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Five years after its first memorandum and Greece has yet to computerise its registery of land ownership and usage

When Greece applied for its first international bailout in 2010, only two countries in Europe lacked a computerized register of land ownership and usage. Albania was the other. Its 2015, little progress has been made in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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When the whole, Greece is broke, saga started in 2010, the EU and IMF each identified the lack of legal certainty about property rights and land usage as a huge barrier to meaningful investment, proper taxation and eventual economic growth.

2015…Five years later and while Greece is on its third bailout and to date the lad registry issue is still less than half done complete, even though Athens spent hundreds of millions of euros with technical assistance from EU partners…where that money really went, we can only imagine.

For some context how bad it is in Greece…Albania, poorer Balkan neighbour that is a distant candidate for EU membership, has surpassed Greece and implemented a digital land registry and zoning map program.

Via Ekathimerini…

Greek newspapers call the never-ending epic of the cadastre, started in 1995 with EU funds that had to be returned to Brussels in 2003 because of misuse, “our national shame”.

It is a microcosm of everything that remains to be fixed in the country – bureaucracy, political patronage, competing layers of government, legal complexity, fiscal uncertainty, vested interests, cheating, tax evasion and opaque relations between the two biggest landowners – the state and the church.

The continued absence of a comprehensive land registry is one reason why a privatization program announced in 2011 and initially meant to raise 50 billion euros (37 billion pounds) over five years has netted a mere 3.1 billion euros to date.

Roughly half of deals so far have come from the sale or lease of state land, including a flagship plan to sell the disused Elliniko airport site next to Athens which is still stalled.

The 50 billion euro goal was reaffirmed in the third bailout package agreed in August but stretched out over 30 years.

The state cannot sell its prime real estate while disputes fester in the courts about ownership, boundaries and zoning.

“We have to give investors certainty that whatever they get from the Greek state they can actually realize,” said Lila Tsitsogiannopoulou, executive director of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund in charge of land privatization. “We still have a long way to go. We still have so many authorities.”

Illegal house owners’ union

The country even boasts a union of illegal house owners that campaigns to legalize their homes.

Michael Vlahakis a 60-year-old pensioner from Irakleio, the main city on Greece’s largest island Crete, is president of the “Residents Outside Town Planning” club, which he says represents some 45,000 illegal home owners on the island.

“Our club is unique in Greece, in Europe and probably in the whole planet because Greece is the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a cadastre,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“We still don’t know what is mountain, what is forest and what is a building or a house.”

About two-thirds of Greeks lived in the countryside until the 1960s, when a massive rural exodus began. Now more than half live in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Heraklion.

Vlahakis, who says he has built two illegal houses, one for himself and his wife, the other for his daughter, was invited to Athens four years ago to address lawmakers and ministers in parliament on the need to adapt town planning to reality.

“They haven’t done it since the mid-1980s despite the fact that Irakleio city has more than tripled in terms of houses and land since then,” he said, describing an upside-down urban development process.

“In Greece we build the houses first, then the roads, after that the infrastructure – waste system, electricity and water network – and at the end the sidewalks.”

Politicians, real estate developers and construction firms had all sabotaged the cadastre project to protect their interests, Vlahakis said.

According to Dimitris Rokos, director of planning and investment at the National Cadastre and Mapping Agency, just 25.3 percent of the country has been completely mapped, another 22 percent is in the works and contracts have yet to be awarded for just over 50 percent.

The agency has lost key staff such as the IT director and top legal experts to the private sector due to steep pay cuts under austerity measures imposed by Greece’s lenders. It also endured long months without a budget in the last five years.

It remains shackled by being a public utility company under the authority of the environment ministry, even though it is partly self-financing. The chairmanship has changed four times in as many years, mirroring successive governments, including twice this year when a hard left minister was appointed, then sacked.

Originally due to have been completed in 2008, the cadastre has an overall budget of 1.2 billion euros and is now supposed to be completed in 2020.

That seems wildly optimistic, but Rokos said the deadline could still be achieved if the agency were given greater financial and management autonomy to run more efficiently.

“It is still realistic if the government takes some basic strategic decisions by the end of the year,” he said.

European officials who have been involved in trying to help speed up the job say it is impossible to tell when it will be finished and have urged a radical simplification.

“It is so complex that no one dares to say ‘let’s make it simple’,” said Rik Wouters, a veteran Dutch cadastre official who led the European team that tried to help Greece between 2011 and late 2014, when an EU Task Force was withdrawn.

Wouters, managing director of the European Land Information Service, said in a telephone interview he had recommended the project be streamlined using tax records and old land registers to identify property holders and produce an index map locating land parcels rather than the more cumbersome delineation of boundaries to the centimeter.

Some of the problems are the legacy of history. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries until 1830 and has since been scarred by wars, occupation and mass migration.

Most land transaction records in this nation of 11 million people, sprawling over 132,000 square km, are still handwritten in ledgers held by local registrars.

There are no title deeds for land in some parts of the country, and any area for which documents proving private ownership are not available from 1883 onward is deemed to be state land, causing endless legal disputes.

Compounding the problem, resolving business disputes through the courts takes nearly three times as long in Greece as the average in members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a rich countries’ club.

The Greek Orthodox Church has no central land registry, forcing the state cadastre agency to deal with individual monasteries or diocese to try to establish land ownership and delineate boundaries.

Documents may be two centuries old and define the limits of properties with reference to landmarks that no longer exist, or using fuzzy phrases such as “500 paces from the olive tree” or “five stone throws in this direction.”

Roughly 60 percent of the country is officially designated as forest, protected by the Greek constitution from economic exploitation. The perimeters of forests are largely delineated by aerial photographs taken shortly after World War Two.

Areas that have since been deforested, including several of the Cyclades islands, remain registered as forest even though they may not have a single tree. Much of suburban Athens is still officially forest, since the city expanded massively in the 20th century with no equivalent changes in land zoning.

Attempts to change the status quo, whether for economic development or practical purposes such as creating a cemetery to bury the dead, encounter often fierce resistance that can lead to years of litigation.

“Clearly, if you’re an illegal owner in Greece, you don’t want this cadastre project ever to be finished,” said George Papaconstantinou, who tried to speed up the exercise as environment minister in 2011 but ran into a wall of opposition.

“There is also a lot of resistance from other vested interests – surveyors, local notaries, property registrars – who could be out of a job once the project is finished. They put lots of legal and bureaucratic obstacles in the way.”

The fact that many local authorities have no master plan for land usage, and that residents or campaigners can use slow-motion litigation to wreck investment projects, compounds the problem, Papaconstantinou said.

He cited the example of a consortium that wanted to invest several hundred million euros to build an eco-friendly luxury hotel on the Aegean island of Milos.

After a five-year wait, the project was denied planning permission because it was deemed to threaten the natural habitat of a rare species of venomous snake present on only four Greek islands.

“They offered to build a special reservation for the vipers, but I couldn’t help. Even if I had approved the plan, the Council of State (Greece’s supreme administrative court) would have unraveled it,” Papaconstantinou said.

References:

http://www.ekathimerini.com/202622/article/ekathimerini/business/typically-greek-delayed-land-register-is-never-ending-epic

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Skripal and Khashoggi: A Tale of Two Disappearances

Two disappearances, and two different responses.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Two disappearances, and two very different responses from Western governments, which illustrates their rank hypocrisy.

When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The outcry by Western governments and media over the Skripal affair was deafening and resulted in Britain, the US and some 28 other countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats on the back of unsubstantiated British allegations that the Kremlin tried to assassinate an exiled spy with a deadly nerve agent. The Trump administration has further tightened sanctions citing the Skripal incident.

London’s case against Moscow has been marked by wild speculation and ropey innuendo. No verifiable evidence of what actually happened to Sergei Skripal (67) and his daughter Yulia has been presented by the British authorities. Their claim that President Vladimir Putin sanctioned a hit squad armed with nerve poison relies on sheer conjecture.

All we know for sure is that the Skripals have been disappeared from public contact by the British authorities for more than seven months, since the mysterious incident of alleged poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.

Russian authorities and family relatives have been steadfastly refused any contact by London with the Skripal pair, despite more than 60 official requests from Moscow in accordance with international law and in spite of the fact that Yulia is a citizen of the Russian Federation with consular rights.

It is an outrage that based on such thin ice of “evidence”, the British have built an edifice of censure against Moscow, rallying an international campaign of further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Now contrast that strenuous reaction, indeed hyper over-reaction, with how Britain, the US, France, Canada and other Western governments are ever-so slowly responding to Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case.

After nearly two weeks since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi regime is this week finally admitting he was killed on their premises – albeit, they claim, in a “botched interrogation”.

Turkish and American intelligence had earlier claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered on the Saudi premises by a 15-member hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Even more grisly, it is claimed that Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw by the killers, his remains secreted out of the consulate building in boxes, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on board two private jets connected to the Saudi royal family.

What’s more, the Turks and Americans claim that the whole barbaric plot to murder Khashoggi was on the orders of senior Saudi rulers, implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The latest twist out of Riyadh, is an attempt to scapegoat “rogue killers” and whitewash the House of Saudi from culpability.

The fact that 59-year-old Khashoggi was a legal US resident and a columnist for the Washington Post has no doubt given his case such prominent coverage in Western news media. Thousands of other victims of Saudi vengeance are routinely ignored in the West.

Nevertheless, despite the horrific and damning case against the Saudi monarchy, the response from the Trump administration, Britain and others has been abject.

President Trump has blustered that there “will be severe consequences” for the Saudi regime if it is proven culpable in the murder of Khashoggi. Trump quickly qualified, however, saying that billion-dollar arms deals with the oil-rich kingdom will not be cancelled. Now Trump appears to be joining in a cover-up by spinning the story that the Khashoggi killing was done by “rogue killers”.

Britain, France and Germany this week issued a joint statement calling for “a credible investigation” into the disappearance. But other than “tough-sounding” rhetoric, none of the European states have indicated any specific sanctions, such as weapons contracts being revoked or diplomatic expulsions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “concerned” by the gruesome claims about Khashoggi’s killing, but he reiterated that Ottawa would not be scrapping a $15 billion sale of combat vehicles to Riyadh.

The Saudi rulers have even threatened retaliatory measures if sanctions are imposed by Western governments.

Saudi denials of official culpability seem to be a brazen flouting of all reason and circumstantial evidence that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the consulate building on senior Saudi orders.

This week a glitzy international investor conference in Saudi Arabia is being boycotted by top business figures, including the World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Britain’s venture capitalist Richard Branson. Global firms like Ford and Uber have pulled out, as have various media sponsors, such as CNN, the New York Times and Financial Times. Withdrawal from the event was in response to the Khashoggi affair.

A growing bipartisan chorus of US Senators, including Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Chris Murphy, have called for the cancellation of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as for an overhaul of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Still, Trump has rebuffed calls for punitive response. He has said that American jobs and profits depend on the Saudi weapons market. Some 20 per cent of all US arms sales are estimated to go to the House of Saud.

The New York Times this week headlined: “In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Stands Out”.

The Trump White House will be represented at the investment conference in Saudi Arabia this week – dubbed “Davos in the Desert” by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He said he was attending in spite of the grave allegations against the Saudi rulers.

Surely the point here is the unseemly indulgence by Western governments of Saudi Arabia and its so-called “reforming” Crown Prince. It is remarkable how much credulity Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and others are affording the Saudi despots who, most likely, have been caught redhanded in a barbarous murder.

Yet, when it comes to Russia and outlandish, unproven claims that the Kremlin carried out a bizarre poison-assassination plot, all these same Western governments abandon all reason and decorum to pile sanctions on Russia based on lurid, hollow speculation. The blatant hypocrisy demolishes any pretense of integrity or principle.

Here is another connection between the Skripal and Khashoggi affairs. The Saudis no doubt took note of the way Britain’s rulers have shown absolute disregard and contempt for international law in their de facto abduction of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. If the British can get away with that gross violation, then the Saudis probably thought that nobody would care too much if they disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.

Grotesquely, the way things are shaping up in terms of hypocritical lack of action by the Americans, British and others towards the Saudi despots, the latter might just get away with murder. Not so Russia. The Russians are not allowed to get away with even an absurd fantasy.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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Massacre in Crimea kills dozens, many in critical condition

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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