Islanders fight isolation

Public buildings, schools, shops and private businesses shut down on many Aegean islands yesterday as residents protested for better, more frequent and cheaper ferry services. The government blamed its predecessors and pledged solutions over the next year. The strikes, which took place on most major Aegean islands, including Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Kalymnos and Rhodes, had the main aim of forcing the government to intervene and provide greater subsidies for the upgrading of ferry lines and harbor facilities. Travel to Athens and particularly between the islands is difficult, expensive and slow, especially in the winter, the protesters complained. The government said it was doing all it could but pledged to take further action. Aegean and Island Policy Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis said his department, in cooperation with the Merchant Marine Ministry, was spending some 53 million euros annually on subsidizing ferry routes to remote islands, which are unprofitable for the operating companies.«If more is needed for emergency situations through the winter, then we have the ability to pay it. That is not the solution, though. The solution is lies in structural intervention on the matter. This will take some time but I expect this chapter to close within 2005,» said Pavlidis. The minister made the comments at the entrance to the Aegean Ministry building on Lesvos, where protesters gathered after holding a rally in the main square of the island’s capital. Meanwhile, demonstrators on Samos staged two one-hour sit-ins on the ferries Daliana and Dimitroula, delaying their departure for Piraeus. «We will continue the struggle we have started because we owe it to our land and to our children,» said Samos Prefect, Manolis Karlas. «Undoubtedly, we have inherited a difficult situation and from the first instant, the government has been trying to put right in eight months all the things that were not done in 12 years,» said Yiannis Tzoannos, general secretary of the Merchant Marine Ministry, who also pledged swift reforms to the island ferry network as well as harbor improvements. A demonstration to involve islanders who live in Athens is expected to take place at the port of Piraeus by December 15 at the latest.