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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-12-05

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

Friday, 5 December 2008 Issue No: 3064

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM briefed on local authority funding, migration issues
  • [02] PM Karamanlis confers with employment minister
  • [03] Foreign minister in Helsinki for OSCE meeting
  • [04] FM Bakoyannis holds talks with Turkish counterpart
  • [05] Vatopedi probe to end on Dec. 15, gov't insists
  • [06] Defence minister attends artillery celebration
  • [07] PASOK leader meets Italy's Veltroni
  • [08] Coalition leader Tsipras visits Karditsa
  • [09] EU environment ministers Council on 'Climate-Energy'
  • [10] Parliament ratifies bill on smoking, alcoholic drinks
  • [11] President receives group for protecting urban greenspace
  • [12] Gov't on labour relations, economy
  • [13] PASOK spokesman on economy
  • [14] FinMin addresses exporters' con'f
  • [15] Minister on agreement between Piraeus Port Authority and COSCO
  • [16] GDP up 3.1% points in Q3
  • [17] Economic Sentiment Index at record low
  • [18] Hoteliers request support package similar to banks
  • [19] Attica Bank to take part in government's liquidity plan
  • [20] Greek stocks end slightly up
  • [21] ADEX closing report
  • [22] Greek bond market closing report
  • [23] Foreign Exchange rates: Friday
  • [24] Acropolis Facade restoration work
  • [25] UNICEF Greece telethon against child hunger
  • [26] Violence at student protest over private colleges
  • [27] False alarm for stolen church icons in Kozani
  • [28] Wildfire burns forestland on Rhodes
  • [29] Rhodes court to rule on same-sex marriage licences issued by isle's mayor
  • [30] Serres' bougatsa earns place in Guinness Book of Records
  • [31] Cloudy on Friday
  • [32] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
  • [33] Minister: We continue exploratory surveys for hydrocarbon reserves

  • [01] PM briefed on local authority funding, migration issues

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had a meeting with Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Thursday to discuss issues concerning local authority funding.

    After the meeting, Pavlopoulos said stressed that local authorities had succeeded, at a time of major economic difficulty, to not only safeguard their levels of funding but actually increase them.

    More specifically, the minister pointed out that certain classes of revenue for municipal local government had increased by 22.5 percent in the 2009 budget, in comparison with 2008, while funds going to second-level local government, or prefectures, had increased by more than 10 percent.

    "In other words, at this difficult conjunction and faced with the new responsibilities that Local Authority Organisations now have, the new duties they have taken on, we have secured the funds that will allow them to perform these and we will later on examine our course toward administrative reform," the minister said.

    Pavlopoulos also briefed the premier on immigration issues in view of the upcoming European Council to discuss migration policy, including a joint initiative by Greece, Cyprus and Malta concerning migration policy in the Mediterranean. Noting that Greece had so far played a leading role in European initiatives on this issue, Pavlopoulos stressed that the borders defining EU member-states were also the borders of Europe, which Europe had an obligation to protect.

    [02] PM Karamanlis confers with employment minister

    Prime minister Costas Karamanlis on Thurday met with employment minister Fani Palli-Petralia.

    After the meeting, Petralia once again stressed that the government does not share or adopt the views of Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) president Constantine Michalos of reducing the work-week to 3-4 days.

    Michalos, on Wednesday, floated the idea of reducing the work-week to 3-4 days, with a corresponding salary cut, in order to avert job layoffs, as a temporary measure and applicable only in specific sectors, due to the global financial crisis.

    "Mr. Michalos' positions to not refelect the government's views," Petralia said in reply to press questions, stressing that the government's policy in that area was drafted by the employment ministry.

    Petralia said that, in this period of crisis, the government's aim was to shield the working and employment positions, and the government's policy and measures would be moving in that direction.

    [03] Foreign minister in Helsinki for OSCE meeting

    HELSINKI (ANA-MPA - N. Melissova)

    Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis embarked on a hectic schedule of meetings upon her arrival in Helsinki on Thursday, preparing for when Greece takes over the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January. Bakoyannis was in Helsinki to attend a two-day meeting of OSCE foreign ministers.

    She launched the round of bilateral contacts by meeting her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for talks focusing primarily on OSCE-related issues, such as the crisis in Georgia and a proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a 'new European security pact'. Both issues are expected to dominate the agenda at Helsinki.

    Bakoyannis repeated during the meeting that Athens would be willing to host a summit on the issue of a new European security pact, if the member-states decided to hold one.

    The two ministers agreed to defer talks on bilateral issues until their meeting at the start of 2009.

    During her address to the OSCE meeting, Bakoyannis spoke in favour of adopting a joint political declaration that will "embody a new Helsinki spirit" as proposed by the outgoing Finnish presidency.

    Political analysts consider the adoption of a joint declaration by all 56 delegations attending the OSCE meeting unlikely, pointing out that this has not happened since 2002. If a joint declaration is agreed on, however, it will provide a "fresh mandate" and significantly increase the Greek presidency's room for action, a point also raised by Bakoyannis in her address.

    The minister said that Greece was in favour of continuing to send observers to Georgia and pressing ahead the Geneva process for viable solutions on issues of security, return of refugees and displaced persons in the area.

    "Decisions must be made in the framework of OSCE values, with respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of countries within internationally recognised borders," she said.

    She also supported the dispatch of OSCE observers to monitor elections.

    Other topics touched on by Bakoyannis in her address included that of military security and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and OSCE action related to energy, economy and the environment. She noted that both the current economic crisis and climate change were likely to further exacerbate problems like migration and trafficking.

    [04] FM Bakoyannis holds talks with Turkish counterpart

    HELSINKI (ANA-MPA/N. Melisova)

    Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis held 35-minute talks with her Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan on Thursday, on the sidelines of the OSCE's ministerial conference in Helsinki.

    According to a briefing by foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, the two ministers discussed in their private meeting the course of talks in Cyprus, while the Greek side raised the issue of Turkey's stance in the Aegean, on the occasion of the recent incidents south of the island of Kastelorizo.

    An assessment of the course of Confidence Building Measures was also made during the examination of Greek-Turkish relations.

    The two sides also discussed the situation in the Caucasus, an issue that will be a focal point in the Greek OSCE presidency's agenda in 2009. Babacan briefed his Greek counterpart on initiatives being taken by Turkey in the region.

    Speaking to the Greek and foreign media about the Greek presidency, Bakoyannis said "we are aware that the Greek presidency of the OSCE will constitute a great challenge. Greece will be an honourable mediator in all the frozen conflicts which will preoccupy it. The OSCE is a table at which we all sit, we must work consensually and the promise that I am giving is that we shall work with all our strength."

    Bakoyannis also announced the first Greek initiative that will flank the Greek presidency at the OSACE and with which it desires to provide an increased role for "women in the struggle against terrorism."

    The initiative was announced in the presence of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns.

    In joint statements, the Greek foreign minister announced the holding of a conference in Athens in spring in which women from all over the world, university professors, politicians and victims of terrorism will be participating.

    The foreign minister said that it is an initiative that wishes to give a voice to women who constitute the pylon of the family and of society and those "who pick up the pieces" for the reconstruction of societies after the terrorist attacks.

    Burns said that the event, which Greece and Pakistan will jointly be presiding over, has the support of the United States and of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is part of the framework of the Women Leaders Labour Group that was created in 2006.

    [05] Vatopedi probe to end on Dec. 15, gov't insists

    The Parliamentary investigation committee for the Vatopedi monastery land swaps with the state will issue its conclusions on December 15 as originally agreed by all the parties in Parliament, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros stressed on Thursday. Replying to accusations from main opposition PASOK that the government was rushing the Vatopedi probe to its conclusion, he said that these were groundless.

    "If some people, and I refer to the main opposition party, consider that they can extend or cheapen or make the committee diverge from its obligation to complete its work and arrive at a conclusion by calling a host of witnesses that have absolutely no connection with the case, then this shows what the motives behind these actions are. They have no substance. The motive is just political grandstanding," he said.

    PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou, on his part, repeated that the ruling majority was rushing to wrap up the investigation as an exercise in damage limitation.

    "For all its problems, the Investigation Committee has uncovered new evidence and witness accounts that further point to responsibility by the members of ND involved. In the light of these revelations, the ND majority on the Committee is rushing to shut down the proceedings. Evidently, because the light incriminates them, they prefer the dark," he said.

    He noted that the main opposition had more witnesses that it wanted to call and said that PASOK would make every effort so that the conclusions of the committee "reflect the common truth". Papaconstantinou also claimed that much of the testimony heard during the proceedings was "extremely damaging" for those involved in the case.

    [06] Defence minister attends artillery celebration

    The artillery honoured its Patron Saint Barbara during a special ceremony held at the artillery academy in the Attica town of Nea Peramos on Thursday, in the presence of the defence ministry's political and military leadership.

    Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis referred in his address to the ministry's initiatives to further improve the living standards of the armed forces cadres, while stressing that "at a time when all institutions are experiencing an ordeal the institution of the Armed Forces remains high in the conscience of the Greek citizen."

    During the celebration, Meimarakis unveiled the bust of artillery major Constantine Versis and then he laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Gunner.

    The event was also attended by party representatives, the local authorities and other dignitaries.

    [07] PASOK leader meets Italy's Veltroni

    Main opposition PASOK leader and Socialist International President George Papandreou met in Athens on Thursday with Walter Veltroni, leader of Italy's Democratic Party.

    No statements were made after the meeting.

    [08] Coalition leader Tsipras visits Karditsa

    Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) party leader Alexis Tsipras visited the city of Karditsa, in central Greece, on Thursday morning and met with local farmers at the two points of the prefecture's road network where they have parked their tractors. He then held a press conference and analysed his party's plan for the immediate relief of the farming sector.

    "The farming economy is on the verge of collapse and people who are continuing the profession of their grandfathers and their fathers are at the point of desperation," Tsipras said, adding that "what is important is that I met young farmers today, people who chose to stay here, who did not seek their fortune in the urban centres and who are creating a new movement that wants to overcome trade union leaderships that were trying to trap the farming world in bargaining for a few crumbs."

    [09] EU environment ministers Council on 'Climate-Energy'

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V.Demiris)

    The "Climate-Energy" package being promoted by the European Union to tackle climatic change was the main topic of discussion at the Council of environment ministers that was held here on Thursday. Greece's positions were supported by Deputy Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis.

    Kaloyiannis said in a statement that according to the European Council's decisions the agreement on the "Climate-Energy" package must be made possible by the end of 2008, stressing that the completion of negotiations on the package will provide the suitable political message and will highlight in the historic international negotiations, in Poznan next week and in Copenhagen next year, the EU's leading role in activities aimed at climatic protection.

    He also underlined that Greece supports a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020, an increase in energy performance and the production of electric power from renewable energy sources by 20 percent until 2020.

    [10] Parliament ratifies bill on smoking, alcoholic drinks

    The discussion on and the ratification of the Health ministry's bill concerning the protection of minors from smoking and alcoholic drinks was completed at the Parliamentary Plenum on Thursday.

    The bill also anticipates, following an amendment made by Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, the prohibition of smoking in all indoor public premises as of July 1, 2009.

    The Health ministry also accepted arrangements regarding the improved functioning of the "Support Centres Network for People with Disabilities."

    [11] President receives group for protecting urban greenspace

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday received a delegation from groups seeking to protect open spaces and quality of life in Athens, who asked for his intervention to protect the few remaining green spaces in the city.

    According to members of the "Coordinating Committee of Associations and Movements for the Protection of Open Spaces and Quality of Life in Athens", these were under threat from a policies that failed to protect urban open land from the ravages of "concrete and cafe tables" that overran what little greenery remained.

    Financial News

    [12] Gov't on labour relations, economy

    Asked whether the government will proceed with measures to ban possible layoffs in the private sector, the government spokesman on Thursday reiterated that the government supports full-time and high-quality employment and focuses on the protection of existing jobs and the creation of new ones in the midst of the ongoing international financial crisis.

    Spokesman Evangelos Antonaros made the statement during his regular press briefing and in relation to comments by Employment Minister Fani Palli Petralia.

    "Jobs are protected by the economic policy followed by the government," he stated, pointing out that the current Karamanlis government "managed to reduce unemployment when other European countries are faced with rising unemployment."

    "The policy implemented by the government aims to support the real economy, while meeting the needs of people that are the most vulnerable," Antonaros said.

    [13] PASOK spokesman on economy

    Main opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou said on Thursday that the decrease by 0.75 percent in the European Central Bank's main interest rate was a "move in the right direction," calling at the same time on the government "to ensure that this decrease in the cost of money will pass on to the loan holders."

    The spokesman also said that "PASOK will not allow the crisis to be used as an alibi for the infringement of the rights of working people," referring to proposals made by the President of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA), Constantine Mihalos, and added that these proposals "show the nonexistence of planning and the dissolution of supervisory apparatuses."

    Papaconstantinou further said that opposite these proposals lie those of PASOK for supporting employment, while the party has also submitted a draft law on employment for young working people.

    [14] FinMin addresses exporters' con'f

    Greece and its export activities will not be unaffected by the global financial crisis but all necessary measures have been taken to limit the consequences, Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said during an address at the 4th Greek Export Managers Forum in Athens.

    "Efforts made over the past few years to support exports attest to the fact that we are on the right path," Alogoskoufis said, adding that while exports between 2000 and 2004 recorded a steady decline in terms of GDP, in 2004-2007 they rose to 9.6 percent of the GDP.

    Following this impressive performance, exports in the January-September 2008 period continued to move upwards, recording an overall increase of 2.2 percent compared to the same period last year.

    The Hellenic Foreign Trade Board, HEPO, budget will increase, allowing for more initiatives in 2009, he said.

    "Greek products can claim and achieve a dynamic presence in foreign markets," the minister stated, adding that Greece's export policy is aimed at promoting products in a well-organized and well-targeted manner.

    [15] Minister on agreement between Piraeus Port Authority and COSCO

    Merchant Marine, Aegean and Island Policy Minister Anastasios Papaligouras, speaking at a press conference on Thursday, said that the agreement between the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) and COSCO for the delivery to the Chinese company of part of the containers terminal at the port of Piraeus "is a great opportunity" for Greece.

    Referring to the financial part of the deal with COSCO, Papaligouras said that investments in the region of 300 million euros will be taking place during the first six years, adding that the port's potential will increase by 250 percent.

    Auxiliary port activities will be in the region of 1.5 billion euros, while the benefit in exchange will total 3.4 billion euros and the benefits for the public sector are estimated to reach 2.3 billion euros.

    The minister pointed out that there was no question of any worker being dismissed and estimated that jobs would be increasing by 800-1,000 and Piraeus will develop into one of the biggest ports in the Mediterranean.

    [16] GDP up 3.1% points in Q3

    Greece's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose by 3.1 percentage points in the third quarter of 2008 against the corresponding quarter in 2007, and by 0.4 percentage points over the preceding second quarter of 2008, according to figures released on Thursday by the national statistical service (NSS).

    Economic activity in the third quarter of 2008, according to NSS, was characterised by a 16.4-percent reduction in gross investments of fixed capital against the corresponding quarter of 2007.

    The biggest reduction was posted by investments in construction, both of new residences (a 32.7-percent reduction) and other constructions (a reduction of 18.3 percent).

    A reduction of 8.1 percent was also recorded in investments for motor vehicles, while an increase in investments was posted only in the metal products and machinery sector.

    Reductions were also recorded in consumer expenditure, by 1.8 percent, and in imports of goods and services by 8.2 percent, while exports of goods and services rose by 1.7 percent.

    [17] Economic Sentiment Index at record low

    The Economic Sentiment Index in Greece has dropped to a historic low, according to a survey by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), which was unveiled on Thursday. The index dropped for the ninth consecutiv month, mostly mirroring the downward trend recorded in the rest of Europe.

    The index stood at 66.7 percent, down from 72.9 percent in October, a new record low, as is the case with Spain, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands in November.

    The index measures business expectations in the industrial, construction, retail and services sectors, while also taking into account consumer sentiment.

    According to IOBE, consumer confidence shows signs of recovery, stabilising at last month's low levels and with only a marginal improvement.

    [18] Hoteliers request support package similar to banks

    A package of measures aimed to support the all-important Greek tourism sector will be announced shortly, Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos stated on Thursday, addressing hoteliers' representatives in Athens.

    On his part, Hellenic Hotels Federation (HHF) President Andreas Andreadis said that the coming year is expected to be very difficult for the Greek tourism industry, and he reiterated the measures requested by the sector, namely, abolition of taxes that correspond to 30 percent of losses recorded in tourism businesses.

    In terms of improving liquidity for businesses, they also requested a share of the state support package destined for domestic banks.

    The measures requested by hotel owners amounts to 250 million euros, and according to Andreadis, are deemed as absolutely crucial. Andreadis noted that a 10-percent drop in tourist arrivals in 2009 will correspond to 2-percent decrease in GDP.

    [19] Attica Bank to take part in government's liquidity plan

    Attica Bank has decided to apply for the programmes created under the government plan for boosting liquidity and dealing with the repercussions of the international financial crisis.

    The bank said the decision was taken during a meeting of its board on Wednesday.

    [20] Greek stocks end slightly up

    Greek stocks ended slightly higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, with the composite index of the market rising 0.36 pct to end at 1,840.88 points. Turnover was a low 176.1 million euros, of which 22.9 million euros were block trades.

    Most sectors moved higher, with the Commerce (4.63 pct), Travel/Recreation (4.44 pct) and Personal/household goods (1.84 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Insurance (7.05 pct), Healthcare (2.93 pct) posting the biggest gains.

    The FTSE 20 index fell 0.30 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.23 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 0.06 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers led by 116 to 88 with another 56 issues unchanged.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: -1.33%

    Industrials: +0.40%

    Commercial: +4.63%

    Construction: +0.48%

    Media: -0.68%

    Oil & Gas: -0.61%

    Personal & Household: +2.93%

    Raw Materials: -1.33%

    Travel & Leisure: +4.44%

    Technology: -1.49%

    Telecoms: +0.86%

    Banks: -0.37%

    Food & Beverages: -1.61%

    Health: -1.55%

    Utilities: +0.45%

    Chemicals: -2.09%

    Financial Services: -2.90

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, Rokas and OPAP.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 7.20

    ATEbank: 1.51

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.62

    HBC Coca Cola: 11.02

    Hellenic Petroleum: 5.34

    National Bank of Greece: 14.38

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.08

    Intralot: 3.20

    OPAP: 20.00

    OTE: 11.70

    Bank of Piraeus: 6.86

    Titan Cement Company: 12.30

    [21] ADEX closing report

    Greek futures contract prices ended with a discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover rising to 48.662 million euros. The December contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 1.81 pct, while volume was 8,499 contracts worth 40.318 million euros, with 30,930 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 10,490 contracts worth 8.112 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (2,162) followed by Marfin Investnment Group (1,188), OTE (1,080), Marfin Popular Bank (750), Eurobank (655) and PPC (644).

    [22] Greek bond market closing report

    Turnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market eased to 310 million euros on Thursday, of which 130 million were buy orders and the remaining 180 million euros were sell orders.

    The 32-year benchmark bond (Septe. 20, 2037) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 55 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was 167 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 4.74 pct and the German Bund 3.04 pct.

    In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month Euribor rate was 3.77 pct, the six-month rate 3.71 pct, the three-month rate 3.66 pct and the one-month rate 3.33 pct.

    [23] Foreign Exchange rates: Friday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.272

    Pound sterling 0.869

    Danish kroner 7.509

    Swedish kroner 10.615

    Japanese yen 118.04

    Swiss franc 1.545

    Norwegian kroner 9.108

    Canadian dollar 1.607

    Australian dollar 1.979

    General News

    [24] Acropolis Facade restoration work

    Scaffolding will be removed from the Acropolis Facade during the next few days and visitors will be able to view the restored largest part of the marble roof with its friezes that made the monument, the work of the architect Mnisiklis, renowned in ancient times.

    As is the case with the other monuments of the Acropolis, parts of the Facade monument were dismantled to enable the removal of rusty metal connections, as well as cement left from previous restoration work, and will be restored with titanium.

    "Our aim is to restore the initial structural function of the monument and its initial dimensions," said architect Tasos Tanoulas, who is in charge of the Facade work crew.

    [25] UNICEF Greece telethon against child hunger

    UNICEF is planning a telethon to raise money against child malnutrition in collaboration with the state television channel ET1 on Monday night. Dozens of private radio and television networks are also expected to take part, while the central slogan is "Food for all the world's children".

    During a press conference announcing the event, UNICEF Greece president Lambros Kanellopoulos stressed that up to 300 million children in the world went to bed hungry every night and 148 million were underweight for their age, while acute malnutrition killed one million children a year or one every 30 seconds.

    The telethon will begin at 16:00 on Monday afternoon and continue until late into the night.

    Donations can be given via the telethon phone line on Monday (210-33 62 800) or at the following bank accounts:

    National Bank of Greece (NBG): 169 / 480020-64, ATEBank: 017 04 004416-70, Emporiki Bank: 031 / 80191081, Piraeus Bank: 5049-022842-011, Attica Bank: 069 / 54799691, Bank of Cyprus: 0000 1216 3468, Citibank: 55 02 346484, Aspis Bank: 101-03-0006583, Millenium Bank: 519829, HSBC: 002-066694-130, Eurobank: 0026-0102-14-0100540998, Geniki Bank: 036 / 3603003908-9, Alpha Bank: 115 00 2002 017649 (Process 03), and at all NBG cash point machines.

    Alternatively, donations can be given via SMS by sending a blank message to 19059 (from today until December 10, costing 1,19 including VAT) or else through calls to the number 80150012345 or Greek UNICEF website HYPERLINK "http://www.unicef.gr" www.unicef.gr.

    [26] Violence at student protest over private colleges

    Violence and scuffles with riot police marked the end of a student protest held in central Athens on Thursday, in which left-wing student groups demonstrated against the government's plans to grant recognition to private colleges operating as franchises of universities based in the EU.

    Two banks on Othonos Street and Panepistimiou street were vandalised during the incidents, while protestors and police clashed on Panepistimiou and Harilaou Trikoupi streets. The scuffles were triggered when police arrested a man carrying a hammer and a hood and other protestors attempted to free him, forcing police to use tear gas to disperse them.

    Protesting youths then assaulted a member of the police motorcycle squad who had stopped to conduct traffic at the junction of Patission and Stournari Streets, while other clashes with police also occurred at the corner of Stournari and George streets.

    The students and other demonstrators then made their way to the Athens Polytechnic, where a general meeting had been planned, lighting fires in dumpsters as they made their way down Stournari street. At least 10 young people were taken into custody over the incidents.

    The situation had calmed down by Thursday evening but the area around the Polytechnic remained closed to traffic.

    The students object to the recognition of qualifications issued by private colleges based in Greece as being equivalent to the degrees issued by state universities.

    [27] False alarm for stolen church icons in Kozani

    Six icons that were initially reported stolen from a church in Neapolis, Kozani Prefecture in northwestern Greece, have in fact been removed to undergo restoration work.

    A police investigation turned up that the icons, which are of great value, were removed by a representative of the Holy Metropolis of Sisanio and Siatista for preservation work and the churchwarden, who had not been informed about it, had called the police to report them stolen when he realized that the icons were missing.

    [28] Wildfire burns forestland on Rhodes

    A wildfire that broke out on Wednesday night in a forest in the Kamiros district on Rhodes, the largest island in the Dodecanese, was still raging on Thursday.

    Fire-fighting forces faced strong winds plaguing in the area, which are reportedly hampering firefighting helicopters and aircraft from taking part in the operation

    The civil protection general secreteriat has declared the area in a state of emergency following an island municipality request.

    According to authorities, the fire has already burned 1,500 hectares of forest and brushland.

    In a related development, a 35-person fire-fighting crew was airlifted to Rhodes in the early morning hours of Thursday to the nearby island of Kos to assist in fire-fighting efforts, with helicopter used to ferry the fire-fighters from Kos to the fire-ravaged island.

    [29] Rhodes court to rule on same-sex marriage licences issued by isle's mayor

    A court on the holiday island of Rhodes on Thursday heard opening arguments in a lawsuit filed by a local first instance prosecutor George Economou to rescind two marriage licences issued by a small island municipality to two same-sex couples.

    The mayor of the tiny island of Tilos, north of Rhodes, has presided over the two simultaneous civil weddings of same-sex couples and subsequently issued marriage licences in June 2008, a development aimed to attract widespread national attention and overturn the Greek state's reluctance to sanction such unions.

    The prosecutor requested that the two marriage licences be declared null and void. Conversely, attorneys for the same-sex couples filed a motion to throw out the lawsuits, claiming that a constitutional article on equality before the law is violated.

    A ruling by the multi-judge court is expected in roughly two months.

    [30] Serres' bougatsa earns place in Guinness Book of Records

    The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Serres, northern Greece, earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest bougatsa, traditional cream pie, ever baked.

    British representatives of the Guinness World Records delivered a certification and the 2009 Guinness Book of Records in which the sweet temptation of the Prefecture of Serres, northern Greece, occupies a distinguished place.

    The record pie, 20m-long, 60cm-wide and weighing 182 kilos, was baked in a specially made 20m-long oven during the 1st Festival of Gastronomy held in Serres last June.

    Bougatsa is a pastry constituting custard, cheese, or minced meat filling between layers of phyllo (paper-thin pastry made from flour and water, rolled into small balls and stretched until it forms an extremely thin sheet. Multiple layers are used as the basis for Greek and Middle-Eastern pastry dishes). Bougatsa originates in Macedonia, northern Greece and is primarily consumed in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki.

    The people of Serres now aim for another world record, this time using minced buffalo meat as the pie filling, considering that the region is a major buffalo breeder.

    The Guinness World Records is a reference book published annually, containing an internationally recognized collection of world records, both human achievements and the extremes of the natural world. The book itself holds a world record as the best-selling copyrighted series.

    Weather Forecast

    [31] Cloudy on Friday

    Cloudy weather with the possibility of local showers and southwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 6C and 21C. Partly cloudy in Athens, with southwesterly 4-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 11C to 19C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 10C to 18C.

    [32] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    The head-on collision between the goverment and main opposition PASOK over testimonies to parliament's fact finding commission on the Vatopedi monastery affair dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Government rejects Athens Chamber's proposal for reduction in working hours and (corresponding reduction in) wages".

    APOGEVMATINI: "Agriculture Minister Apostolos Kontos points finger at former PASOK government ministers George Drys and Apostolos Fotiadis in Vatopedi monastery affair".

    AVGHI: "Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) blatant blackmail: Salary cut or layoff".

    CHORA: "Bassiakos snitched on the entire government - He submitted to the fact finding commission a 'burning' press release".

    ELEFTHERI ORA: "ND and PASOK are playing ping pong over the Vatopedi scandal".

    ELEFTHEROS: "Cutbacks in salaries and social security contributions - Employers propose a 3 to 4-day work-week".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Part-time work as a result of the global financial crisis- The 700 euros generation to be turned into the 4-day working-week generation".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Hasty 'padlock' on the fact finding commission (proceedings) - Vatopedi: All accounts have not been opened yet to reveal what they are hiding".

    ESTIA: "Theater of the absurd in the fact finding commission - Fundamental democratic principals are being violated".

    ETHNOS: "Former Minister Evangelos Bassiakos' revelation to fact finding commission: The 'sacred' land exchanges were dictated by 'concerted govenment handlings'."

    KATHIMERINI: "Final curtain for the fact finding commission in the midst of a rift".

    LOGOS: "Proposal-'bomb' for labour relations - Employment Minister Fani Palli Petralia rejected Michalos' (EBEA president) recommendation for a 3-4 day working week".

    NIKI: "Government brings back the Middle Ages in labor relations".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Working classes' political counterattack against the attack by the capital's and its parties - Athens Chamber demands reduction in working hours and wages".

    TA NEA: "Cover-up after the revelations: Back-stabbing among ministers sinking the government".

    TO VIMA: "Crime without punishment - New Democracy rejects (establishment of parliamentary) preliminary investigation committee on Vatopedi affair - Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced that the fact finding commission's proceedings will be concluded on Friday".

    VRADYNI: "Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) president Constantinos Michalos playing games with the five-day work-week".

    Cyprus Affairs

    [33] Minister: We continue exploratory surveys for hydrocarbon reserves

    NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    The Republic of Cyprus continues its exploratory surveys for hydrocarbon reserves in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Pascha-lides has said.

    The minister, who met here Thursday Syrian Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Sufian Al-Alao, stressed that Cyprus will not stop its research programme, noting that this constitutes Cyprus' sovereign rights.

    Paschalides was referring to the harassment of research vessels by Turkish warships in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus, in November, in complete disregard of Cyprus' sovereign rights.

    The issue of Turkish harassments and Cyprus' protest to the UN in this respect was discussed during the ministers' meeting. Other issues discussed during the meeting were the delimitation of the EEZ between Cyprus and Syria, as well as their cooperation in the fields of oil industry and natural gas.

    Commenting on the issue of Turkish harassments, the Syrian minister said "we shall raise the viewpoint of our Cyprus friends to our government and we hope to find a solution for everything".

    Asked if Syria is restraint in its cooperation with Cyprus in the light of Turkey's reaction, the Syrian minister replied "no, we cooperate with Cyprus and we are friends with Turkey and we hope to seek the benefits of the two peoples and all the peoples that are in this area".

    The Cypriot minister stressed that Cyprus' "exploration programme continues", adding "we are exercising the Republic of Cyprus' sovereign rights, we will not stop, nor will we give our rights to anyone".

    He added that the Norwegian company, which is conducting a survey in Cyprus' EEZ and was harassed by Turkish warships, continues its survey, and is accountable to the Republic of Cyprus with which she has a contract.

    The Cypriot minister expressed hope that in the next few months the second round of licensing will begin to grant licence for hydrocarbon

    exploration and development licenses, saying that that round is considered to be very important.

    "We are optimistic that big companies from many countries will show an interest," he said.

    Asked how close Cyprus is to negotiating with an American company on one of the research plots and if they have concluded a deal, he said "an official announcement will be made soon, we are close".

    The Syrian minister said that during the meeting they discussed issues concerning the oil industry, especially the exploration and cooperation "because we are two countries in the Mediterranean

    and we have the same shores and we hope to find good reserves for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean".

    "The area is promising and in our exploration and cooperation we shall of course find solutions, more technical and financial possibilities to explore oil and gas", the Syrian minister said.

    He added that they discussed future cooperation for natural gas transportation to Cyprus, as well as "export and import of products, cooperation in the field of training and exchange of experience and studies, research and also mineral resources, exploration and organisation".

    "We hope this visit will make good progress for our relationship between the two countries with long history, two peoples", he said.

    Regarding the delimitation of the EEZ between Cyprus and Syria, the Syrian minister said that the matter is being discussed by the competent authorities, adding the Prime Minister of Syria was in Cyprus one month ago and discussed this matter, and "we hope to reach an agreement at a suitable time".

    In his statements, the Cypriot minister said that they exchanged views on issues concerning natural gas and oil exploration and cooperation between the two states in these fields.

    He also said they discussed the delimitation of their EEZ, noting that "we hope very soon to settle that issue".

    The Syrian minister held a meeting later on with Director of the Energy Department of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Solon Kassinis.

    In his statements, Kassinis said that the Mediterranean area is "one of the strongest areas for hydrocarbon reserves after the Golf of Mexico".

    Regarding the possibility to reach an agreement with an American company for one of the plots, Kassinis said that if hydrocarbon reserves are found in that area, the Republic of Cyprus will conclude an agreement with the American company which will provide for a license for 25 years extraction, with a renewal of ten more years.

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