Gloves come off as Greek elections loom

Greek main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, dismissed government accusations of kickbacks allegedly pocketed by his party while in power prior to 2015 as ‘savage propaganda.’ (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Gloves come off as Greek elections loom

  • Hostility between the ruling leftist Syriza party and the frontrunning New Democracy conservatives has hit fever pitch
  • ‘We know they plan to hold dirty elections’

ATHENS: As Greece enters an election year, the two main political parties are deeply polarized setting the stage for a no-holds-barred campaign.
With the ballot scheduled for October but expected as early as March, hostility between the ruling leftist Syriza party and the frontrunning New Democracy conservatives has hit fever pitch.
“We know they plan to hold dirty elections,” New Democracy head Kyriakos Mitsotakis said of his Syriza rivals in a recent speech, dismissing government accusations of kickbacks allegedly pocketed by his party while in power prior to 2015 as “savage propaganda.”
Both sides accuse each other of marshalling web trolls to spread misinformation. New Democracy says the leftists have liberally dished out well-paid state jobs to a legion of ill-qualified friends and allies.
In turn, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras points to ongoing investigations targeting years of alleged kickbacks to conservative ex-ministers from Swiss pharma multinational Novartis and German engineering giant Siemens.
The government has identified prominent media group Skai as a key source of what it sees as unfair criticism of its policies. In addition to frequently attacking the station’s broadcasts, Tsipras’ party is boycotting its talk shows.
Relations hit rock bottom last month when a bomb exploded outside Skai’s Athens headquarters, prompting media group owner Yiannis Alafouzos to say Tsipras’ government was “morally” responsible for the attack.
“There is a climate that not only tolerates but often encourages extreme forms of expression in the public space,” Nikos Konstandaras, a veteran columnist for liberal daily Kathimerini that is part of the Skai group, wrote after the bombing.
“Today, the political polarization that breeds such violence is intensifying,” he added.
Brought to power on an anti-austerity ticket in 2015 after decades on the sidelines, Tsipras’ government faced an overwhelmingly hostile media.
His response was to completely overhaul the powerful TV sector and force channel owners — who had played kingmaker between New Democracy and the Pasok socialists for over two decades — to pay millions of euros for new operating licenses.
“In Greece, the dependence of mainstream media on the state is the most extreme in Europe, it is only comparable to Turkey,” George Pleios, head of media studies at the National University of Athens, wrote in a recent article.
With media under the control of businessmen mainly active in construction and shipping, ownership has long been a means of securing state contracts and favorable bank loans, adds Nikos Smyrnaios, a digital media professor at Toulouse university.
“In this way, when the (economic) crisis struck, state (bankruptcy) brought about a similar fate for the media,” he notes.
Alongside the conservative and socialist parties who had ruled the country prior to the crisis, mainstream media were also discredited, argues Stelios Papathanassopoulos, professor of media organization and policy at the University of Athens.
The anti-austerity demonstrations that helped propel Syriza to power also assisted the rise of social media and Twitter in Greece, mainly to the benefit of the left.
“The young, who at the time formed the bulk of Syriza voters, challenged the accuracy of (mainstream) media and turned to alternative networks,” Papathanassopoulos said.
After two years of bitter rivalry between Tsipras and those he labelled “oligarchs,” three major media groups changed hands to avoid bankruptcy, and Greece’s most powerful TV station before the crisis, Mega, went bust.
But the overhaul did little to promote smaller, more independent voices, notes Smyrnaios.
“Media groups are still in the hands of influential businessmen,” he said.
In another sign of the sector’s deep troubles, one of Greece’s two media distribution agencies filed for bankruptcy in 2017.
The one that remains is controlled by a leading media group.
“As in many Latin American countries, Greek media have overstepped ethical boundaries,” argues Smyrnaios. “It’s more about emotion, reviving old hatred between the right-wing and the left that goes back to the (1946-1949) civil war.”


Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

Updated 21 March 2019
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Philippine president wants to end anti-drug war in three years

  • Philippines being investigated for extrajudicial killings
  • Anti-drug campaign signature policy of president

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he wanted to finish his war on drugs in three years, defying an international probe into his controversial and deadly campaign to rid the country of narcotics.
Duterte, who came to power in 2016, has made a ‘war on drugs’ the hallmark of his administration. 
But it has been reported that 20,000 people have been killed in what rights groups call a wave of “state-sanctioned violence.”
The firebrand president remains unfazed by the condemnation, and the cases filed against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his crackdown.
He insisted he would assume full responsibility for any consequences due to his decision to enforce the law, telling a military audience his goals.
“I’d like to finish this war, both (with the) Abu Sayyaf (a militant group) and also the communists, and the drug problem in about three years … we'd be able (to) ... reduce the activities of the illegal trade and fighting to the barest minimum.
“I’m not saying I am the only one capable (of achieving these goals) ... I assume full responsibility for all that would happen as a consequence of enforcing the law — whether against the criminals, the drug traffickers or the rebels who’d want to destroy government.”
Earlier this month, the Philippines withdrew from the ICC, citing the global body's interference in how the country was run as the reason.
On Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines would continue despite its exit.
But the government has said it will not cooperate with the ICC, and has even warned its personnel about entering the country for the investigation.
There are Filipinos who support Duterte’s campaign, however, and believe it works. Among them is former policeman Eric Advincula.
He said there had been an improvement in the situation since Duterte came to power. 
“For one, the peace and order situation has improved, like for example in villages near our place where there used to be rampant drug peddling,” he told Arab News. 
“The price of illegal drugs is now higher, an indication that the supply also went down. Also, it was easy to catch drug peddlers before because they were doing their trade openly. But now they are more careful, you can't easily locate them.”
Official data from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in February indicated that 5,176 ‘drug personalities’ were killed in the anti-drugs war between July 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2019.
More than 170,000 drug suspects have been arrested during a total of 119,841 anti-narcotics operations in the last two and a half years.