Greek minority candidate Fredi Beleri won the mayoral elections in the city of Himara on Sunday, southern Albania despite his arrest last week.
Beleri was arrested on charges of vote-buying on Thursday evening. His win was greeted with enthusiasm by ethnic Greeks in the town of Himara.
Some supporters sang the Greek National Anthem.
Beleri, who also serves as the president of the local branch of Omonia, was running as a candidate in the municipal elections in Himara with the backing of both KEAD and Omonia, as well as the opposition coalition led by the Democratic Party, headed by former prime minister Sali Berisha, and the left-wing Freedom Party, led by former president Ilir Meta.
His arrest prompted a diplomatic response from Athens. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday that he had reached out to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding his detention.
Taking to social media, Mitsotakis emphasized the firm stance of Greece and the EU, stating, “Albania needs to understand that Greece and the EU will not accept any compromises on the rule of law and the protection of the rights of the ethnic Greek minority.”
Throughout his campaign, Beleri has faced vehement attacks from both sections of the media and Prime Minister Edi Rama. Allegedly, just hours before his arrest, Rama made televised statements suggesting that he would personally confront Beleri after the elections.
Greek minority in Albania
The Greek minority in Albania is concentrated in the south of the country, along the border with Greece, an area referred to by Greeks as “Northern Epirus”. The largest concentration is in the districts of Sarande, Gjirokaster, Delvine and in Himara.
Albania says that Greeks in the country number around 20,000, although the Greek minority organizations dispute this, claiming that their numbers are much higher.
Occasionally tensions boil over and create a crisis in bilateral relations between Tirana and Athens.
The most serious incident occurred in October 2018, when ethnic Greek Konstantinos Katsifas, was shot and killed by Albanian security forces in the village of Burat (Vouliarates). Local Greeks maintained that Katsifas was executed.
Himara is a bilingual town in Southern Albania along the Albanian Riviera and part of the Vlorë County.
Both the town and municipality are populated predominantly by an ethnic Greek community. In antiquity the region was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The town of Himara is believed to have been founded Chimaera, hence the name Himara, by the Chaonians as a trading outpost on the Chaonian shore.
However, another theory about the name suggests that it comes from the Greek χείμαρρος (cheimarros), meaning “torrent”.