Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday hit back at accusations that he tried to cover up a sex abuse “scandal” involving a top thespian appointed by his government.
Speaking in parliament, Mitsotakis said the opposition and supporting media was dragging public discourse through a “swamp” and spreading “demagoguery poison”.
The debate took place as the former artistic director of Greece’s national theatre, Dimitris Lignadis, was scheduled to appear before a prosecutor to answer allegations of raping minors, including migrant children.
Lignadis, 56, resigned on February 6 citing a “toxic climate of rumours, innuendo and leaks”.
In police custody since the weekend, he has strongly denied the allegations.
Opposition parties have accused the government of dragging its feet in the investigation, which could have led to the destruction of valuable evidence.
Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras on Thursday told parliament the case amounted to a “major scandal involving an attempted cover-up”, accusing the prime minister of “hypocrisy” and other ministers of “lying” to the public.
The Lignadis case is the latest in a belated #MeToo awakening in Greece involving allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and bullying in the fields of arts, sport and education that have rocked the country in recent weeks.
A related judicial inquiry is underway into claims that migrant children had been molested between 2017 and 2018.
The government has promised to introduce a new ethics code to prevent future abuse cases.
More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, the code of silence in Greece was broken last December by a two-time Olympic sailing medallist, Sofia Bekatorou.
Bekatorou said that when she was 21 she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse” by a senior federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Three people died Tuesday as heavy snowfall not seen in more than a decade fell and gale-force winds hit Greece, disrupting road and sea transport as well as halting Covid vaccinations in Athens.
Snow blanketed ancient monuments like the Acropolis and the cold front, dubbed “Medea” after the mythical Greek sorceress of the Argonauts, sent temperatures plunging, with a maximum low of minus 19 degrees Celsius (minus 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the northwestern city of Florina.
“The last time we saw so much snow in the centre of Athens was in February 2008,” meteorologist Costas Lagouvardos told AFP.
On the island of Evia near Athens, two elderly men suffering from respiratory problems died after their breathing apparatus failed during a power outage, state TV ERT reported.
On Crete, a livestock farmer in his 60s was found dead in the snow outside his granary at the village of Kaminaki in the east of the island, TV ERT added.
The rare phenomenon prompted authorities to cancel all coronavirus vaccinations planned in the capital for the day.
Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, has been without power for two days, and scores of falling trees caused local outages in some parts of the greater Athens area.
Over a dozen municipalities in the capital have been affected, officials said.
– ‘Truly exceptional problem’ – “Our big concern is the electricity grid,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after an emergency cabinet meeting. “We need the patience to resolve this problem which is truly exceptional.”
The weather conditions also sparked concern about conditions for thousands living in migrant camps around the country.
Over the past few days the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR has sent radiators to the camps around the country where tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been struggling with the cold and hail.
Additional sleeping bags and blankets have also been handed out, a migration ministry source told AFP.
In the camp of Elaionas near Athens, some 200 refugees on Tuesday had to be temporarily rehoused in containers and an indoor gym after their tents were damaged by snow, according to a migrant support group.
“Nobody in Elaionas will stay in a tent tonight,” the migration ministry source said.
Authorities shut down the main motorway between Athens and Greece’s second city Thessaloniki late Monday to prevent traffic backups, while winds of up to 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour halted shipping between the Greek mainland and the Aegean islands.
The snow that fell through most of the day Monday snarled traffic in the city centre on Tuesday as well as in the northern suburbs.
The snow also turned the sandy beaches of the Athens seafront white.
The weather was forecast to improve from Wednesday.
Greece’s emerging #MeToo movement, sparked by an Olympian’s taboo-breaking decision to go public with allegations of sexual abuse, has raised hopes it can also uncover long-hidden stories of incest in the patriarchal country.
Stories of sexual trauma have in recent weeks spread from sports to the world of entertainment, academia and beyond, and some experts say it is only the start of a reckoning on an issue long kept under wraps.
More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, Sofia Bekatorou — a two-time Olympic medallist in sailing — broke the code of silence in her own country.
Bekatorou, now 43, testified in January that she was 21 when she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse” by a senior Greek sailing federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Her comments have encouraged other women athletes, students, journalists and actresses to break decades of silence.
A Greek sailing coach accused of raping an 11-year-old athlete nine years ago was arrested last month after his alleged victim reported him following Bekatorou’s public revelations.
During her own testimony, Bekatorou had given evidence on the rape of the young girl, now aged 20, to prosecutors.
The young athlete and her parents have also testified.
More than a dozen actresses have also reported sexual harassment dating back to the start of their careers, while a well-known Greek composer is also facing such accusations.
But most victims continue to keep their trauma well-hidden, some experts say.
“Ninety percent of sexual aggressions remain under wraps,” said Vassiliki Artinopoulou, professor of criminology at the Panteion University of Athens.
“Only the tip of the iceberg becomes public.”
– ‘A sexist society’ –
Konstantinos Yannopoulos, president of Smile of the Child, a non-profit child welfare organisation, said the Greek #MeToo movement should also shine a light on cases of incest.
“In the majority of cases, the father is the aggressor and, in the worst scenario, the mother is covering for him,” he said.
“We are living in a sexist society. That justifies men’s actions.”
Yannopoulos is calling for the establishment of a national organisation to gather reports of incest cases and provide help for the victims.
In an effort to break the taboo of speaking about incest, the omniatv.gr website has launched a campaign to raise awareness about sexual aggression between family members.
It has highlighted the case of Eleonora (not her real name), who said her brother sexually abused her when she was 11.
Her case led to the #MilaKaiEsy (#Speakuptoo) campaign, which aims to financially support Eleonora in her legal case.
She reported her brother to the authorities in 2018 despite her family’s opposition, 15 years after the alleged incident. He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison in early 2020.
– ‘Between family and truth’ –
The campaign also aims to “encourage other people with similar experiences to talk,” Loukas Stamellos, who writes for omniatv, told AFP.
Eleonora told omniatv in an interview published in December that she had to “choose between her family and the truth”.
Her mother told her “you are going to shame us” when she revealed her brother’s crime and her intention to report him.
“I could have shut up for the rest of my life, remained an accomplice to the comedy they were all playing with me as a protagonist in a silent role,” Eleonora told omniatv.
In the interview, she recounted her struggle to overcome the nightmare of her teenage years, her depression and her suicide attempts before turning to the authorities.
“I finally realised that nothing worse could happen to me and I chose the legal route,” she said.
Yannopoulos has also spoken of another young victim who said she was abused by her father since the age of seven.
She asked for help from the child welfare organisation when she was 14 as her mother refused to report her husband, he said.
Sometimes, incest cases are only revealed after domestic violence complaints, he added.
“A young woman has called us to reveal that she was beaten by her parents. While talking to her, we learned that her father was sexually abusing her and that she thought this was normal,” he said.
But silence still reigns, Yannopoulos said, with few cases of incest being reported in Greece.
In 2020, out of 2,100 cases of domestic violence reported to the organisation “only 31 had to do with sexual aggressions”, a number he believes greatly understates the problem.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday urged the EU to adopt a “standardised” vaccination certificate to boost travel this year, his office said.
“Persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel,” Mitsotakis wrote to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in a letter released by his office.
“It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states,” the Greek PM said, calling for a “standardised certificate, which will prove that a person has been successfully vaccinated”.
Greece’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, took a major blow this year from the coronavirus pandemic, even after reopening all its airports to foreign travellers in July.
The budget sees the Greek economy slumping by 10.5 percent in 2020, worse than the 8.2 percent predicted in October.
After weathering the first wave of the pandemic better than most European countries, Greece in early November reimposed a nationwide lockdown that has weighed on activity and is now set to last until January 18.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told a UN envoy Monday he is ready to attend an informal conference involving Britain, Greece and Turkey to end a deadlock in peace talks, officials said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.
There have been no official UN-sponsored negotiations on the island’s future since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Britain, Greece, and Turkey –- collapsed in July 2017.
UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, on her second visit to Cyprus since December, held talks on Monday with Anastasiades before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.
Athens city buses, metro lines and trams ground to a halt Thursday with public workers pressing for better protection against coronavirus as Greece extended Covid-19 restrictions until December 7.
Shipping also closed for a day in the coastal nation, disrupting maritime trade as well as transport linking its numerous islands.
A second wave is raging through Greece, with daily infections now between 2,500 and 3,000 compared with 667 on October 20. The death toll has just crossed 1,900 and more than 500 people are in intensive care.
Scores of motorcyclists briefly demonstrated outside the labour ministry in Athens shouting slogans such as “Riot police everywhere, intensive care units nowhere”.
Medical workers also called for a rally outside the health ministry to demand Christmas bonuses and better health protection, including increased testing for those on the frontline.
Some 200 far-left activists defied pandemic curbs to rally in central Athens before being dispersed by police, deployed in full force in the capital to prevent lockdown breaches.
Greece also extended virus curbs initially set to end this month to December 7.
People must get official permission by SMS to leave their homes and all businesses are closed apart from shops selling essential items as well as pharmacies and supermarkets.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Thursday that the restrictions had to be prolonged in view of the continued high rate of infections.
“There are the first signs of a reduction,” he said, adding: “If this continues, the pressure on the health system will decline and we can envisage a return to a certain normalcy.”
Greek police on Sunday announced a ban on public gatherings of four or more people as hospitals were overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, ahead of the annual anniversary of a 1973 anti-junta uprising.
Greece on Saturday said it would shut primary schools, kindergartens and daycare centres as coronavirus deaths crossed a thousand.
The anti-junta demonstration is a treasured anniversary for many Greeks, and more than 30,000 people demonstrated in Athens and other major cities last year under a heavy police presence.
At least 24 people were killed in the 1973 crackdown, an event generally considered to have broken the junta’s grip on power and helped the restoration of democracy.
This year, however, all public gatherings of four or more people would be banned from 6 am on Sunday to 9 pm on Wednesday to stem the spread of coronavirus, police said in a statement.
Fines of 5,000 euros will be issued to legal entities like political parties and 3,000 euros for individuals who organise gatherings, while those participating will be fined 300 euros.
Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said on Friday that the events and marches commemorating the November 17 Athens Polytechnic student uprising will not take place this year.
“We did not celebrate March 25th or October 28th, we did not celebrate Easter, we did not celebrate any of the things that unite us in 2020. The same will be the case with the Polytechnic anniversary,” the minister said, referring to three national holidays that were not celebrated because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The virus is the enemy and large gatherings are its main weapon,” he added, prompting opposition parties to pledge they would proceed with demonstrations.
Communist KKE party leader Dimitris Koutsoumpas in an interview on Saturday stressed that “the Polytechnic march was never organised by the government”.
“All the measures will be strictly observed with the use of face masks and antiseptics, keeping the necessary distances and of course we urge people belonging to vulnerable groups or those who are ill to stay at home,” Koutsoumpas said.
Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, leader of the Diem25 party on Saturday accused the government of announcing in advance the arrest of his party’s members.
On Friday, Greek police evacuated the premises of the historic Polytechnic building that now houses the National Technical University of Athens and another university campus and arrested 92 people for trespassing, disturbance and disorder.
Authorities on Saturday reported 2,835 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 72,510, and 38 new deaths, raising the toll to 1,035.
Greece announced on Saturday the closure of its primary schools, kindergartens and daycare centres amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has saturated the national health system.
“The Greek government decided the suspension of the functioning of schools until November 30,” said a statement from Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias.
“Closing elementary schools was the last thing we wanted to do. This is a measure of how serious the situation is,” he added.
Secondary schools have already closed and all lessons have taken place remotely since Monday.
Most European countries have kept schools open during the second wave of cases that have hit the continent since September, unlike in March and April when they were shuttered during the first lockdowns.
The World Health Organisation recommends that schools only be shut as a last resort.
Since late October, the daily number of deaths in Greece has quadrupled with 50 deaths reported some days, while the number of infections has doubled to around 3,000 cases daily.
Out of the 1,143 total, intensive care unit beds nationwide on Friday 830 were occupied.
“The coming weeks will be extremely critical”, Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday in the Greek Parliament where he was briefing MPs for the second lockdown since March.
This lockdown started November 7 and is to last until November 30, although experts suggest it might last longer.
Since Friday night a curfew from 9 pm to 5am has been imposed all over Greece.
The country with a population of 10.9 million people has experienced 997 deaths and 69,675 contaminations since the beginning of the pandemic in late February, most of them in the last four months.
The most hard-hit area is the northern city of Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.
“The health system is in the red,” Health Minister Kikilias has warned.
Rescuers dug through heavy blocks of concrete with their bare hands Saturday in a desperate search for survivors from a powerful earthquake that levelled buildings across Greece and Turkey, killing at least 26 people.
The quake struck late Friday afternoon, causing a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in a town on Turkey’s west coast.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.0 magnitude tremor hit 14 kilometres (nine miles) off the Greek town of Karlovasi on Samos.
Felt in both Istanbul and Athens, it also created a diplomatic opening for the two historic rivals, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placing a rare call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences and support.
Hospital patients on the street
Much of the damage occurred in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, which has three million residents and is filled with high-rise apartment blocks.
Parts of entire apartments, including toys, pillows and shattered appliances, spilt out on the streets, where survivors huddled in tears, many too shocked to speak.
Aerial footage showed entire city blocks turned to rubble.
“I thought: Is it going to end? It felt like 10 minutes like it was never going to end,” said Gokhan Kan, a 32-year-old courier.
“I was terrified not for myself in that moment but for my family, my wife and four-year-old son.”
Izmir’s mayor Tunc Soyer told CNN Turk that 20 buildings had collapsed, with officials focusing their rescue efforts on 17 of them.
Turkey’s disaster relief agency reported 24 deaths and 800 injuries, while in Greece two teenagers died on their way home from school on Samos when a wall collapsed.
The scenes of devastation suggested the toll could rise.
One Izmir hospital rolled some of its patients — still strapped into their beds and hooked up to drips — out on the street as a precaution.
Turkey’s religious affairs directorate opened its mosques to help shelter some of those left homeless by the disaster.
Images on social media showed water rushing through the streets of one of the towns near Izmir from an apparent sea surge.
Thick white plumes of smoke towered over various parts of the city where big buildings had collapsed.
Rescuers, helped by residents and sniffer dogs, used chainsaws to try to force their way through the rubble of one destroyed seven-floor building.
At another site, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli managed to establish mobile phone contact with a girl buried under the debris.
“We ask you to remain calm,” he told her in televised footage. “We will try to lift the concrete block and reach you.”
NTV television said up to six people were trapped at the site, including the girl’s cousin.
The region’s governor said 70 people had been pulled out alive by Friday evening, although how many more were missing remained unknown by sunset.
Rescuers set up tents in a small park away from the cracked and damaged buildings for families to spend the night in safety and relative warmth.
“Because we live in Izmir, we have pretty warm weather, we can make it through today, we can make it through tomorrow,” said Cemalettin Enginyurt, a retired soldier. “But we can’t think of anything on the long term, we are helpless.”
– ‘Earthquake Diplomacy’ –
On the Greek island of Samos, near the quake’s epicentre, people rushed out into the streets in panic.
“It was chaos,” said deputy mayor Giorgos Dionysiou. “We have never experienced anything like this.”
The Greek civil protection agency told Samos residents in a text message to “stay out in the open and away from buildings”.
Greece and Turkey are situated in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The two neighbours also suffer from historically poor relations despite both being members of the NATO military alliance.
But the quake saw a spurt of what pundits immediately termed “earthquake diplomacy”, with calls exchanged by their foreign ministers and then, hours later, the Greek prime minister and Erdogan.
“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Mitsotakis said on Twitter.
“Thank you, Mr Prime Minister,” Erdogan tweeted in reply. “That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”
The US State Department said Washington was “heartened” by the newfound cooperation.
France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has sparred repeatedly with Erdogan in the past year, said it stood in “full solidarity” with the two countries.
In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s northwest, killing more than 17,000 people, including 1,000 in Istanbul.
In Greece, the last deadly quake killed two people on the island of Kos, near Samos, in July 2017.