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Greek priosn break

The dramatic escape by helicopter from Athens maximum security Korydallos jail by two prisoners for the second time last week turned convicted kidnappers, Vasilis Paleokostas and Alket Razai into folk heros for many ordinary Greeks. Betting sites are offering odds on if the two will be recaptured whilst on Facebook the Paleokostas Airlines group has already 51,000 members.

However, for the 12,000 other prisoners behind bars in Greece’s grim jails conditions are set to deteriorate still further as the new minister for Justice, Nikos Dendias has annouced a series of measures designed to clamp down on «lax practices» by prison officers. In many cases the concessions won by prisoners after last November’s mass hunger strike (see here for full story) have been revoked or will not be implemented.

As Ioanna Drosou, a prisoners’ rights activist said in an interview with  Greek net – based news service TVXS.gr Greek government has reneged on their promises to improve the conditions in the country’s jails despite have been repeatedly condemned by organisations such as Amnesty and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Arbitary violence by prison officers, widespread drug use, overcrowding and primitive health care facilities have all been cited as areas that need to be tackled in order to bring Greek jails in line with European standards.

However, last week’s prison break out which has severely embarrased the ruling New Democracy government has lead instead to a tightening of security, a move which prisoners rights organisations such as the Initiative for the Rights of Prisoners argue will futher isolate inmates from wider society and add to ths problems inherent in the prison system.

Elections in Greece

Elections in Greece

Latest opinion poll results show that nearly half of Greek voters believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties is capable of governing. The ruling right – wing New Democracy was given an approval rating of just 16% whilst the opposition centre left PASOK party polled just 17%.

The results underline the massive lack of trust in the present political system which has been exacerbated by the recent economic downturn, a series of high profile corruption scandals and the wave of violent confontations which swept Greece In December and January.

This week doctors and other health care officials took industrial action for 48 hours in order to protest the chronic staff and equipment shortages that have plagued the public health care system for years.

A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity in a hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city said that his department had just a third of the nurses required. In addition lack of staff means that Greek hospitals are regularly demanding doctors work more than the European Union mandated limit of 48 hours a week. There have also been complaints over shortages of basic supplies such as bandages and medicine in many hospitals caused by cuts in funding by the Ministry of Health and massive delays in paying medical suppliers for previous orders.

The death of a 58 year old man this week in a ambulance taking him to hospital in Thessaloniki sparked off a political row when it came out that the man died as paramedics were unable to revive him following a heart attack as their resuscitator was missing parts. Although a coroner’s report said that the death was unrelated to the heart attack, doctors who treated the man are adamant he could have been saved if the ambulance’s equipment had been in working order.

The strike action is just one of a series of protests which has seen the government pitched against students, farmers, cleaners and even police officers.

Whilst the riots and street clashes that were sparked off by the killing of a teenager in December have faded from the world’s TV screens violent confrontations have continued albeit on a smaller scale.

Last week Thessaloniki saw riots in which 500 – 1000 demonstrators attacked the city’s central police station and take part in running street battles for hours.
In addition there were 17 arson attacks on Friday by a revolutionary organisation calling itself the Conspiracy of the Cores of Fire.

Even more violent have been the armed attacks on police stations in Athens which left one police officer seriously injured after being shot while standing guard outside the Ministry of Culture signalling a rekindling of terrorism in the country.

Political and economic woes have added to calls for national elections by many unhappy with the government’s handling of a wide range of everyday issues such as employment, education and law enforcement.

Currently, Prime minister Kostas Karamanlis has just a slim one seat majority in parliament and is facing a series of clashes within his own cabinet as ministers manouever to position themselves for the possibility of national elections and a subsequent leadership battle.

Oh my God!!!!! It's a blogger

Oh my God!!!!! It's a blogger

The Greek government has made moves to shut down Indymedia sites in the capital, Athens and neighbouring Patras according to local news sources.

Following questions in parliament by member of the far right LAOS party, Kyriakos Velopoulos junior minister for Educationa and Religious Affairs, Spyros Taliadouros demanded that the National Technical University of Athens (Greece’s equivilant of MIT) immediately locate and shut down the site which the MP claimed is hosted on the university’s server.

The site still remains in operation, however, Konstantinos Moutzouris dean of the university has said that while Indymedia sites make use of the universities facilities they have not been given permission to do so. According to national daily, Kathimerini the university is currently making attempts to find and shut down the site.

In addition an article in this Sunday’s Paron newspaper claimed that the newly appointed minister for Justice, Nikos Dendias is aiming to introduce legislation that would end Greek bloggers right to anonymity. The publication immediately provoked uproar across the Greek language blogosphere prompting the minister to make an official statment denying that any such legislation was being considered.

However, despite the announcement there is a widespread belief amongst Greek bloggers that the current ruling New Democracy party is attempting to reign in critics on the internet in view of the possibility of forthcoming elections.

With a slender one seat majority in parliament and its standing in the polls dropping badly the Kostas Karamanlis’s government is seen as likely to fall. Growing resentment over the handling of last year’s corruption scandals, mounting economic problems and an ongoing series of crisis in education, law and order and health care mean that elections seem likely.

Farmer beaten by Greek riot police

Farmer beaten by Greek riot police

Violent clashes between farmers and riot police followed the Greek authorities to prevent 2000 protesters from Crete from leaving the port city of Peiraias to demonstrate outside the parliament in Athens. Tear gas and pepper spray were used against protesting farmers in the docks.

Like other farmers who have blocked road junctions across the country and still are preventing traffic from entering or leaving Greece’s land borders Cretan farmers are seeking government assurances that the island’s produces will be included in 500 million Euros agricultural aid package. However, despite negotiations between officials from the ministry of agriculture and farmers representatives no agreement has been reached and protesters have decided not to return to Crete.

Scenes of violent clashes also enraged farmers in Crete itself and many have vowed to sail to Athens to aid their follow farmers. In addition the Greek Union of Merchant Ship Engineers has said that it will strike if riot police units are not withdrawn from the port.

The move to bulldoze one of the last remaining parks in the Kypseli district of central Athens sparked off clashes between local residents and Greek riot police. Yesterday’s decision by Athens mayor, Nikitis Kaklamanis to order the cutting down of 45 trees to start work on the construction of a car park led to day long confrontations and the use of flash grenades and tear gas by the authorities (see here for video from the tvxs.gr independent news agency).

The sudden start of construction was, according to Greek media sources designed to forstall any possible injunction by Athens courts over the controversial project. Despite having less green spaces than any other European capital the city of Athens sent in contractors to start clearing the area despite questions over the legality of the work . As a result the forestry commission of the Attiki district, which includes the Greek capital yesterday sued the city of Athens over the destruction of the park.

Athens mayor, Nikitis Kaklamnais, speaking to Skai TV station claimed that only three trees had been cut down and that the other 40 were being transplanted. However, eye witness accounts and pictures taking by local residents seems to cast doubt on the mayor’s claims.

Residents protest destruction of their park

Yesterday evening protesters planted 45 sapling to replace the pine trees cut down during the day. Work resumed early this morning however, stopped after two hours amidst protests Unconfirmed reports talk of the presence of members of Greece’s ultra-right Chrysi Aygi party taking part in clashes with protesters early this morning. Three residents including local council member, Kostas Lagos have pressed charges after being assaulted.

Local residents have vowed to guard the site and prevent building work from continuing.

Riot police in action - Athens

Riot police in action - Athens

On Saturday protest marches were held in Athens in solidarity with those arrested by police during the series of clashes which spread across Greece in December following the shooting by police of a 15 year old teenager in the capital’s Exarchia district.

Protests turned violent as some demonstrators clashed with riot police near the Propylia area of downtown Athens. However, eyewitness accounts published in Greek language blogs say that the police used excessive force, throwing stun grenades into the crowds and indiscriminately beating marchers. Attacks were also reported upon riot police in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city last night in which Molotov cocktails were thrown at police vans.

Despite hopes that last year’s violent confrontations have died down, the marches demonstrate that popular anger has yet to be extinguished. On Thursday (see here for video) about 1000 people marched  in protest against the attack on Labour activist, Konstandina Kouneva,  the victim of an acid attack in December. The 44 year – old Bulgarian trade unionist is still in intensive care after having acid thrown in her face and being forced to drink the liquid.
Lawyers representing her say the attack was prompted by her work in exposing an alleged scam by cleaning companies with contracts with the state run organisations which meant that the mainly foreign born work force received slave wages.

The duration of the confrontations has seen the rapid development of a mini «arms race» on Greek streets with the appearance of more and more protesters wearing gas masks in order to counter-act the authorities extensive use of tear gas. According to the BBC the government has responded by ordering water cannons which will be ready for action within the next two weeks.

The ruling New Democracy party also faces protests by farmers who have used tractors to block road junctions across the country in demonstration over low prices and lack of government support for the nation’s agricultural sector. Attempts to placate farmers with a 500 million euro aid package have still not seen an end to the roadblocks.

Thursday’s protest march were held in Athens and Thessaloniki to demonstrate against the attack on Labour activist, Konstandina Kouneva who was the victim of an acid attack in December. The 44 year old Bulgarian trade unionist is still in intensive care after having acid thrown in her face and being forced to drink the liquid.

Lawyers representing her say the attack was prompted by her work in exposing an alleged scam by cleaning companies with contracts with the state run organisations which meant that the mainly foreign born work staff received slave wages.

Protests turned violent as some demonstrators attacked the ministry of labour headquarters and clashed with riot police. Despite hopes that last year’s violent confrontations have died down, the marches demonstrate that popular anger has not been extinguished.

Here are pictures from the march in Thessaloniki which had between 600 and 800 people.

In addition travel in Greece is slowly being brought to a halt as protesting farmers have blocked road junctions, ports and airports across the country in protest over low prices and government agricultural policies.See here for a video report from Reuters.

If anyone has the time we would be grateful if somebody could translate this into GreekThis machine kills fascists


An introduction

Citizen reporter, blogger, independent volunteer journalist. You know that you’re at the start of a major change in the way things work when the new phenomenon spawns a whole raft of names. Although the buzz over the Internet and especially the whole web 2.0 phase has died down the fact that the technology has ceased to be cutting edge or even unusual means that the really interesting changes in the way people use it are probably happening as we speak.

One of the most visible signs of this is the changing role of the public in the way news is created and disseminated. Wider access to the Internet, dropping prices in digital cameras and the emergence of a range of ways of putting material on the net easily is transforming the way people interact with the media.

Of course, this is not a new idea as as long as the media has been round there have been those who have sought to get their story out to a wider audience without recourse to traditional channels. The difference today is the entry level and the potential number of people who can be reached.

Up till recently media meant heavy investment in equipment, be it the printing press or the TV studio. In addition there was also a similar need for highly trained technicians to use the tools involved. As a result those capable of bearing this financial burden was limited to a lucky few.

All that is changing the cost of putting out a story has effectively dropped to zero. Even the possession of a computer is no longer a pre-requisite as access to the Internet either through Internet cafes or say, public libraries means that nearly everyone can compete on even terms.

What equipment do I need?

At the most basic level nothing more sophisticated than a notepad, pen and cell phone with a camera.

If you have the resources then I would recommend a video camera, a DSLR and a light Wi-Fi equipped sub – notebook. Looking at the prices here in Greece all this would cost you around about 700 euros.

Remember spending a whole bunch of money is not going to help you get your story out. The perfect image, a wickedly edited video clip or state of the art laptop is not what citizen journalism is all about nor can it replace your single, most important advantage – local knowledge.

What sites should I join?

There are a number of news sites that allow people to upload stories to the Internet. This is just a selection of the more popular ones rather than a definitive list. Look out for similar sites in your own area and/or language.

Indymedia (there are branches all over the world, so look for your local one)

Nowpublic.com

ireport (part of CNN)

Globalvoicesonline

Also many news sites such as the BBC allow people to upload pictures and ask for written contributions form people affected by news stories. this is often a good way to get in contact with the mainstream media.

Video

If you want to upload video then opening up an account with Youtube and Google Video is a must. Just remember that Youtube’s free account limits videos to just 10 minutes, however, longer videos can be sent to Google Video.

By posting video on these sites you make it a lot easier for people to post them on their own sites. Instead of having to upload videos to each site you contribute to you can do it just once and then embed them wherever you like.

Photographs

Both Flickr and Photobucket allow you to upload pictures onto the net, to form groups and find the latest pictures taken by people involved in breaking news stories around the world.

Blogs

Having your own site on the Internet is a great way of increasing your credibility and offers another way for you communicate your stories to a wider audience. In addition the act of keeping a blog updated is a great way of learning writing and presentation skills.

Remember also that the personal nature of blogging means that you can express more personal views or yourself in a more impassioned way.

Here are some of the most popular blog providers;

Blogspot

WordPress

Livejournal

These are great ways to get in contact with others;

Facebook

Myspace

Hi5

What do I report about?

This is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome as it requires more than learning a few technical skills and there is no simple answer as everyone is motivated by different things.

However, it is a good idea to start with what you know best, i.e your neighbourhood, profession, social networks you belong to etc.

Alternatively, you could start commenting on what you are most passionate about no matter where it takes place. On the Internet we are free to roam anywhere and learn from many different sources.

Where do I find out about news stories that are not covered in the mainstream media?

As well as our networks of friends and family there also other places on the Internet to find out what is happening in our local area. Look up your town, region in Technorati or Google blog search for the latest developments in the blogosphere. In addition check out what is happening via Twitter search. Twitter is a great source for finding out what is happening now.

Also if there a Indymedia site for your area, check out the latest events and activities.

The most important thing though is to be there. When legendary street photographer Weegee was asked the secret of his success, he replied, “F8 (referring to the camera setting) and be there”. Being on the spot is often the most important thing you can do. All the rest is detail.

How to start writing?

The first thing to remember is that writing is not necessary. A video with you speaking to camera is just as effective as an article and so allows those who do not feel comfortable with the written word to produce insightful reports which can be shared with others. However, some thoughts scribbled down and a couple of practice run throughs will make your ideas a lot easier to follow.

If you do wish to write your stories don’t let the fact that you have not had training in J-school put you off. The style used in newspapers etc. can be picked up quickly if you want to practice. Blogging is a great way of doing so without having to get everything right straight away.

Remember that writing something is infinitely preferable to nothing and people will forgive any imperfections.

On the other hand if you want to be credible then there are some journalism skills that you absolutely have to respect. Accuracy, checking sources and honesty are essential no matter who you are and where you write if you want to be taken seriously. It is not enough to be passionate if you want to reach a wider audiences. Simply repeating or accepting sources simply because you agree with their opinion or point of view will not get you taken seriously.

Double check as far as possible claims you see made in blogs, Twitter etc, go to the original sources, official accounts etc when you can. Do not blindly accept one person’s version of events no matter much you agree with them. If this is not possible then make it clear than the readers know that this story may not be 100% accurate.

Distinguish between opinion and fact. Too often people present their ideas on a story as fact and seem to assume that others will share their view. On the Internet this simply is not true as most of those reading will be neutral and so your impassioned accounts may come over as a rant. A dispassionate tone is more likely to get you the kind of coverage you want.

Of course, if you wish to post to your personal blog and not a news site then you have more flexibility in the way you approach a story.

How to catch people’s eye?

Content is the most important thing. You should aim to make your stuff as interesting as possible. This can be done by using a mix of different media; video and pictures accompanied by text is the ideal combination.

Link to people. If you blog then link to sites that the think other should read, ask them to reciprocate. If you mention other sources in your posts make sure you link to them. This also means that you ranking on Google’s search pages will increase.

Tag everything. Tags are the key words that help others find your stories so whenever you add text, pictures or video make sure you add tags that let others know what is being talked about.

Use RSS. Most sites now allow you to use RSS automatically, it means that people can follow your blogs, Flickr page etc far more easily.

Post widely. If you have a story to tell then post it on as many different sites as possible. Don’t just leave it languishing on your blog. Also join blogging aggregating sites such as Technorati, Icerocket and Del.icio.us. These allow others to find you more easily.

Post regularly. People will quickly stop turning up if you post infrequently and your ranking in Google’s search engine will suffer accordingly. Once a week if you can.

Be credible. If you prove to be a reliable source people will search you out to find out the latest updates on a story.

Be sociable. Join groups on the Internet which share your views and interests. They will help get your message out as well.

Protestors attack Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haardeâs car. The bang on it until policemen surround the car and push the protestors back.

Icelanders riot outside parliament over economic crisis

Riot police in stand off with Icelandic protesters

Riot police in stand off with Icelandic protesters

The small Scandanavian country, blessed with abundant natural resources and enjoying one of the highest living standards in the world is hardly the kind of place one associates with economic catastrophe and riots. All that changed yesterday when thousands took to the streets to protest the present government’s handling of the recent financial crisis. With gross national product down two thirds, a 45% rise in unemployment and the country defaulting on loan repayments Icelanders are faced with the worst economic crisis in living memory.

Riot police clashed with demonstators (click here for video) outside the Althingi House, Iceland’s parliament after 2000 people surrounded the building according to Icelandic journalist, Iris Erlingsdottir writing in The Huffington Post. Over 30 arrests were made , including an 11 year old, according to the Icelandic press reports.

The target of their anger members of the government that presided over a meltdown in the banking sector and wider economy which has been so severe that a third of islanders are considering emmigration according to a report in the Economist. The coalition government has repeatedly rejected calls for elections in light of the current situation

As with the recent riots and protests in Greece, the impression that those in power have lined their own pockets while ordinary citizens have had to pay the price for financial mismangament has infuriated ordinary Icelanders.

Despite sub zero temperatures the protests have continued for a second day with memeber of the parliamentary opposition taking time out from debates to join the demonstrators.