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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Greece Agrees to Sell Stake in State-Owned Betting Firm

In Greece’s first major privatization deal since the country’s debt crisis erupted three years ago, the government will sell a controlling stake in OPAP to Emma Delta.
    



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Ukip is dragging David Cameron to the right, says Nick Clegg

Lib Dem leader says anti-Europe party has pushed Tories right, making day-to-day progress in coalition more difficult

Nick Clegg has claimed that the struggle on the right of British politics caused by Ukip's surge was pulling David Cameron away from the centre ground and making day-to-day progress in the coalition government more difficult.

Interviewed on the eve of the local elections, and facing the prospect of coming fourth in terms of share of the vote behind Ukip, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister vowed to "dig in my heels and make sure the centre of gravity of the government as a whole does not get pulled rightwards due to the internal dynamics of the Conservative party".

Clegg cited Conservative policies on welfare, Europe and climate change as the three pre-eminent examples of Cameron being pulled right, and conceded that his coalition partner is no longer the same political animal as presented before the 2010 general election.

He admitted that Cameron's positioning "makes it more complex to make progress in areas where initially we thought it would easy to make progress", disclosing he has recently had to spend more time to secure agreements on the green agenda in government than on any other issue.

It is the first time that Clegg has acknowledged that the rightward shift of the Conservatives is making the functioning of government more difficult. But he also argued that there was a shift to the extremes of in British politics that was an inevitable consequence of the squeeze on living standards. "My job is to make sure that my party does not get pulled left or right as Cameron goes right and Miliband goes left," he added.

Clegg said that it was a rule in politics "as night follows day" that "when people are anxious and insecure about the future, and you have a prolonged periods of social anxiety, siren voices on left and right become very attractive. On the left it is attractive to say you don't need to make any difficult economic decisions. On the right it becomes tempting to blame it on everyone else – foreigners, immigrants, take your pick."

The polarisation of politics, Clegg added was "an observable trend every time any country in the developed world goes through difficult times," adding that he did not think it was necessary to "respond by chasing. Not only do I think the centre can hold, it must hold. I think that is one of the vocations of the Liberal Democrats."

Expressing some pretty strong personal disillusionment with the dynamics of Tory politics, the deputy prime minister argued that "the Conservative emphasis before 2010 was to be centrist, compassionate, green party, but it is returning to some pretty traditional Conservative signature tunes that I totally understand they think are necessary to strengthen Conservative defences against Ukip. There is a real struggle on the right of British politics."

In a fresh sign of the difficulties the rise of Ukip is having on the functioning of the coalition, Clegg's aides indicated they would reject any attempt by Cameron to introduce legislation in this parliament to hold a referendum on Europe in the next parliament. A Clegg aide said: "We already have legislation setting out the circumstances in which we would hold a referendum. The idea that we need a new law now to set out the terms of a referendum in four years time suggests someone's priorities have gone astray".

The Conservatives fear they are set to lose as many as 500 seats in the elections, higher than the estimate offered by independent observers. But the Ukip surge is a wild card that makes predictions perilous. In recent weeks, Downing Street has made a series of right wing announcements to stem the Ukip tide ranging from ending aid to South Africa, tightening jail conditions, cutting benefits for immigrants and threatening to leave the European Convention on Human Rights on a temporary basis.

The Lib Dems are hoping that the political turbulence will decline once the elections recede, but there is a private fear the Ukip surge will continue until the European elections next year at a minimum, so placing greater strains on the coalition.

Elsewhere in the interview Clegg also emphasised the extent to which he had pressed for a slowing in the pace of the government's deficit reduction strategy, pointing out cuts were now being implemented more slowly than many other economies. He said: "As a proportion of GDP, our fiscal contraction plans this year and next year are less than those of Barack Obama, Mariano Rajoy and Fran├žois Hollande."

He added: "I have personally never presented Plan A like a tablet of stone. It is a series of judgments that we have applied flexibly and pragmatically. In one sense, it is resolute and unflinching in terms of our destination, but in another sense it is very flexible about how long we get there. If it takes longer, it takes longer. The idea that there is a choice between a cruel and unbending Plan A and a cuddly and uncontroversial plan B is wholly false."

He also revealed there was some flexibility in the 2015-16 spending round on whether unprotected spending departments can offload some of their spending commitments on to protected departments. He said: "People in Whitehall, and those watching Whitehall are operating according to total arcane Whitehall departmental silos. The world is not segmented according to Whitehall segmented boundaries.

"What I care about is making sure the big judgements on protecting the budgets of health, overseas development and schools is retained, but how that falls across departmental boundaries is secondary."

But he added that there would be no attempt to redefine the aid budget in such a way to mask cuts: "I can rule out that we are going to reinvent the definition of overseas development in a way that breaches international definitions".

Clegg also vowed that Britain will not leave Afghanistan early despite the death of three British soldiers in Helmand province on Tuesday, saying "it is very important that just as we went in together so we should come out together".

The deputy prime minister promised to be guided by public health professionals on whether minimum alcohol pricing and plain packaged cigarettes be introduced, two public health issues that may feature in the Queens Speech later this month. He said no final decision had been made to reject minimum alcohol pricing: "If the evidence can show the public health benefits outweighs the doubts, then I would side with the public health arguments, but they have to be compelling arguments."

Clegg also urged Labour to rethink its economic approach after a rocky week that featured a poor performance by Ed Miliband in a Radio 4 interview. "Personally I think Labour is walking into a trap," Clegg said. "They are being so hyperbolic and breathless in their accusations against the coaliiton government that they are giving Labour supporters the impression that it will be terribly easy to do something different. At some point they are going to overcome their schoolboy posturing and say what they are going to do.

"When you have the second largest deficit after Greece and when you have slowed the deficit reduction timetable as we have, and when you have deficit reduction plans that are the same or less than some of your major European competitors, the idea that Labour seems to be peddling that there is an economically literate alternative available to us misses the point."


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Greece's Alpha Bank says succeeds in recapitalisation plan


Greece's Alpha Bank says succeeds in recapitalisation plan
Reuters
ATHENS May 1 (Reuters) - Greece's third-biggest lender, Alpha Bank, said on Wednesday it found enough investors to back its recapitalisation plan, thus avoiding falling under state control as part of the country's international bailout. Alpha's 457 ...

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Kristina Mikulova: Central Europe's Pivot to Germany: What Does the U.S. Stand to Gain?

Rather than evoking sinister historical parallels, they should draw more attention to round two of a broader strategic realignment that is underway inside the European Union, its implications for the transatlantic relationship and opportunities for U.S. foreign policy.

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Austerity measures in Greece undermining human rights, says UN independent ...


UN News Centre

Austerity measures in Greece undermining human rights, says UN independent ...
UN News Centre
1 May 2013 – Greece and its international bailout lenders must adopt a human rights-based approach to economic reform, a United Nations expert reiterated today, warning that some austerity measures are undermining people's access to jobs, health, water ...


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Greece wants to cut its public sector. This man wants to quit as a teacher. So why did it take two years?

The CoLab in Athens is a sign of the times. A shabby grey building a short walk from the city’s becalmed shopping district, it is home to a clutch of fledgeling tech start-ups. The bright young things in jeans and T-shirts are housed in the otherwise drab former offices of a branch of the state bureaucracy that fell victim to Greece’s spending cuts. Underneath it sits a discount supermarket, the front window of which is plastered in adverts for items at €1 or less.



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Golden Dawn food rally raises tensions in Athens

• Far right party to distribute treats to 'Greeks only'
• Officials fear damage to country's image abroad

The mayor's office in Athens is poised for a major stand-off over food handouts in Syntagma square on Thursday after the far-right Golden Dawn party vowed to press ahead with the distribution of Easter treats to "Greeks only" amid mounting European pressure for the group to be outlawed.

Pledging to defy a ban by the capital's mayor, the extremists said they would go ahead with the handout of traditional Orthodox Easter fare, including lamb and eggs, to Greeks afflicted by draconian austerity.

"It is food that is aimed for the thousands of Greek families blighted by the genocidal policies of the memorandum," said the party, referring to the loan agreement Athens has signed with international creditors to keep the debt-crippled country afloat.

The neo-fascist organisation said the event was aimed solely at those Greeks who could not afford to enjoy Easter because of budget cuts and record levels of unemployment.

"Priority will be given to families with three or more children," it said in a statement. "We remind the mayor that in Greece we sill have a democracy."

Catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last June, the ultra-nationalists have seen their support surge by deftly playing on popular dissatisfaction over policies blamed for poverty.

A Hamas-style distribution campaign of food and clothes for the needy has topped the party's outreach programme – and increasingly added to its appeal. Polls show the group now firmly entrenched as Greece's third biggest political force.

The ascent of the far right has embarrassed Greek officials, with the coalition government accused of not doing enough to stem a rise in racially motivated attacks in recent months. Athens' left-leaning mayor Giorgos Kaminis, a progressive on immigration issues, has led the drive to deflect the criticism.

In a statement he said. "We are making it absolutely clear that the city of Athens views the planned gathering tomorrow as illegal and it will do whatever is required for it not to take place."

A similar, Greek-only food drive last year was met with applause and widespread attendance.

Emboldened by their growing popularity, the far-rightists have also conducted "Greek only" blood drives around the country and taken, increasingly, to storming state-run hospitals to root out foreign staff.

Last week, protesters who gathered outside a hospital in Tripoli, in the southern Peloponnese, were attacked when they attempted to demonstrate against Golden Dawn members collecting blood. A journalist recording the event was brutally beaten, according to witnesses.

With Greece beginning to convey a semblance of stability after three years at the epicentre of Europe's great economic crisis – and the country preparing for a bumper tourist season – prime minister Antonis Samaras' coalition is keen that Athens' image abroad is not further sullied by supporters of a party whose leadership denies the Holocaust and whose symbol resembles the Swastika.

The determination of authorities to stop Thursday's food drive comes on the back of a withering report by the EU's human rights commissioner, which for the first time raises the prospect of the extremist group being banned.

Using language rarely deployed by an EU official, the commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, described Golden Dawn as a "neo-Nazi and violent political party". His 32-page report, compiled after a visit to Greece earlier this year, called for the party to be prohibited under legally binding international human rights conventions signed by the country.

The commissioner said local authorities had the right to curb or sanction individuals who actively support or engage in hate crimes under treaties including the European convention on human rights.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch warned that xenophobic violence had reached "alarming proportions" in parts of Greece and accused authorities of failing to do enough to stop the attacks.

Thousands of anti-austerity protesters marked May Day, gathering in front of the sandstone building that houses the Greek parliament in Syntagma square.

In contrast to other demonstrations, the protests were peaceful. But the patience of austerity-weary Greeks is wearing thin.

Analysts speak of the risk of unpredictable events shattering the fragile calm. With both Golden Dawn and municipal authorities digging in their heels, officials were tonight praying that Thursday's food drive would not be the trigger.


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Top Greek banks set for private capital push


ValueWalk

Top Greek banks set for private capital push
Financial Times
Next month's capital raising, if successful, would enable National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank to complete mergers agreed with smaller Athens-based lenders, regain access to interbank markets and increase lending to cash-strapped Greek ...
Eurobank first Greek lender to be nationalized, as bank recapitalization ...Xinhua
Greek market ends downCapital.gr (press release)
EUROBANK ERGASIAS SA : Extraordinary General Meeting4-traders (press release)

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Thousands protest against Greek government's austerity measures


Thousands have descended on Athens as Greece went on general strike in protest at the government's austerity policies. Ferries were confined to port, trains were halted and public transport in various cities was disrupted. Hospitals were running on skeleton staff while archaeological sites and museums remained shut.



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Khloe Kardashian's Glam Beauty Day -- Hair, Makeup & Nails At Once


Khloe Kardashian's Glam Beauty Day -- Hair, Makeup & Nails At Once
Hollywood Life
Glam squad to the rescue! Khloe Kardashian called in her fabulous stylists to paint her face, buff up her nails, and style her hair all at the same time while vacationing in Greece in late April. Do you think this glamour queen is multi-tasking or ...


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May Day protests draw thousands of workers across Europe and Asia

Bangladeshi workers demand safer conditions after building collapse, while thousands call for end to austerity in Europe

Thousands of workers marched on May Day in central Dhaka to demand safer working conditions and the death penalty for the owner of a building housing garment factories that collapsed last week in the country's worst industrial disaster, killing at least 402 people and injuring some 2,500.

As authorities buried 18 unidentified workers killed in the collapse, Pope Francis criticised working conditions in Bangladesh's $20bn-a-year (£13bn) garment industry, which supplies many European and American retailers.

Francis said he was shocked that some of the workers in collapsed building were paid €38 (£32) a month.

"This was the payment of these people who have died ... this is called 'slave labour'," he said. Vatican Radio said the pope made the remarks during a private mass on Wednesday at the Vatican.

Elsewhere in Asia, tens of thousands of low-paid workers took to the streets on International Workers' Day calling for better wages and benefits and improved working conditions, while in Europe workers protested against low living standards and record levels of unemployment, hoping to persuade eurozone governments to ease austerity measures and boost growth:

• Thousands of protesters marched in Madrid, snaking up the Gran Via central shopping street, waving flags and carrying placards reading "austerity ruins and kills" and "reforms are robbery". The Spanish economy has shrunk for seven consecutive quarters, and unemployment is at a record 27%.

"The future of Spain looks terrible; we're going backwards with this government," said Alicia Candelas, 54, a former civil servant who has been out of work for two years.

• Trains and ferries were cancelled in Greece, and bank and hospital staff walked out after the main public and private-sector unions there called a 24-hour strike, the latest in a string of protests in a country in its sixth year of recession.

About 1,000 police officers were deployed in Athens but the protest passed off peacefully, with about 5,000 striking workers, pensioners and students marching to parliament with banners reading: "We won't become slaves – take to the streets!"

• Tens of thousands marched in Italian cities demanding government action to tackle unemployment – at 11.5% overall and 40% among the young – and an end to austerity and tax evasion. Most marches were peaceful but demonstrators in Turin threw hollowed eggs filled with black paint at police.

• Turkish riot police in Istanbul fired water cannons and teargas to disperse tens of thousands of union May Day protesters, some of whom threw stones at security forces as they tried to breach barricades to reach the city's main square. The city's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, said 22 police officers and three civilians were wounded in the clashes.

Roughly half of Istanbul's 40,000-strong police force was drafted in to the city centre to block access to Taksim Square, which was barred to the trade union march by authorities.

Avni said the clashes had been instigated by "radical" groups numbering a total of 3,500 people who threw stones, metal objects and Molotov cocktails at police lines. A total of 72 arrests were made during the day, he added.


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Demonstrations Mark May Day

Protesters took to the streets in Turkey and Greece to mark the traditional labor day.

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Greece Begins Privatizations

Greece's government accepted a bid for state gambling company OPAP, marking the first significant asset sale in the country's long-delayed privatization program.

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Greek prime minister's mother sues over claims son held millions in off-shore ...


Raw Story

Greek prime minister's mother sues over claims son held millions in off-shore ...
Raw Story
The mother of former Greek prime minister George Papandreou has sued financial investigators and three newspapers over claims she held a 550-million-dollar Swiss bank account, a judicial source said Wednesday. Margaret Chadd, 90, accuses the weekly ...
Former Greek PM's mother fights Swiss account claimFRANCE 24
Margarita Papandreou sues over Lagarde list linkEnetEnglish

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Turkish Clashes, Greek Protests Mark May Day


Wall Street Journal- India

Turkish Clashes, Greek Protests Mark May Day
Wall Street Journal- India
In Athens, Greek unionists, retirees and leftists staged low-key rallies in the city center to commemorate May Day and protest the government's continuing austerity program, which has pushed the Greek economy deep into recession and unemployment to ...

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Thousands rally against EU austerity

Trains and ferries were cancelled and hospital staff walked off the job in Greece on Wednesday and thousands marched in Madrid as May Day triggered protests against harsh government spending cuts.

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Greece's Eurobank to buy back hybrid bonds to boost capital


ValueWalk

Greece's Eurobank to buy back hybrid bonds to boost capital
The West Australian
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's fourth-largest lender Eurobank said on Wednesday it plans to buy back up to 580 million euros of notes it had issued in exchange for new common shares as part of moves to boost its capital base. Greece's four big banks ...
NBG OK's Bank Recapitalization PlanGreek Reporter
Greece's Eurobank to be nationalizedChinadaily USA
Shareholders of Greece's National Bank approve recap planReuters
ValueWalk
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Greece Gets Privatizations Under Way

The privatization of state-controlled betting monopoly OPAP was concluded as Czech-led consortium Emma Delta raised its offer to meet Greece's demand, marking the kick-start of Greece's delayed privatization program.

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Former Greek PM's mother fights Swiss account claim


FRANCE 24

Former Greek PM's mother fights Swiss account claim
FRANCE 24
Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou speaks during the Council of the Socialist International in Cascais on February 4, 2013. Papandreou's mother has sued financial investigators and three newspapers over claims she held a 550-million-dollar ...
Margarita Papandreou sues over Lagarde list linkEnetEnglish

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