President Barack Obama is seeking to assure United States allies that President-elect Donald Trump will honor the country’s international alliances when he takes office in January.
He told reporters that Donald Trump had “expressed a great interest” in maintaining the US commitment to NATO.
During the campaign, Donald Trump said he might abandon a guarantee of protection for fellow NATO countries.
The Republican candidate’s statements alarmed the Baltic states, which fear Russian aggression.
Article 5 of the NATO treaty commits allies to come to the aid of a member state under attack.
In July, the Republican candidate said the US would only come to the aid of allies if they have “fulfilled their obligations to us”.
The US has long been pressing its European allies to spend more on defense.
President Obama was speaking hours before his arrival in Greece, on his final official overseas trip.
He will later travel on to Germany and then to Peru.
Security has been stepped up in the Greek capital Athens, where anti-US protests are planned.
Barack Obama is expected to use his final foreign visit to calm nerves over the forthcoming administration of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump’s surprise election victory has raised concern among some world leaders after a string of controversial statements he made during his campaign.
At a White House news conference on November 14, President Obama said Donald Trump had “expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships”.
He said this included “strong and robust NATO” partnerships, which he said would convey “enormous continuity” to the world.
The president said that in last week’s White House meeting with his successor, he had urged Donald Trump to send “some signals of unity… and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign”.
President Obama said he “absolutely” had concerns about Donald Trump but urged his fellow Democrats to accept the result and “recognize that that is how democracy works”.
On November 15, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence about the Western alliance’s future.
“President-elect Donald Trump stated during the election campaign that he is a big fan of NATO, and I am certain that he will be a president… who will live up to all the commitments of the United States in the alliance,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said on November 14 that President Vladimir Putin had spoken by phone to Donald Trump and agreed to work with him towards improving US-Russia relations.
Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, describing him as a stronger leader than Barack Obama.
Greek minister of state Nikos Pappas said there was surprise in Greece as elsewhere at the election result, but added: “Everybody would be expecting the US government to continue to be on our side.”
“The mood of Greek people for this political change is <<wait and see>>,” he said.
High on the agenda in talks between Barack Obama and PM Alexis Tsipras on November 15 will be Greece’s crippling debt problems.
The US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have urged restructuring of the debt but face resistance from EU states, particularly Germany.
As preparations for Barack Obama’s visit went ahead, Greek anarchist and left-wing groups announced they were planning protest marches “against the representative of imperialist powers”.
Police banned public gatherings in central Athens and near the city’s international airport until after Barack Obama’s departure. Extra officers are also being deployed.
The last official visit to Greece of a sitting US president – by Bill Clinton in 1999 – was marked by extensive violent protests.
The International Monetary Fund has dismissed reports that it is trying to push Greece towards default as “simply nonsense”.
“The IMF conducts its negotiations in good faith, not by way of threats, and we do not communicate through leaks,” IMF chief Christine Lagarde wrote in a letter to Greek PM Alexis Tsipras.
Christine Lagarde’s letter comes after Wikileaks published a transcript of IMF officials discussing bailout negotiations.
One says a “crisis” could force a deal.
Greece publicly demanded an explanation after the leak, suggesting the comments meant the IMF could be planning to deliberately prolong debt negotiations until the country was close to running out of money.
Christine Lagarde said the “incident” had made her “concerned as to whether we can indeed achieve progress”, but said she had decided to allow the IMF team to return to Athens to continue debt discussions.
However, the IMF chief also warned that the latest bailout deal was “still a good distance away”.
Christine Lagarde said that the IMF could only support a deal that would enable “robust growth” for Greece, while also allowing it to tackle its debt repayments.
In 2015, Greece agreed a multi-billion dollar bailout with the EU and IMF that was needed for the country to avoid bankruptcy and stay in the eurozone.
Talks between Greece, the EU and the IMF on a bailout review, assessing Greece’s progress at implementing money-saving reforms and aimed at unlocking further loans, are due to resume this week.
The review has been suspended twice since January due to disagreement among the lenders over the estimated size of Greece’s fiscal gap by 2018, as well as different opinions on pension reforms and how bad loans are being managed.
“In the interest of the Greek people, we need to bring these negotiations to a speedy conclusion,” wrote Christine Lagarde.
Greek ambassador to Austria has been recalled amid sharp divisions among EU states over the refugee crisis.
The move came after Austria hosted a meeting with Balkan states on the refugee issue, to which Greece was not invited.
Meanwhile, EU and Balkan interior ministers have met in Brussels to try to heal rifts over the refugee issue.
Speaking afterwards, the EU’s migration commissioner warned that the bloc’s migration system could be days away from complete breakdown.
Dimitris Avramopoulos said member states had until a March 7 summit with Turkey to curb the number of refugees.
“In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground,” he told reporters.
“Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down.”
Austria, Serbia and Macedonia have taken their own steps to limit entry to refugees, angering Greece, which fears the controls will cause a bottleneck. The measures also threaten Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel area that spans 26 countries.
In a statement, the Greek foreign ministry said that the ambassador was being recalled “in order to safeguard the friendly relations between the states and the people of Greece and Austria”.
It said that problems facing the EU “cannot be dealt with, with thoughts, mentalities and extra-institutional initiatives that have their roots in the 19th Century”.
Speaking in Brussels, Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said his country would “not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon, a warehouse of souls”.
Lebanon is home to about a million of the four million Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries.
More than one million refugees arrived in the European Union in 2015, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. So far this year, 100,000 refugees have entered the EU illegally – nearly all of them arriving in Greece. More than 400 have died on the sea crossing from Turkey.
The surge in migration coupled with the failure to agree an EU-wide response has led to warnings about the bloc’s survival.
On February 24, representatives from 10 Balkan states attended talks in Austria and agreed to co-ordinate action to limit the flow of refugees.
The meeting drew an angry response from Greece, with the foreign ministry warning that “responsibility for dealing with the migration and refugee crisis cannot burden one country”.
EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday have been hearing plans drawn up by Austria and Balkan countries that seek to restrict the numbers entering their borders.
Measures include fingerprinting all entrants and turning back anyone without a passport or holding fake documents.
The countries have also pledged to accept only those they deem to be in need of protection – interpreted by some governments as meaning only Syrians and Iraqis.
Over the weekend, Macedonia barred entry to Afghans at its border with Greece. Angry protests erupted at the border crossings and Greece was forced to transport hundreds of Afghan back to Athens.
The EU has warned of a humanitarian crisis if the disagreements are not resolved.
European Council President Donald Tusk also warned that the failure to make progress towards resolving the crisis could increase the likelihood of the UK voting to leave the EU this year.
Greece has threatened to block all decisions at EU migration summits next month if member states do not agree to take in quotas of refugees.
Hungary announced on February 24 that it would hold a referendum on whether to accept mandatory EU quotas for relocating refugees.
PM Viktor Orban said the quotas “could redraw Europe’s cultural and religious identity”.
In 2015, Hungary’s right-wing government built a razor-wire fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to try to limit the flow of refugees.
At least twenty two refugees have drowned trying to reach Kalymnos and Rhodes from Turkey, in the second major boat tragedy off Greek islands this week.
Greek officials said 19 people died and 138 were rescued near Kalymnos.
Three others died off Rhodes and three were missing. Six were rescued there.
Greece’s PM Alexis Tsipras said he felt “shame” over “the inability of Europe to deal effectively with this human drama”.
Speaking in parliament, the left-wing Syriza leader condemned the “level of debate at a senior level, where one is passing the buck to the other” in the EU.
“Crocodile tears are being shed for the dead children on the shores of the Aegean, because dead children always arouse sorrow, but what about the children that are alive who come in thousands and are packed on the refugee trail? Nobody cares for them,” Alexis Tsipras added.
Meanwhile, rescuers in southern Spain are searching for 35 refugees missing after their boat broke up on its way from Morocco. Four bodies have been found.
The unseaworthy, overcrowded boat set off from Alhucemas. Fifteen refugees were rescued.
In recent months the main migrant influx has been to the Greek holiday islands lying off Turkey’s Aegean coast.
In this week’s previous sinking in the Aegean, Greek authorities confirmed the deaths of 16 refugees off Lesbos after their boat broke up in rough seas late on October 28. Rescuers managed to save 274 people.
Thousands have been arriving on Lesbos every day after making the dangerous journey from Turkey. People traffickers usually pack them onto unseaworthy boats, often inflatable dinghies.
The UN estimates that more than 700,000 refugees have crossed to Europe by boat so far this year – many of them refugees from war-torn Syria. The approach of winter has so far done little to slow the flow.
The EU is deploying its Frontex border force to new “hotspots” – refugee reception centers in Greece and Italy where local officials are overwhelmed by the numbers. Frontex aims to help speed up the registration of refugees.
Germany owes Greece nearly €279 billion ($303 billion) in war reparations for the Nazi occupation during World War Two, the Greek government says.
It is the first time Greece has officially calculated what Germany allegedly owes it for Nazi atrocities and looting during the 1940s.
However, the German government says the issue was resolved legally years ago.
Greece’s radical left Syriza government is making the claim while struggling to meet massive debt repayment deadlines.
PM Alexis Tsipras raised the reparations issue when he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last month.
The new figure given by Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas includes €10.3 billion for an occupation loan that the Nazis forced the Bank of Greece to pay.
“According to our calculations, the debt linked to German reparations is 278.7 billion euros,” Dimitris Mardas told a parliamentary committee investigating responsibility for Greece’s debt crisis.
Dimitris Mardas said the reparations calculation had been made by Greece’s state general accounting office.
Berlin paid 115 million Deutschmarks to Athens in 1960 in compensation – a fraction of the Greek demand. Greece says it did not cover payments for damaged infrastructure, war crimes and the return of the forced loan.
Germany insists the reparations issue was settled in 1990 legally and politically before Germany reunified.
Syriza politicians have frequently blamed Germany for the hardship suffered by Greeks under the tough bailout conditions imposed by international lenders.
PM Alexis Tsipras is trying to renegotiate the €240 billion EU-IMF bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy. Greece has not received bailout funds since August last year, as the lenders are dissatisfied with the pace of Greek reforms.
A Greek repayment of €448 million to the International Monetary Fund is due on April 9.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that Greece “intends to meet all obligations to all its creditors, ad infinitum”.
Greece has threatened to seize German property as compensation for a Nazi atrocity in World War II.
Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos said he was ready to approve a Supreme Court ruling from 2000 backing payment to relatives of the 218 victims.
The debt-ridden government is already calling for Germany to pay billions of euros in wartime reparations.
Germany insists the issue of compensation was settled in 1990, before the country was reunified.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on March 11 it was Germany’s firm belief that the question had been resolved legally and politically.
“We should concentrate on current issues and, hopefully what will be a good future,” he said, referring to Greece’s financial crisis and the Athens government’s proposals for a renegotiation of its bailout package from the EU and IMF.
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras told parliament late on March 10 that he had a duty to pursue reparations dating back to the Nazi occupation of 1940-1944, arguing that Germany had adopted “silence, legal tricks and delays” since reunification in 1990.
However, the justice minister went further, saying he was prepared to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2000 relating to the massacre of 218 civilians in the central Greek village of Distomo on June 10, 1944.
The court ruled that Germany should pay €28 million to the relatives of those killed, although the decision was not enforced, and the dispute effectively reached stalemate in international courts in the following years.
The ruling allowed for German-owned property to be seized as compensation but it was never acted on by then-Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos.
Among possible assets are property belonging to Germany’s archaeological school and the Goethe Institute, a cultural association.
Greek relations with Germany have deteriorated in recent years because of the financial crisis, with Germany one of the big contributors to the eurozone bailout that began in 2010.
German ministers have been among the most vocal advocates for budget and income cuts in Greece, which has led to growing resentment among Greeks.
The new leftist government in Athens argues that austerity measures be relaxed, a demand opposed by Germany and other eurozone creditor nations.
Germany did pay compensation of 115 million Deutsche marks in 1960, as part of an agreement with several European countries for the Nazi occupation.
Greece says the 1960 deal did not cover key demands, including payments for damaged infrastructure, war crimes and the return of a forced loan exacted from occupied Greece.
PM Alexis Tsipras said Greece would honor its bailout creditors, but that he would not “abandon its irrevocable demands'” for World War II reparations.
The euro has reached a nine-year low against the US dollar as investors predicted the European Central Bank (ECB) may act to stimulate the economy.
The European currency fell by 1.2% against the dollar to $1.1864, marking its weakest level since March 2006, before recovering slightly to $1.19370.
The drop follows ECB president Mario Draghi’s comments indicating the bank could soon start quantitative easing (QE).
Greek political turmoil also weighed on the currency.
Although the ECB has already cut interest rates to a record low level, and also bought some bonds issued by private companies, a full-scale program of QE has not yet been launched.
On January 2, Mario Draghi hinted in a newspaper interview that the ECB might soon start a policy of QE by buying government bonds, thus copying its counterparts in the UK and US.
The purpose would be to inject cash into the banking system, stimulate the economy and push prices higher.
In an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt, Mario Draghi said: “We are making technical preparations to alter the size, pace and composition of our measures in early 2015.”
Political turmoil in Greece also weighed on the euro, with fears that the general election on January 25, could see the anti-austerity, left-wing Syriza party take control of the country.
The possibility has sparked fears about whether Greece will stick to the terms of its international bailout and stay in the eurozone.
On January 3, German magazine Der Spiegel magazine said Germany believes the eurozone would be able to cope with a Greek “exit” from the euro, if the Syriza party wins the Greek election.
Reacting to the Der Speigel report, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was no change in German policy and the government expects Greece to fulfill its obligations under the EU, ECB and IMF bailout.
France’s President Francois Hollande also commented, saying it was now “up to the Greeks” to decide whether to remain a part of the single currency.
“Europe cannot continue to be identified by austerity,” Francois Hollande added, suggesting that the eurozone needs to focus more on growth than reducing its deficit.
Analysts said the euro was likely to remain volatile for the next few weeks.
Greek left-wing extremist Christodoulos Xiros recaptured after a year on the run had been planning an armed assault to free inmates from a maximum security prison in Athens, police say.
Christodoulos Xiros, 56, of the Marxist militant group November 17, was arrested on January 3 in Anavyssos.
He went missing after being allowed out of jail in January to visit his family.
Police found a cache of arms and ammunition in his house in Anavyssos, including a grenade launcher.
The cache also had eight Kalashnikov rifles, three handguns, a silencer and explosives.
Police said they also found drawings of the planned attack.
Police chief Dimitris Tsaknakis said: “The findings point to a big hit on the Korydallos prison, aiming to free prisoners. Based on notes we found, the attack would have taken place in the next days.”
Public Safety Minister Vassilis Kikilias said: “Greek police prevented a major attack against the heart of the Greek prison system.”
Christodoulos Xiros, who was sentenced in 2003 to multiple life terms for his role in November 17, appeared in court on January 4 to face charges of running a terrorist group and possessing weapons.
While on the loose, Christodoulos Xiros had appeared in a video threatening armed action over austerity measures undertaken under Greece’s international bailout.
Photos released by Greek police show Christodoulos Xiros with a beard and his hair grown long and dyed blonde.
The now defunct November 17 emerged in the mid-1970s and claimed a series of deadly attacks against foreign diplomats and Greek politicians and businessmen over nearly three decades, killing at least 23 people.
Greece, which has a huge foreign debt, has gone through years of austerity programs mandated by the IMF-EU bailout.
Greece is due to hold a snap election on January 25.
The left-wing Syriza party – which wants the terms of the EU-IMF bailout renegotiated – is leading in opinion polls.
Greece’s parliament has rejected the presidential candidate nominated by PM Antonis Samaras, triggering a snap general election.
Stavros Dimas failed to reach the necessary 180 votes, which means that parliament will have to be dissolved.
Greece’s economy has begun to recover after six years of recession.
Greeks have endured years of austerity and the left-wing Syriza party leading the polls wants the terms of a huge EU-IMF bailout renegotiated.
Although unemployment in Greece has begun falling from a record 28% early this year, it is still extremely high, at 25.5%.
Responding to the vote, the IMF said talks on completing a review of the bailout, which Greece would need if it were to leave the EU-IMF program, would take place only when a new government was in place.
The Athens stock market fell 7% as news of the vote sank in, with bank shares among the worst affected. Bank of Piraeus shares slumped 9%, after recovering from earlier record lows.
Investors sold off Greek government bonds, pushing bond yields above 9%. The government’s borrowing costs on 10-year bonds rose to 9.7%, in a reminder of the 2010 crisis when 10-year bonds soared above 11%.
Bond yields also rose in Spain and Italy, two other countries hit hard by the eurozone debt crisis.
Shortly after the vote, Antonis Samaras announced that elections would take place on January 25.
“The country has no time to waste,” he said in a televised address.
Stavros Dimas, a former European commissioner, secured the votes of only 168 lawmakers, the same number he had won during the second vote last week.
The government failed to attract the support of two smaller parties, Independent Greeks and Democratic Left, which it needed to win the vote.
The defeat is regarded as a major setback for the prime minister, as well as for eurozone countries that worked hard to bring Greece back from the brink in 2010.
Since then €240 billion ($290 billion) has been spent helping Greece pay off its debts. In return for two major bailouts, the EU and IMF demanded stringent austerity measures.
Greek public sector workers have begun a 24-hour strike to protest against continuing cuts in government spending.
Hospitals, tax offices, prisons and archaeological sites are expected to be disrupted by the action.
The workers are protesting against austerity measures, including a 40% reduction to salaries and pensions.
Greek public sector workers have begun a 24-hour strike to protest against continuing cuts in government spending (photo Reuters)
The strike coincides with a visit from Greece’s international creditors to check on the country’s progress.
The European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – known collectively as the Troika – are monitoring austerity measures that were a condition of a 240 billion-euro ($325 billion) bailout.
The lenders have praised Greece’s progress in meeting the targets set. It has achieved a “primary budget surplus”, with its deficit wiped out apart from interest owed on the bailout.
After six years of recession, the economy is expected to return to growth this year.
After Greece’s high court ruling that recent wage cuts to judges, the armed forces and emergency service workers were illegal and must be repaid, there will be tense discussions about the widening hole in next year’s finances.
The nagging question remains about how to bring down a 26% unemployment rate caused chiefly by four years of austerity.
Italian and Greek coast guards saved more than 300 migrants from rough waters in two separate incidents.
The Italian navy said it picked up 233 people, mostly from African countries, who had been stuck in an “overcrowded” vessel south of Sicily.
Meanwhile Greek coast guards rescued 85 migrants off the island of Astypalaia.
Every year thousands of African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty risk their lives trying to reach the Europe.
Greece and Italy are both main entry points for those who attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing.
In October more than 400 people drowned in two shipwrecks near the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Many of them were from Eritrea and Somalia, but the civil war in Syria has also resulted in an increased flow of migrants trying to reach Europe.
Italian and Greek coast guards saved more than 300 migrants from rough waters in two separate incidents
Italian officials said on Thursday that the migrants were rescued from a 33ft-long boat about 80 miles from Lampedusa.
“Considering the rough seas, the overcrowded boat and the precarious conditions, a situation of emergency was declared,” the Italian navy said in a statement.
It added that the migrants were in good health and had been ferried to Sicily.
They are reported to have come from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan.
Greek authorities said they picked up migrants near Astypalaia after receiving a distress signal from the vessel’s captain because of bad weather.
Women and children were among those rescued.
In the past, human rights organizations, including the UN refugee agency UNHCR, have strongly criticized Italy and Greece countries for “push-backs” – a policy of sending migrants back to their point of departure.
In the aftermath of the Lampedusa shipwrecks, the Italian government launched an operation called “Mare Nostrum”, mobilizing warships and aircraft to prevent further tragedies.
Italy has also called for help from other EU states to deal with the migrant influx.
The European Commission has asked for more resources for joint sea patrols, and more co-ordination with countries that migrants embark from, such as Libya.
The headquarters of Greece’s former state broadcaster ERT have been cleared by riot police, using tear gas to gain entry and arresting several people.
Police formed a cordon round the building in Athens, before going from room to room to evacuate protesters.
Former employees have occupied the building since the government closed ERT and sacked its 2,600 staff in June.
Greece’s conservative-led coalition said the state broadcaster cost too much to run in an economic crisis.
The closure of ERT prompted a left-wing party to withdraw from the governing coalition of PM Antonis Samaras in protest – a move which almost brought down the government.
Following the announcement of ERT’s closure in June, hundreds of staff refused to leave the building and continued to broadcast their programming via the internet.
The headquarters of Greece’s former state broadcaster ERT have been cleared by riot police
Early on Thursday, Greek police arrived to secure the building in Agia Paraskevi, a suburb in the north of Athens.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters outside the building, and then cleared each room inside.
Twenty or so workers were led out but three refused to go and were arrested. Police have now surrounded the building and protesters are gathering.
The state-run Athens News Agency reported that Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, a journalist and head of the ERT employees’ union, Pospert, was one of those held for public order offences.
ERT was Greece’s only TV broadcaster until the advent of private TV channels in 1989.
Despite several major overhauls to keep up with fierce private competition, a fall in ERT’s ratings in the mid-1990s triggered a long-running debate about its cost and efficiency.
In June, as Greece attempted to satisfy international creditors that it was fulfilling its debt restructuring and bailout commitments, PM Antonis Samaras announced the closure of ERT.
Antonis Samaras said the Greek exchequer could no longer afford to pay for a public broadcaster that cost more than $400,000 a year to run, and has refused to reinstate ERT unless it accepts a complete restructuring.
An interim TV station, called Public TV or DT, has been broadcasting in Greece since July while a restructured public broadcaster, called Nerit, is not expected to begin operating before 2014.
Bulgarian police is questioning a couple suspected of being the biological parents of Maria, the young girl found in a Roma community in Greece last week, reports say.
Sasha Ruseva and Atanas Rusev are said by Bulgarian media to have several children, some of whom resemble Maria.
The girl was reportedly born in Greece. But Sasha Ruseva is quoted as denying Maria was left there for money.
Bulgarian police have declined to comment on the reports.
Maria came to the Greek police’s attention after they raided the Roma camp near Farsala in central Greece, initially searching for drugs and weapons.
Maria came to the Greek police’s attention after they raided the Roma camp near Farsala in central Greece
They noticed the lack of resemblance between the blonde-haired, green-eyed, pale-skinned little girl and her parents, and found further discrepancies when they investigated the family’s documents.
The couple, Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou, have since been charged with child abduction.
Maria is currently being cared for by a charity in Athens. There have been 8,000 inquiries following an appeal to identify her, and the international police body Interpol are involved in the search for her biological family.