|Friday, 20 September 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 01-02-14
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Papantoniou says economic prospects favorable
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Greece's National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou on Tuesday said that the country's economic prospects were particularly favorable, a privatization program was proceeding according to government planning, structural changes were under way, but that pay rises to workers and pensioners should be contained within the limits of the state budget.
Speaking to reporters, during a press conference the day after a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels approved Greece's stability program, Papantoniou said "We must win a bet with the stability and growth program just like we did with the convergence program."
"Our stability program was unanimously approved by ECOFIN without any discussion, a decision equal to that on our convergence program in 1994. Updatings will be made just like in the past. We must win the bet and make efforts and as any other effort we could face uncertainties and risks. The first risk is inflation overheating so we must be alerted to preserve low inflation in the country. This will help in paying real pay increases, within economic limits," Papantoniou said.
"A second risk is fear of seeking structural changes. To achieve this we must confront all past practices and expediencies," he said.
The government has completed 20 privatizations and has raised three trillion drachmas in revenues. The domestic telecommunications market has been fully deregulated and the country's energy market will be deregulated in February 19, he said.
Papantoniou said the government's economic policy would be based on structural reforms, and changes in the tax system, social security and public spending.
He announced a full restructuring of the tax system and said that a special committee, headed by professor Theodore Georgakopoulos, would submit by spring 2002 a complete study over the current condition of the tax system and changes needed.
The new tax system will be implemented from January 1, 2003 and will be based on social justice, lesser taxes for wage earners and pensioners, enhancing competitiveness through lower taxes on small- and medium-sized enterprises and a restructuring of tax agency services.
"We need an in-depth re-evaluation of our public spending to save more money for education and health," Papantoniou said.
 Greek foreign minister meets Lebanese officials in Beirut
BEIRUT, 14/02/2001 (ANA - M. Savva)Foreign Minister George Papandreou discussed the latest outbreak of violence in the Gaza strip and bilateral relations between Greece and Lebanon here on Tuesday, in a series of meetings with Lebanese officials.
Papandreou had talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud and Beirut's Orthodox metropolitan bishop.
In statements to reporters afterward, the Greek foreign minister expressed concern over the violence in the Middle East and said that the political will existed to continue the peace process until a reasonable end to the problem was reached, always in accordance with United Nations resolutions and the Oslo and Madrid process.
Papandreou said that the efforts begun in Taba, Egypt should not be abandoned because otherwise there might be developments with far-reaching consequences for the region.
According to the minister, the European Union wants to implement an overall strategy that is both an imperative need and is desired by the parties involved.
"Greece is the EU country nearest to the area and has the most immediate interest in a solution to the problem. Of course, Cyprus also belongs to the same region and is yet another factor that makes the security situation in the region of direct interest to us."
After talks with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Papandreou touched upon the experiences of the recent war in the Balkans, saying that these proved that international law, borders, human rights and territorial sovereignty had to be respected.
According to the minister, there were similarities in the two situations because both involve a mosaic of ethnic groups and multicultural communities. He added that an important field of action was opening up for Europe, in which Greece could be particularly useful by using its contacts and relations - which were being renewed through this tour - and the contacts it would soon make in other countries.
Papandreou said that all his meetings confirmed that bilateral relations between Greece and Lebanon were good, and cooperation would chiefly be promoted in tourism - an area where Lebanon lacked adequate infrastructure - development, economy and trade, education and agriculture.
Papandreou concluded by saying that there were important opportunities for penetrating the Lebanese market, particularly in construction where public works had been delayed, which was being deregulated and where privatizations would strengthen the prospects for development.
On a political level, he concluded, relations were excellent and Athens supported Lebanon's efforts to conclude an association agreement with the European Union.
 FM Papandreou discusses outcome of visits to Jordan and Lebanon in telephone conversation with US secretary of state
BEIRUT, 14/02/2001 (ANA - M. Savva)Foreign Minister George Papandreou on Tuesday conveyed the concern of Jordanian and Lebanese leaders over tension in Palestinian territory and the situation in Iraq to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, when he was asked for his impressions of his visits to the two countries during a telephone conversation.
Speaking to reporters later, Papandreou said efforts on the peace process should continue, adding that they should probably start from another point since talks held in Tampa were inconclusive and that the US has a positive view of an increased role being played by Europe in the peace process.
Powell agreed absolutely with Papandreou's ascertainments on issues concerning the Middle East. Developments in the Balkans were also discussed and Papandreou said at this point that cooperation between the European Union and the US is necessary and Greece can play a stabilizing role in this respect.
Powell assured Papandreou of his desire for close cooperation on Balkan issues. The two officials also referred to flashpoints in the region, Montenegro and Presevo.
Papandreou briefed Powell on the state of Greek-Turkish relations and on problems concerning the Cyprus issue, expressing hope for continuous support for dialogue.
Speaking to Powell, Papandreou commented on former's statement on the issue of terrorism in Greece, saying that it was a positive statement and that many reports created an unfair atmosphere for Greece. They further agreed the two countries would have close cooperation on this issue as well.
Papandreou and Powell agreed to maintain regular contact and to meet in Brussels on February 27 on the occasion of the NATO summit.
 Greek envoy cites Yugoslav proposal for decrease in south Serbia DMZ
BELGRADE, 14/02/2001 (ANA - M. Mouratidis)A request by the Yugoslav government to restrict a demilitarized zone in southern Serbia from five to one kilometer is being seriously considered by NATO, Greece's ambassador to Belgrade said on Monday.
Athens' envoy made the statement after a meeting with new Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic at a ceremony inaugurating the federal government's offices in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.
Ambassador Mihalis Spinellis stressed that Athens completely backs the European Union's position over Yugoslav sovereignty and the federal model as the best available for outlining relations between Serbia and Montenegro.
On his part, Zizic underlined that that only dialogue will stabilize relations between the two Yugoslav republics and stamp out the violence that has strung up recently in southern Serbia.
Other issues discussed between the Yugoslav premier and Greece's envoy included the upcoming parliament elections in Montenegro and press freedom.
"Greece believes that that the future of Serbia and Montenegro belongs in a democratic Yugoslavia," Spinellis said, adding that his government is anxiously following the situation in Kosovo and southern Serbia, "as these not only affect developments in Yugoslavia but the entire region."
Finally, the Greek ambassador praised what he called Yugoslav forces' self-restraint in southern Serbia in the face of raids by armed Albanian gangs operating out of NATO-controlled Kosovo, saying Greece estimates that Belgrade's proposal for defusing the crisis offers good prospects for a peaceful resolution.
 Premier has exchange of views with National Committee on Bioethics
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Prime minister Costas Simitis on Tuesday received the National Committee on Bioethics, headed by its chairman Prof. George Koumantos, for a "broad exchange of views".
Simitis told reporters after the meeting that they had exchanged views on a "project expected to be realized by such an important and innovative institution in the coming years", adding that the new technologies "today promise much for society in sensitive areas of our life, and are expanding constantly".
The premier spoke of "radical changes in agricultural and animal production", as well as "a new era in medicine".
"In other words, a better quality of life," Simitis said.
On the other hand, he added, the technological developments also entailed "many hazards to health and the ecosystems", and that was why "there must be rules based on our values".
"It is necessary for all of us, as an organized society, to understand these contradictory prospects, rather than 'exorcise' them," the premier added.
He said the National Committee on Bioethics, "which was set up with the broad agreement of the political parties", was "called on to respond to this difficult, double role".
"It is necessary to open up new roads, and this is what we will do, because we should not be subject to development, but rather guide it," he said.
Prof. Koumantos explained that "the problem exists, and solutions are being sought", adding that "nothing is easy, everything is fluid".
"We are trying to refer to certain firm values, such as respect of the a person's individuality and nature. We hope to be able to specify those principals," Koumantos added.
 Gov't unveils due dates, budget for five 2004 venues
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)The government's sports general secretariat on Tuesday unveiled details of five Athens Olympics-related projects it has undertaken to build for the 2004 Games, just days before a high-ranking International Olympics Committee (IOC) delegation arrives in Greece to gauge organizers' progress.
During a press conference in Athens, government officials, including the sports undersecretary, underlined that the five projects are scheduled for completion by December 2003.
Specifically, the 74-billion-drachma Olympic equestrian center, as previously announced, will be built near the Markopoulo Township, east of Athens proper and only a short distance from the new Athens international airport. According to a timetable, construction will begin this August, with test events scheduled for May 2003 and final delivery by December 2004.
Regarding the exceeding complicated issue of relocating the current 1950s-era Athens horse track - situated on a coveted tract of near coastline land known as the Faliro Delta - Sports Undersecretary George Floridis said plans to exploit the site will be taken in cooperation with the environment and town planning ministry along with adjoining municipalities.
The government had announced last November that the current Athens horse track would be relocated in the Markopoulo area, although plans to build a multipurpose sports complex in its place were scrapped last month.
Additionally, a new indoor arena to host the Olympic weightlifting competitions - an increasingly popular sport in Greece due to a series of sterling performances by Greek athletes in the last three Games - will be built at the Selepitsari site of Nikaia, a mostly working-class municipality north of the port of Piraeus.
Construction for the 15-billion-dollar project is due to begin in May, with testing events set for February 2003 prior to final delivery in December that same year.
Another indoor arena, expected to host the ping-pong and widely popular gymnastics events will be built, also as expected, at the Veikou site, in northern Athens and only a few kilometers from the Athens Olympic Stadium.
This venue is budgeted at 15 billion drachmas and is set to begin in July, with the same completion dates listed as the previous projects.
The all-important press center - expected to cater to between 5,000 and 6,000 non-broadcast sportswriters and journalists -- will be built at the Maroussi site, within walking distance of the Olympic Stadium and at a cost of 10 billion drachmas. A completion date was given as December 2003.
Finally, a new 30,000-seat soccer stadium outside Irakleio, the largest city on the island of Crete, was announced for the hosting of preliminary rounds of the football competition. This project was budgeted at 17.4 billion drachmas, with construction expected to begin in August and completion by December 2003.
 Culture minister replies to Archaeological Society's objections to Schinias Rowing Center
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday released excerpts of his reply to the Archaeological Society regarding their objections to the construction of an Olympic Ro-wing Center at Schinias. Parts of the minister's letter had already been published in the Greek press.
The Archaeological Society opposed the planned rowing center, to be used for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, on the grounds that the site chosen had major historical significance.
The scheme has also been vehemently opposed by environmental groups, including WWF-Hellas, which claim it will cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem of the Schinias wetland, one of the last remaining such habitats in Attica.
In his reply letter to the Archaeological Society, Venizelos notes that all objections to the scheme until now had been of an environmental rather than historic nature, despite the fact that the plan to construct the rowing center had been public knowledge since 1996.
He also points out that the site chosen does not overlap any listed archaeological site, nor any area within the A or B protection zones, nor any site listed and protected as a historic landscape and asks the Society to provide "scientific evidence" that proves a link between the site and important historic events, adding that "until now no such conclusion can be reached."
On the contrary, Venizelos continued, until a few weeks ago the site had been occupied by the Flying Club's airfield, built in 1953, and the rowing center would be constructed precisely on the spot now occupied by the runway.
The Schinias wetland is on the outer rim of the Marathon district, one of the most historic regions in Greece, where the Athenians under Miltiades won a decisive victory against the forces of the Persian king Artafernes in 490 BC.
The airfield was built here soon after World War II and operated until recently with light aircraft belonging to the Flying Club and private owners - at some cost to the environment. During the '50s, the area was also home to a US military base, while smaller Greek military facilities have also altered the landscape and caused serious problems to the survival of many rare species.
 ND tables parliament question over new airport's readiness
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)The ongoing debate on whether the new Athens airport at Spata will open, as scheduled late next month was the subject of tabled question in Parliament on Monday by main opposition New Democracy.
In the tabled question, ND leader Costas Karamanlis refers to "tardiness and the lack of even the most elementary planning regarding construction works for the timely opening of the new airport."
The government, and particularly Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis, have adamantly maintained over the past few weeks that the "Eleftherios Venizelos" airport and assorted infrastructure works for the 700-billion-drachma facility will be ready by March 29.
In the afternoon, ND's section heads held a press conference dealing exclusively with what they called oversights and deficiencies regarding the new airport.
Asked if the main opposition favored a delay in the airport's opening, as advised by IATA, among others, two ND sector chiefs said "it's part of the government's responsibility to decide when the airport will open."
On Saturday, the government angrily reacted to a report released a day earlier by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which emphasized delays with road access, maintenance and other vital sectors at the new Athens airport.
"They (IATA) want to serve the profit margins and objectives of the airline companies," Laliotis, the point man in the government's efforts to get the new airport open, charged.
He also referred to "danger-mongering" and IATA's desire for a postponement in the airport's operation so that airline companies can earn more profits, as the government has promised that the airport will open next month.
IATA Director General Pierre Jeanniot last week cited what he called slow progress on the construction of roadways leading to the new airport, east of Athens, as well as concerns over catering and delays in providing information to airlines for their aircraft operations as reasons for postponing the move the out-dated Hellenikon facility.
"Even if the physical construction on these facilities was somehow to be completed by March 1, sufficient time must still be invested in testing, commissioning and training", he said.
Public works minister rejects opposition criticism on new airport's readiness: The new airport will be ready on time in March and its services to the public will not be curtailed, Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis said on Tuesday in response to a main opposition New Democracy (ND) question tabled in Parliament, claiming the contrary.
"Unfortunately, the leader and the ND deputies charged with following the public works sector, once again repeat themselves, being addicted to such actions and executing them as if professionals," Laliotis said.
He accused ND for false claims, saying that they are making the same mistake as they did with the Athens Metropolitan under-ground railway, when they said that it would not be completed in time, noting that they will be proven wrong this time around, as well.
 All public sector employees to be graduates of Public Administration Center
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)The ministry of interior aims to further upgrade the National Center for Public Administration, Interior and Decentralization Vasso Papandreou said during the an event marking the official appointment of the new administration of the center.
The minister also said that soon all new hires in public administration in permanent positions would have to be graduates of the center, adding that it will be supported by third community support framework funds to the tune of 54 billion drachmas.
 Government spokesman rules out change for UK degrees taken in Greece
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)The question put to European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein regarding British university degrees obtained through private institutes in Greece, was "the wrong question put to the wrong Commissioner and received the wrong answer," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said on Tuesday.
The provisions of the Constitution on this issue were clear and specific, he added, and nothing would change.
Bolkestein, responsible for internal markets, had said on Monday that the qualifications awarded by British universities to the students of private educational institutes with their franchise in Greece were academic degrees.
He added that students of these institutions whose degrees were not recognized should seek redress through the Greek courts.
Bolkestein was responding to a question put by Greek Eurodeputy Alekos Alavanos, from the Coalition of the Left.
"The legality of diplomas awarded by English universities as part of a franchise agreement with a Greek institution is established by the laws of the member-state in which the university that concluded the agreement is based.
"The awarding of a diploma in this form does not violate the laws of the United Kingdom, thus it can be considered as a British degree," he said.
"If the degree awarded to a student by a university, following a franchise agreement with Greek private educational institutes, is not recognized, he or she has no choice but to seek recourse in the Greek court system and request redress," he concluded.
Greece does not currently recognize degrees where part or all of the course was taken at a fee-paying educational institute in Greece because the Constitution clearly states that all higher education in the country will be conducted by state institutions free of charge to Greek citizens, effectively outlawing all private higher educational institutions -- including non-profit entities. Therefore, degrees offered through such Greece-based private institutions are not recognized as equivalent to university degrees.
The spokesman also defended a bill being prepared by the education ministry that would upgrade the qualifications offered by Technical Educational Institutes to the same level as university degrees.
The appropriate Parliamentary committee, he told reporters, is currently discussing this matter, and all individual issues are open to discussion between the government and academic community.
 Greek media ministry official to visit the USA
NEW YORK, 14/02/2001 (ANA - M. Georgiadou)Greek Press and Media Ministry General Secretary Yiannis Nikolaou will arrive here on Thursday to hold a series of meetings with experts on plans to promote Greece in the USA and Canada.
He will also meet with Greek expatriates and Greek consular staff employed in press offices in US and Canadian cities.
 NATOCMX 2001 annual crisis management exercise to take place on February 15-21
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)NATO's annual crisis management exercise codenamed CMX 2001 will take place on February 15-21 and will include the 14 "Partnership for Peace" member-states for the first time, apart from the alliance's 19 member-states.
The purpose of the exercise is to test processes for managing joint political and military crises and improve NATO's ability to manage crises.
In parallel, agreements with "Partnership for Peace" countries concerning their more active role in the process of planning and shaping decisions will be put to the test.
The exercise's scenario is hypothetical and will take place in an imaginary region between Iceland and Britain, where NATO will undertake to implement a UN operation in support of peace.
 President Stephanopoulos receives Cyprus House president
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos on Tuesday received the Cyprus House of Representatives President Spyros Kyprianou.
Addressing the press after the meeting, Kyprianou underlined that "the only settlement to the Cyprus problem would be the reunification of the state and a solution in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions."
He also said a solution of two states would be "completely unacceptable".
Kyprianou was invited to comment on the issue that came up over the past few days that some Greek Cypriots do not rule out the possibility of a solution of two states.
"Such thoughts are completely inconceivable to us," the House President said, noting that the people that have such views are so few that they should not even be taken into consideration.
UN resolutions as well as two agreements reached between the two sides in the 1970s stipulate for the establishment of a bizonal, bicommunal federation in Cyprus.
Kyprianou is scheduled to meet his Greek counterpart Apostolos Kaklamanis and Alternate Foreign Affairs Minister Elisabeth
Papazoi on Wednesday. In the evening he will speak on the Cyprus question at an event organized at the old Greek parliament building.
 Italian newspaper "Stampa" says last wall remains in Cyprus
ROME, 14/02/2001 (ANA - L. Hatzikyriakos)The Italian newspaper "Stampa", in a report on the situation prevailing in Cyprus titled "Europe, the last wall remains in Cyprus", says the issue is complicated and it is difficult for one to distinguish between the few just causes and the many injustices.
The newspaper says Cyprus was a British colony after Ottoman rule and, always having a Greek majority, it gained independence in 1960. The first tensions appeared soon, it added, between the Turkish minority, aiming at a form of autonomy, and the majority, which had reluctantly accepted independence since it preferred union with Greece.
This was the aim of the colonels ruling Greece who promoted the coup against Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus in 1974. Turkish forces then invaded the island, occupying the northeastern part and proclaiming a separate state, which has been recognized by no one with the exception of Ankara.
The report says Turkey rejects a bizonal federal solution for Cyprus, which appears to be the only feasible one, claiming that whatever agreement should be the outcome of talks between the parties involved and, therefore, with the intransigent Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash.
As a result of all this, the last wall in Europe continues to exist in Nicosia, the report said.
 Tsovolas confers with new French ambassador on EU issues
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Democratic Social Movement (DHKKI) leader Dimitris Tsovolas on Tuesday met with the new French Ambassador to Athens, Jean Maurice Ripert, for an exchange of views on European Union issues and ways of further improving Greek-French relations.
Tsovolas said after the meeting they had similar views in numerous points regarding the course of the EU.
Meanwhile, DHKKI, in an announcement Tuesday, blasted as "provocative" articles of "certain, well-known 'journalistic' circles" claiming that the party was seeking to run in the next general elections under the aegis of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Front in order to ensure Tsovolas' political survival.
The announcement said that DHKKI's initiative to cooperate with the forces of the Left "particularly bothers the circles of the two-party establishment and neo-liberal administration", particularly given that the first round of DHKKI's contacts with the KKE and the Coalition of the Left and Progress (SYN) had had "positive results".
"We understand the concern of the well-known mechanisms, and know that they are masters of provocation. We leave them to their pain, with the promise that DHKKI will be a permanent threat to their bosses," the DHKKI announcement said.
 Prime Minister and PASOK party secretary discuss internal elections, organization
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)After a one-hour meeting with Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Tuesday, PASOK Central Committee Secretary Costas Skandalidis claimed that his party was "light years ahead of [main opposition] New Democracy" as regards internal democracy.
"We vote for our prefectural committees directly while at ND they are still discussing whether the party president will be elected by the conference and they even appoint delegates," he said.
He clarified, however, that he did not accept the terms "win" or "lose" for PASOK's internal party elections, noting that the party was "unified and indivisible".
During the meeting with Simitis, Skandalidis discussed organizational issues and informed the prime minister on the results of Sunday's internal party elections.
Asked to comment on statements made by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis on changing PASOK's symbols, Skandalidis said that there was a sentimental attachment to party symbols but changing them did not mean doing away with a party's history.
He reiterated that PASOK needed to renew and reinvent itself and become what he termed the "successor PASOK".
Gov't spokesman says no change in PASOK's symbol: A government spokesman on Tuesday dismissed recent proposals for a change in the ruling PASOK's party emblem, as recently stated by a high-ranking minister.
"There's no issue of a change in PASOK's symbols," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said of the party's rising sun on a green background.
In an unrelated development, Reppas said there has been no change in decisions to delete the religious affiliation category from new state-issued IDs, a controversy that has sparked a veritable showdown between the PASOK government and the influential Autocephalus Orthodox Church of Greece's hierarchy.
 OECD predicts 4.6 percent economic development in 2001 and 4.4 percent in 2002 in Greece
PARIS, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Greece, which joined the eurozone on January 1 this year, is expected to achieve economic development amounting to 4.6 percent in 2001 and 4.4 percent in 2002, according to predictions included in a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Economic development in 2001 will be the greatest experienced by the country over the past 10 years, it added.
"Since the early '90s the Greek authorities have made great steps towards handling macroeconomic inequalities. Their incessant efforts were rewarded with Greece's accession to the eurozone in 2001," the OECD said.
The percentage of unemployment in Greece is expected to decrease from 10.7 percent in 2001 to 10 percent in 2002, after reaching 11.4 percent in 2000, it added.
Inflation is also expected to be tackled. After amounting to 4 percent in 2000, it will decrease to 3 percent during 2001, while another slight decrease is expected in the following year.
"The main dangers surrounding these predictions concern the duration of a strong economic development in an environment of low inflation. Under the circumstances, it is extremely difficult to assess the repercussions from the slackening of monetary policy entailed by entry to the European Monetary Union (EMU)," the OECD warned.
Greece's entry to the EMU's third phase, with the adoption of the euro, means the Greek government lacks the possibility of increasing interest rates to avoid an overheating of the economy and control inflation. The need for a tighter fiscal policy stems from there, the report said.
"Therefore, a tougher fiscal policy should be implemented and cutbacks in taxation should not be applied unless they are accompanied by cutbacks in expenditures," the OECD advises.
Greece should also proceed with reforms in the health, pensioning and public administration systems.
These reforms "are not only necessary for an improvement in the public sector's effectiveness" but also to "secure the speedy restriction of the public debt," the report said.
Reforms have not advanced in the health sector. In essence, none of the measures included in the 1997 bill on health has been implemented, with the exception of certain pilot ones concerning first stage health. The government has committed itself now to reform hospital administrations and improve first stage health.
While reforms carried out in 1992 and 1998 have secured the pensioning system's viability until 2005, they have not settled its fiscal viability in the long term. Meanwhile, the demographic issue, the pensioning age and generous benefits, compared to contributions, lead to the conclusion that in the absence of substantive reforms, taxes should be increased considerably. The integration of economic immigrants in the social insurance system, as well as profits from employment, will offset part of the demographic issue's negative repercussions in the short term.
Public administration management requires urgent improvement. The management of human resources is rigid, since both remuneration and services are frequently of a low quality. The government has acknowledged the need to upgrade public services.
A decrease in the cost of labor through a decrease in the contribution to social security is expected to improve employment prospects. A bill tabled in Parliament recently is a step in this direction. The labor market in its entirety should be rid of its inflexibilities.
Suitable measures aimed at lifting inflexibilities in the labor market and increasing the low level of employment will contribute to a decrease in the risk of the economy becoming overheated.
Proposals on less legislative protection for employment and the settlement of the last obstacles for part-time work, contained in the bill tabled in Parliament by the government, are measures in the right direction.
On the other hand, the minimum wage might constitute an obstacle for young people and women, two categories having high unemployment levels, to enter the labor market. For this reason, subsidized employment programs and proposed cutbacks in social insurance contributions by employers primarily concern these two categories and are aimed at decreasing the cost of labor for the employer.
 National Bank's pre-tax profits up 30.3 percent in 2000
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)National Bank of Greece, the country's largest bank, on Tuesday reported that its pre-tax profits totalled 298 billion drachmas in 2000, up 30.3 percent from the previous year, while Group pre-tax profits, after minority rights, totalled 334.2 billion drachmas, an increase of 3.7 percent.
Theodore Karatzas, National Bank's governor, said the bank's board would propose payment of a 370 drachmas per share dividend to shareholders, up 34.8 percent from 1999.
Karatzas said the group managed to report slightly improved results despite a fall in profits in several group companies due to negative market trends.
He said that National Capital's 1999 results included profits from the sale of the bank's shares on the New York Stock Exchange (totalling 44.4 billion drachmas), while National Investment had reported profits of 41 billion drachmas last year, sharply higher from 4.4 billion in 2000.
Excluding these results, National Bank Group's pre-tax profits recorded an increase of 24 percent in 2000, Karatzas noted.
The group's equity capital totalled 1.085 trillion drachmas last year, up 18 percent from 1999, while the bank's equity capital totalled 880 billion, up 20.4 percent.
The bank's after tax return on average equity was stable at 27.5 percent last year from 27.7 percent in 1999, while the group's figure fell to 27.3 percent from 37.3 percent, respectively.
Pre-tax return on average assets rose to 2.1 percent in 2000, from 1.8 percent the previous year, with the group figures falling to 2.2 percent from 2.6 percent, over the same period.
National Bank's net interest margin improved to 2.6 percent in 2000, from 2.4 percent in 1999, while the group's margin also rose to 2.8 percent from 2.6 percent.
Karatzas said the bank's higher profits reflected a restructuring of its assets composition with a 20.8 percent increase in loans, rising money and capital market activity and a 3.9 percent increase in spending. The bank's efficiency rate improved further to 47.1 percent in 2000, from 49.4 percent the previous year, establishing National Bank among the best European banks.
Karatzas said retail banking, and particularly mortgage and consumer credit, grew significantly last year.
 National Bank says stock buyback benefited shareholders
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)A share buyback by National Bank of Greece from the Public Securities Corporation, the state's equities manager, in December 2000 was conducted on the basis of shareholders' interests, National's governor, Theodoros Karatzas, said on Tuesday. Karatzas was replying to a reporter during a news conference called to announce company results. He said the move, which was well received abroad, had raised the value of the bank's stock.
 Greece improves regulation on credit card market
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Credit card holders will be free of any responsibilities resulting from improper or illegal use by third parties since the holder has officially notified authorities over the theft of loss of his credit card, according to a ministerial decision signed by Deputy Development Minister Milena Apostolaki on Tuesday.
The decision, signed also by National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and Justice Minister Mihalis Stathopoulos, also envisaged, for the time in Greece, the introduction of a ceiling on credit card holder responsibility to 150 euros, or 51,112 drachmas.
The ceiling is not valid in cases where the holder proved guilty of gross negligence or deceit.
 Greek firms to hold trade fair in FYROM
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Greece companies are to hold a trade fair in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on February 22-25.
Thessaloniki International Trade Fair organizes the trade fair in FYROMs capital, Skopje.
 Petrola says bourse entry to create 1,500 jobs
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Officials of Petrola Hellas, an oil refining company that belongs to the Latsis energy, banking and shipping group, said on Tuesday that entry into the Athens bourse would allow investments leading to the creation of 1,500 jobs.
The officials were addressing a presentation of Petrola ahead of its initial public offer (IPO) on February 20-23 for entry into the Athens Stock Exchange's main market.
The company wants to sell 21,535,500 common shares, of which 20,510,000 are destined for the IPO and the remaining 1,025,500 for private placement.
The sale price of stock will be determined in book building involving institutional investors taking part in the IPO.
The IPO's coordinating lead underwriter is EFG Eurobank Ergasias, also a member of the Latsis Group; and the main underwriters are Alpha Finance and National Bank of Greece. The IPO consultant is EFG Eurobank Ergasias.
Also on Tuesday, residents of the Thriasio plain, where Petrola has installations, sought intervention by the capital markets commission to halt the IPO.
The residents' action group said that Petrola had failed to mention in its IPO promotion material that the land on which it intended to expand was the subject of judicial proceedings, thus violating stock market legislation.
It said the investment Petrola was banking on might not materialize for legal reasons, changing its financial profile.
 Gov't okays Aget, Halkis cement merger
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)The development ministry on Tuesday approved a merger between cement makers Aget Heracles and Halkis Cement through absorption of the latter by the former.
The merger's legal process is due to end by the end of the year, leading to the creation of Greece's biggest cement producer with an annual output of 9.0 million tones, of which 40 percent is destined for export.
 Bank workers likely to strike March 12-13
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Bank workers are likely to stage a 48-hour strike on March 12-13, the president of their union, Dimitris Kouselas, said in Thessaloniki on Tuesday.
The dates of the warning strike would be finalized at a board meeting of the OTOE union on February 21, Kouselas told reporters in the northern port city.
The union wants to see the creation of a unified health and pension fund for the sector. It says the government has failed to keep pledges on social insurance and other areas of dispute.
 Greek road tolls' employees in 24-hour strike on Wednesday
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Greece's road tolls' employees on Tuesday announced a 24-hour strike from 0600 on Wednesday until 0600 on Thursday, protesting over a bill tabled in parliament by public works ministry envisaging changes in the organizations stature.
The bill calls for the transformation of National Road Fund into a public company on the model of Attica Metro.
Road toll unions threatened with more strikes and accused deputy Public Works Minister Nassos Alevras that he ignored their proposals before tabling the bill.
 Antonis Hasiotis becomes Agricultural Bank's new vice president and deputy governor
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)Antonis Hasiotis will assume the duties of the Agricultural Bank of Greece's (ATE) vice president and deputy governor, according to an announcement by the bank on Tuesday. Hasiotis has also been elected a member of the bank's board.
Over the past two years, Hasiotis was Barclays Bank's general director in Greece, while previously he was a senior member of Citibank for 17 years and of Mellon Bank NA for four years.
 Greek stocks end stable on ASE
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)A wave of profit taking during the last hour of trading reversed an initial rally of prices on the Athens Stock Ex-change on Tuesday and pushed equity prices off their day's highs.
Traders said the market took a breathe, particularly small and medium capitalization stocks following a four-day rally which pushed several share prices up by 40 percent and the general index 2.10 percent higher.
The general index ended 0.01 percent higher at 3,196.18 points, off the day's highs of 3,247.87 points, with turnover an improved 176.56 million euros, or 60.16 billion drachmas.
Dealers said market sentiment was encouraged by higher-than-expected results from listed companies.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavy traded stocks ended 0.17 percent higher at 1,853.44 points, and the FTSE/ASE 40 index eased 0.11 percent to 347.97 points.
Sector indices ended as follows: Banks: 6,945.49 +0.41% Leasing: 501.58 -2.55% Insurance: 1,255.71 -0.01% Investment: 1,293.85 +0.79% Construction: 1,331.77 -2.84% Industrials: 1,951.01 +0.33% Miscellaneous: 2,220.05 -0.11% Holding: 3,376.93 -0.75%
The parallel market index for smaller capitalization stocks ended 1.72 percent lower at 260.63 points.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 185 to 148 with another 27 issues unchanged.
Alpha Bank, National Bank, Mytilineos, Coca Cola Bottling and Hellenic Telecoms were the most heavily traded stocks.
Leading shares' closing prices (in euros): National Bank: 38.72 Alpha Bank: 33.48 Commercial Bank: 50.34 Eurobank: 20.74 Piraeus Bank: 14.84 Lambrakis Press: 11.92 Altec: 6.54 Titan Cement (c): 37.88 Hellenic Telecoms: 16.50 Panafon: 7.08 Hellenic Petroleum: 9.74 Attica Enterprises: 6.46 Minoan Lines: 5.04 Viohalco: 10.78 Coca Cola Bottling: 18.98
Bond prices rise in moderate trade: Bond prices in the domestic secondary market on Tuesday finished higher in moderate trade focusing on 20-year paper, dealers said.
The new Greek benchmark 10-year bond showed a yield of 5.31 percent from 5.32 percent a day earlier.
The yield spread over German bunds was 55 basis points from 56 basis points the day before.
Turnover through the central bank's electronic system totalled 890 million euros (about 303.2 billion drachmas) from 381 million euros (around 129.8 billion drachmas) in the previous session.
Buy orders accounted for the bulk of turnover.
Greek long-term bond yields ease slightly: Greek long-term bond yields eased slightly during Tuesday's auction of state securities by the country's Public Debt Management Organization.
The average weighed yield in a 20year re-opening bond issue, worth 1.2 billion euros and paying an annual coupon of 6.50 percent, fell to 5.74 percent, slightly below current market rates.
Bids submitted totalled 5.273 billion euros, 4.4 times more than the asked sum. The organization accepted bids covering the auctioned sum and non-competitive bids totalling 240 million euros.
Equity futures end down, tracking Athens bourse: Equity futures traded on the Athens Derivatives Exchange finished lower on Tuesday, in line with the bourse indices on which they are based, traders said.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index closed 0.17 percent up, and the FTSE/ASE 40 ended 0.11 percent lower.
Turnover was 73.08 million euros on 10,296 contracts traded, the dealers said.
Derivatives market shows 32 pct volume rise in January: The Athens Derivatives Exchange in January showed a 32 percent rise in the number of contracts traded, excluding new contracts arising from the country's paper switch to the euro, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
Contracts in January totalled 355,032, up from 268,166 in December 2000, the statement said.
The rise stemmed from higher turnover, and from a greater number of trading days in January against December, it added.
Euro/dollar reference rate set at 92.75 cents: The European Central Bank on Tuesday set its reference euro/dollar rate at 92.75 cents, slightly off from 92.88 cents on Monday, pushing the US dollar/drachma rate to 367.38 drachmas.
The ECB also set a euro/yen reference rate at 108.59 yen (3.13 drachmas), the euro/sterling at 63.76 pence (534.42 drachmas), the euro/Swiss franc rate at 1.5372 (221.66 drachmas) and the euro/Cyprus pound at 57.96 cents (587.9 drachmas).
 Fund raising in New York for Athens' Gennadios Library
NEW YORK, 14/02/2001 (ANA - M. Georgiadou)The Athens based Gennadios Library fund will grow a bit more this year as the "Society of Gennadios Library Friends" organizes a food-fare for February 26, to raise money for the construction of a new wing.
This year is the Greek traditional end of feasting and the beginning of the 40-day lent leading to Easter Sunday begins exactly that Monday, February 26.
So in this festive spirit, the "Society of Gennadios Library Friends" and under the auspices of Greece's Ambassador to the United States Alexander Philon organized a "Clean Monday Traditional Lenten Meal", which is taking place since 1996 aiming to raise up to four million dollars.
The money will be used to build a new wing at the Gennadios Library in Athens, a new reading room, a book restoration laboratory, offices and rooms for lectures and concerts.
Several Greek community leaders will be present at the event.
 Alleged Brazilian narcotics trafficker to be extradited to the USA
Athens, 14/02/2001 (ANA)A Brazilian national arrested at the Athens airport by Greek police on charges of international narcotics trafficking will be extradited to the United States, as Greek Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos signed the extradition order on Tuesday.
Sergio Valantarez is wanted in the United States on charges of trafficking large quantities of "ecstasy" pills in that country and if convicted faces up to 20 years in prison.
Valantarez's arrest was based on an international warrant issued for his arrest by a Louisiana court, where he will be tried.
 Clerides says only feasible solution to Cyprus problem is to set up a federation
LARNACA, 14/02/2001 (CNA/ANA)Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides on Tuesday made it clear that neither the US nor other ambassadors here "have ever referred to the possibility of a solution of two states on the island".
Replying to questions on his return from a private visit to Athens, President Clerides said there are some Greek Cypriot individuals who believe that the Turkish Cypriots should remain in the northern Turkish occupied part of the island and the Greek Cypriot in the government-controlled areas, adding however that these persons do not belong to any political party or organized groups and should not be taken seriously.
The issue came up after statements made by political party leaders that the US ambassador and the British High Commissioner here told the president that some Greek Cypriots have expressed their support to a solution of "two states".
President Clerides noted that the Greek Cypriot side believes the only feasible solution to the Cyprus problem is to set up a bizonal, bicommunal federation, according to UN resolutions and two agreements reached between the two sides in the 1970s.
The president said that during his stay in Athens he had a long telephone conversation with Greek Premier Costa Simitis, who had just returned from India, on the developments in the Cyprus problem and the "deadlock" in the UN-led proximity talks.
In December 1999 the UN began a fresh effort for a settlement in Cyprus, divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 percent of its northern territory in 1974.
After five rounds of proximity talks, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash said he would not participate in another round unless his illegal regime in the Turkish occupied areas is recognized and there is a change in the procedure followed.
The sixth round was scheduled to have taken place end of January and the UN is now trying to decide how to proceed with the Cyprus peace effort.