German leader Merkel heads to Athens; demonstrations banned

File photo showing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shaking hands after a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 10 January 2019
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German leader Merkel heads to Athens; demonstrations banned

  • Germany was the largest contributor to the three international bailout packages Greece received since 2010
  • Greece emerged from its third and final bailout in August last year, but its economy will remain under strict supervision

ATHENS: Authorities have banned demonstrations in a large section of central Athens and will shut down streets and subway stations during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrives in the Greek capital Thursday afternoon for meetings with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other officials.
Around 2,000 officers, a police helicopter and drones will be deployed for the visit, which ends Friday afternoon.
Germany was the largest single contributor to the three international bailout packages Greece received since 2010 as it struggled through a dramatic financial crisis which almost saw it crash out of the eurozone. Germany was also seen as one of the main enforcers of stringent austerity measures, including tax hikes and pension and salary cuts, imposed in return for the rescue loans.
Merkel and Tsipras have met in person many times over the course of the past few years, but this will be the first time the German chancellor visits Athens during Tsipras’ government. He came to power in a January 2015 election on a strongly anti-bailout and anti-Merkel campaign, famously once declaring during a campaign speech before European elections: “Go back, Mrs. Merkel!“
Relations have since warmed, and Tsipras dropped his virulent anti-bailout stance, implementing the reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors.
Greece saw its economy shrink by a quarter during the crisis, with unemployment reaching highs of 28 percent, and 58 percent for young people. The jobless rate has since fallen to just below 19 percent.
“I know that the last few years were very difficult for many people in Greece,” Merkel said in a statement to the Athens daily Kathimerini newspaper before her visit. “Europe showed its solidarity with its three aid packages and supported Greece in its course of reforms toward fiscal and economic stability. It was doubtless a difficult course.”
Greece emerged from its third and final bailout in August last year, but its economy will remain under strict supervision and it has pledged further reforms to ensure its finances remain on track.
“With the completion of the third adjustment program last year, Greece has made great progress,” Merkel told Kathimerini. “This should be an incentive for the future.”
Apart from the financial crisis, the two leaders are expected to discuss migration, an issue on which the positions of Tsipras and Merkel have been relatively close, as well as the name deal Greece reached with neighboring Macedonia.
Under the deal reached last year, the former Yugoslav republic will be renamed North Macedonia in return for Greece dropping its objections to the country joining NATO and eventually the European Union. Greece argues use of the term “Macedonia” implies territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, and usurps its ancient Greek heritage.
The deal has met with vociferous opposition in both Greece and Macedonia, where critics accused their respective governments of making too many concessions to the other side. The issue is threatening Tsipras’ coalition government, with the head of the junior coalition Independent Greeks party, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, threatening to leave the government if it goes through.
Germany has made it clear it considers the name deal a historic opportunity.


UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

Updated 28 min 28 sec ago
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UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

  • WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails
  • Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself

LONDON: The head of the World Health Organization has ordered an internal investigation into allegations the UN health agency is rife with racism, sexism and corruption, after a series of anonymous emails with the explosive charges were sent to top managers last year.
Three emails addressed to WHO directors — and obtained exclusively by the Associated Press — complained about “systematic racial discrimination” against African staffers and alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including claims that some of the money intended to fight Ebola in Congo was misspent.
Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails. He confirmed that directive to the AP on Thursday.
Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself and have called for the probe to be made public.
The first email, which was sent last April, claimed there was “systematic racial discrimination against Africans at WHO” and that African staffers were being “abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to” by their Geneva-based colleagues.
Two further emails addressed to WHO directors complained that senior officials were “attempting to stifle” investigations into such problems and also alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including allegedly misspent Ebola funds.
The last email, sent in December, labeled the behavior of a senior doctor helping to lead the response against Ebola as “unacceptable, unprofessional and racist,” citing a November incident at a meeting where the doctor reportedly “humiliated, disgraced and belittled” a subordinate from the Middle East.
Tedros — a former health minister of Ethiopia and WHO’s first African director-general — said investigators looking into the charges “have all my support” and that he would provide more resources if necessary.
“To those that are giving us feedback, thank you,” he told a meeting of WHO’s country representatives in Nairobi last month. “We will do everything to correct (it) if there are problems.”
But Tedros refuted claims that WHO’s hiring policies are skewed, arguing that his top management team was more geographically diverse and gender-balanced than any other UN organization after adopting measures to be more inclusive.
“There is change already happening,” he said during the December staff meeting, according to an audio recording provided to the AP.
WHO’s in-house investigation into misconduct comes after other UN agencies have been rocked by harassment complaints.
At UNAIDS, chief Michel Sidibe agreed to step down after an independent report concluded in December that his “defective leadership” had created a toxic working environment, with staffers asserting there was rampant sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power.
The author of the anonymous WHO emails also charged there were “crooked recruitment and selection” processes that were “tantamount to fraud, corruption and abuse of authority.”
In the latest anonymous message, the author singled out the supposedly flawed hiring process of a senior director in WHO’s emergencies department, suggesting that might have led to mistakes being made by incompetent officials involved in efforts to stop Ebola in Congo.
Some staffers feared that funds donated to stem the spread of the deadly virus “have not been used judiciously,” the email said, warning such blunders could undermine WHO’s credibility.
“A plane was hired to transport three vehicles from the warehouse in Dubai at the cost of $1 million. Why would WHO ship vehicles from Dubai? We would appreciate the rationale when jeeps in DRC (Congo) can be purchased at $80,000 per vehicle,” the email said, claiming that “corruption stories about logisticians and procurement in WHO’s (Geneva emergencies department) are legendary.”
David Webb, director of WHO’s office of internal oversight, told staffers that Tedros had asked him “to conduct an appropriate investigation” into the issues raised in the emails. Webb said he and his team would scrutinize those accusations, in addition to the approximately 150 other claims that have been reported to his office this year.
“My team is trying their best to go to DRC (Congo), to go to where the allegations are with an effort to find the facts,” he said.
The revelations about the alleged wrongdoing were likely to prompt discussions next week at WHO’s executive board meeting at its Geneva headquarters.
Webb said the investigation would be conducted independently even though it would be done by WHO staffers.
Critics outside the organization felt that was not enough.
“That’s the same office that botched the initial investigation at UNAIDS,” said Edward Flaherty, a lawyer who represents Martina Brostrom, the UNAIDS whistleblower whose sexual harassment allegations ultimately triggered Sidibe’s resignation. “Having an internal investigation at WHO is as good as doing nothing.”
Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who previously worked at WHO and now serves on several of its advisory groups, wasn’t surprised by the emails’ claims of racism, sexism and corruption.
“After what I’ve seen at WHO, I have no doubt that everything in those emails is true,” he said, although he had no evidence to prove the specific claims.
Tomori said he and his African colleagues had often been subjected to “slights that turned to slurs, embarrassing humiliations and rudeness that escalated to abuse” from fellow WHO staffers.
He predicted that without an independent investigation, more complaints would continue to spill out.
“People have known about these problems for a long time,” he said. “But nobody wants to talk because they’re afraid.”