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 on: Apr 20, 2015, 06:05 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
IS or Taliban? Either Way, Fear Stalks War-Weary Afghans

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 15:36

Claims that the Islamic State group carried out a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan raise questions about whether the culprits are the real deal or Taliban turncoats now waving the IS black flag.

Either way, war-weary Afghans seem to be in for the bloodiest fighting season in a decade.

The bomb on Saturday ripped through a crowd of government officials waiting to draw their salaries outside the Kabul Bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing at least 34 people and wounding more than 100.

It was the most lethal bombing in the country to be claimed by insurgents allegedly allied with IS, which has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq but never formally acknowledged having a presence in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani repeated the claim by the attackers in a speech on Saturday, intensifying fears that the IS' brutal reign of terror was creeping into Afghanistan, already in the grip of a fierce Taliban insurgency.

But analysts -- and even some officials within the Ghani administration -- view the claim with caution. It remains unclear whether the self-styled IS attackers have the official sanction of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State.

"There are two type of IS," deputy Afghan intelligence chief Hesamuddin Hesam told parliament on Sunday.

"One that operates in Syria and one that is in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan they are the same old Taliban who have swapped their white flag with black, and have become more swift and deadly."

The Taliban, which distanced itself from Saturday's attack, have seen defections in recent months -- with some insurgents apparently adopting the IS flag to rebrand themselves as a more lethal force as NATO troops depart.

"We've known that IS has been in Afghanistan for some time. (Saturday's) attack...  may just reflect IS' desire to appear active while it is under pressure in Iraq and Syria, but if we see follow-on attacks, a pattern may emerge," said J.M. Berger, analyst and co-author of "ISIS: the State of Terror".

"However, I think caution is in order until we get a statement from one of IS' official media foundations," Berger told AFP.

In February a U.S.-led NATO drone strike killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander and a Guantanamo detainee who led around 300 men suspected of links to IS in the volatile southern province of Helmand.

And in March Hafiz Waheed, a successor to Khadim, was killed along with nine others in the Sangin district of Helmand, according to the Afghan defense ministry.

It is not known whether the men had the official sanction of IS, which announced its presence in South Asia a year ago but has struggled to expand its footprint as it did in the Middle East.

"Afghanistan is both geographically -- and ideologically -- far away from the Islamic State," said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.

Islamic State espouses a brand of Salafism at odds with the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam in Afghanistan, Smith pointed out.

"It's not clear how high Afghanistan figures in the Islamic State's priority list," he said.

- 'Psychological warfare' -

Ghani has repeatedly raised the ominous prospect of IS making inroads into Afghanistan, without offering evidence.

Some local observers accuse him of grabbing world attention by playing up the IS threat in the face of dwindling foreign aid and as international troops depart.

Barely 12,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan -- from a peak of 130,000 -- to train and support local security forces.

"IS in Afghanistan is more psychological warfare, more myth than reality," said former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh.

"Has Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed the Jalalabad bombing? No. Apart from the statement (from insurgents) does Afghanistan have anything to back up that IS was behind it?"

But whatever the color of the flag, the brands of terrorism remain the same, said Saleh.

Saturday's attack bore chilling similarities to a Taliban suicide attack on Kabul Bank in Jalalabad in 2011, which killed nearly two dozen people as police officials were collecting their paychecks.

"So we have mass murder exhibit A and mass murder exhibit B. It shows the same dirty and lethal tactics by insurgents operating with different brand names and flags," Saleh said.

An upsurge in attacks has taken a heavy toll on ordinary Afghans, bracing for the Taliban's annual spring offensive -- which security analysts expect to be the bloodiest in a decade.

Already in the first three months of 2015 civilian casualties as a result of ground fighting were eight percent higher than during the same period last year, a recent U.N. report said.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iran, Afghanistan Announce Security Cooperation against IS

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 09:36

Afghanistan and Iran announced Sunday plans for enhanced security cooperation to combat threats from the Islamic State group, including possible joint military operations.

Standing alongside visiting Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the tumult hitting the region meant intelligence must be shared.

His comments came after IS, which holds swathes of Syria and Iraq, said it was responsible for a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad which killed 33 people.

The attack on Saturday at a state-owned bank where government workers were drawing their salaries was the first in Afghanistan claimed by IS. More than 100 people were also wounded.

Ghani's two-day visit to Iran is his first since taking over from president Hamid Karzai in September, and he was accompanied on the trip by his foreign minister and minister for oil and mines.

The Afghan leader has repeatedly raised the prospect of IS making inroads in his country, though the jihadist group has never formally acknowledged having a presence in Afghanistan.

A former finance minister and World Bank technocrat, Ghani said IS presented "a serious danger and different form of terrorism".

"People die daily, we face barbarism," he said at a joint press conference, prompting Rouhani to nod in agreement.

"And without greater cooperation a macabre phenomenon such as Daesh cannot be contained," Ghani said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Rouhani said: "We have agreed to cooperate further in the fight against terrorism, violence and extremism in the region, especially in border regions.

"We need intelligence sharing and, if necessary, cooperation in operations because the problems that exist are not restricted and gradually spread throughout the region, affecting everyone."

The two leaders did not specify further what they thought could be done to confront IS, which swept into Iraq from Syria last June. The group holds Mosul, Iraq's second city.

Iran has been central in the Baghdad government's fightback against IS, coordinating Shiite militias and providing military advisers from its powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The largest such operation saw IS cleared early this month from Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad and the childhood home of executed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have seen defections to IS in recent months, with some voicing their disaffection with their one-eyed supreme leader Mullah Omar who has not been seen in almost 14 years.

A person purporting to be an IS spokesman said in a call to Agence France Presse that the group was behind the Jalalabad bombing. An online post allegedly from IS made the same claim, but could not be verified.

Iran and Afghanistan have close ties. In 2001, Tehran took the rare step of cooperating with Washington in a U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime from power in Kabul.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 06:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Khamenei Urges Iran Military to Increase 'Preparedness'

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 14:32

Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged his armed forces Sunday to increase their "defensive preparedness," denouncing a U.S. warning that military action is an option if there is no nuclear deal.

In a speech to commanders and troops, the supreme leader said "the other side with insolence threaten us all the time," denying Iran was seeking an atomic bomb and insisting its military doctrine is defensive.

Khamenei's remarks came after General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated last week that should nuclear talks with Iran fail "the military option... is intact."

The United States has long said bombing Iran's nuclear sites and other key facilities may be necessary if Tehran does not rein in its atomic activities.

Khamenei did not name Dempsey, but said: "After a period of silence by the other side, one of its officials has once again recently talked of options on the table.

"On the one hand they bluff, and on the other hand they say the Islamic Republic of Iran should halt its defensive advancements, which is a stupid remark.

"Iran will never accept such stupid remarks and the nation has proved that if it is attacked, it will defend itself quite powerfully. It will stand united and like a strong fist against illogical aggressors."

Iran and six world powers led by Washington agreed on April 2 on the key parameters of a nuclear agreement that could end the 12-year standoff over Tehran's atomic program.

A comprehensive agreement is due by June 30 but Khamenei has stressed that concrete details, including how to lift sanctions, have not yet been decided.

"All bodies from the ministry of defense to the army and the Sepah (Revolutionary Guards) should increase their military and defensive preparedness. This should be regarded as an official directive," he said.

Russia, one power in the nuclear talks, last week lifted a ban on the sale of its S-300 missile systems to Iran, a move condemned by Israel which vehemently and frequently warns of a bad nuclear deal.

- Iran 'no threat' to region -

Russia said progress in the talks meant there was no longer a need for it to prohibit export of the S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

Iran, which hailed Russia's move as a step toward "lasting security" in the region, currently lacks advanced air defenses that could knock out modern fighter aircraft in the U.S. or Israeli air forces.

Opponents of a nuclear deal, including Gulf states, fear that Iran -- fueled by money released if sanctions are lifted -- could be emboldened into furthering its regional aims.

Iran, the main Shiite power, is a key player in several conflicts, backing President Bashar Assad against rebels in Syria and supporting Iraq's government against the Islamic State group.

It has also been accused of backing Shiite Huthi rebels who have seized control of large parts of Yemen, prompting a Saudi-led air war in support of the country's embattled government.

But Khamenei said Iran was not meddling nor a danger to the Middle East, instead taking aim at the United States, other Western powers and Israel for creating conflict.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran, despite upgrading its defensive and military capabilities, shall never be a threat to regional and neighboring countries," he said.

"Americans as well as Europeans and some other sycophants have made up the myth of the nuclear issue and nuclear weapons to say the Islamic Republic is a threat.

"Today the biggest threats for the region and the world are America and the Zionist regime who... interfere in any place they deem it necessary and launch massacres."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also criticized U.S. warnings by Dempsey and other officials such as Pentagon chief Ashton Carter, dismissing them Saturday as "an old habit that dies hard".

"The fact we are negotiating indicates that everybody understands the only way to deal with Iran is to recognize Iran's rights and have mutual respect," he said. "That will provide a far better answer than getting engaged in disastrous adventurism."

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 06:01 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Turkey Opposition Leader Promises 'First-Class Democracy'

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 20:32

Turkey's main opposition leader pledged on Sunday to introduce a "first-class democracy" and eradicate poverty as he announced a election manifesto ahead of the June legislative poll.

"You have my word. We will bring first-class democracy to this country," Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) told party supporters in Ankara.

The CHP leader accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of undermining fundamental freedoms including freedoms of religion, media and judiciary and promised to enshrine democracy through a strong parliamentary system.

"We will proceed on our path by strengthening our parliamentary experience," he said.

The June 7 election is being seen as a key moment in modern Turkish history, with the AKP seeking a majority that would allow it to change the constitution and switch to a presidential system in which the head of state enjoys full executive powers.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who ruled Turkey from 2003-2014 as premier, has already transformed the once largely ceremonial role of the presidency since taking office in August.

But he has long been accused by his opponents of being increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of criticism.

The CHP leader on Sunday also pledged to eradicate poverty. 

"There are 17 million poor people," he said. "I give you word of honor. There will be no poor people left in Turkey in four years."

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Germany Urges EU Operation against People Smugglers

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 19:12

Germany's vice chancellor on Sunday called for European action against human traffickers after a refugee boat shipwreck in the Mediterranean was feared to have claimed 700 lives.

"All European police and border authorities must make every possible effort to fight the criminal trafficking gangs who profit from human misery," said Sigmar Gabriel.

"We need an international operation against people smugglers."

Gabriel spoke after the overnight capsize of a packed fishing boat that was attempting to smuggle hundreds of migrants from Libya to Italy.

"We must no longer accept that Europe on its outer borders too often means death, not humanity," he said.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said a Europol team was already looking at the trafficking gangs, because we must "not tolerate that these criminals sacrifice human lives en masse out of sheer greed."

Germany's integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz said it had been an "illusion" to think that ending the "Mare Nostrum" sea rescue program would deter people from attempting the perilous sea journey.

She said warmer temperatures in coming weeks could mean more refugee ships and that "that's why we must relaunch the rescue program."

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said part of the answer would have to be "to try to bring more stability to Libya" to help the North African country crack down on traffickers.

Illegal immigration, mostly from Africa, has rapidly expanded with ruthless people smugglers based in chaotic Libya taking overcrowded, unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean, mostly to Italy and Greece.

Southern EU countries have complained that they are bearing too much of the brunt of the rescue work and processing of migrants.

The latest shipwreck took place between Libya and Malta and, if the toll is confirmed, would be easily the biggest such disaster to date.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Blacklisted Russian Deputy PM Angers Norway with Arctic Visit

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 April 2015, 19:48

Norway said Sunday it was angry that Russia's deputy prime minister visited its Arctic Svalbard archipelago this weekend even though he is banned from Norwegian territory over Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict.

"We are not too happy about it," Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Rune Bjastad told AFP.

Dmitry Rogozin landed in Svalbard on Saturday and promptly used Twitter to announce his arrival.

"North Pole. Our Station-2015. Anniversary of the 'Battle on the Ice' on Lake Chudskoe. But it's all quiet as planned," wrote the Russian deputy prime minister.

Rogozin is among around 150 Russians and Ukrainians placed under an EU travel ban. Norway is not a member of the EU but has aligned itself with the bloc's sanctions against Russia.

Although Svalbard falls under Norwegian sovereignty, access to the archipelago is governed under a separate international treaty which allows everyone access.

Because of this, Norway earlier this spring took the step of "clearly informing the Russian embassy in Oslo that people on the (blacklist) were not welcome in Svalbard," another foreign ministry spokesman, Frode Overland Andersen, said.

"It is therefore regrettable that Rogozin has been to Svalbard," he said.

"We have asked the Russian authorities for an explanation," he added.

Rogozin arrived in Svalbard on a direct flight from Russia, and left Norway on Sunday, the foreign ministry said.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Opposition Center Wins Finnish Election, Ousts PM Stubb

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 April 2015, 06:46

Finland's opposition Center Party won Sunday's general election, ousting Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's left-right coalition after a campaign dominated by the country's economic woes.

Center Party leader Juha Sipila, a 53-year-old IT millionaire and newcomer to politics, is set to become Finland's next prime minister.

"It seems as though the Center has won. Congratulations," Stubb told Finnish public radio and television YLE after around 70 percent of votes had been counted.

Sipila's liberal-agrarian party won 49 of 200 seats in parliament, results showed with 100 percent of votes counted.

The rightwing eurosceptic Finns Party, also in the opposition, surged in late ballot counting on Sunday evening to become the country's second-biggest party, garnering 38 seats.

Stubb's conservative National Coalition Party meanwhile won 37 seats and the Social Democrats 34 seats.

"I'm really pleased with these results," Sipila said.

His first task will be to pick his coalition partners. Tradition dictates that the largest party takes the post of prime minister and forms a government with the other largest parties to obtain a majority in parliament.

Several weeks of difficult negotiations are expected before Sipila is able to present a coalition, and he has not yet revealed which parties he would like to collaborate with.

Sipila campaigned heavily on his business know-how, vowing to get the eurozone country's economy back on track after three years of recession and stagnation, austerity and failed reforms.

Voters were disgruntled with Stubb's four-party left-right government coalition, which has been paralyzed by internal discord and unable to push through any real policy changes.

"The Finnish situation is very difficult and it will be about a 10-year-project to get Finland in shape again," Sipila said after the results came in, adding that "a combination of cuts, reforms and growth" were needed in the future.

- 'All options open' -

Finland now faces "another cliffhanger" regarding the formation of the government, Helsinki University political history professor Juhana Aunesluoma told Agence France Presse.

"All options are open, including the entry of the Finns Party into the government."

Finns Party leader Timo Soini, whose affable style and down-home charisma is largely seen as responsible for his party's success, has made it clear he wants to be in government, eyeing the posts of foreign and finance minister.

But it may be difficult for Sipila to agree to that.

The Finns Party is opposed to what it sees as Brussels' interference in Finnish affairs, and Finland in general has been one of the most reticent eurozone members, if not the most, when it comes to bailing out debt-laden Greece.

Sipila's Center Party also has a strong anti-EU faction, though Sipila himself is seen as a pro-European.

Elected to parliament in 2011, Sipila became Center party leader in 2012 when he was still virtually unknown to most Finns.

His party, which has been in the opposition since 2011, has however been a dominant force in Finnish politics, fostering 12 prime ministers and three presidents.

The election campaign was overshadowed by economic worries.

The country was long a top performer in the eurozone, hailed by Germany and credit rating agencies for running a tight economic ship. But it has failed to adapt to a rapidly changing economic climate.

The two pillars of its economy, the forestry sector and technology industry led by one-time giant Nokia, have shrunk dramatically, while two of Finland's biggest trading partners, Russia and the eurozone, are slogging through their own economic worries.

Unemployment is at its highest level since 2003, at 9.2 percent.

Faced with Finland's serious economic woes, "the government program will be quite difficult to create," Aunesluoma predicted.

Sipila has vowed a series of economic reforms to get Finland back on its feet.

They include easing up on bureaucracy, tax breaks for newly-created jobs and a reform of unemployment benefits.

He has promised to create 200,000 private sector jobs in 10 years. Part of the plan includes cutting state spending by slashing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the public sector, mainly by not replacing those who retire.

"We need... new entrepreneurship and new jobs in the whole of Finland. We need bold solutions (and) goal-oriented leadership," he said on the eve of the election.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Baby Groups Help Immigrant Mums Integrate in Sweden

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 April 2015, 08:58

Children's laughter and nursery rhymes resonate through the library as young mums play with their babies: in a suburb outside Stockholm, a group of immigrants is trying to learn Swedish and integrate into society.

Sitting in a circle on the floor, nine mothers and their children launch into another song. Some are unsure of the words and the pronunciation, but that's why they've come, after all -- to learn.

The "Swedish with Baby" program is aimed at both immigrants and Swedes on parental leave, offering them a chance to get together once a week to learn from each other and break the isolation that Sweden's generous parental leave -- of up to 16 months -- can sometimes bring.

"I've come almost every week since September. I'm at home alone with my daughter Maggie, who is 14 months," said Bobbie, a 28-year-old mother who came to Sweden from China a year ago with her engineer husband.

"It's perfect for the babies, and for me too. We sing a lot, and there's nothing better than nursery rhymes to learn the language."

Immigration to Sweden has skyrocketed in recent years, due mainly to the country's open-door refugee policy welcoming those fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Somalia, to name just a few.

Once a homogeneous country, Sweden only began welcoming immigrants some 50 years ago. Now, around 20 percent of the population of 10 million have roots outside the country.

The Scandinavian nation has numerous state-run programs in place to help immigrants settle in, such as free language classes, employment agency assistance, and housing and living subsidies.

Yet many doors in society remain closed to immigrants, including those of their neighbors -- many say they never get to know any Swedes even after living here for years.

After the birth of a child, foreign parents can often find themselves even more isolated, with no one to talk to.

While the anti-immigration far-right gains ground -- the Sweden Democrats became the third biggest party in legislative elections in September -- some Swedes are starting up private initiatives to help break the ice with immigrants.

"Swedish with Baby" was started in 2012 by two mothers on parental leave who wanted to help break young parents' isolation in the home.

When an immigrant taking Swedish-language classes has a baby, "she disappears, loses all contact with Swedish and the society she wants to integrate into.

"'Swedish with Baby' allows her to create this link," said one of the members of the group, Tove Roander, who teaches Swedish to new immigrants.

"People get to meet each other as parents. Everyone's at the same level, we talk about kids in a language adapted to kids. It helps break down barriers," said the head of the program, Anna Libietis.

She organizes 13 meetings a week, held in Swedish and free of charge, in suburbs and towns outside Stockholm.

"That's where the people who are most distanced from Swedish society live," she explained.

"In the city center, the immigrants are usually quite integrated."

After a welcome song where "hello" is repeated in the seven languages represented, the mothers start chatting as their children play with the colorful toys spread out on the floor.

On the agenda for today's meeting is a subject all young parents obsess about: sleep. Each mum shares her experiences, and they give each other friendly and sometimes much-needed advice.

Akiko, a 38-year-old pharmacologist from Japan, has lived in Sweden for five years and doesn't work. She comes to the meetings almost every week with her one-year-old Toshi.

"It's better than (language) classes because of the sharing," she said.

Meanwhile, the Swedish mums in attendance say they come to meet new people but also because they want to do their bit for integration.

"I want to be part of a more open society. We need that, especially with what is going on in Sweden and the world with the rise of the far-right, which I find frightening and sad," explained Sofia, a 30-year-old dressed in jeans.

Lars Svedberg, a sociology professor at the Ersta Skoendal University in Stockholm, said Swedes have a long tradition of wanting to help those in need.

"Swedes have comfortable lives, they want to give back. That's why they volunteer," he said.

Standing back from the group, Leo's mum, a native of Uganda, watches the chit-chat with a look of amusement. It's her first meeting, but in elementary Swedish she said she'll come back -- she wants to learn Swedish to keep up with her son.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Top Defendants Absent for Start of Greek Golden Dawn Trial

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 April 2015, 12:43

The trial of 69 members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn on charges of running a criminal organisation began Monday in the absence of the party leader and other main defendants.

Golden Dawn founder Nikos Michaloliakos and 12 of the 13 MPs on trial failed to show up for the proceedings in a specially-built courtroom at a high security prison near Athens.

Two hours after it began the trial was adjourned until May 7 because one of the defendants had no lawyer, a judicial source said.

Security was tight both inside and outside Korydallos prison, where hundreds of anti-racism demonstrators gathered, carrying banners including one declared "Smash fascism", as rows of helmeted riot police stood watch.

Michaloliakos and his right-hand man Christos Pappas did not attend the trial, having being released from custody in March after spending 18 months in pretrial detention.

They were represented by their lawyers, who gave no explanation for their absence.

Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who is currently in detention, was also absent from the dock.

Only around 40 of the defendants, who include police officers accused of supporting the far right group, were present, according to Agence France Presse's count.

The trial, which is expected to last for months, will likely decide the future of parliament's third-largest party, an openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic formation that used to be on the fringes of national politics but whose popularity soared as the country sank into economic hardship.

"This is Greece's biggest trial in 40 years," Korydallos mayor Stavros Kasimatis told AFP ahead of the trial.

- Murder, weapons and racism -

Most of the defendants are charged with membership of a criminal organisation, a serious offence in Greece.

Others are accused of murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of weapons and racist violence, and risk sentences of up to 20 years if convicted.

A panel of three judges is hearing the case.

After a 15-month investigation, state prosecutors will try to prove that Golden Dawn operated as a criminal organisation with a military-style leadership that allegedly encouraged the beating -- and possibly the killing -- of migrants and political opponents.

Under the command of Michaloliakos, a 57-year-old disgraced former army cadet, the party has already been linked by investigating magistrates to at least two murders.

Golden Dawn rejects the accusations as politically motivated.

The group was founded in the mid-1980s by Michaloliakos, handpicked by ex-Greek dictator George Papadopoulos to lead a far-right youth group after the country's junta fell.

For years it operated as a semi-clandestine group, but in 2012 it exploited widespread anger over immigration and austerity measures to win 18 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

- From fringe to mainstream -

Although its members had been known to patrol the streets, carrying out attacks on foreigners, the party rarely faced sanctions until the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.

The group was later also linked to the murder of a Pakistani immigrant and beatings of political opponents.

Michaloliakos and a number of others were arrested, and a subsequent search of party members' homes uncovered firearms and other weapons, as well as Nazi and fascist memorabilia.

The group nonetheless held on to its support base in January's general election, finishing third with 17 seats in the legislature.

Golden Dawn also grabbed third place in European Parliament elections in May 2014, winning three seats that gave it representation in the assembly for the first time.

The party follows a strict military-style regimen, and investigating magistrates say its structure emulates that of the Nazi party -- something Golden Dawn denies.

For many years Golden Dawn glorified Adolf Hitler in its party publications, but this rhetoric was later toned down.

Even so, in a May 2012 interview Michaloliakos effectively denied the Holocaust, telling Greece's Mega channel: "There were no crematoria, it's a lie. Or gas chambers."

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Apr 20, 2015, 05:45 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Eurozone crisis: Grexit edges closer as markets brace for Athens default

As eurozone officials prepare for further talks on Greece, investors are sceptical that Athens can agree reforms that will unlock further bailout funds

Katie Allen
Sunday 19 April 2015 16.49 BST

Eurozone officials meet for further crunch talks on Greece this week amid warnings that time is running out for the country to avoid defaulting on its debts and being jettisoned from the single-currency bloc.

Deputy finance ministers will convene on Wednesday to pave the way for talks among finance chiefs in the Latvian capital, Riga, at the end of the week, a Greek government official told Reuters.

But investors are increasingly sceptical that a rescue deal can be reached between Greece and its creditors. Financial markets do not expect a breakthrough at that meeting of the so-called Eurogroup – the eurozone’s finance ministers – and focus is already shifting to early May when Greece is scheduled to repay almost €1bn (£700m) to the International Monetary Fund – a sum most experts say Athens will not be able to raise.

Greece’s recently elected leftwing-led government has so far failed to present a package of reforms to the IMF and its eurozone partners that those creditors deem serious enough to unlock the remaining bailout funds.

“Although time is running short, there are clear indications that the Eurogroup meeting in Riga on 24 April might not bring a breakthrough,” said Reinhard Cluse, an economist at the bank UBS.

“In the absence of a deal in the next few weeks, the government might not be able to avoid default, which – we fear – would likely raise the risk of ‘Grexit’ [a Greek exit].”

Greece faces a series of repayments and interest payments on its debts in the coming weeks as well as its usual pensions and public-sector salary obligations. Experts say money is running out.

“As to how much funds they have left to pay back maturing debt, it is almost zero,” said Gabriel Sterne at the consultancy Oxford Economics. “It is more of a question of what barrel they can still scrape to find some money to stave off default.”

Greece owes money to the IMF, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European commission following two bailouts in 2010 and 2012.

Athens is waiting for the final €7.2bn payment under the second rescue package, but that money has been held up after the new anti-austerity government scrapped previous commitments to privatise state assets and cut welfare provision.

Germany in particular has made it clear that it wants strong commitments to reforms. The country’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has said there is not enough detail from Greece for rescue funds to be released and has expressed scepticism that any progress will be made in Riga.

There was, however, some support for Greece’s position at last week’s IMF meeting in Washington where Poul Thomsen, head of the fund’s European department, said the reforms being demanded from Athens should be slimmed down.

Further ahead, economists warn that a €7.2bn package would merely buy some time for Athens but by no means guarantee Greece could remain in the eurozone – something polls suggest most Greeks want.

Even if Greece could get help to meet payments to the IMF on 1 May and 12 May, a “really big crunch” looms in July and August when €6.7bn of bonds held by the ECB mature, said Alastair Winter, chief economist at the broker Daniel Stewart.

“Nobody in Greece – or outside for that matter – is facing up to the reality that a lot more than the final €7.2bn will be needed,” said Winter. “The result will be growing chaos in Greece, and discord and disarray in the eurozone in the coming months.”

Such concerns are growing on financial markets. Jitters about Greece in effect becoming bankrupt and being forced to leave the currency union pushed up the yields of government bonds from other countries on the eurozone’s periphery last week. Yields were all higher – meaning prices were down – on Portuguese, Spanish and Italian bonds on Friday.

At the same time, yields on benchmark 10-year German government bonds, or bunds, fell to a record low of 0.05%, reflecting their perceived safe-haven status among investors. Yields on shorter dated German bonds are already negative, meaning people are in effect paying the German government to park money with it.

The Greek gridlock was likely to dominate market moves again this week, said economists at Daiwa Capital Markets.

“A fraught week lies ahead, primarily for Greece, but also perhaps for euro-area equity markets and bond markets in the euro-area periphery. And negative yields on 10-year bunds seem likely to be reached,” they wrote in a research note.

While economists appear divided over whether a Greek exit from the eurozone would lead to full-scale break-up of the monetary union, the ECB president, Mario Draghi, has sought to allay such fears.

Draghi said at the IMF’s meetings in Washington over the weekend that financial buffers were sufficient to prevent contagion spreading to other weak economies in the currency union. But he warned that Europe would be entering “uncharted waters” that made the outcome of a default uncertain.

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