Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Greek Returns Registration Plates on Horseback

Greek ReporterGreek Returns Registration Plates on HorsebackGreek ReporterA Greek man from Amaliada, western Greece chose a rather original and impressive way to give back his plates. He arrived at his local tax office on horseback. He stated that he can no longer afford to run a car and that he prefers to use his horse ...Greek ex-minister gets suspended jail termNews & Observerall 46 news articles »


Greece to exit bailout scheme this year: PM

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Latvia joins eurozone at midnight despite little public enthusiasm

Single currency union marks 15th anniversary by expanding – 18 months after crisis in Greece threatened breakup

The eurozone will gain an extra member at midnight on Tuesday as Latvia becomes the 18th country to join the single currency union, despite little obvious public enthusiasm for the move.

Latvia's arrival gives eurocrats in Brussels an extra reason to toast in the new year. Eighteen months after the threat of Greece quitting the euro gripped financial markets, the eurozone is marking its 15th anniversary by expanding, not fracturing.

With final preparations completed, outgoing prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis will ceremonially withdraw the first euro note from an ATM shortly after midnight.

European commission president José Manuel Barroso offered his congratulations to Latvia on Tuesday as households and businesses prepared to wave goodbye to their currency, the lats.

"This is a major event, not only for Latvia, but for the euro area itself, which remains stable, attractive and open to new members," Barroso said. "For Latvia, it is the result of impressive efforts and the unwavering determination of the authorities and the Latvian people. Thanks to these efforts, undertaken in the aftermath of a deep economic crisis, Latvia will enter the euro area stronger than ever, sending an encouraging message to other countries undergoing a difficult economic adjustment."

City analysts were less effusive. ING pointed out that the eurozone was still trying hard to repair the constructional mistakes of the past, and that the former Soviet state could bring its own problems. "While some look forward to welcome another stability-oriented government, others fear that Latvia could become the next Cyprus," ING said.

Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, has also predicted that suspect funds could flow westward into Latvian banks. "Immediately after Latvia joins the eurozone I imagine we're going to see an actual spike in dubious money flowing in," Galeotti, who researches organised crime in the former Soviet Union, told AP.

Within Latvia the eurozone crisis has left some people edgy about the move. Recent opinion polls have shown that a majority of Latvians oppose the move, with just a fifth strongly in favour.

Andris Liepins, 51, a shop owner in the capital Riga, told Bloomberg he was "convinced" prices will rise under the new currency, and also fears paying for future eurozone bailouts.

"Why does a country have to pay other countries' debts?" Liepins added.

And in a village north-east of Riga, Leonara Timofejeva, who tends graves to earn the minimum wage of 200 lats (€284) per month, also predicts inflation. "Everyone expects prices will go up in January," she told AFP.

Raoul Ruparel, head of economic research at Open Europe, said Latvia would be an "interesting test case" as to whether a small country could join the euro region and thrive. He said Brussels would be monitoring the country closely for signs of instability, as "they don't want a repeat of what happened before".

Latvia has already had a taste of eurozone-style austerity. Wages were slashed and unemployment soared after the 2008 financial crisis struck. After a long credit-fuelled boom, Latvia slumped into a deep recession.

The economy is now growing again – more rapidly than any fellow EU state.

"While Latvia's switch to the euro comes just five years after an international rescue package, which saw its economy shrink by more than a fifth in 2008-2009, it appears to be on the fast track to recovery as their economy is growing at the fastest pace in the European Union this year," said analysts at City firm Clear Currency.

The Latvian finance minister, Andris Vilks, has argued that Ukraine's recent tug-of-war between the EU and Russia shows the wisdom of making closer ties with Europe.

Vilks said: "Russia isn't going to change. We know our neighbour. There were before, and there will be, a lot of unpredictable conditions. It is very important for the countries to stick together, and with the EU."

Latvia's own political future is unclear at present. Valdis Dombrovskis resigned as prime minister after 54 people were killed in a supermarket collapse in Riga last month, the country's worst disaster since winning independence in 1991. A new prime minister has not yet been appointed.

Eurozone faces more challenges in 2014

Although the threat of eurozone breakup has receded, many experts warn that next year will be challenging. Open Europe's Ruparel says the European Central Bank's asset quality review – stress-testing the region's banks – will dominate 2014. It will put the spotlight on banks in France and Italy in particular, he predicts.

Europe's economy remains weak, having struggled out of recession this summer, and the jobless rates are at record levels.

Kit Juckes of Société Générale said: "The nagging, never-ending fear is that policymakers like to tell us the crisis is over, but we still have falling bank lending, and we still have levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, that would in most countries and at most points in history, have caused a massive political backlash."

In Latvia, the youth unemployment rate is almost 25%, slightly higher than the eurozone average. In Spain and Greece, the figure is over 50%.

Latvia for beginners

Here are a few key numbers and facts about Latvia and its adoption of the euro.

Latvia has a coastline along the Baltic Sea and borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. The capital is Riga, where more than a third of the population lives. Some 44% of the country is forest.

Latvia has a population of 2,041,763 and after it joins the eurozone 333 million Europeans will share the same currency

Latvia's old currency, the lats (LVL), can be exchanged as of 1 January at an official conversion rate of 1 euro = 0.702804 LVL. Prices must be displayed both in lats and euros until 30 June 2014.

GDP growth in third quarter: 1.2% on the quarter (eurozone: 0.1%, EU: 0.2%, UK:0.8%)

GDP per capita, expressed in purchasing power standards is 36% below the EU average, putting Latvia ahead of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria but below the rest of the EU.

Unemployment rate: 11.9% in October (eurozone: 12.1%, EU: 10.9%, UK: 7.4%)

Annual consumer price inflation: -0.3% (eurozone: 0.9%)

Main exports: Wood and metal products, machinery, electrical equipment and mineral products

Latvia joined the European Union on 1 May 2004

Compiled by Katie Allen. Sources: European Commission, Bank of Latvia, The Latvian Institute

EuroLatviaEurozone crisisEuropean monetary unionEconomicsEuropeGraeme © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


New year, new laws: world will wake up to raft of changes in 2014

Countries around the world are ringing in the new year with a host of new regulations, appointments and legislation Here are some of the most important and most intriguing

If it feels like you're waking up to a slightly different world on Wednesday, then it's because you will be. 1 January is habitually a watershed for new rules, appointments and bylaws; 2014 is no exception.

So what is changing? Well, if you are driving in Oregon with children in your car, do not light up. It'll be illegal. And if you're driving in Switzerland, turn your headlights on. Even if it's the middle of the day.

While we're on the subject of lighting, if you live in Canada please remove those last incandescent lightbulbs – they won't be allowed any more.

Other things that are now to be banned: owning unregistered assault weapons in Connecticut; harassing celebrities and their children with long-lens cameras in California; hunting elephants in Botswana and injudicious calls to the London Fire Brigade (if you're a business you'll be fined for false alarms). Oh, and if you're an architect practising in Texas, you will have to get yourself fingerprinted. Don't ask why.

On the other hand, there are moments of great liberalisation to salute. Colorado on Wednesday will become the first state in the US to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Also in America, for the first time it will be OK to be a gay Boy Scout, while for their British counterparts, it's OK to be an atheist. For Germans, liberalisation comes in more subtle ways, such as the new dispensation for universities and libraries, which will henceforth be allowed to upload "orphaned" works of art on to the internet without permission.

If you're Bulgarian or Romanian, welcome. Work restrictions across the EU for citizens of two of the poorest EU countries are lifted. But despite the dire warnings from the right (er, people who are supposed to believe in free markets no less) the indications are that there will be no sudden influx of Balkan builders.

In a less-observed border relaxation, it will become much easier for Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan as the Chinese authorities make a concerted effort to improve cross-strait ties.

And in the unlikely event that you are off to do some shopping in Latvia, leave your lats at home and take euros instead: the Baltic republic becomes the 18th country to join the single currency zone.

Indeed, institutional changes are a 1 January perennial. Russia takes over running the G8 for a year while Greece gets its turn to lead the EU. Democrat Bill de Blasio takes over as mayor of New York. And Barack Obama's new system of healthcare coverage, known as Obamacare, is formally launched with hundreds of thousands of newly insured Americans presenting a formidable test to a system that has endured a difficult birth.

Then there are more obscure new laws that frankly take some explaining. If you live in France, you can demand that your home be checked for electromagnetic waves. And if you are arrested, make sure the police address you as "vous" and not "tu", as they are required to do from 1 January.

If you die in Hungary, fear not: From Wednesday the state will reportedly provide a free grave, coffin or urn – and even a free shovel for gravedigging – to poorer sections of society.

The other thing that 1 January signifies is the start of a year dedicated to a certain issue or theme. So prepare yourself, and make any necessary adjustments to your schedule, to accommodate the International Year of Family Farming, the International Year of Crystallography and the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

Happy new year.

Those changes in full:


• Work restrictions across the EU are lifted for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.

• Greece takes over EU presidency.

• Latvia joins the eurozone.

• The European fiscal compact, which forces countries across the eurozone to deliver a balanced budget, becomes operational.


• New rules lengthen to three months the amount of time that migrants will have to wait before claiming benefits.

• London Fire Brigade becomes the first service in the country to introduce a charging scheme for callouts to false alarms at buildings such as hospitals, airports and student accommodation.

• Regulation of undercover police – new rules come into force requiring higher level of authorisation

• Average season ticket prices are due to rise by 4.1%

• Scout Association introduces pledge that removes the promise by Scouts to do their duty to God.

• The Defamation Act 2013 is set to change libel laws. Claimants will need to show they have suffered "serious harm" before suing.


• Individuals are allowed to import 10 (200 cigarette) boxes of cigarettes.

• Minimum hourly wage rises by 10 cents an hour to €9.53 (£8).

• "Red Bull" tax comes into effect on energy drinks – €1 a litre.

• Minimum hours to be considered "part-time" worker – 24 hours a week• Anyone can demand their home be checked for electromagnetic waves. Same applies to public spaces.

• New code of conduct for police insisting they use the more respectful and formal "vous" when addressing the public and suspects and have a number on their uniform so they can be identified.

• The validity period for a French identity card rises from 10 to 15 years


• The points system for driving licences will be simplified. Minor offences are punished with fewer points, but Germans will only need eight instead of 18 points to lose their driving licence.

• The tax for bars of silver will jump from roughly €1 to €2 an ounce.

• From 1 January Germans will make less money from subletting their flats. Previously, citizens were able to offset the average local rent for a 60 sq metre flat against tax, in the future they will be able to claim back no more than €1,000 a month.

• Universities and libraries will be allowed to upload "orphaned" works of art – artworks, photographs or books whose creator can no longer be identified – on to the internet without getting permission.Previously, they were only able to do so with the explicit permission of a copyright holder.


• Competition for new national anthem starts.

• Using car headlights in daylight hours becomes mandatory.


• Takes helm of the G8.

United States

• Minimum wage rises in 14 states.

• Oregon: no smoking in a car with children.

• Colorado becomes the first state in the US to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes.

• Affordable Care Act – individual mandate takes effect, requiring most Americans to buy health insurance.

• Guns that are considered assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines that have not been registered with Connecticut authorities will be considered illegal contraband.

• Photographers who harass celebrities and their children face tougher penalties under a Californian law backed by actors Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner.

• Bill de Blasio takes over as mayor of New York.

• Texas requires all architects to be fingerprinted.

• The Boy Scouts of America lifts a ban on openly gay members after the organisation's national council voted against the rule in late May.


• The visa process for mainland Chinese visitors to Taiwan will be streamlined in an effort to bolster cross-strait ties


• Botswana, home to a third of the global elephant population, bans commercial hunting amid growing concerns about the decline in wildlife species.

• Deadline for the controversial "indigenisation" of businesses in Zimbabwe. The Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act obliges foreign-owned companies operating in the country to cede at least a 51% controlling stake to black Zimbabweans. Those who refuse face possible arrest.

• Travel for Kenyans, Rwandans and Ugandans to each other's countries will become much easier with the use of national identity cards as travel documents and the issuance of a single east African tourist visa

Reporting team: Dan Roberts in Washington, Kim Willsher in Paris, Alex Hern, Dan Milmo, Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, and Dan Nolan in Budapest

EuropeFranceRussiaGermanySwitzerlandUnited StatesChinaAsia PacificNew YearMark © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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Chinese local authorities owe almost £1.8tn – report

National audit office figures reveal alarming levels of debt accrued by state governments and businesses

Fears about China's rising debts have intensified after a long-awaited report showed local governments owe almost $3tn (£1.8tn). Authorities' debts are up almost 70% since the end of 2010, according to wide-ranging research from the country's national audit office.

The report was ordered in July amid concern that the available figures failed to show how far thousands of local councils and state-owned businesses in the world's second biggest economy had overstretched themselves.

Audit office agents were sent across China to report on the finances of 36,000 local governments. They put the total outstanding debt at 18tn yuan (£1.8tn) as of the end of June. That marked a rise of 67% on the total arrived at after a less comprehensive audit in 2011.

The debt mountain was near the mid-point of market forecasts and so below the most pessimistic predictions for debt of £2.4tn. But the finding will do little to calm those investors and analysts who fear China's myriad local and state enterprises have been racking up debts to accelerate production rather than growing sustainably. Economists said the new Communist party leadership now faced a balancing act of trying to temper local government borrowing without denting an already cooling economy.

The local government tally takes China's total government debt to around 58% of GDP, higher than previously thought by many economists. Credit rating agency Fitch, which cut China's long-term local currency rating to A-plus from AA-minus in April, estimated then that government debt was 49% of GDP.

But at 58% the debt burden is still less than half that in crisis-stricken Greece and well below the UK, whose gross government debt is estimated at 92% for 2013 by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF's estimate for China is 23%.

Still, with debt rising and local government borrowing in particular seen as one of the biggest threats to the economy, analysts warned the new government that took over in 2012 needed to accelerate its reform programme.

"While China's total government debt remains low by the OECD standards, the pace of the rise is still alarming," ANZ economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao said in a research note, referring to the OECD group of countries where average government debt is estimated at 110%.

"This national debt audit result could indicate that China's local government debt almost doubled in about 2-1/2 years."

The NAO's finding that debts were much higher than in 2010 defied assurances from Beijing that local government debt levels had stabilised in recent years.

The state auditor highlighted risks such as heavy debt burdens in some unnamed regions and sectors as well and government dependence on land sales to repay loans.

"China's government debt risks are in general under control, but some areas have certain dangers," the report said.

Pan Xiangdong, chief economist at Galaxy Securities in Beijing predicted the central government would now restrict the borrowing behaviours of local governments.

"Although current overall risks of local government debt are under control, risks would definitely increase sharply if the debt continues to rise so quickly," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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The post Car Dealer, Music Conductor Kill Selves appeared first on The National Herald.