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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Greeks Quit Eating Out

According to a survey entitled, “Nutrition and Economic Recession,” 93 percent of those polled claimed to have reduced the amount of times they eat out in restaurants and taverns. The poll was carried out by  EKPIZO in collaboration with the Department of Home Economics and Ecology, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece and the results published on […]


Cyber Sex Thrives In Greece

  The number of people seeking “love” through the internet is increasing. The old traditional flirt has been replaced by chat rooms and social media, with the exchange of messages and photographs. This new trend has been dubbed “cyber sex.” Recent results of a survey carried out by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human […]


Greek Traders “Unemployment in Greece is Sky High”

According to the annual survey of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (NCHC), Greek unemployment is one of the most pressing issues that the coalition government must deal with. Young people between the ages of 15-24 are most at risk of finding themselves out of work. According to the Hellenic Statistic Authority (EL.STAT), 57.2 percent […]


Kids Hospital Chief Demanded Pay-Off

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Many Greek Resorts Empty for New Year's

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Greek prison system collapsing

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Bundesbank chief says no to Greek haircut, yes to reforms

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Turkey boosts demand for cotton from US, Greece

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Caurie Putnam: Wildlife photography is Greece woman's passion

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German Firms Paid Greek Defense Bribes

ATHENS – The scandal involving payoffs for Greek defense contracts has widened after a former procurement officer testified that German companies paid bribes and an official from one of them reportedly admitted it – before closing his Athens office and fleeing to Germany. The official, who was not named, allegedly dismissed the significance of paying […]

The post German Firms Paid Greek Defense Bribes appeared first on The National Herald.


police confirm ID of man found dead on porch

police confirm ID of man found dead on porchRochester Democrat and ChronicleGreece police have confirmed the identify of an elderly man whose body was found Christmas Day in an enclosed porch of a house in Greece as William Brodner, who had been reported missing on Christmas Eve. Police Capt. Patrick Phelan said the ...


Private Sector Greek Employees Say No to Work Hour Extensions

  Employ unions of the private sector have reacted after a recent decision was made by the Regional Council of Attica. In particular, the Regional council has decided to organize a series of festive celebrations on Saturday the 28th of December in Athens. In order for these celebrations to be carried out successfully, the council […]


Mounds of filth on an island paradise

Greece's mushrooming waste disposal crisis


Growing exodus of A&E doctors to Australia adds to strain on NHS

College of Emergency Medicine says NHS cannot afford to lose so much talent at a time of understaffing in A&E units

The pressures of working in overcrowded A&E units have led hundreds of doctors to quit the NHS for Australia, according to research that underlines how a medical brain-drain is exacerbating the struggle to retain emergency department staff.

The number of young doctors trained in the UK or Ireland but now working in Australian A&E departments has soared by 69% from 285 in 2008 to 481 last year, the study shows.

Dr Cliff Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said the growing exodus of registrars represented "a colossal loss of talent by A&E units which cannot afford to lose them" at a time when demand from patients has reached unprecedented levels.

He said the trend was "an unacceptable waste of taxpayers' money, because each of these UK-trained registrars has cost about £610,000 over the five years of their medical degree and subsequent five years as a junior NHS doctor".

There are now so many registrars from the UK and Ireland in Australian emergency departments that they comprise almost one in four (23.1%) of the workforce there, according to the Australian College of Emergency Medicine.

Traditionally many young British doctors have spent a year or two down under, before returning to work in the NHS. But a second, separate study of all 364 A&E registrars in the state of Victoria has found that 68% of them are from outside Australia, and 72% of those intend to stay there permanently.

If that figure is borne out, that would represent a potential permanent loss to the UK and Ireland of 350 A&E doctors.

Dr Michael Sheridan, the lead author of the Victoria study, who is himself a Glasgow-born A&E consultant now working at a hospital near Melbourne, said the dramatic shift posed problems for the NHS.

Australia's high levels of A&E staffing make it a magnet for young doctors who want a less stressful working life than in UK hospitals, where gaps in the rota are a widespread problem, he said.

The NHS is hugely reliant on staff from outside the UK. Some 94,833 of the 259,719 doctors of all specialisms registered with the General Medical Council to practise here, 36.5% of the total, are from overseas, including 1,969 from Australia.

But, Mann argued, chronic understaffing in A&E units across the UK meant the NHS could not afford to keep seeing registrars heading to Australia.

"These figures tell us that it's not the medical speciality of emergency medicine that's the problem; it's the working environment in it in the UK that is. The working environment in A&Es is intense, unremitting and increasingly unrewarding, and unsustainable for the doctors who staff it," he said.

"A&E registrars are voting with their passports and being welcomed with open arms in Australia. I'm not surprised more and more doctors are going abroad. And the more who do it, the more normal it becomes, so the more likely it is that more people will follow."

The 481 who have left are equivalent to almost two years' intake of A&E registrars by the NHS, Mann said.

There should be 260 new registrars each year. However, only half that number have been recruited in each of the past three years, as emergency medicine has become less and less attractive to young doctors, who are put off by the relentless number of patients and regular overnight and weekend shifts.

"NHS A&Es cannot afford to lose these hundreds of very capable doctors, especially as they are already spending about £100m a year on locum doctors, so we are paying twice and getting a worse service, as relying on locums means the quality of the system isn't as good as if you have a permanent workforce," said Mann.

He suggested that the NHS should consider offering A&E doctors incentives and rewards to recognise the particular strains of their work and make the specialism more appealing, such as long-service leave, sabbaticals, extra annual holidays and an earlier retirement age.

Dr Keith McNeil, chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS foundation trust, urged ministers to relieve the pressure on A&E units by relaxing the requirement on the NHS to treat 95% of patients within four hours of their arrival.

While some doctors and nurses go travelling after completing their degree, that is "generally because of a lifestyle choice and not because of poor conditions within the NHS", McNeil stressed.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said the NHS's ability to plan to ensure it had enough of the right staff had been damaged by the coalition's controversial shakeup of the service.

"This was a monumental misjudgment," he said. "David Cameron dissolved organisations responsible for workforce planning and the result is an A&E recruitment crisis that has got worse and worse and worse on his watch."

Dr Dan Poulter, the health minister, who is also a hospital doctor, said both consultant and junior doctors' contracts were currently being revised "so that we better incentivise doctors to choose A&E as a career". He also cited Health Education England's recent decision to recruit 100 extra A&E doctors a year for three years, starting in 2014.

He said: "There are over 7,200 more doctors working in the NHS now than there were in 2010, including over 200 more consultants in A&E. Medicine has always been a mobile profession and some doctors will want to spend time travelling and gaining experience working overseas.

"So in context of more graduate doctors, there will be more who travel and work overseas for a period of time, but evidence to date suggests that the majority will return to work for our NHS, and bring back with them experience that will benefit British patients."

NHS by nationality

All UK doctors listed by where they obtained their Primary Medical Qualification, and percentage of total

UK 164,865 (63.5%)

India 25,135 (9.7%)

Pakistan 9,369 (3.6%)

South Africa 5,463 (2.1%)

Nigeria 4,063 (1.6%)

Ireland 4,030 (1.6%)

Germany 3,260 (1.3%)

Egypt 3,213 (1.2%)

Greece 3,069 (1.2%)

Italy 2,909 (1.1%)

Sri Lanka 2,382 (0.9%)

Iraq 2,321 (0.9%)

Romania 2,129 (0.8%)

Poland 1,997 (0.8%)

Australia 1,969 (0.8%)

Spain 1,598 (0.6%)

Sudan 1,530 (0.6%)

Other 20,204 (7.7%)Total 259,719 100%

NHSHospitalsDoctorsHealthHealth policyDenis © 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


Christmas Bonus for Greek Parties

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My Big Fat Greek Restaurant

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Traditional Christmas Holidays for Canada's Greek Diaspora

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Well-Known Greek Businessman Passes Away

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"Give Back, Take Back" Blood Drive at Greece Ridge

WROC-TV"Give Back, Take Back" Blood Drive at Greece RidgeWROC-TVNews 8 is a proud sponsor of the "Give Back Take Back" blood drive happening at the Mall at Greece Ridge. News 8 is a proud sponsor of the "Give Back Take Back" blood drive happening at the Mall at Greece Ridge. You can donate blood Friday until 6 p.m. ...


The unsolved business mysteries of 2013

The year delivered a strong crop of financial thrills and spills – but also posed a number of as yet unanswered questions

How is Twitter worth $40bn?

The microblogging site floated in November at $26 (£16) a share, or $17bn. The price seemed silly for a company that has never made a profit and is on course for revenues of only $600m this year. Yet the share price is now close to $70. Twitter is plainly a social phenomenon but has yet to show it can take a meaningful chunk of online advertising without infuriating users. The valuation of 60-times revenues is otherworldly; it may also be evidence that heavy doses of quantitative easing have messed up traditional investment radars.

Why was the Co-op Bank farce allowed to run for so long?

The Rev Paul Flowers, dubbed the "Crystal Methodist" after allegations of drug use, generated the bulk of the headlines. The mystery, however, is why regulators allowed a severely under-capitalised and under-managed Co-op Bank to try to buy 630 branches from Lloyds. The expedition was finally abandoned in April and a £1.5bn capital hole revealed soon afterwards. We are still awaiting a full explanation of why regulators didn't intervene earlier.

How did Help to Buy, mark two, ever get off the ground?

Arguably, the first version of the chancellor's housing scheme, confined to creditworthy first-time buyers, was semi-respectable. The second version, however, involves the state writing first-loss insurance on house purchases worth up to £600,000. Why? House prices are rising again – at an annual rate of 10% in London – and affordability is already stretched if historical price-to-earnings ratios are a guide. Meanwhile, the emergency Funding for Lending scheme for banks is being axed for mortgages. George Osborne is making it harder for the Bank of England to prevent a housing bubble.

Why isn't the growth of zero-hours contracts an electric issue?

Flexibility in the labour force is an asset and some workers are clearly content with contracts that offer no guarantee of regular work. But, when 1 million people may be employed this way, a large swath of the UK workforce has been quietly casualised. In some cases, workers may be exploited by being denied holiday and sickness pay. The effect on productivity could be long-lasting. The lack of intensity in the political debate is mystifying.

How do investment banks continue to charge so much?

The question could be asked most years, but 2013 brought two startling examples. Barclays shelled out a colossal £130m in fees to other banks who took little real risk in underwriting a deeply discounted £6bn rights issue. And Severn Trent managed to clock up £19m in "advisory, legal and other services" in a single month in resisting a takeover approach that never became a formal bid. For comparison, it cost £4.8m to run the water company's board, comprising five executives and six non-executive directors, for a full year.

Is the eurozone crisis really over?

The Cyprus banks crisis was handled crassly at the start of the year. Since then, the wider eurozone crisis has seemed becalmed, despite the continued economic funk in euroland. Greece is still the country to watch. Deflation could quickly undermine the ambition of reducing public debt (now 170% of GDP) if nominal GDP grows only slowly. In that case, a third bailout, and write-offs of loans, may be required. That messy debate could again be alive this time next year.

Does GlaxoSmithKline have a future in China?

Back in July, when allegations of bribery and corruption were made against GSK's Chinese unit, a fine and a rapid restructuring of working practices seemed a likely outcome. Five months on, investigations continue, dozens of local employees remain in detention and chief executive Sir Andrew Witty has not been able to draw a line. He says there is "no question" about GSK's commitment to China. But the question of how the commitment is meant to be achieved is unresolved.

Can Ed Miliband's proposed freeze on energy bills be made credible?

The idea to cap fuel bills for 20 months is popular; it even prompted the government to make a minor tweak of green levies. But does a price freeze, regardless of what happens to the wholesale price of energy, stand any chance of working in practice? How would Labour oblige energy firms to invest in new infrastructure? Would firms really be allowed to set their own tariffs in the 21st month? The answer is supposed to be "yes" because the energy market would have been "re-set" in a fair and transparent way. That is ambitious, to put it mildly. The plan needs much more detail.

Is it safe to taper?

This is the big one for global markets. The US Federal Reserve has started to ease back on quantitative easing, even if the change of gears is hardly crunching – there will be a $10bn monthly reduction to $75bn. But the expectation of a full and gradual wind-down of asset purchases has been created. If the US recovery proves too weak to allow a full taper, the Fed is in trouble.

How does Jamie Dimon survive at JP Morgan?

The US bank paid a record $13bn to settle with the US justice department for mis-selling mortgage securities. There were also fines of $920m relating to the "London Whale" incident, which Dimon initially dismissed as a "tempest in a teapot" but which led to a $6bn loss. he Financial Conduct Authority saying it was "deliberately misled" by London-based executives on one occasion. Dimon, though, remains as chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan. Shareholders and regulators, bizarrely, continue to approve the concentration of power.

Does Labour really believe in HS2?

The proposed high-speed rail line had a bad year. The cost is now put at £50bn shadow chancellor Ed Balls said there should be "no blank cheque." If that is the prelude to a Labour retreat, HS2 must be heading for the sidings.

How did Dame Clara Furse get on to the financial policy committee?

Furse had a long and honourable innings as chief executive of the London Stock Exchange but this appointment was extraordinary as she was also an established non-executive director of Fortis when that financial institution had to be rescued by the Belgian government in 2008.

Why is the government still in denial about Royal Mail?

A 60% stake was sold at 330p in October. Now shares in the postal service trade at 580p. Spare us pleas about "froth" in the after-market and the need to attract long-term investors. Royal Mail's potential as a big dividend-payer was undersold and the shares were underpriced.

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Happy new year

If 2013 goes down as a year of conflict and protest, then what lies in store in 2014? Give us your tips for what will make the news in the comment thread

Guardian correspondents report from their patches round the world on what will dominate the headlines in their part of the globe. Elections loom large – in rising economies, in the US with midterms, and also in Europe, with the parliamentary elections in May. Negotiations in the Middle East will prove critical, China will be deciding how to exert its power – and sport may transform the fortunes of Russia, Brazil and Yorkshire.

The US

For much of Washington, 2014 cannot come soon enough. November's mid-term elections represent Barack Obama's last hope of redrawing the US political map and moving on from a year marred by divided government and Congressional stalemate.

Whether Democrats succeed in their unlikely dream of seizing back control of the House of Representatives or Republicans instead continue to make inroads on their fragile lead in the Senate is another matter, and much depends on whether the White House can first restore public faith in its flagship healthcare reforms by the 31 March enrolment deadline.

Spring will also see Republican leaders under renewed pressure from their Tea Party wing, which is preparing primary challenges against moderates in the Senate that will further constrain any ability to cut deals with Democrats once election fever starts.

Several potential bright spots could lift everyone's spirits, however. A recovering economy may take pressure off America's anaemic job market and shocking social stagnation. US troops should return from Afghanistan – with or without a deal in Kabul to retain a security presence. And progress toward Iranian nuclear detente may give the White House cause to celebrate a rare foreign policy success, even if Congress will still need persuading.

Other challenges looming in 2014 have been postponed by the dysfunction and inertia of 2013. Barack Obama still needs to decide whether to authorise the Keystone energy pipeline, which pits environmentalists against North America's unconventional oil boom; expect tough new climate change controls for power companies instead if he does. And with all three branches of government now proposing reform of the NSA, Obama will finally have to decide before January's state of the union address what to do about America's surveillance state.

For much of 2014, the US Capitol dome will be shrouded in scaffolding for renovations – both real and metaphorical. What emerges next December will say much about the future of American democracy.

Dan Roberts in Washington


In the wake of years of crisis that have shaken Europe to the core and raised existential questions, 2014 will bring a major shake-up in the political forces ascendant across the EU, in the people running things, in how the EU's rival institutions cope with and against one another.

Elections for the European parliament in May promise to be the most momentous ever held for the Strasbourg chamber. The angst of the elites across the continent is that the chamber will be captured by a motley crew of Europhobes dedicated to the destruction or subversion of the institution they have conquered.

As a result of years of austerity, soaring unemployment and the "renationalisation" of European politics, anti-EU populists will do well in the elections, from Britain to Greece. France could be the big one, with Marine Le Pen's Front National tipped to win the election nationally.

The mavericks and populists will not win the election. But they could secure symbolic victories, take around 30% of seats, shape the agenda, cause the mainstream parties to trim their policies towards the far-right, and benefit from the perceived failings of lacklustre leadership among the mainstream in Europe.

The fallout from the elections will also affect the next bout of horse-trading. October will see the appointment of a new European Commission, a new president of the European Council chairing EU summits and mediating between national leaders, and a new foreign policy chief.

There will be a battle between the new parliament and national leaders over who should make these key appointments and there will be the usual multi-dimensional scrapping over the plum jobs.

While these games preoccupy Brussels, Europe's real world is one of deepening social and economic impact from years of austerity and euro crisis, of the political costs of minimal growth, effective deflation, mass unemployment.

The British question will move up the agenda. Will the UK be the first country, and a big one, to quit the EU? This will concentrate continental minds.

Angela Merkel in Berlin, in the first year of her third term as German chancellor, is Europe's undisputed leader. The year should show if she really has an idea of what she wants her European legacy to be and whether she can get there. France's President François Hollande cuts an increasingly sorry figure on the European stage – he needs a new deal with Germany but there is little sign of that happening. French weakness and Italian messiness will reinforce the prevalent sense of worry about European decline.

Ian Traynor in Brussels


Diplomats and politicians are fond of throwing around the word "decisive" but 2014 really will be a critical year for Afghanistan, one that is expected to determine whether it can avoid another bout of vicious civil war, and hold on to the clear, if limited, gains of the last decade.

A presidential election is set for April, which the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, is barred from contesting.

There are widespread fears about security and fraud, but if the vote is even a qualified success it will pave the way for the first peaceful democratic transfer of power the country has ever seen.

The eleven candidates fighting for a berth in the imposing Arg palace, all of them male, range from a relative of the ousted royal family and one of Karzai's brothers to the former ministers of defence and foreign affairs and a flamboyant ex-pilot.

Once the vote is over, Afghanistan will gear up for another huge change: after 13 years of fighting, the last western combat troops will leave the country.

Karzai is currently mulling whether or not to sign a long-term security pact with the US that would keep some foreign soldiers on as mentors to the Afghan army and police, and provide bases for special forces and drones to chase al-Qaida and linked groups along the Pakistani border.

Without the deal, not only will all foreign military support be taken away, but $8bn (£4.85bn) a year in promised funding for the military and development projects is also expected to evaporate. That would leave a weak central government facing the Taliban alone, and with almost no cash to pay its soldiers' salaries.

The Iraqi foreign minister, whose government turned down a similar deal with the US two years ago, visited Afghanistan in December and warned Afghans that despite its oil wealth his country still needs continued US support.

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul

South Asia

No one doubts that 2014 will be another year of dramatic change in south Asia. Economies in India and its neighbours are struggling to create growth and jobs to satisfy hundreds of millions of young people.

In Bangladesh, whatever the result of polls in January, the battle between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia will continue to paralyse politics – and could hinder efforts to better conditions for workers in the country's vast garment industry.

In India, a general election in May – the biggest democratic exercise in history – will pit an ailing Congress party (led by the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty) against the Hindu nationalist opposition, whose candidate is the controversial Narendra Modi. There have been upsets before but all the indications are that the Congress party is in trouble. There is a huge list of outstanding issues – from major structural economic weaknesses to violence against women – to be dealt with by whoever gains power in May.

That task may be complicated by the aftermath of the US and Nato pull-out from Afghanistan. All that country's neighbours have a stake in the aftemath and will do whatever they need to protect their interests. In disputed Kashmir, 2013 saw an increase in clashes along the de facto border splitting the former kingdom between India and Pakistan. Violence is likely to worsen this coming year.

There is likely to be trouble elsewhere in the mountains too, as Nepal tries yet again to find some kind of political stability.

Down in the Indian Ocean, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will seek to further bolster his hold on power and his popularity in Sri Lanka. Many in the Maldives will simply want calm. By the end of 2014, there will be plenty of others across this region who will share that wish.

Jason Burke in Delhi

Russia/former Soviet Union

The Sochi Olympics will open the year for Russia, with President Vladimir Putin's long-standing pet project finally coming to fruition. If Sochi can pull them off without a terrorist attack, infrastructure collapse, or the arrest of gay competitors, then they may just go down as a success, despite the colossal financial cost of hosting the games.

Politically, we will see whether opposition-minded Muscovites, who gave the firebrand opposition leader Alexei Navalny 27% of the vote in 2013 Moscow mayoral elections, can bloody Putin's nose at local parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn. One to watch is the recently freed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Will he stay abroad or return to Russia, and could he decide to enter politics, providing a new and possibly unifying face for the Russian opposition movement?

It will be a fascinating year for Ukraine, with half the country up in arms over the decision to turn away from the EU and towards Russia. How much the Kremlin's cash bolsters the country's faltering economy, the mood of the powerful oligarchs, and how shrewd a game the opposition politicians play will all be key in determining whether President Viktor Yanukovych can survive until the 2015 elections and even be re-elected.

Keep an eye on Uzbekistan, where an epic battle between clans and even within the ruling family is going on, as the 75-year-old dictator Islam Karimov appears to be in fading health. With elections due in 2015 and Karimov not getting any younger, the behind-the-scenes battle is likely to intensify, not least among his two squabbling daughters, both of whom have been tipped for power.

Shaun Walker in Moscow


The regional powerhouses Algeria, Egypt and South Africa will hold elections in a year when polls will also take place in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, the Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Malawi.

In South Africa, the ruling ANC may hope for a boost by reflected glory after the death of the anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in December, but the mourning period also brought into sharp focus the simmering discontent under the current president, Jacob Zuma – who was booed at Mandela's memorial service. A generation of "born frees" – those born after democracy in 1994 – will be voting for the first time.

In Malawi, President Joyce Banda's reforms will also be tested in May's general elections. Banda has won acclaim in the west for bolstering the economy of this aid-dependent, impoverished country. But she faces accusations of being an International Monetary Fund stooge back home, where moves such as an IMF-backed devaluation of the kwacha currency have stoked inflation and sent food prices soaring for the rural poor.

A showdown between Kenya and the international criminal court looms, as President Uhuru Kenyatta faces trial in November for allegedly orchestrating violence during the 2007 presidential election that killed more than 1,100 people. Kenyatta has accused the court of disproportionately targeting African leaders.

With crises deepening in Central African Republic and South Sudan, 2014 will provide a stern test for peacemakers, among them French government troops and UN blue helmets.

April sees the 20th anniversaries of both the Rwandan genocide and South Africa's first democratic election.

In at least one corner of Zimbabwe, there will be celebrations as Robert Mugabe turns 90 in February. The long-time ruler knows how to throw a party: last year, fans were invited to cut a 90kg four-tier cake, while 8,000 lobsters were dished up and gold coins were specially minted. The celebrations reportedly cost £400,000. Expect more of the same.

Monica Mark in Lagos

Middle East

If ever there were a year in the Middle East in which negotiations matter, 2014 will be it. In all corners of the region, hopes of negotiated solutions to grave and escalating crises are higher than ever. So too are the stakes if they fail. At centre stage will be Iran, which clearly feels legitimised by the recent deal that allows it to continue its nuclear programme, under close supervision, while crippling economic sanctions are progressively eased.

But the deal could easily unravel, either through the influence of deeply wary US legislators, downright hostile Saudi leaders, or belligerent Israeli decision-makers, none of whom are happy with sanctions relief while centrifuges continue to spin. Iran hopes to parlay the deal into a broader role in solving the region's myriad problems; first among them Syria, which is almost as important to its strategic interests as its nuclear reactors.

The civil uprising against Bashar al-Assad is now a convoluted mess of vested interests, from both near and far. Jihadist groups have arrived in the vacuum and are particularly strong in the north and east of the country where they, along with crumbling state control, pose a serious threat to the unitary borders of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. And, if the Kurds decide chaos creates for them a moment in history, Turkey faces a challenge to its defined borders too.

The chaos that is Syria has yielded a common foe: jihadists who have nothing to do with the original insurrection. Assad is pinning hopes on that being enough for the US and Europe to join with his forces and the remnants of the Free Syria Army to oust them instead of him. That would protect Iranian and Russian interests, but further upset Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab Gulf, which, along with Israel, fears the creep of Iranian influence perhaps more than anything else.

Meanwhile, spring 2014 is also the deadline for the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian talks to reach a deal to end their historic conflict. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, may present a framework agreement early in the new year in effort to break the impasse that has existed for many months. That will put both sides on the spot, forcing them to confront possible compromises – and it could cause a crisis for Israel's coalition government. But there's still no guarantee that it will produce a deal.

Without a breakthrough, Israel faces the possibility of accelerating moves by the international community, especially the European Union, against settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and increasing political isolation.

The Palestinians might resume efforts to join global bodies such as the international criminal court, at which they will pursue their quest for a state. Conditions in Gaza may worsen further for its 1.7 million inhabitants. Frustration and anger there and in the West Bank could erupt in a return to violence.

On all fronts, resolutions are urgently needed. A fraught year ahead.

Martin Chulov and Harriet Sherwood


As President Xi Jinping continues to pursue his much-vaunted "Chinese dream" of "national rejuvenation", China will continue to assert its territorial claims in disputed parts of the South and East China seas. Its strategy of slow, stepwise expansion has angered many of its neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, even Brunei. No one has shown any sign that they will back down. The chances of armed military conflict seem high.

Other buzzwords in China will be growth and reform. On 15 November, the country's top leaders – many of them only a year into their posts – announced a dramatic reform agenda, and over the coming year they'll prove whether they can deliver on their promises. They've pledged to relax the country's one-child policy, allowing couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child; they plan to boost the private sector's role in the state-controlled economy, hoping to improve conditions for a burgeoning middle class.

Beijing will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in 2014; the southern city Nanjing will host the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.

The Communist party will address many of its greatest issues, but only on its own terms. Xi will continue to crack down on corruption, modernize the People's Liberation Army, and keep the national GDP growing at a steady clip. He will tighten the reins on freedom of expression and dissent, as protests over land-grabs, inequality and environmental decay proliferate. Expect progressive legislation without implementation; do not expect leniency for dissidents or increased autonomy in Xinjiang and Tibet.

The great imponderable is North Korea, as critical to China as it is inscrutable. The recent execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle may prove a harbinger of greater instability, a headache that China could well do without.

Jon Kaiman in Beijing

South America

With a World Cup and a presidential election, Brazil looks set to dominate Latin American headlines in 2014. Currently the odds on Dilma Rousseff securing a second term in October look slightly better than the Seleçao winning a sixth trophy in July, but they are both firm favourites. Another round of mass protests or a stadium collapse, however, and all bets in the country could be off.

It will be a big year for elections elsewhere in the region with presidential polls in El Salvador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Colombia and Panama. But, as in Brazil, that probably won't mean much of a changing of the guard unless economies in the region slow down more than they did in 2013, which is a very real possibility.

At most risk in this regard is Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, who has a tough fight against inflation and recession on his hands. He will be glad not to face the electorate in 2014, but his rivals within the ruling camp remain a threat.

Arguably the most important of the polls is in Colombia, where the incumbent, Juan Manuel Santos, will be looking for a campaign boost from the peace talks his government is holding with Farc insurgents in Havana. Expect concrete progress before the first round of voting on 25 May or an election upset.

The saddest political departure will be that of José "Pepe" Mujica, who will be in his last year as Uruguayan president. With his austere lifestyle and solidly pragmatic leftwing leadership, he has given this small country a big global profile. Before he shuffles back to spend more time at his farm, the world will watching the results of his government's country's cannabis legalisation law, which comes into effect next year. If that works, it will not only add to Mujica's legacy, but could provide a new template for other Latin American nations, particularly Mexico, Colombia and Peru, that are suffering a heavy toll in the "war on drugs."

Counterintuitive prediction: a step forward in Cuban-US relations. Raúl Castro has made some small but significant openings in the past year. Obama has talked of the need for new thinking and a change is long overdue. The question is whether the vehemently anti-Castro Miami crowd can be bypassed, ignored or persuaded that a rapprochement is in everyone's interests .

Jon Watts in Rio


Expect to learn a great deal about the first world war, as the various anniversary points come and go: the Sarajevo assassination (June), the outbreak of hostilities (August), that Christmas football match. While we're on the subject of anniversaries, watch for recollections of 1964 (Beatlemania, Mary Poppins, intensification of the Vietnam war), 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution) as well as the centenary not just of the Panama Canal but of the birth of Dylan Thomas. Oh, and if that's not enough memory lane for you, then it's the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn too.

Newsmakers will include Janet Yellen, poised to become the first female chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Vladimir Putin, who takes over leadership of the G8, and the former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, whose trial will continue. More recreationally, aside from the Sochi Olympics in February and the World Cup in June, the Tour de France starts in Yorkshire and the Ryder Cup tees off at Gleneagles.

And it's not just 2014. Next year, the Islamic calendar ticks over to 1436. And in China, it's the year of the horse. Those born in horse years are said to be sociable and energetic but also impatient. Right, time to get on. Happy new year.

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by  Associated Press Greek prison system collapsing _ labeled 'inhuman' by ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press - 27 December 2013 11:59-05:00

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — More than 30 men were crammed into the cell, locked up night and day for weeks or months. Without enough bunks, many slept on the floor. The windows were painted over, blocking out the sun, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke and the reek of the one toilet everyone shared.

But what might come as the biggest surprise about this prison was its location: In Greece, squarely in Europe. That's where former prisoner Giorgos Aslanis spent about three months a roughly 40 sq. meter (400 square feet) police holding cell in the northern town of Serres. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in October that conditions in the cell broke European laws against inhuman or degrading punishment and awarded him 8,000 euros ($11,000) in damages.

Greece suffers the worst prison overcrowding in the European Union, according to figures in the Council of Europe's latest annual prison report, published in May. Inmate numbers reached a record high this year, and many prisons simply refuse to accept new arrivals. That leaves hundreds caged for months as they await trial in police holding cells designed for stints of hours or at most days. Suspects and convicts are often bundled together, in violation of Greek and European law.

The Associated Press pieced together this stark picture of Greece's prison crisis from about 20 interviews across the system; reports from Greece's parliament and European rights bodies; documents from within the prison system, an exclusive letter from the head of an appeals court and a confidential police report.

"It's a system," said Spyros Karakitsos, head of the Greek Federation of Prison Employees, "that is collapsing."

The crisis is playing out as Greece goes through a dramatic economic meltdown. As a result, prison populations are surging even as funds for guards and facilities are shrinking, a toxic mix that police and justice officials warn could explode in violence at any time.

The Greek government says it is trying to improve the situation. During a recent parliamentary debate, Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said the government is trying to build new prisons and reduce crowding. And earlier this year, Costas Karagounis, deputy justice minister at the time, acknowledged a problem and pointed to several initiatives to tackle it, such as opening new prison wings and introducing non-custodial sentences under electronic monitoring.

"There is indeed a big problem of overcrowding in Greek prisons, which has intensified," said Karagounis.

Since many prisons are at double or triple capacity, several hundred people are stuck in police holding cells with no access to the outdoors. Often they are in pre-trial detention, which has an 18-month limit under Greek law. About 34.1 percent of those held in Greek prisons were awaiting trial in 2012, according to the International Center for Prison Studies, as their cases wound through an overburdened justice system at a snail's pace.

The Council of Europe's latest annual penal statistics, published in May and covering 2011, show Greek prisons were at 151.7 percent capacity on September 1 that year. They showed 12,479 inmates were crammed into 8,224 available places.

And the number of inmates has increased steadily. In January 2010, Greek prisons held 11,364 inmates, according to the Justice Ministry's website. On Nov 1, they reached 13,147, according to Greek prison system figures obtained by the AP. That doesn't include those, like Aslanis, held in police stations.

Recent Greek prison system documents from late 2013 list a higher capacity number of 9,886 places across the country, but the number is deceptive as it includes at least five prison wings in two prisons that remain shut due to budget cuts.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a rare public statement in 2011 slamming Greece for "a steady deterioration in the living conditions and treatment of prisoners over the past decade." Before that, the committee had only singled out the prison systems of Turkey and Russia. The committee, a body of the Council of Europe, visited Greece again in April but has not yet released its report.

Aslanis, arrested in June 2009 for multiple thefts, was ordered jailed pending trial that December after failing to pay a 1,000 euro ($1,340) bail. The Greek debt crisis was just beginning. The local prison in northern Greece was full, and he ended up in the squalid police holding cell.

Aslanis said he had about 35 other cellmates. Beds went according to hierarchy: Whoever was there longest got the next free bunk, unless a new arrival was sick or elderly.

"It was very bad in there. I've been inside again for some other cases, but that place ... there's no ventilation, there's dirt ... there is no hygiene. What can I tell you .... If you don't live through it, you can't have an opinion," Aslanis told the AP. Aslanis was eventually tried and convicted, serving his time in two prisons until being released in January 2011.

His is one of the latest in a string of European Court of Human Rights rulings against Greece in which the state has been ordered to pay tens of thousands of euros to dozens of plaintiffs. On Dec. 12, the court awarded 8,500 euros in damages to Vassilis Kanakis, a 51-year-old serving a life sentence for drug trafficking, over conditions in Larissa prison in central Greece from July 2009 to March 2011.

Police holding cells also pose a security problem, because they lack the robust exterior walls of real prisons. A confidential police report obtained by the AP about a police holding facility in the country's second largest city of Thessaloniki warns of the "immediate danger of escape" due to a combination of overcrowding, stretched staffing and lower security. The eight-page October report by the head of the facility details squalid conditions in which 15-20 men are stacked into nine-bunk cells with small windows, where they remain around the clock for months.

"The security of detention is . put at risk by the potential for rebellion or uprising by the inmates with unpredictable consequences, because of their living conditions," the document said.

The head of the Thessaloniki appeals court wrote a strongly worded letter to the justice minister in early November, in which he complained that conditions in the center "do not ensure the minimum threshold of dignified living."

"I was ashamed, Mr. Minister, for the Greek state and for each one of us separately," Panagis Yiannakis wrote in the letter obtained by the AP. He noted that inmates were held "without any separation between juveniles and adults, suspects and convicts, drug addicts, perpetrators of financial offences and of particularly base crimes."

"What is inhumane and totally unacceptable," Yiannakis said, "is that these people ... do not go out into a yard for five or six months, which means that for the entire time, they never see the sun."

A court in the northwestern city of Igoumenitsa went even further, ruling last year that 15 migrants were justified in escaping from a police lockup because the conditions were "miserable and extremely dangerous for human beings." The men had spent between nine and 45 days in a 15 sq. meter (160 sq. foot) cell holding 30 detainees, sharing a single chemical toilet and sleeping in shifts. The cell was never cleaned, and the men had no water to wash with. Many suffered from "lice, fleas, psoriasis, typhus, skin disorders and other . communicable or non-communicable diseases," court documents show.

Greece's prisons have become hidden victims of the financial crisis, of little concern to the legions of struggling families outside. The price of billions of euros in emergency loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund has been a draconian austerity.

Greece's prison budget has been reduced from 136 million euros in 2009 to about 111 million euros this year, the Justice Ministry said. In comparison, the Netherlands, with a similar number of prisoners — 12,110 last year — had an annual prisons budget of about 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) for 2012, according to the Dutch government's Central Bureau of Statistics.

At the same time, about 300 prison guards who retired over the past two years were not replaced, a roughly 15 percent reduction, Karagounis said. That leaves about 1,500 internal guards for the country's 33 penitentiaries, according to the prison guards' union.

With staff numbers shrinking, inmates in Greece's largest prison, Korydallos, outnumber guards 250-1 on some shifts. On Dec. 13, the union said seven inmates attacked a guard attempting to shut the prison's exercise yard. Less than two months earlier, an inmate stabbed another guard three times with a makeshift knife and wounded him seriously. Another guard was stabbed in the back last year after trying to break up a fight between inmates.

The tottering system comes under added pressure from what lawyers and human rights groups say is the overuse of pre-trial detention, which they say has become the norm rather than the exception, and from the harshest sentencing by far across the European continent. While an average of 3 percent of Europe's inmates were serving sentences of 20 years or more in 2011, in Greece that figure was 37.7 percent, according to Council of Europe data.

Rights groups argue that more use should be made of agricultural prisons where low-risk inmates grow crops and prepare for life after release, the only prisons now far below capacity. However, the government decided in November to instead convert large sections of its agricultural prisons into normal penitentiaries to help relieve overcrowding elsewhere. The government also said it is addressing the issue through a law passed in October allowing some inmates to be released with electronic tagging, a first for a country where alternatives to custodial sentences are almost never used.

Recovering addict Giorgos Hatzinassios has served a total of six years in five prisons for a drug offense and drug-related theft. The worst, he said, was Korydallos, technically a remand jail for those awaiting trial. On Nov. 1, the men's section topped 265 percent capacity, with 2,127 inmates for an official capacity of 800, prison system statistics show.

"In the winter, when the windows are shut, you can't breathe," Hatzinassios said.

Another four former Koydallos inmates described squalid cells with barely enough space to stand.

"It's a rotten jail, a rotten building where nothing works anymore," said Marianthi Patseli, a 47-year-old with several drug convictions. "The plumbing doesn't work, the sewage doesn't work, the heating doesn't work, nothing works.

"We're talking about basic human conditions. These don't exist in Korydallos because there is no room."


Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed to this report.

News Topics: General news, Treatment of prisoners, Prisons, Prison breaks, Prison overcrowding, Drug-related crime, Crime, Government budgets, Financial crisis, Human rights and civil liberties, Government and politics, Rebellions and uprisings, Human welfare, Social issues, Social affairs, Correctional systems, Law and order, Government finance, Government business and finance, Business, Economy, Financial markets, War and unrest

People, Places and Companies: Greece, Europe, Thessaloniki, Netherlands, Western Europe

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