Saturday, January 17, 2015

Greece heads for a Euro collision

A radical Left-wing leader who has promised to end "fiscal waterboarding" is poised to win a snap election - and square up to EU moneylenders

Alexis Tsipras, leader of  the Syriza party, says that Greece is being compelled to suffer 'fiscal waterboarding'
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party, says that Greece is being compelled to suffer 'fiscal waterboarding' Photo: AFP
Time and again, thousands of protesters have gathered in Syntagma Square in the heart of Athens to march against Greece’s agony of recession and austerity.
The streets nearby have been a theatre for so much unrest that broken windows go unnoticed and shops and doorways are permanently stained with Left-wing graffiti.
Yet after five years of economic crisis and countless demonstrations, Greeks will have the chance to seize back their destiny next Sunday when they vote in a snap general election.
This was an opportunity they were never supposed to have. Antonis Samaras, the prime minister, had hoped to battle on and see through the austerity plan that should reduce Greece’s public debt to a mere 110 per cent of national income by 2020. But MPs inside the elegant sand-coloured parliament on the eastern edge of Syntagma Square failed to choose a new president last month, triggering an election for Jan 25.
Mr Samaras, the leader of the centre-Right New Democracy Party, has imposed punitive cuts in exchange for a £190 billion bail-out from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. With all the passion of a man who believes he is performing the Herculean task of restoring his country to health, the prime minister argues that his policies are finally showing results.
Last year, Greece ran a primary budget surplus for the first time since the onset of the eurozone crisis; the economy may even return to growth in 2015.
But the voters beg to differ. Millions of Greeks believe the price of the bail-out has been too high. Youth unemployment stands at 50 per cent and the state is busily laying off thousands of employees.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the hard-Left Syriza party, says that Greece is being compelled to suffer “fiscal waterboarding”. At a rally last week, he declared that it was “time for the people, not foreign interests, to decide Greece’s future”.
All the evidence shows that the message of this 40-year-old populist is striking home. Every opinion poll for the past two months has put Syriza in first place with a consistent lead of between three and five percentage points. The latest survey showed the party widening its advantage, reaching 34.5 per cent compared with 29 per cent for New Democracy.
Unless there is a shock of earthquake proportions, Syriza is set to win this election – and Mr Tsipras will then become prime minister of Greece and one of the youngest national leaders in the world.
He may fall short of an overall majority in the 300-seat parliament, but the electoral system awards an extra 50 seats to whichever party comes first in the popular vote, with the remaining 250 being handed out on a proportional basis. If the pundits are right and Syriza tops the poll, Mr Tsipras will hold the whip-hand in any coalition government.

A New Democracy party banner reading 'we tell the truth' in Athens (AFP)
And that is when his problems will begin. Mr Tsipras has promised to renegotiate the bail-out package, including by writing-off “most” of the debt.
Yet he also wants to keep Greece in the euro. Despite the trauma of the past five years, a solid majority of about 70 per cent of Greeks wants to stay in the euro. If Mr Tsipras wins this election, he will have triumphed by the simple device of telling the voters exactly what they want to hear, namely that Greece can have the euro without austerity.
“We call for the restructuring of the debt so that it can be serviced in a socially viable way,” said Mr Tsipras on television last Monday. Syriza’s plan “includes erasing most of the debt”, he added.
But the rest of the EU will have other ideas. The “troika” of lenders – the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF – will be deeply reluctant to go back to the drawing board and renegotiate the Greek bail-out package yet again, particularly as they have already stumped up no less than £190 billion for the country’s benefit.
They will be particularly unwilling to start cancelling large chunks of debt. After all, if Greece could win that particular favour, why not every other debtor?
So all the conditions are in place for a clash between a new prime minister from the radical Left, pledged to liberate his country from austerity, and the dour moneylenders of Europe and the IMF, who feel they have already been too lenient.
The danger is that both sides miscalculate and end up with what neither wants, namely Greece leaving the euro.
Experts believe that scenario remains unlikely. Privately, European officials in Brussels expect Mr Tsipras to become more pragmatic if he wins power.
“Today we are in election mode: all sides are sending signals to get as many votes as possible,” said one Brussels official, according to Reuters news agency. “If Tsipras wants to survive, be accepted in Europe, he will have to show a degree of realism.
“The eurozone would certainly be prepared to do a maximum of what it can to meet some of the political agenda of Syriza, but there are clear limits: a debt write-off is not acceptable. And Greece has to follow reforms and financial improvement – that will be part of any deal.”
If Mr Tsipras becomes prime minister, he will have to face some harsh realities. The most immediate is that Greece’s banks are being kept afloat by the European Central Bank. If the ECB were to end that liquidity, then every cash machine in Athens and everywhere else in Greece would run dry and the entire banking sector would collapse.
In the end, experts think that Mr Tsipras will be the one who blinks, even if that means confronting the ideologues in his own party.
“It will be difficult for him but, in the end, Greeks want to stay in the euro so I think he will do what he has to do,” said Alan McQuaid, the chief economist of Merrion Capital. “Like most politicians, when they get into the palace and sit on the throne, they adapt to the realities of being in government.”
The outlines of a possible compromise are already clear. Mr Tsipras would forget about cancelling debt, but the “troika” would show some goodwill by giving Greece lower interest rates and more time to make repayments. Put simply, Brussels will probably pull off one of those deals that typify the EU, giving all sides just enough leeway to ensure their political survival.
Already, eurozone finance ministers have agreed in principle to reward Greece with slightly better terms when it achieves a primary budget surplus – as it did last year.
But Mr Tsipras has one vital card to play. Although he has promised to keep Greece in the euro, the prospect of the country leaving could be sufficiently worrying to make the “troika” pay a bigger price. If the choice becomes as stark as cancelling some Greek debt, or allowing the euro to fracture, then some in Syriza believe the EU will be the one to blink.
If Mr Tsipras gives way, however, the ultra-Left activists who cheer his every speech today will cry betrayal tomorrow. The next big protests in Syntagma Square could be directed at him.

Mine takeover "could trigger unrest in north Kosovo"

ZVECAN -- If adopted in the Kosovo assembly, a bill amending the law on public enterprises could destabilize the situation in northern Kosovo, says Jovan Dimkic.
(, stock)
(, stock)
It could also "put the implementation of the Brussels Agreement in jeopardy," the general manager of the Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine Trepca warned on Friday.
The announced amendments, initiated by the Kosovo government, have caused massive concern, fear and resentment among the more than 3,300 Trepca employees in northern Kosovo, Dimkic told a press conference.

Trepca is completely destabilized by this and its workers cannot accept a unilateral expression of political will and legislative acts characterized by legal violence, Dimkic said.

The issue of Trepca must be put on the agenda of the Brussels talks urgently, Dimkic noted, adding that the negotiations should produce a solution that is acceptable to all.

"In that sense, we support the statement by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and the positions presented regarding the significance and method of solving what is one of the most difficult issues for the Serb community in Kosovo and Metohija", he said.

Trepca is property of the Development Fund of the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Serbia - and the Serbian government as its representative, and the goal of adopting the amendments to the law on public enterprises is to transfer the ownership to the Kosovo government, Dimkic said.

"The adoption of the law on public enterprises will alter and drastically aggravate the complete economic, social, and security situation and the overall political situation in Kosovo, with unforeseeable consequences," he warned.

Dimkic expressed concern that, if adopted, the amendments to the law on Kosovo's public enterprises could lead to unrest in northern Kosovo.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday that a unilateral decision of the Kosovo government to take over the ownership of Trepca will deal a heavy blow to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

This is a matter of utmost importance for Serbia, Vucic said, adding that he has already informed "all Western partners about the issue."

The Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine Trepca is one of the most important Serbian enterprises in Kosovo-Metohija, and one of tremendous value.

It has been a point of dispute between Belgrade and Pristina ever since the ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008.

The Trepca combine has existed for over 85 years and it used to employ 25,000 people, both Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

The combine is divided into two parts - the southern (around 70 percent of capacities) controlled by Albanians, and the northern part (around 30 percent), run by Serbs.

Trepca has been claimed by various 'owners' after the Interim UN administration mission was established in Kosovo following the armed conflict in the province and NATO's bombing campaign against the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. However, in 2008, the international administration declared valid the old Trepca structure, based on which the Serbian government, through its development fund, owns a 66 percent stake in Trepca, while the rest is owned by shareholders, including employees.

In 2011, the Kosovo government announced the possibility of a privatization of Trepca, and the government in Belgrade then said it will seek opinion on the issue from competent international judicial bodies.

The authorities in Belgrade hold the announced privatization of Trepca illegal and contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

On May 17, 2013, the Serbian government signed an agreement on technical and business cooperation between Trepca Mines and US New Generation Power LLC that should bring new investments and increase and improve quality of production and create new jobs in Trepca.

Currently, Trepca is under a moratorium that has been placed on it by the Special Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kosovo and it is run by the Privatization Agency of Kosovo (PAK).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Greece risks cash crunch if Syriza wins, finance minister warns

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras takes part in a protest against Greek austerity measures©Michael Debets/Getty
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras takes part in a protest against Greek austerity measures in November 2014
Athens risks running out of cash to make debt repayments in March if the leftwing Syriza party comes to power, Greece’s finance minister has warned, raising the prospect of a break with international lenders and a chaotic exit from the country’s four-year bailout.
“I’m raising a flag because there is complacency about raising funds to pay our obligations and that complacency is not warranted,” Gikas Hardouvelis said in an interview with the Financial Times.
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Mr Hardouvelis was referring to claims by Syriza, which is poised to win a January 25 general election, that Greece could avoid a looming cash crunch by issuing short-term debt for purchase by local banks and drawing on a buffer of treasury reserves.
George Stathakis, the shadow development minister, told the FT last week his party’s economic team saw “no reason to worry” over repaying €4.3bn of debt due in the first quarter. He argued that most of the payment could be covered by reserves with the remainder coming from a top-up issue of short-term treasury bills.
But Mr Hardouvelis, a technocrat who took over last June as finance minister in the coalition government of Antonis Samaras, the centre-right prime minister, stressed that a new administration would face “severe financial constraints” on taking office.
“The timeline is very pressing and the money isn’t there,” Mr Hardouvelis said,
His remarks reflect a wider debate ahead of the election about the viability of Syriza’s economic plans. The party and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, have shot to the top of the polls on promises to renegotiate the country’s massive debt pile. But Mr Samaras has countered that its plans are unworkable and will plunge Greece back into chaos just as its battered economy is finally on the mend.
Greece was unable to draw on more than €7bn of bailout aid in December after failing to reach agreement with its lenders on various economic reforms tied to a rescue programme that expires at the end of February.
Its financial position at present looks dire as a result: reserves have shrunk to just €2bn, while Greece has already hit its ceiling of €15bn in outstanding treasury bills permitted by the European Central Bank, putting a further squeeze on fundraising.

In depth

Greece debt crisis
Greece struggles on with drastic austerity as eurozone leaders continue to argue over how to help the country cope with its debt mountain

Further reading
“We’re treading a thin line,” Mr Hardouvelis said. “Foreign investors refused to participate in last month’s T-bill auctions . . . They didn’t show up because they think the risk is way too high.”
Local banks took up the slack at the December auctions. But they would be stretched to fill a €3bn funding gap if foreign investors decline to roll over their Greek T-bill holdings in the first quarter, worsening the existing shortfall.
Mr Hardouvelis urged Syriza to work with European partners and agree to a six-month extension of the bailout — an idea advocated by many eurozone countries — to allow more time to arrange a smooth exit from the programme. Among other things, Greece would be able to contract a special credit line from the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone bailout fund.
“If we are not in a programme as of March 1, that would mean a ‘dirty’ exit (from the bailout) . . . We would be on our own without any European support,” he said. “But six months would buy time to arrange a prudent exit from the programme.”
Political uncertainty has begun to affect the budget with the primary surplus for 2014 — before repayments of debt — now projected at 1.5 per cent of national output against an earlier forecast of 1.8 per cent.
Revenues fell sharply in December when parliament failed to elect a new president in a three-round vote triggering a snap general election. The International Monetary Fund has already revised downwards its 2015 growth target from 2.9 per cent to 2.5 per cent.
“Uncertainty over the elections has changed some people’s behaviour and they’re waiting for the outcome,” Mr Hardouvelis said. “We don’t yet see a problem with the budget . . . the problem is with contracts being delayed, investments being put on hold, in general a stifling of economic activity in various ways. But if the uncertainty is resolved quickly, you could make up the growth. Investors would jump back in.”
Mr Hardouvelis is optimistic that a Greek exit from the euro can be avoided, stressing that three-quarters of Greeks want the country to remain in the eurozone.
“If I were to take a long-term perspective and say that politics follows the wishes of the population, I think it’s clear that deep down they understand that [the eurozone] provides a guide for policy making that will fix this country,” he said.
But the risk of an accident remains, he warned — despite Syriza’s softening attitude towards Berlin and Brussels as it comes closer to winning power.
“I don’t perceive Grexit as a real option,” he said. “Nevertheless, because of the short-term constraints described, an accident could happen when they enter negotiations with the Europeans. I just hope they reach a good equilibrium quickly.”

Former Albanian Dictator's Grandson Arrested in Drug Heist


TIRANA, Albania — The grandson of the communist dictator who ruled Albania with an iron fist for four decades has been arrested on suspicion of belonging to an international criminal ring that smuggled cocaine from Colombia to western Europe.
Ermal Hoxha, 40, faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence if convicted on charges of drug trafficking and processing. Police said Thursday a further eight Albanians and two Colombians have also been arrested.
Hoxha is the eldest grandson of Enver Hoxha, who governed Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985 — five years before a student revolt overthrew the country's isolationist communist regime.
The arrests followed a raid on a cocaine-processing laboratory in central Albania Wednesday, where police seized 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of the drug, cash and weapons.

Ex-dictator Hoxha's nephew held in Albania drug bust

The nephew of Albania's former dictator Enver Hoxha was on Thursday arrested on suspicion of running a cocaine laboratory.
Police held 13 people, including Ermal Hoxha and two Colombians, in a raid on the alleged lab, seizing 120 kilograms (264 pounds) of cocaine worth 24 million euros ($33 million).
They said they had also confiscated four tons of chemicals used to process the drug, which investigators said was destined for Germany.
The raid, in the village of Xibrake, near Elbasan, 50 kilometres (31 miles) southeast of Tirana, came as the suspects were preparing to mix the pure cocaine with other substances.
The Colombians arrested were named as Cezar Adolfo Avila, 67, and Walther Moren Juan Moreno, 42.
Hoxha is suspected of being a leader of a criminal group, police said. His uncle Enver Hoxha ruled the country with an iron fist for more than 40 years, imposing one the most hardline communist regimes in the world and outlawing religion.
Police said the cocaine had originating in Cuba and was due to be transported through Italy and Austria to Germany.
Money and arms were also found during the search, official sources said.
An investigation into an international drugs trafficking ring had been going on for several months in cooperation with German police, they said.
Albania lies on the so-called Balkans route, used by criminals to smuggle drugs, people and weapons to western Europe.
In June 2013 Albanian police conducted a major operation to crack down on the impoverished country's "cannabis kingdom" around the village of Lazarat, some 240 kilometres south of Tirana.
Lazarat produces about 900 tonnes of cannabis annually, according to police, worth some 4.5 billion euros -- equivalent to almost half of Albania's gross domestic product.
Albania is regarded by international law enforcement agencies as Europe's leading cannabis producer.

Albanians kick PM's car during Kosovo visit

GRACANICA -- Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has said that Albanians tried to provoke him by kicking his car when he arrived in Kosovo on Wednesday.
He then told Serb ministers taking part in the Kosovo government that they must work in the interests of the people or to leave their office.
"If they assumed posts to gain wealth, they should leave them," Vucic said in Gracanica, after meeting with Serbian Orthodox Bishop Teodosije.

The prime minister said he was very pleased with the visit to Kosovo and was greeted well everywhere, while his message to those Albanians who were "trying to provoke" was one of "peace, not conflict."

"Some addressed me with abusive words, kicked the car thinking that a leg is stronger than a car, and I can only hope that their legs don't hurt," Vucic said, adding he was "proud of the behavior of the Serb people and of their civilized behavior."

He then said he would "provide books to those who had tried to provoke him, to learn about good manners."

While Vucic was giving statements in the yard of the monastery in Gracanica, Albanian media reporters asked when Serbia would "apologize for the events in Kosovo" and when Belgrade would "recognize Kosovo's independence."

Addressing the latter, Vucic replied that he refused to answer "silly questions," and that it was the Albanian reporters' "big dream."

Vucic said that the Serbian government will work to make sure as many Serbs as possible return to their homes in Kosovo, and to develop private businesses in Serb areas.

"We can learn much about that from our Albanian neighbors," said Vucic.

Bishop Teodosije said that the visit was very important for the preservation of the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija.

"It is more important than anything to us that people do not leave their homes, and to preserve our holy land," said the bishop.

Vucic and six members of his cabinet earlier in the day visited Pasjane and Strpce and called on Serbs in Kosovo not to sell their property, assuring them the state would "be with them and help them."

Monument unveiled

Aleksandar Vucic unveiled a monument to Serbian King Milutin (1253-1321), one of the most powerful Serbian rulers in the Middle Ages, in the center of Gracanica, in Kosovo and Metohija, on Wednesday.

Addressing the present, Vucic pointed to King Milutin's contribution to spreading, re-ordering and strengthening the Serbian state, and that he built a large number of churches and monasteries, including the Monastery of Gracanica.

“Seven centuries later, we should see what we have done and what we should do so as to secure the future of our children,” the prime minister said.

"The government is doing everything in its power for Serbia's position to be the best and strongest possible, and to secure a better future for our people through a better and more prudent policy,” Vucic said.

In Gracanica, like at other places he toured on Wednesday, Vucic underscored that the Serbian government will not abandon or forget a single village in KiM, and signaled that the state will channel part of the proceeds from privatizations into infrastructure and other projects in the province.

Vucic underlined that he warned the Serb ministers in the Pristina government earlier in the day against acting in their own interest, adding that they should work to the benefit of the Serb people or, otherwise, they should leave the government immediately.

“While touring Kosovo today, I have seen Albanians who have welcomed me with their flags, some even swore at me and threatened, but our message is that we want to resolve all problems by peaceful means,” he said.

Director of the Office for Cooperation with KiM Marko Djuric said that there is no alternative to the talks that the government is conducting with Pristina, as they should ensure peace, security and economic development for all.

Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic underlined that in the last decades the Serbs were divided in various ways, but that for a year now, with the backing from the current government, their unity is being built.

“Times of hatred, violence and conflict are behind us,” said Vladeta Kostic, a candidate for Gracanica Mayor in the forthcoming elections, and voiced confidence that, thanks to the achieved unity, a community of Serb municipalities will be established to look after the interests of the Serb people.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stephen Schwartz Headshot

Paris Terror Harms France, Islam, and the

Three more people were injured. The brutal atrocity came only days after an eloquent appeal by German Christian Democratic chancellor Angela Merkel, Western Europe's most credible politician and a committed conservative, cautioning her fellow citizens against anti-immigrant demonstrations centered in Dresden, in the former East Germany.
Three suspects were named in the Charlie Hebdo incident, according to Reuters. They were identified as two brothers, Said Kouachi, born in 1980, and Cherif Kouachi, born in 1982, assisted by Hamyd Mourad, born in 1996. By Thursday morning, Mourad had surrendered to police, as reported by BBC News. Authorities continued their hunt for the Kouachi brothers, while seven associates of the pair have been detained.
Aside from shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" [God is the Greatest!] and cries that the killers had "avenged" Muhammad, who had been caricatured in Charlie Hebdo, one of the violent intruders was said to have yelled that they represented "Al-Qaida in Yemen," as noted in the London Guardian.
Reuters described Cherif Kouachi as having served 18 months in prison. He was charged with involvement in a terrorist enterprise in 2005, when he participated in an Islamist group that recruited French nationals to fight against the U.S. in Iraq. But he was arrested before he could leave for the latter country.
Although planned apparently in detail, over a substantial period of time, the assault on Charlie Hebdo by Islamist fanatics could be seen as a perverse response to the positive initiatives toward Muslim immigrants taken by Merkel and other non-Muslims. On January 1, the German leader was quoted in the Guardian, warning in a televised address, "all those who go to [anti-Islam] demonstrations: do not follow those who have called the rallies. Because all too often they have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts."
Her speech was followed on Tuesday, January 6, by competing assemblies in Germany. Supporters of the anti-Islam "Pegida" (a German-language acronym for "Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West") were, except in Dresden, overwhelmed numerically, in Berlin, Köln, and Stuttgart, by defenders of immigrants. In Köln, thousands of counter-demonstrators faced about 250 Pegida supporters, the BBC observed. Lights were turned off at the Köln Cathedral and elsewhere around the city, to communicate official disapproval of the anti-Islam events.
The morning of January 6 had seen the front page of Bild, Germany's largest newspaper, publish an anti-Pegida manifesto signed by 80 prominent national figures, including the current foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, and Christian Democrat finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Bild is traditionally oriented rightward and was long a target for the radical left in Germany.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, where at least two and possibly three mosques were firebombed in recent weeks, mass mobilizations took place defending Muslim rights.
And then came the news from Paris. Pegida representatives, for their part, argued that the bloodshed at Charlie Hebdo justified their anti-Islam stance. On its Facebook page, as pointed out by Newsweek, Pegida declared, "The Islamists, against whom PEGIDA has been warning over the last 12 weeks, showed in France today that they are not capable of (practicing) democracy but instead see violence and death as the solution."
Solidarity meetings in favor of Charlie Hebdo were held around the world, with placards reading "Je suis Charlie" in France, and "I am Charlie" in English, in New York, Washington, and other cities.
Angela Merkel herself said, in a statement carried by Reuters, "This abominable act is not only an attack on the lives of French citizens and their security. It is also an attack on freedom of speech and the press, core elements of our free democratic culture."
Unfortunately, the onslaught against Charlie Hebdo demonstrated something moderate Muslims have known for a very long time, and that was hardly discovered by Pegida. That is that Islamist radicals, anywhere in the world, do not seek justice, but chaos. The viciousness displayed in Paris followed a Taliban bloodbath at an elite school in Pakistan, in December, that left 153 teachers and students dead.

Further, the invasion of Iraq by the so-called "Islamic State" or Daesh (in Arabic) killed 8,500 civilians in the second half of 2014, as recorded by the United Nations.
Where conflict exists, Islamist extremists will seek to worsen it to their benefit. Where it does not exist, they will seek to provoke it.
As cited by Al-Arabiya, the reformist Saudi television network located in Dubai, the moderate leadership of French Islam, embodied in the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), condemned the terrorist carnage. "This extremely grave barbaric action is also an attack against democracy and the freedom of the press," the CFCM said in a statement published by Agence France-Presse.
The CFCM, which is known for its defense of French secularism, appealed for calm and for Muslims to avoid radical agitation. "In this tense international climate stoked by the madness of terrorist groups unjustly claiming to represent Islam, we call on all those attached to the republic's values and to democracy to avoid provocation," CFCM said.
The homicidal zealots who devastated Charlie Hebdo may have thought, as they fled French justice, that they won a victory for Islam. But the effect of their action is the opposite -- they have contributed powerfully to fear of Muslims. In their ideological delirium, that is doubtless what they want. Their ferocity, however, undermines the civility and security of France and the world, and endangers the future of Islam. Regardless of feelings about caricatures of Muhammad, moderate Muslims should join their neighbors in protesting the crime against Charlie Hebdo.

Greece: A Stability Factor in a Changing Energy Landscape


Correlations which will be developed in the near future are crucial for energy, not just for the forthcoming years but for decades to come.

It is now the time to fully harness the potential of Greece's energy sector.
So we meticulously proceed with the implementation of the energy market reform, which is already delivering concrete results, and we are speeding up efforts towards an open, competitive and transparent market:
Firstly, we are completing the consolidation efforts whilst creating an energy strategy for the future.
We have now avoided the "dead end" of asymmetrical growth and mounting deficits. We continue the transition towards a lower carbon economy, which is an essential part of the EU energy policy, in a more balanced way. This policy no longer means trade-offs in other significant energy aspects, such as enhancing industrial competitiveness and protecting vulnerable consumers.
Secondly, we are speeding up development of crucial energy infrastructures.
In electricity, we are progressively ending the energy isolation of our islands in the Aegean Sea. We have already promoted grid extension to Cyclades in the next few years, with a view to expanding the grid up to Crete.
In gas, Greece is an integral part of the "Southern Corridor", the most ambitious energy infrastructure project underway in Europe. Through the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Greece becomes a strategic entrance of energy supplies in the South-East Europe. Furthermore, we are already in the process of upgrading the existing LNG terminal in Revithoussa, whereas a second LNG terminal in northern Greece is also in the pipeline for the coming years.
The third pillar of our policy, is the development of an open, competitive and transparent market through the liberalization process in the electricity and gas markets.
In electricity, we are moving ahead with the reform of the regulatory framework concerning the wholesale electricity market. More transparent, simpler and robust rules are being introduced, leading to more efficient and cost-effective operation and more investment opportunities towards the sustainable development of the market.
In gas, we are clearing the path towards a fully competitive gas market through a fundamentally reformed market design, signifying the transition from the existing regime to a fully regulated distribution regime, with free choice of supplier for all customers. We are putting forward the gradual transition to a mature and fully liberalized market, stimulating favorable investment conditions and distributing the benefits of a functional liberalized market to the consumers.
The fourth pillar of our energy policy is strengthening its external dimension to enhance our geopolitical role in South-East Europe.
We all know that strengthening Europe's energy security is not a new objective. But it has gained added urgency, manifested clearly by the recent Ukrainian crisis and the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, such as the international threat of ISIS.
These events serve as a "wake-up call" of the importance of energy security and stability in our region, and most importantly they certify the importance of diversifying supplies and fully exploiting indigenous resources.
Therefore, by opening up the energy market and attracting foreign investment directed to energy infrastructure, we are laying the foundation for the emergence of Greece as a strategic entrance of energy supplies in the South-East Europe.
Furthermore, we strongly promote the beginning of a new era in oil and gas exploration activities in our country. The 2nd International round of Concessions, consisting of 20 blocks in the Ionian and Cretan Seas is under way. And we have recently concluded the contracts for the concession of 3 more blocks in Western Greece.
Moreover, we are stepping up efforts and energy cooperation with our partners in the broader region, sharing the vision that exploiting the potential of the recent hydrocarbon discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, with due respect for International Law, could lay the foundations for geopolitical stability, energy security, and economic growth.
In these challenging times for the broader Eastern Mediterranean region, Greece actively participates to a series of developments that all sum up to one demand: regional stability and security.
The importance of the energy sector to Greece's competitiveness, welfare and geopolitical role in the region means that we cannot afford to slow down efforts towards a more liberalized, more interconnected, more effective energy market.
And now, more than ever, it is the time for us to act collectively upon it.

Protest sent to Albania over display of expansionist map

BELGRADE -- Ivica Dacic says Serbia has sent a protest note to Albania because a map showing "Greater Albania" appeared on the residence of the country's prime minister.
(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)
However, the foreign minister added, Serbia continues cooperation with the Albanian prime minister, and has never brought it into question.
"We have not, nor will be do anything that would jeopardize our relations with countries in the region, even with Albania. It was not a flag of Greater Serbia that appeared on the residence of the prime minister of Serbia, but the flag of Great Albania on the residence of the prime minister of Albania. And we react to that, and always will. But that does not prevent us from receiving this premiere, as is proper, from talking to him and what is more important, agreeing on various forms of cooperation, and continue suggest to him and to others those solutions that will be based on mutual interest," Dacic told the Belgrade-based daily Danas in an interview.

"We respect others, but we ask that others respect us," Dacic said.

"As they say, we do not ask anything of others that we ourselves are not willing to give. It is our policy towards all our neighbors. And we will act in that way as the chairman of the OSCE. We will ask, of course, for respect, but we will also give it. And we will not ask for love, which was the most erroneous characteristic of the Serbian policy in the decades behind us, but will offer common interests," he was quoted as saying.

"The market, investment, easier flow of capital and goods, employment in the entire region, projects that connect us. And it's very important that it was precisely us who started to separate that from what is part of daily political games, which are dictated by current interests. And for that reason our reactions are in accordance with the usual, civilized, democratic ways," Dacic said.

"To the flag of Greater Albania on the residence of their prime minister we responded with a demarche, and continue to cooperate with him, do not interrupt it, nor do we question it. It was the same with the statements of Croatian politicians that were dictated by their elections. We respond in a civilized way, and move on. We do not stop being partners, nor cease to perceive them as partners. I think that this policy is the only proper one, and we will adhere to it in the future as well," said Dacic.

He then stressed that "the future is a developed, non-conflict Western Balkans."

"We have already made a huge step towards that goal," he said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama organized a light display to project the shape of the map of "Greater Albania" onto the walls of his villa in Tirana to mark the New Year celebrations. The map displayed on the villa walls is the same one that caused a major diplomatic scandal at the football match between the teams of Serbia and Albania in October 2014, the daily Politika said in its report over the weekend.

That map depicted Albania's territory expanded to include parts of four of its neighboring countries.

"Rama posted the photo of the illuminated villa displaying the flag on the official page of his Facebook profile, which gave rise to a bout of enthusiasm among his supporters," Politika wrote, according to Tanjug.

Thaci's planned Montenegro lecture canceled

PODGORICA -- Kosovo Deputy PM Hashim Thaci's lecture, scheduled for Thursday in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, has been canceled for security reasons.
(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)
Thaci was to speak about "NATO integrations."
The daily Dnevne Novine quoted unnamed sources who said it was assessed that the lecture would have been "a good opportunity for some citizens to express their dissatisfaction with Thaci's visit, so the idea has been abandoned."

The visit will go ahead - Thaci's first official to Montenegro - and is causing many reactions, with refugee associations announcing protest over the deprivation of rights of the Montenegrins and Serbs who still live in Kosovo, and the inability of those forced to leave to return to their homes.

SPC Metropolitan Amfilohije on Tuesday, during the celebration of the Orthodox New Year, asked the Montenegrin authorities to rescind their recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, and called for those present to also pray for the 30,000 refugees from Kosovo who live in Montenegro to be provided with "rebuilt homes."

"For our Montenegrin chiefs to rebuild their homes. And to, at the same time, investigate in international courts who committed genocide in Kosovo," he said.

The metropolitan then stated that Thaci was "one of the main actors of the genocide in Kosovo and Metohija," and should be in the Hague Tribunal.

Thaci, meanwhile, told the Podgorica daily Pobjeda that the constitution of Kosovo would be changed in order to include Montenegrins and Croats as national minorities, and added:

"The Montenegrin national minority is a historic part of Kosovo, in the same way the Albanian minority is of Montenegro. The fact is, also, that many Montenegrins in Kosovo have declared themselves as Serbs and we today do not have the exact number of ethnic Montenegrins. But, regardless of the real number of Montenegrins, we took the position of being magnanimous toward the historic presence of the Montenegrin minority and guaranteeing them equal status."

Asked to comment on the announced protests against his visit, Thaci said that "there are some people who are still hostages of the past in all former Yugoslav republics in the Balkans, who are burdened by nationalist topics and use the language of hate."

Kosovo, he said, is "one of the most successful projects of western military interventions in modern history," and is also making constant progress "as a state."

The local media in Podgorica reported that the visit has "deeply divided Montenegrin citizens," with the Alliance of the Displaced in Montenegro announcing protests, while the Association of Montenegrins of Kosovo welcomed it.

Serbs in Kosovo urged not to sell their property

PASJANE, STRPCE -- Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has called on Serbs in Kosovo not to sell their property and told them the state "will be with them and help them."
Vucic today visited Pasjane where he opened a maternity ward. This is the first visit of a Serbian prime minister to the Kosovo-Pomoravlje District since 1999.
"The government of Serbia has not forgotten and will not forget you. We intend that to open our offices here and in Gracanica and Kosovska Mitrovica," he told the several thousand people who greeted him with applause and Serbian flags.

Vucic said that "greater presence of Serbian institutions in Kosovo was needed, as well as investments."

Vucic added that the Serbian government was committed to peace and stability, and that Serbs should have good relations with the "Albanian neighbors."

"Serbia has always thrived in peace," the prime minister said.

He added that while "harsh words were maybe expected" from him, he would not say them, "because things are not resolved with a hot heart, but a cool head."

Vucic was accompanied by Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic, Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, Minister of Health Zlatibor Loncar and the Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Affairs, Veterans Aleksandar Vulin, as well as Government Office for Kosovo Director Marko Djuric.

According to the prime minister, the fact that six ministers traveled to Pasjane was "a message that the state is with the Serbs in Kosovo."

Vucic later arrived in Strpce where he once again appealed on Serbs not to sell their houses and farms, to stay in Kosovo and Metohija, while the government and the state "will do everything they can to ensure the conditions for a normal life and a better future."

"The government of Serbia will neither forget, nor abandon Strpce or other Serb people in Kosovo and Metohija," said he told the citizens gathered in front of the municipal building.

"I know that Albanians will offer big money for your homes and property and please do not sell your homes. This is the only way to keep them. You are the ones who guard and defend your country, who are defending our future by preserving your homes in Kosovo and Metohija," said Vucic.

According to him, the government has ahead of it "difficult conversations and negotiations with the Pristina authorities in Brussels" that will concern "many issues, including property."

"We need to make sure you can sleep calmly, and think about how you can work. I am quite sure that if you consider it with a cool head, you know it's best for you and the children and the country. Please continue to guard and to love your country, but above all, your homes," said Vucic.

He added that Serbs in Kosovo would this year receive more assistance from the state.

He expressed satisfaction over seeing "a large number of children welcoming him in Strpce," which shows, as he said, that there is a future and that it is worth investing in Strpce, Kosovo and Metohija, and Serbia.

To the Serbs participating in the Kosovo government Vucic said they "did not enter it to get rich but to make the Serb people in Kosovo somewhat richer."

"We do not want to go to war with Albanians, but to live together", underlined Vucic, saying that he "knew that different words would resonate better" - but that it was "his job to secure the life, work and survival of Serbs in their homes" while "nobody saw any good from inflammatory rhetoric and heavy words."

Vucic was welcomed in Strpce with Serbian flags and applause, and was also accompanied by Serb members of the government in Pristina Branimir Stojanovic, Aleksadar Jablanovic, and Ljubomir Maric.

At the entrance to Strpce, "a group of young people" gathered and protested against his visit, the Beta agency reported, and added that Albanian flags were displayed in some parts of of the road leading to the enclave.

Vucic's visits to the two towns passed without incident amid tight security. He was also scheduled to travel to Gracanica later during the day.

France sends Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier for anti-ISIS op in Iraq

Published time: January 14, 2015 15:39
Edited time: January 14, 2015 17:32
French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle (AFP Photo / Boris Horvat)
French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle (AFP Photo / Boris Horvat)
French President Francois Hollande has announced that the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier is ready for use in military operations against Islamic State in Iraq. The warship is to work in cooperation with coalition forces combatting the militants.
In a speech onboard the aircraft carrier on Wednesday, Hollande told military personnel that that the Charlie Hebdo massacre carried out by Islamic extremists last week “justifies the presence of our aircraft carrier.”
"Thanks to the Charles de Gaulle we will have intelligence ... we may also conduct operations in Iraq," Hollande said.
Charlie Hebdo massacre aftermath LIVE UPDATES

French President Francois Hollande reviews the troops during his visit on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to present his New Year wishes to the French military forces, on January 14, 2015 off the coast of Toulon, southern France. (AFP Photo / Pool / Anne-Christine Poujoulat)
French President Francois Hollande reviews the troops during his visit on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to present his New Year wishes to the French military forces, on January 14, 2015 off the coast of Toulon, southern France. (AFP Photo / Pool / Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is the flagship of the French fleet, and is currently cruising off France’s southern coast in the Mediterranean.
The carrier is the largest Western European warship currently in commission, and is France’s only nuclear-powered surface vessel. The ship can carry 20 to 25 aircraft, including Super Etendard strike fighter jets, Rafale M multirole fighter jets and Aster missiles.
The ship’s deployment, during which it will provide airstrikes against Islamic State militants, is expected to last until May at the earliest.

Military personnel stand on the deck of the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle in the southern French port of Toulon (AFP Photo / Anne Christine Poujoulat)
Military personnel stand on the deck of the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle in the southern French port of Toulon (AFP Photo / Anne Christine Poujoulat)
Since last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris which killed 17, authorities have been tightening security as they continue the search for accomplices to the perpetrators. France has deployed 10,000 troops and 120,000 additional security personnel to sensitive areas including Jewish schools, synagogues and mosques.
In the aftermath of the attacks, 54 people, including four minors, have been arrested for defending terrorism and hate speech. None of those arrested have been linked to the attack. Several, however, have already been convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing.
READ MORE: ‘Act of war’: New Charlie Hebdo edition triggers Muslims’ anger, threats
An order distributed to the country’s judges and prosecutors by the Justice Ministry said that freedom of expression does not include hate speech or calls to violence. Those convicted of inciting terrorism could face up to five years in prison, while inciting terrorism online can result in a seven-year sentence.

‘Act of war’: New Charlie Hebdo edition triggers Muslims’ anger, threats

Published time: January 14, 2015 08:02
Edited time: January 14, 2015 15:24
People wait outside a newsagents in Paris on January 14, 2015 as the latest edition of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo goes on sale. (AFP Photo / Martin Bureau)
People wait outside a newsagents in Paris on January 14, 2015 as the latest edition of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo goes on sale. (AFP Photo / Martin Bureau)
A record 3 million copies of the new edition of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have appeared on French newsstands, with new caricatures triggering outrage among Muslims all over the world, and threats from radical Islamists.
British radical preacher Anjem Choudary, who is allegedly connected with armed militant groups, decried the new edition as an "act of war" and a "blatant provocation."
Many mainstream Muslim organizations also reacted by saying that the mere depiction of the prophet is a sacrilege: Egypt's Islamic body Dar al-Ifta branded the publication "an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims," AFP reported.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Game of Thrones 2016: Are we to see Bush-Clinton dynasties battle?

John Wight is a writer and commentator specializing in geopolitics, UK domestic politics, culture and sport.
Published time: January 11, 2015 11:55
Former President George Bush, facing camera, is hugged by his son Jeb November 6 at the formal opening of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (Reuters)
Former President George Bush, facing camera, is hugged by his son Jeb November 6 at the formal opening of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (Reuters)

The 2016 US Presidential vote is shaping up to be a contest between Hillary Clinton, Democrat and Jeb Bush, Republican – which is further evidence of the soap opera that is US democracy, replete with comedy, farce, and intrigues of dynastic rule.
Both dynasties are drenched in blood and both symbolize the role of money, patronage, and elite Ivy League universities when it comes to the distribution of economic and political power in the land of the free.
Hillary Clinton, ex US Secretary of State and wife of former two-term president Bill Clinton, is intent on being the first female to occupy the White House. She is renowned as a tough, intelligent cookie with a strong attachment to US global hegemony and the expansion of NATO.In other words she’s a hawk.
Jeb Bush, meanwhile, carries with him the reputation of being smarter than his elder brother, George W (or ‘Dubya’), who as with Bill Clinton served two terms as the nation’s leader, leaving a trail of mayhem and destruction behind him in the process. He is most famous for his abuse of the English language, spouting malapropisms and non sequiturs with the same reckless abandon he tore up Afghanistan and Iraq.
When it comes to Bill Clinton, the man George W replaced after a bitterly contested 2000 election against Al Gore – a result which by the way hinged on his brother Jeb arranging for black voters to be stricken from the voter rolls in Florida, where the younger Bush sibling was governor at the time – he was no slouch either when it came to asserting US interests with Cruise missiles. Clinton was at the helm during America’s participation in the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, during which an air war was unleashed on the Serbs in 1999, which killed some 500 civilians. He also ordered a missile attack on a baby milk factory in the Sudan – a perfect example of the exercise of US imperial if ever there was one.
The Bush dynasty goes back much further. It begins with the emergence of Samuel Prescott Bush through the elite environs of Yale University in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to become prominent with the then Rockefeller-dominated US steel industry. During the First World War he was in charge of handing out government contracts to arms and ammunition suppliers, a position combining political and economic clout.
His son, Prescott Bush, served with the US Army in the First World War, after which he married the daughter of George Herbert Walker, who was prominent in banking and business. Bush went to work for his father in law, who in the mid-1920s made him vice-president of W. A. Harriman & Company. This is where the story gets interesting.

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush (Reuters / Mario Anzuoni)
Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush (Reuters / Mario Anzuoni)
W. A. Harriman & Company was a key investor in German industry by the late 1920s, particularly in steel, forming a partnership with German industrialist Fritz Thyssen. Fritz Thyssen was also one of the Nazi Party’s most prominent supporters and financial backers throughout its rise to power in 1933, when Hitler was made German Chancellor.
In the ever-murkier world of US corporate and business ties to the Nazi regime, Prescott Bush was an important player in the German Steel Trust, which emerged as a result of the partnership between W. A. Harriman and Fritz Thyssen. In fact, it was such a close business partnership that when Hitler made himself dictator of Germany they moved to establish credit for the Nazi regime, using the Dutch bank, BHS, which they had also founded. This bank was the registered owner of the Union Banking Corporation in the US, in which Prescott Bush was a major shareholder, and which according to primary sources helped finance Germany’s armaments industry under the Nazi dictator.
George H. W. Bush, the first Bush President of the United States, also came up via Yale University and like his father was a member of its elite Skull and Bones Society, which counts among its alumni a who’s who of past and present prominent US businessmen, politicians, and establishment figures.
George Bush Senior also saw action as a navy pilot during the Second World War. After the War, and after graduating from Yale, he moved to Texas, where he formed his own oil company (as you do).He entered politics soon thereafter, though it wasn’t until 1966 that he got elected to Congress. From 1976 to 1977 he served as the Director of the CIA. He then went on to serve as Ronald Regan’s vice president, before taking over as president in 1989 and serving one term, losing out to a young Bill Clinton in 1992.
The Clinton dynasty may not involve as much intrigue, but it is every bit as sordid. As we have seen it begins with Bill, who in the sixties was a Rhodes Scholar student to Britain’s prestigious Oxford University, where he sat out the Vietnam War. In this he has something in common with George W. Bush, who likewise arranged an opt out of serving in Vietnam, using family connections to secure the role as pilot with the Texas Air National Guard, which provided him with an exemption from being drafted overseas.
Here, then, we have two political dynasties that have been at the forefront of US politics for the past three decades. Bush-Clinton, Clinton-Bush - it almost feels like we’re on a carousel unable to get off, what with the extent to which both families have dominated US politics in modern times.
Get set for the latest chapter in 2016.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Spain wants to change Europe visa-free travel zone to thwart Islamists

Published time: January 11, 2015

 Spanish riot police officers and Spanish civil guards stand guard as Moroccans throw stones at a gate at the Beni-Enzar crossing between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco, in Melilla (AFP Photo / Pedro Armestre)

Spanish riot police officers and Spanish civil guards stand guard as Moroccans throw stones at a gate at the Beni-Enzar crossing between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco, in Melilla (AFP Photo / Pedro Armestre)

Madrid wants to see changes made to the treaty governing the visa-free Schengen area, which would allow Spain to introduce border controls to stem the tide of Islamic militants returning from the Middle East, the country’s interior minister has said.

READ MORE: Marine Le Pen to Hollande: Suspend visa-free zone, strip terror suspects of French citizenship

"We are going to back border controls and it is possible that as a consequence it will be necessary to modify the Schengen treaty," Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told the daily El Pais in an interview on Saturday.

"The existing mobility in the European Union is facilitating the movements (of jihadists) to any country and also to our country," he continued.

The minister and his European counterparts are set to discuss the future of Schengen during a meeting in Paris on Sunday.

Diaz is not the first European politician to consider revamping or altogether suspending the Schengen zone in response to the deadly attacks in and around Paris this week, which left 20 dead, including three attackers.

On Friday, The leader of France’s rightwing Front National (FN), Marine Le Pen, told French President Francois Hollande that the country should “immediately suspend Schengen to be able to control our borders” in what she called an “essential element in the fight against terrorism.”

A man holds a placard reading "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) during a Unity rally “Marche Republicaine” on January 11, 2015 in Strasbourg, eastern France, in tribute to the 17 victims of the three-day killing spree. (AFP Photo / Patrick Hertzog)
READ MORE: Charlie Hebdo massacre aftermath LIVE UPDATES

The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border controls. The agreement allows for both freedom of movement for both European citizens, Schengen visa holders and those who can travel in the area visa-free. Freedom of movement is considered “a fundamental right” guaranteed by the EU to its citizens.

Diaz further called for the establishment of a Europe-wide passenger name record data base, which would aid in sharing passenger information between member states.

"We are convinced of the need for such a tool, to follow those who travel to terrorist operating theaters or who return from there," he said.

He further said that the hate speech, particularly anti-Semitic messages and attempts to recruit young people to militant organizations, needed to be tackled online in a way that did not stop the internet from being a venue of free expression.

"We need to work more closely with Internet companies to guarantee the reporting and if possible removal of all content that amounts to an apology for terrorism or calls for violence and hatred," he said.

Fears of another terror attack in Europe are running high following the recent shootings in France. On Sunday, a report in the Germany daily Bild, citing intelligence from the US National Security Agency, warned that the events in France may be the first in a wave of attacks to strike Europe.

READ MORE: Paris massacre possible prelude to wave of Europe-wide attacks – media citing NSA

The intelligence, reportedly citing conversations between Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) leaders, said a series of European cities could be attacked, including Rome.

The article, however, didn’t furnish details of a concrete terror plot.

EU and US security ministers also met at France’s interior ministry on Sunday to discuss a joint response to terrorism in the wake of the Paris assault. The meeting was held just hours before a massive parade through Paris, where hundreds of thousands of people, along with dozens of world leaders, came in a show of solidarity and remembrance for those who lost their lives.

Following the meeting, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said European interior ministers had agreed to ratchet up cooperation in an effort to halt future terrorist attacks.

The White House further announced it had incited its allied to Washington for a February 18 security summit in Washington to try and stem the tide of violent extremism

Paris anti-terror rally: all religions, ages and nations in massive show of unity

François Hollande says ‘Paris is the capital of the world’ as estimated 3.7 million across France march in solidarity
Paris rally
A man holds a giant pencil aloft during the rally in Paris. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/Reuters
It was the day Paris united. And with dozens of world leaders joining the millions of people marching to commemorate and celebrate the victims of last week’s terror attacks, it was also the day the world united behind the city.
“Today, Paris is the capital of the world. The entire country will rise up,” the French president, François Hollande, said.
It was the first time since the liberation of Paris in August 1944 that so many people – the interior ministry said there were too many to count but most estimates put it at somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million – took to the streets of the city. An estimated 3.7 million took to the streets across the whole country.
As investigations continue into the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, which left 12 dead on Wednesday, the killing of a female police officer the following day, and the attack on a Kosher supermarket by Amédy Coulibaly on Friday in which four died, the mood among the crowds in Paris was one of unity.
This was a nationwide outpouring of grief, solidarity and defiance. Parisiens of all ages, religions and nationalities turned out en masse not only to show their respect for the victims but their support for the values of the Republic: “liberté, égalité, fraternité” – freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
A man holds a placard reading
A man holds a placard reading “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) during the rally. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images
“On est tous Charlie” (We are all Charlie), they chanted, waving French flags, singing La Marseillaise, brandishing pens, pencils, placards and banners in French, English and Arabic.
Some read “Nous sommes la République” (We are the Republic) and “Je suis Muslim”. One child held a banner reading: “I am Charlie, I am the police, and no Chérif will take away my liberty.” Another young boy carried a placard reading: “Later I will be a journalist. I’m not afraid!”
“We are united – Muslims, Catholics, Jews, we want to live peacefully together,” one woman told reporters.
A group of marchers carried a large model of a pencil with “NOT AFRAID” written on the side.
Demonstrators make their way along Place de la Republique.
Demonstrators make their way along Place de la Republique. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
The noise along the route, where around 2,200 heavily armed police and gendarmes, including crack snipers on roofs, were deployed, rose and fell in waves, with songs and chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” punctuating the solemnity of the atmosphere and drowning out the helicopters overhead.
At regular intervals, the crowd stopped to applaud police and gendarmes shouting “merci police”; three police officers died in the attacks.
On a political and diplomatic level, it was unparalleled. Protocol rules were ignored as around 50 world leaders congregated in the French capital. Presidents, prime ministers, statesmen and women took buses from the Elysée palace to join the march from Place de la République to Place de la Nation, two of Paris’s best-known squares.
The occasion was sombre and heavy with symbolism. As the dignitaries left the Elysée, it rained. By the time they arrived, the grey clouds had parted, allowing a rare ray of winter sunshine.
Heads of state take part in the march.
Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images
Here were some of the most powerful people on earth jostling for space in the Paris boulevard named after Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer, historian and advocate of freedom of religion and speech.
The leaders then set off, arm in arm, Hollande in the centre, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to his left. To his right, Ibrahim Boubacar Këita, the president of Mali – where French troops intervened to push back Islamist forces in 2013 – the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the British prime minister, David Cameron. As they marched, the crowds that lined the route broke into cheers and applause.
As a powerful mark of respect for those who died, the world leaders took second place, walking behind the families and friends of the victims of last week’s attacks.
Charlie Hebdo staff, including those who survived Wednesday’s attack, wore white headbands bearing the name Charlie.
In the leading cortege, tears streamed down faces etched with pain, grief and shock. Several mourners had to be gently supported as they made their way towards Place de la Nation.
In one poignant and profoundly emotional scene, Hollande hugged Patrick Pelloux, an A&E doctor who is also a journalist at Charlie Hebdo. Pelloux arrived late at the magazine office on Wednesday to find many of his colleagues had been slaughtered. He and other survivors have vowed to publish Charlie Hebdo next Wednesday despite the attack with a record print run of 1 million copies.
Hollande comforts Charlie Hebdo columnist Patrick Pelloux at the solidarity march.
Hollande comforts Charlie Hebdo columnist Patrick Pelloux at the solidarity march. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images
Leaders of all the religions marched behind a banner bearing the slogan “We are Charlie”.
Earlier in the day hundreds gathered to honour Ahmed Merabet, 42, the police officer gunned down in the Charlie Hebdo attack. The hashtag #JesuisAhmed has become widely used on Twitter along with #JesuisCharlie.
Pierre-Yves Martin, mayor of Livry Gargan in the north-east of Paris, paid homage to a “calm and talented” man. The Muslim officer was killed at close range by the fleeing gunmen Saïd and Chérif Kouachi.
“Ahmed Merabet, your life was stolen and no one can give it back, and so it was not taken in vain we are here, united against barbarism and to uphold the values of the Republic,” Martin said.
The mayor asked those gathered to hold hands for a minute’s silence. Flowers were laid in front of a portrait of the assassinated man, and the crowd sang La Marseillaise.
On Sunday evening, after the march, Hollande was due at the Grande Synagogue in Paris to meet Jewish leaders. The Jewish community has been traumatised by Friday’s hostage-taking at the kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris.
Speaking to reporters before meeting Hollande and the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, Roger Cukierman, president of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF, condemned those who were using social media to express support for the Kouachi brothers killed in a shootout by police on Friday, around the same time a separate police assault killed gunman Amédy Coulibaly at the supermarket.
“It is intolerable that there is a hashtag on social media saying #IamKouachi,” Cukierman said. He branded the tweets as “an apology for murder” which should be pursued through the courts.
Government ministers, led by prime minister Manuel Valls, and representatives from France’s political parties, including the former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, were part of another delegation at the march. The far right Front National, which has linked immigration with terrorism, was not invited to take part in the official cortege.
France’s Socialist government had called for a Republican march, but so many citizens responded to the call it became more of a crowded shuffle along the 3km route.
The events of last week have deeply shocked and scarred the French people who found a sense of collective comfort in coming together on Sunday to say “We are not afraid”. As night fell, they continued to march and gather, reluctant to leave the comfort of the crowd and the momentous occasion.