Obituaries

Leka Zogu, Albania’s self-styled king, dies at 72

Hektor Pustina/associated press
Leka Zogu led a crowd of armed protesters outside Albania’s main elections building in 1997.

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

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

Mr. Zogu’s father, King Ahmet Zogu, was this small Balkan country’s first and only postindependence monarch, reigning from 1928 to 1939.

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

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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.

After Albania’s Communist regime fell in 1990, he made two disastrous attempts to return, being thrown out during the first in 1993 and facing charges of leading an armed uprising during the second in 1997.

The six-foot, five-inch tall Mr. Zogu finally settled in Albania in 2002, leading a quiet life with his wife and son, but never relinquishing his claim to the throne.

While living in 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.

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

Mr. 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 recall as prosperous and stable.

The second attempt 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 armed protesters outside the elections building, contending that the results of a national vote had been manipulated. After a shootout with police, in which one protester was killed and several wounded, Mr. Zogu fled Albania on a private jet.

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