Fire-hit Greece calls off EU help as PM says conditions improve

ATHENS, Jan 28 – Twenty-four migrants drowned when their boat sank off a Greek island close to Turkey, the Greek coastguard said, as people continue to risk the crossing to Europe despite harsh winter conditions. "We have 10 rescued and 11 missing," a coastguard official said on Thursday. "The search and rescue effort is continuing." The sinking occurred late on Wednesday north of the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea, close to the Turkish coast. The coastguard said a man who managed to swim ashore told Greek authorities the boat had been carrying 40 to 45 people. Coastguard vessels and a helicopter were continuing to look for survivors. More than 600,000 migrants fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn or impoverished countries arrived in Greece from Turkey last year, risking the short but dangerous sea crossing, often on inflatable rafts. Hundreds have drowned. Six migrants including a child drowned when their vessel sank off the island of Kos close to Turkey early on Wednesday. EU countries have been increasingly critical of Athens' handling of the continent's worst migration crisis since World War Two. More than a million migrants reached Europe last year, mainly through Greece. On Wednesday, the European Commission warned there could be more controls over movement between Greece and other states in the free-travel Schengen zone from May unless it fixed "serious deficiencies" in its management of the zone's external frontier.... [read more]

(VOVworld) – The first batch of 30 refugees left Greece on Wednesday under the EU’s reallocation plan to help ease the burden on a Europe inundated by refugees. Those six Syrian and Iraqi families will begin their new life in Luxembourg, and Belgium. Present at Athens international airport to say farewell to the refugees, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the flight a symbolic start of program that will expand. According to Frontex, the EU border agency, the number of illegal migrants in Europe is 800,000 and rising. Under the EU’s reallocation and resettlement plan for 160,000 refugees, the first two groups of refugees from Eritrea and Syria left Italy last month and were sent to Switzerland and Finland. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland still object to the plan.... [read more]

(VOVworld) – At least 7 people died, including 5 children, and tens of people went missing when four vessels carrying refugees sank in the waters between Turkey and Greece on Wednesday. More than 200 people were rescued from one sinking boat off the north coast of the Greek island of Lesbos. Rescue forces fished 7 bodies out of the sea and they continue to search for the missing. The latest accidents brought to 36 the number of refugees drowned Greek waters this month. Since the start of the year, 560,000 refugees and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea, out of 700,000 who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean. According to the International Office for Migration, more than 3200 people have died during these crossings, most of them children.... [read more]

Greece on Wednesday geared up for a parliamentary vote on tough reforms demanded by eurozone creditors in exchange for a huge new bailout, just hours after a bombshell IMF report criticised the deal. The outcome was unclear after the International Monetary Fund issued a stark warning that Greece's creditors will have to go "far beyond" existing estimates for debt relief to stabilise the country's finances. The last-ditch deal struck Monday to prevent the country crashing out of the euro saw Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agree to sweeping reforms. They include changing labour laws, pensions, VAT and other taxes -- all conditions that had been rejected by voters in a July 5 referendum. The parliament in Athens must approve the deal before the 18 other eurozone leaders start negotiations over what Greece is to get in return: a three-year bailout worth up to 86 billion euros ($95 billion), its third rescue programme in five years. Under the plan, eurozone governments will contribute between 40 and 50 billion euros, the IMF will contribute another chunk and the rest will come from selling off state assets and from financial markets, a European official said. Tsipras has admitted he "cannot say with certainty" that it will be enough to prevent a so-called "Grexit" until the final bailout agreement is signed. Economically viable? An IMF official said the fund would only participate in a third bailout if EU creditors produce a clear plan. The current deal "is by no means a comprehensive, detailed agreement," the…... [read more]

Greece's new government headed for a showdown with sceptical European partners on Wednesday as it took its demands to renegotiate its huge bailout to crunch talks in Brussels. AFP"> The emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers promises to be bruising, with Greek demands for a cash lifeline and a relaxation of austerity facing resistance from Germany in particular. Markets worldwide are spooked by the renewed threat of Greece crashing out of the euro, with the country's massive EU-IMF bailout set to expire at the end of February, leaving it at the risk of a default. Greek bond yields jumped and the Athens stock market plummeted more than 4.5 percent hours before the talks as the two sides seemed far apart. "I want to repeat today, no matter how much (German Finance Minister Wolfgang) Schaeuble asks it, we are not going to ask to extend the bailout," left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers Tuesday before his government won a confidence vote. The new government is riding a wave of popularity in Greece, emboldened by the 40-year-old premier's defiance of Germany and austerity, which Tsipras has tempered with pledges to keep Greece in the eurozone. But Greece has also ramped up threats to look to Russia or China for help, further raising the stakes for European unity as it wrestles with economic stagnation and the crisis in Ukraine. Tsipras has been invited to Beijing to meet his Chinese counterpart counterpart Li Keqiang, a government source said Wednesday, while the new Greek…... [read more]

Oil prices continued their downward spiral to fresh five-and-a-half-year lows Wednesday, leaving equity markets struggling to recover after a recent sell-off, while Greek political turmoil sent the euro skidding. More losses on Wall Street and in Europe kept investors on edge as they await the release of US Federal Reserve minutes later in the day and jobs data on Friday. Tokyo, which lost more than three percent Tuesday, edged up just 2.14 points to close at 16,885.33, and Seoul was also marginally higher, tacking on 1.38 points to 1,883.83. Sydney lost 0.21 percent, or 11.19 points, to 5,353.61. However, Shanghai added 0.67 percent, or 22.51 points, to 3,373.94 while Hong Kong clocked up 0.83 percent, or 195.85 points, to 23,681.26. "With the US markets again under pressure, the lead for Asia looks bleak," Evan Lucas, a markets strategist in Melbourne at brokerage firm IG, told Bloomberg News. "Until oil finds bottoms, the markets will remain in a downward trajectory." Global stock markets have been routed at the start of the year as oil prices continue to slump -- losing more than 50 percent since June -- and dealers take profits after some healthy gains in 2014. On Tuesday the two main oil contracts, West Texas Intermediate and Brent North Sea crude, sank more than two dollars owing to a supply glut, concerns about the economies of Europe, China and Japan and instability in Greece. On Wednesday, WTI, the US benchmark for delivery in February, fell 73 cents to $47.20 --…... [read more]

European Union leaders are divided on how to create employment and a fifth of young people are still out of work. At a meeting in Milan today Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi plans to tout the new labor laws he's pushing through. French President Francois Hollande will argue for more spending, a proposal German Chancellor Angela Merkel intends to reject. Britain's prime minister David Cameron isn't coming. Their lack of progress may increase the frustration of European Central Bank President Mario Draghi who has faced down internal dissent to deploy unprecedented monetary easing. He's calling on the politicians to do their bit now and loosen the continent's rigid labor markets even if that means facing the ire of protected workers. "An entire generation is being sacrificed in countries such as Spain," Ludovic Subran, chief economist at credit insurer Euler Hermes said in an interview. "That has a real impact on productivity in the long run." The 18-nation euro area is still struggling to heal its debt-crisis scars, five years after Greece revealed that its deficit was more than twice its forecast, forcing it into two bailouts. Across the bloc, growth has ground to a halt and inflation is at its lowest for five years. When EU leaders met in Luxembourg in November 1997, the soon-to-be-born euro zone's unemployment rate was about 11 percent. Jean-Claude Juncker, then prime minister of the host country, now president designate of the European Commission, promised a mix of free-market solutions and government plans would mean…... [read more]

©, Dave & Family/cc-by-sa 3.0 (VOVworld) - Greece on Wednesday assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, as its economy faces brighter prospects. Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said 2014 will be a major turning point as Greece fights to resolve its crisis and the EU embarks on a debate on the future of the European Union ahead of elections. During its turn at the helm, Greece must hold 14 ministerial meetings before handing the presidency over to Italy. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will go to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 16 to present Greece's aims for the next six months. He is expected to focus on growth and jobs, the implementation of a historic banking union worked out by finance ministers at the end of 2013, and immigration and maritime policy.... [read more]

WASHINGTON - After lengthy delays, the International Monetary Fund unblocked part of its aid to Greece on Wednesday, offering a brief respite to the recession-mired country grappling with austerity measures. The amount released - 3.2 billion euros (US$4.3 billion) - might seem a mere footnote to the 172 billion euro international bailout for Greece last March, the second rescue effort after a 2010 aid programme foundered. But the installment carries symbolic weight: it closes a chapter on the Greek debt crisis which had put the IMF and its European partners at odds and fueled doubts within the Washington-based institution about the merits of austerity in Europe. "Following a political crisis that delayed implementation of the economic programme, understandings were reached with the government on a fully recalibrated economic programme to be supported under the EFF arrangement," the IMF said Wednesday. "Greece's fiscal effort has been impressive by any measure," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. The deep deficit slashing the country has been forced to undertake from the beginning of the programme will help get Athens back to the spending levels prior to the crisis, she said, "and has been designed to protect the most vulnerable." But, she warned, "much more remains to be done to achieve the critical mass of reforms needed to boost productivity and lower prices." "Looking ahead, Greece needs to radically overhaul its tax administration to bolster tax collections, fight tax evasion, and shrink the public sector, in particular through targeted redundancies." The…... [read more]

On Monday, a 38-year-old geology lecturer hanged himself from a lamp post in Athens and on the same day a 35-year-old priest jumped to his death off his balcony in northern Greece. On Wednesday, a 23-year-old student shot himself in the head. Mourners appalud as they attend a funeral ceremony of Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself at central Syntagma square last Wednesday, in Athens April 7, 2012. Photo: Reuters/John Kolesidis jQuery(function() { jQuery('#teaser_image a.teaserItem').lightBox({ imageLoading: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-ico-loading.gif', imageBtnClose: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-close.gif', imageBtnPrev: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-prev.gif', imageBtnNext: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-next.gif', imageBlank: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-blank.gif' }); jQuery('#teaser_image a.contentlink').click(function(event) { event.preventDefault(); jQuery('#teaser_image a.teaserItem:first').click(); }); }); In a country that has had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, a surge in the number of suicides in the wake of an economic crisis has shocked and gripped the Mediterranean nation - and its media - before a May 6 election. The especially grisly death of pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself in the head on a central Athens square because of poverty brought on by the crisis that has put millions out of work, was by far the most dramatic. Before shooting himself during morning rush hour on April 4 on Syntagma Square across from the Greek parliament building, the 77-year-old pensioner took a moment to jot down a note. "I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life so I don't find myself fishing through garbage cans for sustenance," wrote Christoulas, who has since become a national symbol of the austerity-induced pain that is squeezing millions. Greek…... [read more]

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