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Greek farmers threaten to escalate austerity protests

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they're threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece's Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, forcing drivers to detour on rarely used country roads. Only ambulances and pregnant women are granted passage; trucks piled high with goods must turn back or take the rural route. On Tuesday, tractors also closed off the four-lane highway at Tempi Valley, near Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city. The farmers plan to continue their protest until the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras deals with their demands, which include canceling planned pension cuts, abolishing a new tax on wine and tsipouro brandy, and granting tax-free diesel for farmers - as well as a 12,000-euro ($13,400) tax exemption per year. Roadblocks at various checkpoints along Greece's border with Bulgaria have made international headlines. Witnesses report that trucks were backed up for 25 kilometers (15 miles) on the Greek side on Friday. Bulgarian shipping companies reported losing millions of euros. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, several truck drivers from Bulgaria tried to break through the blockade from the Greek side of the border. "Five trucks barged through the crowds," a farmer told Greece's Skai TV broadcaster. "They broke through the toll gate and almost seriously injured our colleagues." Witnesses later said that four trucks had managed to break through the roadblock but police managed to deter the fifth driver. Powerful lobby Agriculture contributes 4.5 percent to Greece's gross domestic product - not a huge amount, but significantly more than the EU average of 2.9 percent. The Greek farmers' lobby is traditionally strong. Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili repeatedly mentioned an alleged "destabilization plan" that includes conservative unionists - presumably a reference to the fact that farmers are seen as loyal supporters of Greece's New Democracy opposition party. The economic analyst Panagiotis Bousbourellis said the main reason for the farmers' uprising lay less in lobbying and more in the devastating consequences of the upcoming pension cuts. "In 2015, the farmers paid more than 400 million euros into the pension system - and from now on, they're expected to pay three times as much," Bousbourellis told DW. "That won't work, in particular because 600,000 people can't even pay their social security contributions anymore." Ever since capital transactions controls were introduced in June, the number of insurance payments made on time dropped by a third, Bousbourellis said. At the same time, the government is determined to raise social security contributions as far as possible in order to avoid cutting pensions. "It's a plan that doesn't add up," he warned. Undeterred, many farmers plan to continue their protest with a mass demonstration Friday in downtown Athens. It remains to be seen whether they will actually ride their tractors all the way to parliament. Government spokeswoman Gerovasili made it clear that tractors are not allowed in downtown Athens, adding that the police would react accordingly. Details of the operation aren't expected until the last minute: Greeks don't usually announce or apply for permission for public gatherings far in advance. The farmers' associations aren't unanimously convinced of the wisdom of converging on the capital. The northern farmers would prefer to continue their roadblocks at border crossings and tollbooths over the weekend, but farmers from the south and west of the country have opted to move on Athens. "I'm uneasy," the analyst Bousbourellis said. "I don't expect tractors to show up, but I'm worried about how the government and the police will react to an explosive protest."

Protesting planned pension cuts, Greek farmers have blocked key roads and border crossings with their tractors for weeks. Now they’re threatening to stage a blockade of the government district in downtown Athens. Traveling by road to Greece’s Peloponnes peninsula can be trying these days. Farmers have blocked the bridge on the Corinth canal with tractors for the past 18 days, ... Read More »

Alexis Tsipras sworn in as Greek prime minister

Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece's prime minister for the second time in nine months. His anti-austerity Syriza party won the parliamentary vote, albeit without securing a majority. Tsipras took a civil oath on Monday, pledging to "uphold the constitution and laws" of the southern European country, struggling with a protracted debt crisis. Syriza received 35.5 percent of the votes in the snap elections, whereas the conservative New Democracy party got 28. Only 57 percent of the electorate cast votes - the lowest turnout in recent Greek history. To achieve the absolute majority necessary to govern - having fallen six seats short at 145 spots - Tsipras plans to form a coalition government with the small right-wing Independent Greeks party, which polled less than 4 percent of the vote. Tsipras is expected to name his cabinet ministers on Wednesday. Merkel's phone call to Tsipras German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned the Greek leader on Monday to congratulate him on his victory. "The Chancellor and Alexis Tsipras exchanged views on the forthcoming special meeting of the European Council on Wednesday and on the bilateral issues to be discussed … and agreed on cooperating closely on the European policy issues," read a statement released by the German government. Earlier on Monday, the European Union also congratulated Tsipras on winning the elections, but said Greece should waste no time in implementing economic reforms attached to its international bailout. "The Commission congratulates Alexis Tsipras for his victory," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels. "The new government will now have the mandate to carry out those reforms ... There is a lot of work ahead and no time to lose." Tsipras on migrants The Greek leader criticized the European Union's handling of the ongoing refugee crisis after taking his oath of office and urged all member states to share the responsibility. "Greece is a first reception country, and Europe has unfortunately not taken steps to protect reception countries from a [migration] wave which has taken on uncontrolled dimensions," he said. "There is a need ...that Europe deal with a global, a European problem and share the responsibility among all member states." Thousands of people are fleeing a civil war in Syria and heading to Europe via the Mediterranean. The arrival of these refugees has sparked major upheaval in Europe, with many governments imposing strict border checks to impede and manage the overflow of migrants. EU leaders were due to discuss the crisis at an extraordinary summit on Wednesday.

Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece’s prime minister for the second time in nine months. His anti-austerity Syriza party won the parliamentary vote, albeit without securing a majority. Tsipras took a civil oath on Monday, pledging to “uphold the constitution and laws” of the southern European country, struggling with a protracted debt crisis. Syriza received 35.5 ... Read More »

Merkel calls for EU-wide approach to asylum policy

Angela Merkel has used an interview to call for greater efforts to cope with a wave of migrants into Germany and other EU countries. She also expressed confidence about IMF participation in Greece's third bailout. Speaking to public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday, Chancellor Merkel said that although the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived in Germany since the start of the year presented the authorities with a "huge challenge," the country was not overwhelmed. At the same time, though, she warned that this challenge could not be met "if we operate in standard mode." Merkel told ZDF that she had already spoken to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about the need for the European Union to develop a common policy on asylum. She said she also intended to raise the issue with French President Francois Hollande in the near future. 'Next grand European project' "The asylum issue could be the next grand European project, in which we will see if we are really able to take concerted action," the chancellor said. In the short term though, she said Germany's priority had to be housing the migrants who continue to enter the country in unprecedented numbers. This, she said, included getting refugees currently being housed in tents into containers or better before winter sets in. The chancellor also pitched the idea of extending the list of "safe countries of origin," to help discourage asylum seekers from Balkan countries, who may be fleeing poverty, but where no armed conflicts currently exist. Here too, the chancellor said, the goal should be developing an EU-wide policy. The German Interior Ministry has estimated that a total of 450,000 people will apply for asylum by the end of 2015 - although it is expected to revise this number upward in the next few days. Around half of those who have arrived so far are from countries in the Balkans and have almost no chance of being granted asylum in Germany. The chancellor also condemned a recent spate of attacks on shelters being used to house asylum seekers in Germany, saying "this is unworthy of our country. There is no justification for this." Relief, but no 'haircut' for Greece Speaking just days before the lower house of parliament is to vote on a third bailout for Greece, the chancellor said there was no question of debt forgiveness - a "haircut" - for Athens. However, she did say she saw some "wiggle room" on the interest rates it is charged and the maturity dates of its loans. In an apparent effort to reassure skeptical German lawmakers ahead of the vote, saying she was sure that the International Monetary Fund would participate in Greece's third bailout, despite the fact that it has not yet committed to this. The IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, has said the Fund will take its decision in the autumn, depending upon whether Athens meets conditions related to pension reform and debt relief. "Ms. Lagarde, the head of the IMF, made very clear that if these conditions are met, she will recommend to the IMF board that the IMF takes part in the program from October," Merkel said. "I have no doubts that what Ms. Lagarde said will become reality."

Angela Merkel has used an interview to call for greater efforts to cope with a wave of migrants into Germany and other EU countries. She also expressed confidence about IMF participation in Greece’s third bailout. Speaking to public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday, Chancellor Merkel said that although the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived in Germany since the ... Read More »

Brussels backs using EU-wide fund for Greece

The European Commission has advocated giving Greece 7 billion euros from an EU-wide crisis fund to cover Athens' short-term financing needs as it waits for a full bailout program to become operational. On Wednesday, the Commission's vice president, Valdis Dombrovskis, said the money could come from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), an instrument that allows the EU to borrow up to 60 billion euros ($66 billion) on financial markets. "This is not an easy option," Dombrovskis told journalists in Brussels, but he added that there were no other obvious solutions. As European officials have scrambled to find solutions for Greece's immediate cash crunch, a number of EU countries outside the euro have opposed tapping funds like the EFSM because it is backed by all 28 Union members. 'Non-starter' Britain's Finance Minister George Osborne has already said that the eurozone has to "foot its own bills" and that the "idea that the British taxpayers are going to be on the line for this Greek deal is a complete non-starter." But on Wednesday, Dombrovskis said the Commission was in the process of discussing how countries like Britain, Sweden and the Czech Republic could be protected from any potential losses. This could include using profits the ECB made from holding Greek bonds as collateral in case Athens didn't pay back the EFSM loans. Another idea was waiting until a more permanent bailout deal for Athens kicks in and using money from that to pay back the initial loan. Greece sealed a deal with its creditors on Monday to begin negotiations on a three-year bailout worth up to 86 billion euros. But before the details for that deal are finalized, Athens will have to make several imminent payments, including 4.2 billion euros owed to the ECB on Monday. Athens is already in arrears for about 1.6 billion euros to the IMF after missing two payments. Dombrovskis said the bridging loan would last three months, although the Commission hopes it will only be needed until a full bailout program comes into effect in mid-August.

The European Commission has advocated giving Greece 7 billion euros from an EU-wide crisis fund to cover Athens’ short-term financing needs as it waits for a full bailout program to become operational. On Wednesday, the Commission’s vice president, Valdis Dombrovskis, said the money could come from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), an instrument that allows the EU to borrow ... Read More »

ECB crisis talks expected as Greece teeters on brink of debt default

The European Central Bank has scheduled emergency talks as Greece faces what seems an almost inevitable debt default. Amid the crisis, the German deputy chancellor canceled a trip to Israel. The European Central Bank (ECB), one of Greece's three international creditors along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission, was expected to hold talks on Sunday on whether to extend a crucial financial lifeline to Athens after a bailout package expires on June 30. The ECB could play a critical role in aiding Greek banks to stay open in the face of massive withdrawals by Greeks who fear that capital controls could be introduced if the country defaults on its debt. Greece's debt crisis reached a head on Saturday after eurozone finance ministers refused a request from Athens to extend a bailout deal until after a referendum called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The Greek parliament voted in favor of the July 5 referendum late on Saturday. Greeks will be asked to vote on whether to accept conditions stipulated by creditors on Friday in exchange for further bailout money - conditions the government itself rejects. Without an extension or further international loans, Greece is likely to default on a 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) repayment to IMF due on Tuesday. Greek 'destiny' Greece has been locked in tense negotiations with its international creditors since January, when Tsipras' Syriza party rode to election victory on pledges to end austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF in exchange for two bailouts worth 240 billion euros. Top EU officials on Saturday spoke out against Greece being forced to leave the single-currency eurozone as a result of any default, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble saying the country "remains a member of the eurozone" and "a part of Europe," while his French counterpart Michael Sapin spoke of Greece's "destiny" in the euro. But Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling was quoted in the Sunday edition of Austrian paper "Die Presse" as saying that an exit of Greece from the eurozone, or "Grexit," "appeared almost inevitable now," adding, however, that this would be possible only if Athens first asked to leave the EU and other countries agreed to the request. Canceled Israel visit As a sign of the gravity of the situation, German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also economy minister, on Sunday canceled a planned two-day trip to Israel, according to a spokesman from the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Gabriel is now to be represented on the trip by his state secretary, Brigitte Zypries. The deputy chancellor had been scheduled to talk with both Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu. Zypries will now replace Gabriel at the opening of a special exhibition in Tel Aviv called "Made in Germany" that marks the 50th anniversary of the commencement of German-Israeli diplomatic relations.

The European Central Bank has scheduled emergency talks as Greece faces what seems an almost inevitable debt default. Amid the crisis, the German deputy chancellor canceled a trip to Israel. The European Central Bank (ECB), one of Greece’s three international creditors along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission, was expected to hold talks on Sunday on ... Read More »

Merkel facing ‘stark choice’ about Greece’s eurozone fate: Varoufakis

Greece's finance minister has said that it will be Chancellor Angela Merkel who will decide his country's eurozone fate. The comments come ahead of an emergency EU summit to discuss Greece's financial crisis. In a column to be published in Sunday's edition of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspaper, Varoufakis wrote that the onus will be on Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the leader of Europe's biggest economy, to save Greece from going into default. "On Monday, [when EU leaders gather for an emergency summit in Brussels], the German chancellor will face a stark choice," Varoufakis wrote. "Enter into an honorable agreement with a government that opposed the 'bailouts' and which seeks a negotiated solution that ends the Greek crisis once and for all. Or ... heed the sirens from within the [German] federal government encouraging her to jettison the only Greek government that is principled and which can carry the Greek people along the path of genuine reform," he argued. "The choice, I am very much afraid, is hers," he concluded. At the same time Varoufakis raised the prospect of new concessions from Athens aimed at convincing its European Union and International Monetary Fund creditors that Greece's left-wing government is serious about combating its massive public debt. 'Determination to compromise' "Our side will arrive in Brussels with the determination to compromise further as long as we are not asked to do what previous governments did: to accept new loan tranches under conditions that offer little hope that Greece can repay its debts," he wrote, without providing any detail about what concrete measures Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government was prepared to take. After months of wrangling over what budget cuts or other economic reforms the left-wing Syriza government would be willing to implement in return for the release of the final 7.2-billion-euro ($8.1 billion) tranche of Greece's international bailout, there have been indications that patience among the country's eurozone partners is wearing thin. On Friday, Merkel said at an event in Berlin that unless a compromise acceptable to Greece's creditors had been reached ahead of the emergency summit in Brussels, no decision could be taken on Monday. There were reports that Tsipras may be planning to contact European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker by telephone over the course of the weekend in an effort to break the deadlock. However, by late Saturday, it wasn't clear whether there had been any discussions or if any progress had been made. Also speaking with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine," European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned the Greek government of the possible consequences of exiting the eurozone. "What doesn't work: leaving the euro, not paying back your debts but expecting funds to keep flowing merrily from the EU budget," he said. Greece is facing a June 30 deadline to meet a 1.6-billion-euro loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund. Should it fail to do so, as is expected to be the case if the bailout funds are not released, it would go into default, possibly triggering a scenario popularly dubbed a "Grexit." This would see Greece leave the eurozone and possibly even cease to be a member of the European Union.

Greece’s finance minister has said that it will be Chancellor Angela Merkel who will decide his country’s eurozone fate. The comments come ahead of an emergency EU summit to discuss Greece’s financial crisis. In a column to be published in Sunday’s edition of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine” newspaper, Varoufakis wrote that the onus will be on Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the ... Read More »

Hong Kong, China, vote, democracy

جرمن چانسلر انگیلا میرکل نے کہا ہے کہ وہ ابھی بھی اس بات کی قائل ہیں کہ یونان کے قرضے کے سبب پیدا شدہ بحران کے حل کے لیے معاہدہ ممکن ہے۔ میرکل کا یہ بیان جمعرات کے روز ہی لکسمبرگ میں یونانی بحران پر غور کے لیے یورپی وزرائے خزانہ کی ایک اہم ملاقات سے قبل سامنے آیا ہے۔ جرمن پارلیمان کے ایوان زیریں سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے میرکل نے کہا کہ جرمنی کی طرف سے یونان کو یورو زون میں شامل رکھنے کی کوششیں جاری رہیں گی۔ میرکل کے مطابق جہاں کہیں خواہش ہوتی ہے وہاں مسئلے کا حل نکل ہی آتا ہے۔ ان کا کہنا تھا کہ اگر یونانی رہنما سیاسی ہمت کا اظہار کرتے ہیں تو یونان کا اسے قرض فراہم کرنے والے تین بین الاقوامی اداروں کے ساتھ معاہدہ اب بھی ممکن ہے۔

German Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly believes a deal with Greece is possible if Athens acts responsibly. But she made it clear that EU solidarity did not come for free and that “painful” reforms were inevitable. In a speech to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, Merkel did not mince her words, telling Athens that Greece had experienced an “unprecedented amount of European ... Read More »

One-third of Greeks favor early elections

Asked during a BBC Radio interview whether Greece was prepared to leave the common currency area, the country's economy minister, George Stathakis, said Greek voters had given Syriza a mandate to negotiate a better deal with Brussels, not a mandate to leave the eurozone. "Greece has to remain within the euro," Stathakis said. "Our government has a mandate to remain in the euro and get a better deal to … try to change the terms of the agreement that we have with European partners." According to the poll, 75 percent of Greeks want their country to remain in the eurozone.

An opinion poll in the Hellenic Republic has revealed that 37 percent of Greeks would welcome early elections to resolve Athens’ protracted standoff with its lenders over a cash-for-reforms deal. Just under half of all Greeks are also evidently in favor of the government striking a deal with international creditors, the poll found, but on the condition that demands for ... Read More »

Greece insists on more time to repay ECB

Greece's outspoken finance minister has said Athens should delay repayment of billions of euros it owes the European Central Bank, but that the prospect of pushing back the due date fills Mario Draghi's "soul with fear." The bonds in question - worth some 27 billion euros ($30 billion) - were purchased by the ECB in 2010 and 2011. Come July and August this year, Athens will have to repay 6.7 billion euros to the central bank from those bonds. "What must be done [is that] these 27 billion of bonds that are still held by the ECB should be taken from there and sent overnight to the distant future," Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the Greek parliament on Thursday. "How could this be done? Through a swap. The idea of a swap between the Greek government and the ECB fills Mr. Draghi's soul with fear." Varoufakis went on to say that Draghi was intimidated by pressure from Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, and its president, Jens Weidmann, who also has a seat on the ECB's governing council. Germany opposes the ECB's stimulus program, a bond-buying scheme known as quantitative easing (QE) that Weidmann and others say gives indebted countries incentive not to push through unpopular reforms. 'Strictness trap' At an economic conference in Athens, he also said Greece must escape the "strictness trap" and that he would not sign any deal wih international creditors that does not help Greece get out of the crisis. "Because if I do sign, I'll be yet another finance minister who signs a midterm fiscal adjustment program Greece is already at risk of defaulting on its bailout loans and has been embroiled in marathon talks with its international lenders since the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came to power earlier this year. Those talks concern the release of a final 7.2 billion euros in bailout funds that Greece's paymasters - the ECB, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund - say they will only provide if Athens pushes through the necessary reforms. Varoufakis told lawmakers that Greece's public coffers were already overstretched and this his government would be unable to repay what it owed the ECB for the bonds on time. "It's quite simple, these bonds must be pushed into the future," he said.

Greece’s outspoken finance minister has said Athens should delay repayment of billions of euros it owes the European Central Bank, but that the prospect of pushing back the due date fills Mario Draghi’s “soul with fear.” The bonds in question – worth some 27 billion euros ($30 billion) – were purchased by the ECB in 2010 and 2011. Come July ... Read More »

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