Albania's self-styled King Leka dies at 72

AP News
|
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 12:05 PM
Albania's self-styled King Leka dies at 72

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 Wednesday, 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 Zogu, was this small Balkan country's first and only post-independence 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 he was the country's legitimate ruler.

Born just two days before Albania was occupied in 1939, Leka 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, he 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 (2-meter) tall Leka 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 Zogu, 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, he 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, Leka 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 the self-proclaimed king amnesty.

His family was given back some of its old royal properties and granted diplomatic passports. Leka Zogu's son 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.

On Wednesday, Albanian President Bamir Topi, Prime Minister Berisha and political parties sent condolences to Leka Zogu and his family.

"His active efforts and role to topple the communist system and, during transition, to heighten Albania's national values and promote the integrating process remain alive in the nation's memory," Topi said.

Berisha honored Leka Zogu by referring to him with the royal title he had always wanted.

The prime minister declared Saturday a day of national mourning and said Albania "will respect King Leka I with all the attributes of a king not in office."

Describing him as "one of the greatest personalities of (Albania's) political history," Berisha also questioned the result of a 1997 referendum that upheld the abolition of the monarchy. "The referendum was held under the flares of a communist rebellion and cannot be considered a closed issue," he said during a Cabinet meeting.

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, Leka II.

___

Online: http://www.albanianroyalcourt.al