New Albanian president sworn in

1179.jpgBamir Topi was sworn in as president of Albania on Tuesday (July 24th). He pledged to work for the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

Along with Croatia and Macedonia, Albania is hoping to be invited to join NATO in 2008. It signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU last year, thus completing a major first step on its path towards eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.

“Nowadays, everything needs to change as we are coping with new historic challenges wanted by the Albanian people,” Topi said as he took the oath at a ceremony Tuesday evening. The event began with a special plenary session of the country’s 140-seat parliament and continued at Tirana’s Palace of Brigades.

A 50-year-old biologist and researcher who once served as agriculture minister, Topi is deputy leader of Albania’s ruling Democratic Party. He has been elected a member of parliament three times since the end of communism in 1991, and is considered a moderate.

Recent polls suggest he is the most popular figure in politics, according to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Topi replaces Alfred Moisiu, whose five-year term expired on Tuesday.

Topi was elected on Friday with the support of 85 of the 91 lawmakers attending the voting session. Three previous ballots failed to produce a winner, as none of the presidential candidates managed to receive the constitutionally required minimum of 84 votes. In the third round of voting on July 15th, Topi won 50 votes, while his leftist opponent Neritan Ceka gained 32.

On Friday, seven opposition MPs ignored a boycott called by the Socialist Party, thus helping to end a political impasse that was pushing the country towards early elections.

Reiterating their support for Albania’s EU bid, the Union’s foreign ministers welcomed on Monday the successful conclusion of the elections process and urged “all political forces to work together in moving forward with the reforms needed”.

Topi, whose post vests him with power over the judiciary and the armed forces, has promised to restore the political balance and to promote institutional reform.

“I pledge to bring balance to the Albanian political climate and modernise our institutions to make sure we live up to the challenge of joining the EU and NATO,” Reuters quoted him as telling lawmakers Friday.

As he took office Tuesday, Topi called for unity, vowing also to stay above the political parties and interests. He also said he would back measures that would ultimately boost the credibility of politicians.

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