TIRANA, June 30 (AFP) -
Albania, the southern Balkan state where legislative elections will be held on Sunday, is one of the poorest countries in Europe, after more than 50 years of communist dictatorship under Enver Hoxha who died in 1985.
- GEOGRAPHY: Covering some 28,748 square kilometers (11,099 square miles), Albania is a Mediterranean country which shares borders with Macedonia, Serbia-Montenegro and Greece. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea in the west, and a coast on the Ionian Sea in the southwest.
- POPULATION: 3,1 million people.
- CAPITAL: Tirana (population of 500,000).
- RELIGION: Muslims (70 percent), Orthodox Christians (15 percent ), Catholics (8 percent).
- HISTORY: In 1912, after four centuries of the Ottoman empire's rule, Albania proclaimed independence in the southern town Vlora. Ahmed Zogu came to power in 1922 and in 1925, was elected president. He proclaimed a monarchy and became king in 1928, under the name Zog the First. In April 1939, Italy invaded the country and King Zog fled Albania, leaving the throne to Victor-Emmanuel III. Albanian communists, linked with Yugoslav leader Tito, launched a resistance movement against the fascists and Nazis, under the leadership of Stalinist Enver Hoxha.
In 1946, Hoxha proclaimed the People's Republic of Albania, which later become totally isolated. Hoxha ruled the country with an iron fist until his death in 1985. In 1990, his successor Ramiz Alia faced a popular revolt which he severely crushed. Thousands of Albanians fled the country but, under pressure from the street protests and unrest, Alia introduced a multi-party system and in December 1990 started the process of de-Stalinisation after 45 years of absolutist communist rule.
- POLITICS: President Alfred Moisiu, former defense minister, elected by the parliament on June 24, 2002. Prime Minister Fatos Nano, leader of the Socialist party since 1991.
In February and March 2004, social discontent provoked a series of protests, gathering thousands of people demanding Nano's dismissal.
In November 1998, more than 93.5 percent of voters adopted a new Constitution via a referendum.
- ECONOMY: After the communist regime was overthrown, Albania was left with an obsolete industrial base and a pattern of industrial capacity wholly unsuited to its needs.
In 1997, fraudulent pyramid schemes ruined the Albanian economy and left thousands without savings.
Almost half of the economically-active population is still engaged in agriculture, one fifth is believed to be working abroad, while unemployment is officially around 15 percent. According to UN data, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.
GNP: 2,414 dollars per inhabitant (World Bank 2004).
FOREIGN DEBT: 1.64 billion dollars (2004)
DEFENSE: Around 21.500 troops (IISS 2004/2005).
Albania is among the first ex-communist countries to join NATO Partnership for peace programme in 1994. In May 2003, together with Macedonia and Croatia, Albania signed an "Adriatic Chapter" with the United States, aimed at facilitating its integration into NATO.
Tirana was expected to sign an accord of stabilization and association with the European Union in 2004, but this was delayed after many European institutions strongly condemned Albania's failure to root out organized crime and corruption and the lack of political and economic progress.