|Monday, 30 November 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-03-28
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 28 March 2008 Issue No: 2854
 PM: Reforms will continue; PASOK, SYRIZA moves mere 'fireworks'Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sharply criticised main opposition PASOK and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parliament grouping on Thursday, addressing his ruling New Democracy (ND) party's parliamentary group ahead of a second day of debate on a censure motion against the government tabled a day earlier by PASOK leader George Papandreou over planned social security reforms.
The three-day debate, which began shortly after noon on Wednesday, winds up at midnight Friday, at which time a roll-call vote of confidence will take place.
Karamanlis called PASOK's motion of no-confidence and SYRIZA's demand for a referendum on the social security reforms as mere political "fireworks".
The PASOK motion and SYRIZA's call for a referendum are "a competition amongst the opposition", Karamanlis said, adding that "difficult and complex matters are not simplified in this way, by asking the people to decide on a law that confronts dozens of problems with a 'yes' or a 'no'. PASOK's leader is attempting to play game of impressions, too. He is not competing against the government, but against those who first called for a referendum. He is trying to 'beat out' SYRIZA".
The premier said no reform would have ever taken place in the county if a referendum was needed to be held every time.
The motion of censure does not alter the government's planning, he said, adding that ND would emerge victorious from the "battle" in Parliament.
"The battle of impressions amongst the opposition does not concern us. Our concern is the production of political debate," Karamanlis said, accusing the opposition of populism and irresponsibility, while warning that "it is a mistake if they believe that they will keep the country hostage".
In an extensive reference to the FYROM "name issue", Karamanlis said the government has made intensive efforts for a solution to the problem and has taken bold and honest decisions, while referring to a mutually acceptable name that will apply for everyone, and with a clear geographical dimension.
"However, we have met with intransigence from the other side (FYROM)," Karamanlis continued, and stressed once again that "without a mutually acceptable solution, there can be no invitation to Skopje to join NATO".
Outlining the conditions put forward by Greece, the premier said "we seek a substantive, composite name that does not describe the form of government of FYROM. That does not concern us. We seek a substantive solution; not just a solution on paper, but a solution that will apply for everyone".
He further said that any solution agreed upon will not be ratified simply by a statement of agreement "but will be a final resolution with the seal of the United Nations".
Regarding the latest proposal submitted by a UN special mediator on the FYROM 'name issue', Karamanlis reiterated that "we are far from a mutually acceptable solution", but he added that efforts would continue.
"We are facing the issue with responsibility, and seek a solution that will not support unacceptable tactics or serve as a vehicle for irredentist actions, and will not subscribe to a rationale of instability, which is not suited to our times," he explained.
Regarding the "major reform of the social security system", Karamanlis said the relevant bill tabled by the government tackles the "multi-splintered" system, achieves reduction of expenditures, and confronts contribution-evasion, while it also establishes a national fund for solidarity, and sets in motion a substantive reform for a viable, fair and modern social security system.
"It is a matter of social justice and solidarity of the generations," he said.
Karamanlis reiterated his government's determination to carry on unwaveringly with changes and reforms, adding that the government had a mandate to continue on the difficult path with responsibility and solid steps forward.
"This is our agreement with the political alliance of the citizens, and we will fulfil it".
 Alogoskoufis, Hatzidakis address parliament on censure motionFinance and Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis, speaking in Parliament on Thursday during the three-day debate on the vote of censure against the government tabled by main opposition PASOK party, said that the rules safeguarding public interest and national security will also be implemented in the case of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE).
Alogoskoufis added that interest shown by Deutsche Telekom in buying part of OTE's shares "is welcome and compatible with the government's strategy on the organisation". The minister further said that the aim of the strategic alliance is the development of OTE in a very competitive international environment, while mentioning a recent article published in the Financial Times, according to which the alliances of telecom Organisations in Eurtope are a one-way path due to the scale economies being created.
Moreover, the finance and economy minister said that, following an official request by Deutsche Telekom, submitted on March 18, relevant procedures are starting for the signing of a shareholders agreement which, of course, will be tabled in Parliament and will be ratified.
On the question of unfavourable international developments for growth, he said that they are relatively small, but pointed out that the growth rate in Greece will be double that of the eurozone.
Alogoskoufis also announced that the incomes policy in the public sector for 2008 will be publicised in the next few days, noting that "in the framework set by the budget, we shall be safeguarding the incomes of employees in the public sector and of pensioners to the highest degree possible."
Also speaking during the debate, Transport and Communications Minister Costas Hatzidakis said on the issue of the sale of OTE shares by MIG to Deutsche Telekom that it would be a pity for the organisation "to shut its eyes to international developments and it would be twice a pity to drive away capital and know-how that could contribute to its modernisation and its development."
The minister went on to say that no agreement has been signed with DT "and if it is signed in the future, you must be certain that it will serve the interest of OTE, of Greece and of the employees of OTE."
As regards the Olympic Airlines company, Hatzidakis reiterated that "we want the circles and the name" and indicated that there will be a solution in 2008.
 Papandreou argues in favour of his censure motion against gov'tMain opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou on Thursday evening backed the censure motion which he tabled in Parliament on Thursday against the government's plans for the reform of social security system charging that the bill "is an unprecedented damage with irreversible consequences, which the New Democracy causes to the country."
"We refuse to accept the anti-democratic practices which you (the government) follow in and out of Parliament. We shall delay and obstruct every draft law which you are planning to pass without dialogue and respect towards the Greek society," Papandreou said.
Another "message" of the main opposition party, is according to the PASOK leader, "the expression of the popular will to refuse showing tolerance to the government, for the blank cheque to cease."
"Our message is: At long last stop the selling out. We are here and we shall remain guardians of our national wealth," said Papandreou, adding that "the era when you could evoke the past has ended. Today you are being judged, for your own history, your own policies, the enormous responsibilities."
Concluding, Papandreou linked the initiative of the main opposition party "to the common sentiment of society, as despite the tricks and the systematic efforts of manipulating the mass media with state advertisements and services, the New Democracy government today presents premature aging."
 Parliament to vote on draft social security bill on MondayA roll-call vote on the government's draft bill for reforming Greece's social insurance system will be held in Parliament on Monday at 19:00. This was decided unanimously at a meeting of the Greek Parliament presidium, which said that Monday should be converted from a day of Parliamentary control to one of passing legislation.
This was decided so that Parliament can continue discussion on a draft bill submitted by the culture ministry on "Measures to protect cultural assets" that was interrupted when main opposition PASOK tabled a motion of censure against the government on Wednesday over the pensions reform bill.
The roll-call vote on the pensions reform bill will be included into this discussion, after which the opposition parties are expected to submit their motions for a national referendum on the social insurance draft bill. The discussion on these motions will be carried out over one to three sessions.
In order for the President of the Republic to order a national referendum, the motion must be passed by three fifths of Parliament, or 180 of the 300 MPs.
 SYRIZA holds protest rally at Athens' Syntagma SquareThe Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) on Thursday evening held a protest rally against the social insurance reform and in support of a referendum for the voting or not of the social security bill tabled by the government.
Deputy Panagiotis Lafazanis, General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) vice-president Alekos Kalyzis and workers' representatives, youth and students were present at the rally and accused the government but also past PASOK governments of "following anti-popular policies in favour of capital and against the working people."
They further said that the struggle of the working people "will also continue after the voting" of the social security draft law and asked for the holding of a referendum with which the "Greek people can decide whether the social insurance reform planned by the government will be implemented or not."
 PM Karamanlis discusses Lisbon Treaty, EU enlargement with EU Commission president BarrosoPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis held talks with European Union Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at the Maximos Mansion on Thursday night. Karamanlis said in statements afterwards that during their talks the issue of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was raised, while the issue of the Western Balkans was also discussed in relation to the European Union's further enlargement, as well Turkey's accession negotiations.
Karamanlis said that Greece actively supports their accession prospects in parallel, however, with respect for European principles and values. He also pointed out that the problem of illegal immigration was also discussed and its handling by the EU, stressing that Greece is experiencing more pressures on this issue on its land and sea borders.
The prime minister also referred to the international economic situation, streressing that the EU is playing the role of a stability pole on the international economic stage and pointed out that the EU must be vigilant and closely watch international developments in the economy.
On his part, Barroso referred mainly in his statements to the issue of illegal immigration, noting that at the moment there are 27 countries in the EU and 27 policies on handling illegal immigration.
He also said that a common policy is necessary to tackle the problem of illegal immigration, while pointing out that the Mediterranean region is a priority for the European Commission. He added that the future of the Balkans lies in the EU, but underlined that "we are concerned about security and stability matters."
Karamanlis hosted a dinner for the European Commission president later in the evening.
Barroso will attend on Friday the proceedings of the 4th plenary session of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly which is being held in Athens.
 FM: Latest 'name issue' proposal far removed from mutually acceptable solutionGreek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday reiterated that the latest proposal by a UN mediator to finally resolve the thorny "name issue" with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is "far removed from what could be termed a mutually acceptable solution".
Speaking to ruling New Democracy (ND) party's Parliament group in the legislature's senate chamber, and following Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the same podium, Bakoyannis said Athens has already responded to UN mediator Matthew Nimetz over the points in his latest proposal that do not meet with the Greek government's approval.
Nimetz tabled his latest proposal on Tuesday to Greek and FYROM negotiators in New York City.
She also noted that Athens has also detailed the points that require additional clarification.
In echoing repeated and high-profile statements by Karamanlis over the recent period, the Greek FM reminded that failure to achieve a mutually acceptable solution over the nagging issue means "no invitation to NATO".
Her address comes roughly a week before a crucial NATO summit in Bucharest, where Albania, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) hope to receive invitations to join the Alliance.
In outlining the Karamanlis government's policy vis-ŕ-vis the 'name issue', Bakoyannis said activity to solve the issue was jumpstarted after international interest had waned after nearly a decade of inactivity, leading, as she said, to numerous recognitions of the neighbouring state's so-called constitutional name.
"The (Greek) government spoke with clarity over a composite name with a geographical dimension, and launched an international campaign to provide information and to promote our country's positions," she added.
"During this period we proved convincing, with our productive stance and sincere intent to find a substantive solution. However, our efforts always clashed with the other side's intransigence ... Greece will continue to make every effort (to solve the problem)..." Bakoyannis told MPs during a televised address.
Although Athens and Skopje enjoy excellent cooperation in practically every sector, particularly trade and cross-border investment, only the 'name issue' prevents a full normalisation of relations and closer political and defence ties.
 FM Bakoyannis addresses message to FYROM peopleForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, speaking in Parliament on Friday during the three-day debate on the vote of censure against the government, addressed a message to the people of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), stressing that a solution acceptable by the two countries will allow relations of good neighbourliness.
"I wish to send again, and from the Parliament podium, a clear message to the Skopjan people and tell them that Greece is a good, very good neighbour who desires the stability and the development of their country, because this is in the interests of both the Greek people and the Skopjan people," she said.
Bakoyannis further said that Greece really desires the finding of a solution acceptable by the two countries that will allow good neighbourliness relations that "constitute the basis for allied and partnership relations."
The foreign minister also said that "I call on the leadership of Skopje again today to respond to this invitation. What we are doing today is not extortion, but a sincere effort for us to find a solution, as soon as possible, for the stability of the entire region."
After pointing out that this issue is extremely sensitive and touches the hearts of the Greeks, she assured the House that negotiatig "is taking place with the best of conditions and that the government is determined to do its duty in full."
Lastly, Bakoyannis said that she believes that when the result of negotiations will be presented in the Greek Parliament, all "with your hand on your hearts will be able to agree and to vote for it."
 U.S. State Department on FYROM name issueWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
Asked to comment on the latest developments regarding UN mediator on the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Thursday expressed the hope that "both the sides will work together in good faith in order to try to solve this difficult and emotionally sensitive issue."
McCormack stressed that the United States encourage Athens and Skopje to take advantage of Nimetz's effort so as to reach "a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue."
McCormack noted that the United States supports the process under the UN mediator.
 Papandreou briefed on name issue developmentsMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Thursday underlined his party's utter rejection of the latest proposal put forward by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz for resolving the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In statements after the briefing he received from Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on the latest developments surrounding the name issue, he also accused the government of sending out mixed messages that had led to its failure in the negotiations.
"The government is unfortunately emitting contradictory messages and slipping, with the result that the various mediators are coming back to us with proposals that get steadily worse. We reject them. The latest proposal from Mr. Nimetz is rejected also," Papandreou stressed.
"Greece's message must be crystal clear, in the way that we expressed it in PASOK: one name with a geographic qualifier for all uses without exception. A resounding no to any form of double name. This has been PASOK's clear-cut position from the start," he said.
According to Papandreou, the result of the negotiations was a failure for the government and he underlined that a decisive stance by Greece at the NATO summit in Bucharest was the least that the Greek people expected and what PASOK had demanded all along.
The meeting between Papandreou and Bakoyannis was also attended by two foreign ministry officials and the party's Parliamentary spokesman for foreign policy Theodoros Pangalos, PASOK Political Council member Panos Beglitis and Papandreou's diplomatic advisor Dimitris Droutsas.
 FM briefs SYRIZA delegationForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis briefed a delegation of comprised of top members of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party on Thursday over ongoing negotiations on the FYROM 'name issue'.
Afterwards, SYRIZA MP Yiannis Banias said the latest proposal by a UN mediator was worse than expected. "However, it (latest proposal) does not end the possibility for negotiation".
He also expressed the political grouping's opposition to a solution coming within the framework of NATO or with US mediation, and in favor of a mutually acceptable solution that ends whatever irredentist designs or claims.
 FM briefs LA.O.S delegationForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis concluded on Tursday a series of briefings of Parliamentary political party leaders over ongoing negotiations on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) 'name issue', by meeting a delegation comprising top members of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S.) party.
LA.O.S. leader George Karatzaferis told reporters that tabling just a veto to FYROM's NATO entry "is not enough", reiterating his party's proposal for the holding of referenda on the landlocked republic's NATO entry and Turkey's EU entry.
 Papoulias receives Euro-Med parliamentary assembly membersGreek President Karolos Papoulias received members of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on Thursday, who were accompanied by Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas.
The delegates and heads of delegations, representing 37 national parliaments from EU and Mediterranean countries, will attend the proceedings of the 4th plenary session of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on the environment and energy, taking place in Athens on Thursday and Friday.
Papoulias stressed that political, economic and cultural cooperation between European and Mediterranean countries can contribute immensely to regional development and global stability. He also stressed that throughout his political career he was an "active advocate" of Euro-Med cooperation.
Sioufas said efforts aimed to establish peace, development and prosperity in the region are spearheaded by parliamentary cooperation and implementation of the Barcelona Agreement.
 ND MPs address Parliament groupSeveral top ruling party New Democracy party MPs addressed the party's Parliament group on Thursday, with Yiannis Tragakis charging that a motion of censure, tabled by main opposition PASOK, points to the "political dead-end" that the opposition is facing.
He added that the government is daring to proceed with changes and clashes that are essential for the country.
MP Costas Gioulekas referred to the climate prevailing in northern Greece over the FYROM 'name issue', stressing that most people consider that the government is dealing with the issue in a responsible and consistent manner.
"Moreover, people believe Greece has made concessions, as opposed to the other side, which must stop its intransigence, otherwise we should remind them that their accession to NATO and EU passes through Greece."
ND Deputy Miltiades Varvitsiotis stressed that the government won't back down on the issue, while warning that the country's political scene should also not become obsessed with the issues.
In terms of other speakers, Ioannis Tzamtzis reiterated his proposal for a retirement age reduction for women employed in the rural agriculture sector.
Costas Agorastos criticised PASOK for its motion of censure, saying that this is the first time such a proposal is not focusing on the government's problems.
George Kontogiannis underlined that ND's target is self sufficiency in next general elections.
 KKE leader addresses press conference in KalamataCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, speaking at a press conference in the city of Kalamata, southern Greece, on Thursday said that the focal point of developments is not Parliament, adding that KKE combines the struggle both inside and outside Parliament, in the workplace because the real confrontation lies there.
Papariga said that "we are starting a new course towards the people and this course will be inaugurated on April 5, from Alexandroupoli and it will reach all of Greece, every corner of the country."
Asked about the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Papariga said that things are worse today than in 1992 because "FYROM is an American protectorate in the Balkans and there is also the independence of Kosovo."
Lastly, as regards the social security issue, she said that "I will not say big words as the rest of the opposition parties are saying, creating illusions for the people. What is necessary for this law not to pass is, first of all, that it must go bankrupt in the conscience of the people, secondly the struggles must continue and, thirdly, conditions for a rift and a reversal must be created."
 KKE SG Papariga gives speech in KalamataCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga on Thursday gave a speech in Kalamata, Peloponnese.
She said that "2008 marks the 90th anniversary of the party and a significant part of the people, when they speak about the KKE, say that it is the party of struggle. They acknowledge our struggle, however our great contribution is not only in the major world historic events, but when the movement was not strong."
Papariga said the KKE "opened the road to the most progressive and pioneering ideas, as for example, we were the first to speak for the establishment of the demotic language and all these are the irreplaceable contribution of the party," adding that "we must never forget the party's role in pioneering, ideas and slogans."
She went on to say that "we are starting from the basis of a modern quality of life with work for the youth, we speak of a Greece as a factor of peace in the region, substantially, a Greece as a factor of stability in the region."
 Catholic Hierarchy of Greece on Cohabitation PactThe Hierarchy of the Catholic Church of Greece expressed its disagreement on Thursday with the Cohabitation Pact being promoted through a justice ministry bill.
It stressed in an announcement that this intervention "is not aimed at condemning anyone (only God is the judge of all of us) or to indicate to the government the way with which it must legislate. We simply wish to express publicly the convictions that are inspired by our faith in Christ and His Gospel."
It further said that "the Christian who signes the 'cohabitation pact' and lives with someone on this basis must be aware that he is experiencing a situation that contravenes the Law of God and of the Church. The violation of the Law of God is a sin."
The Catholic Hierarchy concluded by saying that "as regards people who, for various reasons, are living with someone outside the institution of marriage, it is not our intention to condemn them, as Christians, however, we cannot justify them. Objectively, they are experiencing a situation lying outside our Christian faith."
 Tourism Minister Spiliotopoulos addresses SISU student audienceThe significance of the Greek Studies Chair in the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) for Greece's infiltration into the major Chinese port city, one of the largest financial centres in the world, was highlighted by Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos, who is on a visit to China.
Addressing a student audience on "Greek Culture and Tourism", Spiliotopoulos underlined that the Greek and Chinese civilizations gave birth to today's global culture. He underlined the deeply anthropocentric nature of the Greek and Chinese literature both focusing on the simple citizen that finds the strength to resist mainstream practices, oppose regimes and the cruel ethics of authority, even being at odds with the aesthetics of society itself.
He pointed out that art, tourism and sports are the starting point of a dialogue that creates preconditions for cooperation between peoples, adding that it was not accidental that the Olympic Games in Beijing will take place after the Olympic Games in Athens, stressing that "this succession had to take place".
Spiliotopoulos said that his vision is a philosophy and culture-oriented tourism, underlining that Greece has to be promoted as a country with academic powers and cultural depth that can constitute an alternative tourist proposal for the 21st century.
He pointed out that the SISU Greek Studies Chair, founded in 1972, and the 27 students currently doing Greek Studies courses, will have his support and stressed that efforts are underway to establish a postgraduate scholarship in Greece. He also extended an invitation to the university dean and professors to visit Greece in the summer.
During his visit to the university, the tourism minister also inaugurated the Student Activity Centre and a photography exhibition focusing on the Greek landscape hosted by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), the Greek embassy to Beijing and SISU. He conferred in Greek with students, many of whom have Greek names, had a brief bicycle ride through the SISU campus and met with the university dean.
 Alpha Bank buys 90% of Astra Bank in UkraineAlpha Bank on Thursday said it has reached an agreement with the shareholders of OJSC Astra Bank, a newly set up bank in Ukraine, for the purchase of 90 percent of its equity capital.
The Greek bank said the transaction did not add value to the acquisition and that the purchase price fully reflected the Ukrainian bank's founding capital of 9.0 million euros.
Alpha Bank said the purchase established its presence in a rapidly growing market - one of the largest and more significant markets in eastern Europe.
Under the terms of the deal, Astra Bank's founders will maintain a 10-percent equity stake in the bank and will continue participating in the management.
Astra Bank aims to open 50 branches this year, offering full banking services to private customers and enterprises.
The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2008.
 Dubai Financial Group raises stake in Marfin Popular BankMarfin Popular Bank on Thursday said the National Bank of Cyprus approved a request by Dubai Financial Group LLC to raise its equity stake in MPB to 29.99 percent of the bank's equity capital.
 Greece in top three destinations for Romanian workersGreece, Ireland and Cyprus are the top three destinations for Romanians wishing to work abroad enticed by the high average salaries offered in those countries, according to employment offices in Romania.
On the other hand, an inflow of workers is being recorded in Romania. In 2007 alone, roughly 5,000 work permits have been issued for immigrants coming from China, Moldova and Turkey that are employed in construction, the textile sector, trade and banking.
 PPC reports improved 2007 resultsPublic Power Corp. on Thursday reported a 7.7-pct increase in its 2007 income to 5.15 billion euros, up from 4.79 billion in 2006, and said net profits totaled 222.3 million euros, up from 22.1 million euros over the same period, an increase of more than 900 percent.
Pre-tax profits, including net income from the sale of PPC's equity participation in Tellas SA, totaled 276.4 million euros, up from 42 million in 2006.
Pre-tax, interest and amortisation earnings (EBITDA) totaled 818.7 million euros last year, up 10.7 pct from 2006, while EBITDA margin rose to 15.9 pct from 15.5 pct. Other operating expenses totaled 517.2 million euros, down 3.5 pct from 2006, while investments rose 20.1 pct to 856.8 million euros.
PPC said low energy production from hydro-electric units (down 49.8 pct) negatively affected its results last year.
The company's board plans to pay a 0.10-euro per share dividend to its shareholders.
PPC said its workforce fell to 24,602 employees last year, from 26,208 in 2006.
 ATEbank sells Rodopi SA for 5.1 million eurosThe boards of ATEbank and its subsidiaries, Hellenic Sugar and SEBATH ABEE, on Thursday announced a decision to sell 97.12 pct of shares in Rodopi SA, a dairy producer based in Xanthi, to Tyras SA for 5.11 million euros, or 16.5 euros per share.
ATEbank will sell 223,600 shares of Rodopi (70.09 pct), SEBATH will sell 69,210 shares (21.7 pct) and Hellenic Sugar will sell 17,000 shares (5.33 pct).
An ATEbank statement announced that under terms of the agreement, the sell of Rodopi's shares were made through an open tender, stressing that the deal ensures the com,pany's growth, jobs spots and rights.
 Blue Star Shipping reports improved 2007 resultsBlue Star Shipping SA on Thursday reported an increase of 19.1 percent in its 2007 turnover to 168.13 million euros, up from 141.16 million euros in 2006, adding that pre-tax, interest and amortisation earnings (EBITDA) rose 8.5 pct to 44.31 pct and earnings after-tax and minorities fell 1.4 pct to 21.45 million euros.
The company's board plans to pay a 0.09-euro per share dividend to shareholders.
Blue Star said its vessels transported a total of 3,416,382 passengers, 458,611 vehicles and 159,059 trucks last year, for increases of 1.9 pct, 7.7 pct and 11.2 pct over the previous year, respectively.
 Trade deficit down 9.4% in Jan.Greece's trade deficit fell by 9.4 percent in January 2008, compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service announced on Thursday.
The statistical service, in a report, said the trade deficit totaled 2.667 billion euros in January, down from 2.944 billion euros in the same month in 2007.
The value of import-arrivals totaled 3.852 billion euros in January, from 4.255 billion in January 2007, for a decline of 9.5 pct, while the value of export-deliveries fell 9.6 pct to 1.184 billion euros in January, from 1.310 billion in 2007.
 Hellenic Fish Farming reports sharply improved '07 resultsHellenic Fish Farming SA on Thursday reported an 8.8-percent increase in its consolidated turnover to 54.5 million euros last year, up from 50.1 million euros in 2006, and said its pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) jumped 54.2 percent to 10.2 million euros from 6.6 million euros over the same period, respectively.
Consolidated pre-tax and interest earnings jumped 72.3 pct to 8.4 million euros, with pre-tax profits almost doubling to 6.0 million euros and consolidated earnings after tax and minorities rising 64 pct to 3.9 million euros.
Sales abroad rose 25.5 pct to 27.9 million euros, or 51.2 pct of total turnover in 2007, up from 44.4 pct in 2006.
 Bank Union Federation announces new 24-hour strike at Bank of GreeceThe Bank Union Federation (OTOE) has decided the continuation of nationwide strike action at the Bank of Greece, announcing a new 24-hour strike on Friday, March 28, "in the framework of reactions by bank employees against the government's anti-social security policy," as it said in its relevant announcement.
 Hellenic-Arab engineers conferenceThe Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) is organising a Hellenic-Arab Technical Cooperation conference under the auspices of the foreign ministry, with the participation of over 60 engineers, representatives of state services and organisations, construction companies and educational foundations from almost all Arab countries.
Inaugurating the conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas underlined the historic bonds of friendship and cooperation with the Arab world and referred to measures taken by the government in past years to decrease taxation, modernise legislation and the establishment in general of foreign businesses in Greece that are interested in activating themselves in the country or in the wider region.
"We want to become a 'bridge' between the Arab countries and the European Union, between the Arab and Greek businesses for joint action in the region of the Balkans, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean region," Doukas said.
He also referred to "excelent Greek engineers and to construction companies of international prestige" that highlight great potential in assuming and implementing big and complex projects, both inside and outside the Arab world.
TEE president Yiannis Alavanos focused on his part on longstanding cooperation with the engioneers' collective and scientific bodies in Arab countries, while announcing the signing of a cooperation memorandum between TEE and the Arab Engineers Federation on Friday.
 ASE approves listing of Doppler in Alternative MarketThe Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday approved the listing of Doppler ABEE in the Alternative Market and an application by Axon Securities to act as a consultant in the Alternative Market.
The Alternative Market operates with three listed companies, while another two listing applications (including Doppler's) have been approved by market authorities.
 Greek stocks surged 3.10 pct on ThursdayGreek stocks surged on Thursday, propelled by a strong performance in other European markets. The composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange ended 3.10 pct higher at 3,927.30 points, with turnover an improved 482.98 million euros, of which 33.5 million euros were block trades.
All sectors moved higher with the Travel (10.23 pct), Utilities (7.69 pct), Personal/Home Products (4.0 pct), Financial Services (3.11 pct) and Banks (2.32 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day.
The Big Cap index rose 3.11 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 2.52 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 1.17 pct. OPAP (14.20 pct), Lannet (13.04 pct) and United Textiles (12.50 pct) were top gainers, while Elviemek (9.78 pct), Viosol (7.69 pct) and Tria Alpha (6.96 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 196 to 55 with another 49 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +2.28%
Personal & Household: +4.00%
Raw Materials: +2.09%
Travel & Leisure: +10.23%
Food & Beverages: +0.94%
Financial Services: +1.55%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, Public Power Corp (PPC) and OPAP.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 20.00
Public Power Corp (PPC): 27.00
HBC Coca Cola: 28.26
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.72
National Bank of Greece: 33.50
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 18.82
Bank of Cyprus: 7.40
Piraeus Bank: 18.30
Titan Cement Company: 25.74
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices maintained their large discounts in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, while turnover jumped to 213.164 million euros.
The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 3.0 pct, while the April contract on the FTSE 40 index at a discount of 1.58 pct.
Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 18,199 contracts worth 177.484 million euros, with 21,780 open positions in the market, while on the Mid Cap index volume was 210 contracts worth 4.984 million euros, with 318 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 20,420 contracts worth 24.091 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Hellenic Telecoms' contracts (3,342), followed by Marfin Investment Group (2,018), PPC (759), Piraeus Bank (624), National Bank (1,233), Alpha Bank (493), Marfin Popular Bank (2,716), Hellenic Postbank (1,215) and ATEbank (1,001).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 870 million euros on Thursday, of which 605 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 265 million were sell orders.
The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2013) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 95 million euros, while the yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was unchanged at 0.60 percent. The Greek bond yielded 4.48 pct and the German Bund 3.88 pct.
In the European interbank market, a lack of liquidity pushed interest rates higher, with Euribor rising to 4.73 pct. In the domestic market, interest rates were mixed. National Bank's overnight rate fell to 4.22 pct from 4.25 pct on Wednesday, the two-day rate eased to 4.22 pct from 4.25 pct, the one-month rate rose to 4.40 pct from 4.39 pct and the 12-month rate was 4.75 pct.
 Local gov't determined to tackle povertyThe 6th Forum of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty (WACAP), co-organised by the City of Athens and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ends on Friday with addresses by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis and Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
"Poverty in an abundant society makes us all a great deal poorer," said Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis.
"Within this framework, the 6th Forum of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty, organized by the City of Athens, is of critical significance for the future of our society. And this is because it signals the transfer of responsibility for poverty eradication from central to local government, establishing municipalities as determinant factors of development, on both a local and national level," he noted.
Forum speakers and participants on Thursday - day two of the event - exchanged views on the role of local government and its increased responsibility in the development of initiatives toward poverty eradication.
 Prefecture ass'c head addresses anti-poverty forum in AthensThe need for cooperation between local government authorities and NGOs to combat poverty, was stressed by Union of Prefecture Authorities of Greece (ENAE) President Dimitris Drakos, who addressed the 6th forum of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty (WACAP) in Athens on Wednesday.
He pointed out that poverty does not concern strictly those immediately affected, adding that local governments in Greece are contributing decisively to the relief of poverty stricken social groups.
 Health ministry presents social cohesion programmeHealth and Social Solidarity Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday presented the "National Programme for Social Cohesion and Solidarity" for 2007-2013, which will soon begin operating as a pilot programme in the larger Greek cities.
Deputy Health Minister George Constantopoulos then presented figures showing that 152,000 families in Greece now claim to be living below the poverty line, including 410,000 children, and about 7-8 percent of families were over-borrowing and unable to service their loans.
The ministry said the main aim of the programme would be to investigate how many of families were truly living below the poverty line based on two factors, their income and how they were caring for their underage children.
The initiatives to be undertaken under the programme will be announced next month but their focus will be to assist those currently receiving meagre welfare benefits, like the long-term unemployed or disabled, to find alternative ways to boost their income.
According to Avramopoulos, the programme chiefly seeks to tackle the various forms of social exclusion and discrimination against specific groups and was designed along the lines of welfare programmes already used in countries like Holland, Germany and France.
It will be funded by both national and EU funds and will provide the main mechanism for modernising the Greek social welfare system, in the framework of a more wide-ranging reform of Greece's social protection model.
 Culture minister to inaugurate exhibition in HungaryVIENNA (ANA-MPA - D. Dimitrakoudis)
Greek Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis began a two-day official visit to Hungary on Thursday afternoon, where he will inaugurate a major exhibition taking place at Budapest University Library on Thursday night.
The exhibition presents the collection of Greek scholar Georgios Zaviras, who lived and worked in Hungary in the later half of the 18th century and explores the cultural presence of Greeks in Hungary between the 11th and 19th centuries. The exhibition will run until April 25 and is organised by the Greek Embassy in Hungary in collaboration with the University of Budapest.
Liapis will inaugurate the exhibition with Hungarian Education and Culture Minister Istvan Hiller, with whom he will also hold talks on Friday morning, before a visit to the historic Greek village Beloiannisz that lies south of Budapest.
Speaking on Wednesday, Greece's ambassador in Budapest Dimitris Kypraios explained that the embassy's goal was to collect all the artifacts in the Zaviras collection and create a foundation that would house these together in a building having the necessary high-level specifications. The idea has been positively received by senior Hungarian officials, including Hiller and the country's president Lazslo Solyom.
 Painter Mytaras elected member of Athens AcademyPainter Dimitris Mytaras was elected on Thursday as regular member of the Athens Academy.
Mytaras was born in 1934 in Halkida and after his secondary education he arrived in Athens to study at the School of Fine Arts.
During his studies he was awarded with two prizes.
After completing his studies at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, he received a scholarship which allowed him to study popular art in Mytilini.
He later received another scholarship and continued his studies at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris.
After his return to Athens from Paris, he became director of the Workshop of Internal Decorations at the Athenian Technological Institute of the Doxiadis Foundation. In 1977 he became professor of painting at the Athens Fine Arts School.
 US envoy hosts event for Int'l Women's MonthThe US ambassador in Athens on Wednesday hosted a luncheon for some 50 of Greece's most accomplished women on the occasion of International Women's Month, according to a press release issued by the US embassy in Athens.
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was the guest of honor at the event.
"Today is to celebrate you, to recognise you and commend you as Greek women for all you have contributed to your country and to us in the broader international community," US ambassador Daniel Speckhard said, adding: "I hope we can work together, Greeks and Americans, on some of the challenges facing women all over the world."
Bakoyannis noted that Greece will in the near future host a forum on the subject of "women's empowerment", focused on the Middle East.
 World Press Photo exhibition in Athens from May 6The 2008 World Press Photo exhibition will be held in Athens from May 6 until June 2 this year, at the main terminal building of Athens' International Airport 'Eleftherios Venizelos' in Spata.
The exhibition will be open to the public all day long and there will not be an official opening, though Jeroen Visser of World Press Photo will be in Athens on behalf of the World Press Photo Foundation for the installation of the exhibition on May 5. The exhibition is organised and sponsored by Athens International Airport.
 Lawyer accused of involvement in Zachopoulos case ordered jailedA well-known local attorney accused of involvement in the alleged blackmail case targetting former culture ministry secretary general Christos Zachopoulos was remanded in custody following 12 hours of testimony before a special investigator on Wednesday.
Christos Nikoloutsopoulos was summoned to testify in relation to charges of attempted extortion, the violation of the personal data law and participation in attempted suicide.
At the end of his testimnony and after the investigator and the public prosecutor reached a unanimous decision on his pre-trial incarceration, his lawyers said that his client continues to insist on his innocence.
Nikoloutsopoulos, who specialises in labour law cases and at one time served as a legal adviser to the GSEE union before resigning in the wake of the Zachopoulos case, will be taken to Athens police headquarters on Wednesday evening and then to the Piraeus-area Korydallos prison on Thursday morning where, according to his attorneys, he will ask to be taken to the prison's infirmary.
 Italian honor for Irini PappaItalian ambassador in Greece Gianpaolo Scarante will host a reception in honour of veteran Greek actress Irini Pappa on the occasion of the 2008 International Culture Award that was bestowed on her by the organisation Premio Roma.
An announcement by the Italian embassy states that Italy recognises Irini Pappa's lengthy contribution to culture internationally.
 Two arrested on suspicion of murderTwo people were placed under arrest on Thursday as suspects in the murder of a 24-year-old foreign national, carried out on Wednesday night on the 56th kilometre of the Trikala-Ioannina road near the village Korydallos in northwest Greece. A third man is still being sought by authorities in connection with the case. The two men arrested, one foreign national and one Greek, have apparently confessed to the crime and police have also recovered the weapon used. According to the evidence collected so far, the suspects killed the victim over a disagreement concerning the sale of a large quantity of illegal drugs.
 Police officers thrown off force for prisoner abuseTwo police men and two border guards are to be thrown off the force for the incidents of abuse against prisoners recorded at Omonia police station, a first-instance Greek Police disciplinary council decided on Thursday.
One police sergeant is being dismissed for forcing two prisoners at the police station to hit each other and shout abusive phrases that he dictated to them. The other officer that was fired was recording their abuse on his mobile phone, while the two border guards looked on and did nothing to prevent the mistreatment of the two prisoners.
The incident was uncovered when the video appeared on the Internet, prompting the public order minister at that time, Vyron Polydoras, to order a sworn administrative inquiry in which the two officers involved admitted their actions.
In addition to their dismissal, the two police officers will also face criminal charges but have the right to appeal against the decision of the first-instance Council to a higher disciplinary body within the police.
 Body found behind churchA man's body was found early Thursday morning behind a church in central Omonia square in Athens. According to the police, the adult male -- 35 to 40 years old -- was homeless, and possibly foreigner. He was stabbed twice in the chest.
 Coins, collectibles exhibition in ThessalonikiCollectors can find old European banknotes and coins as well as rare phonecards in the 16th International Exhibition "Card Collect & Coin Expo 2008" that will take place over the March 29-30 weekend in Thessaloniki.
Entrance will be free and visitors will be able to find exquisite coins at affordable prices dating back to Greece's King Otto (c.1833) and King George I (c.1873).
Very interesting are more contemporary coins dating back to 1926-1930 and 1954-1965 that can cost up to 1,700 euro, while the rarest Greek coins are eight gold 40-drachma coins minted in 1852 and the unique silver 5-drachma coin of 1846 that is kept in a museum.
Among the exhibits are also phonecards and prepaid phonecards, old greeting cards, lapel pins, military medals, bonds and stocks, and other collectibles.
 Daylight saving time on SundayGreece will switch to Daylight Saving Time (DST) on Sunday, March 30, in the early morning hours, a measure that will be into effect until the last Sunday in October.
At 3 a.m. Sunday morning, clocks should be set one hour forward to read 4 a.m. The switch to "summer time" will come into effect in all European Union countries.
 Olympic flame arrives in Athens on SaturdayThe torch with the Olympic flame will arrive at the Athens Municipality on Saturday, one of the stops in its journey to Beijing.
At the historic torch bearing which started last Monday from Ancient Olympia, the Athens Municipality is participating with seven runners, who will cover part of the distance from Tymvos of Marathon up to the rock of the Acropolis.
Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis will run with paralympic medalist Athanasios Barakas.
 Cloudy, scattered showers on FridayCloudy weather and scattered showers with easterly, southeasterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 7-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 3C and 18C. Cloudy with rain in Athens, with easterly, southeasterly 4-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 9C to 15C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 14C.
 Denmark wants to see a reunited CyprusNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said here Thursday that he would like to see Cyprus, which has been divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion, reunited.
Speaking after talks with his Cypriot counterpart Markos Kyprianou, Moller, who is on a two-day working visit to the island, said Cyprus has become a good partner within the European Union, adding that during his trip the two countries commenced preparations for their joint presidency in 2012.
Kyprianou said the two exchanged views on issues of mutual interest and praised MollerÔs role during CyprusÔ accession negotiations in 2002.
In his statements, Moller said Wednesday's ceremony for the naming of a street in Paphos in honour of Eric I, The Good, King of Denmark, was a "very good signal of our cooperation of today" and that "we are working together".
He recalled that in 2002 Denmark held the EU presidency during which "we negotiated Cyprus' accession and I had the honour of leading those negotiations. Cyprus has become a very good member of the EU. We are all satisfied with the decisions from 2002-2004".
Referring to relations between the two countries, Moller said there are many Danes living on the island and around 30 thousand visiting the island in the summer.
"Of course we should like to see this island reunited. We hoped for that in 2002 and we still hope to reach a solution. We hope the meetings the President (Demetris Christofias) started with Mr. (Mehmet Ali ) Talat will be a new impetus and you will be able to close that conflict and that this small island will not consist of two parts but one part which should be the reality in the future".
Moller said "we are also looking forward to our joint presidency", noting the concept of joint presidencies allows countries to exert constant pressure on some topics "which we feel should be solved", adding that the two countries, together with Poland, initiated preparations.
The Danish FM said Cyprus and his country are also working on joint projects in Gaza "to make life easier for the people in Gaza".
The two ministers pledged to continue discussions tomorrow during the informal meeting of EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Gymnich), to be held at Bled, Slovenia.
The Cypriot Minister said the two exchanged views on issues of mutual interest and that he briefed Moller on the latest developments in Cyprus.
"Cyprus, Poland and Denmark will have a joint, 18 month presidency term and my colleague made some suggestions on how to start preparing. Denmark is more experienced on presidency issues, we must not forget its latest presidency basically paved the way for Cyprus' accession to the EU".
Kyprianou thanked Moller for his contribution to Cyprus' EU efforts.
The minister also confirmed he will be traveling to New York to take part in a gathering of overseas Cypriots but could not say if he would meet his US counterpart Condoleeza Rice.
On the political situation in Turkey, Moller said the situation makes it more difficult for the Turkish government to negotiate with the EU.
Moller said that "we do not make the courtroom the place for political debates. It has to take place in parliament and not in courtrooms. Turkey has to respect its constitution. The Danish position on Turkey is that we have to close chapters, if we continue negotiations we close chapters but Turkey is coming into the EU on its own merits, it must fulfill the criteria and the EU must be able to absorb it".
He said that "once you invite a member into the EU, you have to be able to absorb Turkey and Turkey must be able to live up to the Copenhagen criteria."
Asked about the escalating violence in Tibet, Moller said the EU had issued a common position saying that China should not use force and should start negotiations and dialogue with the Dalai Lama to solve the dispute and secure its cultural rights. He recalled that the Dalai Lama accepts that Tibet is part of China, noting that cultural and social autonomy must be reached through dialogue.
The Cypriot Minister said "we also abide by the one China rule. That's very important for us. We also like to see calm and peace in the region, it is a sensitive area and we hope and believe for dialogue and peace can be achieved".
He said Cyprus believes the issue of the Olympic Games "should be out of the way and away from politics. These are different issues".
Cyprus, an EU member state since 2004, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the islandÔs northern third.
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed 21 March 2008 to ask their respective advisers, George Iacovou and Ozdil Nami, to meet in order to set up a number of working groups and technical committees and establish their agendas. The two leaders also agreed to meet again in three months to review the work done on various aspects of the Cyprus problem, the results of which will be used to start negotiations under UN auspices for a solution.
 House President: positive climate but a lot of work neededNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The House President has described as "positive" the climate following last week's meeting between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities.
"The first meeting between Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat has created a positive climate," House President Marios Karoyian has said, adding however that there is still a long way to go.
Speaking Thursday to students of the Philosophical Schools of the Universities of Athens and Palermo, Karoyian noted that as long as the Turkish establishment dictates its terms on the Turkish Cypriot community, things will be difficult.
The international community, he said, must exert pressure on Turkey to change its stance and show readiness for a settlement on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions and international law.
On the role of the European Union in efforts to find a negotiated settlement, Karoyian said that the settlement is pursued within the UN framework, noting that the EU is facilitating this process.
Karoyian said the EU has said the settlement must be based on EU principles and expressed hope that "Turkey will not set out any terms which are contrary to these values."
"We are ready for a painful, historic compromise that will not put at risk our survival. We are flexible and decisive when needed," he added.
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed 21 March 2008 to ask their respective advisers, George Iacovou and Ozdil Nami, to meet in order to set up a number of working groups and technical committees and establish their agendas.
The two leaders also decided to meet again in three months to review the work done on various aspects of the Cyprus problem, the results of which will be used to start negotiations under UN auspices for a solution.
 New UNSG's Special Representative arrives in CyprusNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Elizabeth Spehar, Director of Europe and America at the UN Department of Political Affairs, arrived in Cyprus Thursday to replace UN Secretary GeneralÔs Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Moller.
Spehar was appointed by UNSG Ban Ki-moon as interim head of the UN mission in Cyprus, replacing Moller, who is leaving.
On Sunday Spehar will welcome UN Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pasoe who will visit Cyprus as part of a tour in the region.
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