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NEWS ARCHIVE - December 2014

December 31, 2014

Greece to Markets: It’s the Politics, Stupid. - WSJ Moneybeat

"The left-leaning Syriza, which is now the frontrunner in what is likely to be new parliamentary elections in Greece, is not an isolated case. In Spain, the similarly inclined Podemos is looking like a strong contender in national elections there next year. And in recession-wracked France, the National Front, a right-wing conveyer of the same anti-euro sentiment, is now the biggest political party.

Neither can these parties be dismissed as the brainchildren of demagogues. For all his seemingly intransigent rhetoric insisting on a renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s bailout from the European Union, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has at times seemed open to some compromise. It’s the rank and file that has kept him hewing to the hardline. He seems more like a man driven by a movement rather than the other way around."

Greece dissolves parliament for January ballot - AFP Yahoo

"On Wednesday, Samaras warned again that Syriza planned "not to pay interest rates, and therefore to lead the country to a payment default and bankruptcy".

His assertion followed comments by two Syriza officials alluding to a debt repayment freeze if Greece's creditors refuse to renegotiate the country's bailout deal.

"Perhaps we shall not pay. Because we will negotiate and say that this programme is not viable," Yiannis Milios, the party's economic policy head, told Antenna TV.

Another party cadre, Yiannis Tolios, told Action 24 TV: "It's in our party platform, we may decide to stop paying interest rates on maturing debt."

Fears of a potential Greek exit from the eurozone have already rattled markets and sparked concern throughout European Union capitals.

Greek stocks closed down almost four percent when the election was announced on Monday, after losing a massive 11 percent earlier in the day."

More Coverage:

Greece formally dissolves parliament ahead of election - Reuters

Euro zone no longer obliged to rescue Greece, Merkel ally says - Reuters

"Euro zone politicians are not obliged to rescue Greece as the country is no longer of systemic importance to the single currency bloc, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party was quoted as saying.

In an interview with Rheinische Post newspaper published on Wednesday, Michael Fuchs also said Greek politicians could not now "blackmail" their partners in the currency bloc.

"If Alexis Tsipras of the Greek left party Syriza thinks he can cut back the reform efforts and austerity measures, then the troika will have to cut back the credits for Greece," he said.

"The times where we had to rescue Greece are over. There is no potential for political blackmail anymore. Greece is no longer of systemic importance for the euro."

The remarks are the clearest warning yet to Greek voters from a senior German politician that Athens might lose support if it flouts the terms of its 240 billion euro EU/IMF bailout after early elections next year."

December 30, 2014

No wonder Greeks are mad - Wall Street Journal

Sub-titled: "Greece’s Bad Political Choices - Responsible stagnation or reckless collapse".

"Just when you thought it was safe to invest in Greece again, Greek politicians intervene. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ’s failure Monday to secure 180 out of 300 parliamentary votes for his preferred presidential candidate has triggered a national election, to be held Jan. 25. The stock market tumbled, and yields on Greek bonds rose, in a familiar vote of no confidence.

The greatest fear is that the far-left Syriza party will win enough seats to form a government. Syriza and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, oppose the bailout Greece has received from the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank and have threatened to force a renegotiation that would require foreign creditors to take bigger haircuts on Greek debt. The party also promises free electricity, more spending and a rollback of even the small economic reforms that Greece has made.

...Mr. Samaras is the candidate for responsible stagnation versus the reckless collapse Syriza would bring. Some choice. Voters could call Mr. Samaras’s bluff and elect Syriza as a protest. If instead Syriza fares poorly, that political threat would be neutralized."

December 29, 2014

Europe winces as Greece fails to find a president - CSM

"A failure by the Greek parliament to elect a president today not only thrusts Greece into economic uncertainty but could spell the beginning of fresh political woes for the European Union.

Greece had neared the end of 2014 on a relatively high note, with a return to growth. Though fragile, the news of recovery ended one of the longest recessions in post-war Europe.

But the Mediterranean nation now starts the new year facing parliamentary elections that could ultimately see the far-left Syriza win the most votes, according to polls. Syriza openly opposes the strict austerity rules that govern Greece’s current international bailout program – bringing larger worries that Europe could return to the suspense of 2012 when the prospect of a “Grexit” put the bloc’s economic viability to the test.

“...If Syriza wins in Greece, it might have a multiplying effect in a sense, from Podemos in Spain or the Five Star Movement in Italy to the National Front in France” says Takis Pappas, author of the new book “Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece.” “I don’t think the threat posed by Greece is economic [today], but it is political.”

December 28, 2014

High stakes as Greece labours to find a leader - MSN

"Syriza would probably win any snap election, according to polls. If it did triumph, Mr Tsoukalas said: "Our party will need to find ways to end the catastrophe inflicted the Greek people and the country while staying within the eurozone."

The extra pro-government votes could lie with opposition MPs from smaller parties, such as Democratic Left, a former partner of the ruling coalition, or the right-wing Independent Greeks party. Both parties have pledged to vote against Mr Dimas.

"Things are looking very difficult for the government," said MEP George Kyrtsos of the New Democracy party, which is led by Mr Samaras and has the most seats in parliament.

"The likely scenario is parliament won't elect a president and the country will head to early elections, which will create economic malfunctions for Greece," he added."

Italy, Greece scramble to rescue 470 from burning ferry - CSM

"A ferry carrying about 470 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu early Sunday, trapping passengers on the top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered the evacuation.

Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, battered by 90 kilometer per hour (55 mph) winds that sent it up toward the strait between Italy and Albania. Nearby, merchant ships lined up to form a barrier to protect the ferry and facilitate rescue, said Italian Navy Capt. Riccardo Rizzotto. The fire broke out on the car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, traveling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona, Italy, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board."

More coverage:

Passengers plead to be saved from burning ferry off Greece - China Post

Ferry carrying more than 400 passengers between Greece and Italy catches fire - Pix Online

Airlift begins for hundreds trapped on burning Italian ferry - Reuters

December 27, 2014

Germany - Greece must stick to existing agreements - Westfield Republican

"The Greek government has a third and final chance Monday to get a new president elected. If it fails, parliamentary elections will be called. The Syriza party, which has said it wants the country's bailout program renegotiated, leads in polls.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Saturday's Bild daily that he'll continue to support Greece on its "path of hard reforms" but if Athens chooses another road, "it will be difficult."

Greek olive oil producers hoping to strike gold - eKathimerini

"Greece’s Agricultural Development Ministry estimates that local olive oil production this year will soar to 300,000 tons, against just 135,000 tons last year.

Due to the low output in other European countries, the ministry is anticipating a rise in prices for producers that could reach up to 3.40 euros per liter."

December 25, 2014

Christmas Holidays at the Acropolis Museum - Greek Reporter

"Visitors will have the chance to see the unique Acropolis model made of Lego pieces which was recently given to the Greek museum by the Nicholson Museum in Sydney, Australia. The model was built by Ryan McNaught, who used 120.000 pieces and spend approximately 300 hours assembling it. The model has already attracted more than 100.000 visitors during its exhibition at the Nicholson Museum.

The Acropolis Museum has prepared several workshops where children can learn about ancient Greeks and their customs. For example, one of the workshops teaches how ancient Greeks used to decorate the statue of goddess Athena during the festive days. They washed it, decorated it with jewels and dressed it in new garments. Children will be encouraged to create their own ornaments and statue decorations, which they will be able to take home.

Other workshops include a tour around the museum, where children can look for ornaments among the ancient artifacts and artworks."

Christmas carolers come out in streets of Thessaloniki, Greece - Demotix

Photo essay at web site.

"Christmas carolers came out to celebrate Christmas Eve in Aristotle Square of Thessaloniki, Greece."

Christmas lunch for poor and homeless people in Athens, Greece - Demotix

Photo essay at the website.

"More than 800 hundred people gathered at an indoor basketball hall for a Christmas lunch for poor and homeless people organized by the Athens municipality, in central Athens, Greece on Thursday December 25, 2014."

Oil prices shooting up - Marketplace

"Most olive oil comes from Europe — where producers have had one of the worst growing seasons in 20 years — for a number of reasons.

First, last year was a bumper crop, and apparently the trees tend to get tired the following year. More importantly, the weather was lousy for olives, and great for insects like the olive fly. It lays eggs inside the fruit, the maggots dig their way out, and ... yuck. There were other bugs too, and a fungus; they all had a great year. The International Olive Council projects that production will be down 27 percent worldwide. The world’s biggest producer is Spain, and production is down more than 50 percent there.

And while supplies are low, demand has grown in the past two decades. Global consumption is about 50 percent higher than in the early 1990s.

That means high prices, and a higher likelihood that more olive oil will be fake."

Greek shipping prefers Liberian flag - Punchng

"Liberia has become the flag of choice for Greek ship owners and operators, according to Liberian Registry.

Figures produced by the Greek publication Shipping & Finance, which bases its findings on data from the Marine Information Services database for Greek and Cypriot shipping companies, confirm that the Greek merchant fleet now includes 800 Liberian-flag ships, World Maritime News reports."

Financial/political crisis becoming annual event - Market Daily

"...the pattern of near-collapse followed by temporary respite had been repeating for seven years [already in 2011].

The most recent lull seemed longer than usual, so long in fact that many people probably assumed that Greece had been “fixed” and was now a more-or-less fully-functioning member of the eurozone, ready to settle back into its enviable lifestyle of hosting tourists, drinking ouzo and avoiding taxes.

But no. Nothing has really changed. Youth unemployment remains around 50% — which is even more astounding when you consider that tourism is generally a pretty good sector for young people looking for entry-level service work. And the government is still running deficits, piling new debt atop its already unmanageable 175% of GDP.

... worst-case scenario, in which Greece ditches the euro and returns to the easy-to-manipulate drachma. It converts all its outstanding euro-denominated debt to drachmas and then devalues its new/old currency by 30 or so percent, pricing its hotel rooms, charter boats and restaurants back into attractive territory. That’s okay on balance for the Greek people, who benefit more from rising tourism than they’re hurt by devalued savings.

But it’s very bad for European banks and US hedge funds that now own tons of Greek debt and will therefore suffer big losses."

Desecrated Jewish cemetery in Greece - Jerusalem Post

"Vandals desecrated the Jewish cemetery in the central Greek city of Larissa, spraying swastikas and threats on the cemetery wall.

A swastika was sprayed on the gates of the cemetery, while the word “Juden,” the Nazi SS symbol, and the epithet “six million more” were scrawled on the cemetery walls, the Jewish community there said Wednesday.

....A recent Anti-Defamation League survey showed that Greece has Europe’s highest rate of anti-Semitic attitudes, with 69 percent of Greeks espousing anti-Semitic views. That is nearly twice the rate as the next highest country, France, with 37 percent."

December 24, 2014

Stakes rise for Greece as risky election looms - CNN Money

"The government has one last chance to get its candidate elected by parliament on December 29. If it fails again, it will be forced to hold elections in January.

Opinion polls give a clear lead to Syriza, a party that wants to renegotiate the terms of Greece's bailout package -- worth a whopping 240 billion euros ($293 billion) -- with the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank.

The party has also vowed to reverse many of the reforms that have helped Greece return to economic growth, and said it plans to introduce billions in spending programs that would hike wages and increase pensions.

While Syriza's plans are popular among Greeks who have been hurting from high unemployment and years of recession, experts say they are unrealistic and irresponsible and could trigger a crisis that would ultimately lead to Greece leaving the eurozone."

Who lost Greece - NeoKosmos

"The IMF made plenty of mistakes. Instead of pushing for structural changes, it approved horizontal cuts because Dominique Strauss-Kahn did not want to pressure the George Papandreou government. The IMF underestimated the devastating consequences of the banking crisis on the Greek economy, mainly high borrowing costs for businesses. Also, the IMF insisted that debt restructuring was necessary for the program to be sustainable but it never quite managed to convince European governments to find a solution to the Greek debt.

Just over a month ago, a tough behind-the-scenes battle was fought. The Commission lost and the IMF won. The motives are not yet clear. One explanation would be that the IMF and Schaeuble decided that SYRIZA would inevitably rise to power, with or without a deal. By pulling the rug from under Greece, they accelerated political developments. "

Final Appeal from Samaras - NeoKosmos

"Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to make one last public appeal to wavering MPs to back his presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas, but will not offer anything more in exchange than he already has.

In the ranks of SYRIZA, officials are all but certain that the government will be unable to garner the required 180 votes in the third presidential ballot and avert snap polls. Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s vote, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras declared that “neither Parliament nor the people will give Mr Samaras a mandate to continue with memorandums.”

...The leftist opposition is now preparing for the government to intensify its rhetoric of the risks that a potential SYRIZA government will bring, sources said.

New Democracy and PASOK are also in pre-election mode, with the junior coalition partner facing a fresh headache due to the planned creation of a new party by former party leader and ex-Premier George Papandreou."

December 23, 2014

Greece Moves Closer to Polls as Samaras Loses Vote - Bloomberg

"The Greek premier’s best chance to avert early elections now turns to the final vote.

“I hope in the final vote for president we will avert national peril,” Samaras said after the vote today, adding that snap elections are dangerous for the country.

The prime minister may be playing a game of brinkmanship, University of Athens’s Hatzis said.

“It looks to me like the government prefers for Syriza to take the first cold shower” so it can put the onus of the election on the party, with polls showing that Greeks are increasingly wary of a ballot.

“Syriza won’t give a blank check for the continuation of memorandum policies that have led to shortages and acute poverty,” Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, told reporters after vote today."

Stakes rise for Greece as risky election looms - CNN

"Opinion polls give a clear lead to Syriza, a party that wants to renegotiate the terms of Greece's bailout package -- worth a whopping 240 billion euros ($293 billion) -- with the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank.

The party has also vowed to reverse many of the reforms that have helped Greece return to economic growth, and said it plans to introduce billions in spending programs that would hike wages and increase pensions.

While Syriza's plans are popular among Greeks who have been hurting from high unemployment and years of recession, experts say they are unrealistic and irresponsible and could trigger a crisis that would ultimately lead to Greece leaving the eurozone.

Berenberg economist Holger Schmieding estimates there's a 20% risk that it "all goes wrong," with Syriza rising to power and following through on its plans.

"Greece may descend into a new deep crisis with potential euro exit. That is a significant tail risk," he said."

December 22, 2014

Christmas bookings soar in Greece - Neokosmos

"The most popular winter and holiday destinations in Greece are almost 80 per cent booked, meaning Greeks are treating themselves despite the economic and political instability.

Hoteliers estimate that last-minute bookings will bring hotels to almost full capacity by Christmas and say the numbers have far exceeded 2013 figures.

...The current political turmoil has affected external tourism numbers, with new tourism bookings for next year down by as much as 50 per cent."

Can Syriza come to power? - Yahoo Finance

"So far, the economy of Greece (GREK) has faced five years of difficult reforms, four changes of government, two bailouts, two elections, and one never-ending euro crisis. Greece needs to find a way to come off its state of triple bankruptcy in terms of its public debt, banks, and private sector. Moreover, its population is exhausted by five years of recession, tax hikes, and record unemployment rates.

Given the situation, the anti-austerity Syriza party and its leader Alexis Tsipras may stand a chance of winning the early elections. The early elections must be called if the Greek Parliament fails to elect a new president by December 29, ousting the current New Democracy party."

December 21, 2014

Euro shaky on ECB and Greece, dollar keeps edge - Reuters

"The euro probed fresh two-year lows early on Monday in a subdued start to a holiday-shortened week, extending a multi-month trend of weakness against the dollar that many traders say will remain intact in the new year.

...The common currency has fallen about 11 percent so far this year. It last traded at $1.2230, having touched $1.2220 early in the session, a low not seen since August 2012.

The euro slipped to 146.17 yen, holding well off a six-year high of 149.79 set early in the month.

...In addition, the currency was dogged by uncertainties on Greece, which could face an early election if its parliament fails to elect a president with a three-fifths majority.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whose party is trailing behind anti-bailout Syriza Party in opinion polls, failed to win less votes than expected in the first round of voting last week, not boding well for two remaining rounds of voting, planned on Dec. 23 and Dec. 29.

"The markets may be quiet for now due to holidays but Greek vote on Dec. 29 could really shake things up," said a trader at a Japanese bank."

December 19, 2014

Nine charts showing why Greece has to leave the euro - UK Telegraph

"The Greek economy has contracted an astonishing 27pc after the onset of the crisis in 2007. This was the worst recession in the entire euro-area and rivalled the economic meltdown last seen in the US during the Great Depression.

This year, economic output expanded for first time in nearly eight years, with GDP growth of just under 1pc, albeit from a very low base.

....However, the economy remains nearly 25pc smaller than it was in 2008. Even if it continues to grow at a modest rate of 2pc per year – broadly in line with the EU average before the crisis – it would still take Greece 13 years just to get back to its pre-crisis peak, according to the International Labour Organisation.

...Mr Tsipras, should he become Prime Minister, has pledged to keep the euro but vowed to cease enforcing the bail-out demands made on Greece "from his first day in office." The likely implication of such a move is a forcible Greek exit from EMU as markets take fright. Syriza however are taking a gamble that Europe's leaders will fight to keep the union together after throwing so much money at the country to keep it afloat. Time will now tell if the gamble pays off."

December 18, 2014

European Markets Eye an Austerity-Weary Greece - NY Times

"In Brussels, in national capitals and on trading floors, there is a general sense that Europe could survive a breakup with Greece, if it came to that, with relatively minimal damage, thanks to an array of recent regulatory changes and a renewed commitment among the leaders of the largest countries to keeping the European Union moving forward even in the face of setbacks.

The situation is shaping up as the first big test of Europe’s progress in building safeguards against the financial contagion that rocked the Continent five years ago...

“If Greece were to step out, this would not lead to an immediate contagion threatening the other countries because financially we have strengthened the system,” said Paul De Grauwe, a professor of European political economy at the London School of Economics. “But other risks — political risks — are still there.”

...If the current center-right government, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, cannot elect its presidential candidate by the end of the third vote, on Dec. 29, it is likely to call a quick general election, which polls at the moment suggest Mr. Tsipras’s party would win. The government got 160 votes on Wednesday for its candidate, 40 short of the 200 necessary to prevail in this round and 20 short of the 180 necessary in the third and final round.

...other nations that were forced to take billions in taxpayer bailouts during the crisis, including Ireland and Spain, have recovered and are less likely to be tainted by any new financial tremors that Greece might produce."

Germany Backs Plans to Extend Greece’s Bailout Program -WSJ

"The surprise decision by Athens to bring forward presidential elections to December from February has led to a slump in Greek stock prices, with investors worrying that the move might cause political instability and plunge the country back into turmoil.

“There is still uncertainty in financial markets, which to some degree gets triggered by the domestic situation in Greece. and increased over the past weeks,” Mr. Schäuble told lawmakers. “Therefore, it would be a stabilizing signal for all, for Greece, for markets, for the eurozone as a whole if Greece meets its commitments... and then a precautionary credit line were to get decided under certain conditions.”

He said backing from Germany would send “the right signal to provide as many stabilizing signals as possible in this critical phase.”

How foreign journalists viewed yesterday's vote -

"...SYRIZA sent a delegation to London to meet with the purchasing managers and it went badly, at least according to some who were there.

Paul Mason from Channel 4 said "There is insecurity. I do not know what Tsipras can do, but I know that will be difficult to have consultation with Brussels, Frankfurt, Washington. Werner van Gent, from Swiss television "I do not think I expect a new prime minister."

Chris Morris from the BBC "We may not be in 2012, when we felt that the Eurozone may collapse, but there is still the possibility that things can go bad"

December 17, 2014

Greece Is On The Brink Of A New Period Of Political Chaos - Business Insider

"...Fears of a new chapter of prolonged political uncertainty have sent Greek stocks and bonds crashing since Samaras last week announced the presidential vote would be held this month instead of February. Greek stocks fell over 20 percent in three days last week while 10-year bond yields leapt over 9 percent.

"Greeks demand that we fight united, to safeguard everything we achieved with bloody sacrifices in the last few years, and lead them safely to finally exit the crisis," Samaras said in an appeal to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Samaras has warned of a "catastrophic" return to the height of Greece's debt crisis - when it risked being driven out of the euro zone - if his government falls, while Syriza has accused him of scare-mongering and blackmail to win support. Samaras is an "architect of chaos, who invests in a climate of fear-mongering", Syriza spokesman Panos Skourletis said.

Both sides are battling to win over a pool of about two dozen independent lawmakers whose votes will decide the outcome. Of these, seven have said they will support Samaras and eight have declared against."

Greece's presidential election: Why it matters - CNBC

"Greek Prime minister Antonis Samaras surprised markets last week when he announced he was bringing forward the vote to pick the country's president from early 2015 to this month. The announcement sent markets, already worrying about Greece's politics, into a tailspin. The Athens stock exchange plunged nearly 13 percent during the day – the worst loss since 1987.

The first of three rounds of voting in the Greek parliament start on Wednesday with further polls set on December 23 and 29 if a majority is not secured in the first round. In the first round, Samaras' pick -- Stavros Dimas, a former commissioner at the European Union -- will need to garner the 180 votes in parliament."

December 16, 2014

EU promising 'lighter surveillance' in Feb 2015 - Bloomberg

"Greece is on course to end a draconian bailout program in February and switch to "much lighter surveillance," European Union Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Tuesday.

His remarks in Athens came a day before Greece's parliament votes for the country's new president, in a ballot that can last up to three rounds — and could topple the conservative government.

Moscovici praised the country's "immense progress" in rescuing its public finances despite delays concluding negotiations with rescue lenders."

Fear again haunts the eurozone -

"There is concern that populists will come to power, and that political instability will exacerbate fear and making it harder still for the development desperately needed in the euro zone.

In this context and with the negotiations on the metamnimoniaki season to continue, Antonis Samaras uses the presidential election as a "vote of confidence" for his government, and Tsipras accusesthe Prime Minister of playing the 'fear card'."

New poll gives SYRIZA 4.9 pct lead over New Democracy - eKathimerini

"Asked who they would vote for if elections were held tomorrow, 28 percent of the people polled by GPO for Mega television, said they would cast their ballot in favor of SYRIZA (compared with 26.7 percent from a similar poll in October) and 23.1 percent responded New Democracy (also up from 20.2 percent).

The Greek Communist Party (KEE) polled in third place on 5.5 percent, followed by coalition partner PASOK on 5.1 percent, and To Potami and ultranationalist Golden Dawn on 5 percent each."

Samaras wants to scare voters rather than try to persuade them - WSJ

"...Mr. Samaras’s decision to call the presidential election that threatens his government appears to be a gambit to neutralize the increasingly popular far-left Syriza party, which promises to undo painful reforms and force creditors to take bigger haircuts on Greek debt. With negotiations for Greece’s exit from its bailout looming, Mr. Samaras seems to hope voters will return his unpopular government to power rather than risk further chaos by handing Syriza power for the exit talks.

That strategy is symptomatic of the broader political failures that have brought Greece to this pass. Since 2010, Athens has reduced pensions, health-care spending and government employment, and as a result borrowing costs have fallen and the economy was showing signs of growing again....

...Mr. Samaras has tried to scale back some reforms, ostensibly to show his independence from the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund that have orchestrated the bailout. In some cases this has been just as well, as with plans for tax cuts to roll back some of the IMF’s ill-advised hikes. But he has also dragged his feet on many other measures, such as further reducing the bloated government headcount, waiting for the troika to force his hand and then blaming the foreigners when the measures are unpopular. "

December 15, 2014

EU: Greek defiance on debt would be ‘suicidal’ - Washington Post

"A refusal by Greece to repay bailout debts would be “suicidal” for the country, the European Union’s top finance official said Monday in a clear warning to the country’s popular opposition.

EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici made the remarks after a three-hour meeting with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

The anti-bailout Syriza party is pressing for a snap election, arguing that austerity policies have failed. After a brutal six-year recession, it says Greece still has an unsustainable debt burden which cannot be repaid to rescue lenders in full.

Syriza retains a lead in the latest opinion poll published Monday by private Real FM radio. It projected a general election victory for the left-wing party by a 5.1 percentage-point margin over the conservative New Democracy. However, victory on such a scale would not give Syriza enough seats to govern without a coalition.

The political uncertainty has rattled Greek markets over the past week or so as investors have fretted over the country’s place in the 18-country eurozone."

Greece Is Still The Eurozone's Achilles Heel - Forbes

"...The country escaped a six year long recession in Q3 2014 and grew at the fastest pace of all Eurozone countries. However, that is far from the complete picture. Unemployment is still at 25.7 percent and youth unemployment an eye watering 49.3 percent. Debt levels relative to GDP stand at 174.1 percent so making Greece the most indebted nation in the Eurozone, according to Greek daily Ekathimerini and Eurostat.

There is still many phases of Greek politics to complete before we would see the radical left-wing Syriza Party leader Alexis Tsipras become Prime Minister. Not least of which is seeing the left collect enough seats to forge a government or left leaning coalition.

The latest opinion poll (December 13th) gives Syriza a lead of 4.5 percent over New Democracy, up from 3.6 percent at the end of November.

If Syriza were to enjoy a lead of 6 percent at the General Election then projections show that it would be just ten seats short of a parliamentary majority. So over the course of the next few weeks it is crucial to monitor the margin of Syriza’s lead over New Democracy."

December 14, 2014

Greece Is Not Headed for the Door Just Yet - NY Times

"Greece is still several steps from chaos...

...First, Parliament must fail to elect a new president. This, admittedly, is likely. A president needs the support of 60 percent of the members of Parliament, and the government can count on only just over 50 percent to support its candidate.

However, there is a slim chance that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras can persuade enough members to switch sides to cross the threshold. There is also a small chance that the conservative prime minister himself will be replaced by a technocrat as the price for cobbling together the majority needed to elect a president.

In either case, Athens could resume negotiations with the so-called troika of international lenders...

However, the government will probably not be able to secure the election of a president. Although the post is largely ceremonial, the constitution says there would then have to be a general election.

... Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza boss, has a solid lead in public opinion polls. He would almost certainly emerge with the largest party.

If Syriza implemented its program, the prospects for Greece would be bleak. Among its string of populist policies are plans to write off a chunk of the government’s debt and expand public spending. Both ideas would provoke a confrontation with the troika that would put Athens on the fast track to bankruptcy.

While the eurozone might be prepared to vary the terms of Greece’s borrowings, it would not accept a write-off."

December 13, 2014

Embattled Samaras hard-pressed to forestall early elections - Yahoo AFP

"The prospect of early elections has alarmed financial markets and caused Greek stocks to slide dramatically for three days, although they showed signs of steadying on Friday.

The government will need 200 MPs in the first two votes to elect its candidate, former EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, or 180 MPs in the third and final vote.

But it only has 155 MPs in the 300-seat chamber.

"We do not have the number required," deputy development minister Gerassimos Giakoumatos admitted this week.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hopes to find the remaining 25 deputies from among independent MPs and the deputies of two smaller parties -- centre-left Democratic Left and the Independent Greeks, a nationalist party."

Greece Reports 3.5-Bln-Euro Primary Surplus -Greek Reporter

"Greece on Friday reported a primary budget surplus of 3.5 billion euros in the January-November period, from a primary surplus of 2.8 billion euros in the same period last year and up 660 million euros compared to set target.

According to Greek Finance Ministry preliminary data on budget execution, the general government deficit totalled 1.9 billion euros in the January-November period, from a deficit of 3.2 billion euros last year and a target of 2.5 billion euros."

Government condemns attack on Israel embassy in Athens - Euro News

"The Greek government has condemned a pre-dawn, drive-by gun attack on the Israeli embassy in Athens.

“Any terrorist attack hitting at the heart of democracy hits the heart of the country,” government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi said.

Police say four people on motorbikes opened fire at the embassy on Friday morning."

December 12, 2014

Turmoil in Greece better contained - Fox Business News

"Greek stocks and bonds have been hammered this week, a reminder of the bad old days of Europe's debt crisis when the very future of the euro currency was called into question...

Q: What happened in Greece to trigger all this?

A: It was the announcement of a speeded-up presidential election. This raised the possibility of new national elections shortly after the New Year — elections that could, according to opinion polls, bring to power the left-wing Syriza party.

...Analyst Tom Rogers, adviser to the EY eurozone forecast, says that Greece's debt level — 170 percent of economic output — is so high that it's "not implausible" that a further restructuring would take place.

That would mainly hit government creditors such as the IMF, ECB and eurozone governments. Yet the effects on the rest of the eurozone might not be so severe: "The eurozone is far better placed to withstand volatility in Greece."

December 11, 2014

Presidential vote in doubt, stocks continue to tumble - Fox News

"Shares on the Athens Stock Exchange are again suffering heavy losses after officials in the governing coalition conceded they were still short of the support needed to stop the government collapsing in a parliamentary vote this month.

In late afternoon trading Thursday, shares were down nearly 8 percent, while the yield on Greece's 10-year-bond jumped to nearly 9 percent.

Despite recently emerging from recession, the country was thrown back into uncertainty this week, when conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called an early vote in parliament to elect a new president — despite requiring support from opposition lawmakers to avoid a stalemate.

The deputy trade minister, Gerasimos Giakoumatos, in a radio interview Thursday said "at the moment we do not have the numbers."

Papaconstantinou must stand trial - NY Times

"A judicial panel in Greece has ruled that a former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, must stand trial on charges related to a scandal over a list of potential tax evaders that angered Greeks in the grip of austerity measures.

Mr. Papaconstantinou, an economist who was educated in the United States and Britain and who served under the former Prime Minister George A. Papandreou from 2009 to 2011, will stand trial on charges of attempted breach of trust and of tampering with a list of about 2,000 Greeks with money deposited overseas, court officials said.

...News of the existence of the list — given to Greece by France in 2010 — shocked many Greeks, who are angry that successive governments have failed to pursue those on it while imposing austerity measures.

“...I’m not responsible for all of the country’s ills,” Mr. Papaconstantinou told Parliament..."

December 10, 2014

Greece default fears are back - USA Today

Video report online: "Greece's short-term borrowing costs jump further above longer-term equivalents. As Amy Pollock reports it's a tell-tale sign that investors fear political uncertainty in Athens could put the country back on the road towards default."

Greece teeters, France and Italy talk reform - Reuters

"With the Greek government again in peril and Italy flirting with a junk credit rating, it’s all starting to feel a bit familiar. Greek stocks suffered their steepest daily fall in more than a quarter century on Tuesday after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras brought forward a presidential election.

But there is one big difference from 2011/2012. With markets convinced that the European Central Bank will launch a sovereign bond-buying programme with new money early next year, there is little chance of an attack on all peripheral euro zone debt driving yields up to levels that would threaten default – one of the most dangerous elements of the euro zone crisis 1.0.

Greek 10-year bond yields may have jumped back to an unsustainable eight percent but Italy can still borrow at 2 percent for a decade..."

Pressure Grows for Museums to Return Stolen Objects - Der Spiegel

"A marble cycladic female figurine is on display at Greece's National Archeological Museum on June 6 after its return to the country after nearly 40 years in Germany.

The museums have now been directed to review the provenance of all archeological objects that have entered into the collections since 1970. A representative of each museum has been appointed to conduct the review. Pazinger also promises "We will always be prepared to return things if it can be proven that they are of illegal origin."

The looting of the National Museum of Iraq after the American invasion in 2003 and the photographs of destroyed cultural sites in civil war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa have prompted debates about the protection of these treasures throughout the West, including Germany. Dubious purchases had been made for years by Western museums, but the practice is now widely considered to be immoral."

– More Archeology in Greece

December 9, 2014

Tuesday Stock Crash in Greece - Yahoo/Bloomberg

"At the close, the Athens Stock Exchange Index was down a mindboggling 12.78%. That's the worst fall since 1987.

The steep decline comes after the announcement that Greece's presidential elections are being brought forward to Dec. 17.

The presidential election is conducted by Greece's legislators, not its population. But the government needs a super-majority to install a president, which it doesn't have. If it can't elect a president, that might precipitate a general election, and the radical Coalition of the Left (Syriza) is leading the polls.

The uncertainty also means sovereign bond yields are breaking out of the region they've been in for the past few days, up from 7.2% to beyond 7.75%. The yield on a 10-year bond is a common measure used to show how expensive it is for governments to finance their debt. Yields saw a recent peak just below 9% in October, when the far-left anti-austerity party Syriza took a polling lead, and the government was planning to exit its bailout early."


Greece Makes Itself Relevant Again - Market Watch

Early presidential vote stuns Greece, hammers stocks - Channel News Asia

Stocks fall in USA on Greek & China News - Bloomberg

Snap Election Announcement crashes Stocks - Brisbane Times

"Greek stocks suffered their steepest daily fall in more than a quarter century on Tuesday and its bond yields jumped after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras brought forward a presidential election in a gamble over his, and the country's future.

If Samaras fails to secure victory in parliament for his presidential candidate, snap national elections will be called that the leftist Syriza party - a fierce opponent of Greece's bailout deal with the European Union and IMF - is likely to win.

Financial markets took Samaras's do-or-die decision badly, as he lacks enough support to win the vote in parliament without the backing of independents and small parties. The Athens general stock index tumbled 12.8 percent, its biggest loss in a day since 1987. An index of Greece's listed banks fell 14.7 percent, with Attica Bank down 27.5 percent.

The decision sent 10-year Greek government bond yields up 74 basis points to 8.09 percent. This is a level the government could not afford to borrow at for long if, as it hopes, the country exits the widely hated bailout program and finances itself on the debt market. German 10-year Bund yields, which fall in times of uncertainty as investors seek refuge in top-rated assets, were down 3 bps at a record low of at 0.688 percent. Bondholders fear the possibility of Syriza abandoning austerity polices imposed to bring Greece's state finances into order. They prefer pro-business governments that would stick to the rigors imposed by the IMF/EU program - which have helped to slash Greeks' living standards."

Why Greece Still Haunts the Eurozone - Wall Street Journal

"Once again, the eurozone is being confronted by the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come. It’s a specter called Greece.

Febrile politics there are reminding investors that the eurozone crisis has not really gone away. What’s more, Greece itself highlights how endlessly long and painful economic adjustment for the single currency region’s weakest member states will continue to be. Unless, that is, there is a profound change of heart among core eurozone countries towards their indebted neighbors. Because for all its promises, the European Central Bank can’t delay key reforms to the very nature of the single currency region forever.

The latest Greek wobble was ignited by the government’s decision to bring forward by two months to next week the parliamentary vote for a new president. Normally this wouldn’t matter. The president’s role in Greece is largely symbolic. But Greece’s anti-austerity politicians are using the event as a vote of confidence on the government. If parliament fails to agree a president over, potentially, three rounds of voting, a general election would have to be called some time early in the New Year.

And that’s the nub of the market’s worries.

The anti-austerity party Syriza’s strong standing in the polls raises the risk that it will win power. Although Syriza’s leadership has toned down some of its rhetoric and would no longer be expected to deliver a “forgive our debts or we’ll march out of the euro” ultimatum to Greece’s rescuers, there would be plenty of scope for friction with its eurozone partners as it presses hard for debt relief."

2 Month Extension on Bailout - Irish Times

"Greece was given a two-month extension to its bailout on Monday, as Athens announced it will hold presidential elections this month, three months earlier than had been expected.

Euro group finance ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday agreed to extend the terms of the Greek bailout to February, with the hope of resolving the impasse between Troika officials and the Greek government over the terms of the fifth bailout review.

While a six-month extension had been considered, it is understood that Athens was resistant to such a long extension, amid continuing public resentment at the terms of the bailout programme.

Following the agreement in Brussels yesterday, the government in Athens announced it was bringing forward presidential elections which will now take place on December 17th, December 22nd and December 27th...”

December 8, 2014

Greek Parliament Approves First Balanced Budget in Decades - NY Times

"Greece’s Parliament early on Monday approved a budget for 2015 that foresees extensive tax cuts and solid growth despite ongoing negotiations with creditors over economic policy and questions about the country’s prospects for emerging from a punishing international bailout.

The budget was approved 155 to 134 in the 300-seat House following days of vehement debate (political tensions are high in Greece ahead of possible general elections next year). Before the vote, thousands of Greeks joined a peaceful gathering outside the Parliament building to protest austerity policies by successive governments that have slashed household incomes by a third and pushed unemployment to 26 percent.

In a speech before Parliament, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the blueprint, the first balanced budget in decades, signaled Greece’s gradual emergence from six tough years of recession. “We are leading the country to a new era where we can offer relief,” he said. “We are reducing the deficit to zero.”

Apart from a deficit target of 0.2 percent of gross domestic product, the budget predicts that the Greek economy, which has shrunk by a quarter in the past five years, will expand by 2.9 percent of G.D.P. in 2015 following a timid return to growth this year. It also promises relief, notably 30 percent reductions in a tax on heating oil and an income tax surcharge."

Bail Out Program Extension Likely - Bloomberg

"The euro area signaled that Greece will win extra time to qualify for its next installment of international aid as the government in Athens resists calls for more spending cuts.

The current euro-area and International Monetary Fund review of Greece’s progress in meeting budget targets may continue to the end of the month, euro-zone finance ministers indicated today in Brussels. That would hold up 7 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in aid payments remaining for Greece this year.

“If necessary, we’ll have to extend the time,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters in Brussels before a meeting with his euro-area counterparts. “Of course we’ll find a way, but Greece has to stay on the path of reforms.”

December 7, 2014

Bailout program opens for discussion this week - WSJ

"Eurozone finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday to talk about national budget plans in the morning and Greece in the afternoon. Discussion on the latter is expected to shed some light into what will happen to Greece once it’s bailout program runs out at the end of the year. An extension of the current program is highly likely.... "

Anniversary of shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos prompts protests in Athens - NY Daily News

"Fierce clashes erupted in Greece during protests marking the anniversary of a police-shooting death of an unarmed teenager.

Some 5,000 people marched in the capital Athens on Saturday night, reports the BBC.

Some of the protestors attacked shops and hurled petrol bombs at the police. Among the buildings attacked were banks."

Life Expectancy Rises in Greece - Greek Reporter

"Published in “Health at a Glance: Europe 2014,” the figure puts Greece at 13th place among its European Union peers, behind nations such as top-ranked Spain (82.5 years), Italy and France but ahead of more recent members such as Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania, the latter at the bottom of the table at 74.1 years.

According to the survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the rise in Greece reflects a similar trend across the block, where life expectancy has increased by more than five years on average since 1990. However, the gap between states with the highest and lowest life expectancies remains at around eight years."

For comparison, some life expectancies around the world:

    1. Japan: 84.6 years
    2. Sweden: 83
    3. Australia: 83 years
    4. Israel: 82.1
    5. Germany: 81
    6. United States: 79.8
    7. Malaysia: 75.5
    8. Turkey: 74.4
    9. Swaziland: 55

Comparison source: Wikipedia

December 6, 2014

Greece protests Elgin Marbles sculpture loan to Russia - Asia Channel News

"The British Museum's decision constitutes an affront to the Greek people," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a statement. The London museum said it had loaned one of the statues - taken from the Parthenon temple in Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in 1803 - to Russia's State Hermitage Museum.

...Samaras said the loan showed inconsistency in the British Museum's long-held policy of not allowing the sculptures to be moved. The sculpture of the Greek river god Ilissos, a headless, reclining male figure, will be displayed in Saint Petersburg from Saturday until Jan 18.

....The chairman of the British Museum's trustees, Richard Lambert, said it was the institution's "duty" to allow people "in as many countries as possible to share in their common inheritance". "The trustees are delighted that this beautiful object will be enjoyed by the people of Russia," he said.

For three decades Greece has demanded the return of the sculptures, which decorated the Acropolis of Athens for over 2,000 years before their removal...."

Presumably there will be no plans by the British Museum to have the artififacts to exhibit anywhere Greece.

More on the "Elgin Marbles"


Greeks Angry Over British Loan of Elgin Marbles to Russia - Wall Street Journal

Greece outraged by British Museum’s sculpture loan to Russia - Japan Times

Online Video Report: Greece bailout exit later, not sooner? - NY Times

"Euro zone ministers may prolong Greece's unpopular bailout programme by another six months, according to a document obtained by Reuters, but Athens says it would only consider an extension of a few weeks."

Energean Oil eyes new drillings to fight oil price plunge - UK Reuters

"Greece's sole oil producer, Energean Oil & Gas, is sticking to its new drilling programme despite a plunge in oil prices that has led other companies to cut investment, its chief executive told Reuters on Friday.

Energean, 45 percent owned by U.S. hedge fund Third Point , currently produces 2,000 barrel per day (bpd) from two oil fields off the northern Greek island of Thassos.

But Chief Executive Mathios Rigas said the 40 percent plunge in oil prices since June put the fields at risk, unless the company pressed ahead with its $200 million investment to pump more crude out of the site and develop a new field.

"The fields are today break even with an oil price at $70 a barrel," he said in an interview. "We are keeping the 300 jobs. But if production and the oil price stay at current levels, the whole development won't be viable. So we need new drilling..."

December 5, 2014

Bucking the Trend: Why Olive Oil Prices in Greece are Falling - Olive Times

"Earlier in November when Spain, France, Turkey and Italy reported lower production during this 2014 harvest season, prices for Greek EVOO began to rise to €3.50 – €4.00 per kilo paid to the olive mills. The trend has recently reversed and prices are falling sharply. As of last week the major Italian buyers are unwilling to bid the prices above €3.20.

...There is plenty of blame to go around. Greek olive oil mills and trading companies are looking for a quick turnaround by selling to Italian buyers. Brokering a million kilos of bulk olive oil they can make a quick profit of up to €500,000. They adjust the price paid to the olive growers according to what the Italian buyer is willing to pay them. The profit for the olive mill or the broker is locked in whether they buy high or low. Furthermore, they are not investing their profits in marketing or promotional activities for Greek olive oil. When confronted they blame the government and the economic crisis for their inaction. I have spoken to a number of olive mill owners and co-operatives about this problem and they confirmed it but they are not willing to go on the record and admit the massive sales of olive oil to Italian companies. "

December 4, 2014

Slow to Reform, Greece Needs Bailout Extension - Atlantic Sentinel

"Greece is likely to have to ask other eurozone countries for an extension of its bailout program because a new credit line has yet to be agreed upon, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday.

After receiving two bailouts, worth €240 billion in total, from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund since 2010, Greece wants to switch back to market financing from the start of next year. To guard against the possibility that lenders will still doubt the country’s ability to repay its debts and drive up its borrowing costs as a result, a new credit line — which Greece would tap in an emergency — is due to be extended when eurozone finance ministers hear from representatives of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund in Brussels on Monday. The three have jointly administered Greece’s two bailouts.

Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras has staked his government’s political survival on exiting the bailout by the end of the year."

Greece needs bailout extension - Neo Kosmos

"Greece will have to ask for an extension on its bailout program before parliaments in eurozone nations close for Christmas because a new credit line will not be ready in time, a senior euro zone official said this week

After two bailouts totaling 240 billion euros ($300 billion) since 2010, Greece wants to switch back to market financing from the start of next year but disagreement over Greece's funding needs next year means the euro zone cannot sign off on a back-up credit line.

"I'm willing to work on Dec. 24 but parliaments are not around," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, setting Dec. 15 as the cut-off date for prolonging Greece's existing program into January so that lenders can make a final 1.8 billion euro payment.

All eurozone parliaments must approve that extension.

Greece and its lenders aimed to get a deal on a credit line - which Athens would only tap in an emergency - by next Monday when the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, or troika, report back to euro zone finance ministers in Brussels."

December 3, 2014

Greece rejects EU/IMF demands for tax rises, income cuts - Reuters

"Greece has rejected its international lenders' demands for tax rises and income cuts next year, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Tuesday, arguing such measures would be disastrous for the country which has emerged from a deep economic recession.

Talks with EU/IMF inspectors have dragged on for weeks without agreement on next year's budget, leaving Athens short of time to wrap up its final bailout review by a Dec. 8 deadline..."

Doctors Without Borders Hits Greece on Refugees - ABC News

"Thousands of men, women and children fleeing war-ravaged countries face dreadful holding conditions and a dysfunctional reception system after risking their lives in smuggling boats to reach Greece's Aegean Sea islands, an international medical aid organization warned on Wednesday.

A report by Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, said many refugees, exhausted and often soaked from the sea-crossing, spend days sleeping outdoors or squashed in tiny police cells before being moved to the mainland.

"We have seen intolerable overcrowding, with 53 people crammed into a cell meant for six," MSF field coordinator Kostas Georgakas said. "What little they are offered after such a grueling journey is shameful, and dangerous for their health."

December 2, 2014

VAT tax offer made ahead of Dec 8 deadline on negotiations - Reuters

"Greece has offered to raise value-added tax for hotels in an effort to appease EU/IMF lenders and wrap up a bailout review that has held up its plan to quit the unpopular aid programme, government officials said on Monday.

Talks between the two sides broke down in Paris last week, with Athens disputing the lenders' stance that Greece faces a budget shortfall next year unless it takes additional austerity measures. Athens is running out of time for a deal on the review by a Dec. 8 deadline, raising doubts about whether it can exit its bailout by the end of the year as planned.

Over the weekend, Athens made the concession on VAT and offered to discuss pension reforms in a bid to convince lenders that it will meet its target for an almost balanced budget next year, finance and labour ministry officials aid.

...The head of a body representing the tourist industry - which accounts for about a fifth of Greece's economy - called the plan to raise VAT from 6.5 percent to 13 percent for hotels "economic suicide".

Venizelos says bailout talks could end before Feb vote - Yahoo News

"Evangelos Venizelos told a conference Monday that talks with lenders would be concluded before parliament elects a new Greek president in February — a vote that could topple the coalition government and that has revived anxiety in markets and eurozone governments.

Greece failed to reach a compromise last week at talks in Paris with representatives of the "troika" of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund."

Samaras claims ‘New Era of Opportunity’ - Greek Reporter

"In his speech entitled “A New Era of Opportunity for Greece” the Greek Premier said that “we are already witnessing the fruits of our joint efforts and international investors have already entered the Greek market.” While praising the event as key to the promotion of potential investments to the US public and a tool for strengthening the already excellent ties between the two countries, he highlighted that the cooperation between Greece and the US could now be more profitable and constructive than ever. “This year’s Capital Link investment forum is of the utmost importance, given the successful reforms that have already been carried out to kickstart the Greek economy,” Samaras added.

The Greek PM noted that the economic recovery signs are already visible, while people’s sacrifices are finally starting to pay off and sweeping changes had been made in all areas, such as fighting bureaucracy and tackling extensive shortcomings. “We must now exploit our unused potential, our natural resources, our mineral wealth and, above all, our rich human capital, in order to create a secure and stable business environment, and make our country attractive to foreign investors. No more bureaucracy, acting as a disadvantage in every transaction with the general public and especially with the private sector,” he noted."

December 1, 2014

Samaras reverses on IMF oversight - Bloomberg

"With uncertainty over its future financing prompting a surge in Greek 10-year bond yields, euro-area finance ministers are due to discuss Greece at their Dec. 8 meeting in Brussels.

All aspects of the proposal on IMF involvement remain subject to negotiations. Euro-area finance ministers would consider a credit line of as much as 11 billion euros, the amount left unused in a bank bailout fund, according to one of the officials.

The IMF’s role also remains unclear. Any IMF money on the table might be provided under a precautionary program, with the expectation that Greece should avoid drawing down the funds, a second official said. Euro-area nations have said they want the IMF to stay involved with monitoring Greece and following up on rescue-program conditions."

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