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Posts tagged ‘Ancient Land of Greece’

Macedonian PM says Greece agrees to discuss proposed name

May 19, 2018

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Saturday he is ready to go ahead with a new name for his country in order to solve a decades-long name dispute with Greece and pave the way for full integration of the small Balkan country into the European Union and NATO.

But Greek political leaders briefed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected the Macedonian proposal outright and the Greek government itself, in a response to Zaev’s remarks, was evasive about the particular name proposal.

Zaev said that “Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia” is the compromise name acceptable to both sides. The adjective “Ilindenska,” meaning, literally, “the day of the prophet Elijah” refers to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers.

“With this possible solution, we preserve the dignity, we confirm and strengthen our Macedonian identity,” Zaev said, but added that final say on the new name will be put to a referendum. Zaev reiterated that Macedonia has no territorial claims to its southern neighbor and confirmed the inviolability of the borders. “Macedonia is ready to confirm this in all necessary ways,” Zaev said.

Macedonia was a part of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence in 1991. Greece claims the country’s name implies territorial designs on its northern province of Macedonia. He also said that with the new name proposal “we make a complete distinction with the Macedonia region in Greece”.

In Athens, premier Tsipras briefed Greece’s president and opposition leaders. All the opposition leaders said the name “Ilinden Macedonia” was unacceptable because, as Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said, it is “neither a geographical nor a temporal” designation, as agreed in nearly two decades of talks mediated by the United Nations. Some opposition leaders called the proposal a provocation on Macedonia’s part.

A statement released by the Greek government reflected its ambivalence about the name. “We welcome the acceptance by (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that a solution to the nomenclature cannot exist without the adoption of … a name for all uses,” the statement said, meaning that Macedonians could not simply call their country “Macedonia” domestically, while having another name for international use.

“However, we encourage our neighbors to continue working together to find a commonly accepted name with a geographical or temporal designation, just as the package of proposals tabled by the UN Special Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, also provides,” the Greek statement added.

Zaev did not have an easy time with his country’s opposition leaders, either. The leader of the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party Hristijan Mickoski said after meeting with Zaev that his party is against the name change. He reiterated that his party will not support a change of the constitution and of Macedonia’s constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia”.

Zaev has urged Macedonians to support the proposed name.

Nellas reported from Athens, Greece


Godly giants in kilts: Meet Greece’s best-known soldiers

May 23, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — It might be the short, pleated kilts, tasseled black garters and pompom-tipped shoes, but there’s something more endearing than intimidating about Greece’s best-known military unit, the Presidential Guard.

Which helps explain why they are one of Athens’ most popular tourist attractions, vying for camera clicks with the millennia-old ruins of Greece’s Golden Age. All its members are conscripts picked for height and posture — and must demonstrate their godliness by belonging to the Orthodox Church of Greece.

Their function is to stand sentry at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and outside the residence of Greece’s titular head of state, keeping unflinchingly still for hours when not performing a clockwork-soldier routine of ponderous leg and arm swings and crashing presentations of arms.

But during Greece’s years of financial meltdown, the guards have several times been forced to abandon their posts as anti-austerity protests turned violent next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is just in front of parliament, with the sentry posts occasionally burnt down.

Created 150 years ago as a fighting force that distinguished itself in a series of wars, the unit is now purely ceremonial in function, codifying in its dress and routine a popular conception of Greekness that evolved since the modern Greek state was formed nearly two centuries ago.

Its Greek name — Evzones, or well-girt youths — is a 3,000-year-old word reactivated in the 19th century as the fledgling country strove to cement its blood ties with the glories of antiquity. The complex uniform was inspired by the highland dress worn while Greece was still in thrall to the Ottoman Turkish empire, although the authentic, long version of the kilt was probably pioneered by southern Albanian settlers allied with the Turks.

The kilts are now drastically shorter than those sported by the rugged revolutionaries fighting the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. In another novelty, they are made with exactly 400 pleats, to symbolize the roughly four centuries of Turkish dominion that the revolution brought to an end, while the ornately-embroidered waistcoat bears secret Orthodox Christian symbols.

The clothes take months to make, with most of the effort going into the needlework — a dying art in a country where that type of costume went out of fashion well over a century ago, being replaced by the “Frankish” clothing of the West.

Greece says Syrian property law will impede refugees’ return

May 04, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greece’s foreign minister has voiced concerns about at a new Syrian real estate law that would force refugees to return home if they want to keep their property in Syria. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias says the law does not secure the properties of millions of Syrians who are now displaced outside the country. He says it will make their eventual return to Syria much more difficult.

The decree, made public last month, gives property owners in some parts of Syria one month to provide ownership deeds or face confiscation of their property. Thousands of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Greece.

Kotzias spoke during a southern Balkans ministerial meeting Friday in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Greece: Anti-austerity protesters eye post-bailout battle

April 25, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Athens and other cities Wednesday, vowing to challenge ongoing bailout-related austerity measures after the rescue program ends in a few months.

Three successive demonstrations were held in Athens in opposition to the sale of power plants, planned pension cuts, and funding cuts at state-run hospitals. Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government has promised lenders it will continue infrastructure privatization and draconian spending controls after the bailout program ends in late August, in exchange for more favorable repayment terms.

Greece’s post-bailout plans are due to be discussed on a visit to Athens by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday and at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers the following day in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Protest leaders say they were also making their own post-bailout plans. “We don’t owe our pensions to (bailout) creditors. We worked our whole life to get our pension, and we will keep fighting till we get back what they have taken from us,” pension protest organizer Dimos Koumbouris.

The government has already signed up to more across-the-board pension cuts in 2019, the main reason of Wednesday’s march by retirees. State-run hospital workers were also on strike, demanding more funding for healthcare and protesting shortages in the hospitals. And workers at the Public Power Corporation, protesting the prospective sale of lignite plants, dumped sacks of lignite on the steps near parliament.

Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010, and has had to push through stringent spending cuts and tax hikes in return for the emergency loans. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos on Wednesday said there had been no discussion with creditors on whether austerity measures agree for 2019-20 could be amended, but he cited data reported this week showing that the government had beaten budget targets for three successive years.

“Greece’s fiscal adjustment has been completed,” Tzanakopoulos. “The lenders should take that into account.”

Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Athens contributed.

Thousands protest austerity reforms in Athens

April 25, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Athens to protest bailout-related reforms, including the sale of power plants, potential pension cuts and staffing funding cuts for state-run hospitals.

At least three separate successive demonstrations were being held Wednesday, passing by parliament and the ministries of finance and labor. State-run hospital workers were also on strike, demanding more funding for healthcare and protesting shortages in the hospitals. Workers at the Public Power Corporation, protesting the prospective sale of lignite plants, dumped sacks of lignite on the steps near parliament. Pensioners were also marching to protest pension cuts.

Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010, and has had to push through stringent spending cuts and tax hikes in return for the emergency loans.

Under the sea: Fighting Greece’s plastic trash problem

April 05, 2018

LEGRENA, Greece (AP) — Dressed all in black and preparing his diving gear with loud zips and clicks, George Sarelakos looks like he’s part of a Greek naval operation ready to storm an island or take down smugglers.

He’s not — but he and four other volunteer divers do have a challenging mission: Clearing the plastic trash from the sea floor that’s suffocating Greece’s marine life. In a heavy rain, they struggle to clamber off the rocks along a stretch of coast south of Athens favored by day-trippers looking for a nice place to swim within driving distance of the Greek capital.

“Most beaches are clean because they’re tidied up by municipalities. But the big problem is on the seabed. It’s is like a garbage dump,” Sarelakos said. In January, the European Union launched a major campaign to reduce plastic waste across its 28 member states.

Greece starts the 12-year program with major disadvantages: An alarming rate of single-use plastic consumption, a waste management system largely neglected during a decade-long financial crisis and the longest coastline in the EU — nearly double the length of India’s.

Within an hour, Sarelakos and his rubber-suited companions bring up large clumps of garbage, mostly old tires, tied into bundles with rope. A curious dolphin inspects their work before darting off to a nearby fish farm.

“All this is death for sea life. It’s a problem that most people are totally unaware of,” Sarelakos says. In a 2015 study, researchers trawled five coastal areas in the eastern Mediterranean and found that 60 percent of the marine litter detected was in the Saronic Gulf bordering greater Athens. And 95 percent of that trash was plastic, much of it single-use items like supermarket carrier bags or water and soft drink bottles.

The EU plans to make all plastic packaging on the market recyclable by 2030, and wants member states to crack down on single-use plastic, with consumers using no more than 40 lightweight plastic bags annually by 2025.

A few countries have already zoomed past that target: Finns on average use just four plastic bags a year. But for Greeks — now accustomed to sipping coffee out of plastic cups using plastic straws and with kiosk beverage coolers within easy reach of every city dweller — it’s become part of the lifestyle. They use 296 bags per year, according to the EU Commission.

Local surveys suggest the number is even higher. Greek stores began charging for plastic bags on Jan. 1 — a relatively small step for a country still heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants and which is regularly fined for its large number of unregulated garbage dumps.

Only 16 percent of trash is recycled here, compared with the EU’s average of 44 percent. Nearly everything else ends up buried in trash dumps. At Fyli, the country’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Athens, bulldozers constantly reshape mountains of garbage in a quarried hillside, squeezing out a dark liquid called leachate to leave enormous stacks of brown-coated plastic. A steady flow of garbage trucks is coordinated by loudspeaker, and their entry is accompanied by packs of seagulls ready to swoop on the fresh new trash.

The site’s environmental officer, Ioanna Kapsimali, is another volunteer diver in the Athens marine cleanups. She says it’s impossible to contain all the plastic at the landfill. “Plastic is the most difficult material, given its chemical composition,” she said, noting that it’s so light it can be blown away by the wind and end up in the sea. “That happens with quite a large amount (of plastic). It causes problems because the plastic breaks up and is ingested by fish, birds and other animals.”

Pieces of trash, including bottle caps and cigarette lighters, end up in the stomachs of birds and marine creatures, who are also often tangled in plastic nets. A few lucky creatures end up at Maria Ganoti’s animal clinic in Athens. The director of the Greek Wildlife Care Association recently treated an injured seagull.

“We’ve had cases where animals have died and in the autopsy we find plastic items in the stomach, usually pieces of synthetic rope, which had been mistaken for a worm or a small snake,” Ganoti said, speaking over the loud squawk of injured birds.

“If the animal swallows a large piece of plastic, it doesn’t get broken down. It takes up space in the stomach and at some point . it will starve to death.” According to pollution activists, Greeks are largely unaware of their country’s plastic problem because bathing water quality remains high in most parts of the country and most of the pollution is not visible.

But visit a Greek shoreline not used by swimmers and that picture can quickly change. Conservationists say the Kolovrechtis Marsh north of Athens is threatened by a trifecta of environmental assaults: plastics washing up on its shores, fertilizers used by surrounding farms, and waste from nearby factories that include a ferronickel plant. The trash ending up at the small, protected nature spot endangers the nearly 200 types of birds found there, including hawks, herons and green-headed wild ducks.

On a three-hour trash collection with volunteers and municipal workers, plastics were cleared from a small strip of beachfront on the edge of the marsh — including 3,476 plastic bottles and 549 plastic bags.

Spanish volunteer Fran Vargas joined the effort, digging into the sand with his hands to pull out buried plastic bags. Nearly everything he found was single-use plastic. “We know that no matter how much garbage we collect, it will always be a fraction of what is going into the sea,” he said. “So this is about making a point: That this is a big, big problem and that we need to stop — now.”

Elena Becatoros and Thanassis Stavrakis contributed.

Migrants on stalled route hide in Greek city’s ancient walls

February 26, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The stone walls that cut through the old quarter of Greece’s second-largest city defended Thessaloniki for more than 2,000 years. For a 24-year-old Pakistani immigrant, parts of the remaining ramparts mean survival.

Muhammed Adeel and other homeless men sleep in the old reinforced gun positions. Filthy blankets, rolled-up mattresses and empty food packaging fill the protected chambers that once housed cannon. “I came here with a dream, but I have nothing — no job, nowhere to live, nothing at all,” Adeel said after a near-freezing night in a dome-shaped casemate.

The European Union struck a deal with Turkey nearly two years ago to halt the surge of asylum-seekers attempting the dangerous sea voyage from Turkey to the Greek islands, the most popular route to Europe at the time. The crackdown also left tens of thousands of newcomers confined to Greece’s eastern islands or mainland camps during the long asylum application process.

Some desperate migrants, particularly those with slim chances of winning asylum, have turned to another route — heading overland through Turkey and wading across the heavily policed Evros River to neighboring Greece.

The land route’s increasing appeal is clear. Greek police caught 1,072 people who had entered the country’s Evros region illegally in October 2017, compared to 655 in the same month a year earlier. Adeel was among those who slipped through the cracks. The young man said he paid smugglers $2,500 to take him from Turkey to Thessaloniki, a trip that involved crossing the river and a six-hour ride hidden in the back of a truck.

His money and hope ran out in Thessaloniki, where destitute and homeless migrants number in the hundreds, afraid to seek help for fear of deportation. The vast majority hoped Greece was just a stepping-stone to more prosperous European countries. But when they got here they found the routes north into Europe closed off to keep them out.

With chances of successfully gaining asylum slim and jobs near impossible to find in a country where unemployment still runs at 21 percent, most get by in Greece as best they can while waiting for a way to smuggle themselves onward.

“Everyone in Pakistan has a dream. And everyone who makes it to (Europe) comes with hope of achieving something, to do something for their parents,” Adeel said. Taking shelter in a tiny casemate built in medieval times and depending on food handouts from volunteers and charities is far from his dream. Adeel wants to make it to the economically stronger heart of Europe, where he believes he has a better chance of landing a job.

“This is not a future,” he said. Border jumps usually get more expensive the farther into central Europe immigrants try to get. From Greece, they can expect to pay $3,000-4,000 for the next leg of their journey, according to multiple interviews conducted by the Associated Press.

That might be traveling across Greece’s northern border by foot into Macedonia and from there to Serbia, hiding in an Italy-bound freight container or risking a flight with forged ID papers. It’s a journey that remains out of reach for Kamran Misi, 33, a Pakistani immigrant who got stranded in Thessaloniki after he crossed the Evros River. Misi was homeless for six months until a church-run shelter took him in.

His goal now is to have something resembling a normal life. “When we came here, we came here with a lot of hopes,” Misi said. “We had lot of dreams that we would find a peaceful life, a place to stay, and get work, whatever — like what all normal people need.”

Elena Stamatoukou, a volunteer at Solidarity Now, a charity that serves both Greeks affected by their country’s economic crisis problems and new immigrants, said the organization received aid requests in December from 289 people in Thessaloniki.

“They wanted shelter or legal advice, and all had one thing in common: They were homeless,” she said. Many of Thessaloniki’s migrants sleep rough in the same places as the city’s resident homeless people — vacant buildings, park benches, abandoned construction sites, the main square.

“We go there at around 3 a.m., when there is nobody else around, and we leave very early,” Muhammad Fiaz, an 18-year-old Pakistani who has spent more than five months wandering the streets of Thessaloniki.

“I want to go to Italy,” he said. “But each time I try, the police arrest me.”

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