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Albania: President Takes Office With Intensive Agenda For Change

Twenty-one cannon shots marked yesterday's swearing-in ceremony of Albania's new president, 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu. Moisiu, whose election last month was hailed as a reversal of Albania's 12 years of political stalemate, has vowed to fight crime and corruption and has set the country's sights on Western integration.

Tirana, 25 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Pledging to serve as "president of all Albanians," 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu, a former defense minister and retired army general, took office yesterday, offering an intensive agenda for political and social change. "I will promote all initiatives -- public or civic, political or parliamentary, juridical or institutional or governmental -- that ensure better implementation of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania; maximum respect for the right to vote and free will of all Albanian citizens; and the strengthening of the constitutional, economic, and political order in the irreconcilable struggle with criminality and corruption of all hues: all kinds of trafficking, international terrorism, and the illegitimate financial oligarchy," Moisiu said.

"For me, Albania comes first," the new president added, declaring the motto of his five-year term to be: "West, Peace, Justice, and Development."

Moisiu was elected Albania's new president last month by an overwhelming majority vote of consensus between ruling and opposition parties. Just a few days later, Moisiu had already become active in political life, suggesting that Socialist majority leader Fatos Nano remove from the new government all the officials implicated by Nano himself in corruption cases earlier this year. Nano has been tasked with creating the new cabinet, which is scheduled to be passed before parliamentary vacations begin on 3 August.

In an interview with RFE/RL this week, Moisiu said he would make compliance with anticorruption measures a top priority. Such comments have led analysts to speculate that dramatic shifts may be imminent in many state institutions. But Moisiu said his presidency will be one of gradual changes rather than instant overhauls. "I cannot start my duties aiming [only] for changes. My goal is to fight corruption and crime, and whoever supports this battle will, for sure, continue to carry on his duties. Whoever will try to slow its pace or not support it, of course, has to set the office free," Moisiu said.

Moisiu is known for his strong family ties and appreciation for Albanian culture and traditions. But he also speaks fluent Russian -- having studied military engineering in the Soviet Union -- and began studying English in earnest a decade ago as part of his efforts to shift Albania's sights toward the West. Since 1994, he has pushed for Albania's integration into NATO as president of the Albanian North Atlantic Association, something he says is still a distant prospect despite certain gains in recent years. "Although, on the one hand, there has been progress and positive steps taken in the military field, the lack of political stability has, on the other hand, definitely hindered Albania's integration. By achieving a political consensus, I believe, the main political forces will create the climate necessary for the country to move in the direction requested by the European Union and NATO," Moisiu said.

The new president, who laughingly describes himself as "too honest," says the social stability of Albanians has been devastated by years of government corruption and crippling poverty. Surveys have found that hundreds of families throughout the country now make their living through drug cultivation, trafficking, and black-market businesses.

It is a problem that Moisiu calls "serious," but not "unbeatable." He says, "As president of the republic, I will urge the Prosecutor-General's Office to show no mercy in confronting these phenomena."