The prime suspect in the alleged homicide of a Greek man in the southern Albanian coastal town of Himare; a fatality that sparked heated local protests and top-level official statements in both Athens and Tirana, surrendered to police late on Sunday.
The man’s arrest comes on the heels of a high profile statement by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha over the weekend, who touched on the possibility that ethnic hatred may have been the real motive behind 37 year old Aristotelis Goumas’ death last Thursday. The victim was rammed by a car while riding his motorcycle. This incident was initially attributed by the local press as “road rage”.
“The deliberate death of a human being, in every instance, is a deplorable and condemnable crime. The motives, in case (the information) circulated is confirmed, are even more deplorable. The government has asked and is asking from the public safety authorities to make every effort to bring before justice the chief perpetrator of this crime. Let me once again stress, if the motives cited by the mass media and other people are confirmed, then it makes this crime even more inhumane. This is an act of extreme and blind fanaticism,” Berisha stated.
He added: “I do not believe that there is an Albanian that does not know that the community which lives in that city (Himare) is bilingual, and not just today, but 100 years and 200 years ago.”
Eyewitnesses in the coastal town said Goumas quarrelled with at least three men in his shop on Wednesday because they demanded he stop speaking Greek. He was subsequently assaulted by the trio, a day before one of the men allegedly ran him over.
Goumas’ death sparked a demonstration by local residents who blocked a busy coastal highway for several hours on Friday morning in protest. Municipal workers in Himare also held a work halt on Monday.
The suspect allegedly driving the vehicle was identified as Ilir Muca from the town of Vlore.
Speaking on Monday, the leader of the Unity for Human Rights Party Vangelis Dule called for a restructuring of police services in the town — which has see unprecedented growth as a resort over the past decade — as well as a more ethnic Himariotes on the local force.
The incident also drew stern condemnations from Albania’s main opposition Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration party.