Despite Provocations, UN Thanks Akinci for Cyprus Unity Efforts

With Turkey violating international law by sending drill ships into Cypriot sovereign waters to look for energy, the an envoy from the United Nations – which has ignored pleas from the legitimate government to intervene – has instead thanked Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci for what she said was his work to help reunify the island divided by a 1974 invasion.

That was according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, the country’s oldest English-language newspaper, which said that UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, an American diplomat, sent Akinci a letter at the same time the US told Turkey to back off its drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, but was ignored.

Lute had met with Akinci and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades separately in a push to get them talking again but, like a long line of diplomats and envoys before her over the decades, also failed before leaving.

Akinci and Anastasiades had met informally on Aug. 9, more than two years after the last round of negotiations fell apart at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied northern third and wanted the right to intervene militarily again when they wanted.

Lute’s letter thanked Akinci for his continuing commitment to the efforts for building a constructive path to the solution of the Cyprus impasse, the paper said, adding that she wanted to meet with him again but it wasn’t said why or what she hoped to accomplish with Akinci and Anastasiades set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this month.

Akıncı received Lute on Sept. 1, Presidential Spokesman Barış Burcu said on Twitter and talked on and off for a week, during which she met him six times and also shuttled back and forth to talk to Anastasiades instead of trying to have them both in a room at the same time.

Akıncı and Anastasiades met at an informal reception at the U.N. Good Offices Mission in the buffer zone on Sept. 6, before Lute’s departure the paper said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who presided at the Swiss debacle, is expected to meet Akıncı and Anastasiades in New York during the UN annual opening.

Summer Flood of Refugees, Migrants Overwhelms Greek Islands

Already busting at the seams, Greek islands were overrun this summer with thousands more refugees and migrants that Turkey let human traffickers send, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning he could send as many as 5.5 million unless the European Union fulfills terms of a suspended swap deal.

While the rate of arrivals is a trickle compared to what it was in 2015 after the Radical Left SYRIZA took power – ousted in July 7 snap elections by New Democracy – the numbers have been rising so fast again that the government said it would both speed the processing of asylum applications and deportations back to Turkey of those deemed ineligible.

That has human rights groups anxious that the applicants – most of the more than 75,000 in detention centers and camps, including more than 22,700 on the islands – could be pushed back without any appeals.

They’ve been housed in detention centers and camps that human rights groups said are unfite for humans and with minors at risk the most affected, the cries of the groups and island officials and residents unheeded until the Conservatives took power.

In August, nearly 10,000 arrived in all of Greece, said The New York Times in a feature on the surge, most by sea from Turkey but also at the northern land border between the countries at the treacherous Evros River where dozens have drowned trying to cross.

Erdogan is squeezing the EU hard, also demanding the bloc go ahead with promises to deliver 6 billion euros ($6.69 billion,) provide visa-free entry for Turkish citizens and speed the process of the country’s European Union hopes that have all but dashed by his provocations and clampdown on the media and civil society after a failed 2016 coup against him.

“This either happens,” Erdogan said in a speech, “or otherwise we will have to open the gates.” That would overrun Greek islands as the EU has closed its borders to refugees and migrants, dumping the problem mostly on Greece during a long-running economic and austerity crisis.

Turkey has since completed a border wall and has imposed restrictions on Syrians fleeing their country’s war and traveling from Lebanon or Jordan, the paper said, with Erdogan reluctant to be more lenient even to use his country as a bridge to get them to Europe.

Some 3.6 million Syrian refugees already live in Turkey, the world’s largest expatriate Syrian population, along with hundreds of thousands from other countries and he has the ability to unfetter them, a prospect fearful for Greece and making the EU reluctant to be tougher with sanctions over Turkish drilling for energy in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ.)

“Erdogan’s recent comments on unleashing a new refugee wave are a product of his growing frustration with the huge number already in Turkey,” Bulent Aliriza, Director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research group.

“It is unlikely that there is a fully thought-through master plan ready for implementation,” he told the paper,  with the speed at which human traffickers are sending them to Greek islands making it seem likely they have the government’s backing.

That included a wave on Aug. 29 with Turkey’s Coast Guard not intervening to stop it, seeing them land on the island of Lesbos, which is housing 10,000 in a detention center meant for four times less than that.

“What we found weird was that this was a trend, and they didn’t change the way they operated to try to stop this,” said Finn Sands-Robinson, who leads Refugee Rescue’s land-based observation team told the paper.

But more than 80% of the migrants who landed in Lesbos in August were from Afghanistan, the other country that sends the most to Greece, people fleeing war and economic conditions and terrorist activity.

Though the EU has allocated provided about $1.9 billion in subsidies for the Greek camps, the government hasn’t spent it, reportedly anxious better facilities would spur more to come, although that was under SYRIZa.

In September, through the 13th, some 3,469 more migrants arrived on Greece’s northern Aegean islandsg, according to figures published by the region’s general police directorate.

Breaking down the numbers, 2,078 foreign nationals arrived on Lesvos, 589 on Chios and 802 on Samos since September 1. In August, arrivals on the islands of the north Aegean totalled 5,813, of which 3,866 on Lesvos, 685 on Chios amd 1,262 on Samos.

SLOW ASYLUM TRAIN

New Democracy may be rethinking its plans for speed asylum and accelerate deportations, noted Greek journalist John Psaropoulos wrote for Al-Jazeera, after the government accused SYRIZA of creating an “absurd … unique, complicated” legal framework for asylum, leading to “endless recycling of asylum applications,” and vowing to simplify it.

That would pas the fate onto administrative courts which are already struggling with numbers so vast it takes up to two years and more to process, people kept in detention during that time, seeing ethnic clashes between groups and with riot police at the camps.

“The possible transfer of these cases to the administrative courts will … greatly overburden them, which has consequences for the speed and efficiency of their overall performance,” a statement from the Administrative Judges’ Union said, accoding to the report.

The Appeals Authority, created in 2016 as part of the Greek Asylum Service, has heard more than 36,000 denials, overturning about three percent of them but those now rejected could be unable to appeal under the reforms.

New Democracy created the Asylum Service while in power in 2013 and now essentially is rolling back its support, with human rights groups fearing the impact on those denied, left in limbo to flee and hide in Greece or try to get to other EU countries to avoid being returned to Turkey.

“Changing the system won’t speed things up and it will probably lead to a lessening of rights for refugees,” Vasilis Papadopoulos, head of legal research at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR,) a leading legal aid charity told the news site.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Al Jazeera that “further clarification by the Greek authorities” was needed, but stressed “the right to appeal is a fundamental safeguard.”

Under the terms of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal, Turkey was supposed to take back who didn’t get asylum in Greece with the EU’s Dublin Regulation allowing refugees and migrants the right to seek sanctuary only where they first land.

The UNHCR also questioned the imperative of speeding up returns to Turkey. “In 2018, for the fifth consecutive year, Turkey was the country that hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide,” it said, adding that Turkey needed “further support to develop its international protection framework”.

“Mr. Erdogan needs to understand that he cannot threaten Greece and Europe in an attempt to secure more funding for refugee management,” Mitsotakis told reporters on the day Erdogan spoke of repercussions.

US Gambling Giants Mohegan, Hard Rock, Seek Hellenikon Casino License

The bid for a casino license essential to the 8-billion euro ($8.93 billion) development of the long-delayed abandoned Hellenikon International Airport on Athens’ coast is down to two US heavyweights, others scared off by stalling under former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.

Connecticut’s Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MG&E) Chief Executive Mario Kontomerkos told reporters on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) that his company is still in the game for the license, with the tender set to go out on Oct. 4.

The only other potential bidder in Hard Rock International, which has its headquarters in Florida. has reiterated the casino operator’s interest in an international tender for an integrated resort casino at the Helleniko site, its president and CEO, Mario Kontomerkos, told reporters on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).

MG&E local partner in a consortium expected to bid for the license is ATHEX-listed GEK Terna, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki. Kontomerkos said the company is pleased with the new New Democracy’s push to streamline bureaucratic procedures needed for the privatization to get off the ground, while adding that MG&E looks forward to contributing to the “landmark project” for the country, the report added.

The October date is behind that set earlier by Development and Investments Minister Adonis Georgiadis, another delay although Prime Minister Kyrikos Mitsotakis said getting the development going was his top priority, but now pushed back at least to year’s end.

Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen announced a binding offer for the casino in August, of 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion,) with the company putting up 250 million euros ($279.81 million,) and the rest to be financed.

The casino package includes a hotel, a conference center, restaurants and other entertainment areas, the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency said. Allen said that his proposal will respect local culture and include local agencies, bringing the casino to a city that has been international for 3,000 years.

The Hard Rock proposal he said would create 3,000 new jobs in construction and 1,600 in the facilities and would be completed in 20-26 months. Hard Rock International has facilities in 74 countries with 188 Hard Rock Cafes, 240 Rock shops, 29 hotels and 11 casinos, Allen said.

Greece Still Lags in World Economic Freedom Ranking

Greece fell one place to 102d among 162 countries in the Economic Freedom of the World report in 2017 when it was under the rule of the Radical Left SYRIZA that resisted private investors while then-Premier Alexis Tsipras said he wanted them.

That was the result of the Canada-based Fraser Institute that found Greece just behind South Africa and one spot ahead of Ghana, showing how dire the situation is as the new New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it would try to lure back foreign businesses scared off by an avalanche of SYRIZA tax hikes.

The survey’s criteria includes personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter markets and compete, and security of the person and privately owned property. Forty-two data points are used to construct a summary index and to measure the degree of economic freedom in five areas.

This year’s results were again presented in Athens by the liberal think tank KEFIM and were disappointing as the country was at the time beginning to show small shoots of recovery from an economic crisis now almost 10 years old but no rebound yet.

Three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($363.7 billion) ended on Aug. 20, 2018 but Greece still hasn’t been able to make a full market return and Mitsotakis has had to back off his pledge to push the country’s European creditors to back off a requirement the country have a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 179.54 billion euros ($200.3 billion) that the Premier said is squelching a comeback.

Hong Kong – now in the midst of months of protests that cut into the economy – and Singapore were in the top two positions again, followed by New Zealand, Switzerland, the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Mauritius.

The 10 lowest-rated countries are: Iraq, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Algeria, Sudan, Libya, and Venezuela.

Greek Prosecutor Wants Ex-Media Tycoon Cleared of Bank Fraud

ATHENS – With Greek banks buried under bad loans and state-run banks having collapsed for handing out money that wasn’t paid back, a Greek prosecutor has recommended one of the country’s biggest media bosses be acquitted of getting 45 million euros ($50.2 million) in loans.

The money was used by Stavros Psycharis, 74, former President of the Lambrakis Press Group (DOL) to purchase shares in the company but was given without submitting required collateral and guarantees, said Kathimerini.

Ten executives of Alpha Bank charged with failing to comply with bank regulations should also be cleared said the prosecutor, who wasn’t named, because she said there was no harm to the bank despite the violation of the law.

She added that the loans were legal as they aimed to prevent the collapse of the media group and the layoff of 2,500 workers without explaining why that was reason to ignore the alleged crime.

In 2016, a court said Psycharis, who kept complaining he was ill and didn’t want to show up to face charges, would be prosecuted on charges of tax evasion and money laundering afer an audit showed the loan wasn’t declared in his finances.

That came after his trial on charges of submitting inaccurate source of income then was postponed the declared deemed it was unclear whether the inaccuracies were accidental or the result of deceit. A court will decide on the prosecutor’s recommendation.

DOL operates the flagship newspaper To Vima and Ta Nea as well as the news portal In.gr, the radio station Vima Fm 99.5 and the magazines MarieClaire, Cosmopolitan and Vita.

The media group came under the control of wealthy shipowner Evangelos Marinakis in 2017.

More Greeks Shunning Church for Cheaper Civil Weddings

ATHENS – Turning their back on centuries of tradition, a growing number of Greeks are skipping church to get marred in civil weddings because they are far cheaper, not having to pay priests, churches, and the ancillary costs of big events.

The phenomenon has grown during the country’s 9 ½-year economic and austerity crisis, with Kathmerini reporting that data from the country’s statistical agency ELSTAT finding that as long ago as 2012 that more Greeks got married in civil weddings than churches, by a margin of 51.8-48.2 percent, with the trend continuing through 2017, with no report on the data since then.

The site Insider said the average cost of a big church wedding in Greece is fat indeed, coming in at 16,654 euros ($18,580) and with big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings by successive governments as terms of 326 billion euros ($363.7) in three bailouts, people found their style of living drastically reduced, including weddings where Greeks usually go all-out in boisterous, joyous celebrations.

Protesters Want End to Squatters Rousting in Exarchia

ATHENS – Some 3000 people marched through Greece’s capital Sept. 14 to protest riot police going into the anarchist-heavy neighborhood of Exarchia to force out squatters, drug dealers, criminals and end lawlessness and violence there.

The rally was organized by anti-establishment groups upset that the new New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has targeted the area where they were allowed to run amok during the 4 1/2-year reign of the sympathetic Radical Left SYRIZA.

The neighborhood is a gritty, grimy graffiti-covered collection of filthy buildings in disrepair, and unkempt parks but a favorite of Leftists and groups opposed to civil society but also has been targeted by city officials for a planned cleanup and new Metro stop.

The protesters were upset that three abandoned buildings that had been used by refugees and migrants was emptied, which put families and children on the street. It wasn’t explained why they weren’t in detention centers and camps in the country housing more than 70,000 of them.

Some 3000 people marched in Athensl Sept. 14 to protest riot police going into the anarchist-heavy neighborhood of Exarchia to force out squatters. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Misinas)

The march, which started at Athens University’s Propylaia and was originally planned to end in front of Parliament on Syntagma Square but was instead diverted to Exarchia, caused traffic jams in the city center and delays in public transport, said Kathimerini.

It came after several weeks of tension in Exarchia that saw anarchists tangle with riot police in clashes that saw Molotov Cocktails hurled at the police squadrons who responded with tear gas and took on the attackers in response.

Nicholas Konst, 93, WWII Vet, Attorney, Ran Nixon’s Local Campaign

BUFFALO, NY – Nicholas Konst, of Lancaster, NY, a lifelong attorney who worked for the Erie County Water Authority and led the Lancaster and Erie County Republican parties, died September 1, in the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He was 93.

Konst was born on October 15, 1925 in Depew, the first of four children of Harry and Nellie Malkiewicz Konst. He attended high school in Depew and had completed a year and a half of pre-law undergraduate studies at the University of Buffalo (UB) when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on November 27, 1943.

Konst was trained as an electronic technician’s mate second class in Indiana, Texas, and Chicago before being assigned to a Mobile Communications Unit off the Philippines. His family said that he received a Purple Heart after being shot in the leg, and was a chief petty officer on a PT boat that was being prepared for the invasion of Japan when the war ended.

After being honorably discharged on May 26, 1946, Konst resumed his studies, graduating from the UB School of Law in 1949 and being admitted to the New York State bar.

From January 1953 to January 1965, he was chief of staff for John R. Pillion, who represented the 39th Congressional District. In that role, he coordinated the local committees working for Republican presidential candidates, including Barry Goldwater.

Konst worked as Lancaster town attorney and a justice in Sloan in the mid-1960s, then, from the 1970s through the late 1980s, was attorney for the Erie County Water Authority.

As The Buffalo News reported, “After Richard M. Nixon visited Buffalo during his successful presidential campaign in 1968, a 60-foot ‘Nixon’s the One’ banner appeared across the roof of a Lancaster home, visible to passengers on planes leaving and arriving at the Buffalo airport.”

The home belonged to Konst, who had been chief of staff for Congressman Pillion, and headed the local committees to elect Nixon in both 1968 and 1972, Buffalo News reported, noting that Konst had taken the banner after Nixon visited War Memorial Auditorium on October 7, 1968, according to Konst’s son, Harry N. Konst. Konst and his sons placed it on the roof where it stayed for six months. “People would fly in and out of Buffalo and later call to tell us they saw the banner with Nixon’s picture on it,” his son told The Buffalo News.

Konst also practiced law at the Pillion Law Office in Lackawanna and Konst Law in Depew and in the Main Place Mall. In his practice of international law, he traveled the world to meet with business associates and clients.

In the 1970s, he taught labor law as an adjunct professor at the University of Buffalo.

He met his wife-to-be, Nellie Kardoulias, in the Sunday School of the Greek Orthodox Church. They married there in 1951.

The couple traveled extensively and filled their home with art from across the world. They also entertained frequently, throwing parties for friends and associates from the world of politics.

In the summer of 1969, Konst and his son Harry were struck by a vehicle while crossing Transit Road at Terrace Boulevard in Depew. They were both injured, starting Konst on decades of orthopedic repairs, including five hip replacements.

His wife died on December 27, 2015, after 63 years of marriage.

Besides his son Harry, Konst is survived by another son, George Konstantakis; two daughters, Calliope Konst and Lynn Crosby; a brother, Spiro Konst; four grandchildren and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A private memorial service is planned for late October.

Tasty Weeknight Meal: Greek Baked Chicken Thighs

As everyone settles into their back-to-school and back-to-work routine, weeknight meals are an opportunity to spend time with family and catch up on the day’s events. Preparing a tasty, nutritious meal together, that doesn’t take too much time and effort, can help us reconnect with each other and help us pay attention to what we are eating on a daily basis. The following recipes make a tasty weeknight meal. The chicken thighs can be marinated ahead of time for up to 8 hours, if needed, while the potatoes can be baked alongside the chicken in a separate pan.

Greek Baked Chicken Thighs

3-5 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 lemons, juiced
2 teaspoons Greek dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Greek sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, dill, rosemary, mustard, salt and pepper.
Place chicken in a large food storage bag or a nonreactive bowl. Pour the marinade over, making sure all the chicken thighs are covered. Seal food storage bag or cover the bowl tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least a half hour or up to 8 hours. When ready to bake, preheat over to 375 degrees. Place marinated chicken thighs in a baking pan with the marinade, drizzle with additional olive oil, if preferred, and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken thighs and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F, the safe internal temperature. If the pan dries out, add a little water. Top the baked chicken thighs with parsley and serve with your favorite side dishes. Bake the chicken with classic Greek lemon potatoes to save time.

Roasted Lemon Potatoes

Roasted potatoes. Photo by Willis Lam, via Wikimedia Commons

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into wedges
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Greek dried oregano
Greek sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss all the ingredients together, making sure the potatoes are well-coated. Place in a baking pan and roast for 45 minutes, stirring about halfway through the cooking process, until the potatoes are golden and tender. Transfer the roasted lemon potatoes to a dish and serve immediately.

Spinach Salad with Feta

Spinach leaves. Photo by Nillerdk, via Wikimedia Commons

1 package fresh baby spinach, washed thoroughly
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1 small-medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup feta, Dodonis
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

For the dressing:
1/3 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Greek sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients until completely incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing, toss together, and serve immediately.

The Hellenic Initiative Applauds Cyprus’ RIF for €500K Grant to Cyprus Seeds Program

ATHENS – The vital effort to commercialize promising research in Cyprus, which The Hellenic Initiative (THI) supports as an Anchor Donor of the Cyprus Seeds program, has been given a great boost through a €500,000 grant to the first round of the program by the government’s Research and Innovation Foundation (RIF), THI announced on September 13.

Cyprus Seeds is a non-profit initiative which was launched in November 2018 with the objective to support the commercialization of game changing academic research being carried out in the universities and research centers in Cyprus. It provides seed funding, in the form of grants, as well as business skills training combined with mentoring and networking abroad. The initial promoters of Cyprus Seeds are THI, the Leventis Foundation, as well as individual Cypriots and Greeks of the Diaspora in the Boston area, UK, and Switzerland.

The Research and Innovation Foundation (RIF) is the national agency responsible for supporting and promoting research, technological development and innovation in Cyprus.

In statements at the signing of the Agreement, RIF Chief Scientist for Research and Innovation and Chairman of the Board of Directors Kyriacos Kokkinos talked about the contribution of Cyprus Seeds in changing the mindset of young scientists and researchers in our country, encouraging them to dare think in a more entrepreneurial manner. He also referred to the key role of successful entrepreneurs of the Greek and Cypriot Diaspora in the United States and Europe, in the effort to achieve the goals of Cyprus Seeds, as they take on the role of coaches and mentors, providing hands-on, valuable support to the research teams.

Cyprus Seeds is a non-profit initiative which was launched in November 2018 with the objective to support the commercialization of game changing academic research being carried out in the universities and research centers in Cyprus. Photo: The Hellenic Initiative

Cyprus Seeds Chairman of the Board of Directors Jeremy Downward extended his warm thanks to the Cyprus Government for actively supporting the initiative, while also conveying the gratitude of The Hellenic Initiative which supports the Cyprus Seeds initiative as Anchor Donors.

The Agreement between the Government and Cyprus Seeds for the funding of academic research teams in Cyprus comes into force following the signing of an Agreement between Cyprus Seeds and RIF at a special ceremony at RIF’s offices on September 9. The Agreement follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding which was signed between the two organizations in June of this year.

RIF will support the first 12-month cycle of Cyprus Seeds grants and services program with funds, up to €500,000, to match the funds which Cyprus Seeds has already secured from the private sector in Cyprus and the Greek/Cypriot Diaspora in the USA and Europe. Specifically, the Program will support seven research teams, chosen after a very competitive application process, including a written application and a presentation of their business idea to experienced foreign entrepreneurs and experts in innovation and start-ups. Three of the Teams are hosted at the University of Cyprus (UcY), two are from the Cyprus University of Technology (ΤΕΠΑΚ), and two are from the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics (CING).

The Agreement signed between the RIF and Cyprus Seeds highlights that the activities of Cyprus Seeds to mobilize private capital to support innovative entrepreneurship in Cyprus, to develop networks of experts and entrepreneurs abroad who will provide high-level mentoring/coaching to the Cypriot research teams and start-ups, as well as to the development of strong links of the Cyprus innovation ecosystem with members of the Greek and Cypriot Diaspora, initially in the USA.

More information is available online: www.TheHellenicInitiative.org and onegreece.org.

Follow The Hellenic Initiative on Facebook and Twitter: #OneGreece.