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Cablegate: Northern Notes December 2007

VZCZCXRO2975
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHIK #0001/01 0020936
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 020936Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0300
INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS PRIORITY 0211
RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 0329

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 THESSALONIKI 000001

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM SMIG ECON TU BU GR
SUBJECT: NORTHERN NOTES DECEMBER 2007

REF: 07 THESSALONIKI 0193

Following is a summary of recent political and economic
developments in northern Greece:
----------------------------------------
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISIT TO THRACE
----------------------------------------

1. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan visited Komotini in
Thrace on December 6, following a two-day official visit to
Athens (Reftel.) The government of Greece tried to downplay the
visit and present it as private, but local media reported
extensively and negatively on Babacan's activities in Thrace,
suggesting that the GoG was uncomfortable because Babacan raised
a variety of issues relating to the minority and to the alleged
oppression of religious freedom in the area. Local press and
Thrace's conservative daily Chronos noted that Babacan was
escorted by members of the Turkish MFA, Turkish journalists and
members of a business delegation and described his statements
and general stance as "provocative" and "aggressive."
Reportedly, Babacan addressed the Muslim minority using the
phrase "my brother Turks" and he asked them to defend their
Turkish origin and if necessary turn to the European Courts when
their rights were being violated. Babacan reportedly only met
with the elected Muftis rather than the legal, appointed (by the
Greek government) Muftis, and he referred to "Turkish minority
problems that should be resolved in the framework of the
Greek-Turkish friendship."

2. Not all Muslims in Thrace embraced Babacan's remarks,
however. Tahir Konte, head of the Pomaks of Xanthi, objected to
Babacan's reference to the minority as "Turkish." In a prepared
statement, Konte noted that many Muslims living in Thrace are
Pomaks and Roma and not Turkish, especially in the prefecture of
Xanthi where, he stated, there are more Pomaks than
Turkish-origin Muslims.


--------------------------------------------- --------
DRAFT LAW ON THE WAKFS TABLED IN THE GREEK PARLIAMENT
--------------------------------------------- --------

3. In early December, the Greek government introduced in
Parliament a draft law relating to the Muslim minority and
specifically Wafks (Muslim charitable foundations). The draft
law provides for major changes in the administration of the
Greek Muslim minority wafks in Thrace and also for the abolition
of the wafks' debts, a provision previously approved by the
Greek Parliament in March 2007. The most important change
proposed in the draft law is that the committees that manage the
wakfs, previously appointed by the Greek government, would be
replaced by elected committees, starting in November 2008. These
elected committees would continue to report to the GoG-appointed
local Mufti. The draft law also includes a provision for a five
percent quota for Muslim job candidates who want to join the
public sector.

4. Thrace's main conservative press strongly criticized the
five percent quota system for Muslims and noted that 100
Christians from Thrace have signed a petition to protest the
government's draft law on the wakfs. The petitioners claim the
draft law violates the principle of reciprocity between Greece
and Turkey. They also call upon the government to upgrade the
role of the legal, appointed by the government, Mufti. And
neither are Muslim groups in Thrace entirely satisfied with the
provisions of the draft law. A variety of Muslim leaders have
objected to certain provisions of the bill that they suggest are
not in accordance with Islamic law. They also suggest that the
bill fails to address important issues regarding roles and
responsibilities on several issues relating to the wakfs and
they generally object to the fact that the minority community
was not consulted in the development of the draft law.

--------------------------------------------- ------------------
GREECE INVESTS 2.2 BILLION IN BULGARIA, 4.5 BILLION IN TURKEY
--------------------------------------------- ------------------

5. According to data presented on December 5 to the local press
and announced at the first Greece - Turkey - Bulgaria Business
Forum in Komotini, Thrace, twelve percent of Bulgarians workers
are employed in one of the 1,500 Greek-owned businesses in the
neighboring country. Greek businesses in Bulgaria invest a
total of 2.2 million in the country, primarily in industry (900
businesses) and real estate (600 businesses.) Greek business
investment in Turkey is even higher at 4.5 million, despite the
fact that because of Greek law and bureaucracy in both
countries, there are only 75 Greek-owned businesses operating in
Turkey.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
GREEK GOVERNMENT WAS A IMPEDIMENT TO GREEK-TURKISH BUSINESS
--------------------------------------------- --------------

THESSALONI 00000001 002 OF 002

6. Rahmi Kog, a Turkish business mogul and one of the founders
of the Southeastern European Cooperative Initiative (SECI)
program, gave an interview on December 12 in which he blames the
lack of progress in Greek-Turkish business relations before the
late 90s on the fact that Greek businessmen do not do business
without their government's permission. Kog said that the Greek
and Turkish economies complement each other and there is
significant room for cooperation but, he said, Greeks have often
been reluctant to participate in initiatives. But Kog said that
he has seen a transformation in attitudes since the years when
George Papandreou and Ismail Cem were Ministers of Foreign
Affairs in the two countries and that the situation is now much
improved.

---------------------------------------
UNEMPLOYMENT SOARS IN BORDER PREFECTURE
---------------------------------------

7. According to the state employment office (OAED) in Drama,
unemployment in the prefecture bordering Bulgaria has increased
nearly 50 percent in the past several years. Recently, the
prefecture hosted a conference of the Prefectures Union of
Greece to discuss a proposal for the merger of several
prefectures into larger ones. The hosting prefecture sought to
highlight the problems of their region and especially the high
unemployment that has resulted from the relocation of several
clothing manufacturing operations from Drama to Bulgaria and the
closing of an Athens paper industry (SOFTEX S.A.). 6,000 people
in Drama have lost their jobs in the last decade.

------------------
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
------------------

8. Problems with illegal immigration into northern Greece
continued in December. On December 1, police in Kilkis arrested
four illegal immigrants and a 44-year-old female trafficker who
transported them with her vehicle after they entered Greece by
an unguarded point of the border with Macedonia. The five
suspects have been led before the Kilkis public prosecutor.

---------
NARCOTICS
---------

9. On December 3, Thessaloniki police arrested two people aged
51 and 32 for drug-related offences in Evosmos municipality,
west Thessaloniki, after a car chase. In their effort to avoid
being captured, the two suspects threw a 68.8-gram heroin
package out of their car window, while a search of their
apartments revealed a number of narcotic pills.

--In a separate incident (same date), in Kalamaria municipality,
east Thessaloniki, a 35-year-old was arrested after police found
in his possession 96 narcotic pills and small quantities of
heroin and cannabis.


--On December 16 two individuals were arrested by Serres
security police on charges of drug smuggling after quantities of
heroin and cocaine were found hidden in their vehicle. A search
by the police revealed 29.5 grams of heroin and 15.7 grams of
cocaine.

--On December 17 Police in Veria arrested a 48-year-old drug
smuggler for possession of more than 1.5 kilos of heroin. A
search of the suspect's house later turned up 59 grams of
cocaine and a variety of narcotic substances.


--On December 27 Thessaloniki Police arrested the drug dealer
who shot a policeman last October. The dealer was carrying 522
grams of cocaine when he shot and injured a policeman. After
his arrest, police found a gun and bullets in his house, as well
as 42.5 grams of heroin and 70.6 grams of cocaine. In a
separate incident, police also arrested an Albanian bus driver
who was carrying 8,674 grams of heroin.
KING

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