TIRANA, Albania — Preliminary results of Albania’s municipal elections on Monday showed that a mayoral candidate from the Greek minority has won the post while he is in detention for alleged vote-buying.
Friday’s arrest of Dionisios Alfred Beleri, a candidate for mayor of the Albanian city of Himare — a town located in the Albanian Riviera 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of the capital, Tirana, that has a Greek minority presence — raised tensions between the two neighbors.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry demanded Beleri’s immediate release, hinting that the case could negatively impact Albania’s application to join the European Union.
Beleri was apprehended by Albanian police while allegedly offering around 40,000 Albanian leks (€360; $390) to purchase eight votes. Another individual was also arrested on similar charges, and a court confirmed on Saturday that both would remain in custody.
Beleri belongs to the Human Rights Union Party of the ethnic Greek minority, but in this 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.
Supporters were shouting his name Monday after learning of Beleri’s victory, just 19 votes ahead of the candidate of the governing Socialist Party.
On Saturday Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka responded angrily to Athens’ remarks, saying it was “nearly impossible to understand how our friends have the right to dispute a court decision in our country, when the hard evidence they were looking for couldn’t be any harder — Beleri has been caught engaging in criminal activity against free and fair elections.”
Relations between Greece and post-communist Albania have been at times uneasy, largely over the issues of minority rights and the sizable Albanian community in Greece.