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Posts tagged "EU"

H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW

KIEV, Ukraine — Mayhem gripped the center of the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday evening as riot police officers moved on protesters massed behind barriers raised throughout Independence Square, the focal point of more than two months of protests against President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

As the attack began just before 8 p.m. local time, the police tried to drive two armored personnel carriers through stone-reinforced barriers outside the Khreschatyk Hotel in the square. But they became bogged down and, set upon by protesters wielding rocks and fireworks, burst into flames, apparently trapping the security officers inside and prompting desperate rescue efforts from their colleagues.

[…]

The fighting broke out a day after Russia threw a new financial lifeline to Mr. Yanukovych’s government by buying $2 billion in Ukrainian government bonds.

The Russian aid signaled confidence from the Kremlin that important votes in Parliament expected this week to amend the Constitution and form a new cabinet will go in Russia’s favor. It also highlighted the absence of any clear promise of financial aid from the European Union or the United States, which have supported the opposition in Ukraine.

Mr. Yanukovych negotiated a $15 billion loan with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in December, and Ukraine received a first segment of this soon afterward when Russia purchased Ukrainian bonds worth $3 billion. But Russia suspended further payments last month after violent clashes broke out in Kiev and the pro-Russian prime minister resigned.

h/t: New York Times

Ukraine repeals tough laws, army calls for ‘urgent steps’ (via AFP)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped controversial anti-protest laws Friday but faced calls from the military to take “urgent steps” to ease the ex-Soviet nation’s worst crisis since independence. A leading protester reappeared with his face…

TEHRAN — Iran’s interim nuclear deal with the world’s major powers is scheduled to begin on January 20, officials with Iran and the European Union said Sunday.

"Capitals have confirmed the result of the talks in Geneva … the Geneva deal will be implemented from January 20," Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry told reporters in Tehran, the semi-official Mehr news agency said.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also confirmed the news in a statement on Sunday. 

Ashton represents the six nations — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — in diplomatic contacts with Iran related to the nuclear standoff. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.

Putin promised following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of growth for all involved.

The alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade rival to the 28-nation EU bloc.

“Government representatives of the troika (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) … have developed the draft of the institutional part of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement,” Putin said in televised remarks.

“This document determines the international legal status, organisational frameworks, the objectives and mechanisms of how the union will operate starting on January 1, 2015,” Putin said.

Putin has made the creation of a post-Soviet economic union that could one day even be joined by nations such as Turkey and India the keystone project of his third Kremlin term.

Russia has put immense pressure on Ukraine to join the alliance and threatened economic sanctions against Kiev when it was on the verge of signing a landmark trade and political association deal with Brussels last month.

Kiev’s decision to spurn the EU pact sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and exposed the deep cultural rifts running between the nationalist west of Ukraine and its more Russified eastern parts.

But the size of those rallies began to ebb when Ukraine agreed a $15-billion bailout package with Russia that also included a one-third cut in the price Moscow charges its neighbour for natural gas.

[…]

The three nations on Tuesday also agreed on a “road map” paving the way for the membership in their union of Armenia — a tiny ex-Soviet Caucasus nation that had also been expected to sign an initial agreement with Brussels last month.

Putin rewarded Armenia’s reversal by slashing the price of its natural gas imports from Russia to $189 from $270 per 1,000 cubic metres.

Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said it should take “about half a year” for Armenia to formally join the existing Moscow-led customs pact.

Putin added that the impoverished Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan was also conducting initial membership talks.

Kyrgyzstan’s participation has been held up by Russia’s worries over its inability to plug its porous border with China.

h/t:  The Raw Story

h/t: Kiley Kroh

KIEV — Crowds toppled a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the Ukrainian capital and attacked it with hammers on Sunday in the latest mass protests against President Viktor Yanukovich and his plans for closer ties with Russia.

The statue’s felling - a symbolic rejection of Moscow’s power - came after opposition leaders told hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to keep up pressure on Yanukovich to sack his government.

A Reuters reporter at the scene saw the protesters breaking up the statue with hammers after using ropes and metal bars to bring it crashing down.

The demonstrators are furious with the Yanukovich government for its decision to ditch a landmark pact with the European Union in favor of a trade deal with Moscow, Ukraine’s Soviet-era overlord.

Yanukovich’s sudden tack towards Russia has provoked the biggest street protests since the 2004-5 Orange Revolution, when people power forced a re-run of a fraud-tainted election and thwarted his first run for the presidency.

Sunday’s rally marked a further escalation in weeks of confrontation between the authorities and protesters that have raised fears for political and economic stability in the former Soviet republic of 46 million people.

"This is a decisive moment when all Ukrainians have gathered here because they do not want to live in a country where corruption rules and where there is no justice," said world heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko.

[…]

Ukraine’s opposition accuses Yanukovich, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, of preparing to take the country into a Moscow-led customs union, which they see as an attempt to recreate the Soviet Union.

"We are on a razor’s edge between a final plunge into cruel dictatorship and a return home to the European community," jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said in an emotional message to the crowd, read out by her daughter Yevgenia.

Yanukovich has said he decided to shelve the EU trade deal because it would have been too costly for Ukraine’s struggling economy and the country needs more time to prepare for such a move. He says he is preparing a “strategic partnership” with Russia, but has not committed to joining the customs union.

h/t: NBCNews.com

arnabocean:

A bit of explanation on the Cyprus situation.

Why are Cypriot banks so big? Because the country is a tax haven where corporations and wealthy foreigners stash their money. Officially, 37 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks come from nonresidents; the true number, once you take into account wealthy expatriates and people who are only nominally resident in Cyprus, is surely much higher. Basically, Cyprus is a place where people, especially but not only Russians, hide their wealth from both the taxmen and the regulators. Whatever gloss you put on it, it’s basically about money-laundering.

And the truth is that much of the wealth never moved at all; it just became invisible. On paper, for example, Cyprus became a huge investor in Russia — much bigger than Germany, whose economy is hundreds of times larger. In reality, of course, this was just “roundtripping” by Russians using the island as a tax shelter.

It’s similar, Krugman says, to what happened in Iceland during the financial crisis, and how Iceland handled the situation then may be a good model for Cyprus to follow too.

Great piece from the always excellent Dr. Krugman.

(A great book on the precipitation of the financial crisis in nations such as Iceland, Greece and Ireland is Boomerang, by Michael Lewis. Go read it if you’re interested in this topic, highly recommended.)

(Reuters) - Arm raised in a Nazi-style salute, the leader of Greece’s fastest-rising political party surveyed hundreds of young men in black T-shirts as they exploded into cheers. Their battle cry reverberated through the night: Blood! Honour! Golden Dawn!

"We may sometimes raise our hand this way, but these hands are clean, not dirty. They haven’t stolen," shouted Nikolaos Mihaloliakos as he stood, floodlit, in front of about 2,000 diehard party followers filling an open-air amphitheatre at Goudi park, a former military camp near Athens.

"We were dozens, then a few hundred. Now we’re thousands and it’s only the beginning," cried the leader of Golden Dawn, a far-right party that is seeing its support soar amid Greece’s economic collapse. Last month’s rally revealed the party, which describes itself as nationalist and pledges to expel all illegal foreigners, has a new-found sense of triumph, even a swagger, that some find menacing.

Riding a wave of public anger at corrupt politicians, austerity and illegal immigration, Golden Dawn has seen its popularity double in a few months. A survey by VPRC, an independent polling company, put the party’s support at 14 percent in October, compared with the seven percent it won in June’s election.

Political analysts see no immediate halt to its meteoric ascent. They warn that Golden Dawn, which denies being neo-Nazi despite openly adopting similar ideology and symbols, may lure as many as one in three Greek voters.

"As long as the political system doesn’t change and doesn’t put an end to corruption, this phenomenon will not be stemmed," said Costas Panagopoulos, chief of ALCO, another independent polling company. "Golden Dawn can potentially tap up to 30 percent of voters."

The party now lies third in the polls, behind conservative New Democracy and the main opposition, the radical leftist Syriza. Violent behavior by Golden Dawn members, who often stroll through run-down Athens neighborhoods harassing immigrants, seems to boost rather than hurt the party’s standing.

As the government imposes yet more austerity on an enraged public, the collapse of the ruling conservative-leftist coalition remains on the political horizon. The possibility that Golden Dawn could capture second place in a snap election is slim but real, say pollsters.

Analysts believe that, ultimately, the party lacks the broad appeal and structure needed to gain mass traction. In World War Two Greece suffered massacres and famine in its fight against the Nazis, and the spectre of the 1967-1974 military junta still hangs heavy over its modern politics. So why are many Greeks now turning to a party whose emblems and rhetoric, critics say, resemble Hitler’s?

Golden Dawn denies any such resemblance. In an interview with Reuters at an open-air cafe in the Athens district of Papagou, a traditional neighbourhood for military personnel, Ilias Panagiotaros, a Golden Dawn lawmaker and spokesman, explained the party’s appeal. “Golden Dawn is the only institution in this country that works. Everything else has stopped working or is partially working,” he said.

"We operate like a well-organized army unit, because the military is the best institution in any country." Greece’s far-right party goes on the offensive (PDF) link.reuters.com/rut83t > Greece’s other debt problem (PDF) link.reuters.com/ryq82t

Short, squat and combative, Mihaloliakos once praised Hitler and denied the Nazi gas chambers existed. A former special forces commando in the Greek army, he met the leaders of the Greek military junta while in prison for carrying illegal weapons and explosives as a member of a far-right group in 1979.

When pressed on such issues, Golden Dawn says they are all in the past and it is looking to the future.

For years after Mihaloliakos founded the party in 1985 it remained marginal: in the 2009 elections Golden Dawn won just 0.29 percent of the vote, or fewer than 20,000 votes. Yet in June, the party amassed votes from across the political spectrum, wiping out the more moderate nationalist LAOS party and winning support from as far left as the communist KKE party, pollsters said.

Now it is stealing votes from New Democracy, which flip-flopped on the international bailout keeping Greece afloat and, after coming to power, imposed harsh cuts instead of relief measures. Though Golden Dawn attracts mainly urban male voters up to 35 years old, the party is also gaining its share of women and the elderly, primarily those suffering unemployment or falling living standards, say pollsters.

Part of its appeal is down to the sort of welfare work that Hamas, the Palestinian party, does in Gaza. Golden Dawn distributes food in poor neighborhoods, helps old ladies get money safely from ATMs - and has also set up a Greeks-only blood bank.

A short film showed highlights of the year, which included attacks on immigrant street vendors, clashes with police outside parliament and food distribution to the poor. When the film showed Golden Dawn lawmaker Ilias Kasidiaris slapping a female communist lawmaker, Liana Kanelli, across the face on live TV, youths bellowed profanities against the victim.

"Golden Dawn’s target is simple. We want the absolute majority in parliament so we can replace the constitution with our own," Kasidiaris told the crowd. “It will then be easy to immediately arrest and deport all illegal immigrants.”

Pollsters were ready to write off the party when Kasidiaris slapped Kanelli after she swatted him with some papers during a dispute he was having with a Syriza lawmaker. Kasidiaris says he was defending himself; Kanelli says she was coming to the aid of the Syriza lawmaker after Kasidiaris had thrown water at her.

Painting Golden Dawn as an aberration stemming from the financial crisis, pollsters said the party’s support would dwindle. The opposite happened - the party gained 3 to 4 percentage points in polls as a direct result of the Kasidiaris incident.

In parliament Golden Dawn’s 18 lawmakers cluster in a rear corner of the marble-covered hall, but make no attempt to hide their ideology. Recently, Panagiotaros asked the welfare ministry to find out which babies admitted to state day-care centers were actually Greek. Eleni Zaroulia, wife of party leader Mihaloliakos and also a lawmaker, described immigrants as “every sort of sub-human who invades our country carrying all sorts of diseases.”

Artemis Matthaiopoulos, another Golden Dawn lawmaker, was formerly the bassist for a heavy metal band called Pogrom, which produced songs such as “Speak Greek or Die” and “Auschwitz”.

Rights groups say racist attacks in Greece have been surging, but that many immigrants are reluctant to report them because of their illegal status or mistrust of the police.

Like other victims, he accuses Greek police of supporting Golden Dawn and hindering immigrants in reporting attacks. In a July report, advocacy group Human Rights Watch said gangs of Greeks were regularly attacking immigrants with impunity and authorities were ignoring victims or discouraging them from filing complaints.

Greek police deny accusations they are soft on, or even sometimes work with, Golden Dawn. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias has vehemently denied reports that police were beating up illegal immigrants and has threatened to sue British newspaper The Guardian over the issue. He is at such odds with Golden Dawn that the party ridiculed him during the youth festival at Goudi park.

But a member of the police officers’ union, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, admitted there was some sympathy for the party among the ranks. “There are some among the police who ideologically support Golden Dawn and a handful that have been violent against illegal immigrants,” the unionist said. “But these cases are being probed by justice.”

H/T: Reuters

Greek lawmakers approved the country’s 2013 austerity budget early Monday, an essential step in Greece’s efforts to persuade its international creditors to unblock a vital rescue loan installment without which the country will go bankrupt.

The budget passed by a 167-128 vote in the 300-member Parliament. It came days after a separate bill of deep spending cuts and tax hikes for the next two years squeaked through with a narrow majority following severe disagreements among the three parties in the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged that the spending cuts will be the last Greeks have to endure.

"Just four days ago, we voted the most sweeping reforms ever in Greece," he said. "The sacrifices (in the earlier bill and the budget) will be the last. Provided, of course, we implement all we have legislated. "

Finance ministers from the 17-nation Eurozone are meeting in Brussels later Monday, with Greece high on the agenda. However, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has indicated it is unlikely that the ministers will decide on the disbursement at that meeting.

"We all … want to help Greece, but we won’t be put under pressure," Schaeuble told the weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Schaeuble said the so-called troika of debt inspectors likely won’t deliver their report on Greece’s reform program by Monday. The creditors also want to see what the debt inspectors have to say about Greece’s debt sustainability.

But speaking minutes before the vote, Samaras pledged the bailout funds would be disbursed “on time.”

Disbursement of the next installment is essential “because the state’s available funds are marginal, although better than expected because the 2012 budget is being executed better than expected,” he said, adding that the funds are needed to pay salaries and pensions, as well as for the import of medicines, fuel and food.

Hours before the vote, 15,000 people converged outside Parliament in a peaceful demonstration. The crowd was far smaller than the 80,000-strong crowd which protested last Wednesday’s austerity bill vote. That demonstration degenerated into violent clashes between riot police and hundreds of protesters.

Greece is mired in a deep recession heading into its sixth year, with more than a quarter of Greeks unemployed. Battered by a mountain of debt and a gaping budget deficit, Greece has been relying on international bailout loans from other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010.

Alexis Tsipras, the head of the main opposition Radical Left Coalition party, or Syriza, insisted the new austerity cuts are unfair and would leave Greeks unable to buy essentials such as food, fuel and medicine this winter.

"This is why we say you are dangerous for this country," Tspiras said, addressing the government. "You are incapable of negotiating."

Tspiras promised to repeal the austerity laws and negotiate “on an equal footing” with the country’s creditors if he were to come to power.

The poll showed Syriza, which placed second in the June elections, ahead of the coalition leader, the center-right New Democracy party, by nearly 3 percentage points. The extreme right-wing nationalist Golden Dawn party continued its strong showing with more than 10 per cent of respondents preferring it.

h/t: CBC.ca

(Reuters) - The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for promoting peace, democracy and human rights over six decades in an award seen as a morale boost as the bloc struggles to resolve its economic crisis.

The award served as a reminder that the EU had largely brought peace to a continent which tore itself apart in two world wars in which tens of millions died.

The EU has transformed most of Europe “from a continent of wars to a continent of peace,” Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said in announcing the award in Oslo.

"The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest," Jagland said. "The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights."

Jagland praised the EU for rebuilding Europe from the devastation of World War Two and for its role in spreading stability after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

While welcomed by European leaders, the award will have little practical effect on the debt crisis afflicting the single currency zone, which has brought economic instability and social unrest to several states with rioting in Athens and Madrid.

h/t:  Reuters

ATHENS/MADRID, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Demonstrators clashed with police on the streets of Athens and Madrid on Wednesday in an upsurge of popular anger at new austerity measures being imposed on two of the euro zone’s most vulnerable economies.

In some of the most violent confrontations, Greek police fired tear gas at hooded rioters hurling petrol bombs as thousands joined the country’s biggest protest in more than a year.

The unrest erupted after nearly 70,000 people marched to the Greek parliament chanting “EU, IMF Out!” on the day of a general strike against further cuts demanded by foreign lenders.

"We can’t take it anymore - we are bleeding. We can’t raise our children like this," said Dina Kokou, a 54-year-old teacher and mother of four who lives on 1,000 euros ($1,250) a month.

In Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faced violence on the streets of the capital and growing talk of secession in Catalonia as he moves cautiously closer to asking Europe for a bailout, aware that such an action has cost other European leaders their jobs.

In public, Rajoy has been resisting calls to move quickly to request assistance, but behind the scenes he is putting together the pieces to meet the stringent conditions that will accompany rescue funds.

Rajoy is gradually shedding his reluctance to seek a sovereign bailout for the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy - a condition for European Central Bank intervention to cut his country’s borrowing costs.

He suggested on Wednesday that he would make the move if debt financing costs remained too high for too long.

"I can assure you 100 percent that I would ask for this bailout," he told the Wall Street Journal.

He also said he had not made his mind up on whether to allow pensions to rise in step with inflation, which could cost the government an extra 6 billion euros this year.

"We need to be sufficiently flexible in order not to create any further problems," he said when asked about pensions.

His remarks, coupled with the central bank’s warning on the economy helped drive up Spain’s borrowing costs, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year bond jumping to 6 percent, a level seen as unsustainable in the medium term. The index of leading stocks fell 3.46 percent to a two-week low.

SAMARAS FACES TEST

With Rajoy under new pressure from the Catalans, his fellow euro zone struggler, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, also faced a major test, in the shape of a 24-hour strike called by the country’s two biggest unions.

Ships stayed in port, museums and monuments were shut and air traffic controllers walked off the job. Trains and flights were suspended, public offices and shops were shut, and hospitals provided a reduced service.

Union anger is directed at spending cuts worth nearly 12 billion euros ($16 billion) over the next two years that Greece has promised the European Union and International Monetary Fund in an effort to secure its next tranche of aid.

The bulk of those cuts is expected to come from cutting wages, pensions and welfare benefits, heaping a new wave of misery on Greeks who say repeated rounds of austerity have pushed them to the brink and failed to transform the country for the better.

h/t: Huffington Post, via Reuters

The poll of more than 12,000 people across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and China was prepared for the YouGov-Cambridge forum this week at which the Guardian is a media partner.

The results are a sign that affection for Barack Obama has diminished little since his 2008 speech in Berlin in which he promised to restore America’s reputation on the world stage, even though, four years on, Guantánamo remains open and the US is still engaged in military action in Afghanistan.

But while Europeans had a strongly negative reaction to Romney, the prospect of him winning the White House was greeted with less dismay in Pakistan, where about 13% of respondents said it would make them more favourable to the US, compared to just 9% who said it would make them less favourable.

This is possibly a reflection of the anger towards the Obama administration over drone attacks which have led to civilian deaths and are viewed as an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty.

There was less antipathy, too, in the Middle East and north Africa, where only 8% said they felt a Romney presidency would make them feel less favourable towards the US.

Again, the reason for this may be more to do with negative feelings about the current administration, in particular its failure to mount a serious attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, than warmth for Romney.

But the most striking finding was the level of antipathy towards the Republican in Europe. Although he is still largely an unknown quantity outside the US, he alienated many during an ill-fated overseas trip in the summer, particularly in Britain, where he appeared to publicly criticise Olympic planning and the level of enthusiasm for the London games.

Forty-seven percent of UK respondents said a Romney victory would make them feel less favourable towards the US, and only 3% would make them feel more favourable.

That sentiment was mirrored in Germany and France, where only 4% and 5% respectively said that he would make them feel more favourable towards the US. In Germany, 48% said it would make them feel less favourable and in France 38%.

It was not just in Britain that Romney’s overseas trip went down badly.

French daily Le Figaro, normally staunch conservative, ran a blog with the headline: ‘Is Mitt Romney a loser?’ In Poland, he was criticised by the Solidarity movement for being anti-unions.

(via truth-has-a-liberal-bias)