TIRANA, Albania – Albania celebrated 100 years of independence Wednesday with a military parade, festive cavalcades and an 18-ton cake.
But the celebrations were soured by spats with two of the small Balkan country’s four neighbors, whose officials cancelled plans to attend.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha had spoken Tuesday of “Albanian lands” stretching from Preveza in Greece to Presevo in Serbia, and from the Macedonian capital of Skopje to the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.
The comments were also inscribed on a parchment that will be displayed at a museum in the city of Vlore, where the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire was declared in 1912.
Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov called off his visit after Macedonian Prime Minister Nicola Gruevski’s car was hit with an egg last week during a trip to Tirana, the Albanian capital.
Separately, Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos canceled his visit. A ministry statement said comments like Berisha’s “do not contribute to creating a climate of friendship, confidence and good neighborly relations.”
Berisha’s spokeswoman, Erla Mehilli, said the prime minister was speaking in a historical context and “in no way expressed any territorial claim towards our neighbors in the south, north or east.”
Montenegro’s president and the prime ministers of Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia turned up, as well as officials from Italy and Kosovo.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians – some on foot or on horseback – arrived from Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro for the festivities, which started in Vlore.
In Tirana’s central Skanderbeg Square, an 18-ton cake was distributed to the public, followed by a military parade.
Berisha’s earlier plans to slaughter 2,000 sheep and publicly roast them for the occasion were scrapped after an outcry by animal rights groups.