|Saturday, 11 July 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 07-12-06
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 6 December 2007 Issue No: 2766
 Greek, FYROM negotiators to meet in Skopje after ChristmasGreek leadership and visiting UN special mediator on the FYROM "name issue" Matthew Nimetz agreed on Wednesday to intensify and accelerate UN-brokered negotiations on the sole remaining difference between Athens and Skopje, following a one-hour meeting at the foreign ministry in the Greek capital between the UN envoy and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.
Nimetz, who arrived in Athens after his talks in Skopje, was also received by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the Maximos Mansion. The former was accompanied by Bakoyannis.
Later in the day, foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos confirmed that Greek and FYROM negotiators, Amb. Adamantios Vassilakis and Nikola Dimitrov, will meet in Skopje after the Christmas holidays, following a decision to accelerate UN-brokered negotiations.
The meeting will be held in Nimetz's presence and hosted by FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, with the prospect of a follow-up meeting hosted by the Greek FM in Athens. Such a second meeting would also be held at the negotiators' level and in the presence of the UN special mediator, Koumoutsakos said.
After the meeting with Bakoyannis, Nimetz underlined the strong international interest for a solution to the issue, something that became apparent during contacts he had with the American government and European governments, as he said.
He stressed that the matter is not simply a bilateral issue between two countries, pointing out that it is a UN matter concerning a number of countries in different ways, whereas a resolution will be a relief.
Koumoutsakos said the continuation and intensification of the talks meant that FYROM has not rejected Nimetz's package of ideas as a basis for the negotiation, while he clarified that during Wednesday's meeting between the UN envoy and Bakoyannis, which he said was held in a "very good climate", the two officials reviewed developments in the "name issue" since the Nov. 1 commencement of a new round of talks.
The Greek side stressed that the negotiations had a timeline up to the day when FYROM will possibly receive an invitation to join NATO, Koumoutsakos said, whereas Nimetz said that his mission does not have a specific timetable, but that all the developments in the region, such as those concerning the future status of Kosovo and NATO enlargement, were leading to an acceleration of the procedures for settlement of the outstanding issue with FYROM as well.
Regarding the Athens-Skopje interim agreement of 1995, Nimetz said that although he had heard "different interpretations", nevertheless, "I did not hear anyone disputing it".
Meeting with Papandreou
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou also met Nimetz, as the latter briefed Papandreou on the developments regarding the "name issue".
The PASOK leader reiterated his party's steadfast positions which, he said, "also comprise lines of negotiation, which must be made absolutely clear to everyone, and naturally to FYROM".
Earlier, Bakoyannis had met with Papandreou ahead of their separate meetings with Nimetz.
Finally, the reaction to Wednesday's developments were apparently positively met in Skopje, with a foreign ministry spokesman noting that his country will "host with pleasure the first meeting (between negotiators), expected in January ... in the city of Ochrid."
FYROM's foreign ministry also hailed the Nimetz proposal for direct talks on the specific issue by the two sides, calling for direct contacts between the two neighbours' foreign ministers as well.
The spokesman added that both countries have many common goals and views over several issues, while noting that the Skopje government is open to negotiations with Athens on all issues.
Finally, he reiterated Milososki's invitation to Bakoyannis to visit the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
 FM Bakoyannis confers with PASOK leader ahead of their meetings with NimetzForeign minister Dora Bakoyannis met Wednesday morning with main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, ahead of their separate meetings later with UN special mediator on the FYROM name issue Matthew Nimetz, who arrived in Athens following talks in Skopje with the FYROM leadership.
Bakoyannis briefed Papandreou on the developments concerning the FYROM name issue, while the PASOK leader reiterated his party's steadfast positions on the issue.
PASOK has criticised the government of a 'contradictory' policy with respect to Nimetz's initial initiatives on the FYROM name issue in 2005, and believes that Greece is in a more disadvantageous position following the US government's recognition of FYROM as 'Macedonia' in 2004.
PASOK has called on the government for tough bargaining on the FYROM name issue, aiming at an international name for the neighboring country that would reflect the "geographical realities" of the region and would be used globally for that country, rather than an "international name within a dual name".
Bakoyannis was due to meet with Nimetz shortly after her discussion with Papandreou, while the PASOK leader was scheduled to meet the UN envoy at 11:00 a.m.
 PM Karamanlis meets with visiting Turkish FMPrime minister Costas Karamanlis met Wednesday with Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan, who is on an official visit to Greece.
No statements were made after the meeting, which was held at the government headquarters at the Maximos Mansion.
FinMin meets with visiting Turkish FM
Burgeoning Greek-Turkish economic ties and cross-border investments dominated talks here on Wednesday between Economy & Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis and visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, as the latter has met with all of Athens' top leadership.
Alogoskoufis said Turkey was one of Greece's most important trade partners, as well as a supreme partner in energy cooperation.
Moreover, the Greek minister reiterated Athens' standing policy of backing Turkey's European prospects and the country's inclusion in the Union.
 Turkish FM received by parliament presidentTurkish foreign minister Ali Babacan, who is on an official visit to Greece, was received on Wednesday by parliament president Dimitris Sioufas, who expressed pleasure at welcoming him to the parliamentary headquarters after their meeting in June in Istanbul during the European Energy Conference.
Sioufas also expressed hope that the Turkish foreign minister's official visit to Greece would lay the groundwork for a new era in relations between the two countries and the two peoples.
Babacan thanked the parliament president for the meerting and for his warm welcome in the Greek parliament.
Turkish FM visits Komotini
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's private visit to Komotini, north-eastern Greece, came to an end early Wednesday evening.
Babacan and his entourage arrived from Athens, where his official visit had been concluded, at 14:00 at the Alexandroupolis airport where he was met by Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Prefecture Secretary General Dimitris Stamatis.
The minister visited at first the Turkish consulate in Komotini and then went to the city's minority secondary school, accompanied by members of the "Consultative Committee" of the region's Muslim minority and the two Muslim deputies.
Addressing the pupils, Babacan called them "Turkish brothers", while he later visited the offices of the so-called "Turkish Youth of Komotini", the functioning of which has been prohibited by the courts.
Babacan also met with the non-recognized "Mufti" Ibrahim Serif.
Addressing a meeting of Muslims of the region, Babacan called on them to "claim their rights with all legal means."
Babacan departed for Turkey from the Alexandroupolis airport in the early hours of the evening.
 President Mubarak meets Greek foreign ministerEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is currently on a working visit to Athens, on Wednesday met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and discussed the latest developments in the Middle East, regional issues and bilateral relations between Greece and Egypt.
 Papandreou accuses gov't of indifference, demands heating benefitSpeaking in Parliament on Wednesday, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou accused the government of being indifferent to the plight of the majority of the Greek people, repeating a demand for a winter heating benefit as outlined in a proposed bill tabled by the main opposition party.
"Will the government once more turn a deaf ear to our proposal, even now when heating costs are hard to bear for even middle incomes, even now that the government collects even more tax through VAT, even now that it no longer has the fiscal restrictions from [the Excessive Deficit Procedure] that were its alibi until last year," Papandreou said.
 Parliament com't approves children's rights draft lawA justice ministry draft law on ratification of an arbitrary protocol on children's rights and stricter provisions against the trade in children, prostitution and pornography was passed by a relevant Parliament committee.
In a public hearing on Wednesday, the "Child's Smile" organization legal adviser suggested among others the amendment of article 105 of the penal code to exclude from furlough those guilty of sex crimes against children.
The president of the national commission on human rights maintained that the Greek society is a champion in the exploitation of minors and adults with 40 percent of the victims being boys and girls under the age of 18.
Another proposal tabled before the committee suggested that authorities should be allowed to process and record personal data of those accused of committing sex crimes involving children.
 Justice ministry amendments on surveillance cameras, personal dataThe justice ministry tabled two significant amendments in Parliament on Wednesday regarding the operation of surveillance cameras and protection of personal data, both contentious issues in the country over the recent period.
According to a justice ministry statement, the first amendment clarifies the limitations and preconditions applied on the use of surveillance cameras in public spaces, either in the case they are operating but not recording or in case they record illegal acts during rallies or demonstrations (i.e. arsons, property destruction, thefts, etc).
According to the amendment, the two necessary preconditions are continuous supervision by a relevant prosecutor and use of the videotaped material in court.
The justice ministry maintains that the proposed amendment will put and end to any disagreement and friction related to the Hellenic Data Protection Authority's stance, which often conflicted with those of law enforcement authorities, Parliament, the independent justice system, and even public opinion.
The amendment is supplementary to other legislation and is based on the 1995 European Directive and the European Treaty on the protection of the individual from automated information processing.
According to the second amendment, information concerning felonies or misdemeanors that becomes publicized will not be regarded as sensitive personal data, particularly in cases of sex crimes against women and minors, children's trade, prostitution, forced prostitution and pornography, manslaughter, people trafficking, kidnappings, drug dealing and organized crime.
According to Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, the amendment emphasizes the rights of society, victims and their families, while contributing to social protection.
In addition, freedom of the press is guaranteed by protecting journalists from unfair lawsuits filed by implicated and convicted of such crimes.
 New chief for fire brigade appointedThe Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) on Wednesday appointed Lieut. Gen. Athanassios Kontokostas as the new chief of the fire brigade, following the resignation on Tuesday of Andreas Kois.
 Greece opposes 'self-exclusion clause', Greek employment minister saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
Greek Employment and Social Protection Minister Vassilis Magginas, addressing the EU Employment Council here on Wednesday, expressed the Greek government's opposition to the so-called "self-exclusion clause" which enables certain member-states not to implement the EU legislation, but also to the institutionalization of the 60 hours as the highest weekly average working time in a period of three months. He stressed that Greece's basic concern is to secure conditions of hygiene and security at work.
Regarding the issue of the reshaping of the directive for the organization of labor time (Opt-Out), the difference of views prevailing was also apparent on Wednesday.
Against the "self-exclusion clause", apart from Greece, were France, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, Magginas said.
"We are completely opposed to the self-exclusion clause and view that there must be a clear timeframe for its abolition, so that, in the long-term, for the same status to be valid for all the countries in Europe," he added.
There was also a similar difference of views among the EU member-states regarding the institutionalization of 60 hours as the highest weekly labor time, in a period of three months. On this issue, Magginas said that Greek legislation foresees the highest weekly time of work of 55 hours and stressed, "we are not discussing the highest weekly time of 60 hours of work. For us, what is paramount is the securing of the conditions of hygiene and safety at work."
The EU Employment ministers unanimously adopted the common principles proposed by the European Commission for flexibility and security in the labor market, the so-called "flexicurity" which the member-states will be called on to implement.
In essence, the Council adopted a package of ideas aiming at the modernization of the European labor market, so that it can deal with the challenges of globalization. Among other things, they foresee the promotion of flexible forms of employment and contract work, the easing of legislation concerning dismissals, the life-long training of workers and the increase of social funds.
According to the Greek employment minister, the common principles which were adopted on Wednesday at the EU Council of Ministers on the issue of flexibility and security in the labor market constitute "a good basis for dialogue," with objective the finding of a balance between flexibility and security, while at the same time they will contribute in the creation of more and better jobs.
"There is not only one successful recipe from the moment when the balance of flexibility and security operates in a different way according to the traditions, culture and type of the welfare status of every member-state," Magginas said. He added that for Greece, this issue "constitutes a challenge which we confront positively and not in not in a phobic manner, while at the same time it constitutes an opportunity for the entry into the labor market of certain groups of the population which face difficulties, such as the youth and the women which show high levels of unemployment."
 Government defends handling of OA issuesAlternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Wednesday defended the government's handling of a court case related to Olympic Airlines (OA) at the European Union, as well as its decision to finally close the debt-ridden airline. He also dismissed suggestions that the prime minister was displeased with Transport Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, stressing that the minister was acting on the prime minister's instructions and enjoyed his full confidence.
"The Hellenic Republic, under the coordination of the transport ministry and via its legal advisors at the European Court of Justice, stated officially during the hearing of November 28, 2007, that it has already fully collected the sums defined as illegal state subsidies in Commission rulings against Greece in 2002 and 2005," Antonaros said, stressing that the government had battled to defend OA's interests and disputed claims made by the EU Commission.
According to the spokesman, the Commission's legal position was that the return of the funds took place through arbitration and it therefore disputed Greece's assertion and opened an illegal state subsidies file.
"The Greek side has not adopted the European Commission's position - as some have mistakenly or perhaps deliberately claimed - but has on the contrary given its own legal battle," he added.
Responding to questions about the new airline "Pantheon" that is earmarked to succeed OA, Antonaros said that the cost of OA to Greek tax-payers was a more pertinent issue.
Antonaros claimed that the company's overall annual debt was 2.4 billion euros, pointing out that this was 1.5 times the cost of the Thessaloniki Metro, and four times the cost of extending the Athens metro to Piraeus. He also listed a series of other major public works projects and social spending, such as the planned metropolitan park at Elliniko, compensation to the previous summer's fire victims and the reforestation of Parnitha, noting that each would cost only a fraction of the airline's annual losses.
"It is not possible to talk about perpetuating a situation that costs money to all Greek citizens. What the government is doing is finding a solution that will serve all goals. Eliminating the huge deficits, preserving communications within Greece and preserving jobs," Antonaros stressed.
Asked whether any private party had expressed interest in acquiring the airline, the spokesman said he had no information to that effect and, in reply to other questions, stressed that the company had been generating deficits for several years because of the way that it operated and this could not continue.
 OA reports normal booking levels for this time of yearIn an announcement on Wednesday that came in the wake of widespread media speculation of imminent changes that included declaring the airline bankrupt, OA's management said that bookings were at normal levels for the time of year and had increased as one might expect during the holidays.
It also reassured the traveling public that it would continue to offer its services without problems during the Christmas period, adding that it was in constant contact with the transport ministry in order to ensure the best result for OA's future.
 Papandreou, Papariga on OA's futureMain opposition leader George Papandreou on Wednesday referred to state-run enterprises and ailing Olympic Airlines, accusing the government of undermining their market value as part of attempts to shut them down, although he admitted that the share of responsibility for OA extends back over time, an indirect reference to past PASOK governments.
"New Democracy removed from the Greek economy's arsenal a strategic weapon that served the citizens and protects national interests, it led the company to bankruptcy, cancelled the tender for its sale and did not negotiate with the European Union," Papandreou asserted in Parliament, adding that PASOK would oppose the government's plans.
In a related development, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday reiterated her party's demand for state-run OA to be turned in a national and wholly nationalised air carrier, speaking after talks in Athens with a union representing OA employees.
Papariga also charged that whatever real and imagined ills plagued the debt-ridden company, the people must understand that such arguments are "pretences" for shrinking OA and "opening the way for private interests in Greece and international transports based in Greece".
 HATTA sees OA flights carrying on as normal over holidaysThe Greek tourism and travel agencies association HATTA on Wednesday said that it was confident that Olympic Airlines flights would not be disrupted over the holidays following talks held earlier that day with Transport and Communications Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and OA's management.
"It appears that logic and respect for the passenger will prevail, so that there will be no large-scale labor action by the company's workforce during the holidays," an HATTA announcement said.
It also welcomed assurances given by Hatzidakis that OA would not suspend its operations unless a "next day" solution had been found and that any transition would not occur during the summer tourist season.
 Mubarak addresses Greek-Egyptian business eventBoosting business cooperation between Greece and Egypt was the main theme highlighted during a conference on Wednesday, held at the initiative of the Federation of Greek Industries and Businesses (SEB), on the occasion of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's state visit to Greece.
Addressing the event, Mubarak referred to the traditional friendly relations between Egypt and Greece, and underlined the "radical changes" currently occurring in both countries' economies.
The Egyptian president said his country's economy has been registering, in recent years, "enviable rates of growth, while interest for investments becomes greater."
Corresponding growth is also being recorded in Greek economy, he added.
Mubarak invited Greek businessmen to take into consideration the favorable investment climate prevailing in his country, as well as the fact that Egypt constitutes "a gateway to the Middle East and Africa", and to proceed in investments in sectors such as banking, telecommunications, construction, energy, foodstuff and transports.
Egypt's Minister of Industry and Trade, Rashid Mohammed Rashid, also invited Greek and Egyptian entrepreneurs to invest, either individually or in joint ventures, while he proposed the establishment of an annual forum of Greek and Egyptian businesspeople.
Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas, on his part, announced that the Greek Observatory and the Oceanographic Institute intend to submit a proposal to the Egyptian government in order to participate in the search of underwater ruins of ancient Alexandria.
SEB President Dimitris Daskalopoulos underlined that Greece was a strategic partner of Egypt, noting that the Egyptian government's objective was to attract as many Greek investments as possible.
 Founding of Greece-Turkey Business Council announced in AthensThe founding of a Greece-Turkey Business Council was announced on Wednesday in Athens by the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) and Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK) during a working breakfast, which was also attended by Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and visiting Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan.
The target of the Council is to boost bilateral trade, and chiefly collaborations between the two business communities, in the region of Southeastern Europe, where Greece is a strong force, and in the Black Sea countries, where Turkish entrepreneurs have substantial penetration.
In a brief address at the session, Bakoyannis expressed satisfaction over the development of bilateral economic relations, placing particular emphasis on cooperation in the energy sector and making specific reference to the inauguration of the Greece-Turkey natural gas pipeline by prime ministers Costas Karamanlis of Greece and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Bakoyannis invited the Turkish entrepreneurs to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Greece and to invest here, noting that the Greek side has made substantial investments in Turkey estimated at 5.5 billion dollars.
She also called for elimination of the bureaucratic obstacles in Turkey of imports from Greece, and for increased tourism to Greece, noting that the number of Greek tourists to Turkey was continuously increasing, reaching 500,000 last year.
Addressing herself to both Greek and Turkish businessmen, Bakoyannis stressed that "every investment you make is an investment in the future, in the creation of collaborations with immense mutual benefit, which translates into peace, security, growth and prosperity".
DEIK board of directors member Selim Egeli, a prominent entrepreneur thanked the Greek political leadership, through Bakoyannis, for its support of Turkey's EU course.
 Greek business mission to Kosovo concludesTwenty-five businesspeople from northern Greece participated in the first-ever business mission to Pristina on Dec. 3-4, organized by Thessaloniki's Commerce and Industry Chamber and the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece, all under the foreign ministry auspices.
The delegates received Kosovo leadership's backing for Greek investments in the region.
More than 150 local enterprises responded to an invitation issued by Greece's liaison office in Pristina and the Greek envoy to examine cooperation prospects with their Greek colleagues.
Based on 2004 figures, a total of 593 companies in Kosovo are under foreign or joint management. Greece occupies seventh place with 12 companies of Greek or joint interests.
Last year, Greek exports to Kosovo totalled 40 million euros, while imports reached four million euros.
 10th anniversary of Business Council of Stability Pact for SE EuropeDevelopment Minister Christos Folias addressed an anniversary event in celebration of the ten years of activity of the Business Council of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe, in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on Wednesday evening.
Folias said that Greece is being transformed into a key country in the energy map and into a gateway of entry of countries of the eastern Mediterranean, of the Middle East and Asia towards Europe.
"Our country is an area at which the European businesses can establish their headquarters, in order for them to be effectively active in the countries of South-East Europe," Folias said.
The minister noted that "the basic element of the policy of Greece and of the European Union in the Balkans is the promotion of regional cooperation, which paves the way for the consolidation of regional stability and prosperity and contributes to the strengthening of the accession course of the region's countries in the Euro-Atlantic institutions."
 Gov't considers measures for safe passage of tankers after pipeline's completionThe merchant marine & island policy ministry's leadership met on Wednesday to consider measures and precautions to better ensure maritime safety once the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline and storage facilities are completed.
The pipeline, which will run from the Black Sea Bulgarian port of Burgas to Greece's Alexandroupolis region in the northeast Aegean, is expected to relieve tanker congestion in the busy Bosporus Straits.
According to reports, the ministry announced the establishment of a work group to propose measures; better coordination of various ministries and agencies; the purchase of four more anti-pollution vessels by the coast guard, and the replacement of outdated chemical dispersants now stored in ports around the country.
The meeting was chaired by Minister George Voulgarakis.
 MIG demands OTE shareholders' meetingMarfin Investment Group (MIG) on Wednesday said that it had asked the management of Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) to convene an extraordinary shareholders' meeting in order to seek approval for the issue of a long-term bond loan, its terms and duration, while signalling displeasure with OTE CEO Panagiotis Vourloumis.
"The president and board chairman of OTE, as of any other listed company, is the employee of shareholders and not their boss," a MIG announcement stressed.
It also noted that OTE's management had recently proceeded to make a series of decisions that would be crucial for the telecom's company's future without seeking the opinion and approval of shareholders.
It said shareholders should be given information justifying the advisability of decisions like a buyout of minority stakes in Cosmote and taking out a short-term loan of 2.7 billion euros.
Other issues MIG wants on the agenda for the meeting are the approval of the sale of OTE's subsidiary INFOTE and making decisions on issues of transparency and company management.
"Our initiative to seek the convening of a shareholders' meeting was decided when we learned that, even for the buyout of minority stakes in Cosmote and taking out an excessively large short-term loan, according to an official statement Vourloumis, there was no prior approval of the Greek State," the announcement said.
MIG also stressed that it was not disputing the Greek state's rights over OTE:
"Our initiative will be restricted, after we have evaluated the information given by OTE's management, to presenting arguments and figures to shareholders and exchanging views. On no account are we contesting through the votes given by our shares the final decisions of the Greek State," MIG's announcement added, saying that relations with the Greek State were excellent.
 PASOK deputy V. Papandreou on equity fundsMain opposition PASOK deputy Vasso Papandreou, in a question directed to the prime minister in Parliament on Wednesday, called for clarifications of the government's stance "towards the danger of the adulteration of the strategic character of businesses by foreign equity funds.
In her question, V. Papandreou said that in many countries of the European Union and in the United States, concern is manifested of the dangers presented by the action of equity funds (companies which buy large shares of companies for the purpose of reselling them) and the state mutual capitals, while certain countries such as France, Italy, Britain and The Netherlands have excluded through legislative adjustment the denationalization in the energy sector. The same is occurring in Germany, where a law is being prepared for businesses of a strategic character.
"The governments of these countries, which in their majority belong to the conservative arena, want, within the framework of globalization, to secure the national control in sectors regarded as being important for the operation of the market and the exercise of politics. Which is the government's position on this issue?" she asked.
 Pasal Development announces IPO on December 12-14The societe anonyme company Pasal Development on Wednesday announced plans to go public via an initial public offering (IPO) held on December 12-14 to list its shares on the Athens Stock Exchange, through which it aims to raise 25 million euros to spend on investment.
The company said it would increase its share capital through the issue of 3.9 million new shares, of which 3.73 million shares would be offered to the public and the remaining 170,000 through a private placement.
Pasal Development is involved in the acquisition and development of real estate and also provides project management services but not involved in construction.
The company's main aim is to establish long-term partnerships with specialized real estate development firms in Greece and abroad and to strike up strategic partnerships in order to acquire specialized know-how but also to participate in joint ventures with other firms for large-scale real estate projects in the private and public sector.
Its investment strategy focuses on real estate sectors where know-how and expertise are a comparative advantage, especially commercial buildings like shopping centers, shops and "big box" buildings, logistics centers, offices and holiday homes.
The main underwriter and consultant for the IPO is the National Bank of Greece (NBG).
 IMF delegation meets with GSEEA delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) met with representatives of Greece's largest trade umbrella union, GSEE, on Wednesday, part of the framework for composing the union's positions regarding the Greek economy.
According to reports, GSEE's positions on growth, competitiveness, unemployment, wages and social security policy were discussed.
 Greek stocks end 2.11% upGreek stocks ended substantially higher in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, pushing the composite index of the market to 5,090.97. The index increased by 2.11 pct to end, with turnover a brisk 503.5 million euros, of which 92.4 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors ended higher with Utilities (11.3 pct), Food & Beverages (2.97 pct), Banks (1.87 pct) and Travel-Recreation (2.97 pct) scoring the biggest gains.
The Big Cap index ended 1.98 pct higher, the Mid Cap index fell 1.75 pct and the Small Cap index picked up 1.45 pct.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 174 to 87 with another 40 issues unchanged.
 ADEX closing reportFutures contract prices contained their discounts considerably in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover increasing to 212.564 million euros. The December contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 0.14 percent and the December contract on the FTSE 40 index at a premium of 0.40 percent.
Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 11,920 contracts worth 159.974 million euros, with 33,056 open positions in the market, while on the Mid Cap index volume was 414 contracts worth 12.788 million euros with 827 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 19,326 contracts worth 25.183 million euros, with investment interest focusing on GEK contracts (3,430), followed by Intracom (2,678), Marfin Investment Group (2,515), Marfin Popular Bank (2,364), PPC (1,132), ATEbank (1,271), Titan (1,105) and National Bank (975),
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 933 million euros on Wednesday, of which 537 million were buy orders and the remaining 396 million euros were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2017) was the most heavily traded security with a turn over of 360 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds eased to 0.345 percent, with the Greek bond yielding 4.37 pct and the German Bund 4.02 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates were mixed. National Bank's overnight rate eased to 3.80 pct from 3.95 pct on Monday, the two-day rate fell to 3.82 pct from 4 pct, the one-month rate rose to 4.88 pct from 4.86 pct and the 12-month rate rose to 4.74 pct from 4.73 pct.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.87%
Personal & Household: +1.34%
Raw Materials: +0.82%
Travel & Leisure: +2.97%
Food & Beverages: +2.97%
Financial Services: +1.69%
The stocks with the highest turnover were DEH, National Bank, Cosmote and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index
closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 23.26
Public Power Corp (PPC): 37.10
HBC Coca Cola: 29.50
Hellenic Petroleum: 10.42
National Bank of Greece: 45.40
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 23.38
Titan Cement Company: 31.14
 Foreign Exchange Rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released
by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.483
Pound sterling 0.728
Danish kroner 7.517
Swedish kroner 9.473
Japanese yen 163.63
Swiss franc 1.659
Norwegian kroner 8.134
Cyprus pound 0.588
Canadian dollar 1.509
Australian dollar 1.708
 City of Athens announces Christmas programmeAthens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis on Wednesday announced the events and entertainment program laid on by the City of Athens for the Christmas holiday period. This is due to begin on December 13 with the unveiling of the city's Christmas lights and decorations on Athens' main high streets and squares created by EMMY-award winning lighting designer Eleftheria Deko.
The events will span a period from December 13 until January 6, with Syntagma Square opposite Parliament as their main focal point.
This is where municipal authorities will set up the city's 14.5-metre Christmas tree and a carousel offering free rides to young and old. There will also be free concerts of classical music, jazz, Christmas carols from around the world, Byzantine hymns and world music.
This will also be the first year that the Christmas program will make use of the National Gardens, where the municipality will set up a "fairy-tale village" offering entertainment, games and activities for young children.
In Kotzia Square opposite the Athens City Hall, the city will set up four covered pavilions between December 19-January 6 that will house 17 charities and non-governmental organizations based in Athens in order to highlight the humanitarian message of the holidays.
At the Technopolis art centre in Gazi, there will be a big Christmas party on December 24 that will feature five well-known djs and radio producers, while a series of gigs by pop, rock and reggae bands will be held in central Athens squares from December 20.
The organization of the events program has been undertaken by the 'Athens 9.84' municipal enterprise, the Athens Municipality Cultural Organization and the municipality's 'Musical Ensembles'.
 PM Karamanlis inaugurates Theoharakis Arts FoundationPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday evening inaugurated the Vassilis and Marina Theoharakis Arts and Music Foundation in Athens and at the same time the first exhibition, hosted by the foundation, of painter Spyros Papaloukas.
"Culture and education are values which hold together a people in a common course towards creation and progress. The awareness of this truth - that the members of a society go together towards the better or the worse - is the starting point of every ambitious thought for the future of the country and of our society. It is the prerequisite which allows us to distinguish the great and important from the small and insignificant. To encourage mentalities, actions and policies which aim at the common good, which are referred with responsibility and seriousness to the present and the future of the country and of people. To close our ears to the sirens of division and polarization, of tension and populism," Prime Minister Karamanlis said.
Karamanlis added that "these exactly are the reasons for which we are obliged to place culture and education as a top priority of our action. For this exact reason we are obliged to encourage, recognize and laud every effort which contributes to these two major axes and which broadens the capital of culture."
 Picasso's 'Suite 347' to go on show in ThessalonikiOne of the few existing complete series of engravings etched by Pablo Picasso, the 'Suite 347' of 1968 that he completed in just seven months, will be exhibited in Greece for the first time at the Thessaloniki University Telloglion Arts Foundation from January 25.
The exhibition will be inaugurated on that date by President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias and will run until April 16, 2008 when it will be transferred to Beijing for the Olympic Games.
This important collection belongs to Bancaja and consists of 347 prints that depict female nudes, scenes from Greek and Roman mythology, Mediterranean landscapes, bull fights and flamenco dancers and the Spanish 16th-century fairy-tale La Celestina.
 Athens to become UNESCO 'Observatory for Women, Sport'PARIS (ANA-MPA/ O. Tsipira)
Athens is acquiring UNESCO's "Observatory for Women, Sport and Physical Training".
The relevant agreement was co-signed on Wednesday at UNESCO, by the organization's director general Koichiro Matsuura and sports undersecretary Ioannis Ioannidis, in the presence of Greek Ambassador at UNESCO, George Anastassopoulos.
The proposal for the creation of the Observatory was an initiative of the Greek government, which was adopted last October at UNESCO's 34th General Conference.
The Greek proposal was particularly supported by the representatives of the eleven countries (Canada, United States, Japan, Argentina, Kuwait, Cuba, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria and Mauritius) who participated in the relevant discussion which was held by UNESCO's Social and Humanitarian Sciences Committee.
 Merchant Marine minister's message for St. Nicholas DayMerchant Marine and Island Policy Minister George Voulgarakis on Wednesday sent out a message to Greek seamen throughout the world to mark the feast of St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors. He stressed that the importance of the holiday for Greece, with its extensive sea borders and developed maritime sector.
 Justice minister to address eventThe Athens Bar Association will organize an event entitled "State of Law and State of Judges" on Thursday, Dec. 13.
Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis is scheduled to address the opening session of the event, where criminal law professor Leonidas Kotsalis will be the main speaker.
 F-16 disappears from radar in Psathoura regionThe Air Force General Staff announced that an F-16 aircraft disappeared from the radar at 19:41 on Wednesday, while it was carrying out a night exercise in the region of Psathoura, in the east-central Aegean.
Taking part in the exercise were four planes. The fate of the pilot of the F-16 is unknown. Rescue crews have sped to the region.
 Greek-origin journalist attacked in IstanbulANKARA (ANA/MPA/A. Abatzis)
Journalist Andreas Robopoulos, of Greek origin, who is the publisher of the Greek newspaper "Icho" in Istanbul and correspondent of Greek mass media, was attacked by two unidentified indivuals at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, resulting in him being injured on the head and right hand.
The incident occurred in front of the offices of the newspaper "Icho". Robopoulos was attacked with a club. The culprits escaped and Robopoulos was taken to hospital for treatment. The club broke on Robopoulos' body. He was expected to be released from hospital in the evening.
Robopoulos, apart from being the publisher of the minority newspaper, is a correspondent of Mega private television, of the "Eleftheros Typos" newspaper and is a member of the Athens Journalists Union (ESHEA).
 Turkish FM Babacan condemns attack against Greek origin journalistTurkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, speaking on state-run NET television station, on Wednesday evening condemned the attack against Greek origin journalist Andreas Robopoulos in Istanbul earlier in the day.
"I was informed with great sorrow about the attack in Istanbul today by unidentified individuals of a Greek origin Orthodox citizen, the journalist of Icho of the Greek minority and correspondent of Mega television station, Andreas Robopoulos.
"I condemn this incident which is completely unacceptable. The Turkish security authorities immediately began extensive investigations for the location and arrest of the culprits of this unacceptable act. The relations of Greece and Turkey are on a stable orbit of improvement and such types of events do not deter us and do not change the course of our bilateral relations. I telephoned my government and they briefed me on the condition of the health of Mr. Andreas Robopoulos. I wish him a speedy recovery," Babacan said.
 Illegal migrants intercepted on SamosTwenty one illegal migrants, most of them from Somalia, were intercepted Wednesday morning in the Vathi Port region on the eastern Aegean island of Samos.
According to their testimony to authorities, they came from the Turkish coast on board a rowboat which was destroyed when it rammed into the island's rocky coasts. All of the migrants were taken to the Samos General Hospital for precautionary medical tests before being led to the immigrant reception centre.
Meanwhile, a 41-year-old foreign national accused of migrant smuggling was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was arrested last Sunday on Samos while transporting 8 migrants (5 men and 3 women) who were later located in the Sidera region, while another 5 men and a woman were arrested at the Vathi Port on Tuesday night.
 Bangladeshi man abducted, kept chained for 35 daysA 51-year-old man from Bangladesh had been abducted and kept in chains for 35 days by seven of his compatriots, who threatened to kill him unless he gave them 200,000 euros, police in Patras announced on Wednesday.
They said the incident was originally reported over the phone by the man's wife and that an investigation had led to the interception of the kidnappers and the victim at the Consulate of Bangladesh in Piraeus on Tuesday.
Police investigating the complaint discovered that the 51-year-old worked at a shipping firm in Patras and is considered one of the key traffickers of illegal immigrants in Greece, with connections to all the big international human-trafficking rings.
There are outstanding international warrants against him issued in Italy for transporting illegal immigrants to Europe, for which he even used his own ships that have since been confiscated.
Investigating officers said his abduction was carried out by relatives of Bangladeshi nationals that paid him to bring them to Greece, after he failed to hold up his end of the deal. The group were caught when they went to the consulate to ratify documents for the sale of land belonging to the kidnapped man in Bangladesh in order to raise the sum demanded by the kidnappers.
The victim had initially been kept chained in an apartment near Victoria Square in Athens and then transferred to another apartment in Kypseli and finally a third apartment at Zefyri.
All seven kidnappers as well as the 51-year-old were placed under arrest and led before a public prosecutor on Wednesday.
 Landfill fire quickly put out in KilkisThe fire that broke out Tuesday evening at the Polykastro landfill, in Kilkis prefecture of northern Greece, was quickly put out by firefighters shortly after midnight.
Local authorities remained in the region to prevent any new outbreak.
The blaze had spread rapidly and the thick smoke and fumes caused discomfort to residents in the vicinity.
 Scattered showers on ThursdayScattered showers with northerly, northwesterly winds are forecast in all parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 7-8 beaufort. Light snowfall in the mountainous regions. Temperatures will range between 0C and 15C. Scattered showers in Athens, with northerly 6-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 05C to 11C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 05C to 10C.
 FM calls for an end to 'isolation' mythLARNACA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoullis has called on the UN to put a halt on attempts to make an issue out of a non-issue, namely the so-called isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.
Speaking on her return Wednesday from Israel after a three day working visit, Marcoullis said that if Turkish Cypriots feel some kind of isolation, this is a direct consequence of the continuing Turkish military occupation of the northern part of Cyprus and the secessionist policies of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime.
UN Secretary-General has said in his report on UNFICYP that "it is regrettable that the ongoing debate on the lifting of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots has become one about recognition", stressing that recognition or assisting secession would be contrary to the resolutions of the Security Council.
"Efforts by the UN Secretariat to make an issue out of something which does not exist - the myth about a so-called isolation of the Turkish Cypriots - must finally come to an end," she said, commenting on the report.
Marcoullis recalled efforts by the illegal regime, in Turkish occupied Cyprus, to prevent Turkish Cypriots from purchasing goods from the southern government controlled part of the country.
"This is what I would call isolation imposed by the Turkish Cypriot leadership on our Turkish Cypriot compatriots," Marcoullis stressed.
The Cypriot minister welcomed the reference to the need for compliance with Security Council resolutions that call on all states not to recognise any other government in Cyprus than the legal government of the Republic and not to facilitate in any way the self-styled Turkish Cypriot regime.
"This is a safeguard for us, we have never said we oppose the economic development of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots but everything should be done in line with legality," Marcoullis added.
Asked if she raised the issue of financial activities by Israelis in the occupied north of Cyprus, Marcoullis said, after many representations by the Cypriot government, the Israeli government has issued a travel advice and warning to its citizens to be careful when they purchase property in Cyprus.
She conveyed the request of the government that the travel advice becomes more detailed. "Our request met with the understanding of the Israeli government and I believe we will have further cooperation with them."
Marcoullis also said she was satisfied with the statements made after Tuesday's talks in Athens between the Foreign Ministers of Greece and Turkey.
The Cypriot FM described her visit to Israel as "very satisfying and successful" adding that it is part of a tour of Middle East countries.
 Foreign Minister to attend EU-NATO dinnerNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Erato Kozakou Markoullis departs on Thursday for Brussels, where she will attend a dinner hosted for EU and NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
The dinner will also be attended by High Representative for the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
At the dinner, which is being organised on the sidelines of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs session, current issues concerning NATO and the EU will be discussed.
 Wurtz: International law the base of any initiative on CyprusBRUSSELS (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Francis Wurtz, Chairman of the Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left to the European Parliament, said on Tuesday that it is impossible for initiatives to be undertaken on Cyprus before the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for February 2008.
In statements on the sidelines of a meeting organized by the Group in the presence of the Cyprus House of Representatives President Demetris Christofias, who is visiting Brussels, Wurtz however said that ''whatever comes next (after the presidential elections) should be based on the international law, leading to a viable and lasting solution.''
According to Wurtz, there are many aspects of the Cyprus problem which are not negotiable and should be solved on the basis of the international law.
During the meeting the Cypriot House President briefed Members of the European Parliament on the latest developments of the Cyprus problem.
''We should convince our Turkish Cypriot compatriots to sit on the negotiating table and say 'mea culpa' each on their behalf,'' Christofias said, adding ''we should say to our mother countries that this island is ours and with no foreign interventions we will safeguard the human rights of the people under a federal state.''
Christofias also pointed out that the so-called ''isolation'' of the Turkish Cypriots is solely due to the Turkish occupation.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 Markoullis says Cyprus' role as EU and Middle East bridge enhancedNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Erato Kozakou Markoullis pointed out on Wednesday that ''the Middle East is a region of tremendous potential, yet this potential will only be realised in an environment of sustainable regional peace, security and development,'' adding that Cyprus, since joining the EU, has been transformed into the bloc's external frontier in the Eastern Mediterranean and its potential to act as a political, financial and cultural bridge between the EU and the Middle East has been further enhanced.
''For the European Union, this is not an option. It is a strategic decision. At the same time, besides the collective approach of the EU, Cyprus has the unique capacity and determination to contribute positively to the enhancement of cooperation between the EU and its Middle Eastern neighbours, as well as to support and facilitate the quest for peace, stability and prosperity in our region,'' she added.
In remarks on ''Challenges in the Middle East, the role of the EU and the potential contribution of Cyprus'' at an event co-hosted by the University of Nicosia in the framework of the week of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Markoullis said the subject of discussion ''is of cardinal importance for peace and security in our region and in the world.''
She noted that ''the Middle East is a region central to global security and stability'' and that ''globalisation, as a process that entwines the fates of peoples, societies and economies from all four corners of the globe, has shrunk our world.''
Markoullis said that, ''as the geographical interpretation of borders becomes even more blurred and vague, the challenges and threats in the Middle East are challenges and threats for Europe and the world.''
Referring to the main conflicts in the Middle East, Markoullis singled out the Palestinian issue as the most important conflict in the region in terms of ''security cost'' to the region.
''The Palestinian issue, as well as the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, has been both a conflict in itself as well as the reason, albeit some times the excuse, for other regional conflicts. Furthermore, this conflict has international ramifications. We cannot have sustainable and regional security without the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and prosperity, side by side with a secure Israel. And we cannot have a comprehensive peace in the Middle East without the peaceful resolution of the other tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict, namely the Lebanese and the Syrian tracks,'' she added.
Markoullis pointed out that ''the international community has the obligation to support the voices of moderation and the political forces in the Middle East that seek reconciliation, not conflict,'' adding that ''certainly we cannot let the extremists set the agenda.''
''At the same time and in order to counter the root causes of extremism, the need for economic, political and societal structural reform becomes imperative,'' she said, adding that ''at the same time, the EU indeed has a significant role to play as a facilitator of change in the Middle East,'' she said.
The minister added that ''in an interconnected world, the challenges of the Middle East have an impact on the EU'' and that ''Europe cannot be a bystander'' and ''must remain a key actor in the region, both political and economic.''
Markoullis outlined what the EU is doing as the biggest neighbour in the region, the biggest trading partner of many countries and as promoter of regional cooperation, noting that ''in the Middle East peace process, the EU is actively participating in the international Quartet, together with the UN, the US and Russia'' and is not only an important political interlocutor and mediator, but also the most important donor to the Palestinian Authority.
She said the EU has ''a very critical political role to play particularly now, on the follow-up of the Annapolis meeting'' and can show ''leadership in particular political aspects of the current and future phases of the Middle East Peace Process.''
Referring to the possible contribution of Cyprus, Markoullis said that ''since its membership to the EU, Cyprus has been transformed into the Union's external frontier in the Eastern Mediterranean and its potential to act as a political, financial and cultural bridge between the EU and the Middle East has been further enhanced.''
Markoullis noted that Cyprus enjoys excellent bilateral relations with its neighbours, both the Arab countries and Israel, adding that ''the delicate balance in our regional foreign policy is based on the simple reality that Cyprus does not have a hidden agenda.''
''Our objective is clear, peace and security in the Middle East,'' she said and gave examples of the role and impact that Cyprus can have on the Middle East.
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