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Leaders' meeting ends without agreement on anti-racism bill

Venizelos and Kouvelis insist on Roupakiotis' bill

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A meeting of coalition leaders ended without agreement on a proposed anti-racism bill on Monday evening. Junior coalition party leaders Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis insist that the bill be submitted to parliament and voted for by all coalition parties, while sources say the government has no intention of submitting the bill

Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis walks towards reporters after a meeting among coalition party leaders at the Maximos Mansion, 27 May 2013 (Reuters) Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis walks towards reporters after a meeting among coalition party leaders at the Maximos Mansion, 27 May 2013 (Reuters) A two-hour meeting of coalition leaders ended without agreement on a proposed anti-racism bill on Monday evening. 

Sources within the government told the state-run AMNA news agency that the government has no intention of submitting an anti-racism bill, adding that "there was no agreement".

Exiting the Maximos Mansion, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis and Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos said they insisted that the bill be immediately submitted to parliament for approval.

They both added that once the bill was submitted, it could be amended and improved.

"We have an international obligation to have adequate legislation against racist behaviour," Venizelos told reporters.

Exiting the meeting, Kouvelis strongly criticised the parliament's legislative committee for publishing its conclusions just two hours before the leaders' meeting started, speaking of "unacceptable expediency".

Earlier in the day the committee described several provisions in the proposed anti-racism law as "vague" and being "outside the scope of our constitutional framework." The committee also concluded that Greece's anti-racism legislation, which dates back to 1979, is sufficient to deal with racism.

The government is in open disagreement over Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis' draft bill, with ruling New Democracy claiming that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with racism, while junior coalition partners Pasok and Democratic Left are pushing for the bill to be immediately submitted to parliament for approval.

The bill would outlaw incitement against people because of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and impose jail sentences of up to six years on offenders, according to reports.

MPs would not be excluded and parties that receive public funding would see it suspended if their leaders publicly denied the Holocaust, took part in racist attacks or used Nazi salutes or symbols in parliament.

Deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanasiou on Monday said the government's commitment to combat racism doesn't require new legislation but amendments to existing laws.

International human rights groups have expressed strong support for the proposed reform, alarmed at a surge in racially-motivated attacks against immigrants and the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party.

Golden Dawn staged a weekend rally near Athens to protest the draft law. Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the legislation was part of an effort to outlaw Golden Dawn.

He told supporters: "They want to stop Greeks expressing themselves ... They are planning a law, the anti-racism law. Let them do it. We can exist outside the law. I tell them this directly and publicly."

Main opposition Syriza have repeatedly expressed their support for the bill, accusing New Democracy of wanting to create an affiliation with Golden Dawn. In a statement released on Monday, Syriza called on Pasok and Democratic Left to "show whether they meant what they said all this time".

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Politics
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Antonis Samaras
Racism
Legislation
Justice Ministry
Evangelos Venizelos
Coalition government
Fotis Kouvelis
Antonis Roupakiotis