January 30, 2017 / 9:16 PM / 3 years ago

Albanian prime minister sacks outspoken justice minister

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama fired outspoken Justice Minister Ylli Manjani on Monday, saying he wanted to cooperate better with parliament to push through judicial reforms.

Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, October 2, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Manjani held a news conference and accused Rama of sacking him in revenge for speaking out about cannabis growing and alleged corruption, although his own party said it had not opposed the move.

Manjani’s dismissal caps a week of discord between Rama’s Socialists and their junior coalition partners, the Socialist Integration Party (SIP).

“We could sack either the PM or the minister. We chose the PM’s solution to show we are serious partners to create a climate of cooperation to push reforms and the country’s European integration,” said SIP secretary Luan Rama.

The prime minister said he had decided to replace Manjani with Petrit Vasili, also from the SIP.

Speaking shortly after he had been sacked, Manjani said he had clashed with Rama over the legality of a road-lighting concession, the protection of foreign investments, and mostly for publicly airing his views without government permission.

“I believe 100 percent that my firing today by the prime minister is an act of pure revenge for my stand, my positions, especially on cannabis growing,” he said.

Rama’s government had managed to eradicate the large-scale cultivation of cannabis in the southern village of Lazarat in 2014.

But in the following two years cannabis growing spread to an area five times that size in the Balkan state, and police have been unable to catch known cannabis trafficker Klement Balili, wanted by neighbouring Greece since last May.

Manjani said the pressure for him to go began after he said the army should go after cannabis growers.

“I was the only official who systematically called for the arrest of Klement Balili. When I called for his arrest, policemen ate and drank at Santa Quaranta,” Manjani said, referring to a hotel run by Balili’s family.

Manjani also said two government ministers had stayed with their mistresses at Balili’s hotel, which faces the Greek island of Corfu.

Neither the police nor other ministers were available to comment.

Reporting By Benet Koleka; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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