Albania waives visa for Saudis |
Arab News - 06 July, 2012
Saudi nationals will no longer need visa to get into Albania, a country in southeast Europe with a predominantly Muslim population.
“The measure, which is strongly backed by the Albanian government, comes within the framework of an ambitious plan to boost business and tourism between Saudi Arabia and Albania," said Admirim Banaj, Albanian ambassador, while announcing the visa waiver plan for Saudis on experimental basis, here yesterday.
Banaj said: "The visa waiver program had been launched on an experimental basis for the summer until Sept. 25 this year."
Citizens of three other Gulf countries — the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait — too would not require visas to enter Albania, said Banaj. "The citizens of the four Gulf countries will be exempted from requiring visas with immediate effect when they enter, exit or stay in Albania for 30 days," said the envoy.
He pointed out that Tirana was also considering to launch similar visa waiver programs for Oman and Bahrain. He hoped the exemption of visa requirements will prove helpful to the tourism industry and the business sector.
"The decision will also promote people-to-people level contacts," said the envoy. He also disclosed that any Saudi or Gulf national holding a Schengen visa is now allowed to enter Albania without Albanian visa.
"This is another open-ended provision for visa in terms of time frame," said the envoy, adding that this visa rule (with Schengen visa) will help Gulf nationals enter Albania even after Sept. 25 or any time in future," he said.
The envoy’s announcement coincides with the election of the new Albanian President Bujar Nishani. "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah sent a cable of congratulations to President Nishani, 45, on the occasion of his election as president.”
On this occasion, King Abdullah also highlighted the distinguished relations between the two countries, said an SPA report.
The Albanian Parliament elected government nominee Nishani, 45, as national president on Monday in a fourth-round vote after talks between the ruling coalition and opposition failed to produce a consensus candidate. Nishani, formerly the interior minister, was elected by a simple majority.
Banaj said that he had been holding talks with Saudi businessmen and tourism organizations in the Kingdom to boost these sectors. He said he discussed some plans and proposals with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company, and Prince Sultan bin Salman, SCTA chief, recently. To this end, he noted that Albania is one of the few countries in Europe that is recording economic growth.
Banaj said: "Albania is a place where the Ionian and Adriatic coasts cover the marks of the ancient civilizations, making it a prime tourism destination, yet to be discovered for many travelers." The tourism sector in Albania has consistently reported growth over the past five years with tourism accounting for approximately 11 percent of Albania’s GDP.
Asked about the proposal being discussed by the Saudi and Albanian officials to finance the construction of the Albanian Parliament, the envoy said, "There was a strong possibility that Riyadh will help finance the construction of the new Parliament building of Albania."
The two countries are in talks over the proposal to finance the construction of Albania's $ 160 million Parliament, he added, while referring to the move as "a gesture of Saudi solidarity with Albania."
In the recent past, several aid agencies of the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia have extended aid and soft loan facilities to that country. Albania signed a deal with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to finance the construction of the $ 373 million (SR 1.4 billion) Tirana-Elbasan Highway Project last year. Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) and a few other Gulf institutions are supporting this project.
Albania is also looking for $ 587 million (SR 2.2 billion) to fund its Rural Roads Project.
The IDB, OPEC Fund for Development, World Bank and other international organizations have shown interest in the project and some other projects, added Banaj.