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“Insurgent Holidays”: Greece’s Three Annual Days of Political Violence

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September to December is a time of holidays in the West, but in Greece, it is also a time of “insurgent holidays”: three specific dates on which leftists mobilize for large marches in the streets, youth clash with police, and the post-left anarchist underground organizes campaigns of arson and bombings against targets of capitalism and the state. Greece is of course no stranger to mass demonstrations, and it is a point of pride among many Greeks that they enjoy such a high level of political engagement, from frequent protests to an impressive number of publications and media outlets—all signs of a robust democracy. Despite their frequency, most protests and marches in Greece are peaceful, with newsworthy clashes occasionally occurring on small scales. On these three specific dates, however, there is guaranteed to be violence. This article hopes to give a little background on each of these dates, how they came about, and how they are observed annually.(The specific dates covered here are the 18th of September, the 17th of November, and the 6th of December. For reasons of historical context, they will be discussed in chronological order of their origin-events, rather than in the calendar order in which they occur.)

November 17th

In 1973 Greece was ruled by a dictatorial government, sometimes called the “junta” or the “Regime of the Colonels,” which had taken power in a coup of right-wing army officers in1967. Less than a year before the country’s return to democracy in 1974, student occupations of university buildings and increasing protest activity turned into a larger anti-junta movement as the leadership was making small moves towards reforms. This led to the events of November 1973, when on the morning of the 14th students of Athens Polytechnic went on strike in protest against the regime. They were joined on the subsequent day by thousands of Greeks that flocked to downtown Athens in support, but on the evening of the 16th government snipers and security forces started shooting at demonstrators, and in the early hours of the 17th an AMX 30 main battle tank crashed through the university gates as students sat atop of them. The number of Greeks killed in the crackdown is disputed, but it is likely around two dozen, with many more injured.

When democracy and the constitution were restored in Greece many of the political parties that had been banned under the junta such as the communist KKE party were re-legitimized and allowed to participate in elections. Since then, the 17th of November has been observed every year by Greeks from a broad swath of political backgrounds (most of which are left-leaning), from teachers’ unions to left-wing political parties, and of course sizeable blocs of anarchists. The latter typically form up in the downtown Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia—home to the Polytechnic and a well-known haven for anarchists—and march towards Parliament in Syntagma Square, where they will clash with the ubiquitous riot police in green fatigues with white helmets, gas masks and shields reading ΑΣΤΥΝΟΜΙΑ, known as the Units for the Reinstatement of Order (MAT). Dozens if not hundreds of arrests are made at demonstrations in cities across Greece, with most of the action taking place in Athens and Thessaloniki. Then in the evening things tend to heat up, with anarchists lobbing volleys of bricks and Molotov cocktails at the MAT, and the MAT responding with incredible volumes of tear gas and crowd-control rounds.

Then there is the way in which the17th of November has historically been observed by Greece’s far- and post-left urban guerrillas. The most infamous of these groups (and one of the originals) takes its very name from the last day of the uprising, the “Revolutionary Organization–17 November,” popularly known as “17N”. 17N was a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization that existed from 1975 until their dismantling in 2002. Their first operation would be on the night of December 23rd, 1975, as three unmasked members followed the CIA’s new Athens Chief of Station, Richard Welch, home from a Christmas party and shot him dead in front of his wife and driver. Along with other students, who were dissatisfied with the return to democracy rather than a complete revolution against capitalism, 17N took their energy from the 1973 uprising and went underground to begin a militant campaign of bombings, robberies, assassinations and rocket attacks. After their capture and dismantling, a new generation of urban guerrillas followed in the footsteps of 17N. Though today’s generation of urban guerrillas tends to be comprised ideologically of left-libertarian and post-left anarchists, most of them still pay homage to 17N the group and refer to the Polytechnic uprising in their communications. The overwhelming historical significance of November 17th, as well as the guaranteed violence at the hands of the police during demonstrations that take place annually, are themselves recurring motivations for acts of terrorism in and around that date every year.

December 6th

Casual observers of the country will recall that from 2009 through to 2013, Greece seemed to be ceaselessly smoldering with often violent protests that would go from morning into the early hours of the next day. Many will also remember that most of the anger fueling these protests came from the brutal effects of the economic crisis and the harsh austerity measures Greeks faced. However, before the contagion of the economic crisis even reached Greece, another event sparked a nation-wide “uprising,” the scale and intensity of which had not been seen since December 1944, as the country was on the brink of civil war (a war it would fight from 1946-1949, and a likely factor in some of today’s political violence). On the evening of December 6th, 2008, a group of teenagers got into a verbal altercation with two police officers from the Special Guards unit in the Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia, when one of the officers fired his service weapon three times in the teens’ direction, striking and killing 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos.

For the next three weeks there would be daily protests, fires, and clashes with police in which hundreds of thousands participated in cities all across Greece. Demonstrations and riots erupted in dozens of foreign cities as the Greek far- and post-left drew solidarity from all around the world. The destruction in Greece at the end of the three weeks was indescribable. Much of downtown Athens’ high-end shopping street, Ermou, had been burnt to a cinder. The rage was felt by people of all political persuasions. Fatal violence at the hands of the state remains an extremely sensitive issue among Greeks, following seven years under the junta.

Greek scholar, Andreas Kalyvas, notes in his piece, “An Anomaly? Some Reflections on the Greek December 2008,” the unprecedented immigrant participation in what he calls the “insurrection” over those three weeks:

Notwithstanding its limitations, contradictions, and failings, viewed from the perspective of the insurgent immigrant, the 2008 Greek insurrection contains a positive constituent moment: the illegal and extra-institutional reconstitution and expansion of citizenship, membership, and community. It is a radicalization of democracy.

(This author has personally witnessed angry Syrian refugees demonstrating alongside their Greek anarchist allies in Athens and Thessaloniki in 2016—though not on one of the dates discussed in this article.) The 6th of December was an outlier among the three dates covered here, in that its first iteration drew diverse crowds, acting on a diverse set of grievances against the Greek state and their lot in Greek society. Today, it is mostly observed by the far- and extra-parliamentary-left, as well as anarchist groups in Exarcheia.

Likely because of its direct relation to police brutality, December 6thoften (but not always) tends to be the most violent of Greece’s “insurgent holidays”. It is also within the recent memory of many Greeks that take to the streets today, and if they did not participate in the actions of 2008, there is a good chance that they were inspired by them. Police typically deploy in large numbers on the 6th, anticipating mass mobilization. Enraged Greeks will clash with phalanxes of MAT police on the main streets of Athens throughout the day, and in the evening the battle becomes localized to the neighborhood of Exarceia—where Grigoropoulos was murdered. The chirping of radios on MAT officers can be heard down the dimly lit streets, as cascades of Molotovs and other missiles fly at them from fluid groups of anarchists and are answered back by the smoking-trails of projectile gas canisters and blasts of crowd-control munitions.

September 18th

Perhaps one of the most shocking outcomes of the 2009 economic crisis in Europe was the rise of Greece’s neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, and the seats it won in Parliament, along with the growth of its large street-level cadres—known for roaming about clad in black shirts and assaulting immigrants and leftists with melee weapons. The downfall of this frightening political movement would be the assassination of an anti-fascist rapper named Pavlos Fyssas, also known as “Killah P”. On the night of September 17th, 2013, as he sat watching a football match on the patio of a café in a suburb of Piraeus, a member of Golden Dawn, Giorgos Roupakias, approached him and viciously stabbed him. He died just after midnight on the 18th. The murder was considered a professional hit ordered by Golden Dawn’s leadership. The party founder and chief, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, was sentenced to prison along with some of his party’s most prominent deputies, Golden Dawn having been tried asa criminal organization by the Greek justice system. For the first time since their ascent to Greece’s third-largest political party, this year they failed to win a single seat in Parliament.

The Hellenic Police were said by some witnesses to have stood by and allow Pavlos to be murdered. Anti-fascists immediately took to the streets of Athens and clashed with the MAT throughout the night. The clashes went on into the next day, and a week after the murder up to 10,000 people took part in demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki against fascism, people in Athens marching on Golden Dawn’s headquarters. Police broke up the march before it reached its destination and tremendous violence ensued between the MAT and the crowd, with dozens of arrests being made. Anarchists carried out a retaliatory hit on November 1st, 2013, in which two members of Golden Dawn were shot and killed and another injured outside of the party’s office in Neo Iraklio (a suburb of Athens).

In subsequent years demonstrations in memory of Pavlos and against Golden Dawn have lasted as long as three days, with thousands of people participating in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. Much of the frustration up until this year, however, has been over the slow pace of the trial to convict key members of Golden Dawn for their role in its criminal activity, and particularly in ordering the hit on Pavlos. Whether the intensity of these annual demonstrations will abate now that the trial has concluded has yet to be seen. Given the tremendous solidarity capital that the left and anti-fascists still draw from this date every year, it is unlikely that demonstrations and some degree of violence between protesters and police will not continue to take place every year on and around September 18th.

Conclusion

As a part of a broader policy to crackdown on what the current ruling party, New Democracy, refers to as a culture of “lawlessness” in Athens and Thessaloniki, the Hellenic Police have been forcefully evicting many of the long-established anarchist squats throughout Greece, including one in Thessaloniki and another on Crete that had both been occupied for nearly twenty years.  The government has also been cracking down on Greece’s “insurgent holidays”.

This year, ahead of November 17th, Minister for Citizen Protection, Michalis Chyrsochoidis, declared that the formal state wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the Polytechnic uprising would be canceled as well as any informal gatherings or demonstrations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that three other major Greek national holidays had been canceled due to the virus as well, and added, “The virus is the enemy and large gatherings are its weapon.” The university rector of Athens Polytechnic declared ahead of the 17th that the campus would be closed and all of its facilities barred to students and the public. Nevertheless, on November 12th, anarchists managed to break into the campus and occupy its main buildings, before the MAT broke into the gates, clashed with them and arrested several people. The anarchists’ intent had been to occupy the campus several days through the 17th. A separate demonstration took place at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki that also led to several arrests. Outraged at the government’s suspension of Greeks’ constitutional right to assemble and protest, the communist KKE party rallied and marched on Parliament. At the end of the day, trucks with high-pressure water cannons were used to disperse average Greeks peacefully assembled in downtown Athens, and several arrests were made throughout the day in Greece’s major cities. There were violent clashes that night between police and anarchists, as there are every year, and a few days later an anarchist cell calling themselves the “Drops of November” claimed a Molotov attack on Sykeon police station in Thessaloniki that took place on the afternoon of the 17th.

Similarly, demonstrations ahead of the December 6th anniversary of Alexis Grigoropoulos’ murder have been banned by the Hellenic Police, and those gathering in violation of the ban could face a fine of between 3,000-5,000 euros. The Minister of Citizen Protection said that he too was prohibiting gatherings, again on the basis of stopping the spread of COVID-19. As of writing this article (December 5th), several people have already been arrested after emerging from the subway station and clashing with police in Syntagma Square. Anarchist groups are calling for action to keep the police from blocking the memorial in Exarcheia where Grigoropoulos was shot, and separate groups such as trade unions are calling for their own demonstrations in memory of the slain boy. If this year’s November 17th was any indication of what Greece’s “insurgent holidays” look like in the time of COVID-19, December 6th will likely be observed with as much intensity as it has been in past years.

Of all of these “insurgent holidays,” November 17th is the most established in national memory and tradition. December 6th is right behind it in terms of enduring significance and the extent to which it will be observed for years to come. Though it is unlikely that the 18th of September will stop being observed now that the Golden Dawn trial has concluded (for the most part), it is possible that the numbers of people drawn to and the intensity of rallies on this day will decline. There is also the likelihood of other such dates emerging in the future, as long as certain segments of Greek society continue to wage war on the government, and on one another.

Tom Lord is a researcher, who tracks political violence and militancy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. He took his masters degree in international security studies from Boston University, and presently resides in Washington, D.C.His work can be found on Twitter, @potempkinbrain

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Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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