|News bites @ 9|
1. ELECTION TIME Ending weeks of speculation, the prime minister on Wednesday confirmed May 6th as the date for the country’s next general election, a contest that is likely to become a referendum on the bailout and a means for voters to exact revenge for austerity. Lucas Papademos formally made the announcement in a televised address, after requesting the country’s president to dissolve the parliament. "Greece is in the middle of a difficult path," he said in the address. "The choices we make will not only determine which government will be formed after the election but Greece's course in decades to come."
2. PAPADEMOS THANKFUL In his address, Papademos summed up the what he said were the achievements of his government, mentioning the new bailout agreement, the bondswap deal but also improving the country's absorption capacity for European structural funds, promoting administrative reform, promoting the search for oil and gas reserves, fighting corruption and reducing wastage in healthcare and pharmaceutical spending.
3. PASOK PLANS In anticipation of the announcement of the May 6 polls, the parties quickly switched into full election mode. While Mr Papademos was still in his meeting with the president, Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos told his MPs they needed to re-establish a link with voters. He added that his party would take a stand against populism and parties that offered no feasible alternative to the EU-IMF loan agreements. “There is no democracy without politics. Criticism is one thing, and trampling on public institutions and fascist-like behaviour are another,” he said, referring to numerous attacks on and "yoghurting" of politicians in recent months.
4. NEW DEMOCRACY ATTACKS Antonis Samaras, in his first statement after the calling of elections, launched into a broadside against Pasok, George Papandreou and Evangelos Venizelos. ""We [the country] had problems, but we found ourselves here because of the unbelievable mistakes, the populism and the irresponsibility of the Papandreou government, with whom Mr Venizelos identified himself absolutely, from the beginning to the end," he said. Samaras added that be believed Greece "will make it" if it had "a government that places national interest above all", one "that can take decisions and can negotiate abroad".
5. NEW POLL Support for the two main parties has fallen and nine parties will enter parliament when it convenes on May 17 were the main findings of an opinon poll published late on Wednesday. Moreover, the Public Issue/Kathimerini poll found that 89 percent of voters believe that the elections will not give any party an overall majority government, while 52 percent said they would prefer a coalition government to emerge from the election. The party breakdown: New Democracy is at 19%, Pasok 14.5%, the Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) 13%, Democratic Left 12%, Communist Party (KKE) 11%, Independent Greeks 11%, Chrysi Avyi (Golden Dawn) 5%, Popular Orthodox Rally (Laos) 3% and the Ecogreens 3%, Democratic Alliance 2%, Drasi 2% and 3.5% others.
6. TSOCHATZOPOULOS After his arrest on Wednesday morning, former Pasok minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos appeared before a special investigator on who gave him until Easter Monday to make his testimony. Under the law, suspects in custody have five days in which to provide their testimony. Earlier, police sources said that they had searched Tsochatzopoulos home – a neoclassical mansion facing the Acropolis – and taken a number of items away as evidence, including bank records, a PC and … gold bars!
7. STATE GUARANTEES FOR BONDS The government has approved the use of state guarantees to support the value of new government bonds the country's banks received in a sovereign debt swap as part of a plan to recapitalise them, an official said on Wednesday. The move effectively reduces the size of the hole in lenders' capital bases as it means they will not have to book hefty losses on the new bonds. The country's banks must rebuild their capital bases after the mammoth debt restructuring last month inflicted real losses of about 74 percent on their previous Greek government debt holdings, wiping out their Core Tier 1 ratios.
8. LINING UP FOR GREEK GAS Russian gas giant Gazprom is among 14 firms that have expressed initial interest to buy the Public Gas Corporation (Depa), one of the first assets to go under the hammer to reduce the national debt, the government said on Wednesday. Other potential suitors that may submit indicative bids for DEPA include Azerbaijan's Socar, Japan's Mitsui and Co, Spain's Enagas and Gas Natural, Italy's ENI and Edison, Algeria's Sonatrach, Russia's OJSC Negusneft and the Israel Corporation. Gazprom already provides most of the natural gas DEPA uses. Edison is cooperating with the government on plans to lay an underwater gas pipeline in the Adriatic Sea.
9. HAPPY EASTER! This week's issue of the Athens News came out today (Thursday), a day earlier than normal because of the Easter holidays. As you've noticed, Orthodox Easter is being celebrated a week later than in Western Christendom. For Orthodox, it's by far the most important festival in the religious and social calendar. For those new in Greece, the following articles from our archives may be useful in explaining the importance of the feast in Greece:
Hotels feeling the crisis pinch
Easter bookings have been disappointing in many destinations
Many hoteliers across Greece will be keeping their establishments closed over the Easter holiday, even at popular destinations, as reservations from the domestic tourism market are giving them little reason for optimism. Hotel owners who have decided to open this week have seen bookings plummet.“Demand for the Easter period from Greece appears to be down by 50 percent in relation to last year,” said Andreas Metaxas about tourism traffic in Iraklio, Crete.
Business on the islands has also been dealt a mighty blow by the strike called by Panhellenic Seamen’s Union (PNO), which will keep ferries anchored until midnight on Wednesday, resulting in thousands of cancellations.
Kathimerini conducted a quick survey with the heads of the hoteliers’ associations at destinations on mainland Greece and the islands in the runup to the weekend holiday, to get a better idea of how the situation is developing.
CorfuOne of the most popular destinations for Greeks and international visitors, especially in spring, Corfu will have 8,000 fewer beds available to travelers this year compared to last, according to Takis Bramos.
“Around the city of Corfu, there are 10 four- and five-star hotels with a total capacity of 5,000 beds that will not be opening this year,” he said, adding that he estimates reservations will be down by 80 percent this Easter compared to 2011. He also said that as far as other establishments are concerned, just 1,000 beds of the 4,000 last year will be available this holiday season.
ParosTakis Abatzis on the Cycladic island of Paros says he has seen a 45-50 percent reduction in reservations this Easter compared to last. He adds that there will be 30 percent fewer hotels opening their doors this week compared to 2011, attributing the closures to the ferrymen’s strike as well as a drop in the number of foreign tourists coming to Greece.Iraklio
However, Metaxas added, he has noticed that when the Western Easter comes earlier than the Greek Orthodox Easter, as is the case this year when the two are a week apart, most hotels do not open for the domestic holiday alone, meaning that around 40 percent of the city’s hotels will remain closed this year as in other years. He also said that the drop in interest can also be attributed to the fact that travel is not among the priorities of cash-strapped Greeks.
MyconosAndreas Fiorentinos of the Myconos hoteliers association said that 50 percent of the popular island’s hotels will not be opening this Easter. He added that the hotels which will be operating are located inside the main town and that units in other parts of the island will be opening as of May, if not later.
According to the data available to the association so far, the average price for a double room in a two-star establishment is 50 euros, while capacity remains average at 20-50 percent. For a three-star hotel the average price per double room is 60 euros and capacity is around 20-30 percent, while five-star hotels charge an average of 120 euros and have seen 30 percent of their beds taken so far.
KosThe eastern Aegean island of Kos has been luckier than most this year, according to Minas Hadjimichael, who heads its hoteliers association.
“A number of hotels have opened this spring in the town of Kos because of the flights that Ryanair began from March 25 and which have already brought some 2,000 foreign visitors to Kos,” Hadjimichael said.
Greeks, however, he said, are hesitant to plan a trip to the island, especially in light of the ferry strike.
In Pilio, on mainland Greece’s eastern coast, there are 30 seaside hotels that will not be operating this Easter, according to the Magnesia region’s head of hoteliers, Costas Leventis.
Leventis notes that the average price for a double room in a two-star hotel is 35 euros, while in three-star hotels it is around 60 euros.
HalkidikiHalkidiki has 50 hotels, according to Grigoris Tasios, 10 of which that had opened for Easter in 2011 will not be opening this year. Tasios further explained that 40 hotels will be opening their doors this week, 35 of which are year-around establishments, while in 2011 the region’s entire 50 units were operating at Easter.
“There are quite a few that will open for just four or five days this week and then close down again until May,” said Tasios.
Meanwhile, average bookings have not surpassed 40 percent of capacity, which Tasios attributes to the economic crisis as well as to a drop in demand from the Balkans, which he estimates to have reached around 60 percent compared to previous years.
Prices on the busy northern Greece peninsula start at the 50-euro mark for a double room with breakfast in a three-star hotel.