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Monday, 16 August 2010

Albania 'Road Rage' Death Sparks Ethnic Fears (Albania)

The death of a Greek minority man in an apparent road rage incident in Southern Albania has provoked fears of unrest among ethnic communities.

Officials from Athens, Tirana and the Orthodox Church have condemned the killing of Aristotel Gumi, 35, who died after being struck by a car in his home village of Himara four days ago following an argument with a group of Albanians.
Grigoris Delavekouras, the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman, condemned the death, calling on the entire Albanian political class to react.

“Unacceptable criminal acts like that aim to arouse ethnic tension with unpredictable consequences and undermine the bilateral relations between Greece and Albania,” he said.

Sali Berisha, the Albanian Prime Minister, said: “If the motives reported in the media are right, this was a terrible crime, an extremely fanatical and blind act.”

Vangjel Dule, the head of the minority party, the Union for Human Rights, PBDNJ, said in a statement on Monday that only officers from the Greek minority should police Himara to avoid problems in the future.

Gumi is reported to have got into a quarrel with an Albanian man and four of his friends at a roadside bar on Thursday night.

He was allegedly run down by a car driven by his rival as he fled on his motorcycle.

The local community has been angered over reports the suspects turned on Gumi over his use of the Greek language.
Dozens of townspeople from Himara and nearby villages used boulders to block the main road connecting the town with city of Vlora in protest over the killing, leaving thousands of tourists stranded for nearly 14-hours.
Seven youths from the nearby city of Vlora have been charged with Gumi's premeditated murder and aiding a fugitive, after being arrested on Friday.

The main suspect reported to police on Sunday evening.

The head of Albania’s Orthodox Church, Archbishop Janullatos, who is also Greek, called on the authorities to inform the public about the incident “in order not to ruin the climate of coexistence between the two ethnic communities”.

In a string of interviews with the local media, the mayor of Himara Vasil Bollano, called the death “unprecedented,” saying it was motivated by ethnic hatred.

A controversial figure, Bollano was acquitted by an appeals court two months ago over charges of abuse of power for ordering the removal of road signs because they were not bilingual.

He has previously declared large areas of southern Albania as 'Greek land' and claimed autonomy for the region.

Estimates of the Greek minority in Albania range around three per cent of the total population.