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Posts tagged ‘Ancient Land of Greece’

State of emergency declared on quake-hit Greek island Lesbos

June 13, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Authorities in Greece have declared a state of emergency on the island of Lesbos after an earthquake left one woman dead and more than 800 people displaced. The 6.2 magnitude undersea quake on Monday occurred south of Lesbos but was felt as far as Istanbul, Turkey.

Officials from the island’s regional government on Tuesday said homes in 12 villages in southern Lesbos had been seriously damaged or destroyed. The mostly elderly residents affected were being housed with relatives, in hotels or at an army-run shelter.

The earthquake marked the second crisis to hit the island in the last two years, after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, including many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, crossed to Lesbos on boats from Turkey as they headed to Europe.

Refugees, migrants evacuated from old Athens airport site

June 02, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek police were evacuating hundreds of migrants and refugees Friday from a makeshift shelter set up inside the abandoned buildings of Athens’ old airport, which have been slated for redevelopment.

Access to the Hellenikon airport site was blocked off in the morning, and dozens of police officers and riot police stood by as the roughly 600 migrants collected their belongings and boarded buses to refugee camps elsewhere in Greece.

Police said about 350 people, mainly families, would go to a camp in Thebes, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of Athens, while the remainder of mainly single people would go to Derveni, about 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of the capital.

No violence was reported during the evacuation, which was assisted by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. “The facilities at the old airport are a holdover from the initial stage of the crisis, when thousands of people were reaching our islands,” Yiannis Balafas, deputy minister for migration, said on state-run ERT television. “So this was something that remained from that time, and now they will go to more suitable facilities.”

Migrants and Greek activists have held several demonstrations at Hellenikon to protest living conditions there over the past few months. The site, which includes Athens’ old international airport and 2004 Olympic Games venues, is part of Greece’s privatization efforts and is slated for a massive seaside urban redevelopment project worth an expected 7 billion euros ($7.8 billion).

The Hellenikon complex, largely abandoned over the last 13 years despite the country’s deep financial crisis, had been used to house up to 3,000 migrants. Most had been living in tents and in poor conditions inside the buildings during their stay.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece, which was the main entry point for people seeking to enter the European Union last year. The vast majority arrived on boats from the nearby Turkish shores to Greek islands and had been trying to reach the more prosperous countries in the north of the continent. But an EU-Turkey agreement last year and border closures across the Balkans have ended the flow.

The Hellenikon development is led by Greece’s Lamda Group with a consortium of overseas investors, and is planned to include a large park, shopping and recreation areas and hotels. During the 2004 Olympics, the complex hosted fencing, baseball, softball, hockey, and canoe and kayak events. Several other Olympic venues have been underused or abandoned in the years since the games.

Thanassis Stavrakis in Athens contributed to this report.

Greek parliament approves new creditor-demanded cutbacks

May 19, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s government secured parliamentary approval late Thursday for a new batch of creditor-demanded measures that will impose further income losses on austerity-weary Greeks over the next three years but pave the way for a modest debt relief deal.

The legislation was backed by all 153 deputies in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led coalition. All 128 opposition lawmakers present in the 300-member parliament stood against the measures in a vote just before midnight.

The vote was a key requirement for Greece’s European creditors to release a new bailout installment, without which the country would struggle to meet its debt servicing obligations in July. But it will also accelerate negotiations on easing Greece’s debt repayment terms, which Athens hopes could be concluded as early as next week at a meeting of European finance ministers.

“Now the ball is in our creditors’ court,” Tsipras said after the vote. “We expect, and are entitled to, a decision at Monday’s meeting, that will adjust the Greek public debt in a way that matches the Greek people’s sacrifices.”

Earlier Thursday, about 15,000 people protested peacefully against the cutbacks in a second day of demonstrations outside parliament. The demonstrations were called by major trade unions, a day after a general strike disrupted services across the country.

Dozens of masked youths broke out of the crowd to throw gasoline bombs at police guarding approaches to the parliament building. They were repulsed with tear gas, and police said one man was arrested and two more detained on suspicion of taking part in the violence.

The cutbacks, worth some 4.9 billion euros ($5.45 billion), will be implemented through 2020 — a year beyond the mandate of Tsipras’ government. The bulk of the measures involve a sharp reduction in the income tax-free threshold and further cuts in pensions.

On Thursday morning, hundreds of pensioners braving heavy rain marched to parliament to express their anger. “No more tax theft,” they chanted. Pensions have been cut sharply over the past seven years as successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

Tsipras, who is badly trailing the main opposition conservatives in opinion polls, defended the new austerity measures Thursday. He played up the prospect of alternative benefits and anti-poverty spending that his government has promised — provided, however, it meets ambitious budgetary targets for years to come.

“The counter-measures will provide relief to thousands,” he said, adding that the entire package presented to parliament would open the way to a strong economic recovery and an end to Greece’s supervision by its creditors.

Deputy Finance Minister George Houliarakis said the austerity measures are a “necessary compromise” between meeting creditors’ demands and extending the uncertainty over the country’s economic recovery.

“This is the only road map that guarantees … the country’s exit from the great Greek recession,” Houliarakis told lawmakers. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said he expects restrictions on bank cash withdrawals and capital flows imposed in 2015 can be lifted by the end of this year.

The government also hopes to gingerly return to tapping international money markets with a bond issue later this year, which would be the first since 2014. Tsipras initially came to power in 2015 promising to bring an end to the austerity that had been imposed during Greece’s first two international bailouts. But his coalition government soon found itself facing a disastrous default as the country was unable to service its debt without external help.

The prime minister signed up for a third bailout later that year, but not before calling a referendum that led to a run on the banks, forcing the government to impose capital controls. The banking restrictions and limits on cash withdrawals remain.

Unions and the opposition compared the new reforms to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding funding from international creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the conservative main opposition party, told parliament. “(The government) was seeking to get (bailout) funds without (austerity) measures, and instead got measures without the funds.”

Clashes in Greece as thousands protest austerity

May 17, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An anti-austerity rally in Greece’s capital turned violent Wednesday as a general strike halted flights, ferries and public transportation, and thousands joined protest marches across the country.

A small group of protesters threw gasoline bombs and fired flares at riot police after the marches ended in Athens. Police responded with tear gas. The clashes broke out after peaceful marches involving around 12,000 people.

Nearby, protesting police officers blocked the entrance to a Finance Ministry building. The protests occurred as lawmakers were set to approve another batch of reforms that will impose years more hardship on austerity-weary Greeks.

The new belt-tightening measures that will be imposed beyond the end of Greece’s third bailout next year, including pension cuts and tax hikes. The left-led coalition government agreed to the cuts as part of a deal with the country’s international creditors to release funds from its bailout.

Thousands of protesters were marching through central Athens toward parliament in a series of demonstrations as part of the strike. “No to the new looting of salaries and pensions,” civil servants union ADEDY said.

Police unionists hung a giant banner off the side of Lycabettus Hill in the center of Athens, with a slogan in German and Greek reading “how much is the life of a Greek policeman worth?” Public hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only, while public transport was disrupted, leaving many main roads gridlocked in the capital. Intercity trains were not running, and there was no subway service between Athens airport and the city. Courts were shut while lawyers and notaries public backed away from official duties, and customs and local government offices were closed.

Air traffic controllers were holding a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, leading to the rescheduling or cancellation of more than 150 flights. Ferries were also tied up in port until late Friday after seamen began a four-day strike Tuesday.

Unless bailout funds are unlocked, Greece would once more struggle to meet a spike in debt repayments due this summer and face another brush with bankruptcy. In parliament, lawmakers were debating the measures that include additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax from 2020, ahead of a Thursday midnight vote.

On the streets of Athens, opinions on the strike diverged. “It doesn’t make a difference whether you strike or not. All the measures will pass anyway,” said Apostolos Seitanidis as he walked in the city center.

But another Athenian, Panagiotis Adamopoulos, disagreed. “Every strike is a holy thing,” he said. “If we dismiss it, surely we’ll end up getting 300-euro ($330) salaries and 200-euro pensions.” Unions and the opposition have compared the new measures to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding funding from international creditors. The government, which originally came to power in 2015 promising to repeal previous austerity measures, has vehemently rejected the accusation, emphasizing that it will also take other measures to relieve poverty.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke Tuesday morning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has been the single largest contributor to the Greek bailouts, and discussed the issue of Greece’s debt, his office said Wednesday.

While the country’s finances have improved under the bailouts, the belt-tightening has led to spiraling poverty. Unemployment, while down from highs of above 27 percent, hovers at around 23 percent.

Greek lawmakers debate extending austerity to decade mark

May 15, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece started a four-day debate Monday on whether to approve a new package of spending cuts that will extend the number of years Greeks have lived under austerity to more than a decade.

Amid confirmation that the country’s battered economy is in recession again, unions have launched a wave of protests ahead of a general strike on Wednesday. The latest round of austerity measures, which form part of an agreement between the Greek government and international bailout lenders, will involve additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax in 2020. Without the new measures, Greece would face the prospect of not getting the rescue money it needs to avoid potential bankruptcy this summer when it faces a big debt-repayment spike.

Greece is currently in the midst of its third bailout program — the current three-year program expires in the summer of 2018 and could be worth up to 86 billion euros ($95 billion) in total. In return for the money, the government promised to enact a series of austerity measures as well as economic reforms — its progress is continually monitored by institutions from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

While the austerity measures has seen Greece’s public finances improve, the draconian spending cuts have seen poverty rates surge to more than 35 percent, high in relation to the EU average under 24 percent.

Delays in negotiations between Prime Minister Alexis’ Tsipras left-wing government and lenders have held up hopes of a return to growth. Official figures Monday from the National Statistical Authority showed the Greek economy shrinking for the second straight quarter during the first three months of the year — two consecutive quarterly declines is the traditional measure of recession. Greece’s GDP shrank by 0.1 percent on a quarterly basis in the first quarter, taking the annual rate of decline to 0.5 percent.

Ahead of Wednesday’s general strike, public bus services n Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, were halted over delayed worker payments. Ferry services was also due to come to a standstill on Tuesday and Wednesday, while unions have called a general strike on Wednesday.

“We have carried out dozens of general strikes during the bailout period … clearly unions alone cannot solve the country’s major economic and social problems. But this is to protest and expose what is happening,” Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE, told private Skai television.

“The government is now implementing the measures that it once protested against … they have surrendered to everything.” The debate on the new austerity measures began in parliament Monday and is due to end with a vote late Thursday.

Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.

Greek train derails, crashes into house; 3 dead, 10 injured

May 14, 2017

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — An Intercity train derailed and crashed into a house in northern Greece, leaving three people dead and 10 injured, Greek police said Sunday. The train, traveling on the Athens-Thessaloniki route with 70 passengers, derailed at 9:45 p.m. (1945 GMT) Saturday in the village of Adendro, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the northern city of Thessaloniki. Its engine rammed into a three-story house, exiting on the other side.

There was no immediate reason given for the derailment. An investigation has begun. Police said the train’s 44-year-old driver and a 50-year-old passenger died at the scene, and a 55-year-old passenger died Sunday morning. All three were men. Two other passengers are in serious condition.

The police announcement raised the number of injured, which train operator Trainose earlier had put at seven. “I was sitting on my porch. I saw a flash and immediately heard a terrible explosion,” neighbor Giorgos Mylonas, 78, told The Associated Press.

Greece’s Tsipras: the era of austerity is over

February 24, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s era of austerity is over, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras claimed Friday, as he painted a positive picture of the reforms his government has agreed to take after the bailout program ends in 2018.

Speaking in parliament, Tsipras described the deal reached Monday as an “exceptional success” and said it showed the country’s creditors accepted Greece’s insistence that it could no longer bear further budget austerity.

“I am fully convinced we achieved an honorable compromise,” Tsipras said, adding that all sides at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels had agreed for the “first time after seven years … to leave the path of continued austerity behind us.”

On Monday, Greece agreed to legislate new reforms to come into effect in 2019, but said these will be fiscally neutral: for every euro’s worth of new burdens on the Greek taxpayer, an equal amount of relief will be granted.

In return, Greece’s creditors agreed to send their bailout inspectors back to Athens next week for further talks to complete a long overdue review of Greece’s progress in its bailout program. Greece’s central bank chief warned Friday that the bailout talks must be concluded as soon as possible.

“If the negotiations drag on with no agreement in sight, then Greece will enter a new cycle of uncertainty, deteriorating relations with our partners and creditors, and a backsliding of the economy into stagnation,” Yannis Stournaras said in a speech.

He warned that risks “also arise from delays and procrastination in implementing reforms already agreed on, or from distortions to competition that could hurt crucial sectors of the economy.” Fitch ratings agency left Greece’s credit rating unchanged at CCC, near the bottom of the rating scale and deep in junk bond territory. It said late Friday that despite risks from the delays in negotiations it expects an agreement will be reached.

“The current stand-off appears to be driven more by the … disagreement” between Greece’s European creditors and the International Monetary Fund on Greece’s debt sustainability, the agency said. “Relations between the Greek government and official creditors have stayed on a fairly firm footing” since Greece’s third bailout was signed in 2015, it added.

Tsipras said both the new measures requested by creditors and the government-proposed relief measures will be legislated at the same time. The prime minister’s left-led coalition government, trailing badly in polls, has presented Monday’s deal as a decisive, positive step forward for austerity-weary Greeks hammered by seven years of a financial crisis that plunged the country into an economic depression.

No details have been provided of what the new reforms will entail, although there is widespread speculation they will include a broadening of the tax base and further pension and labor reforms. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos has provided no details on the upcoming reforms. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos on Tuesday said no specifics could be given as the reforms are subject to negotiation and agreement with the country’s creditors.

Greece has depended on three international bailout funds since 2010, when it became locked out of bond markets by sky-high borrowing rates. In return for the rescue loans, it has had to overhaul its economy, imposing rounds of spending cuts and tax hikes. The austerity saw the economy contract by more than a quarter and sent unemployment soaring. The jobless figure now hovers at around 23 percent, down from a high of 27 percent.

Nicholas Paphitis contributed.

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