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Albania Prime Minister Re-Elected

August 21, 2001

TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ Leaders of Albania’s governing Socialist Party on Monday overwhelmingly re-elected Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who has drawn praise for development projects but criticism from the party for choosing non-Socialists for key posts.

Meta defeated former finance minister, Arben Malaj, who resigned his Cabinet post in 1999 after local media accused him of corruption. Malaj heads the Socialists in parliament.

Albanian and foreign political experts considered the race a conflict between Meta’s Western-trained officials and the old guard, made up largely of former communist officials. The vote followed the party’s victory in June parliamentary elections.

Meta, who has been prime minister since October 1999, won 84 votes from the party’s steering committee. Malaj collected 29 votes, and a third candidate, Spartak Poci, received five.

Meta, 32, has headed a government made up of young officials chosen regardless of their political affiliation. His rival, Malaj, 40, had promised a Cabinet under total party control.

``You have seen my total commitment and devotion to changing Albania, and Albania has changed enough for those who want to see the change,″ Meta said after the vote.

Apparently in response to his rivals’ accusations that he lacks party loyalty, Meta promised earlier Monday that he would include only people with strong party affiliations in the government

``The new Cabinet ministers will be Socialists with a political mandate,″ Meta said. ``Those who accuse me of turning the government into a club of friends are wrong.″

During his two years in office, Meta has overseen economic growth and construction of new roads in Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries. The gross domestic product grew by more than 7 percent last year, and inflation was below 4 percent.

His support for a peaceful solution in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian rebels have been fighting the government, has won him points with the West.

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