The mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki Kostas Bakoyannis and Konstantinos Zervas addressed a rally by the Greek minority in Albania’s Himare on Monday evening calling for the release of the city’s elected mayor Fredi Beleri, who is held in jail in Tirana.
A videotaped message by European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas was also shown at the rally.
Beleri was detained on May 12 on allegations of bribing voters, two days before being elected mayor of Himare. Although he has not been officially charged yet, all appeals he has lodged with the Tirana courts to be released have been rejected. Greece has vehemently protested his continuing detention with Albania, as well as with European and other authorities. The rally was scheduled on August 14, the final deadline day of a three-month allowance for an elected mayor to be sworn in and assume office before new elections have to be called.
The event was organized by the Greek National Minority organization ‘Omonoia’ and attended by Greeks from the region and from Greece, as well as Albanian opposition parties members protesting the continuing detention of the elected Himare mayor and who had accused Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama of political motivations.
In his videotaped message, Schinas called on Albanians to “end a tactic that is not benefitting their country, and is not to the benefit of the Albanian people’s European ambitions.” He added that a lot of time had been lost but even now it was not late to right what he called “a deeply un-European” happening and allow Beleri to be sworn in and assume his duties. “No other choice can be acceptable by the European Union,” he said, speaking as vice-president of the European Commission for Promoting our European Way of Life.
Addressing the rally, Bakoyannis said his presence was in support of freedom and democracy. As mayor of Athens and as president of the B40 Balkan Cities Network, he said, “I convey this message to you: democracy cannot be jailed. Citizens’ voice cannot be silenced. The will of the people cannot be falsified. Himare has a mayor, and this is final – his name is Fredi Beleri.” The Athens mayor underlined the need to defend the rule of law and European principles during a time when Albania seeks to become a European Union member.
Thessaloniki’s mayor Zervas expressed his region’s support and said that all sister cities to Thessaloniki had received a letter from him explaining the Beleri case, from Sidney to San Francisco. He added that “everyone must learn why Fredi is being tortured and his rights being trodden upon, so that nobody can say they did not know that in this corner of the world, democracy is being threatened and uprooted.” The battle for Beleri’s rights is a battle for democracy and the protection of the Greek National Minority, he added.
Other speakers included leading Greek minority leaders and, from Greece, ruling New Democracy MPs Kostas Gioulekas and Vassilis Giogiakas, Igoumenitsa Mayor Giannis Lolos, and others. The event was held in Greek and Albanian and there were no incidents.