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Posts tagged ‘Ancient Land of Greece’

Greece backs extradition of Russian to US over bitcoin fraud

October 04, 2017

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — A Greek court ruled Wednesday to extradite Russian cybercrime suspect Alexander Vinnik to the United States, where he is wanted in connection with a $4 billion bitcoin fraud case.

The three-member panel of judges backed the U.S. extradition request for the 37-year-old, who was arrested while on vacation in northern Greece on July 25. Soon after the decision, Vinnik’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of their client.

Russia is also seeking Vinnik’s extradition on separate fraud charges, but no date has yet been set for that hearing. While fighting his extradition to the U.S., Vinnik’s lawyers said he would not contest the Russian request.

“We have not seen the formal decision and we’ll wait for it to come out before making comment,” Vinnik’s lawyer Alexandros Lykourezos said. “We have taken immediate action and appealed the ruling and the case will be examined by the criminal division of the Supreme Court.”

U.S. authorities accuse Vinnik of running digital currency exchange BTC-e and of involvement in laundering money from criminal proceeds, charges he denies. Speaking during Wednesday’s hearing, Vinnik repeated that he had nothing to do with the digital platform he is accused of running to commit the bitcoin fraud. He said he was merely a technician and the platform was one of his clients.

“I have nothing to do with what I am accused of,” he told the judges. Vinnik said electronic equipment confiscated during his arrest was not related to his job, and that the laptop seized by police contained only cartoons for his children.

Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

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Greece: Joint air force drills with Cyprus, Egypt, Israel

October 01, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Greece’s defense minister says plans are being drawn up for joint air force drills with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and other European countries as part of efforts to bolster stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

Panos Kammenos’ remarks Sunday came after a military parade in the Cypriot capital to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the ethnically divided island’s independence. The parade included the overflight of a pair of Greek Air Force F-16 jets, the first showing of the Greek warplanes at the event in 16 years.

The island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said there will be no let-up in efforts to reunify Cyprus, despite July’s collapse of peace talks with breakaway Turkish Cypriots. Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles were also put on the display at the parade.

Greece struggles to mop up oil spill; critics demand more

September 14, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities insisted Thursday they were doing everything they could to clean up the viscous, foul-smelling oil that has coated large parts of Athens’ coastline following the sinking of a small oil tanker.

The Agia Zoni II tanker sank Sunday while anchored in calm seas off the coast of Salamina island, near Greece’s main port of Piraeus, carrying 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 tons of marine gas oil. Two crew members were rescued.

“All the means available in the country” are being deployed to tackle the spill in the Saronic Gulf, Merchant Marine Minister Panagiotis Kouroumplis said Thursday. “Things are developing very well and from day to day there is a huge improvement,” he said, adding that authorities estimate the “situation will have completely changed” in 25-30 days.

Greece has requested help from the European Union and a specialized cleanup vessel has been deployed. Critics, however, have accused the government of not acting quickly enough prevent the spill from spreading from Salamina across the coastline.

The Saronic Gulf is home to dolphins, turtles, a wide variety of fish and sea birds. Environmental and wildlife organizations have been posting instructions on social media on how residents can help any stricken wildlife they come across.

It’s unclear why the ship sank. The vessel’s owner, Theodoros Kountouris, said on Epsilon TV that the ship, built in 1972, had been overhauled in 2014 to make it double-hulled, which would make it safer for leaks.

Breaking down in tears, Kountouris said he had done everything in his power to try and prevent the leaking when the ship sank. “I’m very sorry for what happened,” he said. Deputy Environment Minister Socrates Famellos said authorities think the leak had now been sealed.

“We believe that there will be no irreversible consequences to the environment,” Famellos said. “I would not call it an environmental disaster. There was a serious environmental accident that is being dealt with.”

Mayors of affected coastal areas were threatening to take legal action over the pollution. Glyfada Mayor Girogos Papanikolaou said on Facebook that he planned to file a lawsuit Friday against “all responsible” — a common Greek practice when a culprit has not been identified.

“From dawn today, we have been making a superhuman effort with all means to restore the massive damage that has occurred on the Glyfada seafront,” he said. Kouroumplis said the pollution spread because heavy fuel oil can sink during cooler nights, escaping the floating booms deployed to contain the slick, before rising to the sea’s surface again in the heat of the day.

Asked on Skai TV who was to blame for the oil spill, Deputy Agriculture Development Minister Giannis Tsironis said “the responsibility lies with an entire society and a global economy dependent on oil.”

Canadian gold company suspends investments in Greek mines

September 11, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, one of Greece’s largest foreign investors, said Monday it planned to suspend investment at its mines in Greece following what it said are government delays in the issuing of permits and licenses.

Eldorado, which runs Greek subsidiary Hellas Gold, operates mines in northern Greece that have faced vehement opposition from parts of local communities on environmental grounds, with protests often turning violent.

Eldorado said in an announcement it would continue maintenance and environmental safeguards, but would make no further investment in three mines in the Halkidiki area of northern Greece and two projects in the northeastern province of Thrace.

“Delays continue in issuing routine permits and licences for the construction and development of the Skouries and Olympias projects in Halkidiki, northern Greece,” the company said. “These permitting delays have negatively impacted Eldorado’s project schedules and costs, ultimately hindering the company’s ability to effectively advance development and operation of these assets.”

The company, which employs more than 2,000 people in Greece, said the “suspension and termination of contractors and employees” would be done according to Greek law. On Sunday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted his left-led coalition government was friendly towards business and investments.

“This government is friendly towards entrepreneurship and investments,” Tsipras said during his annual news conference at a trade fair in the northern city of Thessaloniki. But he stressed that “we want investments, we want a healthy business environment, but we want to protect labor relations and the environment.”

Reacting to Eldorado’s announcement, Interior Minister Panos Skourletis said that according to the contract signed between the company and the Greek state, differences would be resolved through arbitration.

“This is the phase we are at now,” he said, adding that the company’s stance “shows intolerance towards Greek legality.” “It might be a move of political pressure towards the government at a crucial time,” Skourletis said, noting the announcement came during the Thessaloniki trade fair where the prime minister traditionally lays out his economic policy.

He insisted Greece was friendly towards foreign investments, but that the Canadian project, being a mining operation, was a special case. “Such kinds of investments no longer exist in the rest of Europe. They’re not allowed due to the great environmental cost they have,” Skourletis said. “So it’s wrong to connect this particular case with the general picture in the area of investments (in Greece).”

The company said it was still awaiting details from the government regarding pending arbitration, and pointed out that Greece’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, had issued 18 decisions in its favor in various permit disputes.

Greece has been struggling to emerge from a deep financial crisis that has wiped out more than a quarter of its economy and left the country reliant on three international bailouts. Attracting foreign investment has been seen as a key in standing on its own feet again.

But the Halkidiki mines have been mired in controversy for decades, with Eldorado’s predecessors facing similar protests. Many in the local communities are vehemently opposed to the development of the mines on environmental grounds, saying local forests would be decimated and groundwater could be contaminated. The company has countered that it’s carrying out environmental cleanup work even of its predecessors and rejects accusations of pollution.

When first elected on an anti-bailout platform in 2015, Tsipras’ government initially moved to suspend some of the permits that had been granted to the mining company. Eldorado said the Skoures and Olympias projects and Stratoni mine would start being placed “on care and maintenance” starting Sept. 22, at an estimated cost of $30 million, while environmental protection work would continue. It said sustaining maintenance costs would be roughly $25 million per year.

“It is extremely unfortunate to find ourselves at this impasse when we should be advancing an important commercial project in partnership with Greece and adding another 1,200 jobs to our current workforce of approximately 2,400 people,” Eldorado Gold President George Burns said.

The company bought the old Kassandra Mines for nearly $2 billion in 2012. Burns said it had since invested a further $1 billion in Greece, a figure which would double if the company could fully develop its assets in Greece.

“However, as a result of the delay in issuing permits by the Greek government, Eldorado is unable to continue investing in the country,” Burns said. The company president has scheduled a news conference in Athens later Monday morning.

Macron ends Greek visit with surprise stroll through town

September 08, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Wrapping up a visit to Greece, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, departed from the official program Friday to stroll down a crowded central Athens shopping street, delighting selfie-thirsty pedestrians but inconveniencing those unfortunate enough to get stuck in the ensuing traffic jams.

Accompanied by plainclothes security guards, the couple posed for pictures, shook hands and chatted to passers-by for more than half an hour on the Ermou pedestrian street, near central Syntagma Square and the Greek parliament. The president then met and spoke to a group of Greek Orthodox priests outside Athens Cathedral.

Greek police, apparently caught by surprise by the unscheduled walk, blocked major streets leading to the city center, leaving motorists and passengers in public transport stranded for about 45 minutes.

Macron’s visit to Greece, four months after his election victory, has focused on the Greek recovery as well as wider issues related to Europe’s future. Addressing a round-table of Greek and French business leaders earlier on his second and final day in Greece, Macron urged European firms to step up their investments in Greece, to help reduce the cash-strapped country’s growing reliance on non-European countries, notably China.

He said Greece was “forced” to choose non-European investors “because the Europeans were not there.” French enterprises, Macron said with certainty, would ramp up their investments in Greece, a country that’s spent much of the past decade hurtling from one crisis to the next and seen its economy shrink by a quarter and unemployment and poverty levels swell alarmingly.

“We want Korean, Chinese and American investments, these are very important,” he said. “But if there are no European investors, then we are forced to select non-European investors.” A failure to respond, he said, would show that Europeans have “no faith in Europe.”

Greece has relied on international bailouts to stay afloat, after losing bond market access in 2010. Following years of belt-tightening that’s seen improvements in the country’s annual budget, Greece’s bailout era is due to end in the summer of 2018.

In return for the money that’s prevented the country’s bankruptcy, Greece has been compelled to institute a wide array of economic reforms, including the sale of a raft of state-owned assets, such as airports, ports, railways and real estate. Many of those have ended up in the hands of non-European investors.

In two of the biggest privatization projects, China’s Cosco expanded its stake in Greece’s main port of Piraeus to 67 percent, while Chinese and Gulf investors are involved in an 8 billion-euro ($9.6 billion) development scheme at the site of the old Athens airport, which had also been used for the 2004 Olympic Games.

Macron’s comments come a day after he met Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and presented his vision for Europe in a speech at the site of the ancient Athenian assembly, seen as an enduring icon of democracy worldwide.

Speaking with the ancient Acropolis as a backdrop, he urged the European Union to carry out six-month national reviews on EU reforms before imposing them. That’s been interpreted as a signal that the new French president is distancing himself somewhat from the German-backed approach that’s been based on fiscal discipline within the 19-country eurozone.

“It would be a mistake to abandon the European ideal,” Macron said Thursday. “We must rediscover the enthusiasm that the union was founded upon and change, not with technocrats and not with bureaucracy.”

Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this story.

Greek firefighters close to containing wildfire near Athens

August 16, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s fire department says it’s close to containing a wildfire that is burning north of Athens for a fourth day. Army bulldozers are being used to set up firebreaks around the Kalamos area, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Athens, before an expected pickup in winds later Wednesday.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited fire-damaged areas by helicopter, while more than 300 firefighters remained deployed there, supported by five water-dropping planes and six helicopters. No serious injuries have been reported since the fire broke out Sunday. The Fire Service hasn’t issued a damage estimate, but the blaze is believed to have gutted or damaged several dozen homes.

Wildfires also continued in the Peloponnese in southern Greece and on the western island of Zakynthos.

Large fire burns for 2nd day, threatens homes near Athens

August 14, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A large wildfire north of Athens is threatening homes as it sweeps through pine forest for a second day, uncontained due to high winds. Fire Service officials two planes and five helicopters are fighting the blaze at Varnava, 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the Greek capital, while a main road in the area is closed to traffic to give fire trucks better access.

The fire burned out of control for a second day Monday after damaging at least 20 homes the previous day and forcing the evacuation of holiday campsites used in the area for children’s vacations. No one was hurt, and Fire Service spokeswoman Brigade Manager Stavroula Maliri described all the evacuations as precautionary.

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