Infant Dies As Greek Coastguard Hits Migrant Boat

 

An infant died Wednesday and several asylum-seekers were hurt when their dinghy was hit and sunk by a Greek coastguard patrol vessel, authorities said.

The coastguard said the incident occurred in “utter darkness” as the migrant boat, which was carrying 34 people, had no lights on.

Greek coastguard vessels use powerful searchlights when on patrol in the Aegean Sea.

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The authorities did not clarify whether the patrol boat’s light was in use at the time of the accident.

The asylum-seekers were also not wearing life jackets, the coastguard said.

Six people were taken to a hospital on Kos, among them a pregnant woman. Survivors told officials that one more man was missing.

Two of the injured were in a serious condition, the coastguard said.

Greece is facing increased arrivals of migrants and refugees from neighbouring Turkey, with hundreds landing daily.

The government has vowed to stiffen its response with stepped-up patrols to deter migrant boats.

“Waves of refugees and economic migrants are now besieging European countries,” conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last week.

Mitsotakis, who came to power in July, plans to also send 10,000 people back to Turkey and to speed up asylum procedures for refugee status applicants.

Greek Police Evict Over 260 Migrants From Athens Squats

Evicted migrants board a bus during a police operation in the center of Athens on September 19, 2019. /AFP

 

Police in Athens on Thursday removed over 260 migrants, including dozens of children, from two squats in the city centre as part of a law-and-order drive by the new conservative government.

Overall 269 people, including nearly 100 minors, were removed and taken to the police headquarters for identification, the police said in a statement.

State TV ERT showed the migrants boarding buses, some of them clutching plastic bags with their belongings.

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The two abandoned buildings had been occupied since 2016, the police said.

The crackdown has been opposed by anti-establishment and rights groups who say the operations unfairly target migrant families, who would otherwise be homeless, and the solidarity groups that support them.

Thousands of anti-establishment protesters marched in Athens on Saturday in a demonstration against the squat evacuations.

New Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, elected in July, has vowed to combat “lawlessness”. The new Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis — who is the prime minister’s nephew — was similarly elected on a public safety ticket in June.

Bakoyannis argues that order must be restored before sidelined landmarks such as the National Archaeological Museum and the Athens Polytechnic — in the middle of drug-trading areas — can become tourist draws.

Ecological Disaster: Firefighters Battle Fire On Greek Island

A fire-fighting plane drops water over a wildfire near the village of Stavros, on the Greek Evia island on August 14, 2019.  Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP

 

Firefighters on the Greek island of Evia were still battling Wednesday to contain a fire that has caused massive damage to a pristine mountain wildlife habitat after threatening four communities.

“Things are going better, but we must not relax our vigilance,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters aboard a fire department bus.

The blaze burned for a second day in a ravine at the 550-hectare wildlife habitat of Agrilitsa, causing major damage to pine forests.

“It’s a huge ecological disaster in a unique, untouched pine forest,” said acting regional governor Costas Bakoyannis.

The fire that broke out in the early hours of Tuesday on Greece’s second-largest island prompted the evacuation of three villages and threatened the town of Psachna during the night, officials said.

“From Psachna to Kontodespoti and Makrymalli everything has been burned down. It’s fortunate that we do not have human victims,” Thanassis Karakatzas, a deputy regional civil protection officer, told state agency ANA.

Over 200 firefighters were in action backed by 75 fire trucks, nine water-bombing helicopters and seven planes along a 12-kilometre (seven-mile) front, managing to avert damage to inhabited areas.

Power outages and water cuts 

“We succeeded in protecting human lives and saving properties,” said citizen’s protection minister Michalis Chrisohoidis.

A firefighter suffered burns on Tuesday after trying to cross the fire on a motorbike, and three cars belonging to campers were burned, a local mayor said.

“We should be able to tackle the fire by the end of the day,” Yiannis Razos, a local official, told Athens municipal radio.

The area faced power outages and water cuts on Wednesday, residents said.

Two Italian water bombers arrived after Greece requested EU assistance, and were on standby, the fire department said. The third plane from Spain was due to arrive by evening.

EU Humanitarian Commissioner Christos Stylianides called the mobilisation of Greek forces “exemplary”.

“I think we will be able to limit the ecological losses…European solidarity is tangible,” Stylianides told reporters.

No injuries or respiratory problems that required hospitalisation were reported at the height of the emergency on Tuesday, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said in a tweet.

But three ambulances were stationed close to the area as a precaution.

Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend, fanned by gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

The PM, who cancelled his summer vacation and returned to Athens on Tuesday, called for the EU to take action.

“Climate change is taking its toll on southern Europe and that is why it is imperative at European level to strengthen the EU rescue mechanism,” Mitsotakis said.

He paid tribute to the fire crews coping with some 50 forest blazes daily on average.

“I am aware that our firefighters, particularly over the last five days, have given their all, they are without sleep and often without food,” Mitsotakis said.

Other fires on Tuesday were contained on the island of Thassos, the central region of Viotia, and in the Peloponnese region.

On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned and radio broadcast equipment was damaged on nearby Mount Ymittos but there were no reports of injuries.

On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese, was brought under control after a two-day battle.

Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where 102 people died last year in Greece’s worst fire disaster.

AFP

New Prime Minister Vows To Make Greece ‘Proud’ After Vote Triumph

Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister and leader of conservative New Democracy party Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaks to the press outside the party’s headquarters after the official results of the elections, in Athens on July 7, 2019. PHOTO: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

 

Greece’s conservative prime minister-elect Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed that the country would “proudly” enter a post-bailout period of “jobs, security and growth” after winning a landslide victory in Sunday’s general election.

Official results showed Mitsotakis on track to crush leftist premier Alexis Tsipras, who oversaw austerity measures after Greece’s dramatic rescue by international creditors in the European debt crisis.

“A painful cycle has closed,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address, adding that Greece would “proudly raise its head again” on his watch.

“I will not fail to honour your hopes,” he said as early congratulation calls came from outgoing European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

With official results from 94 percent of polling stations, New Democracy scored a crushing victory by nearly 40 percent — its best score in over a decade — to 31.5 percent for Tsipras’s leftist Syriza party.

“I want to see these people prosper. I want to see the children who left to return,” he later told party supporters.

Mitsotakis will be sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister on Monday.

Tsipras had earlier admitted defeat after over four years in power that saw Greece emerge from its third bailout.

The 44-year-old warned that his Syriza party would “dynamically” resist efforts to scale back the party’s pro-labour reforms.

If the results are confirmed, the 51-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant Mitsotakis will have a majority of 158 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament. Tsipras’s party will have 86 seats.

The final number will depend on how smaller parties fare. They need at least 3.0 percent of the vote to enter parliament.

 A family affair

New Democracy was last in power in 2014, in coalition with the Greek socialists.

Mitsotakis is a scion of one of Greece’s top political families.

He is the son of former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, one of the country’s longest-serving parliamentarians.

His sister is former minister Dora Bakoyannis, Athens’s first female mayor. And new Athens mayor Costas Bakoyannis, elected in May, is his nephew.

Sunday’s election was Greece’s third in as many months, and the first held in midsummer since 1928.

In May, New Democracy beat Syriza by nearly 9.5 points in European parliament elections. A week later, it completed a near-sweep of Greek regions in local elections.

After that, Tsipras was forced to call an early general election. His term was scheduled to end in the autumn.

 ‘Chance to recover’

Greece’s youngest premier in more than a century, Tsipras had trailed in the polls for months amid widespread dissatisfaction over high taxes.

“Greece is exiting 10 years of crisis and the new government will have the heavy task to give a chance to the country to recover completely or to sink”, 36-year-old Aphrodite told AFP, as she cast her vote in the bohemian downtown Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia.

“I hope that from tomorrow we will be able to breathe with relief. To take a deep breath, if Mitsotakis does what he promises,” added Athinodoros, a 48-year-old self-employed worker.

Tsipras has accused Mitsotakis — who was part of a 2012-2014 crisis government — of “disastrous” mismanagement that brought hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures.

Mitsotakis has now pledged to create “better” jobs through growth, foreign investment and tax cuts and to “steamroll” obstacles to business.

Tsipras — who reduced unemployment and raised the minimum wage for the first time since 2012 — was criticised for campaigning as an anti-austerity crusader before eventually accepting a third EU bailout and the economic cutbacks that entailed.

In parts of the country, there was also a backlash against a controversial agreement with North Macedonia that ended a bitter 27-year dispute over the country’s name.

New parties

The new smaller parties fighting to secure representation are Greek Solution, a nationalist party formed by TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos, and MeRA25, an anti-austerity party founded by maverick economist and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

According to the exit polls, Varoufakis’s party could elect nine lawmakers.

Greek Solution could end up with 10 deputies, while neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn looks likely to be shut out of parliament for the first time since 2012.

Golden Dawn, until recently Greece’s third-ranking party, is in steep decline amid an ongoing trial for the 2013 murder of an anti-fascist rapper, allegedly carried out with the knowledge of senior Golden Dawn members.

Mitsotakis has promised to hit the ground running. A Eurogroup finance meeting on Monday will convene to discuss the state of Greece’s economy after tax cuts rolled out by Tsipras in May.

AFP

Thousands Of Greeks Protest Against Macedonia Name Compromise

People take part in a demonstration to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia, at the Syntagma Square in Athens, on February 4, 2018. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

Tens of thousands of Greeks staged a mass rally in Athens on Sunday, urging the government not to compromise in a festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia.

Organisers claimed some 1.5 million people from across Greece and the Greek diaspora turned out to express their opposition to attempts by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government to broker a deal.

But police put the figure at around 140,000.

“The million protesters that the organisers imagined was wishful thinking,” Tsipras said in a statement released by his office.

“The crushing majority of Greek people conclude that foreign policy issues should not be dealt with fanaticism.”

Earlier in the day a huge Greek flag flew over central Syntagma Square from atop a crane, and Greeks from all over the country and abroad chanted “Hands off Macedonia”, “Macedonia is Greek” and “We won’t leave until we are vindicated”.

Among those in the cross-generation crowd was former PM Antonis Samaras — who was the foreign minister when the name row began in 1991 — in addition to mayors, senior clerics, army officers and monks.

Keynote speaker Mikis Theodorakis, the renowned Zorba the Greek composer and resistance icon, called on the government to hold a referendum before taking a decision.

“Macedonia was, is and will forever be Greek,” 92-year-old Theodorakis told the cheering crowd of protesters.

“If a government considers signing on behalf of our country… there is no doubt it must first ask the Greek people,” he said, calling the neighbouring northern state “illegitimate”.

Athens objects to Macedonia’s name, arguing it suggests that Skopje has claimed to the territory and heritage of Greece’s historic northern region of the same name.

“Macedonians united Greece against the (Persian Empire),” said Nina Gatzoulis of the US Pan-Macedonian Association, arguing that a Greek climbdown on the name issue would create “permanent instability” in the region.

However, leftist Tsipras has been considering a resolution to the 27-year-old dispute, angering many opposition members and his own nationalist coalition partners.

– Unresolved dispute –

Several protesters wore traditional garb, including the uniform of Greek guerrillas who fought Bulgarian bands and Ottoman forces in Macedonia in the early 20th century.

“Cretan eagles lie in the earth of Macedonia,” a Cretan representative told the crowd. “We tell our sister, Macedonia, we will not allow anyone to carve you up.”

The protest — the second on the Macedonia issue in a fortnight — was organised and funded by Greek diaspora groups, with the support of retired officer associations, cultural unions and church groups.

Anarchists stationed a counter-protest nearby, with riot police deployed to keep the two crowds apart.

Two weeks ago, tens of thousands had protested in Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece’s Macedonia region. Police had estimated the turnout at over 90,000, while organisers claimed at least 400,000 attended.

The dispute has remained unresolved since the former Yugoslav republic’s independence in 1991.

Greece considers the name “Macedonia” to be part of its own cultural heritage, as the province was the core of Alexander the Great’s ancient empire.

Athens seeks guarantees that the use of the name by its neighbour implies no claim to parts of its own territory.

The government has accused far-right hardliners and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of trying to exploit the issue.

– Boost Balkan stability –

The government insists the rallies will not affect its determination to solve the issue and boost stability in the often tense Balkan region.

Athens says it is ready to accept a composite name that will establish a clear distinction from Greek Macedonia.

“The government is trying to give a patriotic solution to a problem that has troubled the country, its international relations and its diplomacy for over 25 years,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Sunday.

“Not having a solution undermines our national interest,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said last week.

Because of Greece’s objections, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

To break the deadlock, longterm UN mediator Matthew Nimetz has now proposed several alternative names in Macedonian, including “Republika Nova Makedonija” or the “Republic of New Macedonia”.

A resolution of the issue is needed before Macedonia can join NATO or the EU.

“They seek to join NATO and the EU with our own vote, so they can threaten us tomorrow from a position of strength,” Theodorakis said.

Greece in 2008 threatened to veto Macedonia’s NATO entry. Skopje subsequently took the issue to the International Court of Justice, which said Athens had been wrong to block its land-locked neighbour’s aspirations.

AFP

World War (II) Bomb Forces Huge Greek Evacuation

greekAt least 70,000 people are being evacuated to enable the defusion of the World War (II) bomb in the Greek city.

It is said to be one of the largest mass evacuations over one of the largest wartime bombs to be found in Greece.

Officials could not tell if the bomb, which was discovered last week during road works, is German or an allied bomb

Residents within a radius of about 2 km of the bomb have however been compelled to evacuate the area between ahead of Sunday morning when the defusion is expected to take place.

About 1,000 police officers and 300 volunteers will be deployed ahead of the disposal operation.

Two Men Charged With Aiding Brussels Suicide Bombers

Brussels-Airport-explossionsBelgian investigators have charged two men with aiding last month’s Brussels suicide bombers.

Mohamed Abrini, believed to have helped prepare the November 13 Paris attacks, was seized on a Brussels street on Friday and charged on Saturday.

Prosecutors said he confessed to being the “man in the hat” seen at the city’s airport with two suicide bombers on March 22. That further confirmed close links between the two operations.

In a statement, prosecutors also said they had confirmed that a second fugitive seized separately on Friday in Brussels was indeed the man seen with a third suicide bomber on March 22 who struck shortly afterward on the Belgian’s capital’s metro.

Reuters reports that he was identified by officials as Osama K. and widely named in local media as a 28-year-old Swede called Krayem .

He was also filmed buying bags used to carry the Brussels bombs and his fingerprints were found, like Abrini’s, in an apartment used as a bomb factory and safe house for the Brussels attackers.

Also like Abrini, Krayem was identified as associating with the prime surviving Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam in the days and weeks before the November bloodbath that left 130 people dead.

As with other suspects in both Paris and Brussels attacks, police believe Krayem returned from fighting with Islamic State in Syria via refugee boats last summer reaching Greek islands.

Abrini was tracked down the day after police released new images of “the man in the hat” pushing a laden baggage trolley similar to those of the two suicide bombers alongside him.

Abrini, 31, was well known to police as a petty criminal and drug dealer who was a regular at the bar run by the Abdeslam brothers in the Molenbeek district of Brussels which is home to many other Moroccan immigrant families. Prosecutors said he told them that he had sold the hat he used to conceal his features.

But while pleased with the performance of Belgium’s hitherto much criticised security services, Prime Minister Charles Michel warned that further threats to Europe were still live: “We are positive about the recent developments in the investigation,” he told a news conference.

“But we know we have to stay alert.”

Greece Begin Movement Of Refugees Stranded At Port

GreeceGreek authorities on Thursday began busing hundreds of migrants and refugees to accommodation in other parts of Greece from a port near Athens, where they spent weeks sleeping in the open and tensions flared over phone chargers and food.

At least 51,000 refugees and migrants who reached Greece from Turkey and are hoping to travel north to countries like Germany and Austria are stranded in Greece after Balkan countries closed their borders.

Nearly 6,000 people, most from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, were stuck at the port of Piraeus on Thursday, authorities said. Greece’s largest port lies about 12 km from central Athens.

By mid-morning, at least four buses departed for the port town of Kyllini in western Greece, some 280 km from Athens, where they will be housed in a former tourist complex. Families began gathering at the dock as more buses were expected to be deployed.

Other buses left for the cities of Ioannina and Larissa in northwestern and central Greece.

Under a European Union deal with Turkey, those who arrived in Greece from Turkey after March 20 will be held in camps and subject to being sent back to Turkey once their asylum claims have been processed.

Since arriving at Piraeus after landing by boat on Greek islands off the Turkish coast, most migrants and refugees there have been reluctant to move fearing they would be too far from the closed Greek-Macedonian border in case it reopened.

“I believe the first group to go to Kyllini will relay the message to the rest that it’s a decent place, and we won’t have a problem moving (more) people there,” George Kyritsis, a government spokesman, told Greek TV.

Scuffles have broken out at the port in recent weeks, where people live in tents and on blankets in the open, with poor sanitation and little food.

Windows were smashed and eight people were injured in clashes between groups of Syrians and Afghans on Wednesday night, the government said.

For every Syrian sent back to Turkey from Greece, one Syrian will be resettled directly to Europe from Turkey. The returns are set to begin on April 4, but neither side is fully ready, with officials scrambling to be able to make at least a symbolic start as new arrivals rise.

The government submitted a bill in parliament on Wednesday night to facilitate the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal and which incorporates EU law on asylum seekers. The bill is expected to be voted on in parliament on Friday night.

Greek PM Announces Capital Control To Prevent Banks’ Failure

Greek PM Announces Capital Control To Prevent Banks' FailureGreece’s Prime Minister (PM), Alexis Tsipras, has solemnly announced capital controls to prevent Greek banks from collapsing under the weight of mass withdrawals.

The PM made the declaration in a televised address on Sunday night, after a breakdown in talks between Athens and its creditors plunged the country deep into crisis.

In another development, European leaders had gathered for an emergency summit in Brussels that could break the deadlock around the debt crisis facing Greece.

The Greek Prime Minister set out new proposals to try and prevent a default on a 1.6 billion Euros ($1.77 billion) International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

However, Greeks woke up on Monday to shuttered banks, closed cash machines and a climate of rumours and conspiracy theories, sequel to Tsipras’ pronouncement.

The country has less than 48 hours to pay back IMF loans and a default would set in train events that could lead to the country’s exit from the euro currency alliance.

UK Military Says Warplanes In Nigeria Is For Mali operation

Authority in the British military on Sunday said its warplanes recently spotted at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja were there to move soldiers to aid the French intervention in Mali, not to rescue foreign hostages kidnapped by an Islamic group.

The extremist group called Ansaru partially blamed the presence of those planes as an excuse for killing seven foreign hostages, including British, Greek, Italian and Lebanese citizens.

The Islamic radicals claimed on Saturday that they had killed the seven hostages. While Nigerian authorities have yet to comment publicly about Ansaru’s claim.

Ansaru said it killed the hostages in part due to media on the arrival of British military aircraft to Bauchi, where the abductions occurred. However, the online statement from Ansaru said the airplanes were spotted at the international airport in Abuja.

The British Ministry of Defence said the planes it flew to Abuja ferried Nigerian troops and equipment to Bamako, Mali. Nigerian soldiers have been sent to Mali to help French forces and Malian troops battle Islamic extremists there. The British military said it also transported Ghanaian soldiers to Mali the same way.

The British ministry declined to offer any other comment regarding Nigerian extremist group’s claims that it killed the seven hostage killings. Ansaru had said it believed the planes were part of a Nigerian and British rescue mission for the abducted hostages.

In its statement Saturday, Ansaru also blamed the killings on a pledge by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to do “everything possible” to free the hostages.

Ansaru previously issued a short statement saying its fighters kidnapped the foreigners Feb. 16 from a construction company’s camp at Jama’are, a town about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state. In the attack gunmen first assaulted a local prison and burned police trucks, authorities said. Then the attackers blew up a back fence at the construction company’s compound and took over, killing a guard in the process, witnesses and police said.

In January 2013, Ansaru declared itself a splinter group independent from Boko Haram.

Ansaru Claims It Has Killed 7 Foreign Hostages

Reports say fundamentalist Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru has claimed that it has killed the seven foreign hostages it seized on February 7, from a construction company in Bauchi, north east Nigeria.

Agency reports quoting site monitoring service says the group issued a statement in Arabic and English on an affiliate of the Sinam al-Islam network accompanied by screen shots of a video purporting to show the dead hostages. One screenshot showed a man with gun standing above several prone figures lying on the ground.

Ansaru, which has kidnapped other foreigners in the past, had blasted into the compound using explosives and abducted a Briton, an Italian, a Greek and four Lebanese workers.

In its statement, the group allegedly said it had decided to kill the hostages, taken from the compound of a Lebanese construction company because of attempts by Britain and Nigeria to rescue them.

Effort to get the police to confirm this has not been successful as the police spokesman, Frank Mba, said he could not speak on the matter immediately.

Greek Parliament To Probe Ex-minister

Greek members of parliament have voted to launch a criminal investigation into ex-finance minister George Papaconstantinou.

He is accused of tampering with a list of suspected tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts.

The scandal centers on a list of names, provided in 2010 to the Greek government by then French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who is now head of the IMF.

Mr. Papaconstantinou has denied involvement meanwhile MPS voted against extending the probe to another ex-finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, and former PMS Lucas Papademos and George Papandreou.

“I did not tamper with the data. It is inconceivable that I would have acted in such a way that would so blatantly involve me,” he said.;

The list of about 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland is part of data on 24,000 HSBC customers allegedly stolen from the bank by an employee.

After about two years of inaction, the list emerged into the public eye again late last year when it was leaked to a magazine publisher, who printed the names.

Parliament’s investigative committee is to meet next week and will officially be given 30 days to come up with their findings. An extension to that deadline could also be granted.