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Albanian court jails Greek mayor amid long-running tensions with Athens

TIRANA (Reuters) -An Albanian court jailed an elected mayor from the Greek minority for two years for election fraud on Tuesday, a sentence likely to raise tensions with neighbouring Greece that has warned of a possible impact on Albania's bid to join the EU.

Dhionisios Alfred Beleri was arrested in May 2023 and accused of buying votes during a mayoral election campaign in the southern coastal town of Himara.

He won the election but was never sworn in while being held on remand in pre-trial detention. He had denied wrongdoing.

The Special Court for Corruption and Organised Crime ruled that Beleri "committed the criminal offence of active corruption during elections ... to be punished with two years of imprisonment."

Beleri has 15 days to appeal.

Greece had asked that Beleri be sworn in while awaiting trial but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has said it was a judicial, not political, matter.

Relations between Albania and Greece have often flared because of cultural and historical differences and a huge number of Albanian immigrants in Greece and a Greek minority in Albania.

Greece said the court ruling added to concerns over the objectivity of the judicial process.

"The Greek government will monitor the case closely and looks forward to a fair and objective judgment at second instance," the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Greece’s longstanding position has been that Albania should respect the rights of an elected mayor and that its bid to join the European Union depends on it respecting the rule of law.

(Reporting by Florion Goga; Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens; Writing by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Nick Macfie)