|Wednesday, 13 November 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-03-05
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Wednesday, 5 March 2008 Issue No: 2836
 Fiscal consolidation, high growth rates to continue, Greek FinMin saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V.Demiris)
The Greek government agreed with the conclusions adopted by ECOFIN over the country' s Stability and Growth Program, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Tuesday. Speaking to reporters, after a meeting of EU Economy and Finance ministers in Brussels, the Greek minister stressed that the Greek economy has shown a significant fiscal adjustment over the last four years, with its fiscal deficit dropping to below 3.0 pct of GDP last year from 7.3 pct in 2004.
Alogoskoufis noted that the country' s updated Stability Program also completed a second phase of a fiscal consolidation program, envisaging an 1.2 pct of GDP cut of the country' s fiscal deficit this year and reductions of 0.8 pct and 0.7 pct over the next two years, respectively, more than a 0.5 pct annual cut envisaged in a revised Stability and Growth Pact. The Greek minister said that the Council' s conclusions also acknowledged a very big effort made by Greece, not only in improving revenues to promoting a more effective control of public spending. Alogoskoufis said a combination of fiscal consolidation with high growth rates will continue over the coming years.
Commenting on the Lisbon Strategy, Alogoskoufis said a new three-year round was beginning and that structural reforms were preconditions for boosting the European economy's growth and competitiveness and raising employment levels.
The Greek minister said a text on a voluntary code recommended on foreign state investment funds -to be discussed in a EU summit this month- was very close to the Greek government's views and was aiming to ensure the attractiveness of European economy as an investment destination. Our aims is not to create a fortress Europe, nor to limit the inflow of capital into the region, but to introduce certain rules ensuring the public interest and national security interests from the attitudes of either state investment funds or other forms of capital.
Commenting on the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation issue, Alogoskoufis said there was not answer from community services. Greece has introduced a 20 percent equity limit for foreign shareholders in the Organisation.
Alogoskoufis expressed the hope that the Bank of Greece would ensure smooth operations of payment systems in the country, after a central bank's workers' strike kept the country's payment system closed for the second consecutive day.
The Greek minister said discussions over finding the next head for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has not yet concluded, but he noted that the German candidate was the frontrunner for the job. He said that the Greek candidate, former Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, was very familiar with the Council.
 Papoulias calls for an end to Turkish occupation of CyprusPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday evening called for an end to the Turkish occupation of the northern part of the Republic of Cyprus, as well as for a viable and functional solution to the political problem on the island.
Addressing visiting new Cyprus President Demetris Christofias during an official reception, Papoulias said:
"You assume the highest office of the Republic of Cyprus in times which continue to be difficult. We believe, however, that it is time to put an end to the inadmissible situation whereby a European Union member-state is occupied by Turkey, and to demolish the last wall still dividing a European capital," Papoulias said.
"The July 8, 2006 agreement constitutes an important step towards this direction and must be implemented as soon as possible. We look forward to a solution to the Cyprus problem without rigid timeframes, a viable and functional solution that will guarantee the withdrawal of the occupation force and settlers, full sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Cyprus Republic within the framework of a bizonal, bi-communal federation; a solution based on United Nations resolutions; (a solution) which will abide by European principles and values, one that will fully safeguard human rights and within its (solution) framework the operation of the State of Cyprus will be affair of the Cypriots themselves, without foreign interventions and arbitration," the Greek president underlined.
"Cyprus has endured many difficulties. The will of the people of Cyprus for the island's reunification and a prosperous Cyprus, an EU member-state, has not and will not weaken. Especially today when Cyprus has succeeded in becoming a member of the European family and in participating in its inviolable principles and values," Papoulias said, expressing the Greek state and political leadership's support for Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The July 2006 agreement was clinched between former Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, during a meeting in Nicosia in the presence of then UN Undersecretary for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari. It provides for a process of bicommunal discussions on issues that affect the day-to-day life of the people and concurrently those that concern substantive issues, both contributing to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
 Cyprus' new President begins visitChristofias arrived in Athens on Tuesday afternoon, and in the evening he attended a dinner hosted in his honor by his Greek counterpart at the Presidential Mansion.
On Wednesday morning Christofias will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Later, Christofias, who is president of the Cyprus House of Representatives, will visit the Hellenic Parliament, where he will have a meeting with the parliament president Dimitris Sioufas.
After an interview with the Hellenic Parliament's television station, Christofias have a meeting with Papoulias.
Christofias will later hold talks with prime minister Karamanlis, followed by statements to the press, before attending a lunch hosted by the premier.
In the afternoon he will have a meeting at his hotel with Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) President George Papandreou.
He will also have separate meetings with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Aleka Papariga, Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) party leader Alexis Tsipras, and the parliamentary leader of the SYN-led parliamentary Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Alekos Alavanos, as well as with the Federation of Cypriot Organisations in Greece.
On Thursday morning, Christofias will meet with Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis, followed by a press conference at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Athens.
Christofias will further visit renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis at the latter's home, before leaving Athens in the afternoon to return to Cyprus.
 Christofias voices support for Athens handling of name issueNICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Tuesday stated that his government supports the Greek government's handling of the name issue between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). He was replying to a question by the ANA-MPA correspondent in Nicosia, shortly before his departure for Athens on a working visit and talks with Greece's state and political leadership.
The Cyprus president said the two sides will exchange views regarding the latest developments in the Cyprus issue and the upcoming European Union Summit during the meetings in Athens.
Asked whether the status of Kosovo would figure during the talks, he said they would "focus on matters of mutual interest".
In other statements, meanwhile, the Cyprus president also ventured to predict that the opening of crossing points on Ledra Street and the Limnitis checkpoint would be made possible after his meeting with Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat at the end of March.
The position of the Cyprus government is that Turkish occupation troops should withdraw from area around the Ledra Street crossing point in order to secure safe passage but the Turkish military has so far refused to move back from their positions.
 FM Bakoyannis meets Cypriot counterpart KyprianouForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis met on Tuesday evening with her newly appointed Cypriot counterpart Markos Kyprianou, who is accompanying President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias on an official visit to Athens.
During their first official meeting, Bakoyannis and Kyprianou reconfirmed the excellent relations between Greece and the Republic of Cyprus and the common will for the continuation of the close cooperation towards the common targets.
The two ministers noted the excellent cooperation they also had in the past, when Kyprianou was Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus in the European Union, while they referred to the challenges awaiting the two countries in the immediate future.
"Greece and Cyprus have an excellent cooperation. The two governments will continue exactly with the same impetus a close and I hope an extremely effective cooperation. Our targets are common, our dreams are common and I believe, God willing, we will manage to see a Cyprus with a viable and just solution to its problem," Bakoyannis said.
On his part, Kyprianou expressed honor and joy over his first visit to Athens as foreign minister and referred to "the difficult challenges ahead of us, particularly regarding the Cyprus issue."
Concerning the contents of the talks, the minister noted that they discussed the issues of the agenda of Wednesday's meeting between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and newly elected President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias, but also various other matters of the European Union in light of the European Council next week.
"We agreed to be in continuous contact and cooperation," Kyprianou stressed, while in reply to reporters' questions regarding whether they discussed the matter of the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and the developments in Kosovo, he replied that "we discussed all the matters which are either bilateral or between a country and the European Union."
 FM briefs President on FYROM name negotiationsForeign minister Dora Bakoyannis briefed President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday on the ongoing UN-mediated negotations on the FYROM name issue, a negotiation that she said was "of substance" and which she predicted "will be a long one".
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bakoyannis said that Greece was taking part in the negotiations with "absolutely clear positions" and that it substantively desired that a solution will be found.
The foreign minister called on Skopje to "put aside its intransigence and rise to the circumstances", for the benefit of its people and also for stability in the wider region.
She noted that she will have "another opportunity to clarify the Greek views" at Wednesday's meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Asked how long the negotiation could go on, Bakoyannis noted that "there is a very specific horizon, and that is the NATO Summit in Bucharest" in early April.
Greece, she added, was absolutely clear: "Without a mutually acceptable solution (to the name issue), there can be no invitation to Skopje (for NATO membership) with Greece's consent".
Bakoyannis continued that the efforts for finding a solution can continue after the Bucharest summit.
Asked to comment on a meeting planned in Skopje on Wednesday between the UN secretary general's special mediator on the FYROM name issue Matthew Nimetz with the FYROM negotiator, Ambassador Nikolai Dimitrov, Bakoyannis confirmed that such a meeting would take place with the FYROM side, as well as with the Greek side.
"The negotiation is continuing," she stressed.
Asked whether she was satisfied with statements made in Athens on Monday by NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Bakoyannis said that the NATO chief had clearly stated that Greece was one of the oldest NATO member countries and judges, as do all the Alliance member states, the candidacies of the countries wishing to join NATO.
Scheffer further said that which is widely known, that the Alliance operates on unanimity, Bakoyannis added.
 UN envoy due in Skopje for high-level talksSKOPJE (ANA-MPA - N. Fragopoulos)
The United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy in the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, is due in Skopje on Wednesday for high-level talks with the country's state and political leadership.
According to information released by the office of the FYROM's President Branko Crvenkovski, Nimetz will have a joint meeting with Crvenkovski, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki and FYROM's negotiator for the name issue Nikola Dimitrov.
The meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon at Crvenkovski's office.
 Nimetz to hold talks with Ambassador Vassilakis in ThessalonikiNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P.Panayiotou)
Matthew Nimetz, the special envoy of the UN's secretary general, will be meeting the Greek representative in talks on the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, after visiting Skopje on Wednesday.
His meeting with Vassilakis will be taking place in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, either on Wednesday night or on Thursday morning.
 PM meets with education ministerPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis conferred on Tuesday with Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis.
After the meeting at the Maximos Mansion government headquarters in Athens, Stylianidis said that he briefed the prime minister on the outcome of the recent meeting of university rectors and Technological Educational Institutes (TEI) presidents.
He stressed that the first round of institutional reform has been completed, and each party involved should assume their share of responsibility in implementing the law.
Stylianidis stated that the tertiary education institutions that implement the regulations approved will have a priority in the funding of post-graduate studies, adding that Greece comparatively allocates more money to higher education, 1.8 percent of the GDP.
He also noted that the 2.2-billion-euro education ministry operational programme has been approved and will be funded by the 4th CSF.
 Karamanlis-Evert meetingPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Tuesday met with former New Democracy party leader Miltiades Evert at his Maximos Mansion office in Athens. No comments were made afterwards.
 Opposition leaders on proposal for Factfinding Committee to probe phonetappingsOpposition party leaders expressed their views in Parliament on Tuesday during the discussion on the proposal by the main opposition PASOK party for setting up a Fact-finding Committee to probe the phone taping issue.
"The government is in a state of being held hostage that is rendering it vulnerable and for this reason it is necessary that ample light should be shed on the phone tapings issue, either by ridding the institution of the prime minister from the extortionists, or by releasing the ministers responsible and the prime minister from his duties," said PASOK leader George Papandreou.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga said that the issue is a "political" one, adding that "this fact does not absolve neither the present nor the previous government from its responsibilities not to shield telecommunications with a security system," while noting that the government "does not want light to be shed on the issue" although "(ruling) New Democracy has nothing to lose."
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alekos Alavanos said on his part that "the country is not being ruled either by Mr. (Prime Minister Costas) Karamanlis or by New Democracy. We have reached the point of foreign intelligence services ruling it again and the government is coming to its knees although it shouldn't come to its knees," while attributing to the government a "return to the era of American rule."
Lastly, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis said that those who are lying behind the phone tapings are "our great allies, the Americans, who are currently imposing a degrading solution for Skopje on us, those who have been vandalising the Greek people for years and some appear to be enjoying it."
 Justice Minister Hatzigakis on phonetappings issueJustice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, speaking in Parliament on Tuesday during the discussion on the proposal made by the main opposition PASOK party for the creation of a Factfinding Committee to probe the phone tapings issue, accused PASOK of creating a morbid climate in the country's political life and of trying to overcome its intraparty problems with generalized accusations.
"You are trying to conceal your non-existent policy, the lack of arguments with scandal talk of a general nature," the minister said, adding that "however, you are not entitled to speak because you rejected 13 such proposals by the New Democarcy party when you were in government."
Justifying the government's position that the creation of a Fact-finding Committee is not necessary, Hatzigakis said that "the course of the issue does not justify such a thing," since there was nothing that had to be done and that was not done and the government referred the issue to Justice that carried out an enquiry that lasted for 10 months as there had been a great task that had to be accomplished.
 Papoulias receives new Synaspismos leaderGreek President Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday received the newly-elected leader of the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) party Alexis Tsipras at the presidential mansion.
After the meeting, Tsipras expressed his concerns over international and regional political developments, referring to Kosovo and the FYROM "name issue", while he stressed that Greece must attempt to resolve the "name issue" via a mutually acceptable solution that will employ a name with a geographic designation.
 Gov't on social security reforms, opinion pollsThe government's consistent policies, in accordance with campaign pledges made prior to the 2004 election, was again cited on Tuesday by government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, who spoke on the occasion of the upcoming fourth anniversary of ruling New Democracy accession to power in March 2004.
Called to comment on the ubiquitous opinion polls that ostensibly point to increased discontent with government policy, Roussopoulos stressed that he will not comment on opinion poll results.
Regarding social security reforms and unions' concerns, he said this is a necessary move to ensure that the system remains viable and will avoid problems in the future. He also said details of a relevant draft law and its tabling in Parliament will be known on Wednesday.
 Athens and Vienna can play a decisive role in EuropeVIENNA (ANA-MPA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
The decisive role that Athens and Vienna can play in joining forces to solve problems in Europe was stressed by Mayor and Governor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Haupl, in an interview with ANA-MPA.
He underlined that the Union of Central and South-Eastern European Capitals (UCSEEC) established over a decade ago by himself and the then Athens mayor is of major importance at local government level, stressing characteristically that within its framework dialogue is being promoted with Pristina and Belgrade, for example, sitting at the same table.
Haupl underlined the very good cooperation between the capital cities of Austria and Greece expressing satisfaction for the fact that two of his former counterparts in the municipality of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis and Dimitris Avramopoulos, have taken over ministerial posts in the government, the foreign ministry and health ministry respectively.
Haupl praised Greece, stressing that it is "the cradle of the oldest and most important civilization in Europe" and pointing out that hundreds of thousands of Austrians visit the country each year as tourists.
On the occasion of being recently declared "Greek wine ambassador", receiving the "Dionysus Award", he commended the Greek wines for their refined taste and high quality.
Haupl received the newly established title for being a prominent figure in the Austrian public life having close ties with Greece and being familiar with the Greek wine tradition, while, at the same time considering Vienna's uniqueness as the only capital city in the world where vineyards are grown, with wine production going back to over 100 years.
 FM receives new Turkish ambassadorForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Tuesday met with the new Turkish ambassador to Greece, Ahmet Ouz Çelikkol.
After departing from Bakoyannis' office at the foreign ministry, the new Turkish envoy referred to a "courtesy visit", in light of his recent posting in the Greek capital.
 Protest outside Israeli embassy in AthensHundreds of Athenians staged a rally outside the Israeli embassy in Athens on Wednesday to protest the Israeli military's incursions in the Gaza Strip, responding to a call by the Labor Struggle Front.
The demonstrators expressed their solidarity for the suffering Palestinian people and burnt flags of NATO, the European Union, the United States and Israel under the watchful eye of strong police forces that had sealed off the embassy.
Shouting slogans and holding banners, they called for an immediate end to the military's incursions, the sending of urgent aid and the lifting of Gaza's isolation.
Speakers at the rally stressed that the aim of the United States, the EU and of the "so-called peace agreements that they are promoting" is the submission of the Palestinian people and the curbing of their resistance.
Lastly, they called for the immediate withdrawal of the Greek Navy's unit from Lebanon and the closure of the American base at Souda.
 Gov't intends to forge ahead with port reforms, merchant marine minister saysThe discussion on the bill prepared by the merchant marine ministry on the ratification of contracts between the public sector and the Piraeus and Thessaloniki port authorities began at the relevant Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday.
Merchant Marine Minister George Voulgarakis declared the government's steadfast intention to forge ahead with port reforms, regardless of whatever reactions.
"The court's decision does not affect the process of port reforming at all, that is proceeding smoothly and is fully underway," the minister said, referring to a court ruling issued on Tuesday. Voulgarakis said that the decision in question does not concern the strike action but the absence of employees from overtime work.
The opposition in its entirety spoke of a lack of government "political and ethical justification" also following, as officials of theirs claimed, Tuesday's judicial vindication of port workers who are on strike.
 Merchant marine minister discusses bilateral shipping relations with U.S. Ambassador SpeckhardMerchant Marine, Aegean and Island Policy Minister George Voulgarakis held talks on Tuesday with U.S. Ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard that focused, according to an announcement by the ministry, on bilateral shipping relations and cooperation between the two countries in the framework of IMO.
They discussed, with regard to bilateral shipping relations, the Trade and Shipping Treaty concluded between the two countries in 1954 and the Taxation Agreement between Greece and the United States, signed on February 20, 1950, concerning the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of tax evasion regarding income tax.
The minister said that the aforesaid agreements constitute a stable legal framework for bilateral shipping cooperation between Greece and the United States and for its further development.
The announcement also said that the two countries are cooperating closely in international shipping fora.
Speaking after the meeting, Voulgarakis said "I received the American ambassador at the ministry today. We had a very interesting discussion in a very good climate. In any case, the relations we have are very good. Cooperation between the two countries in the shipping sector is extremely good."
The minister added that "we discussed issues related to port security, the checking of containers, as well as illegal immigration, issues on which we ascertained that absolute agreement and an identity of views exist and a very good ground for cooperation in the future."
On his part, Speckhard said "I had an excellent meeting with the merchant marine minister today. I mentioned to him that we realize the importance of Greek merchant shipping both for Greece and the international community and the United States."
Lastly, the ambassador said "I look forward to our cooperation, given that our two countries are allies and trade partners. We discussed various issues concerning the safeguarding of a healthy economic environment for shipping, as well as issues related to security, since its consolidation is a basic goal in promoting international trade worldwide."
 Souflias presents water management programmeEnvironment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias on Tuesday presented the government's national programme for managing and protecting water resources, stressing that its goal was coordinated, sustainable and integrated water management.
"With the right actions, both in terms of the natural supply of water and on demand, the aim is to control and protect water, minimize unfavorable consequences and achieve specific social, economic, developmental and environmental targets," the minister said.
He explained that the plan revolved around a report on the status of all the 14 "water sections" of the country, which outlined their problems, capacity and prospects. This showed that, currently, the section with the largest surplus was western mainland Greece while that with the highest deficit was Thessaly. Other low-water regions included the eastern Peloponnese and the Aegean islands.
In the long-term, however, given the present rate of increase in demand for water, Souflias predicted that at least five other water sections of Greece will develop shortages in the future, including that of Attica.
The minister insisted on the need to divert the Aheloos River to supply Thessaly, noting that this should be completed within the next four to five years at the present rate that the work was progressing.
Souflias admitted that there was concern over the current level of water in the Athens Water and Drainage company's reservoirs but pointed out that the period of higher rainfall was not yet over and any measures would depend on developments. He added that there were no immediate plans to raise water rates at this time.
He also outlined the actions being taken by the government as part of its efforts to manage water resources, including clean-up operations in Greek lakes to reduce dangerous pollutants or to treat nitrate pollution from farming, monitoring for toxic substances in bodies of water throughout the country, strategies for drought and others.
 Greek economy grew 3.6 pct in Q4 2007The Greek economy grew by 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, compared with the same period in 2006, the National Statistics Service said on Tuesday.
The statistics service, in a report, attributed the growth to a 2.7 pct increase in final demand of the economy in the October-December period, and noted that investments fell by 3.5 pct in the same period.
Exports grew by 8.9 pct in the fourth quarter, compared with the same period in 2006, while imports fell by 0.1 pct. Spending on final consumption rose 3.1 pct, contributing two percentage points to the growth of final demand of the economy.
 National Bank confirms talks with Ukrainian bankNational Bank on Tuesday confirmed it was examining the possibilities of investing in Ukrainian banks, such as Kreditprom, and said it has already signed confidentiality agreements.
Greece's largest financial group, in a statement, however dismissed press reports that it had reached an agreement with Kreditprom. National Bank said it would act immediately to offer timely and credible information to investors over any significant developments in the matter.
 Central Macedonia region at Berlin trade showAlternative forms of tourism available all-year-round in the western Macedonia province will be showcased at the ITB Berlin 2008 international tourist exhibition this week.
The Central Macedonia Region will be the featured guest at the Greek National Tourism Organization's (GNTO) pavilion, part of its initiative to promote agro-tourism, extreme sports, culture, local products and the scenery in the four western Macedonia prefectures: Kozani, Grevena, Florina and Kastoria.
 Central bank attacks union over strike that struck down Greek bourseThe Bank of Greece on Tuesday said it had sought court intervention to have a surprise strike by its entire staff declared illegal. It also accused the staff union of failing to observe the proper procedures in calling the strike, which has brought Greek equity and derivatives markets to a standstill.
The ongoing strike began on Monday and was called by Bank of Greece employees in protest over government plans to merge their pension fund with those of other groups of employees in the framework of a social insurance reform package. All the central bank's services have been shut down as a result, including "priority" services such as its computer centre, payment systems, the electronic secondary securities market and others.
In its announcement, the Bank of Greece management expressed regret over the disruption to its transactions and services and stressed that the strike action by its personnel was carried out entirely without warning and without observing the legal requirements. It also noted that the union, in defiance of the relevant laws, continued to refuse to provide the skeleton staff envisaged and agreed during strikes.
"From the first moment that the strike began (with demands that are not under the Bank's control and that it does not objectively have the power to deal with), the Bank's management did not omit any effort to solve the programme with consensus and good faith, but this was met with an obstruction of entry into the premises of the Foundation. At the same time, however, the Bank has asked for the appropriate court protection in order for its personnel's strike action, as this was carried out, to be declared illegal," the announcement added.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Association of Members of the Athens Stock Exchange (SMEXA) had expressed concern over the effect of the strike on the Athens exchanges and appealed "for reason to prevail and possible worse developments to be avoided". It had called on the central bank's management to uphold recent written promises to provide a skeleton staff, even in the event of strikes.
"At a particularly sensitive moment in time for stock exchanges, the suspension of operation of the Athens exchange for two continuous days because the Bank of Greece is unable to clear transactions comes to intensify a jittery climate and to possibly provide foreign institutional investors with an 'alibi' to direct their investments to the stock markets of other countries," an announcement by SMEXA said.
The association stressed that the consequences could be long-term and possibly irreversible, creating a serious danger that the Greek market might become marginalized in the future, with very few transactions and a huge cost to the country's economy.
Meanwhile, the board of he Capital Markets Commission on Tuesday decided to suspend trading in all categories of mutual funds, until the central bank's securities settlement system, the electronic secondary securities exchange and interbank payment systems are back in operation.
The Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) and Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) also remained closed on Tuesday due to the strike.
The Athens stockmarket board of directors announced its decision that trading will not take place on the ASE and ADEX, "aimed at the smooth operation of the stock market, following the problems arising from the employees' strike" at the country's central bank.
The board of directors said in an announcement that due to the ongoing strike by BoG employees, clearing of the transactions was not possible since the central bank's Target system was not in operation.
 Employment minister holds fruitless talks with Bank of Greece employeesEmployment and Social Protection Minister Fanny Palli Petralia held fruitless talks with Bank of Greece employees on Tuesday, who are on strike in connection with their social security status and their rights.
According to the unionists, Petralia stressed during the meeting that nobody will be excluded from the social security reforming measures and, consequently, the employees decided the continuation of the strike.
Restraining measures will be examined against the strike at the Bank of Greece on Wednesday but, according to the unionists, in the event of a condemnatory decision they will have coverage from a second stage or probably a third stage trade union organization as well.
In this direction, the executive secretariat of the Federation of Bank Employee Unions of Greece (OTOE) called a two-hour nationwide work stoppage at all banks on Wednesday as of 13: 15 until the end of working hours.
According to an announcement by OTOE, this decision is the immediate reaction of the bank employee unions that accuse the government of "an authoritarian policy" and warn of extended struggle mobilization.
General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) President Yiannis Panagopoulos warned the government that it will not rid itself of society easily and accused it of lacking a dialogue, during a meeting held on Tuesday of trade union officials from the Attica prefecture on the social security issue, heavy-duty and unhygienic work and strike action.
 Piraeus court rules against injunction in port workers' strikeA first instance judge in Piraeus on Tuesday rejected a motion filed by the Piraeus Port Authority for an injunction ahead of a ruling on whether an ongoing strike by dock workers and administrative staff at the country's biggest port is illegal.
Another 24-hour strike is set for Wednesday, part of unions' mobilizations against the privatization of container terminal (Neo Ikonio docks) within the port. An international tender for the privatization has already been issued by the government.
 Arab Hellenic Chamber of Commerce holds conference in AthensThe Arab Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Development held a conference in downtown Athens on Tuesday, focusing on opportunities existing for investments in Saudi Arabia, as well as on the way with which they can be utilized by Greek businesses.
The purpose of the conference was to inform Greek businessmen about Saudi Arabia, the investments climate in the country, the legal framework, existing opportunities for investments and how one should act in a Moslem country having stringent legislation, also in light of the business mission from Greece, which the Chamber will be organizing on April 3-10, 2008.
According to the economic and commercial affairs adviser of the Greek Embassy in Jedda, Dimitris Mihas, Saudi Arabia has a number of advantages that make it very attractive for investments.
He said that Saudi Arabia dominates the Arab peninsula geographically, it is a market composed of 24 million inhabitants (over 50 million together with the bordering countries of Yemen and Oman), it has economic and political stability, minimum taxation, cheap energy and great fluidity.
Mihas further said that what is necessary to widen Greek business activity in Saudi Arabia is organizing frequent business missions to enable a relationship of confidence to be developed with local partners, the participation of businesses in international exhibitions taking place there and the implementation of promoting programmes for specific Greek brand products.
 National Bank says 2007 profits up 70 pctNational Bak on Tuesday reported record results for 2007, with Group net profits up 70 pct to 1.625 billion euros, saying its profitability reflected a rapid growth of banking services both in the domestic, Turkish and Southeast European markets, as envisaged in the three-year business plan.
Net profits from domestic activities totaled 1.109 billion euros, up 37 pct from 2006, while Finansbank's contribution to Group profits totaled 448 billion euros, from 87 billion euros in 2006. The Group's net profits from activities in Southeastern Europe rose 41 pct to 155 million euros.
Loans totaled 56 billion euros, up 27 pct from 2007, while saving deposits rose 13 percent to 60 billion euros. The loans to savings rate remained at 90 pct, one of the lowest globally. Retail loans totaled 25.7 billion euros in 2007, up 19 pct from the previous year, with housing loans growing at a record rate (13 pct) in the year. Loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises totaled 3.7 billion euros, up 24 pct, while corporate loans grew 20 pct to 14 billion euros.
Finansbank Group's net profits totaled 448 million euros last year, raising profits to 535 million euros in the 500 days of operation under the control of National Bank. The Greek bank said profits so far have covered 14 pct of the investment. Retail banking loans rose 65 pct to 7.1 billion Turkish lira, with housing loans up 64 pct to 3.3 billion lira. Finansbank holds a 9.4 pct of the Turkish credit card market, while saving deposits in local currency totaled 6.2 billion Turkish lira, up 46 pct from 2006.
 Hellenic Bank Association aims to improve quality of banking servicesHellenic Bank Association is promoting a series of actions aimed at establishing a new consumer education in the financial sector of Greece along with other initiatives aimed at promoting professional skills of human resources in financial institutions, the Association's secretary general, Christos Gortsos said on Tuesday.
The Association said the aim of the actions were to upgrade quality of banking services in the country and to become really focused on the needs of consumers. HBA recently organized an information exhibition on consumer loans and credit cards, including 16 banks and institutional agencies, while it also published two editions offering detailed information on the capital markets commission's operations.
 Greece rises in Travel, Tourism Competitiveness IndexGreece moved up two notches, to 22nd place from 24th last year, amongst 130 countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, as presented by the World Economic Forum, the Association of Tourism Enterprises of Greece announced on Tuesday.
However, Greece lagged behind its so-called "direct competitors", Spain and Portugal (5th and 15th position, respectively), while it was ahead of Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey and Egypt (24th, 34th, 54th and 66th, respectively).
The report said Greece's improvement mainly reflected a decline by Cyprus, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates to lower places, as well as to higher grades vis-à-vis the priority of tourism in government policies.
The Association, however, noted that despite the fact that tourism was a high priority for the government, special tourism infrastructure, human resources and regulatory framework still lagged behind.
Greece's main competitive advantages are satisfactory hygiene conditions, the range of tourism infrastructure (hotel availability, car rental services and cultural resources), while disadvantages include prices, rules and regulations, road infrastructure and staffing.
 ATEbank says profits up 28.1 pct in 2007ATEbank on Tuesday announced a 28.1 pct increase in its consolidated after tax profits last year to 241.4 million euros, from 188.4 million euros in 2006. The bank said net interest income grew 2.3 pct in 2007, while non-interest income grew 20.7 pct (commercial portrfolio jumped 180 pct to 45.5 million euros and investment portfolio jumped 78 pct to 83.6 million euros).
The bank's results contributed 87 pct to the Group's 2007 net profits. The bank's after tax profits totaled 211.1 million euros last year, from 161.4 million euros in 2006, for an increase of 30.8 pct, while ATEbank's investments abroad contributed 42 pct of the group's profitability.
ATEbank said the return over equity index rose to 17.4 pct in 2007, from 15.5 pct in 2006, while the bank's loan portfolio rose by 19.1 pct, raising the bank's share in the mortgage markete by 26 pct and in the consumer credit market by 46 pct. Saving deposits grew by 14.1 pct, while its non-performing loans index eased to 7.1 pct last year, from 10.8 pct in 2006.
ATEbank's board plans to pay a 0.10 euros per share dividend to its shareholders, up 11 pct from the previous year.
 Halcor reports mixed 2007 resultsHalcor on Tuesday said its consolidated gross earnings fell by 10.9 pct to 105.6 million euros in 2007, from 118.5 million euros in 2006. Consolidated pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) dropped 9.3 pct to 86.4 million euros, while pre-tax and interest earnings fell by 13.7 pct to 62.7 million euros. The company said its results were affected by a devaluation of its reserves by 10.3 million euros after a significant decline in copper and zinc prices in international markets in the last quarter of 2007.
Consolidated pre-tax profits fell 35.8 pct to 33.3 million euros, while after tax and minorities earnings dropped 44.3 pct to 20 million euros. Consolidated turnover, however, rose 9.9 pct to 1.369 billion euros.
 ASE, ADEX closed on Tuesday due to BoG strikeThe Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) and Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) will remain closed on Tuesday, due to a strike by employees at the Bank of Greece.
The Athens stock market board of directors announced its decision that trading will not take place on the ASE and ADEX, "aimed at the smooth operation of the stock market, following the problems arising from the employees' strike" at the country's central bank.
The board of directors said in an announcement that due to the ongoing strike by BoG employees, clearing of the transactions was not possible since the central bank's Target system was not in operation.
 Government ad campaign to promote road safetyFour TV spots prepared by the Transport ministry to promote road safety will begin to be broadcast by private and public television stations in the country by the end of April, Transport and Communications Minister Kostis Hatzidakis announced on Tuesday.
The messages, which will stress that seatbelts and helmets save lives and urge people to avoid drinking and driving, will be broadcast free in prime-time advertising slots after an agreement between the transport ministry and the Union of Private Nationwide Television Stations, as well as the state-run public broadcaster ERT.
The minister stressed that road safety remains a major problem in Greece, even though accidents have been reduced by 13 percent after the introduction of the new stricter traffic code.
"In the last few years, 1,500 people lose their lives in traffic accidents in our country. This number is by far higher than the European average. We must do whatever is possible to bring safety to the roads, it is the greatest priority," he added.
The four road-safety messages will be shown intermittently in the zones of high viewer ratings after 18:00 on the television stations ET1, NET, ET3, Mega, Antenna, Alter, Alpha, Star, Skai and Macedonia TV.
 'International Year of Planet Earth' events planned by Lesvos Petrified Forest MuseumThe Lesvos Petrified Forest Museum of Natural History has announced a series of events aimed at projecting the renowned Forest but also the unique natural heritage of the island of Lesvos and the Aegean, in the context of the UN-designated "2008 International Year of Planet Earth".
The 60th UN General Assembly declared the International Year of Planet Earth as a 2008 international observance, spanning the years 2007-2009, aimed at projecting the importance of the geo-sciences in tackling the modern-day global environmental problems and at promoting economic, social and cultural development.
The declaration of the International Year of Planet Earth is a joint initiative of UNESCO and the International Union of Geo-Scientists (IUGS), and aims at ensuring a more efficient use by society of the knowledge that has been accumulated in the ongoing research by the approximately 400,000 geo-scientists worldwide.
In the framework of celebration of the International Year, in which governments, scientific organizations, universities, research institutions, museums and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are taking part, a variety of events are being scheduled with the purpose of increasing public awareness of the immense environmental issues faced by the planet, and realisation that the contribution of the geo-scientists is decisive for creating healthier, safer and more prosperous societies.
Taking part in the observance of the 2008 International Year of Planet Earth, the Department of Geography of the University of the Aegean in Mytilene, on the island of Lesvos, is organizing an international conference titled "Studying, Modelling and Sense Making of Planet Earth", with the support of the UNESCO Natural Sciences Sector.
Contemporary socio-spatial problems require a deep understanding of the coupled human-environment systems inhabiting Planet Earth and, particularly, of their complex interactions in order to inform decision making from the individual to the global level. The purpose of the conference is to bring together all the disciplines that study natural and human phenomena taking place on Planet Earth, to encourage the dialogue among them and to provide discussion fora on the integration of knowledge, a task requiring a move beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries and towards interwoven theoretical and analytical schemata, according to the organisers.
The six-day conference, in early June, is organized in three streams as follows:
a. Studying the earth system - it is devoted to the natural sciences, the links within their fields and subfields as well as their links to the social sciences
b. Modelling the earth system - it is devoted to selected modelling fields with an emphasis on integrated modelling at various spatial and temporal levels
c. Sense making of the earth system - it is devoted to the social and the policy sciences and the humanities that try to make sense of the ways people perceive, function, modify and, in general, interact with the earth system while simultaneously being a part of it.
Each stream will include several sessions and thematic workshops, dedicated to cutting-edge topics in contemporary Geography. Special emphasis is placed on interdisciplinary studies, within and across streams. The final sessions will be dedicated to advances in interdisciplinary thinking in the Natural, Social, and the Geographical Sciences. Renowned scientists are invited to offer keynote speeches on the topics of each stream.
The opening ceremony will take place in the afternoon of the first day (June 1, 2008) while an excursion for the conference participants will be organized on June 6.
To provide for holistic experiences and impart the broader spirit of the unity of the Earth System, flowing from the UN agenda for the Year of Planet Earth, each conference day will comprise several events such as performances, film/video presentations, exhibitions, games/athletic events, and gastronomic tours. Morning hours will be devoted to conference sessions, while evening hours will be devoted to cultural events on earth system-related themes. The events will take place in selected places on the island of Lesvos with the assistance of several services such as the Archaeological Service, the Museum of the Petrified Forest of Lesvos (Global Geopark network member), and others. The post-conference excursion will include places of natural, cultural and historic interest on Lesvos and the neighboring islands, as well as on the Asia Minor coast across Lesvos.
The Conference language is English.
The Petrified Forest Museum of Natural History is also organising a series of events, in cooperation with the University of the Aegean and the Evergetoula Environmental Education Center, aimed at projecting the natural monuments of Lesvos and the Aegean, informing the public, particularly the youth, on matters concerning applications of geo-sciences, familiarisation with geo-science subjects, increasing awareness on environmental issues, and an exchange of views among geo-scientists.
The program includes a "European Geo-Parks Week", which will be celebrated simultaneously in all the Geo-Parks in Europe, a series of "International Year of Planet Earth" lectures by eminent scientists, university professors and personalities on geo-science topics, an exhibition and seminars on seismic risk topics, an exhibition of "Paleontology finds in the Aegean", an special event marking the May "International Day of Museums", and the Museum's annual series of summer cultural events which this year will be devoted to International Year of Planet Earth themes.
 Greeks awarded by the state of IsraelAn event was held at the Israelite Cultural Centre in Athens on Tuesday at which Greeks who, risking their lives, saved Jews from the Holocaust during German occupation.
Israeli Ambassador to Athens Ali Yahya praised the three Greeks who were awarded by the state of Israel for the courage they showed by saving the lives of Jews during the Nazi occupation.
The Israeli Ambassador and the president of the Central Israelite Council of Greece Moysis Konstantinis awarded the prestigious Israeli awards "Justice of Nations."
 MoMA director to speak in Athens, ThessalonikiThe director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Glenn Lowry, is due to visit Greece for the first time in March and give two lectures in Athens and Thessaloniki that will be open to the public.
His visit is part of the "Great Ideas" series in support of education and cultural connections between Greece and the United States, spearheaded by the Fulbright Foundation in Greece in December 2007 to mark its 60th anniversary.
The major sponsor of the series is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, while it is organized with the support of the U.S. embassy in Athens and the U.S. consulate in Thessaloniki.
Featured in the Megaron Plus series, Lowry will speak at the Athens Concert Hall on Monday, March 17 at 7 p.m. on "Making the Modern: A Disruptive Theory of the Museum of Modern Art". His lecture in Thessaloniki will be on March 19, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
 Dynamite explosion targets Athens nightclubA popular nightclub in Athens sustained limited damage following a dynamite explosion in the early morning hours Tuesday.
The attack was attributed to personal differences as, according to police, the owner of the nightclub, which was closed at the time of the explosion, had been recently accused of involvement in a "death contract" taken out on another nightclub owner to be executed by a Navy petty officer, who has been arrested.
The explosion, caused by seven dynamite sticks attached to a slow burning fuse planted outside the front entrance of the nightclub "Mousses", created a 60x60cm-wide crater. Its building facade was destroyed while glass windows of nearby stores and apartments were shattered.
An investigation is underway by the Attica Police.
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