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Albanian PM sticks to Serbia visit despite football mayhem

17 October 2014, 18:27

Tirana - Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama will make a planned landmark visit to Serbia despite violence that led to the abandoning of a Serbia-Albania football match, an official said here on Friday.

"Rama confirmed that he has decided to travel to Belgrade" on October 22, in the first visit of an Albanian prime minister to Serbia in 68 years, deputy prime minister Niko Peleshi told AFP.

The visit would come barely a week after a Euro 2016 qualifying tie in the Serbian capital had to be abandoned on Tuesday night after a drone carried a pro-Albanian flag over the stadium, sparking fighting between the two sides.

European football's governing body UEFA has opened a formal probe into both Serbia and Albania over the violence, on and off the pitch, for which both countries blame each other.

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Serbia's interior ministry accused Rama's brother of controlling the drone from his seat in the stadium's executive box.

But economist Olsi Rama, who later returned to Tirana with the Albanian team to a hero's welcome, said he had "nothing to do with the drone. I don't understand where this story came from," Rama said.

"I was neither arrested nor detained. When the incident occurred the situation became chaotic, police were checking everyone."

Tirana's position over the prime minister's visit remains the same, Peleshi said, that it should take place "despite the disappointment caused by the incidents and reaction of Serbian officials."

"This visit is in the interest of our two countries but of course it comes to the Serbian part to confirm its commitment and will to ensures that it goes on smoothly."

Serbian leaders had labelled the incident a planned "political provocation".

Meanwhile, an Albanian foreign ministry spokesman said that Tirana was continuing preparations for Rama's visit.

"Albania has firmly decided not to fall into the trap of violence which marked the football match," spokesman Glevi Dervisihi said.

Tirana "remains committed to work for peace, cooperation and dialogue between the countries in the region," he stressed.

Rama's visit was made possible by improved ties between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 despite opposition from Belgrade.

The April 2013 deal between Belgrade and Pristina on normalisation of relations was brokered by the European Union that the former foes, as well as Albania, hope to join.

Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been sensitive over Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian minority in southern Serbia, who often demand more autonomy.




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