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Albanian authorities strip ethnic Greek mayor of his post for alleged vote buying

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian election authorities on Friday stripped an ethnic Greek minority mayor of his post after he was imprisoned on charges of vote-buying in municipal elections last year.

A new election will be held Aug. 4.

Fredis Beleris, 51, was elected mayor of the Albanian city of Himare — a town in the Albanian Riviera 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of the capital, Tirana, that has a Greek minority presence — in May 2023. He was arrested two days before the election while allegedly offering 40,000 Albanian leks (360 euros; $390) to buy eight votes.

Last month an Albanian appeals court upheld a two-year prison sentence for Beleris, a move which exacerbated tensions with neighboring Greece.

In response to Friday’s decision, the Greek foreign ministry issued a statement saying Beleris’ case “raises several questions concerning fundamental principles of the rule of law” in Albania.

Beleris belongs to the Human Rights Union Party of the ethnic Greek minority, but in last year’s municipal vote he was the candidate for a coalition that also included the center-left Freedom Party of former President Ilir Meta and a breakaway group from the center-right opposition Democratic Party of former Prime Minister and President Sali Berisha.

Beleris has denied the charges, and Athens has described his detention as politically motivated.

Beleris, who has dual citizenship, also won a Greek seat in the European Parliament representing the governing conservative New Democracy party in European Union elections last month.

Greece has warned Albania that Beleris’ case could negatively impact its application to join the EU. Albania is in the process of negotiating full membership.

Albania’s government said it could do nothing while the case was in court.

European Parliament lawmakers enjoy substantial legal immunity from prosecution, even if the allegations relate to crimes committed prior to their election.

In Beleris’ case that rule is unlikely to affect the outcome, as he is serving time for a crime committed in a non-EU member country.

Greece and Albania, a former communist country and a current NATO member, have a historically tense relationship, largely over issues of Greek minority rights and the sizable Albanian community in Greece.

Associated Press