|Monday, 19 February 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-11-29
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 29 November 2008 Issue No: 3059
 PM: Abandoning reforms would be immense strategic mistakeAbandoning reforms would be an immense strategic mistake, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis warned on Friday, replying to a tabled question in Parliament by Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) deputy MP Fotis Kouvelis regarding ailing national carrier Olympic Airways (OA) and the country's major ports.
"We are carrying on with reforms at a more intensive pace. Abandonment of reforms -- and indeed at this stage -- would constitute an immense strategic mistake at the expense of the country. And we will not make that mistake," Karamanlis said.
Particularly regarding the container port of Piraeus, Karamanlis stressed the contract for a concession of its container terminal to Cosco Pacific Ltd, signed earlier in the week during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit in Greece, was of decisive importance.
"It is the biggest and perhaps the only investment of such a magnitude to take place internationally amidst the global financial crisis," Karamanlis stressed.
The 35-year contract, he added, marked a new chapter in bilateral cooperation with a major economic power, enhances Greece's political standing, strengthens the Greek economy in sectors that are hard-hit in this present juncture, and was a landmark in Greece's evolution into a bridge between East and West, Karamanlis underlined, adding that Greece has only benefits to gain from it.
"The start that was made with the ports will have continuity and prospects for our country," he said.
Regarding OA, Karamanlis pointed to European Commission vice-president and Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani's recent statement, namely, that the Greek government's plan for OA could serve as a model for other European airlines, adding that the benefits to Greek taxpayers would exceed 500 million euros annually.
"Whoever truly cares about solid policies for social protection assumes the cost for generating the necessary resources," Karamanlis said. "Preservation of the past and seeking a better future do not go hand in hand. The exercise of a real social policy demands, first of all, responsible and bold decisions. Everyone is obliged to make his choices," the premier added.
Kouvelis said that OA and the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki were of strategic importance, and that the country's gateways in the air and sea could not be handed over to private concerns. He criticised the government of selling off a state asset at the ports "without provision of efficient terms of supervision ..." and of allowing the creation of a monopoly when, in other European ports, there are more than two service providers.
Referring to debt-ridden OA, Kouvelis said the government was going ahead with an "easy solution of privatisation", without keeping in mind the fact that Greece is a major tourism destination; that expatriate Greeks prefer OA to other airlines; that OA has devoted passengers and is one of the safest airlines worldwide.
 PM on gov't policy to combat illegal migrationAssurances that Greece will utilise and exhaust every EU resource available to tackle the serious, multifaceted and major problem of illegal immigration through a comprehensive European policy, was reiterated on Friday by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who spoke from Parliament's podium.
Responding to a tabled question by Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) leader George Karatzaferis, who charged that the problem of illegal migration has generated "unforeseen consequences" for the east Mediterranean country, the prime minister stressed that it can be effectively combated only through a single European policy.
Referring to efforts made by the Greek government on the European level, he emphasised Greece's contribution to the development of a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, which was recently signed, while pointing directly to the issue of repatriation of non-EU third party nationals back to their countries of origin or the country from which they illegally entered the EU.
The premier acknowledged that the number of incarcerated undocumented foreign nationals is on the rise, adding however, that it would be a mistake to associate this trend with an increased crime rate. He rejected any assertions claiming government inaction, pointing out that, in compliance with the Schengen Pact, Greece is proceeding with the implementation of a coordinated strategic plan within the framework of a European policy.
Karamanlis also referred to the protection of the EU's external borders through joint European policies, stressing that the goal is to utilise European cooperation and funds.
On his part, Karatzaferis underlined that illegal migration flowing into Greece is a real and major problem with upward tendencies, while at the same time there is no measure to determine its exact size.
Using official figures provided by the national Migration Policy Institute, he said that a total of 400,000 illegal migrants have been arrested since 2001 and if previous years are also taken into account their number could reach as high as two million.
He referred to "ghettos" that have been created in the centre of Athens (i.e. the Aghios Panteleimon neighbourhood) and in the western port city of Patras, where "thousands of people live in shantytowns".
"If we let the situation get out of hand we could witness vigilante-type phenomena, which is the worst thing a democracy can face," he concluded, adding that the number of illegal migrants held in Greek prisons is on the rise, while calling for foreign inmates' repatriation.
 PM, PASOK leader cross swords over health sector reformsPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday called on all political forces and citizens to support the government's effort for a higher quality National Health System (ESY).
Speaking in Parliament and in reply to a tabled question by PASOK party leader George Papandreou, the premier welcomed a promise by the main opposition leader to back a relevant provision allowing for accelerated hirings in Greece's under-manned public health system.
"If you bring forth (such a provision), because you have never done this in the past, such a bill that will make hiring procedures in the health sector easier, we will support it," Papandreou replied.
"Finally, I've heard something positive," was Karamanlis' response.
In countering the PASOK leader's heightened criticism, Karamanlis said the abolition of what he called the "established PASOK system" in hirings and procurement contracts apparently "annoyed some people and caused their reaction.
"It is a pity, and I am certain that, inadvertently, PASOK's leader has rushed to their assistance. I assure you that, despite whatever obstacles and reactions, the new (hospital) purchasing system is already being implemented will be fully operational in the new year."
"Millions of euros have been saved after the conclusion of the first stage of the new purchasing system and the savings will multiply after it is fully operational," the premier added.
He also referred to Papandreou's point over a lack of staff he discerned during a visit to Attikon public hospital in western Athens, stressing that "Attikon was inaugurated without a programme, without goals and was operating by using only a 25 percent of its capacity. We raised it up to 90 percent and we are proceeding step by step, aiming at its full time operation," he concluded.
Papandreou reiterated PASOK's promise to make ESY a health system of value, dignity, one that will offer citizens full access to health services. Referring to Karamanlis' responses, he said they indicate the government's hypocrisy.
"In the last five years we have been listening to promises that things will get better and that physicians, the unions and PASOK are responsible for the delays; you made ESY the symbol of fake excuses," Papandreou said.
PASOK's leader charged that the new purchasing and supply system, which was ratified 18 months ago, has not been implemented yet and called on Karamanlis to accompany him on a tour of a public hospital to see the problems with his own eyes.
"People are dying because they can't find an open ICU. It's preposterous," he charged.
 PM, PASOK leader condemn deadly attacks in IndiaPrime minister Costas Karamanlis and main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou expressed their abhorrence over the deadly attacks in India and their support for the Indian people, speaking in parliament on Friday.
"I unequivocally, and in the most intense manner, condemn the cold-blooded and criminal attacks in India," Karamanlis said, adding that the attacks "cause abhorrence, indignation and anger to all of us".
"Nothing can justify cowardly attacks against unsuspecting citizens. Nothing is above human life," the prime minister said, and expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the attacks, while also expressing Greece's solidarity with the government and people of India.
Greece, he concluded, was prepared to send a military aircraft to transport injured people to Greece, if required.
Papandreou, too, expressed PASOK's abhorrence and regret over the attacks and solidarity with the families of the victims.
As Socialist International (SI) president, Papandreou sent personal letters to the government of India and the leader of the Indian National Congress party Sonia Gandhi.
Papandreou further assured that he supports every Greek effort for humanitarian support.
Gov't condemns terror attacks in Mumbai
Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Friday emphasised that "nothing can justify such cowardly attacks against defenseless and unsuspecting civilians," in referring to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The spokesman added that "no one has the right to take human lives".
"Life and the respect of human dignity constitute inalienable rights," he said, while extending the Greek government's condolences.
He also noted that Athens has from the first moment expressed its intention to offer assistance if requested.
 PASOK on response to financial crisis, Vatopedi caseMain opposition PASOK on Friday promised to closely monitor the government's programme to assist Greek banks, making sure that transparency was observed and that the money being given was passed on to the real economy.
PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou also urged the government to follow the lead announced on Thursday by the European Commission and ensure three things: a revision of the budget, the drafting of a revised stability and development programme and making sure it used the capabilities offered by the new EU framework.
Referring to the Vatopedi Monastery case, Papaconstantinou said that every new deposition multiplied the evidence against all those involved and had revealed three scandals: the cessation of the trial that had already been won by the Greek State, the land exchanges on terms that were damaging to the Greek State and the fact that certain parties appeared to have knowledge of the affair, while others had coordinated and protected those involved.
Regarding the response of the Church, the spokesman refused to comment on the actions taken by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew regarding the affair but stressed that the scandal should not be allowed to affect relations between the Church and Greek society, adding that the Church should itself take the appropriate action to ensure this did not happen.
 KKE leader meets with Cyprus PresidentCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga on Friday expressed concern over the latest developments in the Aegean, but also over the intransigence of the Turkish Cypriot side, after a meeting with visiting Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, adding that the Turkish Cypriot intransigence was supported by the leadership of Turkey.
The KKE, she said, "supports the efforts of the Cypriot government for a just solution of the Cyprus issue based on the well-known UN resolutions".
"What we, too, ascertain, is that the Turkish Cypriot side is not just intransigent but continually wants more, even more than under the Annan Plan, and, chiefly, that it is backed by the leadership of Turkey," Papariga said.
She said that the EU cannot "wash its hands" of the issue, given that Cyprus is an EU member, but neither can the UN leave the issue at a level where the Greek Cypriot side is making efforts, but the other (Turkish Cypriot) side is gaining time to seek its standing intentions.
The issue also concerns Greece, "as we are worried by the latest developments in the Aegean at a time when many things are turbulent and the financial crisis increases the 'thirst' for vital resources, markets", the KKE leader said.
"We believe that, if someone wants to contribute, he must exert pressure on the Turkish Cypriot side, and especially on Turkey," Papariga concluded.
 Cypriot President Christofias meets with Alavanos, Karatzaferis"Turkey's aggressiveness and provocative stance has to be countered," stressed Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group leader Alekos Alavanos after the meeting a party delegation had Friday with visiting Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias. "Every potential offered by the EU will have to be utilized taking under consideration the high significance that EU accession has for Turkey," Alavanos said.
He also stressed that the talks held were very interesting pointing out that SYRIZA backs the Cypriot president's efforts for a solution. "The president as a personality and the policy he follows is a combination of factors showing persistence in values and principles while a great emphasis is given on citizen solidarity and coexistence. In addition, equal importance is given to the implementation of the UN and EU resolutions, the European acquis in particular, as well as to a realistic approach," he underlined.
"President Christofias is fighting an important battle for the Cyprus issue," Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis stated after his own meeting with the Cypriot leader.
"We have to help President Christofias to fulfill his lofty mission," Karatzaferis underlined.
 Abbot Ephraim offers to step down from running VatopediISTANBUL (ANA-MPA - A. Kourkoulas)
Vatopedi Monastery Abbot Ephraim, whose involvement in a series of controversial property exchanges with the state has created an ongoing political firestorm in the country, on Friday said he would offer to resign from his administrative and financial oversight of the eponymous Mount Athos monastery, following a closely watched meeting on Friday with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul.
According to an announcement issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which holds the supreme canonical and spiritual jurisdiction over the semi-autonomous Orthodox monastic community on Mount Athos, Abbot Ephraim promised to inform the Vatopedi brotherhood of his intention to withdraw from running the monastery's affairs when he returns to the Mount Athos monastery. He also promised to submit the brotherhood's decision to the Patriarchate by Dec. 2.
Abbot Ephraim, accompanied by the Monk Arsenios, the monastery's first secretary, was received by the Patriarch at the Patriarchate's Fanar district headquarters. Bartholomew had summoned the pair to Istanbul.
The Patriarchate also stated that it would continue to closely follow the affair, as the case involving the Vatopedi Monastery land exchanges progressed through the Greek justice system.
Revelations regarding a series of questionable land swaps between the monastery and the Greek state, in which prime real estate owned by the latter was exchanged for lake shore properties of marginal value and disputed ownership, have triggered a major political furor in Greece. This is now the focus of two separate and highly prominent investigations, one by Parliament and one by the independent justice system, earning the monastery intense media scrutiny.
Gov't on Vatopedi case
The parliamentary fact-finding committee on the Vatopedi Monastery land exchange case has a timetable, and its work is not expected to be completed before Dec. 15, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said in response to a relevant press question during the regular briefing on Friday.
"Apparently there are no grounds for political responsibility," he added, stressing that he is still waiting for answers from PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou over questions related to the case, saying that his (Papaconstantinou's) arguments are full of inconsistencies.
 FM meets with envoys of UK, KuwaitForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis had separate courtesy meetings on Friday with the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and Kuwait.
Bakoyannis met with Kuwaiti ambassador Khaled Mutlaq AL-Duwailah, followed by a meeting with outgoing British ambassador to Greece Simon Gass.
 Greek gov't launches campaign against tax evasionGreek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Friday called for a long-term effort to raise tax consciousness in the country. Addressing a meeting of the National Council against Tax evasion, the Greek minister said that "tax consciousness is also social consciousness" and that tax evasion was a perpetual problem that would take a long time to combat.
The Economy ministry is launching an informational campaign in an effort to combat tax evasion in the country. An effort to combat tax evasion was more necessary today because of the international financial crisis, Alogoskoufis said, adding that tax evasion deprived the public sector from necessary funds to support social policies, economic growth, education and healthcare.
 PASOK's Katseli slams measuresMain opposition PASOK spokeswoman for economic issues, Louka Katseli, criticised the measures outlined by Alogoskoufis and said that PASOK would not "support his attempt to use the National Council Against Tax Evasion as a communications tool to cover up the inadequacy of his policies".
"Mr. Alogoskoufis, faced with the collapse of public revenues and fiscal aberration, today attempted for the umpteenth time to declare a campaign against tax evasion. He announced new measures that are nothing more than "earnings indicators" for private cars, property and leisure boats. He is doing this during a time of crisis, when the risk of recession and joblessness in apparent, damaging important sectors of the Greek economy even more," Katseli said in statements to reporters.
Katseli also slammed the government's tardiness in alerting PASOK about the meeting of the National Council Against Tax Evasion, saying that it had not prepared an agenda or given sufficient time for the ministry's proposals to be studied and a serious dialogue to take place.
"This is indicative of the seriousness with which Mr. Alogoskoufis treats the issue of tax evasion," she added.
 MIG reports 50% hike in 9-month profitsMarfin Investment Group on Friday reported a 50-percent increase in its consolidated profits, after-tax and minorities from continuing activities to 190 million euros in the January-September period, up from 127.3 million in the corresponding period last year.
Pre-tax, interest and amortisation earnings (EBITDA) totaled 298.7 million euros in the nine-month period, up 59.3 pct from last year, while equity capital totaled 4.8 billion euros and cashflow was 1.578 billion euros, or 20 pct of group assets. MIG's internal value was 5.79 euros, rising to 6.17 euros if a capital return was included, slightly down compared with 6.21 euros in the previous quarter. The group said positive results were recorded despite a very difficult economic environment, still affecting international money and capital markets.
Commenting on the results, MIG vice-chairman, Andreas Vgenopoulos said the current environment created attractive investment opportunities which "we are ready to exploit".
 ATEbank: 9-month profits significantly downATEbank on Friday reported a sharp drop in its nine-month consolidated, after tax and minorities profits to 83.8 million euros, down from 219.1 million euros in the corresponding period last year.
The bank, in a statement, said the decline was expected due to the negative evaluations from financial transactions, reflecting a negative climate in money markets and significant non-repeating revenues recorded in 2007, totaling 80.5 million euros.
Interest revenues totaled 873 million euros, up 18.4 pct, with net interest revenue in the third quarter totaling 156.6 million euros, a satisfactory performance compared with the figure of the same period last year (151.9 million euros). Loan portfolio grew 21.3 pct to 18.8 billion euros.
ATEbank said write-offs totaled 469 million euros in the 12-month period from October 2007 to September 2008.
Mortgage loans grew by 23.3 pct to 5.9 billion euros in the third quarter, with consumer loans jumping 55.3 pct to 1.1 billion euros. Credit cards grew 49.6 pct to 422.8 million euros, while loans to households grew by 28.5 pct to 7.4 billion euros.
Loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises grew by 61.6 pct to 1.7 billion euros.
ATEbank said the rate of non-performing loans (more than 90 days) fell to 6.9 pct in September 2008, from 10.6 pct in September 2007, with the bank raising gradually its provisions for bad loans to 70.3 million euros, from 60.6 million euros last year.
Saving deposits grew 3.1 pct to 19.8 billion euros, for a ratio between loans and savings at 95.2 pct.
 Private sector debt to banks grew by 19.7 pct in OctoberAn international financial crisis has put a brake on households' borrowing in October, the Bank of Greece said on Friday. The central bank, in a monthly report, said total households' debt (mortgate and consumer loans) in the 10-month period from January to October 2008 (including securitized loans and write-offs) grew by 15.1 percent, compared with the same period in 2007, almost unchanged from September's growth rate of 14.9 pct.
Mortgage loans totaled 262 million euros in October, for a growth rate of 13.7 pct in the 12-month period, down from 14.9 pct in September, while consumer loans grew by 291 million euros for a growth rate of 19.1 pct in the 12-month period from 20.7 pct in September.
On the other hand, however, the annual growth rate of borrowing by the private sector (including households and enterprises) was almost unchanged, supported by a higher growth rate in corporate lending. Total debt to enterprises and households grew by 19.7 pct in October, compared with the same month last year, slightly up from a 19.5 pct growth rate in September. Corporate lending grew by 24.1 pct in October from 22.5 pct in September, to 1.864 billion euros.
 Proton Bank reports 29.3-million-euro loss in Jan-SeptProton Bank on Friday reported a net loss of 29.3 million euros in the January-September period, after a profit of 27.5 million euros in the corresponding period last year.
The bank said its nine-month results were affected by negative conditions prevailing in financial markets and higher provisions.
Loan portfolio fell by 4.0 pct to 1.317 billion euros, saving deposits fell 2.1 pct to 1.419 billion euros and net interest revenues eased 1.0 pct to 32.8 million euros, burdened by higher money costs.
Net commission revenues fell 54 pct to 14.1 million euros, while operating expenses eased 2.5 pct to 42.2 million euros. Proton Bank said a new agreement transferring 92.71 pct of Proton Insurance to Aspis Holdings also affected its nine-month results.
 Hellenic Postbank reports 10 mln euros profits in Q3Hellenic Postbank on Friday reported a pre-tax profit of around 10 million euros in the third quarter, saying it had returned to profitability (2.0 million euros) in the nine-month period after reporting pre-tax losses in the fist half (7.81 million euros)
The bank also announced a 22.10 pct increase in interest revenues and a 20.73 pct rise in commission revenues. Retail loan portfolio grew 10.90 pct compared with the same period last year, for an increase of 7.76 pct since the beginning of 2008, while repeating results grew 24.71 pct (pre-tax profits after financial results, provisions and amortizations).
Hellenic Postbank said its market shares totaled: 6.9 pct in mortgage loans, 8.0 pct in consumer loans, 10 pct in post savings, 3.5 pct in time deposits. The bank's non-performing loans rate rose to 0.86 pct in September from 0.65 pct in December 2007.
Commenting on the results, Aggelos Philippidis, the bank's chairman, said a negative international economic conjucture further intensified liquidity problems in the financial system. "Hellenic Postbank enjoying a high cashflow rate, managed to maintain safe and satisfactory growth rates".
 Athens Water says profits down 33.4 pct in Jan-SeptAthens Water on Friday reported a 2.5 pct increase in its nine-month turnover of 300.054 million euros, from 292.613 million last year, reflecting higher revenues from services and expanded drainage and sewage services.
Pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) totaled 64.9 million euros in the period from January to September, from 66 million euros last year, for a decline of 1.7 pct. Pre-tax and interest earnings also fell by 5.6 pct to 47.8 million euros, while pre-tax profits dropped 8.6 pct to 43.3 million euros. After tax profits fell 33.4 pct to 23 million euros.
 Greek PPI up 4.8 pct in OctoberGreece's producer's price composite index (measuring both the domestic and foreign markets) rose by 4.8 pct in October, compared with the corresponding period last year, the National Statistics Service said on Friday.
The statistics service said the domestic market producer's price index grew by 5.7 pct and the foreign market index was up 2.3 pct in October. The producer's price index fell 2.9 pct in October from September 2008.
 ASE suspends trading in Mesohoritis' sharesThe Athens Stock Exchange on Friday announced the temporary suspension of trading in Mesohoritis Bros' shares. ASE said it has accepted a recommendation by the Capital Market's Commission to suspend trading in the company's shares after Mesohoritis failed to timely present its financial results for the nine-month period from January to September.
 Greek stocks end cautiously upGreek stocks ended moderately higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday. The composite index of the market rose 0.28 pct to end at 1,913.52 points, with turnover remaining a low 160.3 million euros, of which 10.9 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved higher, with the Utilities (4.67 pct), Industrial Products (2.92 pct), Personal/Home Products (2.54 pct) and Oils (1.55 pct) scoring the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Commerce (8.10 pct), Telecommunications (2.76 pct), Media (2.04 pct) and Travel (1.56 pct) suffered losses.
The FTSE 20 index rose 0.56 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 1.28 pct down and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.79 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 121 to 102 with another 42 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.55%
Personal & Household: +2.54%
Raw Materials: +0.28%
Travel & Leisure: -1.56%
Food & Beverages: +0.12%
Financial Services: +0.34
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, EFG Eurobank Ergasias and Bank of Cyprus.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 7.96
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.46
HBC Coca Cola: 12.10
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.94
National Bank of Greece: 14.80
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.52
Bank of Piraeus: 7.68
Titan Cement Company: 13.38
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices maintained their discount at the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover shrinking further to 37.474 million euros. The December contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 0.76 pct. Volume was 14,516 contracts, worth 9.513 million euros, with 29,425 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 14,516 contracts worth 9.513 million euros, with investment interest focusing on PPC's contracts (1,817), followed by Eurobank (1,304), Marfin Investment Group (871), OTE (663), National Bank (1,557), Alpha Bank (600), Intracom (1,622), Marfin Popular Bank (948), Viohalco (1,198) and Intralot (946).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market improved to 972 million euros on Friday, of which 560 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 412 million were sell orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2015), was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 585 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds shrank to 151 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 4.83 pct and the German Bund 3.32 pct.
In money markets, interest rates fell further. The 12-month Euribor rate was 3.95 pct, the six-month rate was 3.895 pct, the three-month rate 3.85 pct and the one-month rate 3.57 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates: Saturday/MondayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.282
Pound sterling 0.836
Danish kroner 7.511
Swedish kroner 10.388
Japanese yen 122.43
Swiss franc 1.557
Norwegian kroner 8.991
Canadian dollar 1.590
Australian dollar 1.968
 Police solve case of bodies of illegal migrants abandoned in ditchAuthorities, in collaboration with police on the island of Poros and in Argolida prefecture, have announced arrests in the mysterious deaths of two illegal immigrants, whose bodies were found earlier in the week wrapped in blankets and abandoned in a ditch off a provincial road in southern Greece.
A police announcement identified members of an organised ring of migrant traffickers transporting Pakistani and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants by boat from Turkey, with Athens as the final destination, as the culprits.
Police said that, from the outset, they had suspected that the two victims were illegal immigrants who had recently arrived in Greece, and consequently their investigation focused on pinpointing traffickers and other illegal immigrants who, according to reports, had arrived with the same vessel.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the ringleaders of the gang were a 43-year-old truck owner from Athens, another 50-year-old local man and a Pakistani national, while another seven individuals are accused of being members of the ring.
Police said refrigerator-truck owned by the 43-year-old was stopped on Wednesday near the town of Kranidi, with a subsequent search revealing 30 illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh hidden in the compartment. The truck's 48-year-old driver -- a resident of Peristeri, near Athens -- his 23-year-old son and a foreign national were arrested.
The 30 illegal immigrants found in the truck and the two dead men had reportedly arrived from Turkey by speedboat, which disembarked them on a remote beach in Ermioni, on the east coast of the southern province of the Peloponnese, where they were picked up by the truck driver for transport to Athens.
Two of the illegal immigrants were already dead when the speedboat arrived, and thus four suspects wrapped their bodies in blankets and threw them out at the spot where they were found.
An autopsy revealed that the two dead illegals had severe cranial contusions, while the other illegal immigrants told police that during the journey the vessel was travelling at a very high speed, causing many of the passengers to bang their heads on the vessel's sides repeatedly. They added that when they called for the skipper to slow down, the traffickers beat them.
It has not yet been determined whether the fatal head wounds are the result of the rough trip across the Aegean or from traffickers' blows.
Police said the 43-year-old suspect has been involved in migrant trafficking since 1995 and is believed to be one of the ring leaders.
The detainees were led before a public prosecutor on charges of setting up and participating in a criminal ring, violation of migration law and money laundering. The same charges apply to suspects still evading arrest.
Homicide charges may also be filed if warranted, authorities said.
 Samos prefecture closes in protest over flood of migrantsThe Samos Prefecture authority will be closed next Wednesday in protest against the failure to stem a flood of migrants that are daily arriving on the island.
The Samos Refugee Detention Centre will operate with skeleton staff on that day, with just one person on duty per shift and one doctor to deal with emergency medical situations.
On the same day, there will be a meeting at the prefect's office with local organisations, authorities, political parties and the Samos MP to outline a framework of demands for dealing with the situation.
According to Samos authorities, there is a need of rules and principles for responding to this "permanent crisis" and a need for the appropriate legislative and political framework on both a central and regional level.
They also call for policies on an EU and UN level to address the causes of illegal immigration and set in motion action for alleviating these.
 Int'l journalist conference on media and immigrantsThe treatment of the immigration issue and migrants as individuals by the media was the main theme of the International Journalist Conference on "Media and Migrants: Welcome or Farewell" held in Patras, southern Greece, co-hosted by the Municipality of Patras and the Journalists' Union of Peloponnesus, Epirus and Islands (ESIEPIN). The delegates also examined whether the media play any role in cultivating xenophobia, racism and intolerance in society.
The conclusions of a study on migration and the press conducted by the Migration Policy Institute were also presented focusing on newspaper articles published in the daily and weekly press in Athens between June 7 and August 31, 2008.
Based on the study, the majority of the press refers to migration with a humanistic note (75 percent of the articles on refugees and 34 percent of the articles on illegal migrants), while those engaging in human trafficking are described as criminals and their victims are handled with sympathy.
As regards the European Migration Policy, 39 percent of the articles are critical of it, compared to 38 percent that find it necessary and moving to the right direction. Another 19 percent adopts a neutral stance.
 Papoulias attends graduation o f coast guard cadetsPresident Karolos Papoulias attended the graduation ceremony of 32 newly sworn-in Coast Guard second lieutenants -- 25 men and seven women -- at the Naval Academy in Piraeus on Friday.
The ceremony was attended Merchant Marine, Aegean & Island Policy Minister Anastasis Papaligouras, Deputy Minister Panos Kammenos and the coast guard's top leadership.
 Renovated Ioannina archaeological museum inauguratedThe fully renovated Archaeological Museum of Ioannina was inaugurated on Thursday by Culture Minister Michalis Liapis.
The 6.2-million-euro renovation project lasted five years, upgrading the 40-year-old museum's facilities, which host more than 3,000 exhibits from across the province of Epirus, in northwestern Greece. The exhibits cover a period of thousands of years, from the Paleolithic Age to the Mycenaean Civilisation.
The culture minister also visited the ancient theater of Dodoni and announced that its reconstruction will be financed vis seven million euros.
 Cloudy, rainfallRain and showers are forecast for much of Greece on Saturday, with particularly heavy rainfall projected in the western part of the country in the morning hours. Chance of snowfall in northern and central mountainous Greece, 0C to 12C; 3C to 20C on the rest of the mainland and 8C to 16C on the islands. East to southeasterly winds, 3 to 5 on the Beaufort scale. Cloudy with a chance of rain in Athens, 10C to 18C; showers and a chance of snow in the heights outside Thessaloniki, 3C to 11C.
 The Friday edition of Athens dailies at a glanceThe bloody attacks in Mumbai, and the EU moves on the international financial crisis dominated the headlines on Friday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Hiring of 6,500 unemployed".
APOGEVMATINI: "Greeks from Australia who were celebrating their wedding t a central Mumbai restaurant said: It's a miracle that we're alive!"
AVGHI: "Health cast into the dustbin and the garbage to the capital - The social state is the victim, before and after the crisis".
AVRIANI: "Main opposition PASOK party MP Theodoros Pangalos put the blame on former PASOK goverment ministers for the Vatopedi monastery scandal".
CHORA: "Monk Evdokimos ratted on them all and put them in handcuffs".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "Vatopedi monks Anastassios and Evdokimos testified before the parliamentary fact finding commission - ND and PASOK clash over ministers' political responsibilities".
ELEFTHEROS: "Secret agreement to cover up the scandal - The Vatopedi scandal's consequences are grave for the government and PASOK".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "The ice cracks - Hot money funneled into the market".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Army of terrorists spreads blood and chaos - Unidentified Islamist commandos' 'landing' in Mumbai".
ESTIA: "Europe is delaying - Danger of the crisis intensifying".
ETHNOS: "Abbot (of Vatopedi Minastery) Ephraim was the supplier in a second Cyprus off-shore company."
KATHIMERINI: "India's police special forces in battle with the terrorists - Attacks on 9 spots in Mumbai with 125 victims".
LOGOS: "Shock and awe - India's prime minister Manmohan Singh promises to track down the culprits".
NIKI: "Ephraim, Ministers made the deals - Evdokimos uncovers the agreements".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Thousand of workers protested on Thursday demanding the plutocracy to pay for the crisis".
TA NEA: "Banks are giving record interest rates for new deposits - Interest rates of up to 6.6% aiming to collect money".
TO VIMA: "The Mumbai massacre shocks the world - The spectre of terrorism returns - Western world in state of emergency".
VRADYNI: "Bankers give positive response to government's liquidity plan, after Karamnalis' final warning".
 Cyprus president: Cyprus solution possible in 2009 if Turkey shows good willCyprus President Demetris Christofias said here on Friday that he was fully satisfied with the results of his official visit to Athens.
''The convergence of views regarding the Cyprus problem and the policy to be followed with a view to reaching a just and viable solution to the problem as soon as possible was reconfirmed,'' President Christofias told a press conference at the Union of Foreign Press Correspondents in Athens.
He described the Cyprus problem as an ''Odyssey,'' assuring however that ''we will keep traveling until we reach Ithaca.''
The Cypriot president described the stance of the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat as contradictory, noting that ''while at the negotiations' table Talat underlines that he does not seek a confederal solution all of his proposals tend to a confederal model.''
Christofias said that the Greek Cypriot side has entered the direct negotiations, that commenced early September under the UN auspices, with the sole aim of reaching a mutually accepted solution to the Cyprus problem.
''We remain focused on this target. We will keep with the same good will with the same determination and flexibility but with the same consistency on the principles, we will continue to work for the solution of the problem,'' Christofias added.
Addressing the Turkish Cypriot leadership, Christofias said that it is necessary to ''respond to our goodwill and submit to the negotiations table rational and negotiable proposals.''
Expressing the belief that if Turkey shows good will in the negotiations a solution within 2009 is possible, Christofias called on the international community to exert pressure on Ankara.
He also called on Turkey to understand that it is impossible to aspire to enter the EU while at the same time continue violating the international law, the sovereignty the independence and territorial integrity of an UN and EU member-state.
''It is not possible for us to acquiesce to Turkey's accession to the EU, while it will continue violating international and European legality,'' he stressed.
Replying to a question, President Christofias said that the exploratory survey in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) continue and will be completed with the next few days, reiterating that ''the Republic of Cyprus has a sovereign right under the Treaty on the Law of the Sea to hold surveys in its EEZ.''
On November 13 two ships under foreign flag that were conducting an exploratory survey on behalf of Cyprus the Republic of Cyprus within its EEZ, 27 miles off the south coast of the island were forced by a Turkish warship to cease their operations and withdraw within the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus, under fear for the lives of their crews and the integrity of the ships.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
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