Bulgarian Foreign Ministry Issues Travel Advisory for Greece

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued an advisory for Bulgarians with travel plans to Greece or those who are temporarily or permanently residing in the country to avoid downtown Athens and other areas with higher concentration of protesters.

The Bulgarian Embassy in Athens informed Thursday that the two big syndicates in Greece– of the working in the private sector (GSEE ) and of the working in the public sector (ADEDI,) as well as the Greek Communist Party (GCP-PAME) syndicate, have announced a 24-hour general strike on June 13 2013.

The strike is in solidarity with the workers in the Greek public radio-television broadcaster ERT, which was closed on June 11. The Television is expected to be set up again in September, but with modified concept and structure and with much less staff.

Besides from work suspension, the strikes in the country traditionally are accompanied by rallies, mostly in the center of Athens. This hinders population’s movement and performance of normal activities.

The doctors who are subordinate to the National Health Service also declared a 24-hour strike. Air Traffic employees will also strike from 3.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

A number of other trade unions have also expressed their intentions to strike, including artists, public transport, buses and more. There are canceled university exams.

The Greek government surprisingly shut down the radio and TV services of the state broadcaster ERT on June 11 and suspended all employees as part of its latest austerity measures.

“ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said earlier.

In his words the public broadcaster ERT, was a real “haven of waste”.

While all 2 500 employees would be sacked, he added they would be paid compensation and would be able to apply for work when the corporation re-launches as a smaller, independent public broadcaster.

The decision took viewers by surprise as they saw the screens go to black late on Tuesday evening.

The head of ERT’s foreign desk, Odin Linardatou, said the announcement took journalists by surprise too.

“We are very shocked, we are angry,” she told the BBC’s Newshour program. “What I cannot accept in a democracy is that Greece will not have a public broadcaster.”


Tri, tri and tri again: get race fit in the sun

So why sign up to train under the searing Mediterranean sun? Firstly, the race I would be taking part in – a sprint triathlon – was one of the shortest: a 750 metre swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run (there are six categories, the pinnacle of which is the ironman: a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42km run). And as a complete rookie, the prospect of some professional guidance courtesy of Neilson’s triathlon training camps offered reassurance and comfort, with the bonus of some balmy Grecian weather. Guests receive professional one-on-one coaching in swimming, running and cycling at Neilson’s Retreat Beach Club in Sivota on the north-west coast of the mainland, and finish the week with a bona fide race: The Sivota International Sprint Triathlon.

Open to all abilities, the retreats can serve as a complete introduction to triathlon fitness, or get you race-fit for your next ironman. Established in 2009, the camp caters for groups of between 10 and 40 adults. Classes take place outside – in the pool, by the beach, or on the coastal roads surrounding the hotel – and those with energy to spare are free to sail, windsurf, mountain bike or waterski in between sessions. Sivota is the official training camp of the London and Blenheim triathlons – I’d signed up for the former and was treating the week as a dry run for the London race. The deal was done, I was ready to face the challenges of the week ahead.

Day one started promisingly, with a 9am lie-in. However, it wasn’t long before I was wondering what I’d signed up for. I hadn’t competed in a sport for 20 years – what had I been thinking? Still, at breakfast, I could at least feel justified in loading up on carbs.

A 1.5km morning swim in the calm, emerald sea put me in better spirits. Our camp was small – only 10 of us– which meant that everyone received plenty of attention from the expert coaches. We were scheduled for a three-hour bike ride to the mountaintop village of Perdika, so I gulped down some lunch and readied myself. Freewheeling down a winding coastal road, past fragrant sage bushes and neon bougainvillea, I really started to enjoy myself. Our coach, professional triathlete Steve Worthington, demonstrated how properly to negotiate a turn. By jutting out my knee and swapping my weight from one leg to the other, I found I could manoeuvre around the bends without wobbling.

That evening, I caught up with some fellow tri-campers over a well-earned beer. Michael, 52, a management consultant from Hampshire, had been involved in the sport for 10 years. He told me he raced about once a month over the summer, and had signed up for the camp to kick-start his training. “Don’t sweat it,” he grinned. “As long as you can swim a few lengths, ride a bike without stabilisers, and jog without falling over, you can do a triathlon.”

Day two started earlier, at 7.30am, this time with a 2.4km swim around Goat Island, a tiny, uninhabited islet directly opposite the resort. The camp was split into two groups, and five of us set off with training director and camp founder, Rich Allen. Rich is a nine-times UK champion, so when he suggested ways of improving my technique, I listened carefully. “You’re crossing your arms when you swim. But don’t worry, everyone does that. Just relax.” By following his instructions, I found that I moved more quickly through the water and tired less easily, too. I was almost smug, until Rich cruised past me like a turbo-charged dolphin.

After the swim, he explained the benefits of triathlon and the background of the Sivota camp. “It’s a great sport to leap right into. You don’t need to do heaps of training in any one discipline; you can switch around. And for that reason you’re much less likely to get injured. We’re open to every level: beginners, veterans – we get the full spectrum.”

With Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee winning gold and bronze medals at the Olympics last year, and the ITU world championships taking place in London this September, triathlon is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. “This year we’re doing four camps. In previous years we’ve only done two. There’s definitely a growing demand,” Rich said.

I was beginning to understand the appeal. By day four, the endorphins were kicking in. I was losing weight, too: towards the end of the week I was down to the last hole in my belt.

On the final afternoon before the race, I rewarded myself with an hour’s lounging by the pool and a one-on-one physiotherapy session with Ali Rose. She has worked with world-class athletes including the Brownlee brothers, Jessica Ennis and Kelly Holmes. As Ali casually realigned my hip, she talked about her own experiences of triathlon. “My first race was a super sprint. I was high as a kite for about 10 days. There’s a huge endorphin release and a sense of achievement after something as tough as that.”

And she was right. When it was all over I felt fantastic – full of raw energy and adrenalin. I won’t tell you my race time. Let’s just say that it wasn’t particularly good or disastrously bad. In any case, I’ll be attempting to beat it at the London Triathlon in July.

The Sivota Tri Camp was a transformative experience that left me furtively leafing through fitness magazines. Although I may never understand the meaning of a “lunge and reach matrix” or a “gluteal monster walk”, I’m excited about racing in London in a few weeks. And who knows, maybe in a year or two, I’ll be up for the challenge of the ironman.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Edmund Vallance travelled with Neilson Activity Holidays (0844 879 8155; neilson.co.uk) on the seven-night Richard Allen RnR Tri Camp (rnrtricamps.com) in Sivota, Greece. The camp costs from £868 per person, including Thomas Cook flights (flythomascook.com) from Gatwick or Manchester, coaching and physio sessions, breakfast, lunch and four evening meals, bike transit fee and transfers. The next departures are 30 June and 6 October.

More information

The Virgin Active London Triathlon (thelondontriathlon.co.uk) takes place on 27-28 July.


Greece Shuts Down State Broadcaster, but New Outlets Emerge

“An Execution to Please the Troika,” read one in the center-left newspaper Eleftherotypia, a reference to the trio of creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — whose representatives are back in Athens this week to audit Greece’s progress in sticking to conditions attached to the country’s multibillion-euro bailout.

Thomas Dedes, 67, a Greek retiree, said that a day spent chasing underground news reports and racing across online video channels and digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook reminded him of the unsavory days when Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship.

“This is worse than the junta,” said Mr. Dedes, recalling how people had to get their news surreptitiously or by word of mouth in 1973 when the junta’s leaders tightly controlled Greek state television and foreign news broadcasts. “What’s next? Tanks in front of Parliament?”

By early Wednesday, a form of guerrilla digital warfare had sprung up on the Internet to defy the government’s orders for a news shutdown. Numerous ERT employees continued operating an underground broadcast of Greek news through satellite streams. Those in turn were picked up by young Internet-savvy Greeks, who retransmitted hundreds of headlines on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day.

One leader of the organized charge is an Internet news outlet, the Press Project, whose founder, Kostas Efimeros, 38, sprang into action with his team of seven journalists and technicians immediately after the government announced that ERT, which ran radio and TV channels, would be closed.

As the government tried to cut the power to ERT’s antennas, Mr. Efimeros and his team tapped into satellite signals broadcast surreptitiously by ERT employees and posted them to the group’s Web site and on social media. In a telephone interview, he said the Press Project was working to transmit ERT’s broadcast signal via Wi-Fi as a backup.

The Press Project’s reporters have also been stationed outside of ERT headquarters north of Athens, where thousands of people have gathered in protest, as well as in front of the Parliament building, armed with cameras and microphones to keep the stream of news updates flowing.

Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said Wednesday that ERT employees were breaking the law by continuing to broadcast news surreptitiously and would “face the consequences” if they persisted.

Mr. Efimeros said they were ready for that.

“If the police try to shut us down, we will still have ways to broadcast the news for Greeks around the world,” said Mr. Efimeros, who said the group started “guerrilla transmissions” of news on the Internet three years ago from Egypt, as the Arab Spring broke out. He said its experience there taught it how to outwit government efforts to shut down alternative news outlets.

The government said Tuesday that it had decided to shut ERT and would reopen it later with far fewer employees to satisfy the demands by Greece’s creditors because the news outlet had become corrupt and bloated. That view has long been shared by many Greeks.

“It is common knowledge that every time a new government came in, they would put in a new director sympathetic to the leading party, and would then hire a lot of people,” said Amalia Zavacopoulou, 32, a schoolteacher. “There are a lot of stories about how many people work just two hours a day.”

Voicing similar concerns was Dimitris Sporakis, 47, who lost his job in a detergent factory last fall. “They’ve been having a party up in Agia Paraskevi with our money for a long time now,” he said, referring to the Athens suburb where ERT’s headquarters are. “It’s about time the civil servants felt some pain, too.”

Nonetheless, many Greeks felt uncomfortable with what Ms. Zavacopoulou called a “quasi-authoritarian” approach by the government.

Prokopis Doukas, a former anchor for ERT’s main state channel, Net, said he and his colleagues were shocked and disappointed by the sudden decision to dismiss them but also angry that a government that is itself accused of corruption should call the state broadcaster a “haven of waste.”

“I’m not saying that employees and unions are blameless, but it’s the management and the politicians who put them there who are chiefly responsible for wasteful spending,” Mr. Doukas said before entering a studio in ERT’s headquarters near Athens to join colleagues for a live program, being broadcast on the Internet.

“Our real fear is that the same government that engaged in the exchange of favors is now saying it will create a modern, transparent broadcaster,” he said. “We don’t want the government to fall, but how can we trust it?”

The event raised the specter of a further weakening of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s fragile ruling coalition, whose politicians suggested they would try to block the move on Wednesday night even though it did not require parliamentary approval.

“We don’t want to bring down the government,” said Andreas Papadopoulos, an official for the Democratic Left, which is part of the coalition with the prime minister’s New Democracy party. “But this is a mistake by New Democracy and Mr. Samaras and must be corrected. With such actions they are testing the limits of democracy.”

On Mr. Samaras’s orders, the Mass Media Ministry on Wednesday quickly released a bill outlining the framework for a new, leaner replacement for ERT. The government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglu, said Wednesday that the new entity would be set up over the summer. It remained unclear how many people it would employ.