|Sunday, 25 October 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-03-07
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 7 March 2008 Issue No: 2838
 Greece refuses FYROM's NATO accession bidBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Spinthourakis)
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, addressing the meeting of NATO foreign ministers here on Thursday, outlined the reasons why Greece is not in a position to be positive towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) bid for NATO accession.
Speaking to reporters, Bakoyannis said that she pointed out to the allies that "unfortunately, the policy that was followed by the government of our neighbouring country in its relations with Greece, on the one hand with intransigence, on the other with actions of nationalist and irredentist logic, unbreakably linked to the issue of the name" do not permit Greece to say "yes" to its accession to NATO. A "yes" which Greece has said in the cases of Croatia and Albania which have also requested to join Atlantic structures.
"Persistent intransigence until yesterday (Wednesday) in the framework of the negtiations continuing for 15 years under the auspices of the UN, which is indeed being combined with actions, decisions and very often offensive statements, even with references to domestic Greek policy left us with no other policy," the foreign minister said.
"We are not pleased with this" since "nobody likes vetos," the foreign minister went on to say in addressing her counterparts. In parallel, however, she expressed the hope that "there is still time for a mutually acceptable, practical and immediately applicable solution to be achieved before the Bucharest summit in the framework of the efforts by the personal envoy of the UN's Secretary General, Mr. (Matthew) Nimetz," which, as she stressed, Greece "supports and will continue to support."
Greece will continue to work in a constructive spirit for the finding of a mutually acceptable solution, Bakoyannis further stressed, and mentioned that if necessary, the efforts could be continued even after the upcoming NATO summit.
"However, for as long as there is no such solution, an insuperable obstacle will remain for the European and Euroatlantic ambition of FYROM," the foreign minister said.
Bakoyannis called on the government of Skopje "to take the step which with responsibility, political courage, as well as with a political risk, the Greek government has already taken."
If it does this, she added, then FYROM "will also approach the point of mutual acceptance" and "will gain the future. A European future, a future of stability, peace and economic development."
The foreign minister also said that Greece "following 55 years of multiform and important participation in allied efforts" supports the policy of "open doors" that is being followed by NATO. In parallel, however, she noted that a policy of open doors does not also mean a "policy of sidestepping principles" and stressed that "an alliance must be exclusively an organisation of free, peaceful and democratic countries having strong bonds of solidarity and unity."
Bakoyannis further said that the logic nucleus of every alliance contains two basic principles: the policy of relations of good neighbourliness that must be applied particularly between third countries, which appeal for accession and countries that are already its members and unanimity in processes of adopting joint decisions.
On the sidelines of the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pointed directly to the alliance's emphasis on unanimity, stressing that Greece would always be right, as a member nation.
"There's an ally, Greece, and a non ally, Macedonia ... NATO works by consensus," he said.
"Even though we believe that the aspirants must sprint to the finish, there was a general view that they have made a lot of progress," according to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "We would hope that Greece and 'Macedonia' will be able to accept a way forward," she added.
 Christofias: 'Solution to Cyprus problem a priority'Newly elected Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Thursday reiterated his standing position of implementation of a crucial July 8, 2006 agreement for the Cyprus issue, saying the agreement is one of his administration's priorities.
"The major goal, the major challenge is the solution of the Cyprus problem," the veteran leader of the leftist AKEL party on the island republic said, adding that implementation of the agreement will dominate his term.
Speaking at a Foreign Press Association of Athens (FPA) luncheon in the Greek capital, Christofias said he will gauge the intentions of the Turkish Cypriot side during a meeting with T/C leader Mehmet Ali Talat, tentatively scheduled for between March 17 and 24.
He also expressed his "heightened satisfaction" over his high-level contacts in Athens, as Christofias made his first official visit overseas to Greece following his election victory on Feb. 24.
In response to press questions, Christofias said the July 8 agreement is the basis for negotiations, stressing that the Annan peace is not "transferable".
"The only agreement that exists, beyond the high-level agreements (1977 and 1979) is the Agreement of July 8, which is procedural and substantive," he said.
Moreover, Christofias said he would like to speak frankly and openly with Talat without previous "exploratory" statements.
Additionally, he said the main and overriding priority is a solution for the long-standing Cyprus problem, thus there is "no intention" to open other fronts, namely, the removal of British sovereign military bases from the island.
 New Cyprus President meets with political leadersPopular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) President George Karatzaferis met on Thursday with newly elected Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, whom we called a "great patriot".
Karatzaferis said that he was very satisfied with the talks they had, stressing that he is optimistic that the Cyprus issue will be settled permanently in the "new days to come".
Earlier, the visiting Cypriot president had met with former prime minister and former leader of main opposition PASOK party Costas Simitis who commented afterwards that President Christofias has a very good insight of the way the Cyprus issue will have to be handled.
Simitis stated that they examined likely developments in the Cyprus issue, adding that expectations are great and Cyprus will meet them if it makes the appropriate moves.
 Christofias meets with TheodorakisCyprus President Demetris Christofias concluded his three-day Athens visit on Thursday afternoon by meeting with noted composer and personal friend Mikis Theodorakis at the latter's residence.
"My visit to Mikis Theodorakis is owed to respect and love to a comrade who is linked, personally and through his struggles, with Cyprus," Christofias told reporters.
Theodorakis had also expressed his support for Christofias' candidacy.
 PASOK leader adresses wide-range press conferenceMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Thursday asked for the immediate withdrawal of a government bill on reforming the country's social security system.
Speaking during a wide-range press conference, the PASOK leader said the reform promoted by the ruling New Democracy (ND) party created "enormous problems to workers, pensioners and the social security system itself."
He also referred to "high prices exceeding a great deal current increases in oil prices", and to "a so-called free education which is very expensive" burdening working households.
Papandreou said the ruling ND's course since it took office four years ago "is a continuous downhill course which drags the political system in its entirety to a crisis."
According to Papandreou this crisis is at the origin of his party's poor performances in recent gallops.
Referring to the upcoming congress of his party, the main opposition leader said that "with it the Movement enters a new phase," after a "painful crisis which created rifts and wounds."
Replying to questions regarding the reforms in PASOK, Papandreou said that he has committed himself in order for the party to proceed in reforms, underling that changes will be made in PASOK. "And there will be a new strong unity," he said, while to a question whether he properly handled his new mandate, he said "this is not for three months only".
Referring to PASOK's steps to overcome the crisis, he said that "the main target is the shaping of a new self-confidence which will be constructed step by step and in a systematic manner."
Asked on "pending issues" regarding transparency in PASOK, Papandreou said that "I am not a judge, I guarantee transparency and the values in PASOK" and criticized the government that "it is the one wnich refuses transparency and produces scandals."
Regarding the new policy of unity, Papandreou said that "this requires for us to work all together," stressing that "in PASOK we do not distribute posts but work."
The PASOK leader also added that he is "open to cooperation with progressive forces", while he said that Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) leader Alexis Tsipras and Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parliamentary spokesman Alekos Alavanos will be invited to address the PASOK congress.
To a question of a coalition government between PASOK and the New Democracy (ND) party, Papandreou replied that the ND could cooperate with PASOK on specific issues such as foreign policy, the combating of corruption and the social security system.
Asked about the Kosovo issue and the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), he reiterated PASOK's position for rejecting a double name and for geographic determination of the name, while he assessed that Koso opens "Pandora's Box".
 Gov't responds to Papandreou's press conferenceMinister of State and government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday evening responded to the wide-range press conference which main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou gave earlier in the day.
"Towards a completed and clear policy of the government in order for the real problems of Greek citizens to be dealt with, Mr. Papandreou yet again presented generalized ideas."
 KKE leader expresses concern over developments in BalkansCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, speaking on Thursday at an event held at the Athens Technical Institutes (TEI), expressed concern over developments in the Balkans and her disagreement with NATO's policy.
Referring to the latest developments and to the issue of Kosovo in particular "where the conditions exist for the fire of war to flare up", she said that on the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece's stance she has expressed support for a veto against the accession of the neighboring country to NATO, but noted that this is not enough.
Papariga further said that the government should say "we withdraw troops from Kosovo, Bosnia, etc. But it will do the opposite. It will say give me the name and I will send more."
 Culture Minister Liapis discusses cultural ties with German counterpartBERLIN (ANA-MPA/P. Stangos)
Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis and his German counterpart, Minister of State for the Chancellery Bernd Neumann, discussed the strengthening of Greek-German relations in the sector of culture here on Thursday.
The first specific cooperation result of the meeting was the pursuit of joint productions in the cinema sector, as well as the two countries' decision for coordination at European level, which the German minister termed an "axis between Greece and Germany."
Speaking after the meeting, Liapis termed cooperation between Greece and Germany in the cultural sector "longstanding and unique." He added that "I am here so that we can widen this cooperation."
On his part, Neumann said his meeting with Liapis was a "pleasant surprise" due precisely to the specific character of the fields of deepening cooperation, such as in the cinema sector.
The minister then inaugurated, during a special ceremony held in a hall of the Pergamos Museum, Greece's participation in the exhibition titled "21st century Museums."
 Defense Minister Meimarakis addresses Air Force recruitsDefense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis referred to the FYROM name issue, addressing Air Force recruits in a swearing-in ceremony at the 124th Basic Training Camp in Tripolis, Peloponnese, southern Greece.
Meimarakis told recruits and their families attending the event that Greece is closely monitoring developments and referred to the good-neighborhood relations forged with neighboring states.
He stressed that Greece is a NATO member since 1953 and has contributed greatly to peace and stability in the region, a fact that has to be respected. "No one wants lingering problems," he said adding that the Greek side wants dialogue and a peaceful settlement. "We have made the necessary steps and now it is the other side's turn," the defense minister stressed.
 Pope Benedict XVI meets with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos in RomeISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos met in Rome on Thursday with Pope Benedict XVI, a Vatican spokesman said.
Also present at the meeting was Pergamos Metropolitan Ioannis, the Orthodox president of the Theological Dialogue Committee between the Catholic and Orthodox Church.
Patriarch Vartholomeos and Pope Benedict had met for the first time during the Pope's official visit to the Phanar on November 30, 2006, and for the second time last year in October during the Patriarch's visit to Naples.
Patriarch Vartholomeos and Pope Benedict also held a joint prayer at the Chapel of Urban VI.
 Greek economy is strong, FinMin assuresThe Greek economy is a strong economy and, as all economies worldwide, may be affected on occasion by strike actions, economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis said on Thursday.
He added, however, that what was of importance was the fact that "in Greece, we have rules, and we must apply the rules".
Alogoskoufis was responding to a question on whether there was concern that foreign investors could leave Greece due to the problems created by the walkout at the country's central bank.
Replying to a question on whether the prospect of mobilization of striking employees of the Bank of Greece (BoG) was being considered, the minister explained that the law stipulates that a minimum staff is on hand (during strikes), and minimal operation (basic services), adding that "if the law is abided by, then there is no reason for any other extraordinary action".
Asked whether the function of the markets was being restored, Alogoskoufis said that, according to information, a minimum staff was now in place and efforts were being made for operation of the markets and of all the payments systems in the country.
Bank of Greece employees launched a surprise strike on Monday, bringing the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) and Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) to a standstill and rendering inoperative the Greek section of the EU-wide payment platform TARGET (the Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross settlement Transfer system), is a cross-border settlement mechanism that automatically processes payments.
 Foreign enterprises participate in Greek infrastruture projects, FinMin saysForeign enterprises are showing great interest in a government-sponsored program to promote joint ventures between public and private sector companies, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Thursday.
Addressing a conference on the program, the Greek minister said the participation of big foreign enterprises in the tenders justified the government's effort and was an acknowledgement of the ministry's consistent efforts. So far, the government has auctioned six project, budgeted at 550 million euros, and said that a first tender by the State's Real Estate Enterprise was expected by the end of the year.
Alogoskoufis said Greek economic growth has gained momentum from the government's actions to promote joint ventures, reduce taxation for enterprises and introducing a new investment law.
 Gov't unveils long-awaited pension reform bill"Reform of the pension system is a social imperative and must be done now and not tomorrow,"
Employment and Social Insurances Minister Fanny Palli-Petralia said on Thursday in presenting the long-expected draft law on reforming the country's creaky social security system.
"The longer (it takes to implement) the reform, the more painful the change," she said during a televised press conference at the ministry to unveil the envisioned changes.
"The proposed reforms by the government ensure the public, redistributive and obligatory nature of the system and does not change fundamentals factors such as retirement ages, pension payments and social insurance contributions, while the state will continue guaranteeing the system," she said.
Under the draft law, presented to at Inner Cabinet meeting a day earlier, changes will be gradually implemented up to 2013, with three main reforms on the horizon: administration restructuring, focused interventions and institutional measures.
The restructuring plan for the country's cavernous pension fund administrations aims to cut an existing 155 pension funds to 13, of which five will be main pension funds, six supplementary funds and two welfare funds. Focused interventions include raising the retirement age to 60 for wage-earners with 35 years of work, with the addition of six-months annually from 2013.
The draft law also envisages an annual increase of 3.3 pct on pensions for employees for extending their work time by another three years after 35 years of employment, and offering counter-incentives for early retirement. In terms of working mothers, the government aims to offer extra incentives, and a ceiling on supplementary pension payments.
Institutional measures include the introduction of a social insurance registry for all working people, establishing joint inspection units to combat contribution evasion and creating a "Generations Fraternity Fund" to support the system, which will be funded with 4 pct of annual VAT revenues and 10 pct annually from privatisation proceeds. These funds will remain "locked" until 2019, she said.
 Government spokesman on reformsOutlining the unveiled reforms during the regular press briefing, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos stressed that no funds and no group of workers were exempted and the main criteria were to group funds with workers in similar fields.
He clarified that the liquid and fixed assets of each existing fund would be placed into an autonomous special fund, while general retirement ages would not increase.
The government reforms were an attempt to organise a pension system that had developed "opportunistically and without programming, with bureaucratic problems due to a multiple fragmentation of services, and a labyrinthine and contradictory legislation".
He stressed the waste and high cost of the present system, noting that state spending on social insurance was rising steadily.
"In the next years, if nothing changes, this spending would have reached as high as 25 percent of GDP and we would have to pay for pensions all the sum now spent on health, education and culture, which would lead to the collapse of the welfare state," he said.
 PASOK responds to planned pension system reformsResponding to planned pension system reforms unveiled by the government on Thursday, main opposition PASOK officials said that these were an attempt to reinstate the harsh pension policies of the former Mitsotakis government in the early 90s.
"We are now seeing a return of the notorious Mitsotakis government, which accumulated so many ills for the Greek people, brought by the New Democracy government and set into law," said the head for social policy in PASOK's Political Coordinating Body.
Xenoyiannakopoulou also criticized the government's decision to present the draft bill at the end of a Parliamentary session just before a three-day weekend, without having first released copies to the political parties and journalists. She said this was an attempt to limit reactions to the bill but stressed that it would not succeed.
Regarding the envisaged changes themselves, she disputed government claims that these were addressing problems and injustices of the past and stressed that they would increase uncertainty and insecurity among the workforce.
She also slammed them as "careless and unsystematic" and pointed out that they were being carried out without the agreement of the social partners (employers and workers) and without funding.
According to PASOK's sector-head, the draft bill outlined by Employment Minister Fanny Palli-Petralia also contradicted pledges by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis that the reforms would not lead to smaller pensions or push back the age of retirement. She said Petralia essentially confessed that both pensions would be reduced and age of retirement increased, that the public nature of the social insurance system would be undermined and an area for private insurance created.
Stressing that PASOK intended to fight the reforms unveiled by the government, she also voiced a pledge that "these socially unjust and ineffective measures have an expiry date if passed, which is the next elections".
 KKE, Coalition criticise social security billThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) criticised the social security bill which was presented on Thursday.
KKE said in an announcement that "it is being confirmed that the government, through the bill, is intensifying its anti-popular assault and it is providing a continuation to the anti-social security laws of the New Democracy party and of PASOK. The plutocracy benefits from the bill and not the many, as the government is falsely claiming."
A similar statement by officials of the Coalition and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) said that "the sweeping, without consensus, unifications that are being promoted in all the social security sectors are paving the way for the forceful leveling of social security rights downwards."
 Talks on new collective labour agreement end in deadlockTalks held on Thursday between the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and labor unions on the new collective labor agreement for the year 2008 ended in deadlock.
According to GSEE, the proposal for 3 percent increases as of 1/1/2008 and another 3 percent as of 1/9/2008 and 4.5 percent from 1/5/2009, evidently for a two-year collective agreement, has been rejected categorically by the unions.
GSEE spoke of insistence on the part of employers on increase percentages at the limits of inflation, that are very distant from the needs and the requirements of working people.
Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) President Dimitris Daskalopoulos expressed optimism, but noted that it is a question of negotiating that is underway.
GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos said that the employers' proposals fall very short of the unions' targets and pointed out that the discussion is taking place on the minimum current salaries of 657 euros and the minimum daily wages that are 29.5 euros at the moment.
 Court declares BoG strike 'iilegal and abusive'An Athens court on Thursday morning declared as "illegal and abusive" the surprise strike launched by employees at the Bank of Greece (BoG), the country's central bank, that has brought the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) and Athens Derivatives Exchange (ADEX) to a standstill since the beginning of the working week, following recourse by the bank.
The court upheld a complaint fled by the central bank's administration against the BoG employees' union, on the grounds that a "security (skeleton) staff" had not been designated, and the union's failure to announce the strike four days in advance of its commencement, as required by law.
According to the ruling, the cost arising from the mobilization was disproportionate with the strikers' demands.
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.
Hellenic Exchanges, the operators of the Athens bourse, suspended trading shortly after the commencement of the session on Monday "in order to protect investors and ensure the smooth functioning of the market", and assured that it was ready to immediately reopen trading as soon as the strike ended.
The bourse authorities explained that trading was suspended because the ongoing strike by BoG employees did not allow clearing of the transactions, since the Greek section of the European Central Bank's "Target" system was not in operation due to the walkout.
The EU-wide payment platform TARGET, the Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross settlement Transfer system, is a cross-border settlement mechanism, which processes over 190,000 payments each day valued at over EUR 1 trillion, of which more than 41,000 payments valued at over EUR 450 billion are cross-border payments.
The Euro Banking Association (EBA) operates the Target STEP 2 system, which permits automatic processing of mass low-value payments throughout the EU.
 Hearing of PPC management's case against strikers on FridayThe case brought by the management of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) against an ongoing strike called by the power company's union GENOP-DEH will be heard on Friday at an Athens first-instance court. The PPC's management is asking that the strike, which began on March 3, be declared illegal and excessive.
The hearing was originally set for Thursday but was postponed because legal counsel representing the union asked to be allowed to study the management's case.
PPC claims that the union failed to observe the legal requirements for calling a strike, while arguing that the strike was damaging both to the company and society as a whole. It also stressed that the consequences of the strike were excessively severe and out of proportion to the "relatively trivial anticipated gains of the strikers".
Shortly before the trial proceedings began, there were incidents in which striking power company workers lobbed eggs at police because they were prevented from entering the court room.
Since Wednesday, after the striking workers took over and shut down 16 power plants throughout Greece, the PPC has been forced to impose rotating power cuts in areas throughout the country in order to avoid overloading the system and causing a blackout.
The union called the strike in response to government plans to include the workforce's pension fund in a more general reform of social insurance systems in Greece.
Commenting on the ongoing strike, which GENOP-DEH has decided to extend until next Wednesday with a series of rolling 24-hour strikes, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday called on the strikers to also consider the interests of society and use skeleton staff to keep power plants running.
"The right to strike exists but there are also obligations toward the social whole and no one has the right to use a social utility in order to achieve whatever they consider fair," he added.
He said that there were currently 19 power stations offline, three for maintenance and 16 due to the workers' strike, and that the system had a deficit of 4900 MW or 40 percent of its total capacity.
He also stressed that the reforms would split the PPC workforce pension fund into a main and supplementary pension fund, that it preserved the assets of both of the PPC and its pension fund, while the state guaranteed the public nature of the fund which would be self-administrating and would continue to own whatever it owned at present.
 PPC website posts table of planned power cutsThe Public Power Corporation (PPC) on Thursday posted a table on its website www.dei.gr, in which it lists the times and areas around the country where planned rotating power cuts will be imposed on Thursday afternoon and evening.
The PPC has been forced to impose power cuts after 19 power stations were taken offline due to a strike by the utility's workers, in order to avoid a generalized blackout.
 Water company strongly denies rumours about tainted water supplyThe Attica water and drainage company EYDAP issued an announcement on Thursday, in which it strongly denied recent rumors that the water supply to the Greek capital was polluted.
"The source of these rumors is unspecified, while usually people cite 'prestigious scientists' from various bodies," EYDAP's announcement said, while categorically condemning the originators of the rumors and said that there aim was to cause "concern among the public in order to promote their own lawless interests".
 Greek economic sentiment index rebounded in FebruaryGreece's economic sentiment index rebounded in February after four months of decline, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Thursday. IOBE, in its monthly report, said the index rose to 102.7 points in February from 100.6 in January and noted that the Greek index remained behind the EU and Eurozone indices, although it remained above its long-term average level.
Business expectations in the manufacturing sector eased in February, covering production activity, new orders and inventories. In the services sector, business expectations improved significantly reflecting higher demand in the last three months and positive forecasts for the next quarter. In the retail sector, business expectations moved higher and in the construction sector business expectations also were positive.
The consumer confidence index rose in February, although Greeks remained among the most pessimistic in Europe. The index rose to -34 in February, from -40 in the previous month, but it was down compared with a -30 reading in February 2007.
 Greek mutual funds' assets down 2.75 pct in FebruaryGreek mutual funds' assets fell by 2.75 pct in February to 21.98 billion euros, from 22.60 billion in the previous month, reflecting a negative trend in both the Athens Stock Exchange and international markets.
Most mutual funds' categories saw their assets decline in February, with the exception of domestic money market and foreign money market categories, which rose by 2.7 pct and 1.1 pct, respectively.
Capital outflows totaled 384 million euros in the month, while the average return of domestic equity funds was -17.64 pct, foreign equity funds (-12.06 pct), domestic combined funds (-8.31 pct) and foreign combined (-6.95 pct).
The Union of Institutional Investors, in its monthly report, said net assets of the eight-listed Greek closed-end investment funds totaled 357.8 million euros in February, from 369.1 million in the previous month, for a decline of 3.0 pct. Average numerical return of the sector, so far this year, was -12.74 pct. All companies in the sector presented negative internal value returns, ranging from -8.66 pct to -19.95 pct.
The avegare weighed discount of the sector was -20.11 pct.
 MIG to purchase 75% of Croatia's Sunce for 155 mln eurosMarfin Investment Group (MIG) on Thursday announced the purchase of a 75-percent majority equity stake in Sunce Koncern d.d., one of the biggest groups active in Croatia's, as the latter operates a network of 11 hotels with around 5,000 beds on the Dalmatian coast under the name Blue Sun Hotels & Resorts.
The company also owns a majority stake in the Brac Island airport along with added value land properties in Croatia.
MIG and Sunce will also enter the healthcare tourism business, implementing a Stubicke Toplice plan in cooperation with the municipalities of Krapina and Zagorje, as part of a government-sponsored programme to promote joint ventures between public and private sector enterprises. Under the plan, the two companies will build one of the largest health tourism complexes in the region, including two hospitals and three hotels with more than 1,100 beds.
MIG will pay out 155 million euros for the purchase of 75 pct of Sunce's equity capital. The transaction is expected to be completed in the second half of the year.
 Budget revenues up 15.6 pct in FebruaryBudget revenues grew by 15.6 pct in February, surpassing a budget target for an annual growth rate of 12.1 pct, the Finance ministry said on Thursday. A ministry statement said VAT revenues grew 13.8 pct, up from a budget target of 13.6 pct, tax agencies' revenues were up 13.3 pct and customs revenues grew 16.7 pct.
 ASE begins normal trading operationsThe Athens Stock Exchange will resume trading operations on 15.00 local time today, its board said on Thursday. The Greek stock market said trading session will be extended for one hour, with closing time 17.30 local time.
The Greek market was closed for three days after a strike action by Bank of Greece's workers blocked the country's payment and settlement system.
 ASE suspends trading in Vivartia, Everest and Olympic Cateringิhe Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday announced the temporary suspension of trading in the shares of Vivartia, Everest and Olympic Catering, following news that a joint company is expected to submit a public offer for the acquisition of Everest and Olympic Catering SA.
 Greek stocks under pressure in early tradingGreek stocks came under heavy pressure on Thursday. The composite index was trading below the 4,000 support level, losing 1.50 percent, with turnover at 66.4 million euros. All sectors suffered losses, with the exception of the Commerce sector (up 1.21 pct). Utilities (2.06 pct), Financial Services (1.99 pct) and Banks (1.56 pct) recorded the heaviest percentage losses during early trading hours.
 Greek stocks end 1.32 pct lowerGreek stocks ended lower on Thursday pushing the composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange below the 4,000 support level. The index fell 1.32 pct to end at 3,999.42 points with turnover a heavy 429.2 million euros, of which 29.4 million were block trades.
The Greek market operated a shorter trading session, from 15 to 18.00 local time awaiting the settlement of previous sessions' transactions by the Bank of Greece.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Raw Materials (4.84 pct), Financial Services (4.34 pct) and Technology (3.40 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Chemicals (2.58 pct), Food/Beverage (1.83 pct) and Healthcare (0.83 pct) scored gains.
The Big Cap index fell 1.60 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.51 pct lower and the Small Cap index fell 1.18 pct. Vis (10.0 pct), Nikas (9.82 pct) and Euroholdings (9.80 pct) were top gainers, while Proodeftiki (15.15 pct), ATEbank (12.65 pct) and Altius (10.0 pct) were top losers. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 174 to 74 with another 32 issues unchanged.
 Greek bond market closing reportThe Greek electronic secondary bond market reopened on Thursday after a three-day black out because of a strike action by Bank of Greece's workers. Traders, however, said trading conditions remained far from normal, but expect conditions to improved gradually. Turnover in the system totaled 290 million euros, of which 125 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 165 million euros sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 215 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was 0.50 pct, with the Greek bond yielding 4.44 pct and the German Bund 3.94 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates were mixed. National Bank's overnight rate was 4.05 pct, the two-day rate 4.05 pct, the one-month rate 4.24 pct and the 12-month rate 4.46 pct.
 Pavlopoulos addresses conference on gender equalityThe equality deficit must be tackled in a systematic way in the social, economic and political sectors, stressed Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos addressing a conference on comprehensive interventions for women hosted by the General Secretariat for Gender Equality.
Pavlopoulos underlined that the promotion of real equality in terms of opportunities offered to men and women is a priority for the government and referred to the initiatives undertaken by the ministry of interior. He underlined the actions taken aimed at providing tangible support to jobless women, information on vocational training, labor relations and social structures and exploitation of financial opportunities. He also referred to measures adopted to promote women's cooperatives and entrepreneurship and the social integration of women who are victims of multi-faceted social exclusion.
Pavlopoulos pointed out the assistance and opportunities offered to mothers with underage children and women caring for disabled individuals and referred to special programmes protecting women who are the victims of human trafficking.
The minister concluded that the comprehensive interventions for women programme offers them the opportunity to ensure a viable form of employment.
 Attorney exits psychiatric ward, appears before magistrateA local attorney facing felony charges in the ongoing Zachopoulos blackmailing case finally appeared before an investigating magistrate on Thursday, albeit only briefly, more than a month after he checked himself into a psychiatric ward suffering from "suicidal idealisation", as psychiatrists at the state facility termed it.
Christos Nikoloutsopoulos, a one-time legal adviser for the GSEE trade union and a well-known litigator of public sector contract employee lawsuits, appeared at the Athens first instance court complex with his attorneys and his wife.
He is charged with attempted extortion and violating a law dealing with confidential personal data as well as simple complicity in a third party's attempted suicide.
Nikoloutsopoulos requested and was granted an eight-day extension before his provides a deposition.
 Parliamentary Foundation awards for Parliamentarism, DemocracyThe Parliamentary Foundation's Administrative Council for Parliamentarism and Democracy has enacted awards that will be given every June to three Parliamentary and two political editors.
The awards, which will be given in memory of distinguished journalists are the "Ioannis Diakoyannis", the "Odysseas Zoulas", the "Antonis Korovilas", the "Thomas Mihalakos" and the "Spyros Fanariotis" awards.
"The act by the Parliamentary Foundation highlights journalistic work and stresses the catalytic significance that freedom of expression and of the airing of views has for Democracy. It is particularly important because it is taking place at a time when a systematic effort to degrade the journalistic function is underway, both with flexibility in remuneration and labour conditions and with numerous lawsuits with which excessive amounts of money are being demanded for so-called moral harm," said a relevant announcement by the Athens Journalists Union (ESHEA).
 Suitcases with 280,000-euro worth of jewelry stolenA 45-yearold and his accomplices are suspected of breaking into the car of a jeweler and removing three suitcases containing 280,000 euros worth of jewelry.
The break-in was reported in June 2005 occurred in downtown Thessaloniki and according to police, the victim had been under close surveillance by the 45-year-old and his accomplices, who are now being sought.
The 45-year-old has a long record on car thefts and robberies.
 Eight foreign women are accused of bogus marriagesLarisa Police on Thursday exposed a bogus marriage scheme involving eight Russian women. The scam came to light when they submitted false documents to authorities to have work permits issued allowing them to be employed as waitresses.
The civil marriage ceremonies were held in Larisa and Karditsa, central Greece, between January 2, 2007 and February 22, 2007.
The Russian women, aged 20-29, were married to Greek nationals who were aware of the scheme to get legal residence in Greece.
 Police bust immigrant-trafficking ring in Ano LiosiaThe Attica police force on Thursday announced the bust of an organized crime ring operating in Ano Liosia, which brought illegal immigrants into the country and held them to extort money from their families at home.
Police raided a basement flat in the area on Wednesday morning and arrested two suspected members of the gang and 17 illegal immigrants that were being held there. Another five suspected ring members are now being sought.
According to information released by authorities, the gang had brought the group of Asian illegal immigrants into Greece from Turkey, on a boat down the Evros River about eight days before. The group were then taken to the flat in Ano Liosia, where they were kept captive and forcibly made to communicate with relatives at home in order to send the money agreed with the group in order to be brought into the country.
The arrested suspects were led before a public prosecutor to face charges of abduction and organized crime as well as other offences. After being charged they were referred to the 24th regular examining magistrate.
 Trams collide in Athens, woman lightly injuredA woman passenger was lightly injured when two trams collided on Thursday morning at the Poseidonos-Achilleos intersection of the coastal road in the district of Paleo Faliro, wider Athens region.
A Tram SA company crew will remove the trams involved in the collision and investigate the causes that led to the accident.
Based on early Traffic Police estimates, the accident was most likely caused due to a failure in the rail lock system.
 FinMin, AEK head discuss new stadiumEconomy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Thursday met with the head of Athens' AEK football club, Demis Nikolaidis, for talks focusing on the popular Greek pro team's initiative to build a new stadium on land now occupied by a state-run agency (ODDY) in a far west Athens district (Ano Liossia).
Details of the plan will be announced at the end of the month, according to Nikolaidis, a one-time Greek international striker for AEK and Atletico Madrid.
In terms of strictly club news, AEK's president said the team has located a new coach, although an announcement will come at the end of the current season. He also said AEK will pick up an option to keep talented Argentinean striker Ismael Blanco.
 New House President pledges to promote unityNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
New House President Marios Karoyian has pledged to work for unity and promote a collective spirit, two principles he described as "fundamental preconditions" for the successful management of the Cyprus question.
Speaking before the House plenary, after his election to the House Presidency, Karoyian thanked all the parties which backed his candidacy and expressed understanding for the decision of the right-wing Democratic Rally party to abstain from the vote.
Karoyian assured that he will work for a just, functional and viable settlement of the Cyprus question on the basis of UN resolutions and decisions, the High Level Agreements of 1977 and 1979 between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities, providing for a bizonal bicommunal federation, the July 2006 agreement providing for substantive negotiations towards a settlement, the principles of international law and the principles on which the European Union is founded.
He said that his aim is a settlement which will lift the repercussions of the Turkish invasion and continuing occupation of Cyprus' northern part, reunite the state, the people and the institutions and create the conditions for the harmonious and peaceful co-existence of all the legal inhabitants of the country, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Maronites and Latins under conditions of security, progress and cooperation.
Noting that critical battles lie ahead for Cyprus and that new moves are expected on the Cyprus question, he said that the House of Representatives in cooperation with the President of the Republic and the government will assume its own share in efforts to promote our goals and our positions for achieving a just, functional and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Furthermore, he pledged to work towards unity, noting that he looks forward to the cooperation and help of all parliamentary parties.
He referred to the EU, noting that Cyprus' more active engagement in EU institutions "has allowed us to aspire to become substantive players contributing to European developments."
Karoyian said that his attention will also focus on issues related to the improvement of the functioning of the House at all levels.
He praised the work of his predecessor, new President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, who as he said had made important steps towards the promotion of the role of the Legislative and of modernising its structures and procedures.
"I will make every effort to continue along this path with a view to enhance the role of the House of Representatives," he concluded.
Karoyian was elected Thursday to the post of President of the House of Representatives by majority vote.
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