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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Greece to screen asylum seekers, oust law breakers: official

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Greece will screen immigrants living in the country to determine who is entitled to asylum and expel those who break the law, a junior minister said on Saturday.


“The people who meet the conditions for return will return home,” deputy labour minister Anna Dalara told Flash Radio.


“Whatever the case, if there is law-breaking behaviour they will receive their tickets and they will leave,” she said.


Greek authorities say a surge in arrivals by thousands of would-be immigrants and asylum seekers has stretched the country’s capacity to breaking point.


The Socialist government recently announced plans to erect a 12.5-kilometre (eight-mile) wire fence along a stretch of its northeastern border with Turkey that is commonly used by traffickers to deposit their human cargo.


Athens has also pledged to step up asylum examinations to clear a backlog of some 47,000 applicants, many of them awaiting approval for years.


Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Greece for failing to provide adequate shelter and support to people fleeing conflict in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.


Would-be immigrants and asylum seekers are currently kept in squalid and congested detention centres and police cells for months.


Most are then released with an administrative order to leave the country. Some try to book illegal passage to other European countries but the majority end up on the street, destitute and at risk from criminal gangs.


 

Source: SGGP

Greece cuts first-half budget defict by 42 percent

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm

The debt-ridden Greek government said on Monday it had met its budget-cutting target in the first half of the year, when according to the central bank the deficit was slashed by almost 42 percent.


The country “met its goal” in the first six months of 2010, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said.


The shortfall in the January to June period came to 11.450 billion euros (14.3 billion dollars), down from 19.685 billion in the first half of 2009, according to the central bank.


Papaconstantinou said the budget deficit in the first half amounted to 4.9 percent of gross domestic product.


In June the deficit narrowed to 1.906 billion euros from 5.057 billion a year earlier.


Papaconstantinou said the government would soon make public its estimate of the public deficit for the first half of the year.


“The goal for the year is to reduce the public deficit by 40 percent and we are doing better than that,” he said, adding that he had “guarded optimism” on the implementation of tough austerity measures — tax rises and public sector wage cuts — aimed at shoring up the country’s parlous public finances.


The Socialist government has committed itself to reducing the public deficit to 8.1 percent of output this year from its current level of 14 percent.


The austerity measures were approved by the administration in exchange for loans totalling 110 billion euros from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.


 

Source: SGGP

Greece will tame debt with reforms: IMF official

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Greece will overcome its huge debt crisis with its austerity plan, an IMF official said Sunday as a poll showed a majority of Greeks fear that unpopular pension reforms will be in vain.

A group of demonstrators gather in front of the Greek parliament on June 25 in Athens during a cabinet meeting to finalise changes in a controversial pension reform.

Poul Thomsen, the head of the International Monetary Fund mission dealing with Greece, told To Vima daily that Athens is making progress on its “ambitious” programme of cuts.


The cutbacks have caused labour turmoil and a series of protests across Greece, with a new general strike, the fifth since February, due to be held on Tuesday.


“Such an adjustment is not easy and often causes discontent,” Thomsen said. “This is understandable as people see things getting worse before they improve.”


But he added: “The effort has begun vigorously and I firmly believe that Greece will succeed.”


Thomsen also applauded the Greek government’s decision not to restructure its debt as this “which would entail a huge cost.”


After decades of unrestrained state spending, Greece faced bankruptcy this year with a national debt of nearly 300 billion euros (371 billion dollars).


It was rescued by a bailout loan from the European Union and the IMF for which it had to pledge a spate of deep spending cuts.


Among the measures is an overhaul of the pensions system which has eaten up vast amounts of state funds.


The government this week finalised reforms which progressively raise by 2015 the age of retirement for both men and women to 65 years for a full pension, equating the sexes for the first time.


It also increases the mandatory workforce period from 37 years to 40 years.


The new system will see an average reduction in pensions of seven percent and bonus retirement dues which pensioners used to receive for Christmas, Easter and summer vacations will be slashed.


Parliament is expected to begin debate on the reforms next week.


A poll in Proto Thema daily on Sunday showed that 64.8 percent of Greeks believe their sacrifices will not save the crumbling pensions system, which currently consumes 12 percent of national output.


The Alco poll also found that 51.1 percent of 800 respondents believe Prime Minister George Papandreou is “too submissive” towards Brussels.

Source: SGGP

Greece to compensate tourists for strike delays

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

AFP/File – Tourists are stranded at the Greek port of Piraeus in late May 2010 during a union strike.

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece offered to compensate tourists stranded by labour unrest ahead of a new travel strike Tuesday as unions stepped up their assault against government austerity cuts.


Greek Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos told a news conference that the government would guarantee extra room and board payments made by visitors as rail unions started a series of stoppages.


“We are certain that it will be a calm summer and that there will be no major strike disruptions,” a ministry source told AFP.


“But just in case something happens, the Greek state is prepared to cover these costs,” the source added.


Tourism is a pillar of the Greek economy but strikes and related violence sparked by the country’s debt crisis, as well as the international global crunch were estimated in May to have caused a 10 percent fall in hotel stays, according to tourism associations.


The minister told the press conference late Monday that compensation would even be paid for tourists stuck in Greece during the volcano eruption in Iceland in April that blocked European air routes for several days.


Geroulanos gave no details though of how much the compensation would cost nor how it would be paid.


Thousands of travellers have had holidays in Greece disrupted by successive strikes as the country grapples with a debt crisis that brought draconian wage and pension cuts.


Greece was recently saved from a debt default with a 110-billion-euro (136 billion dollar) bailout loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.


But as Athens labours to maximise revenue, tens of millions of euros have already been lost from booking cancellations according to government estimates.


Railway workers on Tuesday began a series of two-hour work stoppages to last until Thursday, disrupting inter-city trains and services to Athens International Airport.


On Wednesday, communist-affiliated ship crews plan to block the main Greek port of Piraeus.


And the country’s main unions have called a general strike — the fifth since the start of the year — on June 29.


Tourism generates about 17 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product.

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Source: SGGP

EU loan arrives to save Greece from debt default

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 5:02 am

Greece on Tuesday received a badly-needed slice of European Union loan support to help it meet an imminent debt deadline as it braced for new strikes against austerity measures this week.


“The sum of 14.5 billion euros has been released by the European Commission,” the finance ministry said in a statement.


“These funds cover Greece’s immediate and short-term loan requirements and obligations,” the ministry said, adding that 10 eurozone members had contributed bilateral loans.


The money from mainly Germany and France arrived just a day before Greece needs to pay nine billion euros on a maturing 10-year government bond.


The ancient temple of Parthenon atop the Acropolis hill is illuminated by late evening sunlight in Athens

The funds are part of a 110-billion-euro bailout recently agreed with the EU and the International Monetary Fund in return for deep austerity cuts.


“All (EU) states which had to mobilise so that Greece can meet its debt deadline on May 19 have met their obligations,” French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told a news conference in Brussels.


But as the government got relief on the economic front, it suffered a humiliating blow with the resignation of secretary of state for tourism Angela Gerekou late Monday after a newspaper article revealed her husband’s unpaid taxes.


The finance ministry confirmed that Tolis Voskopoulos, a singing star of the 1970s and 1980s, owed 5.5 million euros (6.9 million dollars) in unpaid taxes and late payment fines.


Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Socialist government has ordered a major campaign against tax cheats as part of the new drive to put the public finances in order.


“Typhoon Angela hits government,” the pro-administration To Vima daily said Tuesday. Ta Nea, which also supports the ruling party, said the minister had been sacrificed “as a message” to other officials.


Aside from a political embarrassment to Papandreou as he labours to enforce unpopular spending cuts, Gerekou’s resignation also leaves the travel sector leaderless at the start of a tourism season which debt-hit Athens badly needs for revenue.


The outgoing junior minister had been “an asset” to the sector, the head of the Greek chamber of hotels (XEE) told a news conference on Tuesday.


XEE chairman George Tsakiris and other leading hoteliers called on the government to rapidly appoint a successor to Gerekou, warning of a 10 percent drop in tourist arrivals this year because of the debt crisis and unrest.


They also noted that the greater Athens region — which draws 15 percent of arrivals — suffered 27,000 night cancellations after a violence-marred protest on May 5 when three people died in a firebombed bank.


Greece is trying to rein in a public deficit of over 30 billion euros to keep a debt mountain of nearly 300 billion euros from a default that could cause a European crisis and even threaten the world economy.


Athens will receive another nine billion euros in September, including 6.5 billion from eurozone members and 2.5 billion euros from the IMF.


A third nine-billion-euro installment will be made in December, the finance ministry said, adding that a first review of Greece’s austerity programme is due in the third quarter of 2010.


To clinch the EU-IMF bailout which helps its economy stay afloat in a growing recession, the Greek government has had to enforce a barrage of deeply unpopular tax hikes and wage and pension cuts.

The measures are opposed by unions which have called a wave of street protests and three general strikes in the last three months.

Visitors and Greeks alike face fresh hardship as a new general strike against the austerity measures on Thursday will shut down state offices, public services, banks and confine ferries to port.

“We are striking because we do not want to work for 40 years without rights, with hunger wages and leave the workforce at the age of 70 with a mendicant’s pension of 300 euros (370 dollars),” said the Communist-affiliated All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) which has held several protests at top-line hotels.

Fitch Ratings warned it might still cut Greece’s credit rating to junk status even though Athens had secured a bailout from the EU and IMF because of the daunting task of getting its strained finances into shape.

“The downside risks are high and Fitch has accordingly judged that negative outlooks on Greece’s sovereign ratings remain appropriate,” the agency said in a statement.

Source: SGGP

Greece draws first IMF loan for eurozone state

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 at 4:52 am

Greece on Wednesday drew 5.5 billion euros (6.9 billion dollars) from an emergency International Monetary Fund loan, becoming the first eurozone country to be forced to resort to the IMF for aid.


The money came as thousands of people marched through Athens in protest against the government’s deal for a giant bailout from the European Union and the IMF totalling 110 billion euros in return for harsh budget cuts.


“Greece has accessed the sum without any problems, everything was done in close cooperation with the IMF…. Everything is under control,” a top official from the finance ministry told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Faced with spiralling debts and a hammering on financial markets that threatened to engulf other European economies, Greece earlier this month was given the go-ahead to access the unprecedented financial rescue package.

People sit outside a store during a demonstration against government’s austerity measures in central Athens

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister George Papandreou said the bailout was “a great success for our country,” adding: “The majority of the public, the citizens, accept the measures even though they are unpleasant.”


Greek and Turkish officials have also suggested that the debt crisis could aid closer ties between the two historic rivals ahead of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s arrival in Greece on Friday for a two-day visit.


Greece’s EU-IMF aid sparked a collapse in confidence in weaker eurozone economies among investors and forced EU leaders to agree on Monday to make a bailout fund of nearly one trillion dollars available for crisis-hit countries.


Greece desperately needs the money as it has been effectively blocked from international debt markets by the forbiddingly high rates demanded by investors and it needs nine billion euros to meet debt repayments due next Wednesday.


A finance ministry official said the government is expecting another loan tranche of 14.5 billion euros from the European Union early next week.


The budget cuts have set off a wave of protests. Some of the rallies turned violent and three people died last week in an Athens bank that was set alight.


Greece’s two main trade unions, GSEE and Adedy, organised another rally in Athens on Wednesday that was attended by around 4,000 people, according to organisers. The police put the number of protesters at just over 1,000.


“Out with the EU and the IMF!” and “Uprising! Everyone in the Streets!” read placards held up by protesters at Wednesday’s rally. Another read: “Down with the Market Junta!” — a reference to Greece’s former military dictatorship.


The unions also on Wednesday called for a national strike on May 20, which will be the fourth such stoppage since February and the second this month.


“The IMF will not stop asking sacrifices from people of labour. Its recipes are catastrophic. The government should categorically reject them,” Yiannis Panagopoulos, chairman of the GSEE private sector union, said in a statement.


The economy meanwhile paused its downward slide with a contraction of 0.8 percent in the first quarter — the same level as in the last quarter of 2009, according to a preliminary estimate issued by the state statistics agency.


“The figures were quite good. They were better than expected,” said Constantinos Vergos, an analyst at Cyclos Securities in Athens, explaining this was partly due to reforms to curb Greece’s rampant underground market.


The contraction also eased slightly on a 12-month comparison to minus 2.3 percent from a downwardly revised minus 2.6 percent last quarter.


But worse results are expected, with the government forecasting that the economy will shrink by 4.0 percent over the year as a whole.

The Athens stock exchange closed 0.82 percent up on Wednesday after losing 2.47 percent on Tuesday in line with a global drop in equities.

Some economists have warned the austerity measures will plunge Greece into an even worse recession and stifle growth but many say the reforms being enacted — like the overhaul of the pension system — are long overdue.

Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos said earlier that the pension system faces “collapse” in 2015 if there is no reform and this week put forward a radical reform bill expected to face a stormy vote in parliament later this month.

Source: SGGP

Greece requests loan aid after pensions ‘shock’

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2010 at 4:50 pm

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece requested a first emergency loan of 20 billion euros from the EU and IMF on Tuesday to avoid bankruptcy after the government unveiled radical pension reforms that have alarmed the country.

A street musician picks up 20 cents from his plate in downtown Athens, May 11. AFP photo

The money will be the first tranche of an unprecedented 110-billion euro (140-billion dollar) rescue package agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund this month in return for drastic budget cuts.

“We have made the request to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” a finance ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.


The tranche of 14.5 billion euros from the EU and 5.5 billion euros from the IMF “should be available possibly within the day,” the official said.


Greece needs nine billion euros by May 19 to meet debt repayments and tens of billions more in the next few months as its access to debt markets has effectively been blocked by high rates demanded by investors.


The yields on Greek 10-year government bonds rose to 7.850 percent during trading on Tuesday from 6.717 percent late on Monday, indicating a loss of investor confidence.


Greek borrowing costs narrowed dramatically on Monday in an initially positive reaction to a broader EU-IMF rescue deal for debt-strapped eurozone members, worth 750 billion euros.


But as investor doubts about the capacity of governments to rein in their debts grew on Tuesday, the Greek stock exchange fell 2.53 percent, mirroring losses elsewhere in Europe.


The debt crisis has sparked major protests in Greece, including three general strikes in as many months and large-scale demonstrations in the streets of Athens last week in which three people died in a fire-bombed bank.


Greece’s two main trade unions are preparing a major rally for Wednesday.


“The workers, the pensioners and the unemployed want the rich to pay for the crisis and the taxes,” said a spokeswoman for the GSEE private sector union.


The Communist-affiliated trade union association Pame called for a “counter-attack” against the government’s plans, calling them “a monstrosity.”


An editorial in the Kathimerini daily warned that far-left movements leading the protests were on “an irrational path.”


“If we allow it to continue down this path, the price that will be paid by the institution of democracy and by the country as a whole will be incalculable,” it added.


Greek newspapers meanwhile reacted with alarm to the pension reform unveiled by the government on Monday as part of its efforts to reduce the public deficit from around 14 percent to under the EU limit of three percent by 2014.


“Triple shock to pensions” said pro-opposition Eleftheros Typos, pointing to pension cuts, higher contributions and tougher retirement rules.


“40 years of work for a 35-year pension,” added the left-wing Eleftherotypia daily while the pro-government To Vima daily spoke of “Wild cutbacks.”


“There is a way out for the people,” the Communist party mouthpiece Rizospastis said. “The monumental demonstrations of recent days are a hopeful sign that workers are not prepared to submit.”


Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos acknowledged that the abolition of thrice-yearly bonus payments that many Greeks have come to rely on to supplement their pensions was “unfair” and said that they could be restored for lower-income categories.


“The measure taken to cut pension bonuses was unfair and we aim to restore them” if Greece makes progress in cutting costs in other sectors later in the year, Loverdos said in an interview on Flash Radio.


In presenting the reform on Monday, Loverdos told the cabinet that the pension system faced “collapse” in 2015 without reform.


The new system would see an average reduction in pensions of seven percent by 2030 while the upper category of pensions would be cut by up to 14 percent.


The reform would also raise the average effective retirement age to 63.5 from 61.4, curbing Greece’s widespread early retirement schemes.

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Source: SGGP

Tensions simmer as Greece readies pensions reform

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 4:49 am

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Athens on Sunday as the government sought to rein in social tensions while pressing ahead with drastic austerity measures aimed at avoiding a debt default.


“I feel angry that my right to dream has been denied and it’s mainly the government’s fault,” said Penny, a 19-year-old student demonstrating on a square in front of the parliament building — the scene of riots last week.


Greece is burdened by giant debts and a recession-mired economy and has appealed to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for help as it ran out of options to borrow on the markets amid steeply rising costs.


The EU and the IMF have approved an emergency loan package of 110 billion euros (141 billion dollars) to bail out Greece but have demanded strict budget cuts in return, and some experts are warning the money may not be enough.

People attend a protest against the government’s austerity measures as they stand outside the Greek Parliament in the center of Athens.

The IMF’s executive board on Sunday gave final approval to its three-year 30-billion-euro portion of the loan package.


The government has called for consultations on Monday with all of Greece’s main political movements to be hosted by President Carolos Papoulias but two far-left parties that have helped lead protests are boycotting the talks.


The cabinet is also set to give its approval to a radical plan to overhaul the pensions system, raising the retirement age for women to 65 and increasing the number of years that workers have to pay retirement contributions.


Fears of a Greek default have put a focus on the weakness of other European economies such as Portugal and Spain, hitting the euro.


EU finance chiefs met in Brussels on Sunday in a bid to stop the plunge in investor confidence linked to the Greek crisis from spreading to other eurozone nations as observers nervously awaited market reactions on Monday.


Following days of Greece-linked mayhem on world financial markets last week, US President Barack Obama also held separate phone talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the crisis.


In an interview with To Vima daily issued on Sunday, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou warned of the catastrophic consequences if Greece were to default on its debts — something the government is racing to avoid.


“The banking system would stop operating and businesses and households would automatically lose access to bank funds,” Papaconstantinou said.


“We would enter an even deeper recession of around 10 percent, maybe more, which we would not exit for years,” he added.


Violent protests in Athens, which led to the death of three bank employees last week after their office was firebombed, have added to the pressure on the government.


The country’s main union that represents around a million private employees has pledged to mobilise to prevent the pension reform from passing.


But a poll showed Greeks grudgingly accepting the need for cuts.


The survey in To Vima daily showed that 55.2 percent of respondents would accept austerity measures, while 56.3 percent prefer wage cuts to national bankruptcy and 71.3 want squabbling Greek political parties to cooperate.

Source: SGGP

Panic-stricken markets tumble on Greece fears

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2010 at 4:39 am

A wave of panic selling engulfed Asian markets Friday, after US shares saw a record intraday fall on deepening fears that Greece’s debt crisis would spread through Europe.


The Bank of Japan on Friday offered to provide over 20 billion dollars in liquidity to financial institutions as Tokyo stocks tumbled more than four percent at one point, their second successive sharp fall.


Seoul plunged 2.97 percent and Sydney dived 2.8 percent after world markets dropped on statements from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet that offered no sign of intervention to stop the euro’s slide.


The euro fell to 1.2631 dollars from 1.2644 dollars in New York late Thursday, where the unit at one point hit 1.2523, its lowest since March 2009.

A currency trader is seen in front of a stock index board in the Korea Exchange Bank in Seoul. A wave of panic selling engulfed Asian markets Friday, after US shares saw a record intraday fall on deepening fears that Greece’s debt crisis would spread through Europe.

Markets have been spooked by violent demonstrations in Athens this week where three people were killed in a bank firebombing, amid growing fears a 110-billion-euro (145-billion-dollar) EU-IMF bailout for Greece could prove insufficient.


Concerns are also mounting that the deal will fail to shield Spain and Portugal from crippling market pressures.


“The reason for today’s fall is what everybody knows — Greece,” said Hideaki Higashi, a strategist at SMBC Friend Securities.


“The market is factoring in the possibility that this Greek problem will spread to Spain and Portugal.”


The region’s traders took their cue from a record drop of almost 1,000 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average before it recouped more than half those losses on Thursday.


The drop eclipsed even the crashes seen when markets reopened after September 11, 2001 and in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.


The Dow later recovered, closing nearly four percent down, but spooked traders were left wondering whether a glitch had caused the blue-chip index to erode three months of solid gains.


In Tokyo the Bank of Japan on Friday offered to provide two trillion yen (21.8 billion dollars) in liquidity to financial institutions against the banks’ collateral pooled at the BoJ.


“The Bank of Japan aims to increase a sense of security in the markets by providing ample funds,” said BoJ official Yuichi Adachi.


Chief government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano told a regular press conference that Japan must ensure that Greece’s problems won’t affect the Japanese economy, the world’s second largest.


“These European concerns have taken a big turn for the worse,” said analyst Ben Potter of IG Markets. “It?s going to be a very dark day across the board.”

Source: SGGP

Greece hit by anti-austerity general strike

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

ATHENS (AFP) – A nationwide general strike gripped Greece on Wednesday in the first major test of the socialist government’s resolve to push through unprecedented austerity cuts needed to avert fiscal meltdown.


Protest fever swept over the country with public transport paralysed, ferries not leaving the docks and air traffic grounded as unions went on the warpath against the latest wave of spending cuts and tax hikes.

A teacher carries a banner reading: ‘Education for sale’ during a protest front of the Greek Parliament in Athens on May 4. AFP photo

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants kicked off the protests on Tuesday and a group of about 200 communists also stormed Athens Acropolis, unfurling banners reading “Peoples of Europe, Rise Up.”


Wednesday’s walkout, the third general strike in as many months, comes as the government races to push the austerity drive through parliament, looking to its comfortable majority there to pass the package on Thursday.


Greece’s main unions were to mass in central Athens at 11:00 am (0800 GMT) before moving through the streets of the capital in protest marches.


May Day marches on Saturday led to clashes between anarchists and police who fired tear gas to restore order.


Pushed to the brink of default, the government agreed at the weekend to slash spending and jack up taxes in return for 110 billion euros (143 billion dollars) in loans over three years from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.


Among the major measures, the government is to cut 13th and 14th month bonus pay for civil servants and retirees; require three years more for pension contributions; and raise the retirement age for women to 65, the same level as men currently.


“Given the scale of the public opposition to the austerity measures it is still unclear whether Greece will ultimately be willing to take years of fiscal punishment and recession to get its fiscal house in order,” economist Ben May at consultants Capital Economics said.


“Accordingly, it is still unwise to rule out the government eventually defaulting or restructuring its debts,” he added.


Financial markets fell sharply Tuesday on fears the EU-IMF bailout package for Greece might not be enough to stop the crisis spreading to other weak eurozone economies such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain.


After months of hesitation, eurozone countries and the IMF agreed to lend Greece billions at below market rates after concerns soared last week that the Greek debt crisis could trigger a knock-on effect elsewhere.


Germany, which will foot the biggest share of the bailout and was highly reluctant to extend taxpayer cash to Greece, warned the Greek government on Tuesday that loans could be halted if it did not adhere to the austerity plan.

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Source: SGGP