Greece at standstill ahead of austerity vote

(AP)

ATHENS, Greece – Protesters gathered by the tens of thousands outside the Greek parliament Thursday, ahead of a vote on intensely unpopular new measures needed to secure continued payment of international rescue loans that have so far prevented the country from sliding into bankruptcy.

On the second day of a general strike that’s seen the country paralyzed, several separate demonstrations were converging on Syntagma Square in front of the assembly building, where more than 100,000 people gathered Wednesday to protest the draft legislation. Though largely peaceful, Wednesday’s protest was marred by attacks on police and public property.

Violence erupts amid massive Greece strike

Police said at least 50,000 people had flooded the square and the crowd was continuously growing, but no violence has been recorded. Earlier, a communist party-backed union abandoned a bid to prevent lawmakers from entering parliament after riot police shut down main access roads.

The austerity bill won initial approval in a first vote Wednesday night, and deputies are now to vote on the details, which include the suspension on reduced pay of 30,000 public servants and the suspension of collective labor contracts.

Creditors have demanded the measures before they give Greece more funds from a euro110 billion ($152.11 billion) package of bailout loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the next euro8 billion ($11 billion) installment.

The next installment has yet to be authorized and there’s growing unease in the markets about whether a summit of eurozone leaders this Sunday in Brussels will yield a comprehensive solution to the continent’s debt crisis, that’s also seen Ireland and Portugal bailed out as well as Greece. Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will meet ahead of the summit on Friday.

The Greek government’s latest round of austerity measures are expected to pass though deputies from the governing Socialist party have expressed outrage, with several indicating they could vote against some of the more contentious articles in the bill.

Dissent could further weaken Prime Minister George Papandreou’s slim majority in Parliament, where he holds 154 of the legislature’s 300 seats. That’s down from a comfortable majority of 160 two years ago, as Papandreou has been forced to expel six lawmakers who refused to toe the party line in a string of crucial austerity votes.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos issued an impassioned appeal to Socialist and opposition lawmakers alike Thursday, warning that failure to approve the measures would be disastrous.

“If the law is not approved, including every single article it contains — particularly those that (Greece’s creditors) and eurozone members regard a symbolic and political necessity — there is no need for me even to go to the eurogroup meeting on Friday, or the Prime Minister to Sunday’s summit,” he said.

“The country will be exposed to the danger of a non-rational development, and will once again serve as the scapegoat on which Europe’s historic, political and institutional shortcomings will be dumped,” Venizelos said.

Unions seemed resigned to the law being passed, but warned that the whole country virulently opposed it.

“It looks as if (lawmakers) may be set to vote in favor of the new austerity law,” said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the Adedy civil servants’ union. “But they have no popular consent. Our European friends must know that our prime minister will go to the European summit naked, because the promises he will make have no backing in his country and cannot be enforced.”

Thursday’s protests come a day after a massive demonstration that the liberal Eleftherotypia newspaper described as an “address by the people.” But the rally degenerated into violence, with several hundred black-clad demonstrators pelting riot police with chunks of marble, paint and gasoline bombs. Police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades that reverberated across the Greek capital’s main square.

The clashes continued sporadically into the night in the back streets near Syntagma, where protesters set fire to piles of garbage festering on the streets after a strike by municipal workers.

Authorities said 50 police and at least three protesters were injured in the clashes.

The second day of the general strike Thursday was disrupting public transport and left ships docked at port, schools and customs offices closed and state hospitals running on emergency staff. All public services were shut, while lawyers and prison guards were among those staying away from work.


Arab Protests Send Tourists to Europe, Costing Region $7 Billion


Enlarge image
Arab Protests Send Tourists to Europe

Arab Protests Send Tourists to Europe

Arab Protests Send Tourists to Europe

Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images

Tour operators in Germany, home to the world’s biggest spenders on international holidays, said summer bookings to the Middle East and North Africa collapsed by as much as 50 percent.

Tour operators in Germany, home to the world’s biggest spenders on international holidays, said summer bookings to the Middle East and North Africa collapsed by as much as 50 percent. Photographer: Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images

Tourist Swapped Egypt for Spain Amid Arab Spring

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) — British-born Shaun Mattingley talks with Bloomberg’s Jennifer Freedman about the decision to pospone his family trip to Egypt last February amid the political unrest in the country.
They spoke on Oct. 6 in Divonne, France. (Source: Bloomberg)

Shaun Mattingley began arranging a
tailor-made family holiday to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan five months
before their Feb. 19 departure, eager to show his wife and
daughter “the Egypt I had grown to love over the years.”

They never made it. With Hosni Mubarak’s regime in its
dying days, he canceled the trip two weeks before they were to
fly to Cairo and instead took his family to Spain. Unrest has
cost the Arab world billions of dollars in revenue and chipped
away at the earnings of resorts, hotels and tour companies, such
as Hannover, Germany-based TUI AG (TUI1) and Egyptian Resorts Co. (EGTS)

While the wave of popular upheavals sweeping the Arab world
holds the promise of ushering in greater prosperity and
democracy for millions of people, the unrest has undermined one
of the region’s biggest industries, leaving many economically
worse off now than they were before the protests began.

“We’ll do the trip when the elections are out of the way
and there is stability,” said Mattingley, 46, director of Delta
Community SA, an electronic trading platform in Eysins,
Switzerland, about 26 kilometers (16 miles) north of Geneva.

The Arab Spring has taken a toll on tourism in cash-
strapped nations from Jordan and Egypt to Morocco and Tunisia,
costing the region more than $7 billion, according to the Arab
Tourism Organization in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The number of
visitors to North Africa and the Middle East dropped 13 percent
and 11 percent, respectively, in the first half of 2011, said
Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World
Tourism Organization in Madrid.

Third-Largest Industry

Tourism is the world’s third-largest industry, contributing
$1.2 trillion — or 5.2 percent of the global economy — every
year. The industry is responsible for one in every 12 jobs,
Rifai said.

Of the 61 million visitors to the Middle East last year,
more than 14 million went to Egypt, whose pyramids, temples,
Nile cruises and mummies make it the top tourist destination in
the Arab world and No. 18 globally, according to the UN agency.

Egypt, which counts on foreign visitors for 16 percent of
its gross domestic product and 14 percent of jobs, lost 80
percent of revenue in the last holiday season, Tourism Minister
Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour told Jordan’s Ad Dustour newspaper on
Oct. 1. The government expects tourism revenue to fall to $10
billion this year, from $12.5 billion in 2010.

Travel agencies as well as resorts and hotels in the Middle
East are also feeling the pinch. Egyptian Resorts, a Red Sea
resorts developer, said first-half net income plunged 80
percent, while Orascom Hotels Development, the Cairo-based
unit of Switzerland’s Orascom Development Holding AG, had a
first-quarter loss of 6.1 million Egyptian pounds ($1 million)
compared with a profit of 164.2 million pounds a year earlier.

Canceled Bookings

Tour operators in Germany, home to the world’s biggest
spenders on international holidays, said summer bookings to the
Middle East and North Africa collapsed by as much as 50 percent.

TUI, Europe’s top travel company, said on Aug. 11 that its
third-quarter loss widened as the unrest crimped earnings from
France. London-based Thomas Cook Group Plc (TCG), TUI’s closest rival,
cut its profit forecast a month earlier because of the drop in
travel to North Africa during its peak season, and Kuoni Reisen
Holding AG (KUNN)
said the wave of revolts had had a “significant
negative impact on demand in the European tour-operating
business.”

“What we see right now is a slow recovery,” said Peter Brun, a spokesman for Zurich-based Kuoni. “People don’t have
confidence yet because there are elections in Egypt and they are
afraid of what will happen there, whether it will be peaceful.”

Presidential Vote

Egypt’s lower and upper houses of parliament will appoint
an assembly in late March or early April that will rewrite the
constitution. A presidential vote will take place 45 to 60 days
after the results of a constitutional referendum are announced.

Egypt’s economy shrank 4.2 percent in the first quarter as
revenue from industries including tourism plummeted. Gross
domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year that ended
on June 30, the weakest performance in at least a decade, the
government said in September. The balance of payments in the
fiscal year recorded a $9.8 billion deficit, compared with a
surplus of $3.4 billion the previous year, and currency reserves
have dropped by a third this year.

Unrest was reignited in central Cairo on Oct. 9, when a
night of clashes between Coptic Christian protesters and the
security forces left at least 25 people dead. Egypt’s economy
has lost $9.8 from protests this year, according to economic
consultant Geopolicity Inc., which said the Arab Spring has cost
countries in the region more than $56 billion, with Libya, Syria
and Tunisia also hard hit.

Morocco, Tunisia

Morocco, the most popular African destination, derives
almost a fifth of its GDP and 17 percent of employment from
tourism, the London-based World Travel Tourism Council said.
In Tunisia, where the self-immolation of an unemployed 26-year-
old sparked a revolution that led to the ouster of President
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, tourism accounts for 17
percent of GDP and more than 15 percent of jobs.

Tourism revenue in Tunisia has plunged 50 percent this
year, central bank Governor Mustapha Kamel Nabli said on Sept.
21. Tunisia’s current-account deficit, the broadest measure of
trade, will widen to $2.8 billion this year from $2.1 billion in
2010, while Morocco’s will grow to $5.3 billion from $3.9
billion last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The loss of income from tourists has hurt millions of
people in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan — a region where
20 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the
World Bank — and situation may not improve any time soon.
Egypt’s Tourism Ministry said it’s unable to predict when
foreign visitors will return.

‘For the Better’

“We’ll probably starve for a while, since tips from
tourists are my family’s only source of income,” Ahmed, a tour
guide in the Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, said in February, less
than two weeks after protests toppled Mubarak. “This may even
go on for a whole year, but we don’t care. It’s for the better,
and for the future of my baby girl.”

In Jordan, which has enjoyed relative calm compared with
other Arab nations, tourism revenue dropped 12 percent in the
first half of 2011 from a year earlier as travelers put off
trips to see the ancient ruins at Petra, with its spectacular
temples and tombs hewn from rose-colored rock that were featured
in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and the
windswept peak of Mount Nebo, where according to ancient
tradition, Moses was given a view of the promised land.

Tourism contributes 14 percent to Jordan’s economy and,
along with remittances from nationals working abroad, is the top
source of hard currency in the kingdom of 6.5 million people.

Syrian Instability

International arrivals in Lebanon fell 24 percent in the
first eight months of 2011 as instability in neighboring Syria
deterred visitors who journey by car through the only open
Lebanese border crossing. Lebanon relies on tourism for almost
34 percent of its GDP and 32 percent of jobs, according to the
World Travel Tourism Council.

The drop in tourism in the Arab world has been good news
for struggling European economies, which need every fillip they
can get. Foreign visitors have flocked this year to Greece and
Portugal, both recipients of international bailouts, as well as
to Spain and Turkey.

Israeli tourism held up during the unrest elsewhere in the
region, though there were cancellations among travelers who had
booked packaged tours that combined Israel with stops in Egypt
and Jordan.

The number of foreigners who journeyed to Spain hit a
record 7.64 million in August, the government said, while data
from Portugal show its hotel revenue climbed 12.5 percent in
July. The number of travelers to Israel who stayed more than one
night rose 3 percent to 2.1 million in the first nine months.

‘Great’ for Turkey

Foreign tourist arrivals in Turkey jumped an average of 20
percent in the first four months of the year and reached a
record 4.6 million in July, according to figures from the
Ankara-based Tourism Ministry.

“We have had a great season and it looks as if it’s going
to prove a longer season, too, perhaps extending into
November,” said Secim Aydin, deputy president of the Turkish
Hotels Federation. “The Arab Spring has hit the whole region,
but Turkey’s stability and safety have drawn in more visitors.”

Spending by visitors to Greece, which is grappling with its
own domestic unrest as the government tries to stave off a
default, climbed more than 14 percent in the first seven months
of 2011, making tourism the nation’s most productive industry.
Tourism accounts for almost 16 percent of Greece’s output and
about one in five jobs, the World Travel Tourism Council said.

“The Arab Spring contributed to a rise in tourists coming
to Greece this year,” Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Yeroulanos said in an interview in Athens. “We’re looking at 2
percent to 3 percent of the growth over last year to be a direct
result of the Arab Spring. The challenge is to continue this
growth for the future.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at
[email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Hertling at
[email protected]


Protests Cost Arab Region $7 Billion in Lost Tourism

October 17, 2011, 3:05 AM EDT

By Jennifer M. Freedman

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) — Shaun Mattingley began arranging a tailor-made family holiday to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan five months before their Feb. 19 departure, eager to show his wife and daughter “the Egypt I had grown to love over the years.”

They never made it. With Hosni Mubarak’s regime in its dying days, he canceled the trip two weeks before they were to fly to Cairo and instead took his family to Spain. Unrest has cost the Arab world billions of dollars in revenue and chipped away at the earnings of resorts, hotels and tour companies, such as Hannover, Germany-based TUI AG and Egyptian Resorts Co.

While the wave of popular upheavals sweeping the Arab world holds the promise of ushering in greater prosperity and democracy for millions of people, the unrest has undermined one of the region’s biggest industries, leaving many economically worse off now than they were before the protests began.

“We’ll do the trip when the elections are out of the way and there is stability,” said Mattingley, 46, director of Delta Community SA, an electronic trading platform in Eysins, Switzerland, about 26 kilometers (16 miles) north of Geneva.

The Arab Spring has taken a toll on tourism in cash- strapped nations from Jordan and Egypt to Morocco and Tunisia, costing the region more than $7 billion, according to the Arab Tourism Organization in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The number of visitors to North Africa and the Middle East dropped 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in the first half of 2011, said Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization in Madrid.

Third-Largest Industry

Tourism is the world’s third-largest industry, contributing $1.2 trillion — or 5.2 percent of the global economy — every year. The industry is responsible for one in every 12 jobs, Rifai said.

Of the 61 million visitors to the Middle East last year, more than 14 million went to Egypt, whose pyramids, temples, Nile cruises and mummies make it the top tourist destination in the Arab world and No. 18 globally, according to the UN agency.

Egypt, which counts on foreign visitors for 16 percent of its gross domestic product and 14 percent of jobs, lost 80 percent of revenue in the last holiday season, Tourism Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour told Jordan’s Ad Dustour newspaper on Oct. 1. The government expects tourism revenue to fall to $10 billion this year, from $12.5 billion in 2010.

Travel agencies as well as resorts and hotels in the Middle East are also feeling the pinch. Egyptian Resorts, a Red Sea resorts developer, said first-half net income plunged 80 percent, while Orascom Hotels Development, the Cairo-based unit of Switzerland’s Orascom Development Holding AG, had a first-quarter loss of 6.1 million Egyptian pounds ($1 million) compared with a profit of 164.2 million pounds a year earlier.

Canceled Bookings

Tour operators in Germany, home to the world’s biggest spenders on international holidays, said summer bookings to the Middle East and North Africa collapsed by as much as 50 percent.

TUI, Europe’s top travel company, said on Aug. 11 that its third-quarter loss widened as the unrest crimped earnings from France. London-based Thomas Cook Group Plc, TUI’s closest rival, cut its profit forecast a month earlier because of the drop in travel to North Africa during its peak season, and Kuoni Reisen Holding AG said the wave of revolts had had a “significant negative impact on demand in the European tour-operating business.”

“What we see right now is a slow recovery,” said Peter Brun, a spokesman for Zurich-based Kuoni. “People don’t have confidence yet because there are elections in Egypt and they are afraid of what will happen there, whether it will be peaceful.”

Presidential Vote

Egypt’s lower and upper houses of parliament will appoint an assembly in late March or early April that will rewrite the constitution. A presidential vote will take place 45 to 60 days after the results of a constitutional referendum are announced.

Egypt’s economy shrank 4.2 percent in the first quarter as revenue from industries including tourism plummeted. Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the weakest performance in at least a decade, the government said in September. The balance of payments in the fiscal year recorded a $9.8 billion deficit, compared with a surplus of $3.4 billion the previous year, and currency reserves have dropped by a third this year.

Unrest was reignited in central Cairo on Oct. 9, when a night of clashes between Coptic Christian protesters and the security forces left at least 25 people dead. Egypt’s economy has lost $9.8 from protests this year, according to economic consultant Geopolicity Inc., which said the Arab Spring has cost countries in the region more than $56 billion, with Libya, Syria and Tunisia also hard hit.

Morocco, Tunisia

Morocco, the most popular African destination, derives almost a fifth of its GDP and 17 percent of employment from tourism, the London-based World Travel Tourism Council said. In Tunisia, where the self-immolation of an unemployed 26-year- old sparked a revolution that led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, tourism accounts for 17 percent of GDP and more than 15 percent of jobs.

Tourism revenue in Tunisia has plunged 50 percent this year, central bank Governor Mustapha Kamel Nabli said on Sept. 21. Tunisia’s current-account deficit, the broadest measure of trade, will widen to $2.8 billion this year from $2.1 billion in 2010, while Morocco’s will grow to $5.3 billion from $3.9 billion last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The loss of income from tourists has hurt millions of people in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan — a region where 20 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank — and situation may not improve any time soon. Egypt’s Tourism Ministry said it’s unable to predict when foreign visitors will return.

‘For the Better’

“We’ll probably starve for a while, since tips from tourists are my family’s only source of income,” Ahmed, a tour guide in the Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, said in February, less than two weeks after protests toppled Mubarak. “This may even go on for a whole year, but we don’t care. It’s for the better, and for the future of my baby girl.”

In Jordan, which has enjoyed relative calm compared with other Arab nations, tourism revenue dropped 12 percent in the first half of 2011 from a year earlier as travelers put off trips to see the ancient ruins at Petra, with its spectacular temples and tombs hewn from rose-colored rock that were featured in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and the windswept peak of Mount Nebo, where according to ancient tradition, Moses was given a view of the promised land.

Tourism contributes 14 percent to Jordan’s economy and, along with remittances from nationals working abroad, is the top source of hard currency in the kingdom of 6.5 million people.

Syrian Instability

International arrivals in Lebanon fell 24 percent in the first eight months of 2011 as instability in neighboring Syria deterred visitors who journey by car through the only open Lebanese border crossing. Lebanon relies on tourism for almost 34 percent of its GDP and 32 percent of jobs, according to the World Travel Tourism Council.

The drop in tourism in the Arab world has been good news for struggling European economies, which need every fillip they can get. Foreign visitors have flocked this year to Greece and Portugal, both recipients of international bailouts, as well as to Spain and Turkey.

Israeli tourism held up during the unrest elsewhere in the region, though there were cancellations among travelers who had booked packaged tours that combined Israel with stops in Egypt and Jordan.

The number of foreigners who journeyed to Spain hit a record 7.64 million in August, the government said, while data from Portugal show its hotel revenue climbed 12.5 percent in July. The number of travelers to Israel who stayed more than one night rose 3 percent to 2.1 million in the first nine months.

‘Great’ for Turkey

Foreign tourist arrivals in Turkey jumped an average of 20 percent in the first four months of the year and reached a record 4.6 million in July, according to figures from the Ankara-based Tourism Ministry.

“We have had a great season and it looks as if it’s going to prove a longer season, too, perhaps extending into November,” said Secim Aydin, deputy president of the Turkish Hotels Federation. “The Arab Spring has hit the whole region, but Turkey’s stability and safety have drawn in more visitors.”

Spending by visitors to Greece, which is grappling with its own domestic unrest as the government tries to stave off a default, climbed more than 14 percent in the first seven months of 2011, making tourism the nation’s most productive industry. Tourism accounts for almost 16 percent of Greece’s output and about one in five jobs, the World Travel Tourism Council said.

“The Arab Spring contributed to a rise in tourists coming to Greece this year,” Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Yeroulanos said in an interview in Athens. “We’re looking at 2 percent to 3 percent of the growth over last year to be a direct result of the Arab Spring. The challenge is to continue this growth for the future.”

–With assistance from Steve Bryant in Ankara, Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait, A. Craig Copetas in Paris and Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem. Editors: Heather Langan, Ben Holland

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at [email protected]


Travel chaos as Greece declares ‘the mother of all strikes’

By
Travelmail

Last updated at 11:25 AM on 19th October 2011

Holidaymakers visiting Greece are once again facing travel disruption as yet another strike grounds flights, disrupts public transport and even closes tourist sights such as the Acropolis.

A 48-hour general strike has been declared across the country from Wednesday morning in response to another round of austerity measures set to be voted on by parliament on Thursday.

The protest, dubbed ‘the mother of all strikes’, will close down ports, halt trains and cancel flights, although air traffic controllers have softened their action, promising to return to work after just 12 hours.

An announcement board indicating that all flights are cancelled is seen at the Athens international airport

Cancelled: Athens airport is experiencing major disruption as are Greece’s ports

An Athens airport spokeswoman said: ‘Since midnight until Wednesday noon,
150 domestic and international flights – arrivals and departures – have
been cancelled, while 16 flights have been rescheduled.

‘So far, everything is quiet at the
airport.’

Both British Airways and easyJet have confirmed they will be affected by the industrial action which officially begins at midday and lasts until midnight.

BA is warning passengers to check their flight status before travel and easyJet is offering to transfer customers with cancelled flights to an alternative time and date.

The strike is set to be the biggest since the economic crisis began two years ago in Greece and has so far seen 20,000 people take to the streets in Athens.

The last 48-hour action caused widespread violence across the capital as rioters torched shops and cafes and clashed with police.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has warned travellers to check with their airlines before making their journey and has confirmed that trains, as well as the metro which services Athens airport, will not be running.

A passenger looks for information in the departure hall of Athens' International airport

Stranded: Holidaymakers have had their plans disrupted by air traffic controllers’ 12-hour walkout

Holidaymakers are also advised to avoid large crowds and demonstrations as they have become violent during past strikes and been dispersed by tear gas.

Advice on the FCO website reads: ‘Exercise extreme caution around public demonstrations and protests in major urban centres. Violent incidents have occurred at and in the margins of such protests.’

Unions representing around half of Greece’s four million-strong workforce have vowed to make the strike the biggest in the country’s history.

Costas Tsikrikas, head of
Greece’s largest public sector union, ADEDY, said: ‘We are going to send a loud message to
the government and the political system.

‘We believe participation will be huge.’

But socialist Prime Minister George
Papandreou has condemned the action as short-sighted.

‘I would like to ask all those who
occupy ministry buildings, choke the streets with garbage, close off
ports, close off the Acropolis, if this helps us stand on our feet again
– of course it does not,’ he told parliament.

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