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Archive for the ‘Ancient Land of Greece’ Category

Tens of thousands of goats munch Greek island into crisis

October 06, 2019

SAMOTHRAKI, Greece (AP) — With oak and chestnut forests, waterfalls and rugged coastline, Samothraki has a wild beauty and a remoteness that sets it apart from other Greek islands. There are no package holidays here or even a reliable ferry service to the mainland. Island authorities hope to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. Yet still, the natural environment is under threat from an insatiable assailant.

Goats outnumber human inhabitants 15-fold and they are munching stretches of Samothraki into a moonscape. After decades of trying to find a solution, experts and locals are working together to find a 21st-century way to save the island’s ecology and economy.

Semi-wild, the goats roam across the island, which is roughly three times the size of Manhattan, and can be spotted on rooftops, in trees or on top of cars as they scour the landscape for anything to eat. Their unchecked overgrazing is causing crisis-level erosion.

Torrential rains two years ago swept away the island’s town hall and severed its roads. There were no trees or vegetation left on the steep, goat-eaten hillsides to stop the mudslides caused by the downpour.

“There are no big trees to hold the soil. And it’s a big problem, both financial and real because (the mud) will come down on our heads,” says George Maskalidis, who helps run Sustainable Samothraki Association, an environmental group.

Samothraki, in the northern Aegean Sea, is a two-hour ferry ride south of Alexandroupoli, a Greek city near the country’s border with Turkey. With just 3,000 inhabitants and hard to access, the island has largely missed out on Greece’s tourism boom. Mountain herding is still a way of life here and despite trying for three decades, regional authorities have found it hard to build a local consensus on how to deal with the issue.

The goat population, meanwhile, soared fivefold to an estimated 75,000 by the late 1990s. Some parts of the countryside were simply nibbled away. The goat numbers have since dropped to below 50,000 as there is little left to graze on. But this has left the island in a trap. Most of its goats are malnourished and too scrawny to be used commercially for meat, animal feed is too expensive to maintain a sustainable business and much of the soil is too depleted for trees to grow back.

At the same time, prices for wool, leather, meat and milk have dropped, leading Samothraki’s farmers to grow increasingly desperate. Yiannis Vavouras, a second-generation goat farmer, says many island farmers have few alternatives.

“Most of us are ready to give up. If I had another job, I would drop the goats,” he says, speaking over the noise of jangling goat bells. “It doesn’t make enough to buy you a coffee.” Herds soared due to European Union subsidies, under a system that critics say was poorly monitored and lacked any long-term planning. It now may have to be reversed as a livestock reduction appears inevitable, along with grazing limits.

But that correction doesn’t have to be painful, at least according to the island’s resident optimist Carlota Maranon, a Spanish lawyer who settled here a decade ago. She heads the sustainability initiative and has eased islanders’ deep-rooted mistrust of solutions from the mainland or beyond.

The environmental group has worked with overseas researchers and helped create a herd management app, among many other pilot projects, to tackle the issue. Fiercely independent livestock farmers have even joined a new cooperative to try to pool resources and establish a brand for the island.

“It is possible to do things in a more sustainable way,” Maranon says. “That might mean fewer goats but that could actually work out better for the farmers.” Having a tight-knit community, she says, will also help.

“Everyone here is connected to the herders in some way, so this issue affects everyone. To live off the land, you have to keep it alive,” she said.

Macedonia admitted to NATO after resolving Greece dispute

FEB. 6, 2019

By Clyde Hughes

Feb. 6 (UPI) — Macedonia officially signed on Wednesday to become an official member of NATO, after resistance from Greece was settled last month.

Greece had long objected to membership over a dispute with the Macedonia name, which Athens uses for a Greek region in the north. Last month, the two countries settled the dispute when the country agreed to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. In exchange for the name change, Greece agreed to drop its veto toward Macedonia’s NATO admittance.

The signing allows the Balkan nation to take part in NATO activities as an invitee while the 29 member nations ratify the agreement in their own countries. Macedonia will formally change its name after Greece’s ratification.

“NATO keeps almost one billion citizens across Europe and North America secure and with you joining NATO there will be thirty countries committed to protect each other,” NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“Your accession will bring more stability to the Western Balkans. This is good for the region and for Euro-Atlantic security.”

Macedonia already contributes to NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan and the alliance’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

“This wasn’t inevitable — this wasn’t even very likely to happen,” Macedonia Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said. “The impossible is actually doable. This is a family that strives to make our world more peaceful and a better place.

“This is a journey that has made us more mature… we have proven that we can assume our responsibility, face a problem, and resolve those problems.”

Macedonia and Greece have squabbled over the name — which has been around since Alexander The Great’s reign in the region during late B.C. — since 1991 when the country broke away from the former Yugoslavia.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2019/02/06/Macedonia-admitted-to-NATO-after-resolving-Greece-dispute/6431549457608/.

Macedonian PM: Greece’s turn to make history with name deal

January 12, 2019

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s prime minister says he expects Greece’s parliament to do its part and ratify the deal changing his country’s name to North Macedonia so it can soon join NATO. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told reporters in the capital of Skopje on Saturday that he expects neighboring Greece to be the first country to sign the accession protocol for Macedonia to become NATO’s 30th member.

NATO formally invited Macedonia to join the military alliance in 2008, but Greece vetoed the move, claiming that Macedonia’s name implies territorial aspirations toward Greece’s northern province with the same name as well as appropriating Greece’s historical heritage.

Zaev said that Macedonian lawmakers had “made history” Friday with their decision to back the constitutional changes associated with the name change. “I know how difficult that was … we are putting the bitterness in the past and we are looking now proudly to the future,” Zaev said.

He said he now expects Greece’s parliament to convene and do the same, and unblock Macedonia’s NATO membership. Zaev said that Greece has “got a new friend now North Macedonia,” adding that he hopes the two nations will build up trust and open “many new windows” for cooperation.

But in Greece, the upcoming parliamentary vote on the name change ratification has frayed relations between Greece’s coalition partners. Greek defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the right-wing populist Independent Greeks party, is vehemently opposed to the deal. He has repeatedly threatened to pull his lawmakers out of the government, although he has sent mixed signals on whether he will bring down the government in a vote of confidence.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Kammenos will meet Sunday morning to discuss their differences. A Greek government spokeswoman told The Associated Press that by Monday, or at least later in the week, the timeline for ratification will be clearer. The vote could possibly even take place this month, unless a confidence motion, invoked either by Tsipras or by the opposition New Democracy party, is discussed first.

Several lawmakers from small center-left parties, as well as at least two from Kammenos’ party, have indicated they are ready to vote for the name deal. Tsipras, who has the unquestioned backing of the 145-strong Syriza parliamentary group, has repeatedly expressed certainty that he will find the 151 votes to ensure ratification of the name deal by a majority in the 300-member Parliament.

The Macedonian parliament’s ratification has been hailed by several foreign leaders, including NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Adding his congratulations late Friday, was Matthew Nimetz, the U.N. Secretary-General’s personal envoy on the name dispute since 1999, saying that the agreement paves the way for “a firmer basis for peace and security in the Balkans.”

“I wish to congratulate the (Macedonian) parliament and the country’s citizens for this accomplishment and for the democratic manner in which this important process was undertaken,” he said.

Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.

Macedonia vote rattles government in neighbor Greece

January 11, 2019

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s center-left government is holding emergency talks for a second day to try to secure the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to finalize constitutional changes for a landmark deal with neighbor Greece.

Talks between government and opposition lawmakers continued Friday following repeated delays in the vote. The governments of Macedonia and Greece are both struggling to secure the political support required to ratify the agreement reached last June, under which the landlocked Balkan nation would change its name to North Macedonia and Greece would lift objections to its accession to NATO.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on a working visit to Athens, has expressed strong support for the agreement. But the issue has brought Greece’s coalition government to the brink of breakup.

Greece backs Macedonia’s NATO accession, settles dispute

February 08, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s parliament on Friday approved a measure for Macedonia to join NATO, ending a decades-old dispute watched closely by Western allies wary of Russian influence in the region.

Lawmakers voted 153-140 to back the NATO protocol that must now also be approved by all other alliance members. The Greek vote means the former Yugoslav republic will now formally change its name to North Macedonia, settling the spat over the country’s name which Greece saw as a potential threat to its own northern region of Macedonia.

“I would like to again welcome North Macedonia, a country that is friendly toward Greece, a country that must be a supporter — and not an opponent — of our efforts to establish safety, stability, and cooperation in the wider region,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament shortly before the vote.

Western countries strongly backed the deal between Greece and Macedonia, after the country’s bid to join NATO had been shelved for a decade and amid European concerns over Russia’s vocal opposition to the alliance’s expansion further into the Balkans.

“Clearly it is in Greece’s interest to promote a European course for all its neighbors, not just for North Macedonia — and not (back) the influence of third forces in the neighborhood, with different aspirations and pursuits,” Tsipras said.

Tsipras had faced large demonstrations against the deal, while opinion polls showed that more than two-thirds of Greeks oppose it. The agreement also nearly toppled his government last month after triggering the breakup of his coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.

Greek opposition parties argued the agreement made too many concessions to Macedonia. “(We) will vote against the accession protocol because it is, simply, the final act or the final act of a damaging agreement,” conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament to applause from members of his party before the vote.

Greek approval of Macedonia’s NATO accession bid is the final step in the deal. Provided lawmakers vote for the motion, Greece’s foreign ministry will promptly notify the Macedonian government of the result.

Macedonia will then write to the United Nations, its member states and international organizations, formally announcing the name change. Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski told The Associated Press this would happen “in coming days.”

Konstantin Testorides contributed from Skopje, Macedonia.

Candidate for EU’s top job slams Greece over Venezuela

February 07, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The conservative candidate for the European Union’s top job has sharply criticized Greece’s stance on Venezuela’s political crisis, saying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is “blocking initiatives on a European level” that would support those “fighting for a democratic Venezuela.”

Manfred Weber, who heads the European Parliament’s largest center-right group, said Thursday it was “a tragedy to see how the Greek government is now behaving on (a) European level.” Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, saying President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election in May was fraudulent. The United States and a number of European Union countries have backed Guaido, but Greece’s governing Syriza party has expressed its “full support and solidarity” for Maduro.

Weber is running in May 23-26 European elections to succeed his EPP Christian Democrat party colleague Jean-Claude Juncker to run the European Commission. He told reporters in Athens: “Everybody who has eyes in his head must see that in Venezuela we have a dictatorship, a socialist dictatorship.”

He suggested the European Union should change its decision-making process in foreign affairs from requiring unanimous votes to allowing decisions to be taken through majority votes instead. That, he said, would ensure decisions “are not anymore in the hands of governments like here in Greece which have obviously more contact with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Maduro and not so much with the free world of democratic countries.”

Weber was in Athens to attend a two-day EPP group meeting. Greece’s left-wing government says it backs an EU initiative to try to find a political solution to the Venezuela crisis but has refused to endorse Guaido. Government officials had no immediate response to Weber’s remarks.

Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a close ally of Weber, said Greece’s support for Maduro had hurt the country’s standing. “I’m very sorry to say this but the position of the Greek prime minister on this issue is a disgrace for our country,” Mitsotakis said. “It isolates Greece and it really reduces our political influence abroad.”

Amid highway protest, Greece hikes wages, eyes market return

January 28, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece announced plans to return to bond markets and increase the minimum wage Monday, amid protests against bailout-era measures by farmers who used tractors to block the country’s main highway.

Authorities unveiled plans to issue a 5-year bond, a first market test since the end of Greece’s international bailout in August. In a televised address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the minimum wage would be increased by nearly 10 percent starting next month — from 586 euros per month to 650 euros. A lower wage category for under-25 year-olds was scrapped.

“This is an essential but also a symbolic action — something owed to the people who bore the brunt of the (country’s) bankruptcy and fiscal adjustment, whose lives, prospects and expectations were immersed into the darkness of the crisis,” he said. “Now that the country is coming out of the crisis, we can gradually begin to heal the wounds.”

The increase, while slightly larger than expected, does not restore the minimum wage to the 751-euro level it was in 2012, when huge cuts were imposed as part of Greece’s bailout agreements. As Tsipras held the cabinet meeting, protesting farmers used more than 200 tractors to block Greece’s main north-south highway outside the central city of Larissa. Drivers were forced to take a detour around the blockade using secondary roads.

The protesters are demanding that the government scrap tax increases and pension measures introduced during the bailout programs, and are seeking intervention to address what they describe as unfair market practices from large buyers.

“The government didn’t listen to us and we need (market) prices that allow us to make a living,” protest leader Rizos Maroudas told the AP. The Greek bond auction, meanwhile, is expected to take place as early as this week and raise up to 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion).

Greece has held off returning to debt markets due to financial turbulence created by a budget crisis in Italy. But borrowing rates eased in recent weeks and the government last week survived the threat of collapse over a vote in parliament to normalize relations with neighbor Macedonia. Representatives of Greece’s international creditors also completed an inspection in Athens last week.

The yield on Greece’s 10-year-bond edged down on Monday to 4.06 percent while shares on the Athens Stock Exchange were unchanged. Tsipras, whose left-wing government is trailing conservatives in opinion polls, is facing local government and European Parliament elections in May and must call a general election before October.

Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece

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