Albanian parliament to hold vote of confidence for new government

The Albanian parliament was expected Saturday to approve the new government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who has vowed to fight poverty, unemployment and corruption in the tiny, formerly communist country.

Berisha presented the new government and its agenda on Friday, saying it would focus on consolidating democratic institutions, dismantling corruption and improving the rule of law as Albania seeks membership in both the European Union and NATO.

Economically, he said, his government would seek to cut taxes for small businesses and fight organized crime and trafficking, while pulling people from poverty by doubling salaries and pensions.

"We are a government of service, where the citizen is number one," he said Friday before parliament began debating the government agenda.

Berisha's Democratic Party leads the new coalition, which together won 80 of 140 parliamentary 140 seats in July 3 elections _ enough to ensure approval despite a pledge by opposition Socialists to reject the new government. One independent lawmaker and two others from a small, leftist party were also expected to support Berisha's Cabinet.

The new prime minister said that, in 2006, Albania would sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU _ considered the first step toward possible membership in the bloc _ and would become a NATO member within his four-year mandate.

The Socialists, who have run government for the last eight years, said Friday they would support "standard national, reforms that would speed up the country's walk toward Euro-Atlantic integration."

But later, they said they would vote against the new government, and again questioned the legitimacy of the July 3 elections. Election officials waited more than two months to announce final results after handling some 320 official complaints.

"The legitimacy of this government is limited because of the manipulation and irregularities in the July 3 elections," Socialist Secretary-General Gramoz Ruci said, and called for the new parliament to reform the electoral system within the year.

Berisha returns to the post of prime minister, after he was forced to resign in 1997, after the widespread collapse of pyramid investment schemes led to anarchy among the population.

During the afternoon session parliamentarians held a minute of silence for the Katrina hurricane victims.

Berisha has said that as soon as the new Cabinet is approved by parliament it will send US$300,000 (Ђ242,000) in aid and a medical team to the United States, AP reported.

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