The visit was also the topic of his talks with the Vatican's Prime Minister Sontano, while bidding the Pope farewell Stephanopoulos told him in French "I am expecting you in Athens soon."
The Holy See later issued a statement saying that "during the Pontiff's meeting with the Greek President a cordial exchange of views took place on various current events with references to Europe's cultural and historical traditions. The President extended to the Pope an official invitation to visit Greece. The Holy Father thanked the President, expressing the wish that the visit will take place one day on the route followed by the Apostle Paul."
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoris Niotis, who participated in the delegation, said that both the Pope and Sontano communicated a desire to visit Greece.
"The Pontiff links his visit to the position of the Greek Church, since there is no question of a visit as a head of state but as a religious leader. There is no question of an invitation on the part of Greece," he said.
Meeting with Amato: Earlier in the day, Stephanopoulos held talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and dined with him later.
Amato, addressing a press conference afterwards, said "we discussed prospects in the Balkan region. We stressed the need for democracy and stability, as well as for an improved prospect in the Republic of Serbia as well. Both countries, Italy and Greece, are convinced that a renewed Yugoslav Republic will be able to provide solutions, under the present form, in resolving specific issues. And, of course, there should be a balance and responsibility, both on the part of Yugoslavia and Europe, which has a great responsibility, for their future."
Amato also said they had the opportunity to discuss the Cyprus issue, Greek-Turkish relations and prospects opening up regarding Turkey's relations with the European Union.
"There are, as we ascertained, great difficulties concerning relations between Greece and Turkey. But we also discussed difficulties existing for Turkey's rapprochement with the EU. I appreciated in particular the sincerity and frankness with which the President of the Hellenic Republic presented Greek positions to me on the issue," Amato added.
On his part, Stephanopoulos said "I wish to express my great satisfaction for being in friendly Italy. I do not wish to comment on the discussions I had with the prime minister with formal words, saying that it was a constructive discussion, as we usually say. They were very warm discussions in which there was an absolute identity of views. We did not discuss Greek-Italian issues because they do not exist."
Stephanopoulos also said "Italy, just like Greece, is being called on to play a stabilizing role in the Balkan region, where the interest of both countries is quite considerable. And this sense of stability in the Balkans certainly includes the meaning of stability in Serbia."
On the question of the Pope visiting Greece, Stephanopoulos said "if the Pontiff expresses his desire to visit Greece I will reassure him that he will be received with the best of feelings and with all due honors."
Earlier in the day, the Italian Senates president received Stephanopoulos, while Italian Defense Minister Sergio Matarella accompanied him during a wreath-laying ceremony at the "Unknown Soldier" memorial at the Piazza Venezia.
The Greek president later visited the "Eternal City's" town hall before touring the Colosseum and the ancient Forum.
In the evening Stephanopoulos will inaugurate an exhibition of ancient Greek artifacts on loan from museums on Crete and Rhodes.
President Stephanopoulos confirms invitation to Pope: Visiting President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos on Wednesday evening confirmed an earlier Vatican statement indicating that he had extended an official invitation to Pope John Paul II to visit Greece.
Stephanopoulos made the confirmation during statements to Greek journalists at the Greek Embassy.
Following a press conference with reporters at the US ambassador's residence, US Gen. Joseph W. Ralston was received by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou for a one-hour meeting, which besides the issue of possible DU contamination touched on developments in strife-torn Kosovo, southern Serbia, NATO's expansion and bilateral cooperation in military exercises.
Gen. Ralston arrived in Athens Tuesday for a two-day visit, part of his regular consultations with the European governments.
Regarding the continuing presence of US troops in Kosovo, the NATO commander referred to recent statements by new US Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell before the US Congress, noting however, that any decision by the US will be preceded by briefings of its allies.
Gen. Ralston reiterated that NATO bears responsibility for the health and safety of all the soldiers that serve in its ranks, which is the primary reason behind the alliance's investigation into the issue -- dubbed by the press as the "Balkan Syndrome."
On his part, Papandreou told reporters that the high-ranking NATO commander assured him that the alliance will undertake a complete and transparent investigation over the issue of DU contamination and its possible health repercussions.
In earlier statements, Gen. Ralston said that even before the 1999 NATO bombing campaign over Kosovo began, all information regarding depleted uranium was known, "but there was nothing on the issue in the press at that time" simply because uranium "was not an issue" then.
He also said that there were "numerous inaccuracies" contained in articles published on the DU issue, noting, for example, that there are no such things as "uranium bombs", just shells, "which do not even explode".
Gen. Ralston conceded that an issue had arisen due to the widespread reactions of many European governments, but reiterated that, in his opinion, the issue was being handled with transparency and all the information existing on the matter was being made public.
However, he declined to comment on the strong reactions of certain governments, such as Italy and Germany, on the DU issue, merely noting that those countries were significant contributors to the peacekeeping force stationed in Kosovo (KFOR).
Asked whether specific precautionary measures had been applied for the US forces taking part in KFOR, Gen. Ralston said that before KFOR was dispatched to Kosovo, certain precautions had been applied not only for the American contingent but for all the countries taking part in KFOR as well as the non-governmental organizations active in the region.
Those precautions concerned avoidance of direct contact with targets struck by DU ammunition because, DU belonged to the category of heavy metals, he said.
Questioned on the issue of the European security and defense identity, he said his position was positive "provided there is no overlapping with NATO" since that would create confusion between the two organizations.
Earlier, Gen. Ralston paid a courtesy call at the national defense ministry, accompanied by US ambassador to Athens Nicholas Burns, where he met with Greek National Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos and armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Manoussos Paragioudakis.
The committee composed of representatives from 50 nations set up by NATO two weeks ago has found no evidence so far to support claims that depleted uranium (DU) ammunition can cause leukemia.
Speckhard made special mention of the environmental measurements and checks conducted by Greece, that found not increased radiation levels in the region.
He was replying to a question tabled by main opposition New Democracy MP for the Thessaloniki B' electoral district George Salagoudis on whether shells containing depleted uranium were used in the Langada firing range during the NATO exercise Dynamic Mix in early June.
Turning to the initial results of a study by the Greek Atomic Energy Committee (EEAE) involving measurement of soil, air and water samples from Kosovo, Tsohatzopoulos noted that the radiation levels were normal.
"In response to the justified concern of the families of those (the Greek peacekeepers) serving in Kosovo -- and they are worried about atmospheric repercussions from the use of DU (depleted uranium) ammunition -- I wish to stress that the replies given by the EEAE make it clear that in no area where Greek soldiers are staying was any environmental repercussion, either toxic or radiation, ascertained," Tsohatzopoulos said.
He added that the above was consistent with the EEAE's assurances that "throughout the past years, since the beginning of the crisis in Bosnia, no levels above the normal were measured on the ground, in the air or in the rivers of northern Greece".
Meanwhile, parliament's standing committee on foreign affairs expressed concern over the health of the citizens and soldiers living in the wider region of the NATO bombings, after hearing the views of scientists on the effects on the natural environment and the population of the region from the use of DU ammunition in NATO's 1999 campaign in Yugoslavia.
The MPs on the committee, in an announcement dated January 19 but distributed Wednesday, called on all countries involved in the production and use of DU ammunition to halt the production and use of such ammunition and withdraw existing stocks.
According to local media Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou reportedly stated that Greece would block the entrance of FYROM in the EU and NATO, during his report to the Greek Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.
"It is a case of clear misunderstanding" as Greece proclaims to all that it is "a warm supporter of its (FYROM's) course both to the European and Atlantic structures," Kaklikis said.
He also said that he publicly stated that FYROM should be compensated for what happened to it during the Kosovo crisis and that "its reward should be, among other things, a stable and speedy course toward the aims it chooses".
He stressed that since September 2000 the NATO Liaison Office became a "NATO Contact Point Embassy", aiming to prove to the public opinion the correct image of NATO.
"Thus it would be inconsistent for Greece to try for the speedy upgrade of your (FYROM's) relations with NATO on one hand and on the other to combat this policy. We are working toward this course and we are not going to overturn what we have built to this day," Kaklikis said.
Verheugen's clarifications, made during his meeting with members of the European Commission's information service, concern reports which said the commissioner left open the possibility of the issue of Cyprus' accession being reconsidered if it has not resolved its political problem by the time negotiations have been completed.
"Another reason necessitating the accession of Cyprus is also the Greek Parliament which will unanimously reject the accession of the first countries if Cyprus is not included among them," he said, adding that "this is his position, as well as that of the European Commission, and believes it is crystal-clear."
However, Verheugen said he couldnt predict the position of other member-states, although he considers it a mistake for some member-states to remind of the existence of the political problem in Cyprus, letting it be understood that it constitutes an obstacle.
"Such statements encourage the intransigence of the other side and undermine a solution to the Cyprus issue," Verheugen said, adding that he personally does not see what the difficulty for the EU will be if Cyprus joins it without a solution to the Cyprus issue being achieved beforehand.
The proposal, entitled "Environment 2010: our future, our choice", focuses on the change of climate, health in relation to the environment, nature and biodiversity and the management of natural resources.
European Commissioner Margot Wallstrom presented the new policy, saying "our environmental policy is one of EU's successes - due to the legislation of the EU we noted a marked progress in cleaner air and rivers".
The Commission called on non-governmental organizations to support the effort and pledged funding for such environmental non-governmental organizations.
The six Congressmen, led by Benjamin A. Gilman of New York, will meet with government and opposition party leaders during their stay in Athens, the press release said.
According to the draft Presidential Decree, the OGSD will be responsible for the necessary security and public order measures during the preparation and holding of the Olympic and Paralympics Games, as well as the Cultural Olympiad to take place in Greece.
The OGSD will also have to supervise the implementation of security plans and the coordination of relevant services and agencies, which will be participating in any way in the smooth and safe holding of the games.
Its duties cover every location where athletes, escorts and umpires will be such as coach transport, airports and ports.
The OGSD will cooperate with the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Organizing Committee and every other relevant agency in preparing security plans in the framework of timetables agreed with the International Olympic Committee.
Greece "deserves to be at the center of European developments, Greeks deserve to have a higher standard of living and a better prospect and now they do have a better prospect," Simitis said.
"Next year, during this annual event, we will not have the drachma anymore. We will have the euro. We accomplished a lot with the sacrifices of the Greek people," he said.
Among others, Manos said he agrees with Karamanlis that an independent and in-depth investigation over electoral rolls is paramount, adding that it's incomprehensible for there to be nine million registered voters in Greece's when the number of Greek citizens stands at 10 million.
Karamanlis and ND have calls for a probe into the issue of illegal naturalizations throughout the country, particularly with nationals arriving from former Soviet states.
According to sources, moreover, Karamanlis reportedly disagreed with Manos' standing proposal for the lifting of restrictions on political parties' cooperation during elections.
In comments before departing, the KKE leader expressed her concerns over what she called attempts by NATO and the EU's major powers to continue the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Among other issues proposed by Tsovolas for discussion and joint action are the fielding of joint candidates in municipal and prefectural elections, as well as mass movements and the activation of defenseless citizens through the shaping of a social front.
The program, in the form of a recommendation to EU ministers, complies with the requirements of the 15-nation bloc's Stability and Growth Pact and its broad economic policy guidelines, the Commission said in a statement.
The ministers are expected to adopt a formal opinion on the Greek plan on February 12, on the basis of the Commission's recommendation.
The domestic stability program is based on a macroeconomic scenario assuring strong, investment-led growth.
At the same time, the plan's macroeconomic forecasts at the upper end of the ranges given are ambitious, the statement added.
The government balance is projected to show a surplus of 0.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001.
The plan's budgetary consolidation strategy is based, as in the past, on high primary surpluses and a continuous reduction in interest payments, with the government debt ratio expected to decline by about 20 percentage points to 84 percent of GDP in 2004, the Commission said.
A key element in the program is the commitment to continuing structural reform in the economy.
Greece submitted its first stability program in December last year following an EU decision the previous June endorsing the country's entry into the euro zone on January 1, 2001.
Economic performance in Greece has in recent years been characterized by strong economic growth, high investment and improving employment, the Commission said.
Budgetary adjustment continued in 2000, supported by buoyant tax revenue, with the general government deficit estimated at 0.8 percent of GDP in 2000 against 1.2 percent targeted in the country's 1999 updated EU convergence program.
The strategy for budgetary adjustment of the stability program is centered on high primary surpluses, but also on fast declining interest payments.
But inflation prospects in the stability plan appear to underestimate the risk of overheating of the economy, in a context of buoyant activity and easier monetary conditions, the Commission said.
In order to counter possible inflationary pressures, budgetary policy might prove insufficiently tight, the statement cautioned.
As a consequence, the Commission said it had repeated a recommendation already made for the adoption of clear and binding norms to secure current primary expenditure control.
A number of structural reforms had been introduced in Greece recently, including labor market changes. A reform of the social insurance system has been announced for 2001.
"The Commission takes the view that a bolder attitude in the reform effort would be beneficial for the Greek economy," the statement added.
Papantoniou noted that Greece's participation in the Group of 12, the Eurozones economic government, highlighted the country's new upgraded role.
Addressing a crowd in Elefsina, a western Attica city, he said that EMU membership ensured the country's negotiating position, supported out national interests and initiatives in the Balkans, the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean regions.
"Participating in the euro is a safety investment for our country," Papantoniou said.
He said that the Greek government has achieved the re-distribution the national income in favor of salary earners, pensioners, medium-sized businessmen and self-employed.
"Greece is no longer a country of high tax rates and its economic progress is reflected not only in the nominal but in the real convergence as well," he said.
Papantoniou reiterated that the government's development policy was based on the full liberalization of entrepreneurship in the country.
Greece and Turkey signed on Monday a memorandum for the construction of a two-way natural gas pipeline connecting consumers in the European Union and Balkans with the supplies of natural gas from the Caspian Sea, Russia and the Middle East.
The Greek-Turkish memorandum, signed in Ankara, is part of the Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe (INOGATE) Umbrella Agreement, signed in July in Brussels by the two countries and the European Union, to secure continual energy supplies to Union member-states.
The joint desk studies of the project will be submitted to the European Investment Bank and other European Union bodies by May for approval and funding.
Greece's state natural gas company DEPA and its Turkish counterpart BOTAS were expressly noted and are participants in the agreement.
The agriculture minister also banned imports of oxen and cows, as well as their products and animal food containing animal proteins from Italy.
An exception is made for the imports of meat without bones from animals of up to 18 months old and from regions where cases of the mad cow disease have not been reported.
He further banned the imports of live oxen, beef and animal food from Germany and Spain.
The stretch of road is expected to connect the eastern Attica prefecture township of Gerakas with the new Athens airport at the Spata site.
The 70-kilometre toll way when finished - projected by the government at around the end of 2003 -- will serve as a perimeter highway connecting the industrial area of Elefsina in western Attica with the new airport.
According to Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis the initial toll for drivers from the township of Pallini to the airport at 200 drachmas.
In a related development regarding the airport, the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) on Wednesday aired its protest over what it called the exorbitant rates and surcharges expected to be levied by the new airport, stressing that its international competitiveness will suffer from the very first day of operation.
SETE outlined its positions in a letter to the transport minister.
The NSS said that the index rose 2.7 percent in December 2000 from the same month the previous year.
Traders, however, said that buying interest focused on shares in the construction and smaller capitalization sectors, which looked oversold.
The general index ended 0.99 percent lower at 3,032.85 points, off the day's lows of 3,010.01 points. Turnover was a low 105.77 million euros, or 36.042 billion drachmas, while a total of 28 shares hit their lowest levels in the last 12 months.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavy traded stocks ended 0.99 percent off at 1,785.35 points, and the FTSE/ASE 40 index eased 0.44 percent to 1,785.35 points.
Sector indices ended as follows: Banks: 6,698.87 -0.85% Leasing: 470.07 -0.90% Insurance: 1,151.61 +0.10% Investment: 1,190.77 +0.94% Construction: 1,165.06 +2.11% Industrials: 1,787.15 -1.67% Miscellaneous: 2,028.58 -2.11% Holding: 3,109.88 -1.34%
The parallel market index for smaller capitalization stocks ended 0.80 percent higher at 240.73 points.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 184 to 130 with another 43 issues unchanged.
Alpha Bank, National Bank, Hellenic Telecoms, Piraeus Bank and Hellenic Bottling were the most heavily traded stocks.
Leading shares' closing prices (in euros): National Bank: 37.16 Alpha Bank: 33.32 Commercial Bank: 48.88 Eurobank: 19.54 Piraeus Bank: 14.50 Lambrakis Press: 9.04 Altec: 5.72 Titan Cement (c): 37.20 Hellenic Telecoms: 16.54 Panafon: 7.34 Hellenic Petroleum: 9.32 Attica Enterprises: 5.60 Intracom: 18.54 Minoan Lines: 4.94 Viohalco: 10.16 Hellenic Bottling: 17.12
Equity futures end down, tracking Athens bourse: Equity futures traded on the Athens Derivatives Exchange finished lower on Wednesday, in line with the bourse indices on which they are based, traders said.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index closed 0.99 percent down, and the FTSE/ASE 40 ended 0.46 percent lower.
Turnover was 48.4 million euros on 6,735 contracts traded, the dealers said.
Bond prices end mixed in heavy trade: Bond prices in the domestic secondary market on Wednesday finished mixed in heavy trade with interest focusing on 20-year paper.
The Greek benchmark 10-year bond showed a yield of 5.41 percent from 5.38 percent a day earlier.
The yield spread over German bunds was 52 basis points from 53 basis points in the session before.
Turnover through the central bank's electronic system totalled 950 million euros (around 323 billion drachmas) from 686 million euros (about 234 billion drachmas) in the trading day before.
Buy orders accounted for about 50 percent of total turnover.
ECB announces weaker euro/dollar rate: The euro/dollar rate fell to 92.94 cents on Wednesday, from 94.07 the previous day, according to the European Central Bank's reference rates, pushing the drachma/dollar rate to 366.63 drachmas.
The ECB also set the euro/yen rate at 109.79 yen (3.10 drachmas), the euro/sterling at 63.41 pence (537.37 drachmas), the euro/Swiss franc at 1.5323 (222.37 drachmas) and the euro/Cyprus pound rate at 0.5780 (589.53 drachmas).
Money market funds seen falling further: Analysts said on Wednesday that a decline in banking deposit rates, along with a drop in returns on repos and domestic fixed-income securities, would have a negative impact on returns from money market mutual funds, which account for almost half of mutual funds in Greece.
A first taste of low returns on domestic money market funds came in 2000 when average returns on the category totalled 6.37 percent from 14.62 percent a year earlier, the analysts said.
Since the start of 2001, average returns on the country's 41 domestic money market funds came to 0.15 percent, while four funds showed negative returns, the analysts said.
Vakirlis left his previous post as general technical director of Hellenic Petroleum to assume his new post, state-owned DEPA said in a statement.
Connery, who is a member of the Melina Mercouri Foundation's Committee for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, added that "the Parthenon sculptures should return to their natural position in Athens."
He visited the Acropolis accompanied by the President of the Melina Mercouri Foundation Jules Dassin and his personal friend Vangelis Papathanasiou.
"I saw the Acropolis. The fact the Marbles were stolen 200 years ago is an act which is pardonable. They had them and exploited them for a long time. Let them return them," he said.
Connery and his wife Michelin arrived in Athens on Sunday, while he attended the inauguration of his wife's painting exhibition in Athens on Tuesday.
The exhibition, lasting until February 15, will include presentations of studies concerning the promotion of archaeological sites and of 36 castles in the country.
According to data released during a press conference held by police officials, most attempts to cross the Greek-Bulgarian borders were made by citizens of Romanians and former Soviet republics.
"For us it is very important that Cyprus participate in the Olympic planning for the 2004 Athens Games," the Greek official said.
Floridis is officially visiting the island republic to finalize a series of agreements between the Greek Soccer Pools (OPAP) and Cypriot authorities.
Acting spokesman of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Charles Gaulkin told CNA that de Soto will arrive on the island on Thursday evening and will be received by President Clerides on Friday morning.
On Sunday, de Soto will meet with Denktash and on Monday will give a press conference.
The UN official will depart from Cyprus for Turkey early on Tuesday morning, where he will meet with Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.
In December 1999, the UN embarked on a new effort to reach a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus, divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 percent of its territory in 1974, through what have been named as proximity talks.
Five rounds of proximity talks have taken place so far and the UN has invited the two sides to a fresh round in late January.
Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is refusing to participate in another round of separate meetings with the UN officials unless the illegal regime in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus is recognized and there is a change in the procedure of the talks and their basis.
The Bases Police on Wednesday conducted a reconstruction of the events that took place on December 13, 2000, when the building contractor was abducted, in the presence of both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot journalists, his wife and other family members, proving their point as well as the fact that the whole incident was a set up.
SBA Police Chief Jim Guy told reporters after the reconstruction that the accounts given by four witnesses to the situation are "definitely feasible, as we've just seen".
Invited to reply to criticism that the Bases have not done enough on the case, Guy said they have treated it as a "major incident" and have launched a "major inquiry".