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SYRIZA "cleans up" football by rewarding violence and its favorite oligarchs

PAOK FC, owned by pro-SYRIZA oligarch Ivan Savvidis, has penalty for object thrown by fans at opposing coach reversed, while SYRIZA claims it has “cleaned up” Greek football.

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It was about a year ago when Greek football, including professional clubs and the national team, faced the specter of being suspended from all international competition, following “reforms” which the SYRIZA government attempted to ram through which would have formally created state oversight of the country’s national football federation and football leagues.
Faced with the threat of expulsion from international play, the “reforms” were eventually diluted enough to avert such an outcome. However, numerous other changes, including the restructuring of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) board of directors and roster of referees, moved forward. These “reforms” were enacted purportedly to “eliminate corruption” in Greek football.
That “catharsis” has been on full and proud display this season, as two teams in particular, AEK FC (based in Athens) and PAOK FC (based in Thessaloniki) have been the seeming beneficiaries of this new state of affairs. Refereeing, purportedly “cleaned up” as part of these “reforms,” has been brazenly and unabashed favorable to these two squads, with numerous matches decided on dubious decisions or “missed” calls.
It is surely a coincidence that the presidents of these two teams, wealthy oligarchs Dimitris Melissanidis and Ivan Savvidis, are strong supporters of the current SYRIZA-led government, as well as beneficiaries of the current regime as well.
It is Melissanidis who, along with Czech investors, has taken ownership of the privatized national lottery and sports betting organization OPAP, all the while being the president competing in the very same domestic football league for which OPAP accepts bets. Conflict of interest is apparently an unknown phrase in the ranks of the SYRIZA-led government.
In the 1980s, Melissanidis was twice charged with bribery. This was followed in 1996 by a five-year prison sentence for tax evasion and oil smuggling. In 2013, Melissanidis allegedly threatened the life a journalist who had published an exposé of the activities of Melissanidis-owned Aegean Oil.
In turn, Ivan Savvidis, a former member of the Russian parliament, has recently purchased, along with foreign investors, the port of Thessaloniki. He owns 100 percent of national television broadcaster Epsilon TV. His investments in Greece include ownership of a soft drink factory, a luxury hotel, an aviation company, and a facility which produces tobacco products and which he threatened to liquidate if debts to the state were not written off.
It seems this close-knit relationship with the government pays dividends on the pitch as well, as AEK FC and PAOK are in a neck-and-neck race for this year’s Super League crown, while perennial champions Olympiacos are middling in third place. The owner of Olympiacos FC, shipping magnate Evaggelos Marinakis, is not known to maintain favorable ties with the SYRIZA-led government.
Recently, a scheduled match between PAOK and Olympiacos never began, after a fan threw an object from the stands which struck the coach of Olympiacos in the head. As per league rules and precedent set after a similar incident last season, where Panathinaikos FC was penalized (interestingly enough in a match against PAOK) after a fan hurled a beer bottle which struck one of PAOK’s players. Panathinaikos lost the game on paper, was docked three additional points in the standings, and its home field was penalized for two matches, where the team played in front of empty stands.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in the Greek finance ministry in Athens, January 30, 2018. A decal of the Ivan Savvidis-owned PAOK football club is visible in the background. (REUTERS/Costas Baltas)


However, cozy relationships with the centers of power apparently pay off, as in the case of PAOK. Following the incident in the match which never began with Olympiacos, essentially the same penalty was levied as in last year’s incident. However, upon appeal, PAOK’s three deducted points were restored, and the suspension of its home field was dropped, just in time for PAOK to face its rival, AEK, in front of a packed house instead of in front of empty seats. The only part of the initial penalty which remained unchanged was the “outcome” on paper of the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was, which remains an Olympiacos victory by default. The reversal of the original decision ensures that PAOK remains very much in the hunt for this year’s Super League title.
This decision is scandalous not only due to the fact that a clear and evident double standard was employed, seemingly to protect PAOK. It is scandalous also due to the incredible speed with which the decision was levied. In a country where an ordinary judicial case can drag on for a decade or more, and where previous decisions and appeals involving sporting clubs often took weeks to resolve, the appeal was heard and original decision was overturned all in just over 24 hours and issued at 1 am, during a weekend to boot.
Greece is a country that has a reputation of being inefficient and where the state operates in a frustratingly slow and ponderous manner. The reality is that the Greek system can be frighteningly quick and efficient when deemed politically expedient. This is evidently the case with the ultra-fast decision favoring PAOK issued by the “reformed” EPO, stacked with personnel essentially hand-picked by the SYRIZA-led government.
Sports is politics worldwide (as evidenced by the recent Russian “doping scandal” and actions of the International Olympic Committee), and this is plainly evident in Greece, where teams owned by oligarchs favorable to the government are the beneficiaries of favorable treatment. These oligarchs then utilize the organized supporters of their squads to create “voting blocs” which faithfully and fanatically toe the line laid down by the team president and reinforced through sports newspapers and online portals favorable to the team in question.
As this happens, the SYRIZA government has attempted to score political points by claiming that it has “cleaned up football,” just as it is apparently “fishing out corruption” and “punishing those which brought Greece into its current mess” through the serendipitously-timed “Novartis scandal,” targeting members of the former New Democracy and Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) governments. Coincidentally, these reforms in the sports world favored pro-SYRIZA oligarchs, and coincidentally, the “Novartis scandal” successfully removed the massive Macedonia demonstrations and their aftermath, from the news cycle and from public discourse.
And unfortunately, for those who have even a cursory understanding of both the Greek sporting world and Greek politics, the decision to overturn the penalty against PAOK comes as no surprise. This author was at a café in Athens to watch the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was, and overheard a conversation from the neighboring table, where a PAOK fan who was from Thessaloniki and who apparently had a contact within PAOK’s management reassured her friends that “Kontonis will overturn any decision against PAOK” (referring to former deputy minister of athletics and current justice minister Stavros Kontonis). It looks like her source within PAOK was well informed.
This decision now sets a new precedent, where any teams whose fans bring dangerous objects into the stadium, throw objects and strike opposing players and coaches, will essentially walk away unpunished. So much for SYRIZA’s efforts to “clean up” Greek football. And anyone who believes that this decision was reached without the influence of the highest ladders of power in Greek society, is sadly delusional.
Furthermore, the decision to reverse the previous decision at 1 am before game day and to allow tomorrow’s PAOK-AEK match to go forward with spectators begs the question: when did the tax authorities manage to certify the tickets for Sunday’s game? Did they do so on Friday, before the decision was even issued, knowing what it would be? Or are we expected to believe the tax office will open on Sunday, just for PAOK?

A… motorcycle brought into the stands in the supposedly secure PAOK FC stadium in Thessaloniki, prior to the PAOK-Olympiacos match which never began, February 25, 2018.


Such are “reforms,” SYRIZA-style, in Greece today. While “unlicensed” elderly chestnut vendors are thrown in jail an issued steep fines and while those who set a bank branch ablaze during protests in 2010, killing three people including a pregnant mother-to-be, have not ever been apprehended or charged; hooligans can throw objects, injure opposing teams’ coaches, and bring entire… motorcycles into a supposedly secure stadium (this also happened during the PAOK-Olympiacos match that never was) and go largely unpunished. And for such reforms, SYRIZA’s legions of supporters repeatedly claim, as if reading off a script, that SYRIZA is “doing away with the old corruption.” Perhaps it is, by rewarding the renewed corruption of its supporters, friends, and cronies.
Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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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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