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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-10-06

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] FM spokesman on Turkey's EU commitments
  • [02] Singer Dalaras Greece's first UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

  • [01] FM spokesman on Turkey's EU commitments

    Greece's foreign ministry spokesman on Friday warned that Turkey "cannot seek alibis where they don't exist for its slow rate of compliance" with the committments to the EU it has assumed, stressing that "there is a train and a terminal, the terminal is the European Union, and the trains do not derail when they follow the charted tracks".

    Replying to questions during a regular press briefing on recent statements by Turkish officials claiming a "Turkish minority" in Thrace, Koumoutsakis said that Ankara "cannot seek an alibi where it doesn't exist for the slow rate of response to the commitments it has undertaken".

    "In Greece, there is a Moslem minority in Thrace, and the Greek state takes care, as it does for every Greek citizen, for the full equality before the law and the state of Christians and Muslims alike," the spokesman said, adding that "our policy is ruled by respect of the Treaty of Lausanne and the provisions of International Law regarding the protection of human and minority rights".

    "The policy followed by Greece on these issues is a model policy, and would that it serve as an example for other countries in the region as well," Koumoutsakos stressed.

    The spokesman continued by outlining specific elements of that policy, and more specifically:

    - "Participation in the public life. The Muslim minority is always represented in the Hellenic Parliament. In the previous local government elections, a significant number of (Muslim) prefectural and municipal councillors and mayors were elected, while the Rodopi deputy prefect is a Muslim."

    - "There exists the absolute right to self-determination at individual level, so that the Turkish, Pomak, or Rom origins may be declared by the self-determiners."

    - "Education. In Thrace, 215 minority schools are in operation with more than 400 Muslim teachers, most of whom have graduated from the Thessaloniki special teachers' training programmes, classes are carried out in the Greek and Turkish languague. There are also minority highschools, junior-high schools, and secondary school-level seminaries, educational reinforcement programmes that aim to improve the Muslims' knowledge of the Greek language. A specific quota has also been established for the entry of Muslims into the AEI and TEI higher education institutions."

    - "Religious rights. They are absolutely respected. In Thrace, there are three Muftis, 270 Imams, and approximately 300 mosques. The Muftis are theologians, graduates of University schools, and also assigned with administrative and judicial duties. As is the case in all the Muslim countries, too, including Turkey, the Muft is appointed."

    Koumoutsakos further stressed that the commitments that Turkey has assumed towards the European Union were firm, and were not associated or interlinked with other matters, but were self-contained, adding that "there is neither association, nor interlinking, nor offset with other, unrelated issues, and particularly with 'issues' that do not exist".

    Turkey's EU course

    Replying to questions on Turkey's EU course, Koumoutsakos said: "There is one train, and one terminal. The terminal is the European Union, and the trains do not derail when they follow the charted tracks", using a frequently-stated metaphor of "trains on a collision course" for Turkey and the EU.

    Koumoutsakos predicted that the coming months would be a period of intensive negotiations within the European Union, and also spoke of a "reforms fatigue" in Turkey, which he said was also confirmed by the recent handling of a provision on private schools in a Turkish draft law. "This element, too, is being evaluated by the European Union, particularly in light of the finalisation of the Progress Report on Turkey in November," he added.

    Turning to the plan being drafted by the Finnish EU presidency in a bid to lift the impasse created by Turkey's refusal to apply the Ankara Protocol for extension of its Customs Union with the EU to all the 10 new EU member states (which include Cyprus), in the case of Cyprus, the foreign ministry spokesman reiterated that Turkey's obligation to apply the Protocol is a standing and self-contained commitment undertaken with the commencement of the accession process and is linked with other issues, and it is crystal-clear that it is not linked with the Trade Regulation.

    "The European Union and its member states have manifested the disposition for seeking a solution. Under the Luxembourg EU presidency, a proposal was tabled, which comprised the basis for discussion. The current Finnish presidency is sounding-out the prospect of agreement being reached on certain thoughts and ideas. This sounding-out process underway has not had any results to date. The European Union's efforts concern the Regulation, and have no relation to Ankara's obligation for implementation of the Protocol and, at any rate, with respect to the discussion on the Regulation, we are in constant contact with the Cypriot government," Koumoutsakos explained.

    [02] Singer Dalaras Greece's first UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

    Renowned Greek singer George Dalaras was officially proclaimed a Goodwill ambassador of the UN's High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) by UNHCR representative in Greece Karen Farkas, during a high-profile ceremony held in the Old Parliament building's auditorium on Thursday, in the presence of President Karolos Papoulias.

    The famous singer is the first Greek to be given this title.

    Dalaras is the sixth Good Will ambassador to be proclaimed by the UN's High Commission and he will join the others in the struggle to safeguard the institution of asylum and prevent exclusion in societies.

    UNHCR started to work with Goodwill Ambassadors in the early 1980s, when British actors Richard Burton and James Mason were first appointed to make media statements and public appearances for the refugee cause.

    Dalaras today joins five other UNHCR celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors with very different professional and personal backgrounds use their talents and time to advocate for refugees: American-Swedish classical signer Barbara Hendricks (named in 1987), Egyptian actor Adel Imam (2000), American actress Angelina Jolie (2001), Italian fashion designer and businessman Giorgio Armani (2002), and French singer/songwriter Julien Clerc (2003).

    Goodwill Ambassadors communicate the message of respect and compassion for refugees to the general public in a uniquely powerful way; they capture massive public attention through public events, television shows, radio interviews and popular magazine articles. They effectively use their privileged access to mass media and other resources to give a voice to refugees, who are often victims of forgotten humanitarian crises and who often suffer from uninformed negative stereotyping. Goodwill Ambassadors also voice their support for refugees in meetings with world leaders, diplomats, teachers, national and community officials, as well as the public at large.

    According to the UNHCR, George Dalaras has had a long association with the UN refugee agency. The Greek singing star first donated his services to the agency during its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2001, when he helped organise a spectacular World Refugee Day concert in the ancient Greek stadium at Delphi. Dalaras and American jazz singer Jocelyn B. Smith, accompanied by the Ossipov Russian Orchestra, performed the songs of world-acclaimed Greek composer, Mikis Theodorakis. Later in the year, Dalaras organised two more 50th anniversary concerts at the Herod Atticus Theatre at the foot of the Acropolis, where more than 9,000 people packed into the beautiful Athens venue to hear Dalaras and French soprano Emma Shapplin, accompanied by an orchestra and choir.

    The concerts raised 230,000 euros for UNHCR programmes around the world.

    In 2003, Dalaras took part in a UNHCR awareness and fund-raising campaign. He was one of an impressive group of musicians who sang on a complimentary CD released in February with Ta Nea newspaper's weekend magazine, Tahydromos. The CD and accompanying article directed readers to a special bank account opened by UNHCR to receive donations aimed at helping refugee children.

    Dalaras, whose mother was a Greek refugee from Turkey, implored the Greek public to donate, saying that refugees "live with a pain, which as Euripides said is the greatest on earth: the loss of one's homeland. In this way, being children of refugees ourselves, we are doing nothing more today than remembering all of this with two songs."

    The campaign raised more than 30,000 euros.

    In 2004, Dalaras was invited to perform at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens. With a global audience, he sang four songs, including one about the plight of the world‚s refugees. The following year, Dalaras again supported World Refugee Day by recording radio and television spots on that year‚s theme, ?Courage.?

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