|Wednesday, 11 December 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 04-11-27
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>November 27, 2004
 PM Karamanlis begins official three-day visit to Egypt by calling at Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria
ALEXANDRIA 27/11/2004 (ANA/A.Papanagopoulos)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis began his official three-day visit to Egypt on Friday by visiting the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria in the afternoon.
Newly-elected Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros spoke highly of the prime minister and referred to the Patriarchate's work.
"We defend Thermopylae under difficult conditions, but your presence here gives us strength and we know that Greece never forgets us," the Patriarch said.
Karamanlis said he will support the mission of the Patriarchate to enable it to continue its work on the African continent unimpeded and where it is promoting the values of Christianity and Hellenism.
The prime minister then visited the home of the poet Constantine Cavafy, which operates as a museum, and the new library in Alexandria.
Karamanlis was given a guided tour of the entire library which began to function two years ago.
The prime minister appeared impressed by modern technology being used and by the books of historic value on display.
He said the library is a living organism which is a landmark not only for the Middle East but for the entire world as well, adding that it is a bridge of culture, peace, cooperation and prosperity.
Karamanlis also met with representatives of the Greek community in Alexandria and underlined its role both in relations between the two countries and for its contribution to Hellenism.
Karamanlis to discuss Greek community's problems with Egyptian gov't: Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, currently on a three-day official visit to Egypt, promised to discuss the problems facing the Greek community here in high-level discussions with the Egyptian government on Saturday and Sunday.
Addressing members of the Greek community on Friday, Karamanlis said that "we will seek solutions within the framework of our sincere bilateral relations, with the president and prime minister of Egypt," underlining that the Greek government will support every effort to reinforce the continued Greek presence in Egypt.
Karamanlis also noted that the role of Greek chambers of commerce must be strengthened through an action plan drawn up in cooperation with the foreign ministry in order to boost commercial and business activity.
Finally, the prime minister said that the possibility of both Greece and Egypt issuing more citizenship papers to individuals is being examined and added that a special policy will be created in order to support the Greek community, to protect and to make the most of its property.
 Leader of Greek main opposition visits Arafat mausoleum in Ramallah
RAMALLAH 27/11/2004 (ANA)The leader of the Greek main opposition party PASOK George Papandreou on Friday arrived in Ramallah in order to pay his respects at the tomb of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and lay a wreath alongside the dozens of others sent by foreign politicians and personalities, as well as ordinary people.
Papandreou observed a minute of silence after laying his wreath at Arafat's tomb and then signed the condolences book, noting that Arafat had been a friend of his father, Greek statesman and three-times prime minister Andreas Papandreou, but also his own.
"It was my duty to come here to Ramallah and the grave of Yasser Arafat, who passed his last years isolated but with the support of so many, and not just Palestinians," Papandreou said.
PASOK's leader also referred to his visit to the ruins of Arafat's headquarters a few years earlier, during a joint initiative with then Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem when Greece held the rotating presidency of the European Union, in order to convey Europe's message about the efforts being made for peace in the region.
"This effort will continue with the new leadership of the Palestinians, after the elections that they will carry out," he added.
"Let us hope that they will be able to once again re-launch the peace process and arrive at a happy outcome. We will support the peace process and I am sure that this expresses the entire Greek people," Papandreou said.
The leader of the PASOK party then made his way to the Palestinian Authority headquarters for a meeting with interim PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister Nabil Shaath and other Palestinian officials, who briefed him on the latest political developments within Palestine and preparations for the Palestinian elections on January 9.
They stressed the need for support from the international community during the current phase and their certainty that unity would prevail in Palestinian territory after Arafat's death.
 Gov't on defense minister, TOR missile inquiry, offsets agreement
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The government on Friday reiterated its continued confidence in Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos and its position on the issue of guarantees for an offsets agreement attached to the purchase of the TOR anti-aircraft missile system from Russia.
"Mr. Spiliotopoulos is defense minister," was the terse reply given by alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros to questions on whether the minister still enjoyed the prime minister's confidence, while he referred to Thursday's announcement by Spiliotopoulos that the defense ministry was "working normally" as 'an unfortunate statement'.
Returning to the issue of guarantees, Antonaros reiterated that state guarantees for armaments contracts were acceptable by law in exceptional circumstances but had these had to take the form of a bilateral agreement between the finance ministries of the two countries, in which all legalities were observed.
According to Antonaros, the document supplied by PASOK MPs to a parliamentary committee investigating the deal for the TOR missile purchase was "nonexistent document in legal terms", being simply a letter signed by the vice-president of the country in which the contractor firm was based and thus not binding for the Russian state.
"The letter is simply a wish list, there is no commitment, it is a ruse," Antonaros stressed.
Asked to expand further on the signature supplied by the Russian vice-president, Antonaros noted simply that for the past four years Greece had been unable on its basis to oblige the other party to begin implementation of the offset benefits it was contractually obliged to provide.
"It is borne out by events, therefore, that the document is worthless and was not the required lever for carrying out the terms of the contract," Antonaros said.
Asked why a document mentioned in Thursday's issue of the newspaper 'Eleftherotypia' regarding the procurement of the TPQ 37 anti-aircraft system had not been submitted to the parliamentary committee, the spokesman said that it had taken four months for the relevant services to respond to a request from the Army General Staff. He also noted that the document in question was "without importance" and that the investigating committee "should ask for it if it wants it".
 Defense Council takes important decisions on armed forces' future structure
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The Defense Council has taken important decisions on the future structure of the armed forces during its recent meeting.
The future structure of the armed forces proposed will achieve an increase in their combat capacity to confront any kind of threat, while the country's international obligations are met.
The rationalization of defense expenditures, the abolition of formations and units, the gradual decrease of main weaponry systems and means will achieve a reduction in the operational cost of the armed forces on an annual basis.
Moreover, the armed forces will have a more active participation in multinational operations by securing necessary forces.
An increase in the number of professional soldiers is anticipated on an annual basis. According to reports, the hiring of 7,200 professional soldiers is anticipated for the three branches of the armed forces in 2005.
Decisions taken by the Defense Council will be submitted to the Government Council of Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) for approval.
 EU Enlargement Commissioner comments on FYROM: name issue and European prospects
SKOPJE 27/11/2004 (ANA/N.Fragopoulos)New EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on Friday said that the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) name issue is a matter that concerns FYROM and Greece, adding that he hopes the two sides will seriously consider the benefits to be gained by solving the problem.
"The solution regarding the name issue must be based on principles and must be practical at the same time," Rehn said after meeting with FYROM political leaders in Skopje.
Additionally, the Commissioner said that while both countries are in the process of negotiations, each should respect the relevant UN decision.
As for FYROM's European course, Rehn said that it is visible, provided the country concentrates its efforts on political and economic reforms. Speaking of the unsuccessful referendum and the creation of a new FYROM government, Rehn said that this opens the way for the safe implementation of the Ohrid peace treaty - a condition for the country's EU accession.
Finally, Rehn called on FYROM authorities to focus on the fight against organized crime and corruption and on reforming the internal justice system.
 Gov't chides Venizelos for comments related to PM's Russia visit
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The government on Friday sharply criticized high-ranking main opposition PASOK MP and former minister Evangelos Venizelos for his recent statements concerning the prime minister's upcoming official visit to Moscow and ongoing questions in the local press about the purchase of a Russian weapons system (TOR-MI anti-aircraft missile system).
"...foreign policy is not the proper venue to develop -- via an injurious manner -- his (Venizelos) personal ambitions. There are other party procedures if he wants to absolutely become the leader of PASOK," alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said during his regular press briefing.
In response to a bevy of related questions, Antonaros clarified that a bilateral contract for the procurement of a relevant state guarantee will not be on the premier's agenda in Russia, as the issue is a matter for negotiation between two countries' finance ministries.
 Deputy gov't spokesman on training of Iraq military personnel
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Deputy government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Friday referred to the commitment undertaken by prime minister Costas Karamanlis at the recent NATO summit, in reply to press questions.
"The Greek government committed itself, jointly with other NATO member countries, to training, outside Greece and outside Iraq, military personnel of Iraq. At this time, Greece is in deliberations with the other NATO countries," Antonaros said.
Meanwhile, government sources said that Greece continued to implement its firm policy of non-participation of Greek forces in the war on Iraq, and denied press reports and rumors that Athens' decision not to take part in a NATO mission for the training of Iraqi forces concealed an intention of "reprisal" over the recent US unilateral decision to recognize FYROM with its disputed constitutional name of 'Republic of Macedonia'.
Greece, together with Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg will not be participating in this specific Alliance mission, which provides that approximately 400 officers will train Iraqi security forces and that 1,200 soldiers will protect them during the process.
 President of the Republic visits Sparti
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos visited the town of Sparti in the Peloponnese on Friday to attend celebrations for Saint Nikon, the town's patron saint.
Stephanopoulos then visited the Laconia Prefecture headquarters and the Sparti Town Hall, where he was greeted by the prefect and mayor, respectively, and then he toured the Sparti Museum before attending a dinner in his honor in the town.
 KKE Secretary General and Palli-Petralia comment on presidential election
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)"The issue of the presidential election has become a guessing-game," Aleka Papariga, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said during a press conference in Thessaloniki on Friday. "But what difference will it make in people's lives who becomes president?" she asked rhetorically.
According to Papariga, the presidential 'guessing-game' is the result of efforts of the country's two main parties to distract people from major everyday problems. The KKE Secretary General said that the issue of president does not concern the people and that by the way New Democracy and the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) are handling the issue they are only managing to ''ridicule the institution, which they claim to support.''
"Of course a woman could be the next President of the Republic; and if a woman is chosen it won't be because of her gender but because of her abilities," Alternate Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia said on Friday in response to a related question.
 PASOK party spokesman says Fact-finding Committee process being led to collapse
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Main opposition PASOK party spokesman Nikos Athanassakis claimed on Friday the process of the Fact-finding Committee, concerning the government's targets, is being led to collapse in the wake of latest developments and press revelations.
Athanassakis accused the government of trying to "issue the report of the Fact-finding Committee itself before the end of its work", adding that the revelation of the entire truth, which is PASOK's position, "is also revealed at the Fact-finding Committee and with the revelations and reports in the press."
He further claimed that the government's allegations on the operational capacity of the TOR M1 missiles, their price and the guarantee have collapsed.
Also referring to reports on military service, Athanassakis said it is a question of "diversion, disorientation and deception."
 Defense minister discusses mandatory military service with party youth groups
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)In a meeting with party youth groups on Friday, National Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos outlined the ministry's plans to gradually reduce the length of mandatory military service for Greek men, beginning by one month in 2005. He said the ultimate goal was to reduce mandatory military service to six months by 2008.
At the meeting were the youth sections of the four parties represented in Parliament, with the exception of main opposition PASOK's youth group.
Spiliotopoulos later described the meeting as "serious and useful" and said it had chiefly concerned issues related to the living conditions and the rights of servicemen, particularly for special categories of conscripts like the handicapped and the children of large families.
 ND secretary general holds talks with Cyprus president
NICOSIA 27/11/2004 (ANA)Ruling New Democracy party Secretary General Vangelis Meimarakis was received on Friday by Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos. Meimarakis also met with House of Representatives Speaker Demetris Christofias and discussed the present phase of the issue of Cyprus, particularly in light of the European Union's summit on December 17.
 Greek economy weekly review
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)A new development draft law, presented by the government this week, aimed to boost regional growth and to offer a series of strong investment incentives. The new legislation also aimed to cover a wider range of eligible companies for subsidies, to facilitate access to offered incentives and to offer an additional 15 percent financial support to small- and medium-sized enterprises. The law also envisaged increased financial support to investments in tourism and hotel modernization. Political parties criticized the new legislation, while the majority of employers' unions welcomed its provisions.
 In other headline news this week
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis urged civil servants to agree to the adoption of significant institutional reforms in the public sector, envisaging civil servants' hiring, promotion, training and payment.
Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis unveiled the ministry's new policy on pharmaceutical products aiming to offer citizens access to all medicines from the first two months of 2005, by abolishing the approved list of medicines. The policy also envisages easier access to high-cost medicines, for HIV or cancer treatment, and free medicines for in-vitro fertilization.
The government will complete a round of inspections in the domestic insurance market by the end of the year, Development Deputy Minister Yiannis Papathanasiou said. After completion of inspections the government will begin offering solvency certificates to companies.
Greece's trade deficit rose 19 percent in the first eight months of 2004 to 18.382 billion euros, from 15.445 billion euros in the same period last year.
The union of workers in Emporiki Bank rejected a board plan to solve the bank's pension problem.
The government unveiled a list of public work projects, worth 2.6 billion euros, to be put in tender over the next three months.
 EU seen releasing findings on Greek fiscal data Wednesday
BRUSSELS 27/11/2004 (ANA/M.Spinthourakis)The European Union's executive Commission is expected to release the findings of its enquiry into Greek fiscal data next week following an informal audit of state books carried out by the government into its predecessor's figures that was checked by Eurostat, sources said on Friday.
The final form of the report will differ slightly from a preliminary version given to EU finance ministers at their last meeting, the sources said.
According to the same sources, the report will state that Greece showed a fiscal deficit above the bloc's ceiling of 3.0% of gross domestic product under current calculation methods; but the formula used at the time and endorsed by EU authorities put the shortfall below the upper limit, therefore qualifying the country for eurozone entry.
In addition, the Commission is expected to send Greece a warning letter about the quality of fiscal data submitted in recent years; but the disciplinary procedure, which would normally culminate in the country being taken to the European Court of Justice, was not likely to go further as the current government had righted practices employed in the past, the sources said.
 Hellenic Telecoms reports mixed nine-month results
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Hellenic Telecommunications Organization on Friday reported a 7.4 percent increase in its nine-month turnover to 3.916 billion euros, reflecting increased revenues in its mobile telephony business and the integration of Rom Telecom.
Mobile telephony revenues totalled 1.15 billion euros, up 29 percent from the same period last year, accounting for 29.3 percent of group turnover, up from 24.4 percent last year.
Hellenic Telecoms said services' cost totalled 2.918 billion euros in the January-September period, up 11.9 percent 2003, while pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) fell 1.4 percent to 1.492 billion euros. EBITDA margin was 38.1 percent in the first nine months of 2004.
Pre-tax profits dropped 56.8 percent to 211.8 million euros in the January-September period from 490.3 million euros in 2003, while gross profits fell 4.1 percent to 998.5 million euros from 1.04 billion euros over the same period, respectively.
Hellenic Telecoms' chairman and chief executive, Panagis Vourloumis, commenting the group's nine-month results said they confirmed the mixed picture of the group. "On the positive side we have the impeccable telecommunication coverage of the Olympic Games, the very good performance by its mobile telephony companies and ROMTELECOM, while OTEnet further enhanced its leading position in the Greek Internet service market. On the other hand, a continuing pressure in the domestic fixed-line telephony market were leading to lower revenues and higher services' cost. The lack of a stable regulatory framework is leading to reduced revenues and instability in the market. Our efforts are mainly focusing in reducing operating cost and to present a wide restructuring plan aimed to improve activities of fixed-telephony business in the Greece. Although we do not expect any spectacular changes in Hellenic Telecoms' performance in the short-term, we remain steadfast to our goal to build a strong and profitable organization," Vourloumis said.
Hellenic Telecoms SA said its turnover fell 8.4 percent in the first nine months of the year to 2.148 billion euros, while its EBITDA dropped 29 percent to 624 million euros over the same period, and pre-tax profits plunged 103 percent to 10.3 million euros.
 Gov't will take additional measures on oil if needed, FinMin says
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The Greek government is ready to take additional measures if international oil prices continued their rally, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Friday. He was responding to questions by parliament deputies whether the government planned to pay a heating subsidy to lower income families.
Speaking in parliament, Alogoskoufis urged political parties for calm. "We don't have to create a climate of hysteria to the people," he said while he added that the government has already taken measures to respond to high oil prices. "We have the lowest tax burden on heating oil in Europe, while have raised tax-exempt ceilings to ease the burden to lower income families," the Greek minister.
PASOK deputy Christos Papoutsis criticized the government's policy for merely monitoring developments in international markets and recommending reduced consumption of energy by citizens.
 Greek gov't alarmed over Hochtief's plan to sell stake in Athens airport
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)A decision by Hochtief, the operator of the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, to sell a significant stake of its equity holding in the company to its subsidiaries -with the aim to sell it to private investors- alarmed the Greek government on Friday.
Hochtief plans to sell a 13.3 percent of its 39.875 percent equity stake in Athens International Airport.
According to sources, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis and Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis are planning to call for an extraordinary shareholders' meeting with the aim to "block" the German company's plan. The Greek government is determined to demand a clear decision by shareholders and it is said to be considering a review of the contract between Hochtief and the Greek state.
Hochtief confirms plan to sell stake in Athens airport: Hochtief of Germany said on Friday that it planned to sell some of its stock in Athens International Airport (AIA) SA.
A representative of the Dusseldorf-based firm, which owns about 40% of AIA and its management, told Dow Jones Newswires that the stake for sale was not a figure of 13.3% as cited in the Greek press.
The German firm on October 29 had informed Greece's transport and finance ministries that it wanted to transfer its stock in the firm to a subsidiary, Hochtief Airport GmbH, but the request was blocked. AIA's board on Wednesday agreed to the move, the representative said.
The government then decided to call an extraordinary shareholders' meeting, expected on December 17, he added.
AIA has declined comment.
 4th Greek-Turkish IT, Telecoms Forum concludes
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The fourth annual Greek-Turkish IT and Telecommunications Forum, organized by the largest IT associations of the two countries, SEPE and TBV, respectively, wound up in Istanbul this week.
The Forum is part of activities foreseen by the "Information Society Initiative for South-Eastern Europe" (ISIS), to which SEPE belongs.
ISIS aims to brief partners in SE Europe over innovative applications in telecommunications and IT technology, as well as services provided by the "Society of Information", all within the framework of e-Europe.
 Deputy Tourism Minister promotes Greece in the US
NEW YORK 27/11/2004 (ANA/P.Panagiotou)Deputy Tourism Minister Anastasios Liaskos is currently in New York, capitalizing on Greece's positive image after the Athens Olympic Games.
While in New York, Liaskos will meet with US tourism agencies, in order to brief them on issues falling under his jurisdiction and measures that could help boost tourism flow to Greece from the US.
Certain tour operators, who include Greece in their travel packages, have urged that Greece begin its advertising campaign early if tourist arrivals in the summer of 2005 are to increase.
Liaskos will also meet with members of the Greek-American community and will give interviews to Greek-American media. The radio station Hellas FM will give him the "Apollonio Award" on Friday evening.
 Stocks hit new year's high in blue-chip buying
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Stocks finished higher setting a new year's high with players buying into blue chips, traders said.
The Athens general share index closed at 2,647.06 points, showing a rise of 0.44 percent. Turnover was 135.2 million euros.
The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalization shares ended 0.36 percent up; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks closed 0.30 percent up; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 0.46 percent lower.
Of stocks traded, declines led advances at 144 to 115 with 98 remaining unchanged.
On a weekly basis, the general share index rose by 0.91%.
 Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos begins Vatican visit to receive relics of Saints
Istanbul 27/11/2004 (ANA/A. Kourkoulas)Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos I leaves Friday for Rome for a two-day visit during which, in an ecumenical celebration in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday, November 27, he will receive from Pope John Paul the relics of Saints John Chrysostomos and Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus), Bishops and Doctors of the Church.
Accompanying the Patriarch on the plane from Turkey will be Cardinal Roger Etchegaray and Archbishop Edmond Farhat, apostolic nuncio in Turkey. On the return trip to Istanbul, to celebrate the November 30 feast of St Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Vartholomeos I will be accompanied by a Holy See delegation comprised of Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Bishop Brian Farrell, Archbishop Farhat and Msgr. Johan J. Bonny.
Among those who will be at the airport on Friday to welcome the Patriarch will be Cardinal Kasper, Bishop Farrell and Msgr. Fortino, president, secretary and under-secretary of the council, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, Archbishop Piero Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies and Msgr. Renato Boccardo, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Also present will be the first counselor of the Turkish embassy to the Holy See, and the ambassadors to the Holy See from Greece and Cyprus.
Patriarch Vartholomeos and his delegation will reside at the Vatican's Domus Sanctae Marthae. A welcome dinner offered by the pontifical council will inaugurate the visit to Rome.
According to a background document from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Patriarch Vartholomeos I met John Paul II in Rome on June 29, 2004, at which time he invited the Pope to Istanbul, and also asked if the relics of the saints could be returned from the Vatican, where they are kept in St. Peter's Basilica, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. An exchange of letters between the Pope and the Patriarch followed, and this week's encounter is the result of that correspondence.
"The handing over of the relics," says the communique, "is a deep encouragement to walk the path of unity: the mortal remains of the two Saints, Patriarchs of Constantinople, who did everything possible to safeguard unity between East and West, venerated in their land of origin, welcomed with great honors in the Church of Rome, which for many centuries has preserved and venerated them, walk once again on the path to the East, thanks to this gesture of spiritual sharing which nourishes and fortifies communion between the Sees of Peter and Constantinople."
Pope John Paul has asked that the relics be placed in two crystal shrines and enclosed in precious alabaster reliquaries. When they arrive in Istanbul on Saturday, they will be placed in a chapel of the patriarchate and, on the feast of St. Andrew, they will be permanently placed in the patriarchal church of St. George.
The relics of the two saints were kept in the Holy Apostles church in Byzantium, where the Emperor's tombs were also located, up until 1204. The relics were removed in looting during the first sacking of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and were taken to Venice, and from there to Rome, where they were placed in St. Peter's Basilica for safekeeping.
Saturday's ceremony in St. Peter's will be transmitted live via television and will be seen in the United States and Greece, among others, and will also be attended by a delegation of the Greek American community, headed by Archbishop Demetrios of America.
 Egyptian authorities permit Greek seaman serving life sentence to complete his term in Greece
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The Egyptian authorities have given permission for the transfer of a Greek seaman serving a life sentence there to be transferred to Greece to serve out his term, the Greek foreign ministry said Friday.
A ministry announcement said that by decision of the Egyptian foreign ministry, on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Greece on the transfer of inmates, the transfer has been permitted of seaman Costas Kastanias to Greece to serve out the remainder of his sentence imposed by an Egyptian court.
The decision was the result of actions taken within the framework of the very good relations and diplomatic contacts between the two countries, which will be reaffirmed and further strengthened during prime minister Costas Karamanlis' three-day visit to Egypt, which begins Friday, the announcement said.
Kastanias and two other Greek seamen, crew-members of the motorship "Thanassis", were arrested by authorities in Egypt in 1989 on charges of smuggling 6.5 tons of hashish into Egypt.
Meanwhile, deputy foreign minister Yannis Valynakis, in Washington for the summit meeting of the International Organization of Francophony (OIF), welcomed Egypt's decision, which he said was indicative of "our very good bilateral relations with Egypt, on which we place great weight".
Valynakis said that "this positive development in a humanitarian issue comes as the result of actions by the foreign ministry and its excellent coordination with the ministries of justice and merchant marine".
He thanked the Egyptian government, particularly the foreign and justice ministers, to whom he said letters would be sent expressing appreciation "for their cooperation and genuine disposition to fulfill this humanitarian request".
 Parliament President comments on return of 'Prestige' captain after meeting Spanish Ambassador
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki on Friday said the return of the Greek captain of the oil tanker "Prestige" to Greece until the start of the trial over an oil spill caused by the "Prestige" off the coast of Spain was a "positive and required development" after a meeting with Spanish Ambassador to Athens Juan Ramon Martinez Salazar.
During the courtesy visit, Benaki and the Spanish envoy noted the traditionally good relations between Greece and Spain and examined ways in which to enhance the ties between the Greek and Spanish Parliaments through the Greece-Spain Friendship Group and in matters concerning parliamentary operation.
Psarouda-Benaki particularly stressed the excellent level of cooperation between the two Parliaments in the framework of the Euro-Med Cooperation, where she said efforts to create a nucleus of peace in the Mediterranean, which was so greatly needed in the area, were continuing.
 ERT president underlines state broadcaster's policy for support for local film industry
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)The head of the state broadcasting organization ERT Christos Panagopoulos on Friday stressed that ERT would maintain and increase its policy of support for the domestic film industry, speaking on the sidelines of the 45th Thessaloniki Film Festival.
Panagopoulos said ERT would continue to co-produce Greek films and would also seek to make Greek film more 'audience-friendly' through its programming.
According to director Manos Zacharias, who Thursday won the Thessaloniki film festival's highest award - the Golden Alexander - for his overall contribution to cinema, the state broadcaster's policy for film issues was "organized". Zacharias, who is the ERT president's consultant on matters of film policy, said his talks with Panagopoulos had given him the impression that the state broadcaster was set to become the single most important producer in Greek cinema.
 Palli-Petralia and Labor Minister supervise transfer of Olympic venue equipment
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)"Social policy is a key demand for citizens and a basic choice of the government," Alternate Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia said on Friday, during her visit to the Olympic Village and Aspropyrgos where she, accompanied by Deputy Labor and Social Protection Minister Gerassimos Yiakoumatos and Olympic Properties President Christos Hadziemmanouil, went to oversee the transfer of Olympic venue equipment to various organizations.
The Olympic venue equipment is being distributed to various foundations, orphanages and other organizations servicing vulnerable populations. Last week, according to Palli-Petralia, truck-loads of equipment was sent to central and western Macedonia, the Ionian islands, Crete and Aetoloakarnania.
Palli-Petralia also said that the transfer of equipment from the Olympic Village will be completed by next week, while whatever is in storage in Magoula, Aspropyrgos, will be distributed next month.
Yiakoumatos on his part emphasized that the labor ministry owes a big "thank you" to Palli-Petralia for speeding up the process and announced that the first beneficiaries will move in to their new homes at the Olympic Village in September 2005.
Hadziemmanouil said that the government decided for all movable property to be used in order to cover the needs of vulnerable groups, and so in cooperation with the health ministry has decided to give all the hotel equipment to those in greatest need.
 New AIDS cases on decline in EU
BRUSSELS 27/11/2004 (ANA/B.Demiris)New cases of AIDS in Greece and the other 24 EU member states continue on a downward trend for the 10th consecutive year, according to a Eurostat report released Friday.
Specifically, 72 new cases of AIDS were reported in Greece in 2003 compared with 90 in 2002 and 216 in 1994. A total of 6,441 cases of AIDS were reported in the 25 EU member states in 2003 compared with 8,449 in 2002 and 25,096 in 1994. In other words, the incidence of new cases in the EU declined 24% in 2003 compared with 2002.
 Justice minister visits HIV-positive inmates at Korydallos prison hospital
Athens, 27/11/2004 (ANA)Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras on Friday paid a visit to the hospital wing at Korydallos prison, the largest prison facility in Athens, in response to a letter sent by HIV-positive inmates that protested about the conditions of their incarceration.
During the visit, Papaligouras was shown about the hospital wing and briefed by the prison management, guards, doctors and nursing staff about the problems in living conditions and treatment for patients. He also talked at length with HIV-positive inmates and heard their demands.
Emerging from the prison, the minister said he had come in response to a call for help from "these people who bear the burden of a double sentence" and had come to hear their problems and demands.
He said he had spoken with the hospital wing's management and instructed them to do everything necessary to improve living conditions for this particularly vulnerable group of inmates.
"Their link to life is so vulnerable - so fragile - that we must do everything in our power to improve their lot," he stressed.