Greece Arrests Senior Members of Far-Right Party

A search was under way for another lawmaker and at least 10 more party members.

It is the first time that the leader of a political party and members of Parliament have been arrested in Greece since the fall of a military junta in 1974.

Less than two weeks ago, the murder of an anti-fascist Greek singer, the rapper Pavlos Fyssas, 34, ignited an uproar throughout Greece after the suspect claimed to be a Golden Dawn supporter.

The public outcry over the killing put substantial pressure on the government to move ahead with an investigation of the party.

On Saturday, Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s leader and a member of Parliament, was charged with forming a criminal organization. With a defiant expression on his face, Mr. Michaloliakos raised his cuffed hands as he was escorted by police officers. Another arrested lawmaker, Ilias P. Kasidiaris, shouted as he was led away: “Nothing will bend us! Long live Greece!” Other arrests followed.

The police had not yet released details of the criminal charges, but they include murder, attempted murder and blackmail, according to a court official. The party has denied any role in the killing, and the police had not said what evidence they have linking the arrested party members to specific crimes.

Since 2012, when it gained seats in Parliament, Golden Dawn has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against immigrants. In April, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner described it as “a neo-Nazi and violent political party” and urged that it be banned under international human rights treaties, but the arrest of elected lawmakers is a rare step for any European democracy.

The move may curb Golden Dawn’s influence, at least for now, especially in Parliament, where the party holds 18 seats after elections last year during a volatile moment when Greece was on the precipice of exiting the euro zone.

Nonetheless, the disenchantment stoked by the economic crisis that helped propel Golden Dawn’s rise is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

“As the country is mired in its worst economic crisis in modern history, support for extremist and antiestablishment parties is likely to remain high in the coming years, regardless of the future of Golden Dawn as a political party,” the geopolitical intelligence, economic and political firm Stratfor said in an analysis.

Human rights groups say Golden Dawn, whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies and meetings, has systematically terrorized immigrants, while the police have looked the other way. The aggressive acts include the beating of immigrants with clubs and shields bearing swastikalike symbols or with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.

Golden Dawn was established in 1987, and its influence has grown in recent years in tandem with the country’s economic hardship. Offering promises to restore jobs and order, the party’s members also espouse nationalistic and xenophobic stances, appealing to marginalized Greeks in areas populated by a rising number of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa.

Those arrested early Saturday also included the lawmakers Nikos Michos, Ilias Panagiotaros and Yiannis Lagos, and also Giorgos Patelis, the leader of the party’s local chapter in Nikaia, a gritty Athens suburb that is one of Golden Dawn’s biggest strongholds, and 12 other party officials.

The immunity usually enjoyed by Greek members of Parliament is automatically lifted in the case of felonies. For lesser charges, a vote has to be held in Parliament.

In addition, two police officers connected with the organization were caught up in the sweep, a sign that a parallel crackdown is intensifying against parts of the police, long thought to have been infiltrated by members or sympathizers of the group.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.


Greece Cracks Down on Far-Right Party With Arrests of Lawmakers

It is the first time that members of political parties and Parliament members have been arrested in Greece since the fall of a military junta in 1974.

Less than two weeks after a man who said he had ties to the party murdered an anti-fascist Greek musician, igniting an uproar throughout Greece, Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s leader and a member of Parliament, was taken into custody Saturday morning on charges of forming a criminal organization. The other arrests followed. The immunity usually enjoyed by Greek members of Parliament is automatically lifted in the case of felonies. For lesser charges, a vote has to be held in Parliament. But the immunity of Greek members of Parliament can only be lifted by a vote by the Parliament.

Ilias Kasidiaris, another Parliament member who is the party’s chief spokesman, was among those arrested early Saturday, along with two other lawmakers, Ilias Panagiotaros and Yiannis Lagos. Also included in the sweep was Giorgios Patelis, head of the party’s local chapter in Nikaia, a gritty Athens suburb that is one of Golden Dawn’s biggest strongholds.

The arrests are part of a rapidly widening campaign by the government to clamp down on what it says is a rising tide of extremism in Greece, fueled by a devastating economic crisis. In addition, the government last week opened an investigation into whether sympathizers or members of the group — one of the most violent rightist organizations in Europe — have infiltrated Greek police forces and the armed forces.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who heads the right-leaning New Democracy Party, has said he is determined to curb the influence of Golden Dawn, a group whose standing had climbed in opinion polls in the last year and which now has 18 of its members in Parliament. Since the murder a week and a half ago of Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old rapper whose lyrics protested the rise of neo-fascism in the country, Golden Dawn’s standing in polls has slid. But it is still the third most popular party in Greece, behind New Democracy and Syriza, the leftist party headed by a political maverick, Alexis Tsipras.

The crackdown is not without risks.

“If they are prosecuted, it might have a boomerang effect among Golden Dawn’s followers and voters,” Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, said in an interview earlier this week. “If you alienate them totally from the political system, alleging that everyone who has voted for Golden Dawn or who likes them should be stigmatized, it may marginalize politically thousands of people,” he said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Michaloliakos suggested that all 18 Golden Dawn members might resign from Parliament en masse, a move that could force a series of elections in areas where the party now holds seats. A government spokesman said such a move would not force a new round of general elections, although the prospect of new elections for those seats could undermine political stability in Greece at a time when Mr. Samaras is negotiating with the country’s creditors for continued financial aid as part of two multibillion euro bailouts is has already received — even as speculation of the possible need for a third bailout hangs over the talks.

Golden Dawn is by no means a new force in Greece, but its influence has grown in tandem with Greece’s devastating economic hardship. Armed with promises to restore jobs and order, its members espouse nationalistic and xenophobic slogans, appealing to marginalized Greeks in rough areas populated by a rising tide of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa.

Human rights groups say Golden Dawn, whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies and meetings, has systematically terrorized immigrants, while the police looked the other way. The aggressive acts include the beating of immigrants with clubs and shields bearing swastikalike symbols, or with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.

In a message sent by cellphone to an unspecified number of Greeks, including reporters, Golden Dawn called for its backers to “support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system,” appealing to them to rally outside the party’s offices in northeastern Athens and outside the Athens Police Headquarters near the city center where the members of Parliament and officials were being detained.

Tensions have also risen recently between Golden Dawn and leftist groups. This month, thousands of Greeks protested in Athens after about 50 Golden Dawn members, armed with bats and crowbars, attacked members of the Communist Party, leaving nine people hospitalized with serious injuries.

The police said arrests would continue throughout the day.


Greece’s democracy in danger, warns Demos, as Greek reservists call for coup

No country has displayed more of a “backslide in democracy” than Greece, the British thinktank Demos has said in a study highlighting the crisis-plagued country’s slide into economic, social and political disarray.

Released on the same day that judicial authorities ordered an investigation into a blog posting by a group of reservists in the elite special forces calling for a coup d’etat, the study singled out Greece and Hungary for being “the most significant democratic backsliders” in the EU.

“Researchers found Greece overwhelmed by high unemployment, social unrest, endemic corruption and a severe disillusionment with the political establishment,” it said. The report, commissioned by the European parliament, noted that Greece was the most corrupt state in the 28-nation bloc and voiced fears over the rise of far-right extremism in the country.

The report was released as the fragile two-party coalition of the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, admitted it was worried by a call for a military coup posted overnight on Wednesday on the website of the Special Forces Reserve Union. “It must worry us,” said a government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou. “The overwhelming majority in the armed forces are devoted to our democracy,” he said. “The few who are not will face the consequences.”

With tension running high after a crackdown on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, a supreme court public prosecutor demanded an immediate inquiry into who may have written the post, which called for an interim government under “the guarantee of the armed forces”.

The special forces reservist unit whose members appeared in uniform to protest against a visit to Athens by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel said Greece should renege on the conditions attached to an international bailout and set up special courts to prosecute those responsible for its worst financial crisis in modern times. Assets belonging to German companies, individuals or the state should be seized to pay off war reparations amassed during the Nazi occupation.

Underscoring the social upheaval that has followed economic meltdown, the blog post argued that the government had violated the constitution by failing to provide adequate health, education, justice and security.

Insiders said the mysterious post once again highlighted the infiltration of the armed forces by the extreme right. This week revelations emerged of Golden Dawn hit squads being trained by special forces commandos.

Fears are growing that instead of reining in the extremist organisation, the crackdown on the group may ultimately create a backlash. The party, whose leaders publicly admire Adolf Hitler and have adopted an emblem resembling the swastika, have held their ground in opinion polls despite a wave of public outrage. Golden Dawn, which won nearly 7% of the vote in elections last year and has 18 MPs in Athens’ 300-member parliament, has capitalised more than any other political force on Greece’s economic crisis. “Much will depend on how well it will withstand the pressure and they are tough guys who seem to be withstanding it well,” said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a political commentator.


Exclusive: Greece does not need third bailout, seeks debt ‘reprofiling …


NEW YORK |
Thu Sep 26, 2013 6:56am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Greece does not require a third bailout and can cover its needs without further burdening its current backers, by improving the terms of its debt and possibly returning to the bond market next year, the country’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday.

Evangelos Venizelos, who is also foreign minister in a coalition government, is determined not to impose losses on Greece’s European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund, which have pulled the troubled country from the brink of bankruptcy with about 240 billion euros ($325 billion) so far.

“We understand very, very well how difficult it is for every government to accept debt relief. … Our demand is not debt relief. It is additional reprofiling without problem, without additional burden for our institutional partners,” Venizelos said in an interview with top editors at Reuters in New York.

His comments came days after elections in Germany, whose support to Greece came in exchange for waves of austerity measures that have created political and social turmoil across the Mediterranean nation.

The Greek debt crisis shook the euro zone and global financial markets and plunged the country into a recession, now in its sixth year. Unemployment hovers near 28 percent nationally and at about 60 percent for young adults.

“We are talking about the potential for a lost generation here,” Venizelos said, adding that the prospect of a social explosion if Greek citizens are forced to endure more fiscal austerity was the biggest risk for the country.

“It is not possible to implement new fiscal measures. It is not possible to impose new cuts on wages and pensions,” he said.

He said the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which last year entered the 300-seat parliament for the first time, and won 18 seats in June elections, was a product of the crisis.

HOPES TO RETURN TO MARKETS

Since the sovereign debt crisis of 2009, Greece has been shut out of international capital markets, resorting only to short-term borrowings, and has relied on two bailouts and a major writedown of Greek debt held by private investors.

Despite punishing fiscal measures and cash injections, it is expected to need an additional 10 billion to 12 billion euros in the next two years. The euro zone is likely to decide on a third bailout for Greece in November after international inspectors finish an assessment of its reforms.

Venizelos, a constitutional law professor and former finance minister who negotiated the debt writedown, said Greece was not looking for any more handouts but could cover its needs by returning to the bond market as early as next year and by renegotiating the interest and maturity of existing debt.

“Our point is not to transform the adjustment program as a more loose program, but to implement through a clever manner the existing program,” he said.

Venizelos said Greece’s 330 billion euros of public debt was modest when compared with the multi-trillions of euros held by Germany, Italy and France, but that precludes the size of the overall economy, which is now one of the smallest in the EU.

Greeks often blame Germany for the tough austerity measures imposed on the country as a condition for the two prior bailouts, which have led to the economy shrinking by almost a quarter since 2008.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s landslide victory came with the rise of a more euroskeptic political movement that is hostile to euro zone bailouts.

But Venizelos said now that the elections were out of the way in Germany, there was the opportunity to talk strategically about Europe’s future, and what he deemed the “re-evaluation and the reassessment of our common European destiny.”

(Refiles to make clear in paragraph 8 that Golden Dawn entered parliament for first time last year, not this year)

(Additional reporting by Jim Gaines; Editing by Dan Burns and Peter Cooney)


Greece, in Anti-Fascist Crackdown, Investigates Police

The suspect has been linked to Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Almost as chilling are accusations by some witnesses that a squad of police officers stood by as a group of burly, black-clad party members chased Mr. Fyssas down. A police spokesman denied that account, saying officers arrived right after the stabbing, in a gritty Athens suburb last Wednesday, and promptly arrested the suspect.

The killing of Mr. Fyssas has spurred the government to begin a risky crackdown on Golden Dawn, opening its first investigation into whether the police forces are infiltrated by sympathizers or members of the group, one of the most violent rightist organizations in Europe.

On Tuesday, officers raided three police stations on the outskirts of Athens. The sweep came a day after the government replaced seven senior police officials — including the chiefs of special forces, internal security, organized crime and the explosives unit — to ensure the investigation would take place with “absolute objectivity.” In addition, two top members of the Greek police force resigned abruptly Monday, citing “personal reasons.”

Such steps have the potential for volatile repercussions in a country where the security forces have had links to far-right organizations at various points since the end of World War II. They are likely to test the determination of the government and the public to turn back the influence of Golden Dawn, which has climbed steadily in opinion polls in the past year and has 18 of its members in Parliament.

“This is a pivotal moment,” said Harry Papasotiriou, the director of the Institute of International Relations at Panteion University in Athens. “It is not clear whether Greece will become more or less stable as a result of any crackdown. There is always the risk that there is a more violent response, but this needs to be done.”

Until now, the government and most of the Greek public have stood by in a kind of outraged tolerance as Golden Dawn intensified a campaign of intimidation against immigrants, whom the group blames for a rising tide of crime and accuses of taking jobs away from Greeks amid a grinding economic crisis.

“But now they have killed a Greek, and they have crossed a red line,” Mr. Papasotiriou said. “That has triggered a new movement against them.”

The public outcry after the killing of Mr. Fyssas, who used the stage name Killah P, placed greater pressure on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the right-leaning New Democracy party, to investigate a police force he has repeatedly defended, despite a cascade of reports drawing links between the police and Golden Dawn.

Human rights groups say the police have for the most part looked the other way as Golden Dawn has systematically terrorized immigrants. These aggressive acts, sometimes captured on video by Golden Dawn members and posted on the Internet, involve roving groups crushing market stands run by immigrants, riding in gangs on motorbikes armed with clubs and shields bearing swastika-like symbols and beating immigrants with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.

Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, said allegations of police collusion with the far right were not surprising. “Generally there is a tradition in Greece that the far-right organizations have certain links with the police — this is a historic, recurring theme,” Mr. Demertzis said.

Armed with promises to restore jobs and order, members of Golden Dawn hew to nationalistic and xenophobic slogans, appealing to marginalized Greeks in rough areas populated by a rising tide of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa.

But Golden Dawn has also increasingly clashed with leftist groups. This month, thousands of Greeks protested in Athens after about 50 Golden Dawn members, wielding bats and crowbars, attacked members of the Communist Party as they hung posters for a youth festival, leaving nine people hospitalized.

Mr. Fyssas appears to have been another symbolic target. The lyrics of his rap songs often criticized what he saw as a rising tide of fascism in Greece perpetrated by Golden Dawn.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.


European travel expo on in Chch

London is still the top European destination for Kiwis with over 45% of customers travelling to the UK and Europe in August 2013, choosing London as their main destination.

Flight Centre, New Zealand’s largest travel retailer, reports that following London, the top growing European destinations in August 2013 are Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin and Milan, compared to the same month of the previous year.

Flight Centre will again hold the largest travel show dedicated to the UK and Europe in Christchurch, on Sunday 06 October 2013, where the public can take advantage of the best airfares for European travel in 2014.

Flight Centre New Zealand’s managing director, Mike Friend, said that while the UK has always been a popular destination with Kiwis, there is an increase in people travelling to destinations away from the main hubs.

“London will always be a favourite and is definitely a traditional choice with Kiwis on their OE. However, the statistics show that we are certainly starting to look for alternative destinations to explore with Dublin showing over 65 percent in passenger growth and Milan over 55 percent.

“We are also seeing a real trend in experiential travel at the moment, with an increasing number of travellers incorporating sailing trips into their holidays, often in Greece or Croatia. European river cruising is also extremely popular, where you can sleep overnight and wake up in a different town or city each day,” Mr Friend said.

The Discover Europe Travel Expo will be held at the Christchurch Air Force Museum and will include exclusive flight specials to the UK and Europe, as well as a wide range of specials for destinations all across the globe.

“This is a great opportunity for anyone who is looking to travel to the UK or Europe in 2014. There are many factors to consider when planning long-haul travel, from entry and exit points to value for money. Talking to a travel specialist can ensure you get the most out of your next holiday,” Mr Friend said.

Flight Centre stores in the South Island will also hold in-store shows over this weekend and will have access to some of the amazing deals. Contact your local Flight Centre store for further details.

What: Discover Europe Travel Expo 2013

When: Sunday, 06 October 2013. 10am – 4pm

Where: Christchurch Air Force Museum

Admission is FREE.

www.flightcentre.co.nz/discovereurope


New strike in Greece over civil service cuts

Greek public sector workers have gone on strike for the second time in a week, shutting down schools and leaving hospitals with few staff, as inspectors from Greece’s foreign lenders checked if the country was meeting its bailout targets.

Workers employed from municipal police to teachers began a 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest government plans to cut thousands of public sector jobs as required to continue receiving international loans.

ADEDY, the public sector umbrella union, organised the walkout claiming government efforts to reduce the 600,000 strong civil service sector was “the most merciless plan” to eliminate workers’ rights.

The Greek government has dubbed the plan as a “mobility scheme”, meaning workers will have to find work in other departments within eight months or be laid off.

The workers say the government is firing them indiscriminately at a time when Greece is enduring record unemployment.

“We call on the workers … the self-employed, the unemployed, the pensioners, the youth and everyone affected by these policies to give their resounding presence,” ADEDY said.

Various groups, among them teachers, municipal police and doctors, are planning to march towards main Syntagma Square in Athens, later on Tuesday.

More bailout, more protests

The trio of the country’s European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank began their review this week and are due to visit Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday.

The latest review by the lenders, which previously bailed out Greece with more than 240bn euros, will determine the size of a third bailout to keep the country afloat.

In light of the recent news on cuts unions have stepped up protests, backed by anti-bailout opposition which called for citizens to overthrow the government.

Scores of municipal police dressed in black staged a mock funeral in Athens on Monday marching somberly behind a hearse across the city centre, carrying wreaths and singing psalms.

The latest labour action has also turned into a protest to mark the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fissas by a self-proclaimed supporter of the far-right Golden Dawn party last week.

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MyMEDHoliday Adds Greece to Growing List of Top Medical Tourism Destinations

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Greece offers a comprehensive array of high-quality medical treatment options at affordable costs.

Bangkok, Thailand (PRWEB) September 24, 2013

Medical tourism portal MyMEDHoliday.com further expands its product offering and value proposition by adding Greece to its comprehensive list of medical tourism destinations. MyMEDHoliday offers the web’s best source for medical tourism information, with access and contact to hospitals, specialty clinics, spas, and medical tourism agencies at the top medical tourism destinations worldwide.

As Medical Tourism in Greece continues to show steady growth in the last 15 years, Greece offers visitors a great destination for medical treatments as well as a great beach holiday. Current World Health Organization (WHO) rankings place Greece in the top-tier of best health-care systems in 14th place. Drawing in mostly “middle-market” medical tourists, Greece shows resilience as it emerges away from its government-debt crisis and heads towards recovery, with GDP expansion in Q2 of this year.

“We believe that by adding Greece to our medical tourism portal, we increase the value proposition of the information that we provide and further expand our coverage of medical services outside Asia. We chose to add Greece to our site because of its favorable location, well-established tourism industry and most importantly, Greece offers a comprehensive array of high-quality medical treatment options at affordable costs,” says Jidapa Julakasilp, co-founder and managing director at MyMEDHoliday.

Included in the Greece section of the site, MyMEDHoliday offers information regarding Greece medical tourism, travel information to Greece, visa requirements and Greek health-care system information. Greece is known for facilities for dialysis, spas, fertility clinics offering in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction, ophthalmology and cosmetic surgery options. As more facilities are included to the section, initial launch includes 11 medical providers: hospitals, clinics and medical tourism agencies to help facilitate medical treatment options in the country.

To find more information about Greece Medical Tourism and Healthcare Providers, visit this page.

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myMEDholiday.com is a comprehensive Medical Tourism portal and ratings site with offices in San Francisco, CA and Bangkok, Thailand. They provide direct access to detailed information about top medical and healthcare facilities around the world, giving patients the tools to locate, compare and contact medical travel or medical tourism providers quickly and conveniently. Their management team has over 15 years of experience in online travel and internet marketing, and has implemented a wide range of successful websites and e-marketing campaigns. Their aim is to work on behalf of patients and give them the best information available to make the right choices, while helping them find a safe, effective and cost-saving solution for their health and medical needs.

To learn more, please visit http://www.mymedholiday.com.

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