|Tuesday, 18 September 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-12-06
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 6 December 2008 Issue No: 3065
 PM: Persistance for future prospects despite costPrime Ěinister Costas Karamanlis on Friday reaffirmed that a heating and housing loan benefit will be given to more vulnerable social classes. He was speaking in Parliament during an off-the-agenda discussion on the economy and labour relations, initiated by Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party.
Karamanlis said that social transfers to the financially weaker brackets would be increased by up to 20 billion euros, and were slated to reach 48.7 billion euros in 2009, compared with 28.8 billion euros in 2008.
He warned, however, that there was "no visible end" to the current global financial crisis, with uncertainty prevailing over both its duration and intensity, making it important "that we do not exhaust the reserves of the Greek economy in the first wave of the crisis".
"To do this would be irresponsible and dangerous, in the face of the needs that may arise," he added, and would ultimate "place an unbearable burden on the future of all society."
The premier said that the government was closely following developments in order to take whatever action was necessary, starting with the decisions to give special heating and housing loan benefits funded by the National Social Cohesion Fund with 300 million euros.
The second measure - a special home loan benefit for all EKAS beneficiaries and OAED (Manpower Employment Organisation) subsidised unemployed who have a housing loan for a first home taken out before the beginning of January - will amount to 500 euros and be paid in two installments, in January and June 2009.
Karamanlis pledged that these will be followed by new packages of actions, revealing that Employment Minister Fani Palli-Petralia was currently working on a detailed package of measures affecting more than one million citizens, which would be funded with two billion euros from national and EU resources. Of that sum, more than one billion euros will be for targeted actions aiming to help 200,000 unemployed find jobs by the end of 2009.
He listed a series of actions launched as a part of this program-me, including an increase in the holiday benefit for 300,000 people on unemployment benefit and the conversion of the unemployment benefit to an "employment benefit" for 60,000 beneficiaries, at a budget of 310 million euros.
Additional actions were also being drafted and would be announ-ced by the economy and development ministries, Karamanlis added.
Karamanlis stressed his government's determination to act responsibly so that the country would not fall into "the vicious circle of recession" and to resist the "sirens of populism" for measures that would be temporarily popular but harmful in the long-term.
Commenting on the opposition, Karamanlis warned that "ir-responsible, superficial, demagogic positions" in difficult times were not only political weakness but dangerous for the course of the country and pledged to steadfastly stick to the principles that would guarantee security and a good prospect, "no matter the difficulties and temporary cost".
Replying to comments made by opposition leaders during the first round of speeches, Karamanlis criticised main opposition PASOK for making proposals that amounted to wishful thinking, without calculating their cost. He noted that irresponsible policies and irresponsible announcements reduced the country's credit rating and further increased the cost of borrowing.
"It would be very irresponsible if, in following the practices that are sometimes mentioned, we created an impression of risk at the expense of the economy," he said, adding that the government had no right to take the irresponsible path of the demagogue.
"I will not sacrifice the interests of the country, I will not sacrifice the interests of the citizens, for the sake of fleeting impressions. I have never done so and will especially not do so now," he stressed.
Countering criticism that new laws gave employers a "free rein", Karamanlis cited OECD figures placing Greece among the top EU member-states for protection of employment. He also stressed that "the viewpoints heard in recent days do not at all reflect the government's policy" with reference to proposals made recently by the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Constantinos Mihalos, for a reduction in the working week and corresponding salary cut.
He also repeated that the government, while committed to helping those most in need during the coming crisis, was hampered by the country's persistently high public deficit and public debt. Even though these had improved, Greece was still paying out more than 11 billion euros a year in interest, or 5 percent of GDP, as a legacy of irresponsible policies pursued in the past and a public sector that generated large deficits.
 PASOK leader lambasts government policyThe global financial crisis cannot serve as an alibi for a new, unjust redistribution of wealth, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou said on Friday, speaking at an off-the-agenda discussion in Parliament on the economy and labour relations. On the contrary, he added, serious interventions were necessary to boost incomes and jobs.
Papandreou pledged that the PASOK government would rein-force job market control mechanisms, contrary to the tendency for contravention of labour rights.
The main opposition leader charged that the government, a hostage of the neo-conservative policy, was unable to comprehend the causes of the crisis and the new reality that the developed world has entered, or the 'exits' that existed for a new developmental proposal.
Greece, he said, was entering the crisis in the aftermath of the catastrophic choice to carry out the fiscal audit that deprived the Greek economy of the ability to maneuver, under a regime of constant tax raids, tolerance of cartels that bred high prices, mismanagement of the new CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) resources, and a counter-developmental policy that constantly reduced public investments and consistently disdained any social protection network.
"And all this you call a responsible policy," Papandreou said.
At a time when other countries were investing in innovation and green growth, Greece was lagging behind, without a plan, and with the economy on the verge of collapse. "Do you think that we will become competitive if we squeeze the salaries further, if we make the Greek worker so insecure that he will work day and night for a piece of bread?", he asked.
PASOK, he countered, did have a plan: "We will not invest in cheap labor. We will not compete with China, pushing the worker downwards. On the contrary, we will invest in quality, and that will be the comparative advantage of Greece and the Greek people," he said.
As the next government, PASOK would abolish laws that undermined labour and social insurance, reversing "the unjust regulations in the social security sector, in working hours, imposed by your government," Papandreou pledged.
Papandreou said that the election of Barack Obama as the next US President presented the opportunity for a new "New Deal" with large investments in green development.
"We will fight the crisis in employment only if we put the economy into a new developmental orbit, with agreement among the social partners that will boost income and restore the social state. We will guarantee investments for our development prospects in order to consolidate a different rationale of governance," he said.
The PASOK leader warned that "we don't have even one day to lose, we commit ourselves to boosting the real economy and SMEs, with clear commitments on the part of the banks, something that the government failed to do".
He added that his party has already proposed the exemption of green public investments from the Stability Pact, noting that those proposals have also been adopted by the European socialists.
During the second round of speeches, Papandreou stressed that protection of workers existed only on paper but was not observed in practice since the state mechanisms for enforcing the laws were "paralysed".
He strongly rejected the premier's criticism of past PASOK governments, stressing that the government should look to its own present, rather than PASOK's past, to find the causes of current problems. Among others, he pointed to the collapse of the state health system as doctors and pharmacists remained unpaid, the failure to meet budget targets for borrowing and the fact that ministry spending had increased by 18 percent.
 Papariga addresses Parliament debate on economy, labor relationsCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Friday referred to various "new reactionary reforms", which she said are being promoted via a "trial balloon" uttered by Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Konstantinos Michalos, namely, reducing workdays with a corresponding cut in salaries.
Papariga spoke during an off-the-agenda discussion in Parlia-ment on the economy and labor relations.
She accused ruling New Democracy Party (ND) and main opposition PASOK of backing the same "provocative policies" with minor differences between them whereas, referring to the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), she said it raises the worktime issue in an allusive manner.
The KKE general secretary accused PASOK leader George Papandreou of "not saying anything" as regards the promoted changes, pointing out that PASOK passed legislation in 1998, which in essence, includes the chamber president's recommenda-tions in case of a financial crisis.
Papariga accused the prime minister of offering handouts to the victims of the crisis and rejected the rationale of privatisations and the overall government policy for the management of the economic crisis.
The KKE general secretary reiterated that it is imperative to defeat the policy of ND and PASOK, warning that otherwise the financial crisis will return.
 Leftist leader calls for renationalisation of Nat'l BankRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party leader Alekos Alavanos on Friday sharply criticised what he termed as "big business interests", which feed political bipartisanism, speaking during an off-the-agenda debate in Parliament.
Furthermore, he accused the government for an inability to proceed with major changes and called on the government to take immediate initiatives to support wage-earners and low-income strata, suggesting, among others, the complete renationalisation of the National Bank of Greece, the country's and the region's biggest financial institution.
Referring to Vatopedi Monastery affair, Alavanos stressed that it put aside other serious issues that should be discussed today, terming the premier's announced measures for the support of lower income families as "bread crumbs".
"The international financial crisis is not a simple storm; we are in the middle of a cyclone and we are watching the first raindrops and the clouds from our window ... We must not underestimate the magnitude of the crisis and we must not base out policy on fear. We must understand the size of the crisis and make the right maneuvers and the correct measures. Why did the economy collapse? Because it was based on an international status of huge inequalities," Alavanos opined.
The leftist leader was also critical of the government's standing policy regarding privatisations.
"Things must change. The banker must not sit on his throne, it is necessary for the country to have a strong national cell in the banking sector revolving around the National Bank of Greece, ATEbank and the Post Bank," he said.
 Karatzaferis on economy"The depth of the international financial crisis has not been witnessed yet," Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) president George Karatzaferis said on Friday, speaking in Parliament during an off-the-agenda discussion on the economy and labour relations.
Karatzaferis accused the government of "supporting 10 bankers with 28 billion euros when it gives 3.5 billion euros to three million people", while he reiterated his proposal for VAT reductions to jumpstart the market following the example of the British prime minister.
Referring to the Vatopedi Monastery land swap furor, he expressed doubts on whether the prime minister was aware of what was really going on.
 FinMin: No halt to reforms because of crisisEconomy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis said that the present global financial crisis was serious, and unprecedented in the post-war period, but stressed that "it is not the end of the world" and warned that such a climate should not be cultivated, speaking during an off-the-agenda discussion on parliament on the economy, adding that it was not possible to halt the country's reforms course because of the crisis.
"Today I heard the political leaders -- but certainly not the prime minister -- presenting questions, but which do not give solutions. The government, however, is giving answers and solving problems," Alogoskoufis said, adding that it had been clear in the prime minister's address that the government was giving solutions for growth, employment, social cohesion, the unemployed, those hard pressed by the increase in home loan interest.
He said that the Greek economy was equipped to a great degree to face the crisis, and has manifested greater resistance to date in comparison with almost all the other EU countries. "Inflation has already entered a period of rapid de-escalation, we have reduced the public debt by about 10 percent since we took over the governance in 2004 and we've reduced the fiscal deficit from 7.5 percentage points of GDP in 2004 to below 3 percentage points this year," Alogoskoufis said.
Thus, he added, on that side as well, Greece was in a better position to confront the repercussions of the crisis.
Alogoskoufis also said that the government's policy on reducing the tax rates was continuing, with the main rate being reduced from 27 percent this year to 25 percent in 2009, thus giving an additional increase to the available incomes of the households, while public and private sector collaboration projects were proceeding, with projects budgeted at 500 million euros poised for commencement in 2009.
In addition, programs under the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) were being activated, while under the investment law investment projects valued at more than 10 billion euros have been approved, the minister said, stressing that all those were very important to the economy's developmental prospect in 2009.
Alogoskoufis conceded that the developments have, however, affected the balance of payments by some 2.5 billion euros, which he attributed to the additional expenditure for fuel imports due to their spiralling prices. Greece was also impacted by the weakening of the international economy in extrovert branches such as shipping and tourism. Consequently, the effort to eliminate the deficit takes second place. "This target must be postponed. New efforts to reduce the public debt will be made after the recovery. But a return to the era of statism must be ruled out," Alogoskoufis said.
"We will not return to statism. The state is necessary, statism - the reasoning that the state will solve everything, and without money at that - creates problems. We cannot forget our reforms because of the crisis," the minister stressed.
 Gov't to uphold labour protection laws, minister stressesThe government will not allow labour relations and the social fabric to be disrupted in the name of the financial crisis, Employment and Social Insurance Minister Fani Palli-Petralia said in Parliament on Friday. Speaking during an off-the-agenda debate on the economy and labour relations requested by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), she underlined that the government will "not accept illegal lay-offs and abusive resort to suspension" by employers.
"The existing legislation is more than adequate for dealing with everything," Petralia added, stressing that Greece did not need new laws but work and new jobs.
She said that there would be a detailed presentation at the employment ministry next week of the two-billion-euro action plan for boosting employment, announced in Parliament earlier by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. The ministry would then also announce the remaining package of actions planned by the government for boosting employment and social protection.
"All of us are now aware that we are up against the biggest economic crisis that has occurred in the world in the past years," the minister said, adding that the important thing was not to describe the crisis but make preparations and install policies for dealing with it.
According to Petralia, the main parameters of the government's planning were to protect the weakest and most vulnerable groups - such as pensioners, the unemployed and single-parent families - and to boost employment, with emphasis on SMEs, micro-enterprises and self-employment that accounted for 93 percent of private-sector jobs. There were also plans for action to support sectors with 'special weight' for the Greek economy, such as tourism, construction, manufacturing and trade, she said.
The minister pointed to the steady increase in unemployment over the past two years, so that it now stood at a base rate of 430.75 euros a month and was given to 300,000 registered unemployed at a cost of 700 million euros. She noted that this would now keep step with national collective labour agreements and that there would also be a 10 percent increase for each dependent child.
 FM Bakoyannis on OSCE ministerial sessionHELSINKI (ANA-MPA/N. Melissova)
Greece assumed in essence as of Friday, on completion of the ministerial session in Helsinki, the presidency of the OSCE for 2009, adherring to the principle of the "honourable mediator" and the strengthening of the OSCE's role.
Despite the efforts of the Finnish presidency to "deliver" with a "joint political statement" that would provide a breath of fresh air for the Helsinki spirit to enable it to meet the new geopolitical challenges.
The presiding official himself, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexan-der Stubb had given 50-60 percent chances for its adoption, something that has not taken place over a period of six years.
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who will be taking over from her Finnish counterpart, expressed her disappointment that the opportunity for a political proclamation was lost, but stressed that Helsinki issued a "strong positive message" and this is the beginning of a political dialogue for the future of Europe, that the Greek presidency will encourage.
"A substantive political dialogue began here at noon yesterday (Thursday) and Greece has assumed the obligation to continue it until the necessary common ground is found. Europe needs new ideas, it needs a new strategy and we shall do all that we can to achieve at least a basic agreement," Bakoyannis said at a joint press conference between the "troika" and the representatives of Finland and Spain, at the end of the session.
On the question of the lack of a unified text, Stubb refused, although asked persistently, to place responsibility on some side and stressed as being an important fact that "we all found ourselves around the same table after the crisis in Georgia."
Bakoyannis also referred to this crisis, whose handling will preoccupy the Greek presidency exclusively, stressing that "it overturns fixed conceptions on security in the region of the OSCE, but this crisis may provide the opportunity for a wider discussion on the new European security architecture."
Although she had stated that Athens intends to host a summit on the issue, provided it is decided by the member-states, Bakoyannis considered it premature to take such a development as a foregone conclusion, but said that the scene might become clear around spring, when Athens is scheduling the holding of a ministerial conference.
The Greek minister will be making visits to the countries of the Caucasus and Russia previously.
"The Greek presidency will aim with all its strength at meeting the high requirements of the mission that it is assuming," she added.
The Greek presidency's programme and priorities will be pre-sented officially to the 55 countries on January 15, in Vienna, where the OSCE's General Secretariat has its headquarters.
In exercising the Greek presidency, the foreign minister stressed the intention of "working closely" with the Parliamentary Assembly, a "struggling political body," as she said, as well as with the Greek Parliament with which a liaison has already been appointed by the foreign ministry.
"We believe that the Parliamernt of the Greeks will contribute substantively to the exercising of this presidency," Bakoyannis said in the presence of the members of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, P. Skandalakis and P. Efthymiou.
Efthymiou offered assurances for this contribution and Skandala-kis said that "we are standing by the foreign minister" and wished a successful presidency.
The OSCE's next steps in Georgia and the Russian proposal for a new "treaty on European security" dominated the agenda of the "56" over the past two days and friction over these issues was not smoothed over to facilitate an acceptable formulation in a unified text.
Indicative of the distance that was not bridged was the stance of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who criticised the current form of the OSCE, as well as the arm for preventing con-flicts as being inadequate and reiterated the proposal made by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on the restructuring of Euro-pean security.
 Phanar issues condolences message over passing of Moscow Patriarch AlexiyISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
A message of condolences was issued at the Phanar on Friday on the passing away of Moscow Patriarch Alexiy.
"We are praying with all our hearts for the resting of his soul in a place of living and that the Chief Shepherd Christ will promote a worthy successor of his at the helm of your Holy Church," the message said, among other things, that was signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
Moscow Patriarch Alexiy had visited the Phanar last October on the occasion of the celebration of the year 2008 as the year of the Apostle Paul and had participated in the meeting of Orthodox Church Primates in Istanbul.
 Archbishop of Athens sends condolences for death of Alexy IIArchbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos has conveyed his condolences for the death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, expressing his grief for the loss of the "very capable helmsman" of the Church of Russia, as he called the deceased Patriarch.
Archbishop Ieronymos also expressed his hope that Alexy's successor will be equally worthy.
 PM Karamanlis sends message to Russian counterpart over passing of Moscow Patriarch AlexiyPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis addressed a message of condolences to Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday on the passing away of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexiy.
Karamanlis terms the passing of the Patriarch "a great loss for the Orthodox world" and praises the Patriarch's courage, great faith, patriotism and profound Greek education who, as he said, restored the prestige of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis also addressed a letter to the Russian Federation ambassador in Greece, Andrei Vdovin, expressing his condolences over the passing of the Moscow Patriarch.
 PASOK leader on passing away of Moscow Patriarch AlexiyMain opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou sent the following message on Friday to the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate over the passing away of Moscow and All Russia Patriarch Alexiy:
"I express my profound sorrow over the passing away of Mos-cow and All Russia Patriarch Alexiy.
"The deceased had been an ecclesiastical leader having prestige, theological education and great social work.
"He ruled the Church of Russia peacefully, with spirit and so-briety, contributing a great deal to its revival."
 Environment minister's message for Action on Climate Change DayGreek Environment Minister George Souflias on Friday stressed the need for global cooperation to combat climate change, in a message marking Global Day of Action on Climate Change on December 6.
"The global community is up against a major problem: climate change. It has an obligation toward the next generations to deal with this, with the active participation of all," Souflias said.
He stressed that the United Nations talks on climate change underway in Poznan, Poland had to achieve global cooperation. All countries must make commitments for substantial action against climate change and lay the foundations for a green economy with greatly reduce carbon emissions, he added.
Souflias underlined that Greece was dedicated to meeting its targets under an EU plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent up to 2020, while promoting renewable energy sources so that it accounted for 20 percent of power production and ensuring 20 percent energy conservation.
"Based on figures of the European Environment Agency and the European Commission, Greece is one of the four EU countries that have already met the targets set under the Kyoto Protocol for the period 2008-2012 through the measures it has implemented," he said.
The minister stressed, in conclusion, that restoring the climate required management measures but that these were not enough.
"It is imperative to change ways of thinking, change the lifestyle and behaviour of modern humanity. For this we need to responsi-bly and reliably inform and sensitise the society of citizens," Souflias emphasised.
 Tsipras criticises Aheloos project during Trikala tourCoalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) leader Alexis Tsipras on Friday met local groups of residents based in Trikala, central Greece, to hear their complaints about environ-mental problems in their area. Tsipras is currently on a tour of Thessaly that he began on Thursday.
Regarding two issues of concern in Trikala - the siting of a quar-ry in the mountains around Kalambaka and diverting the Aheloos River - Tsipras said that these were problems of national rather than local concern.
He was particularly critical about plans to change the course of the Aheloos River, saying that it was a project running counter to nature that had cost 500 million euros but brought little benefit to farmers:
"If this money had been given for the construction of small dam projects, the results would have been better for farmers in the area," he said, pledging his party would take all action possible both within and outside Parliament.
 Papoulias tours restored university facilities in KalamataPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Friday toured the restored buildings of an old army camp in Kalamata, southern-most Greece, which will host the humanities and culture faculties of the University of Peloponnese.
Deputy Education Minister Spyros Taliadouros noted, at the ceremony, that the government aims to ensure a greater independence for tertiary education institutions, while supporting the academic community. In referring to higher education funding, he said it has increased 52 percent for universities and 86 percent for Technological and Educational Institutes.
 New vehicle registration dropsVehicle registrations (new or used cars purchased abroad) totalled 335,946 in the 11-month period of January-November 2008, 6.2-percent decrease compared to the same period in 2007.
In January-November 2007 the increase was 4.8 percent compared to 2006, the National Statistical Service announced Friday.
A total of 99,534 new motorcycles (above 50cc) were registered in 2008, compared to 99,485 in 2007, a marginal rise.
The new motorcycles registered in the 11-month period of January-November 2007 recorded an 11.2-percent rise compared to 2006.
 Greek stocks down 2.85%Greek stocks finished the week on the downside at the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday, succumbing to international trends. The composite index of the market ended 2.85 pct down to finish at 1,788.46 points, with turnover a low to moderate 139.5 million euros, of which 2.3 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Industrials (6.22 pct), Mass Media (4.58 pct) and Banks (4.45 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Utilities (4.72 pct) and Commerce (0.78 pct) posting the biggest gains.
The FTSE 20 index fell 3.26 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 2.43 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.66 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 156 to 62 with another 36 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.88%
Personal & Household: -1.16%
Raw Materials: -3.33%
Travel & Leisure: -3.43%
Food & Beverages: -3.05%
Financial Services: -3.38
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Public Power Corp (PPC), OTE and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 6.80
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.36
HBC Coca Cola: 10.66
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.34
National Bank of Greece: 13.70
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 5.76
Bank of Piraeus: 6.60
Titan Cement Company: 11.74
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices ended with a discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover amounting to 48.133 million euros. The December contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 1.12 pct, while the volume was 8,741 contracts worth 40.123 million euros, with 30,632 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 10,464 contracts worth 7.733 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Marfin Investnment Group contracts (1,821) followed by PPC (1,556), National Bank (1,504), Eurobank (851), OTE (824) anf GEK (510).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market eased to 295 million euros on Friday, of which 106 million were buy orders and the remaining 189 million euros were sell orders.
The 3-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2011) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 60 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was 1,72 per cent, with the Greek bond yielding 4.75 pct and the German Bund 3.03 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month Euribor rate was 3.7 pct, the six-month rate 3.62 pct, the three-month rate 3.56 pct and the one-month rate 3.22 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates: Saturday/MondayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.276
Pound sterling 0.873
Danish kroner 7.509
Swedish kroner 10.663
Japanese yen 117.85
Swiss franc 1.550
Norwegian kroner 9.215
Canadian dollar 1.648
Australian dollar 2.005
 Global Forum for Media Development in Athens Dec. 7-10Greek President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias will open the 2nd Global Forum for Media Development in Athens on Sunday, Dec. 7, at a central hotel in the Greek capital, where some 400 media experts from around the world are expected to discuss ways of securing free and independent media as well as strengthening their role in contributing to confronting social ills, including poverty, social dislocation and inequality.
Key-note speakers during the four-day conference, entitled "How Media can Bring the World to Life", include Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, PASOK party leader and Socialist International President George Papandreou, Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk as well as high-level representa-tives from the UN, UNESCO, the World Bank and other inter-governmental institutions.
 Cardiologist abducted from home, investigation continuesThe police investigation continued into the early morning abduction of a 51-year-old cardiologist from his house in Vari, east of Athens proper, with still no trace of the man or two suspects by noon.
Two luxury cars owned by the victim were found burned and abandoned in Varkiza and Ekali, while no demand for a ransom had been made and the motives of the culprits remains unknown.
According to police, two unidentified suspects broke into the doctor's home some time after 10 p.m. on Thursday night, tying up his wife and two children and locking them in a bathroom. When the man arrived at roughly 11.15 p.m. he was attacked and immobilized. The culprits remained in the house for at least three hours before leaving, taking with them the physician and the two vehicles, as well as household appliances, money, jewellery and other valuables.
The two suspects had their faces covered, wore gloves and even had their shoes covered, according to reports. One of the two suspects also reportedly spoke Greek with a foreign accent.
 Foreign nationals sought in compatriot's homicideTwo Polish nationals, 26 and 24, are wanted in connection with the murder of a 40-year-old compatriot, whose body was found last February in the first floor of an abandoned building in downtown Athens.
According to police, the two suspects allegedly demanded that the victim to steal money from passers-by in order to buy alco-hol. The victim was reportedly beaten to death when he refused.
 Artist Opy Zouni passes awayNoted Greek painter Opy Zouni died on Friday morning at the age of 67 in Athens.
Zouni was an internationally known creator of the geometric art, with more than 70 individual exhibitions and 450 entries in group exhibitions.
Opy Sarpaki Zouni was born in Cairo in 1941. Her ancestral roots were from Crete and Santorini. Since 1963 she lived and worked in Athens.
 Event on Iranian art held in AthensA three-day festival featuring Iranian art and culture opened at the Byzantine Museum in Athens on Thursday, organised by Iran's Education Foundation.
Seven Iranian artists, all women, will present their works, ranging from embroideries, tapestry, to mosaics and figurines.
In inaugurating the event, Iranian ambassador to Greece Mehdi Honar-Doust stressed that it offers a great opportunity for the two peoples to get better acquainted, pointing out the importance of cultural dialogue in state relations.
Meanwhile, a conference focusing on women in Iran will be held at the National Hellenic Research Foundation on Friday evening.
 Athens Christmas Tree lighting on Sun.Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis will launch this year's holiday festivities at the central Syntagma Square, across from Parlia-ment, on Sunday evening with the traditional lighting of the Christmas Tree and related fireworks.
Athens' municipality has planned a month-long series of events, including fireworks, light shows, concerts, theatre and art exhibitions throughout the municipality's districts.
The celebration at Syntagma Square will continue with a jazz concert.
 Rain on SaturdayCloudy weather with the possibility of local showers and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Sa-turday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 8C and 21C. Cloudy in Athens with possibility of local showers, with southerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 11C to 20C. Same in Thes-saloniki, with temperatures ranging from 10C to 16C.
 The Friday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceFormer minister of state Theodoros Roussopoulos' testimony before the parliamentary fact-finding commission on the Vatopedi monastery land exchanges affair, the political climate, and the European Central Bank's trimming of its benchmark rate by 0.75 percent to 2.5 percent were the main front-page items in Friday's dailies.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "PASOK had opened the door for the 4-day work week (which was proposed earlier in the week by Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry-EBEA president Constantine Michalos, with a corresponding salary reduction, but rejected by the government) with the Simitis (former PASOK prime minister) law of 1998".
APOGEVMATINI: "End to (eventual) tenured status for public sector contract employees - European Court recommendation a 'bomb' for the public sector".
AVGHI: "Something new being born in the Thessaly plain - Independent moves by farmers in Thessaly".
AVRIANI: "Deep-rooted changes in the government and counter-attack on all fronts being prepared by Karamanlis".
CHORA: "Roussopoulos' testimony to the fact-finding commission on the Vatopedi affair - He claimed ignorance of the affair and no responsibility".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Suspicious moves even just ahead of Christmas - 'Sacred' orgy with 'suitcases' and remittances - Bank of Greece report on the movements of Vatopedi Monasterys accounts, submitted to the fact-finding commission on Thursday, burn abbot Ephraim and his cronies".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Operation 'escape' - Karamanlis, with minor benefits, will attempt to change the agenda today" during the Hour of the Prime Minister in parliament.
ESTIA: "The attitude of some members of the fact-finding commission denigrates parliament".
ETHNOS: "Metron opinion poll: PASOK leap - 5.5 percent lead over ND".
KATHIMERINI: "The signs of the crisis intensifying - 33 percent decline in car sales".
LOGOS: "Roussopoulos denied any responsibility: He was not the target of pressure, he did not exert pressure".
NIKI: "The Vatopedi pilgrim - Theodoros (Roussopoulos, a frequent visitor to the monastery and abbot Ephraim) had heard nothing about the scandal".
PARASKEVI+13: "The prime minister looks the dauphins in the eyes - 'Karamanlis re-election' (to the party leadership) - Extraordinary ND Congress on the horizon".
PARASKINIO: "Explosive letter - PASOK submerged 'up to the neck' in the Vatopedi scandal".
RIZOSPASTIS: "PASOK, with the backing of GSEE (General Confederation of workers of Greece) legislated the EBEA's demands (for shortening the work-week to 3-4 days with a corresponding cut in salaries) from ND".
SFINA: "Karamanlis took the wind out of the dauphins (hopefulls for the party leadership)".
TA NEA: "5.5 percent 'crash' in ND due to economy, Ephraim - Opinion poll sees self-sufficient PASOK government".
TO VIMA: "The latest opinion polls indicate PASOK self-sufficient government - Metron poll indicates 5.5 percent lead over ND".
VRADYNI: "Recognition of degrees of Liberal Studies Colleges (EES) - New ruling by European Court".
 Spokesman: Greek Cypriot side not responsible for lack of progressNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou said Friday that the Greek Cypriot side is not to blame for the lack of the desirable progress at the ongoing negotiations, which began early September between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus with the aim to reach a political settlement.
Invited to comment on a statement by Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat that no progress has been achieved so far at the peace talks, Stephanou said ''the process is in the hands of the two communities and the leaders of the two communities and it is their responsibility to proceed with the negotiations in order to achieve progress".
"We should act in such a way as to reach a solution, we are not to blame for not achieving the progress we would have liked to have achieved," he said.
He added that if the positions of the Turkish Cypriot side serve the goal of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, then the negotiations can proceed faster and yield results.
''So far we are not as satisfied with the progress achieved as we would have liked, although the Greek Cypriot side goes to the negotiating table with absolutely reasonable positions and positions which serve the goal we have agreed together, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots'', he stressed.
Stephanou explained that the agreed goal is a solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality as described in the relevant UN resolutions. The agreed solution is a federal state with a single sovereignty, one citizenship and one international personality.
The spokesman added that "if the positions of the other side serve this goal, then the negotiations can proceed faster and we can have much better results than today".
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat began last September direct negotia-tions with a view to reunify Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied one third of the islandÔs territory.
 Archbishop expresses sorrow for death of Patriarch AlexiosNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus Chrysostomos II has expressed his deepest sorrow for the death of Patriarch Alexios of Moscow and All Russia.
In a written statement, the Archbishop notes that Patriarch Alexios "has been a loyal and true friend of Cyprus and a strong supporter of the rights of our people".
"He worked consciously for the spiritual progress of the Holy Church of Russia and the unity of Orthodoxy", he adds.
In his written statement, the Archbishop conveys his deepest condolences to the Church of Russia and the Christian Orthodox people of Russia.
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