (ND) party and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also sharply condemned the incident and called on the government in Athens to take all necessary measures to ensure that a full investigation and subsequent judicial actions are taken.

"The Greek and Albanian people must condemn and isolate those searching for pretexts and reasons to cultivatae ethnic hatred and tension, because the latter serve the plans of the two people's enemies," a KKE statement read.

Moreover, a spokesman for the right-of-centre Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) party, Costis Aivaliotis, underlined in a statement that:

"If we killed everyone that spoke Albanian in Greece we would have transformed the land into a huge cemetery ... There's a difference: on that land (Himare) they have been speaking Greek continuously for 3,000 years."

These issues are old and as we can see from these two videos both side claims vicitmhood:

Greek:


Albanian:

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