TIRANA (Reuters) - An Albanian government decree allowing U.S. Marines to be the only armed corps guarding President George W. Bush on a visit next week has been seen by some in Albania as an insult to their security forces.
Albania has been looking forward to Bush’s visit on June 10, the first by a U.S. president. He will be staying for seven hours as part of a regional tour.
As part of preparations, parliament on Thursday approved an act that allows more than 500 combat-ready U.S. troops entry into the country, and sanctions their use of “force proportionate to any possible threat”.
Albania’s formal elite escort for visiting dignitaries, the Republican Guard, will not be allowed to carry guns on the day.
“I abstain from voting because it is discriminatory for the Defense Ministry and the people,” said Bashkim Fino, a former prime minister and opposition MP. “I see no reason for American forces to come and guarantee security.”
Parliament passed the decree unanimously, though 53 MPs were not present at the time.#
“Please Occupy Us”, ran a headline in the top-selling Korrieri above an article saying the decision meant Albanians were “unworthy of being masters of their own house”.
But the debate was unlikely to dent the excitement over Bush. Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, is fervently pro-Western after four decades of Stalinist rule ended in 1990.
It aims for eventual European Union membership but reserves special affection for the United States for helping to stop the slaughter of its ethnic brothers in Kosovo in 1999.
The breakaway territory in Serbia is expected to get independence this year over the objections of Belgrade.
Albania’s Defense Ministry has defended the government’s move, saying it would plug security holes in areas were the Albanian forces had little experience.
Local police will still be on high alert during Bush’s visit, reinforcing security measures at foreign embassies, schools and markets and will have plain-clothes policemen in the city.