2011-11-30

Albania’s self-styled King Leka dies at 72

BY LLAZAR SEMINI The Associated Press


IN THIS PHOTO taken July 3, 1997, Albania’s King Leka I Zogu, the self-proclaimed heir to the throne, walks armed and dressed in camouflage during a protest claiming manipulation of the result of a referendum on the monarchy in Tirana. A spokeswoman for Albania’s royal family says that King Leka I has died of heart and lung problems at Tirana’s Mother Teresa Hospital today. He was 72. 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IN THIS PHOTO taken July 3, 1997, Albania’s King Leka I Zogu, the self-proclaimed heir to the throne, walks armed and dressed in camouflage during a protest claiming manipulation of the result of a referendum on the monarchy in Tirana. A spokeswoman for Albania’s royal family says that King Leka I has died of heart and lung problems at Tirana’s Mother Teresa Hospital today. He was 72. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS TIRANA, Albania

Leka Zogu, whose father served as Albania’s king until it was occupied by fascist Italy, and who twice returned home from exile to try to claim the throne himself, died tosday, his family said. He was 72.

Zogu died of a heart attack at the Mother Teresa Hospital in Tirana, said the family spokeswoman, Julinda Kamberi.

Zogu’s father, King Ahmet Zog, was this small Balkan country’s first and only postindependence monarch, reigning from 1928 to 1939, when he fled after Albania was occupied by Italian forces.

The king died in France in 1961 and is buried at the Thiais Cemetery near Paris, but the exiled royal family always insisted that Zogu was the country’s legitimate ruler.

Born just two days before Albania was occupied in 1939, Zogu spent most of his life in exile in Europe and Africa while his country was ruled by Communists who abolished the monarchy in 1946 and banned contact with the outside world.

After Albania’s Communist regime fell in 1990, Zogu made two disastrous attempts to return home — being thrown out during the first in 1993 and charged with leading an armed uprising during the second in 1997.

The six-foot, five-inch tall Zogu finally settled in Albania in 2002, leading a quiet life with his Australian wife and son but never relinquishing his claim to the throne. The royal family’s official website listed his interests as “arms, shooting, reading and history.”

While living in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1999, he was arrested — along with four of his bodyguards — for illegal possession of weapons and held in police custody for a week before being released on bail.

When he returned to Albania in June 2002, he brought with him 11 cases of automatic weapons, grenades and hunting arms, which authorities promptly seized. But the family got the weapons back six years later after Albania’s government deemed them items of cultural heritage.

Zogu was the only son of King Ahmet Zog, a Muslim chieftain who proclaimed himself Albania’s monarch in 1928 and ruled for 11 years during a time that many older Albanians now remember as prosperous and stable.

The second attempt by the monarch’s son to return to Albania in 1997 came amid the anarchy that followed the collapse of shady investment schemes that cost many Albanians their life savings.

Brandishing an Uzi submachine gun and a pistol, and clad in camouflage fatigues, Zogu led a crowd of armed protesters outside the main elections building, claiming the results of a national vote had been manipulated. After a shootout with police, in which one protester was killed and several wounded, Zogu fled Albania on a private jet.

Two years later a Tirana court sentenced him in absentia to three years in prison on charges of organizing the armed uprising. An appeals court later reduced the charge to illegal firearms possession, and in 2002 Albania’s president granted Zogu amnesty.

His family was given back some of its old royal properties and granted diplomatic passports. Zogu’s son, also named Leka, has since served as an adviser to several Albanian governments.

Today, a small royalist party is allied to the governing Democratic Party’s coalition of Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

Two years ago, Albania’s government pledged to bring home from Paris the late king’s remains, calling the monarch “one of the greatest, most distinguished personalities with a major contribution to the history of the Albanian nation.”

That could be done next year when Albania celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence.

Zogu was educated in Egypt, Switzerland and France and graduated from the military academy of Sandhurst, England. He studied economics and political science at the Sorbonne, France, and spoke English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Portuguese and Italian.

In 1975, he married Australian born Susan Cullen- Ward, who died in 2004.

Zogu’s Hungarian mother, Queen Geraldina, died in 2002.

Zogu is survived by his son, the self-styled Leka II.

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