Germany enlists Otto Rehhagel in Greece ‘charm offensive’

Otto Rehhagel receives a football award in Greece. Photo: 2011Rehhagel (right) is passionately known as King Otto in Greece

Berlin has enlisted the help of Otto Rehhagel, a much-loved football coach among the Greeks, to make Germany popular again in crisis-hit Greece.

Rehhagel, who led Greece to victory at the Euro 2004, is holding talks in Athens as a goodwill ambassador.

The 74-year-old was reportedly picked out for the delicate mission by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Many Greeks hold Mrs Merkel responsible for tough austerity measures being implemented by the Greek government.

Over the past few days, the German chancellor has also been blamed by protesters in Cyprus for the stringent terms of its EU bailout.

‘Our friends’

On Tuesday, Rehhagel – passionately known as King Otto among Greeks – held talks with Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni and was later expected to attend a friendly football match.

Speaking to reporters, he stressed that Greece and Germany were “connected by friendship and a common culture”.

“Whatever happens, Greeks will remain our friends. We have to help countries that are down on their luck.”

The former Greek national coach was so revered for his European Championship feat that he became known as “Rehakles”, Die Welt newspaper reported, referring to the mythical ancient Greek hero, Heracles.

While he worked something of a miracle on the football pitch some years ago, a similar effort was needed now to end Mediterranean hostility towards Germany, the paper added.

The former coach is being accompanied by Germany’s envoy to Greece, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel.

Why Thailand and Greece spell tragedy for travellers

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Data Point

More than 100 Australians died in Thailand and a further 60 died in Greece last year, making these two countries – for different reasons – among the places where Australians are most likely to meet their end while overseas.

While the deaths in Thailand were largely due to illness or accident, most in Greece were from what the Department of Foreign Affairs calls ‘‘natural causes’’, pointing to a much older group travelling there.

The figures underline the challenge for the government’s consular service as a growing number of younger and older Australians travel overseas.

They also underline a key finding of a Lowy Institute report released on Tuesday that argues the changing profile of Australian travellers is adding to the burdens on consular staff.

‘‘The number of Australian travellers under 25 has more than doubled in the past decade and the number of over-55’s has tripled,’’ the report says.

‘‘Inexperienced younger travellers are more likely to get into legal or financial trouble [while] older travellers are more likely to face health problems.’’

Adventure travel and extreme sports tourism, both more likely to cause injury or death, are also becoming more common.

The Lowy paper, Consular Conundrum, says the workload on consular staff has grown by 60 per cent over the past five years while belt-tightening at DFAT has reduced the number of dedicated consular officers.

The paper urges the government to bolster DFAT’s consular arm, perhaps with a levy on airline tickets or passports, and by allowing the department to keep more of the revenue it generates.

It says more than 1.7 million local passports were issued last year with more than 8 million overseas trips made by Australians compared with half that number a decade ago.

The strong dollar and lower international fares have also made it easier for those with ‘‘limited financial means’’ to travel abroad, with the knock-on effect that these travellers need greater support if they get into strife.

‘‘More people with mental illnesses and travellers on one-way tickets are also heading overseas,’’ the report also says.

The report slams a growing sense of ‘‘entitlement’’ among travellers who expect the government to rescue them when they land in trouble.

‘‘The Australian public … seem to expect that the full suite of welfare services will extend to them across the globe no matter where they go or how they behave,’’ the report says, citing a couple who wanted frequent flyer points while being evacuated from Cairo on a government-chartered rescue flight.

The Lowy report blames Australian politicians and successive foreign ministers for contributing to unrealistic expectations, saying that high-level interventions in response to media and public clamour about specific cases can become a ‘‘ public relations trap’’.

It cites Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s personal phone call to a 14-year old Australian boy in late 2011 after he was arrested in Bali for buying a small quantity of marijuana.

‘‘This type of high-level political intervention is clearly unsustainable,’’ it argues.

A total of 904 Australians died abroad in 2012. Seven countries – Thailand, the Philippines, Greece, Vietnam, the US, Indonesia and Hong Kong – accounted for more than a third of the deaths.


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