Thursday, November 21, 2013

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens

by Soeren Kern November 20, 2013

Opponents of the mosque argue that Greek taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this project at a time when their massively indebted country is dependent upon foreign aid just to stay afloat. The Greek government appears to be worried about thinly veiled threats of violence by thousands of residents in Athens who have been pressuring government ministers to meet their demands to build a mosque or face an uprising.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here. Greece produced democracy and civilization and the respect of religion, but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque." — Syed Mohammed Jamil of the Pakistan-Hellenic Society

The Greek government has awarded a tender to build the first taxpayer-funded mosque in Athens, one of the few remaining capitals in the European Union that lacks a state-funded mosque.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks said on November 14 that it had finally chosen a consortium of four construction companies to build the mosque. Four previous tenders had failed due to a lack of interest amid mounting public opposition to the mosque.

Construction of the 600 square meter (6,500 square foot) mosque—which will cost Greek taxpayers at least €950,000 ($1.3 million)—is due to begin within the next two months. Once the contracts are signed, the tender calls for the project to be completed within six months.

The plan calls for renovating an existing government-owned building on a disused naval base in the industrial district of Votanikos near the center of Athens. The mosque—which will not have minarets—will have a capacity for around 500 worshippers.

The Fethiye Mosque in Athens, Greece. It was built in 1456/1458 on the ruins of a middle Byzantine basilica. (Image source: Lapost/WikiMedia Commons)

The mosque plan continues to generate considerable controversy. Opponents of the mosque argue that Greek taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this project at a time when their massively indebted country is dependent upon foreign aid just to stay afloat.

According to the latest available statistics, the Greek economy—which has been struggling through six years of recession—contracted by another 3% during the third quarter of 2013. The unemployment rate now exceeds 27% (the jobless rate for those under 25 exceeds 60%) and analysts say the Greek economic crisis shows no signs of ending.

But the Greek government appears to be worried about thinly veiled threats of violence by thousands of Muslim residents in Athens who have been pressuring government ministers to meet their demands for a mosque or face an uprising.

Officially, Greece has a Muslim population of around 500,000, mostly of Turkish origin. But in recent years, tens of thousands of Muslims have migrated to Greece from Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as from Central and Southeast Asia.

Athens is now home to an estimated 200,000 Muslims, many of whom are illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan. Greece—which is the number one gateway for illegal immigration to Europe—is believed to have an illegal immigrant population of around 2 million; this in a country where the total population is only 11 million.

Muslims in Greece often pray in makeshift mosques in basement apartments, coffee shops, garages and old warehouses; there are believed to be more than 130 unlicensed Muslim prayer sites scattered across Athens alone.

The Greek government's decision to proceed with construction of the mosque is the latest chapter in a long-running debate that centers on the question of whether Greece—which is predominantly Christian Orthodox—should officially cater to followers of Islam.

Athens has not had an official mosque since 1832, when Greece won independence from the Ottoman Empire after nearly 400 years of Turkish rule. As of today, the Turkish-dominated Muslim enclave of Thrace in northeastern Greece is the only place where the Greek government officially supports Islamic sites and shrines.

In the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia offered to finance a mega-mosque in Paiania, a suburb about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of downtown Athens, near the international airport. But that plan was abandoned in the face of opposition from the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 2006, the government promised to spend €15 million ($20 million) for an Athens mosque by 2009. But that plan was also abandoned, again due to public opposition.

In 2007, Muslims decided to take matters into their own hands. Using a donation of €2.5 million ($3.4 million) from a Saudi businessman, a small non-profit organization called the Greek-Arab Educational and Cultural Center transformed an old textile factory in Moschato, a southern suburb of Athens, into a 6,000 square meter (19,500 square foot) prayer site that can accommodate more than 2,000 worshippers at a time.

But plans for building a large state-sponsored mosque remained stalled until the Muslim Association of Greece—a group that claims to represent all Muslims in Greece, and is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood—staged a series of highly provocative mass public prayer sessions across Athens aimed at pressuring the government into building an official mosque.

In November 2010, for example, Muslims held open-air prayers in 15 locations across Athens. In one case, over 1,000 Muslims took over the square in front of the main building of the University of Athens and held public prayers inside the portico on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. More than 7,000 police officers were deployed to keep the peace.

In August 2011, the Greek government gave Muslims permission to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Olympic Stadium of Athens. The initiative was aimed at preventing large groups of Muslim immigrants from gathering in downtown city squares.

In September 2011, however, Muslims—angry at being pushed out into the suburbs—celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) by holding open-air prayers in public squares near the city center. The Muslims were met by angry local residents who threw eggs and yogurt at them. Members of Golden Dawn, a far-right nationalist group opposed to runaway Muslim immigration, also threatened to physically remove the Muslims from the square, although they were held back by riot police.

Athens—like many other European cities—has also experienced spontaneous violence involving Muslim immigrants. In May 2009, for example, more than 1,000 Muslims chanting "Allah is the Greatest" clashed with police in downtown Athens after a police officer was accused of stepping on a Koran during a police check at a Syrian-owned coffee shop.

Nearly 50 protesters were arrested during the uprising, while seven Muslim immigrants and seven policemen were hospitalized. More than 70 cars were torched and around a dozen businesses were destroyed in the clashes.

"This [Muslim resentment] is a time-bomb," Naim El-Ghandour, the chairman of the Muslim Association of Greece, said at the time in an interview with the French news agency AFP. "It might not explode now but in 10 years it will be a huge problem."

Since then, at least 15 makeshift mosques have been burned in attacks by unknown arsonists. In one case, at least three people in Athens were hospitalized after arsonists set fire to a coffee shop used as a Muslim prayer center for immigrants. In May 2011, arsonists set fire to a makeshift mosque in the Kallithea district of Athens causing damage but no injuries.

Fearing the Muslim-related tensions could spiral out of control, the Greek Parliament voted in September 2011 to move ahead with the plan to build a taxpayer-funded mosque; the measure was supported by 198 out of 300 deputies from the left, right and center.

Despite the vote in parliament, the mosque project has faced repeated delays, in part because the government could not find any construction companies willing to build the mosque due to public opposition.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here," according to Syed Mohammad Jamil of the Pakistan-Hellenic Society. "Greece produced democracy and civilization and the respect of religion, but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque."

Frustrated by the lack of action, Muslims in Athens recently enlisted the support of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an effort to increase the pressure on the Greek government.

In January 2013, Erdogan told his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras that Turkey would be willing to pay for the construction of a mosque in Athens. Erdogan also wants Muslims in Greece to be able to elect their own Mufti (religious leader), who is currently chosen by the Greek government.

Erdogan sparked another feud in October by suggesting that Greece should re-open two Ottoman-era mosques in Athens in return for the re-opening of an Orthodox clergy school in Turkey.

Erdogan's moves have angered many Greeks, who feel a mosque would represent a continuing Turkish presence in the country. But Muslims in Greece have been elated by Erdogan's support.

"We are very grateful to Mr. Prime Minister," Mazen Rassas, of the Muslim Association of Greece, told the Anadolu Turkish news agency. "His offer [to pay for the mosque] has made us utterly pleased." Rassas now wants Erdogan to pressure Greece to build Muslim cemeteries.

"Apart from a mosque, there is a more important issue of a Muslim grave yard," Rassas, of Palestinian origin, said. "We could always find a place to pray but we can't find anywhere to bury our dead."

Although the Greek government has finally managed to award a tender, the mosque project may be subject to further delays.

Golden Dawn has said it will "fight until the bitter end" to block the mosque plan. "There is money to build a mosque but there is no money for Greeks to live with dignity," Golden Dawn, the third most popular party in Greece, said in a statement.

Protests have also been gathering steam outside the planned site in Votanikos, where residents— led by a local Greek Orthodox bishop named Seraphim—have filed a motion against plans to build the mosque with the Council of State, the highest administrative court in Greece.

In an interview with the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, Seraphim said: "I want to emphasize that Athens is the only European capital that went through four centuries of slavery under Islam, and managed to free itself just 200 years ago by spilling rivers of blood."

"Building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us," Seraphim said in a separate interview with the BBC. "We are not a multicultural country."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter.

Greece: Taxpayer-Funded Mosque Planned in Athens :: Gatestone Institute

Turkey and Greece feud over Hagia Sophia

 Agence France Presse

November 20, 2013 06:12 PM (Last updated: November 20, 2013 06:28 PM)

This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, left, and Hagia Sophia in the historic Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/File)

This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, left, and Hagia Sophia in the historic Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/File)

ISTANBUL: Turkey and Greece were locked Wednesday in a war of words over the possible conversion of Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's most stunning landmarks, into a mosque.

The feud over the 1,476-year-old World Heritage site is the latest to erupt between the two neighbours over religion.

Greece reacted furiously to remarks by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc that he hoped to change the status of Hagia Sophia, which is now a museum.

"We are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon," Arinc said Monday, describing the complex in Istanbul's historic quarter as the "Hagia Sophia Mosque".

Hagia Sophia, which dates back to 537, was a church for centuries -- and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- before being converted to a mosque under the Ottoman empire in 1453.

It opened as a museum in 1935 after the founding of modern Turkey.

"Recurrent statements made by high ranking Turkish officials about converting Byzantine Christian churches into mosques are offending the religious feeling of millions of Christians," the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement.

But Turkey bluntly retorted Wednesday that it has "nothing to learn" from Greece about freedom of religion.

"Unfavourable treatment of Ottoman era cultural artifacts and places of worship by Greece is well-known by all," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Greece whose territory was once part of the Ottoman empire and Turkey share a history marred by bitter territorial disputes and Christian-Muslim feuds.

Mosques have been a thorny issue in Greece, where the population is predominantly Greek Orthodox. Athens is one of the few European capitals without an official mosque.

Arinc, a member of the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) had said on Monday that two other religious sites in Turkey, also named Hagia Sophia, would be turned into mosques.

The government is often accused by its secular opponents of forcing Islamic values on the predominantly Muslim but strictly secular country.

Turkey and Greece feud over Hagia Sophia | News , Middle East | THE DAILY STAR

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Golden Dawn shootings: group claims responsibility

Reuters in Athens, Sunday 17 November 2013

Militant People's Revolutionary Forces says killing of far-right Greek party's supporters was retaliation for stabbing of rapper

Golden Dawn vigil

A vigil for the victims of the drive-by shooting held at Golden Dawn offices in Athens. Photograph: / Panayiotis Tzamaros/Demotix/Corbis

A Greek anti-establishment group has claimed responsibility for a drive-by shooting this month that killed two supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn party and raised fears of an escalation of political violence.

The previously unknown group, the Militant People's Revolutionary Forces, said the attack had been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of anti-fascism rapper Pavlos Fissas, to which a Golden Dawn sympathiser has confessed.

Police could not confirm the authenticity of the claim, which came on the eve of rallies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a bloody student uprising against the military junta that ruled Greece at the time.

"The brazen murder of Pavlos Fissas was the drop of blood that made the glass overflow," the group wrote in an 18-page letter filled with anti-establishment invective published on a news website. It called the rapper's killing a turning point.

"The armed attack-response ... is the starting point of the people's campaign to send the neo-Nazi scum of Golden Dawn where they belong, to the dustbin of history," it said.

The shooting of the two young Golden Dawn supporters outside the party's offices in Athens on 1 November came at a time of growing public anger against a party widely regarded as neo-Nazi and accused of attacks against migrants and leftists.

Golden Dawn denies accusations of violence, rejects the neo-Nazi label and says it had no involvement in Fissas's killing.

An opinion poll released on Saturday indicated that support for Golden Dawn had grown since the two men were gunned down.

The party, Greece's third most popular in recent surveys, shed almost a third of its support after Fissas's death in September. A poll by Alcofor Sunday's Proto Thema newspaper, conducted on 12-15 November, put support for Golden Dawn at 8.8%, up 2.2 points in a month but still below the 10.8% it enjoyed in June.

A government crackdown on Golden Dawn after evidence linking it to Fissas's killing has led to party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and five more of its politicians being charged with belonging to a criminal group. Mihaloliakos and two of the politicians have been remanded in custody until their trial.

Golden Dawn shootings: group claims responsibility | World news |

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to the country

 Richard Simcox

Richard Simcox, Tuesday 12 November 2013

The closure of the state broadcaster by the coalition government is symptomatic of the brutal austerity being inflicted

ERT tv station protest athens greece

A demonstrator shouts at riot police in protest at the closure of Greek former public broadcaster ERT. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Last Monday Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, the leader of Greek media workers' union Pospert, told me and a dozen colleagues that the government was "using all its state apparatus" against the journalists occupying the headquarters of public broadcaster ERT. Less than 72 hours later the building had been raided by riot police, Kalfagiannis was in custody and the screens went blank for the first time in the five months since the station was shut down by ministers.

We – a group of journalists who work for trade unions from as far afield as Ghana, the USA and Lithuania – were in Athens on a week-long project and were the last people to interview ERT staff from inside the vast broadcasting centre before their eviction.

One of the spokeswomen for the occupation, TV journalist Mahi Nikolara, told us that they felt the ruling coalition, which lost a partner when Democratic Left walked away in protest at the ERT closure, would be forced to come up with a political solution, because the decision to pull the plug had itself been political. Little did we know the government would act quite so soon.

It was not, of course, the desired outcome for the workers or the many hundreds of protesters outside of the building during the dawn raid and thousands more who gathered later that evening. I was among them and the mood was calm, but very angry. Cheers rang out when a speaker announced that Syriza had that evening tabled a motion of no confidence in the government that was, as expected, defeated in the parliament on Sunday night after tense exchanges.

With economic and social policy being dictated by the hated troika – Greece's three international creditors (European commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank) imposing brutal austerity in return for loans – the future of politics in the cradle of democracy is almost impossible to call. For many, ERT has become a symbol of what is happening across Greece. While the government has accused the broadcaster of being bloated and corrupt, the workers there say that the only high salaries were being paid to the 100 or so government-appointed staff.

You would be hard pushed to find anyone in Greece who thought that their economy and political system were in good health before the crisis. But no one I spoke to thought they were being anything other than destroyed by the troika and, crucially, they expect – many even accept – things are only going to get worse.

Many of national statistics are well known in the UK: unemployment soaring from 7.5% in 2008 to 27% in the first quarter of this year; youth unemployment at a devastatingly bleak 62%; cuts to the education budget of 45%; health spending slashed by 50%; local authorities losing 55% of their funding from government.

Many other effects are not well known. We spoke to workers from the public works ministry who told us the department responsible for post-natural disaster restoration was being abolished. This in a country ranked fifth in the world for earthquake activity.

We heard account after account of devastating cuts that, I believe, amount to nothing less than criminal acts against the people of Greece. Added to the immediate impact, professionals talk about looming environmental and health problems that will be felt for many years to come. Some doctors predict a mortality crisis will take hold after 2016.

When I arrived outside ERT for the protest on Thursday evening, Guardian contributor Aris Chatzistefanou – who was working with us for the week – told me the ERT workers were trying to set up a mobile studio. They succeeded, and that night their news bulletin was reportedly watched by more than 1.2 million people online – seven times more than their average ratings than before the police raid.

The national broadcaster may yet have been thrown itself a lifeline. It remains to be seen whether the Greek people can do the same.


Greece's ERT TV station symbolises what is happening to the country | Rich Simcox | Comment is free |

Friday, November 8, 2013

Greek riot police evict last ERT staff

Helena Smith in Athens, Thursday 7 November 2013

Employees had occupied premises of state broadcaster since it was shut down by government five months ago


Link to video: ERT occupiers evicted by Greek police

Greek riot police have stormed the premises of the country's erstwhile state broadcaster, ERT, evicting former employees who had occupied the building since June in protest at the government's abrupt decision to close down the channel.

In a carefully calibrated pre-dawn raid on Thursday, 13 vans of riot police surrounded the complex in northern Athens before blocking its entrance and removing the workers. Scuffles broke out and teargas was fired as the police moved in.

"The building has been liberated," the government spokesman Simos Kedigoglou told Mega TV. "There were several reasons why normality had to be imposed," he said, adding that Greece's assumption of the rotating EU presidency in January was among them.

The raid, described as an invasion by the political opposition, sparked shock and anger with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the complex in a show of solidarity.

The protesters were among 2,700 employees cut off from the public payroll when, in a surprise move, the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, ordered the station to be shut down overnight, blaming the debt-stricken country's economic crisis.

Greece, which has been kept afloat with rescue funds from the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund since May 2010, is under immense pressure to slash its bloated public sector. The former broadcaster, a breeding ground for party political patronage, was among the state's most profligate bodies with successive governments adding to its ever-expanding payroll by placing personnel in senior positions.

But the abrupt move, in a nation already labouring under record levels of unemployment, triggered widespread opposition and spawned a political crisis that ultimately led to the small leftwing Dimar party defecting from the government in disgust. Samaras's unilateral decision to pull the plug on the broadcaster, mid-air, was seen as arrogant and high-handed.

It was in this climate that hundreds of fired employees, defying management orders, held out, occupying the premises with the support of opposition parties and broadcasting a bootleg news channel over the internet. "We call on all citizens to come to the TV complex … We call on all to defend the voice of democracy!" they said in a message relayed in a blog. "A short while ago a strong turnout of police forces raided the building."

The radical left main opposition Syriza party denounced the raid as a "coup d'etat against information and democracy". "Once again, the dilemma of democracy or [imposing] the memorandum has made its mark," it said, referring to the onerous loan agreement Athens has signed with foreign lenders. "A black page in the history of public television and democracy has been written in our country."

Greece is the only EU country to have ever closed its own broadcaster. A streamlined version, called Public Television, or DT, with less than half the staff, has since taken its place.

The timing of the operation was not lost on Greeks. Inspectors representing the country's "troika" of creditors returned to Athens to resume negotiations this week amid criticism that the government has not done enough implementing reforms in return for rescue funds.

Relations between Greece and its lenders have been badly strained by differences over how to fill a looming budget black hole that, once again, threatens to throw the nation's economic recovery off-track. The troika says the gap can only be resolved if fresh austerity measures are applied – a prospect fiercely resisted by the ruling alliance.

Analysts said Thursday's raid was aimed clearly at sending a message that the government was determined to put the public sector in order

Greek riot police evict last ERT staff | Media |

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group'

By Hannah Strange 02 Nov 2013

Greek authorities raise concerns over tit-for-tat violence following fatal shooting of two members of extreme right group

Counter-terrorism squad gather evidence at the shooting point outside of the local branch of ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party at the northern suburb of Neo Iraklio, after a drive-by shooting in Athens, Greece, Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group'

Counter-terrorism squad gather evidence at the shooting point outside of the local branch of ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party at the northern suburb of Neo Iraklio, after a drive-by shooting in Athens, Greece. Photo: EPA

Police in Greece believe Far Left terrorists may have been behind the murder of two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, raising fears of tit-for-tat warfare between the country’s radical factions.

The Greek counter-terrorism squad has taken over the investigation into Friday night’s attack, when two assassins on a motorbike opened fire on men outside Golden Dawn’s offices in Athens. Police said they were looking at whether the murders may have been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist musician by a supporter of the neo-Nazi party in September, a killing which prompted angry protests across Greece.

Investigators were examining all avenues, but “particularly those that link these events to extremist groups” behind a string of far Left attacks in recent years on politicians, police, banks and the media.

A police official said the shooting, for which no one has claimed responsibility, appeared to be a “terrorist attack”.

Athens residents gathered at the site of the killings in the suburb of Neo Iraklio and laid flowers as politicians warned that the country, already mired in a deep financial crisis, was at risk of spiralling street violence.

People holding flowers and a Greek flag stand near the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens.

“We cannot let this cycle of violence continue,” Makis Voridis, a senior lawmaker in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party, told Greek television. “This must end here.”

“Twelve bullets against democracy,” top-selling daily Ta Nea wrote on its front page yesterday. “The double cold-blooded murder was a coarse provocation against stability.”

As well as Golden Dawn, Greece is home to far-Left and anarchist extremist groups who have claimed responsibility for a series of shootings and bombings in recent years. In 2009, a police officer was killed by three gunmen in Athens, and in 2010, a prominent investigative journalist, Sokratis Giolas, was shot dead at his home. Both killings were claimed by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a radical leftist organisation.

Following the killing of Mr Giolas, the Sect of Revolutionaries issued a direct threat to the Greek state, vowing to transform the country into “a war zone of revolutionary processes, with arson, sabotage, fierce demonstrations, bomb attacks, armed killings”.

“We are at war with your democracy”, the group declared.

Another extremist group, the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a car bomb which exploded outside the home of the Athens prison director in June.

Greek media claimed that the weapon used in Friday’s attack was the same type of gun used in the 2009 police shooting. Police identified the gun as a Zastava Tokarev type semi-auto pistol from which 12 rounds were fired, but said it was not the same weapon used in previous terrorist incidents.

Golden Dawn has in recent years emerged from the fringe of Greek politics to establish itself as the country’s third most popular party, with 18 seats in parliament.

Its surge in popularity came as it capitalised on widespread anger over austerity measures and immigration in the debt-stricken nation, which has for the past six years been in severe recession. Some 60 per cent of Greek youth are now unemployed, further fuelling social unrest.

Friday’s attack “marked a continuation of political uncertainty and instability in the country,” said George Tzogopoulos, an analyst at an Athens-based think-tank.

Golden Dawn uses a Swastika-like emblem and has also been associated with attacks on immigrants. It insists it is not a neo-Nazi group.

But the Greek government announced a crackdown on the party following the murder in September of Pavlos Fyssas, a white anti-racist rapper, for which a Golden Dawn supporter has been arrested and charged. The party’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and two of its MPs have been imprisoned pending trial on charges of establishing a criminal group.

The Golden Dawn leadership denies government claims that it was involved in the musician’s killing.

In the wake of Friday’s attack, the Greek government has been under pressure to show that it takes violence against Golden Dawn members seriously.

“We will not allow our country to become a place to settle scores,”said Greece’s public order minister Nikos Dendias, expressing his “sadness at the death of the young men”.

The left-wing main opposition Syriza party also condemned the shootings. “This murder creates a climate of instability and targets democracy,” the party said. “It feeds fascism, it does not beat it,” added Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza MP.

Golden Dawn also attributed the shooting to “terrorists” and blamed the Greek government for failing to protect the party amid the crackdown. It said it had asked for police protection at its offices after receiving threats but that it had recently been withdrawn.

“The criminals wanted to execute anybody outside the party offices,” it said in a statement. “Before they drove off, the terrorists shot again at the boys lying on the ground. They literally emptied their weapons on them.”

Golden Dawn lawmaker Nikos Michos said: “The terrorism of the left has once again shown its face, to stop the rise of Golden Dawn.”

The victims were named as Emmanuel Kapelonis and Giorgos Fountoulis, both in their twenties. A 29-year-old man who was wounded remained in hospital in a serious condition yesterday.

The mother of the injured man, named as Alexandros Gerontas, made a televised appeal to the Greek people to “overcome their differences” and to “stop the bloodshed”.

Golden Dawn had planned a meeting for Friday night at the office where the shooting took place.

A police source told AP said that footage from a nearby security camera confirmed the party’s accounts that the gunman started firing from 15 metres away and finished off his victims from point-blank range. The gunman fired at a fourth Golden Dawn member, who managed to escape unharmed.

Golden Dawn killings 'could be act of revenge by far left group' - Telegraph

'Cycle of violence' feared in Greece after shooting kills 2 Golden Dawn supporters

Published time: November 02, 2013 18:23

A police forensic expert searches for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 2, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

A police forensic expert searches for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 2, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

A ruthless drive-by murder of two young members of the far-right Golden Dawn party may draw Greece into a “cycle of violence,” local politicians warned.

Two Golden Dawn supporters, aged 22 and 27 years old, were shot dead outside the party’s office in the capital of Athens during Friday rush hour.
Another man, wounded in his chest and stomach, currently remains in critical condition.
CCTV camera footage indicates the attacker got off a motorbike driven by his accomplice and fired at his victims from close range in front of many witnesses.
Twelve bullets from a 9 mm gun were found at the scene, with police saying that the weapon has been used in previous crimes.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack and investigators are still determining if the shooting was in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascism rapper by a Golden Dawn sympathizer in September.
The murder of Pavlos Fissas, also known as Killah P, sparked a wave of protests across the country and prompted a government crackdown on Golden Dawn - which it labeled a “neo-Nazi gang.” The government also blamed the party for assaults on immigrants.  
The party’s leader, Nikos Mihaloliakos, and several other members were arrested and are currently awaiting trial on accusations of running a criminal organization.

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following a shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 1, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following a shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens November 1, 2013 (Reuters / John Kolesidis)

Golden Dawn’s political opponents stand united in condemning the attack, demanding that those behind Friday’s killings be brought to justice.
Greek public order minister Nikos Dendias has expressed his sorrow for the deaths of the two young men, saying “the country won’t be allowed to become a battlefield for the settling of scores."

“We can’t let this cycle of violence continue. This must end here,”
Makis Voridis, senior MP for the New Democracy party, told local Mega TV.
A lawmaker from the leftist opposition Syriza party, Golden Dawn’s fierce opponent, said the attack was “a blow for democracy.”
"It feeds fascism, it doesn’t beat it," he wrote on Twitter.  
Panos Kammenos, a member of the right-wing Independent Greeks party, has warned of forces looking to drag the country into “a civil war.”
“Clearly there are those who want to destabilize this country politically,” he said.
Memorial services were held outside the Golden Dawn offices on Saturday to honor the party members killed in Friday’s shooting.  
The party claimed 18 seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament in the 2012 election, managing to capitalize on anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country.
Golden Dawn has rejected accusations that it is a neo-Nazi party, despite its swastika-like emblem and the fact that its leader has publically denied the Holocaust.

'Cycle of violence' feared in Greece after shooting kills 2 Golden Dawn supporters — RT News

Two Golden Dawn members killed in drive-by shooting outside Athens office

Helena Smith in Athens, Saturday 2 November 2013

Third member of far-right Greek party severely injured in what police call 'terrorist attack'

Police outside Golden Dawn office in Athen

Police forensic experts search for evidence outside offices of the Golden Dawn party in Athens, following a shooting that killed two. Photograph: John Kolesidis/Reuters

Crisis-plagued Greece was thrown into further turmoil on Friday after two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party were shot dead in what police called a "terrorist attack" outside one of the organisation's offices in Athens.

Two men, described as a 20 and 23-year-old, died instantly in the drive-by shooting, according to a statement released by the extremist group.

"Two helmeted terrorists on a motorbike stopped in front of Golden Dawn's offices in [the northern Athens suburb of] Neo Iraklio while the office was open and a lot of people were [gathered around] its entrance," said the party.

"The co-rider got off [the bike] and in cold blood executed two young men at a distance of about half a metre. Before leaving the terrorists fired again … they literally emptied their weapons [of bullets] on top of them."

A third Golden Dawn member, identified as a 29-year-old father of one, was fighting for his life in an Athens hospital after being severely injured in the hail of gunfire.

"His situation is very critical," the country's health minister Adonis Georgiadis told Skai TV.

Police said the attack, conducted with an MB5 machine gun, bore all the hallmarks of a well-organised terrorist operation although government officials insisted they were not ruling out any scenario.

Greece's public order minister Nikos Dendias issued a carefully-worded statement shortly after 8.30pm local time, approximately one hour after the attack. "I express my sorrow at the death of two young men," he said. "The law will prevail. The country will not be allowed to become a battle field for the settling of scores."

The attack comes almost two months after a leftwing hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, was fatally stabbed by a self-confessed member of Golden Dawn in a working class area of Athens. The murder set in motion a crackdown on the neo-Nazi party that has since seen its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and several of his leading cadres imprisoned on charges of using the virulently anti-immigrant organisation to operate a

a criminal gang that sowed wanton terror on the streets of Greece.

In an explosive political atmosphere already poisoned by the despair wrought by cuts demanded in return for rescue funds to prop up the country's debt-stricken economy, the crackdown has heightened tensions.

"Some are preparing to lead this country to civil war," said Panos Kammenos, leader of the rightwing Independent Greeks party, reacting to the killings. "Clearly there are those who want to destabilise this country politically," he added suggesting that "foreign centres" were among the dark forces working against Greece.

The cold-blooded murders were quick to send a chill through Athens' entire political establishment. Insiders said it had sent tremors through the fragile coalition government with many describing the mood in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' office as being "numb" with shock.

"The murderers, whoever they are, will be treated mercilessly," said Simos Kedigoglou, a government spokesman, emerging from a crisis meeting called by Samaras.

Across the board there were fears of the backlash the murders could unleash.

"It's a very dangerous development that could lead to a vicious cycle of blood being shed in a country that is already being torn apart," said Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman of the small Democratic Left party, which withdrew from the tripartite government in disgust over its economic policies in the summer.

Analysts worried on Friday that Golden Dawn, which has accused the political establishment of waging a war to destroy it, will use the tragedy to once again boost its ratings in the polls. "My fear is that Golden Dawn will exploit this to make the point that it too is being persecuted, that it's own members are being cold-bloodedly murdered," said the political commentator Dimitris Tsiodras.

Catapulted into parliament for the first time in June 2012, the neo-fascist party remains the country's third biggest political force, although its support has plummeted since the 18 September murder of Fyssas. Last week, the Greek parliament voted to cut off funding for the party as the campaign intensified to marginalise it.

Two Golden Dawn members killed in drive-by shooting outside Athens office | World news |

Friday, November 1, 2013

Greek island on frontline of Europe's migration war

 Mark Lowen 

By Mark Lowen BBC News, Lesbos

The Greek coast guard boat races through the vast expanse of the Aegean, the water glinting in the morning sun.

Behind, in silhouette, are the lush mountains of Lesbos island - Greece's third largest, a place of extraordinary natural beauty - but now one of Europe's key immigration frontiers.

Since August 2012, when the Greek authorities increased controls on the land border with Turkey, the country's islands have borne the brunt of the inflow.

And Lesbos holds first spot. This year alone, 4,409 migrants attempted to enter the island from mainland Turkey - just six miles away.

Of those, 2,600 were arrested here, with the rest detained before making it out of Turkish waters. Smugglers squeeze desperate people into overcrowded dinghies for a small fortune.

Humanitarian disaster

Lt Antonios Sofiadelis from the Lesbos coastguard says they sometimes come across boats designed for 10 people, with 40 or 50 packed in.

Ferry leaving Lesbos for Athens

At noon, the daily ferry leaves for Piraeus, the port next to Athens, taking locals, tourists - and those migrants released with papers from Moria camp

"They destroy the raft when they see us and jump into the water, screaming. But we have to do our job."

Since the Lampedusa tragedy earlier this month, when 366 people lost their lives trying to reach the southern Italian island, illegal immigration has shot back on to the agenda of Europe's leaders.

An EU summit last week promised only a "task force" to report back - but southern European countries have long argued that substantial steps are needed to tackle a growing humanitarian disaster.

Until 2012, 90% of illegal immigrants entered Europe through Greece. The numbers have now dropped but the Greek government says it is still shouldering a huge burden in the midst of its worst financial crisis in living memory - and that the north must show solidarity.

Appalling conditions

"I ask for more support from EU member states," says Lt Sofiadelis, "because we defend Europe's borders too. We have to protect our country from criminal networks."

Until 2010, Lesbos had an immigrant detention centre in the town of Pagani.

It was criticised by human rights groups for its appalling conditions and subsequently closed.

Now another facility has been built in the town of Moria - officially called a "reception centre".

Those arrested are taken here to be registered and held.

Non-Syrians stay for around 25 days before being given papers ordering them to leave Greece within a month.

Syrians, due to their country's civil war, are released more quickly and allowed six months in Greece.

I tried to get into the camp to see the conditions and talk to inmates - but was refused access.

Inside are offices of NGOs and the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR.

Behind barbed wire are a dozen small containers housing about 70 refugees. They sit outside, their hands gripping the fence.

When some try to engage me in conversation, the police ask me to move away.

"This is a prison," one Afghan tells me.

'Escape from danger'

"I feel desperate and ashamed when the immigrants talk to us about the problems they face in my country - and I feel very angry," says Efi Latsoudi, the local co-ordinator of the group Doctors of the World.

The cemetery on the mountain overlooking Lesbos The cemetery on the mountain overlooking Lesbos contains the names of immigrants who have died seeking a better life

"Because I believe we can change something - and we don't."

What needs to change, I ask her?

"There must be a political decision that we have these arrivals here and we have to support them as humans, not as a problem or an illegal thing.

"Most of them are like us - they are simply escaping from danger and they must be helped."

Away from Moria, I am taken to another facility provided by locals and NGOs, housing an Afghan family, who arrived two months ago.

The mother - who does not wish to be identified - and her four young children live in a tiny room.

She breaks down as she tells me the story of her husband being arrested here and their treacherous journey from Jalalabad.

Numbers and codes

"We'd hoped we could find safety and that our children could go to school," she says.

"But instead we have nothing - the smugglers took all our money and we had a dangerous trip here - one of my children fell into the water on the way and I thought he'd die. I think it wasn't worth it to come here. Europe wasn't worth it."

Immigrants board the ferry leaving Lesvos for Athens

Perhaps the most perilous part of the journey made by these immigrants - arriving in Europe - is behind them

Perched on the mountain overlooking Lesbos, a corner of the cemetery is given to those who do not make it here.

A few have been identified - the name "Mohamed Amin" is written on one stone.

But most are simply given labels: "Afghan, 31/07/07", "Number 3, 5/1/13".

They were people, individuals before they tried to come to Europe. Now they are reduced to numbers and codes.

At noon, the daily ferry leaves for Piraeus, the port next to Athens, taking locals, tourists - and those migrants released with papers from Moria camp.

I meet a few young Syrians there. They are educated, speak good English and dress well - far from the stereotypical image of refugees.

"We paid 1,300 euros [£1,100; $1,800] each to the smugglers to take us here," says one.

"My family don't want to see me die in our war. So they told me to leave. I won't stay in Athens because of the economic situation - I want to go to another European city. I want only life."

As the ferry doors close, they climb aboard, carrying one bag each - and their dreams.

Perhaps the most perilous part of their journey - arriving in Europe - is behind them. But plenty more hardship awaits in Athens and beyond. And thousands more will follow in their wake.

Exterior of Moria camp An immigrant detention camp that has been built in Moria is officially called a "reception centre"

BBC News - Greek island on frontline of Europe's migration war