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As Greek football drama unfolds, gun-wielding oligarch takes over major pro-SYRIZA newspaper

As Greek football faces expulsion from international competition, Ivan Savvidis remains free after storming football pitch with a gun, buys major newspaper.

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A day after the PAOK-AEK football match erupted into mayhem, as an armed Ivan Savvidis, the oligarch owner of PAOK, stormed the pitch after a controversial reversal by the referee, Greek football, and by extension the Greek political system, remains mired in confusion.
Yesterday’s “derby” between the two frontrunners of this season’s Super League never finished, after a goal scored in the 90th minute by PAOK was initially allowed, then later waived off. An unhinged Savvidis angrily stormed the pitch while brandishing a weapon, threatening the referee’s life while urging his players to return to the locker room. As it happens, the match never continued, but two hours later, the referee decided from the locker rooms to reverse his previous reversal, allowing the goal scored by PAOK and including it in his official match report sent to the Super League’s head offices.
In the aftermath of this unprecedented issue, which made headlines worldwide and once again thrust Greece into the negative limelight, more confusion has begun to set in, while the hypocrisy of the current SYRIZA-led government has once again become evident.
One day after Savvidis stormed the football field while openly carrying a weapon and threatening the life of the referee, he continues to walk free and to make pronouncements against all those who have purportedly “wronged” PAOK. Indeed, the fact that Savvidis is still a free man today was the subject of an official announcement released by the National Union of Police Employees, openly questioning why Savvidis was not arrested when, by law, weapons are not allowed in Greek stadiums and when even police officers are not allowed to be armed inside sporting facilities.
Also questioning the impunity with which Savvidis is apparently allowed to operate is New Democracy’s second-in-command, former health minister Adonis Georgiadis, himself under investigation as part of the so-called “Novartis scandal” which could easily be classified as a SYRIZA witch hunt against its political opposition and an obvious distraction from other more politically inconvenient matters. In a televised interview on Monday morning, Georgiadis openly asked “what sort of hold does Savvidis have over [prime minister] Tsipras?”
Part of the answer as to why Savvidis remains free may come from the hold he now has over the current government and over public discourse in Greece via his newly-acquired media holdings. Just last year, Savvidis purchased 100 percent of national broadcaster Epsilon TV. Today, following the mayhem which transpired on the football field and certainly apropos of nothing, Savvidis completed his takeover of the pro-SYRIZA national newspaper Ethnos.
To give you an example of just the type of brazen propaganda Ethnos is serving up, consider the front page of its Monday edition (pictured below), which made no mention of the weapon Savvidis was brandishing, but which stated as fact to its readers that PAOK’s goal was legitimate, while being sure to include a quotation from SYRIZA’s deputy minister of athletics about “cleaning up” football.

Savvidis’ ownership of Ethnos and Epsilon TV is in addition to his major business holdings, which include everything from factories, to soft drink producers, to luxury hotels, to the leadership of a consortium which recently took over ownership of the port of Thessaloniki, privatized by the same SYRIZA which at one time, prior to its election, was promising to abolish all such privatizations.
Instead of punishing Savvidis, the SYRIZA-led government’s first order of business on Monday was to issue an order immediately halting matches in the Greek Super League and the Football League (Greek football’s second division). This has become SYRIZA’s “go-to” option every time whenever deemed politically expedient to appear to be taking action against corruption and violence in the ranks of Greek football.
Beginning in 2015 and again in 2016, the SYRIZA-led government postponed matches in the Greek Super League after various violent incidents occurred. In 2016, this postponement and the government’s efforts to push through “reforms” in the structure and governance of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) led to Greek teams — both at the club and national level — to be formally threatened with expulsion from international competition by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA. SYRIZA eventually backed off, though many of its “reforms” were passed — reforms which SYRIZA has since used to tout its “cleanup” of Greek football.
This “catharsis” has been such a success that last season, during yet another government-imposed suspension of league play, the Greek Cup final between PAOK and AEK at a neutral site in Volos, a match which was not covered by this suspension, was marred by gang warfare and violence between “fans” of the two sides, resulting in multiple injuries and tremendous material damage to the Panthessalian Stadium and the surrounding environs.
SYRIZA’s “law and order” seemingly was not applicable to PAOK and AEK, both owned by oligarchs favorable to SYRIZA, and both teams received fairly lenient punishment. On the other hand, in a match last season between Panathinaikos and PAOK at the former’s home pitch in Athens, the match was suspended after a spectator threw a can of beer at a PAOK player. Panathinaikos, a team facing severe economic difficulties, was harshly punished, with a deduction of points both in last season’s final standings and in this season’s table as well, plus a hefty fine. The fine, plus lost proceeds from Panathinaikos’ non-qualification to the lucrative UEFA Champions League — which was a direct result of the points that were deducted — have contributed to the team’s near-bankruptcy this season.
Despite all of this, we are supposed to believe that this year’s suspension of league matches will be an effective action against violence and corruption in the football world. This from the same government which imposed the very personnel in the national football federation which, in a ruling issued at 1 am on an early Sunday morning, overturned a previous decision and allowed Sunday’s PAOK-AEK match to take place in front of spectators, following an incident in PAOK’s previous home match where a spectator hurled an object at the opposing team’s coach, injuring him.
Punishment in Greece, at least on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, comes “a la carte” or is levied across the board, whether one is guilty or not and depending on the government’s whims and petty interests. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that aside from the indefinite suspension of league matches, the government is also reportedly examining the expulsion of Greek club teams from international competition for two years.
In other words, all teams, all owners, all players and all fans will be punished for the actions of an out-of-control gun-wielding oligarch and the state’s own inability (or lack of desire) to effectively curtail violence and corruption. Why should, for instance, Panathinaikos, a team that despite teetering on the edge of bankruptcy has managed to be in position to qualify for European competition next season, be punished? Why should this year’s surprise team, Atromitos FC, which is eyeing a position as high as third place in this year’s league table and a place in the UEFA Europa League, be punished? Why should all teams, and the Greek economy at large, be denied the revenues that would come as part of the participation of Greek teams in European competitions?
And who told the SYRIZA-led government that it would be able to implement such an “a la carte” prohibition of Greek participation in international football competitions, one in which Greek clubs would not compete for two years but an exemption would be made for the national team? Is this SYRIZA’s decision to make — or that of the sport’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA?
Indeed, FIFA is reportedly already threatening EPO and the Greek government with a “Grexit” of Greek football from all international competitions, at both the national and club level, if the issue of violence in the ranks of Greek football is not effectively and immediately dealt with. And such a “Grexit” would likely be for more than two years, impact both club and national teams (including Greece’s junior-level national teams, who more than anyone are not at fault for the ills of Greek football), and would mean that Greek teams would be classified at the lowest ranks of club and national team rankings, which would mean that once club teams and the national squads are reinstated by FIFA and UEFA, they will face very tough draws for European and international competitions, making the recovery of Greek football even more of an uphill battle, with further economic consequences possible as well.
These are the “solutions” eyed by the “law and order” government of SYRIZA, instead of, you know, arresting those who storm the football pitch with guns, instead of mandating the installation of surveillance cameras in close intervals at every Greek stadium, instead of making an example out of hooligans who are arrested and charged with violent acts, and instead of getting its tentacles out of the way and moving mountains in order to boost teams owned by its favored oligarchs, and in particular Ivan Savvidis and PAOK, under the guise of “catharsis” and “rooting out corruption.”
Instead of doing any of the above, SYRIZA has payed lip service to fighting violence and corruption, has put Greek football at grave risk (never before had Greek teams faced expulsion from international competition before the SYRIZA-led government came to town), and has continuously turned a blind eye to both corruption and violence when it has involved its favorite oligarchs.
Furthermore, it has quite knowingly and purposefully played upon the emotions of Greek football fans, and particularly the fans of AEK and PAOK, who have long felt “cheated” at the hands of perennial Greek champion Olympiacos. Fans of these teams have often become the most vocal supporters of, say, a Greek football “Grexit,” as their hatred of Olympiacos and the supposed “establishment” is so great and so deeply rooted that they are openly willing to cut of their nose to spite their face. As with the numerous other schisms in Greek society which have become increasingly apparent during the years of the crisis, such as the divide between employees in the public and private sector, or the division between the political “left” and the political “right,” one understands how such divide-and-conquer strategies play into the government’s hands.
These concerns were reflected in the positions adopted by AEK and Olympiacos in the aftermath of Sunday’s incident and the subsequent suspension of Greek league play. In a statement released Monday, AEK’s management openly questioned whether this time around, justice will serve or if “negotiations” will take place once again. Meanwhile, in a statement issued by the management of Olympiacos, the postponement of Super League matches was characterized as “serving only the interests of those who delivered irregularity and lawlessness to Greek football.”
However, these concerns are likely to fall on deaf ears. In “radical leftist” SYRIZA’s Greece, one can lose their home for a debt of 1000 euros to the Greek state, “unlicensed” chestnut vendors are arrested and jailed, and Greek soldiers are left to languish in Turkish prisons with no apparent diplomatic effort to secure their release, while maniacal gun-toting oligarchs do as they please — including owning television stations, newspapers, and most likely, the government itself.
 
 

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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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