Politics: PM Papandreou addresses Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Regional Council

Prime Minister George Papandreou, addressing the session of the Regional Council of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace in the city of Komotini on Friday evening, criticised those embarking on disaster mongering and pointed out that the country is experiencing one of the most difficult moments in the post-junta period.

"Some rightfully and others unfairly, we are all paying debts of the past, but we have a duty to today and to tomorrow to change Greece so as not to return to this position again," the prime minister stressed.

Focusing in particular on those protesting about the current problems, Papandreou said that they are doing well in protesting and he would be one of those protesting, but protest is not enough for a solution to be found.

Papandreou stressed the need for Greece to stand on its feet, while expressing optimism that it will succeed so as not to need alien forces, a troika and memorandums.

The prime minister also referred to the issue of immigrants, noting that for the first time a plan exists for managing illegal immigration.

He also expressed satisfaction over the agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan regarding the returning of immigrants and said that the Greek government has proposed to the EU the liberalisation on the issue of visas for Turkish citizens visiting Greece, because such a thing will also contribute to an increase in tourism.

Papandreou also referred to the institution of the elected region, stressing that it is a step for the decentralisation of resources and powers and the cracking down on bureaucracy, while calling on the members of the regional council to contribute to this issue and take decisions on the development of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.

Lastly, the prime minister pointed out that "we trust the local forces, but you must also trust yourselves, because you have great possibilities."

PM tours Thrace region, visits predominately Muslim village

Prime Minister George Papandreou, who arrived for a tour of the extreme northeastern province of Thrace on Friday, pledged to settle the problems faced by the local Muslim minority.

On Friday he visited the village of Dimario near the Greek-Bulgarian borders, where he met with local people. This is the first time a Greek prime minister has visited the specific region.

The premier stressed that the government adheres to the principle of equality before the law, underlining that “red tape is the oppressor of Christians and Muslims alike”. He also stressed that the government is struggling against discrimination and "old perceptions" as regards the minority.

The education provided by the minority schools was amongst the top issues raised by local residents.

The prime minister announced that no later than September, the special pedagogical academy (EPATh) for the Muslim minority school teachers will be one of the Thessaloniki Aristotle University (AUTH) faculties.

Papandreou also announced that oral exams for a driver’s license will be available in the Turkish language as well, while local Citizen Service Centres (KEP) will be staffed with additional Turkish-speaking personnel.

Responding to requests by young people, the premier said the region’s internet access will also improve rapidly.

As regards religious charitable foundations, so-called vakufs, the Greek premier stated that a solution will be found with their boards, while in reference to the all-important tobacco crops, he pointed out that they will have to be preserved and boosted, and considering that it is a monoculture of Basma-type tobacco.

The prime minister accompanied by a local imam visited the village's mosque.

Protests by textile workers near PM's arrival in Komotini

Protesting textile union employees in Komotini, northeast Greece, were held back shortly before the arrival of Prime Minister George Papandreou at a local hotel, where the regional council of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace was set to meet.

Protesters had gathered near a local university adjacent to the hotel, chanting slogans and the riot police used tear gas when they attempted to approach further.

Members of the Communist Party-affiliated PAME trade union grouping had also gathered near the hotel to protest against government policy.

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