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Cablegate: Northern Notes - October 2008

VZCZCXRO4260
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIK #0080/01 3110605
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 060605Z NOV 08
FM AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0394
INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS PRIORITY 0290
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 0436

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 THESSALONIKI 000080

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV PREL SOCI SMIG GR MK BK BU MW AL HR
SUBJECT: NORTHERN NOTES - OCTOBER 2008

REF: A) ATHENS 01291, THESSALONIKI 078

THESSALONI 00000080 001.2 OF 002


Following is a summary of last month's major developments in
Northern Greece:

NORTHERN GREEK PROPERTIES AT THE CENTER OF CONTROVERSIALLAND
SWAPS BETWEEN THE GOG AND MONASTERY

1. For a second month, the scandal involving controversial
land swaps between the GoG and Vatopedi Monastery of Mt. Athos
was a dominant story (Ref A.) Media and post contacts
speculate the scandal could claim more GoG officials beyond the
two ministers it has already claimed, as a Parliamentary
Committee began investigating the affair on October 30. The
vast majority of the plots of land illegally traded were in
Northern Greece, including Lake Vistonida. On October 24, the
Justice Ministry announced its decision that Lake Vistonida is
public property, a decision that Vatopedi Monastery's Father
Superior Efrem immediately challenged, arguing that
Byzantine-era decrees gave the land to Vatopedi. Efrem also
threatened to appeal the decision to the European Court of
Justice.

GREECE INVITES FORMER ENEMIES TO NATIONAL DAY CELEBRATIONS

2. Greek MoD Evangelos Meimarakis invited his counterparts
from southeastern European countries to attend the festivities
that took place in Thessaloniki, on the occasion of October 28,
Greece's National Day [Note: On October 28, 1940, Greece
dismissed a surrender-or-be-invaded ultimatum offered to her by
Italy and thus, entered WWII. End Note](Ref B.) All invited
countries attended, except Macedonia. Guests included senior
representatives of Turkey and war-time enemies of Greece,
including Italy, Albania, and Croatia. The reconciliatory
gesture, made for the first time, was commended by the Greek
President of the Republic Papoulias, as well as by all major
political parties and mainstream media in Greece. While
marching in the traditional military parade, a unit of special
forces veterans shouted "Macedonia is Greek and will never be
given to Skopje." Media reported complaints by Macedonian
officials about the chanting, including MoD Zoran Korianovski
who stated that he had anticipated such incidents, and for that
reason had declined the invitation.


SIEMENS PLANT IN THESSALONIKI "UNLIKELY TO SURVIVE"

3. On October 2, a group of Siemens employees rallied in
Athens, protesting against the announced closure of the
Thessaloniki plant. They also met with a representative from
the Ministry of Finance and requested the GoG's intervention in
the matter. No government MPs from Thessaloniki attended the
meeting, a fact presented in the local "Makedonia" as
"indicative of how much the government cares about Siemens." A
former Siemens executive told us Siemens headquarters wants to
close the plant and sell the land. Local politicians have
declined to intervene on behalf of workers for fear of being
tied to the Siemens bribery scandal. The plant's staff of 240
is expected to be laid off by March 2009.

BODIES OF IRAQI ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS DISCOVERED BY FISHERMEN

4. The bodies of eight Iraqi illegal immigrants were
discovered by fishermen on October 6, when they were caught in
the fishermen's nets. Among the dead, was an 11-year old child.
The incident happened in the waters off Alexandroupolis, Thrace
and media reported that the victims drowned in their effort to
cross the Greek-Turkish border by boat. On October 31,
fishermen discovered a young Muslim woman's body in a state of
advanced decomposition in the same waters. Authorities believe
that she drowned in the same incident.

EDITORS OF TURKOPHONE PAPER IN THRACE SENTENCED FOR "INCITING
HATRED"

5. The two editors of the Turkish-language newspaper "Millet"
were sentenced on October 17 by a Thrace Court to twelve months
in prison, suspended for three years. They had been charged by
the Prosecutor for "inciting hatred and endangering the peace."
"Millet" had featured articles, in which two leaders of the
Pomak community were described as "traitors" and "collaborators
of the Muslims' sworn enemies, the Christians." Local contacts
informed post that the trial took place in a packed and passion
filled courtroom, and that attendees included most leading
figures of the Muslim minority community. The two Pomaks have
also filed a lawsuit against the newspaper for libel. On a
different note, new MFA Director of Political Affairs in Thrace

THESSALONI 00000080 002.2 OF 002


Alexis Alexandris and departing Turkish CG in Komotini Ahmed
Demirer gave interviews to the local press, in which they made
positive comments about the region and expressed optimism about
its future.

SHOOTING RANGE OUTSIDE FLORINA CAUSES FRICTION ON
GREEK/MACEDONIAN BORDER AREA

6. Residents of the bilingual (Greek/Slav) village of Lofoi,
outside Florina, reacted violently to planned military exercises
scheduled to take place at a shooting range near their village.
They had asked that the shooting range be moved because they
felt that its presence damaged their land and crops and also
endangered their health. When heavy army vehicles appeared on
October 14, locals protested against them, obstructed public
transport and resisted police intervention. Seven people were
eventually charged with the above offences. Neighboring
Macedonia's media reportedly described the incident as an
"uprising of Macedonians against the Greek army," a claim
refuted by the locals who issued a press statement, denouncing
the support of "self-invited protectors." Four Macedonian TV
journalists were arrested for filming a military camp during the
above incident and were later released, the Florina police
director told press.

DAS COLLEEN GRAFFY VISITS THESSALONIKI

7. During an October 10 visit to Thessaloniki, Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Public Affairs Colleen Graffy participated in a
roundtable discussion with local officials and prominent
academics about environmental protection organized by the
Thessaloniki-based Balkan Environmental Center. Meeting
participants agreed to pursue closer U.S.-Greek cooperation on
wetland protection and other joint initiatives. The Center
agreed to cooperate with similar international centers,
including in the Middle East. DAS Graffy also addressed
students at two prominent private schools and a roundtable
discussion with university students on the environment, soft
power and the role of public diplomacy. She also gave an
interview to state TV. Local media covered her visit factually,
mentioning her views on "green" diplomacy and her interest in
the environmental problems of Northern Greece.
YEE

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