Friday, January 24, 2014

Greece offers reward for information on extremist Christodoulos Xiros


Associated Press in Athens, Thursday 23 January 2014

Convict from terror group November 17 released video vowing to resume attacks after vanishing on prison leave

Christodoulos Xiros

Christodoulos Xiros's internet video statement, in which he criticised the handling of Greece's financial crisis, threatened politicians and vowed further attacks. Photograph: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Greek authorities have announced rewards totalling €4m (£3.2m) for information leading to the capture of fugitives in four terrorism-related cases, days after an escaped convict posted a video statement online vowing to resume attacks.

Anti-terrorist police have been conducting a nationwide manhunt since 7 January when Christodoulos Xiros, a 55-year-old serving six life sentences for carrying out killings as part of the November 17 group, vanished while on prison leave.

Five people have been arrested in the past two days in Athens and Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki in terrorism-related raids, police said.

In a video uploaded on Monday, Xiros criticised the handling of Greece's financial crisis, threatened politicians and journalists and vowed further attacks.

Professing a mix of Marxism and nationalism, the November 17 group killed 23 people, including Greek politicians, businessmen and British, American and Turkishforeign diplomats and military officials, from 1975 to 2000. A €1m (£0.8m) reward was being offered for information leading to Xiros's capture, police said. The same sum would be paid each for the capture of a man and woman who vanished in 2012 following their release from jail after serving the maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention.

Nikos Maziotis and his wife Panagiota Roupa were sentenced in absentia last year to 25 years in prison for participation in Revolutionary Struggle, a group active between 2003 and 2009. The organisation claimed responsibility for attacks including bombing the Athens stock exchange, planting a massive bomb that failed to explode outside Citibank offices and firing a rocket-propelled grenade into the US embassy. Nobody was hurt in the latter attack, and the group has not killed anyone, although it shot and severely wounded a riot policeman in 2009.

The disappearance of Xiros, added to those of Maziotis and Roupa, has been a major embarrassment for Greek authorities.

"The Greek state … will do whatever it can, whatever it has a constitutional duty to do, in order to protect the country, society and its economic development," public order minister Nikos Dendias said in announcing the reward.

Another €1m is being offered for information leading to the identification and arrest of unknown gunmen who shot and killed two members of the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party as they stood outside a neighbourhood party office in Athens last November. A third party member was critically wounded.

The justice ministry announced on Wednesday that the governor of Greece's largest prison, near Athens, had been transferred to other duties while an investigation into Xiros's disappearance was under way.

Greece offers reward for information on extremist Christodoulos Xiros | World news |

Greece: signs of growth come as austerity eases

 Mark Weisbrot updated

Mark Weisbrot, Wednesday 22 January 2014

The IMF's austerity plan hasn't worked. Greece's possible recovery is down to a construction programme boosting the economy

Greek austerity soup kitchen

A woman receives a free meal from a soup kitchen organized by a Greek humanitarian group in Athens' main Syntagma square. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/AP

It was nearly four years ago that the Greek government negotiated its agreement with the IMF for a harsh austerity programme that was ostensibly designed to resolve its budget problems. Many economists, when we saw the plan, knew immediately that Greece was beginning a long journey into darkness that would last for many years. This was not because the Greek government had lived beyond its means or lied about its fiscal deficit. These things could have been corrected without going through six or more years of recession. It was because of the "solution" itself.

Four years later, Greece is down by about a quarter of its pre-recession national income – one of the worst outcomes of a financial crisis in the past century, comparable to the worst downturn of the US's Great Depression. Unemployment has passed 27% and more than 58% for young people (under 25). There are fewer Greeks employed than there have been at any time in the past 33 years. And real public healthcare spending has been cut by more than 40%, at a time when people need the public health system more than ever.

The IMF is the subordinate partner in the "troika" (including the European Central Bank and the European commission) that has been calling the shots for the Greek economy these past four years, but it is the one in charge of putting numbers on the page. It repeatedly projected economic recoveries for 2011, 2012, and 2013 that did not materialise.

Now the IMF is projecting economic growth for 2014. But this time they are probably, finally, going to be right. It is vitally important that we understand why.

Last month the Greek parliament approved a stimulus programme involving highway construction that is quite large. According to the ministry of infrastructure, transport, and networks, total spending on this project will be €7.5bn over the next year and a half. This amounts to about 2.7% of GDP during this period. For comparison, the US federal stimulus that helped us out of our 2008-09 great recession (after subtracting the state governments' budget tightening) was less than 1% of GDP.

This stimulus will likely make the difference between growth and another year of recession. Most of the financing comes from EU grants, so it does not add to Greece's debt.

In other words, the Greek economy is going to grow this year because of a significant policy reversal. The austerity, or fiscal tightening, is basically coming to an end.

Why is this so important? Because the people who designed or supported the policy of the last four years will, when the Greek economy begins to recover, claim that the "austerity worked". But even the IMF's own analysis of the Greek economy refutes this claim. The austerity can only "work" (if one accepts the obscenely high human cost of it) if the massive unemployment drives down wages enough so that the economy becomes more competitive and can export its way out of the recession. The IMF projects a 20% decline in wages and salaries for 2010-2014; but this has not been enough to make Greek exports significantly more competitive, according to the fund's latest (July) review. Exports have remained weak and haven't come close to compensating for the fiscal tightening and reduced domestic private spending. The strategy of "internal devaluation" has not yet worked for Greece, nor – according to the IMF's data and analysis – for the eurozone as whole.

Of course, Greece is still far from out of the woods. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 176% (it was about 115% when Greece began austerity), and facing high interest rates if it returns to market financing, there could be more crises and another debt restructuring ahead. And even if the return to growth this year convinces investors to put their money in Greece, it will take years for unemployment to reach humane levels.

That is why it is so important to understand the causes of Greece's return to growth, if it happens (it could still be derailed by adverse shocks). The human tragedy of the past five years in Europe, as well as the repeated financial crises and damage to the world economy caused by bad policy there, could have been avoided – as many economists have argued. But looking forward, the eurozone is still stuck near record levels of unemployment (12.1%), and how soon it returns to normal will depend on how quickly the European authorities are willing to reverse their policies for the region.

Greece: signs of growth come as austerity eases | Mark Weisbrot | Comment is free |

November 17 terrorist vows return to violence after absconding from prison

 Helena Smith in Athens, Tuesday 21 January 2014

Christodoulos Xiros releases video manifesto pledging to wage war against 'those who stole our lives and sold our dreams'

Christodoulos Xiros

A still from Christodoulos Xiros's video manifesto. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Two weeks after going underground, a convicted member of November 17, once Greece's deadliest terror group, has vowed to return to armed action, reigniting fears of a resurgence of political violence.

In a video manifesto released on Monday, Christodoulos Xiros, who was serving multiple life sentences when he vanished on furlough from prison, pledged to wage war against all those he claimed were destroying the debt-stricken country.

"I've once again decided to make the guerrilla rifle resound against those who stole our lives and sold our dreams to make a profit," said the 52-year-old, one of November 17's chief assassins until his arrest in 2002.

"It is our job to light the fuse. What are we waiting for? If we don't react immediately, now, today, we will cease to exist as people."

Against a backdrop of pictures depicting Che Guevara, a communist second world war resistance fighter and heroes of Greece's war of independence, the escapee called on leftists and anarchists to bridge their differences and unite against the judiciary, police, state and media.

"The price of [the government's] treason is death," he railed, claiming that the two-party ruling coalition in Athens had allowed twice bailed out Greece to become a colony "under German occupation".

He added: "If we ever meet again, which I don't hope (and neither should you) you would do well to kill me. Because if you take me captive again, I will leave again to fight you to the end."

Xiros's ability to elude authorities after being granted temporary leave from the high-security Korydallos prison over the new year has caused acute embarrassment for the Greek government. He disappeared while visiting his family in Halkida, northern Greece. According to his father, a Greek Orthodox priest, his last words were: "I'm going out for a walk on the beach."

Until its dismantlement, the Marxist-Leninist November 17 was regarded as one of the world's most dangerous terror organisations. US, British and Turkish diplomats were among its 23 victims during a 27-year campaign.

One of 19 to be unmasked as members of the gang, along with two of his brothers, Xiros was among the few to remain behind bars. In the wake of his failure to report to authorities, revelations have emerged of all-night parties in the prison and of Xiros having been able not only to move freely between wards but to exchange plans and knowhow with other convicted terrorists.

"It is unbelievable that of the 19 ultimately arrested in connection with November 17, a group that killed so many people and caused so much trouble for this country, only five should still be in prison," said Mary Bossi, professor of international security at the University of Pireaus.

"The government should be very worried. For the first time ever we have a jihadi-style statement being made by a man who says, clearly, he is prepared to sacrifice himself for the cause. It is clear that Xiros has had contact with Greece's new generation of terror gangs who are well-armed, have close ties to organised crime and do not care if innocent bystanders are killed along the way."

November 17 terrorist vows return to violence after absconding from prison | World news |

Nigel Farage becomes popular in Greece after outburst against the PM

 Helena Smith in Athens The Observer, Sunday 19 January 2014

Ukip leader claims he received deluge of support after giving Antonis Samaras a dressing down in European parliament

Ukip leader Nigel Farage

Ukip leader Nigel Farage at last year's party conference. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

As unlikely as it might once have seemed, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is being hailed as a hero in Greece after an extraordinary outburst against the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, in the European parliament last week.

In a departure from the contempt usually reserved for foreigners criticising their country, Greeks from across the political spectrum have welcomed the Briton's savage dressing down of Samaras – just as he was savouring the glory of crisis-plagued Athens assuming the rotating EU presidency.

"You come here, Mr Samaras, and tell us that you represent the 'sovereign will of the Greek people'. Well, I am sorry but you are not in charge of Greece, and I suggest you rename and rebrand your party," railed Farage last week as Samaras, slumped in his seat, looked on haplessly. "It is called New Democracy; I suggest you call it No Democracy because Greece is now under foreign control. You can't make any decisions, you have been bailed out and you have surrendered democracy, the thing your country invented in the first place."

Clearly warming to his theme in an arena where, by his own admission, he likes to "tell it straight", Farage ran through the litany of woes hobbling the debt-stricken nation four years into its worst financial crisis in living memory.

Reminding Samaras of the heavy price Greece had paid to be rescued from insolvency by creditors at the EU and IMF, he said: "I must congratulate you for getting the Greek presidency off to such a cracking start. Your overnight successful negotiation … will have them dancing in the streets of Athens.

"No matter that your country, very poorly advised by Goldman Sachs, joined a currency that it was never suited to. No matter that 30% of its people are unemployed, that 60% of youth are unemployed, that a neo-Nazi party is on the march, that there was a terrorist attack on the German embassy." Shots were fired at the German ambassador's Athens home last month.

Denouncing the "dreamers" in the European parliament and what he described as the big business and big bureaucrats running Europe, Farage said that the European elections in May – which, awkwardly, coincide with the Greek presidency – will be a battleground "to bring back national democracy". Farage, who claims to have been inundated with thank-you emails, letters and tweets from Greece, says he has also been deluged with requests for interviews from the Greek media. "Some, of course, are questioning how I dare say such mean things to their prime minister," he wrote in the Express. "But the majority seem to be coming to me for an alternative voice to the political establishment in Greece which is either tied to the euro or dangerously extreme."

The journalist and prominent commentator Giorgos Alexakis said: "He dared to say, openly, what few foreigners ever say, that Greece has been 'saved' but at huge cost to its democratic framework."

Alexakis reeled off the myriad austerity measures that have been driven, often to widespread consternation from MPs, through the Greek parliament. "And because we haven't seen the end of this crisis, and things very possibly will get worse, Farage's intervention has been very well received."

In the face of mounting anger over spending cuts, Athens's two-party coalition is clinging to power with a majority of three. Hostility towards Europe – once a rarity – is also growing.

As in other austerity-whipped member states, Greece's anti-European parties, like Ukip, are expected to do well in the European elections. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, if allowed to contest the election – an inquiry into its alleged criminal activities is under way – is tipped to enter the 751-seat Strasbourg-based parliament. So, too, is the main opposition radical left Syriza party, which shares none of the nationalists' views.

On Saturday even Syriza had a kind word for Ukip. "Of course, we have nothing whatsoever in common with them," Panos Skourletis, Syriza's spokesman, said. "But sometimes your opponents do tell the truth, you know. More and more people are beginning to see that Greece was sacrificed to save the EU, and that what has happened was wrong."

Nigel Farage becomes popular in Greece after outburst against the PM | Politics | The Observer

Golden Dawn photos shock Greece

Helena Smith in Athens, Saturday 18 January 2014

Thousands of pictures and video clips allegedly show party members posing with weapons and giving Nazi salutes

Golden Dawn photo

The cache of photographs has been handed by police to a Greek public prosecutor investigating Golden Dawn's alleged illegal activities

Greek authorities are studying what is being described as a cache of "highly incriminating" photographic material in which members of the far-right Golden Dawn party are allegedly depicted participating in mock executions, posing with weaponry and giving Nazi salutes.

The hoard of almost 14,000 pictures and 900 video clips – discovered in computers and mobiles phones confiscated from two MPs and a man who headed one of the group's local branches – has been handed by police to a public prosecutor investigating the extremists' alleged illegal activities.

"What this confirms, without a shadow of doubt, is that Golden Dawn is not only a Nazi group but a criminal organisation that operated as a paramilitary structure," said Dimitris Psarras, the country's leading authority on the party.

"We are literally talking about thousands of pictures," he told the Guardian. "And many are highly incriminating, portraying well known members receiving armed training in summer camps."

Golden Dawn pictures

A picture claiming to show Golden Dawn members giving Nazi salutes

Among them, he said, was Giorgos Roupakias, the self-professed killer of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing rapper whose murder in September spurred the Greek government to scrutinise what remains the country's third biggest political force.

Golden Dawn had previously denied any association with the 46-year-old , who stabbed the musician in the heart and chest after being called to the scene of a fight between followers of the neo-fascist party and leftists in a working-class Athens suburb. In the wake of the government crackdown, the party had also rejected suggestions that it subscribed to the dogma of neo-Nazism.

The archive, backed by similar evidence in the private computers of other politicians, including the organisation's imprisoned leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, has triggered widespread disbelief.

Golden Dawn pictures

Group members allegedly engaged in military-style training exercises

Although somewhat inured to the high drama that has enveloped their country since its near economic collapse in 2010, Greeks have been shocked by the sheer scale of the hoard and the lighthearted nature of many of the images.

Some portray female supporters in bed brandishing handguns, while others show men posing with swords and assault rifles. Children, presumably encouraged by parents, are also seen raising their hands in Nazi salutes.

"It is an astonishing collection that shows just how emboldened they felt," said Psarras, an investigative journalist who has followed the extremists since their appearance as a fringe group in the aftermath of the rightwing military coup more than 30 years ago. "Given the climate of ever-worsening poverty, extremism and austerity, they thought they could get away with more or less anything."

Golden Dawn pictures

A picture supposedly showing a Golden Dawn member posing with a military assault rifle

Six of Golden Dawn's 18 MPs have been imprisoned pending trial in a crackdown during which riot police have stormed the party's offices, raided MPs' homes and rounded up supporters. Three other deputies, including the party's press spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, also face charges of using the party to operate a criminal organisation with the intent of demolishing democratic institutions in Greece.

Last month, the Greek parliament, the scene of often raucous debate since the election of the extremists in June 2012, voted to cut off annual state funds of around €800,000 (£660,000) to which the party would have been entitled as of this year.

As they were led to jail this week, after extensive cross-examining, three of the lawmakers hurled abuse at reporters, shouting that Golden Dawn was a "legitimate force" elected by democratic process.

A GPO poll released for a Greek media outlet on Thursday showed that, far from being diminished, Golden Dawn was still garnering support of around 11% – almost four times higher than the popularity of the socialist Pasok, the junior partner in Greece's fagile ruling coalition.

Last week the ultra-nationalists vowed to challenge the government crackdown in the European court of human rights despite the party's open contempt for the EU.

Attending a press conference to announce the move, Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, said the clampdown against his "patriot comrades" had been motivated purely by Golden Dawn's meteoric rise in the polls.

On Friday, the far-right group announced it had set in motion plans to sue three senior judicial officials overseeing the investigation into their alleged illegal activity for "breach of duty".

The officials were accused of being "instruments of anti-Greek power" by the party, which claimed they had failed to properly follow the law in their haste to jail its lawmakers, not least Golden Dawn's enigmatic leader, Nikos Michaloliakos.

Golden Dawn photos shock Greece | World news |

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nick Griffin offers strident support to Golden Dawn on visit to Greece

 Matthew Taylor The Guardian, Saturday 11 January 2014

Bankrupt BNP leader uses Athens press conference to describe Greece's crackdown on neo-Nazi party as 'totally illegal'

Nick Griffin

Nick Griffin speaks at Golden Dawn's Athens event, where he said: 'Long live freedom, victory to Golden Dawn … our time will come.' Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right British National party, appeared in Athens on Friday to pledge his support for Greece's neo-fascist organisation Golden Dawn.

Griffin, who was declared bankrupt last week, attended the Golden Dawn press conference to challenge the Greek government's crackdown on the extremist group in the European court of human rights.

Critics said the decision to share a platform with Golden Dawn indicated he was turning his back on any hope electoral success in the UK.

"This is further evidence that Nick Griffin and the BNP have abandoned their earlier attempt to appear as a more moderate and electorally appealing political party," said Matthew Goodwin, an expert in far-right politics from Nottingham University. "Instead, both Griffin and his party have indulged in open admiration of a neo-Nazi party that has been linked to murder and violent attacks against migrants."

Griffin was declared bankrupt last week following a dispute with a firm of solicitors over outstanding debts worth £120,000. It was the latest in a series of blows to the far-right organisation that has seen plummeting support at the ballot box and the departure of scores of key organisers.

Golden Dawn's leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, has been in pre-trial custody since the September murder of the leftwing rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a self-confessed party member. The killing prompted a government crackdown that unmasked the group as a violent paramilitary organisation.

Thirteen Golden Dawn MPs are either in detention, face charges, or have had their parliamentary immunity lifted as prosecutors build a case that its leadership was involved in attacks.

Michaloliakos has vehemently denied the charges and argued he is a political prisoner.

Griffin, who will defend his seat at the European parliament later this year, has previously expressed his "full solidarity with Greek patriots being persecuted by the system as a consequence of their fast growing support among ordinary Greeks".

At Friday's conference he said the current "pseudo-legal war" against Golden Dawn by the Greek government was "totally illegal" adding: "Long live freedom, victory to Golden Dawn … our time will come."

Goodwin said he was becoming "detached from political reality".

"Rather than rebuilding his movement for the European and local elections, he has chosen to build links with neo-Nazis, launch a cooking programme for his dwindling number of supporters and generally appearing as a rather odd character. Increasingly, he is becoming a comical rather than threatening figure in British politics".

A spokesman for the BNP said it was still committed to elections in the UK, adding that what had happened to Golden Dawn "was absolutely outrageous".

Nick Griffin offers strident support to Golden Dawn on visit to Greece | Politics | The Guardian