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Paris-educated artist vows to redesign Albania
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama presents before parliament his cabinet's governing program on September 15, 2013. Parliament on Septrember 15 voted in Rama as Albania's new prime minister who vowed to accelerate the country's integration into the European Union and revive an ailing economy. AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU.

TIRANA (AFP).- Albania's new Prime Minister Edi Rama, who was voted in on Sunday, is a painter-turned-politician who has vowed to transform the poorest Balkan country into a modern European state.

A former student of Beaux Arts in Paris, 49-year-old Rama has adamantly fought to build up a "European Albania" as a "modern state ruled by law" ever since he entered politics after the fall of the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha in the late 1980s.

"Albania is our homeland and Europe is our future," he said in an interview with AFP, referring to a similar phrase about France by late French president Francois Mitterrand.

During his electoral campaign Rama pledged to improve living standards in the country where many depend heavily on financial aid sent by an estimated 1.5 million countrymen living in Western Europe and the United States.

He has also insisted on rooting out widespread corruption in Albania, which ranked 113th out of 174 countries on graft watchdog Transparency International's 2012 list.

Rivalry between Rama and his predecessor Sali Berisha dates back to his first political steps as he left a student-led democratic movement in the early 1990s over ideological disputes with the latter.

But it was not before 1998 that he joined a Socialist-led Albanian government as culture minister.

Ambitious and authoritative, Rama in 2005 took the helm of the Socialist Party, although for a long time he failed to unite all leftist forces on the Albanian political scene.

In 2009, he led his party into an almost drawn electoral battle with Berisha, but eventually lost the polls and contested the results, starting a series of anti-government protests that turned violent in January 2011, when three demonstrators were killed in clashes with police.

At the time Rama refused to yield to strong international pressure on the opposition to scale down the protests that could have brought the country to the edge of civil conflict. The dispute has significantly slowed down the country's EU integration.

Rama, the three-time mayor of Tirana from 2000 to 2011, set out to remake the impoverished capital into a lively modern city.

He has managed to improve security and bring some order to a chaotic property market in the capital which saw a post-communist population boom.

Inspired by years spent studying art in Paris, Rama took to revamping the facades of old communist-era buildings, painting them in bright colours that freshened up the city of some 900,000 inhabitants out of an entire population of 2.8 million.

In 2004 Rama was elected "Mayor of the world," at an international competition launched on the Internet by a London-based non-governmental organisation.

He has reportedly planned to take on former British prime minister Tony Blair as an advisor in case he wins the parliamentary elections. However, it is yet to be seen if Blair will eventually join his team.

The tall former basketball player, with short hair and a regular three-day beard, a fluent speaker of English, French and Italian, Rama is described by observers as an extravagant, but dynamic man and a strong personality.

Used to expressing himself through art, he often draws even during top political meetings and usually expresses his thoughts and impressions on interlocutors through colour drawings and paintings. Coloured pencils are a regular inventory on his working table.

"I would say that I am still an artist and I'm trying to use politics as an instrument for change," he once said.

Recently remarried, he has a son from a previous marriage with a famous actress.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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