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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-01-23

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

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

Friday, 23 January 2009 Issue No: 3103

CONTENTS

  • [01] Gov't announces 500-million-euro package for farmers
  • [02] PM briefed on local government issues, NSRF
  • [03] PM Karamanlis meets with Merchant Marine minister
  • [04] PM meets ND Parliamentary group secretary
  • [05] Gov't: No plan for DC visit by PM
  • [06] Gov't repeats position on name dispute with Skopje
  • [07] PASOK's spokesman on farmers, economy
  • [08] KKE on economic crisis, farmers
  • [09] SYRIZA's Alavanos on education sector
  • [10] LAOS leader criticises government agricultural policy
  • [11] Gov't eyes higher injury benefit for police officers
  • [12] Interview with PASOK's Vasso Papandreou
  • [13] Freezing of bank accounts in Siemens case
  • [14] Flow of Russian natgas via Bulgaria restored
  • [15] Gov't briefed on OA privatisation
  • [16] Government on Trichet, Juncker references to Greece
  • [17] Gov't on special social cohesion bonus
  • [18] NBG shareholders approve 350-mln-euro share capital hike
  • [19] Dep. minister optimistic on inflation rate
  • [20] EL.PE subsidiary OKTA to cover temporary FYROM energy shortage
  • [21] Kozani 'Xenia' to reopen after 11 years in disuse
  • [22] Tourism enterprises urge immediate implementation of PM's announced measures
  • [23] Greek stocks down 1.86% on Thurs.
  • [24] Greek bond market closing report
  • [25] ADEX closing report
  • [26] Foreign Exchange rates: Friday
  • [27] ISTAME conference on developments in the sector of media
  • [28] Papoulias received Hellenic Red Cross president
  • [29] Ieronymos meets with Sioufas, Spiliotopoulos
  • [30] Twenty three kilos of "skunk" cannabis seized by police
  • [31] Man arrested in Voula for drug trading
  • [32] Armed bank robbery in Thessaloniki, two arrests
  • [33] Police arrest suspected loan shark, blackmailer
  • [34] Solidarity rally in Athens trade unionist
  • [35] HSAP railway employees work stoppage on Friday
  • [36] Diplomatic car torched
  • [37] Cloudy, rainy on Friday
  • [38] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] Gov't announces 500-million-euro package for farmers

    The Karamanlis government on Thursday unveiled a new 500-million-euro package for the country's farmers, who have turned out in protest to block the country's national highways, demanding greater support for their income.

    Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis stressed that the government's economic team, acting on direct orders from the prime minister, had made this additional money available straight away and that, with the 500 million euros already given to farmers in the form of interest-free loans, the total financial support awarded to farmers by the state came to one billion.

    Hatzigakis said the government had been as generous as the country's fiscal situation allowed and that the cash injection would significantly relieve the difficulties faced by Greece's farming community following the collapse of global prices for food.

    The announcements included:

    Subsidies amounting to 75 million euros for cotton (up to 40 euros per 1000 square metres);

    An increase of up to 40 percent in refunds of special consumption tax for diesel, available only to those who have farming as their main occupation, reaching a total of 120 million euros;

    Total compensation amounting to 100 million euros for corn and cereals crops;

    Compensation for damage to oil and olive crops of 50 million euros;

    Subsidies of 100 million euros for tree and asparagus crops.

    In addition to the above, which will be paid out via the Greek Agricultural Insurance Organisation ELGA, there will be additional emergency relief payments totaling 75 million euros for cotton, tobacco, cereal and oil producers.

    Hatzigakis stated that he will continue dialogue with farmers in order to resolve all their problems and demands.

    Protests continue

    Meanwhile, groups of farmers continued blockades on Thursday at various intersections along national highways and several border crossings of northern Greece, in demand of increased farm subsidies, pensions, guaranteed minimum prices for their products, reduction VAT rates and lower fuel prices.

    Their numbers were further augmented by farmers in the Peloponnese, who voted to join the mobilisation next Monday with a rally in Corinth and a road block at the bridges over the Isthmus canal, which would mean a cut-off of road access to the southern Peloponnese, unless their demands were met.

    In a resolution sent to Hatzigakis, farmers in the Peloponnese demand measures to support the production of a series of agricultural products and subsidies for livestock for those that depend on farming as their main source of income, following what they called the "collapse" in prices for agricultural products.

    In addition to the above, they seek compensation outside the normal procedures for damage to a series of crops, payment of subsidies for produce by February 10, faster implementation of measures promised by the government for fire-stricken areas, and a number of tax relief and debt settlement measures.

    Meanwhile, their colleagues in the north kept up tractor road blocks along the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway for a fourth consecutive day, with blockades at Tempi, the Mikrothebes intersection, Nikaia in Larissa, and Kastro.

    Blockades also continued at the two northern border crossings of Promachonas in Serres prefecture and Exochi in Drama prefecture on the Greek-Bulgarian frontier, while the border crossing at Kipoi in Evros was being shut down periodically by farmers blockading the Egnatia Highway after Alexandroupolis.

    Tractors were further deployed at the Strymonas River Bridge, while in eastern Thessaloniki there was movement by tractors in Epanomi toward a nearby major intersection.

    Farmers of Nestos have indefinitely closed off the Egnatia Motorway near Chryssoupolis, while they occasionally opened the old Kavala-Xanthi national road and the Stavros Amygdaleonas road.

    They also remained gathered at Kerdylia, Halkidona in Thessaloniki, outside Polykastro and at the entrance of Kilkis.

    Gov't spokesman

    Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros stated that the funds necessary in order to meet the protesting farmers' demands will be obtained without hurting the social framework and taking under consideration the state of the economy amidst the global financial crisis.

    [02] PM briefed on local government issues, NSRF

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos met at the premier's offices on Thursday to discuss issues related to decentralisation, local government and the implementation of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF).

    Regarding decentralisation, Pavlopoulos reported that 13 regional authorities had overcome the problems of 2004 and successfully completed implementation of the 3rd Community Support Framework (CSF), the predecessor package to the NSRF, by completing the same number of regional operational programmes.

    "We took over with absorption rates at 15.6 percent and by the end of 2008 this had ended in an excellent way, with not a single euro lost," he told reporters.

    The minister added that regional authorities were preparing for the NSRF in the same way and their new organisation would be set up in the next few days, with an increase in staff and a new structure, so that they can meet the increased requirements of the new NSRF.

    Pavlopoulos also briefed the premier on his meeting with the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) to discuss the imminent reforms affecting local government. He said that the timing of these reforms would be evaluated over the coming period, since the top priority was to support local government financially in order to create a firm foundation on which to support the reforms.

    He explained that the funds for 2009 had already been secured and that by the end of March there would be an evaluation of how things were going, so that local authorities would be ready to meet the challenges of the future and, if conditions were better, to relaunch dialogue regarding administrative reforms.

    [03] PM Karamanlis meets with Merchant Marine minister

    Prime minister Costas Karamanlis conferred on Thursday with Merchant Marine, Aegean and Island Policy minister Anastasis Papaligouras on matters concerning coastal shipping, and efforts to meet the needs of the country's island sector.

    Speaking to reporters afterwards, Papaligouras said that talks focused on coastal shipping in general, and on the funds earmarked for subisidization of the country's sea lines to the border islands in order to fulfill their residents' direct communication needs with the mainland.

    They also discussed the bill being drafted for ratification of the recent agreement signed for concession of the Port of Piraeus' container terminal to the Chinese-based COSCO, which Papaligouras said would be tabled within the next few days in parliament for discussion and vote.

    Papaligouras, who assumed the helm of the ministry in the recent government reshuffle, also noted the ministry's priorities and developments in the field of merchant shipping, as well as matters concerning the Coastguard.

    Replying to a question on the remote (border) islands routes, Papaligouras said that the necessary resources had been secured during a recent meeting he had with the economy and finance minister.

    [04] PM meets ND Parliamentary group secretary

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday had a meeting with the secretary of ruling New Democracy's Parliamentary group Giannis Tragakis.

    Emerging from the meeting, Tragakis said that he assured the premier that the party's MPs would unanimously support all the government's proposals, as it has done until now.

    [05] Gov't: No plan for DC visit by PM

    Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Thursday reiterated that no official visit to the United States by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, to meet with new US President Barack Obama, is planned as yet.

    Antonaros made the comment on the occasion of the PM's letter to President Obama, and in response to a press question on whether preparations are underway for a visit to Washington by the Greek prime minister.

    [06] Gov't repeats position on name dispute with Skopje

    Returning to the issue of name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Thursday stressed that the positions of Athens and the European Union on the issue were given.

    "What remained is for the other side, FYROM's government, to come in a constructive way to the negotiations taking place under UN auspices to find a mutually acceptable solution," he added.

    "This is the prerequisite, as the prime minister said last week in Parliament, in order for the neighbouring country's EuroAtlantic orientation to forge ahead," the spokesman stressed, pointing out that these were decisions taken unanimously by the EU and NATO.

    [07] PASOK's spokesman on farmers, economy

    Main opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou stressed on Thursday that his party has tabled specific proposals in response to key issues raised by farmers, which focus on the transformation and survival of Greek agriculture. The government, by contrast, had adopted a "wait and see" attitude, he claimed.

    Papaconstantinou stated that PASOK is in constant communication with the farmers and, responding to a question by reporters on their mobilizations, he said that "we respect the farmers too much to give them directions".

    He stressed that the party's positions as regards the roadblocks is clear, pointing out that "mobilizations should respect society".

    Papaconstantinou accused the government of delays in the payment of heating allowance to those eligible and wondered if the Fund against Poverty will be activated by the government before the end of 2009.

    Referring to the current question tabled in parliament by 35 PASOK MPs on the state of the small and medium sized businesses, he commented that the Credit Guarantee Fund for Small and Very Small Enterprises (TEMPME) is inadequate and the criteria set exclude many businesses, adding that only 2 percent of the applications filed by enterprises have been approved.

    Commenting on the issue of security, Papaconstantinou stated that there is a sense of insecurity and problems concerning the operation of police.

    [08] KKE on economic crisis, farmers

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga addressed a rally in an indoor arena in Athens on Thursday evening, where she criticised the government, main opposition PASOK , the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party and trade union leaderships of playing a disgraceful role.

    Papariga extended her solidarity for farmers' mobilisations and called on all working people to stand by the actions, while referring to the economic crisis she attributed it to the crisis of capitalism and noted that what is most important now is for working people to be in a position of confrontation.

    Focusing on the two mainstream parties, Papariga said that, with different phrases and slogans, they are saying the same thing: that the greatest possible cooperation between social partners must be achieved, of all the producing forces, to enable the crisis to pass as smoothly as possible.

    [09] SYRIZA's Alavanos on education sector

    Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alekos Alavanos on Thursday invited reporters covering the education beat to express their views and proposals on all-important education sector issues.

    Alavanos will present proposals on Friday within the framework of the off-the-agenda debate on education in Parliament.

    [10] LAOS leader criticises government agricultural policy

    Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) president George Karatzaferis on Thursday criticised the government handling of agricultural policy while speaking in Parliament during the debate on the Guarantees Fund bill.

    "Why should we get to the point where farmers press, extort if you will, in order for you to provide solutions? Did we have to reach an impasse? We say that only in the framework of the European Commission can the problems of farmers be solved," Karatzaferis said, adding that only a relaxation of the terms of the Maastricht treaty could give a solution.

    [11] Gov't eyes higher injury benefit for police officers

    Deputy Finance Minister Nikolaos Leggas on Thursday, responding to a question by Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) MP in Parliament regarding law enforcement officers' benefits, said the government will positively consider a request to triple a 100-euro bonus granted to officers transferred to a desk position due to injury in the line of duty.

    Police officers, border guards and special guards are requesting a 300-euro stipend.

    Moreover, Leggas said the government is also considering such an amendment will affect other categories of public sector employees, although a bill will soon be tabled Parliament.

    The question was tabled by MP Adonis Georgiadis.

    [12] Interview with PASOK's Vasso Papandreou

    Main opposition PASOK party section head for defence Vasso Papandreou stressed that the government does not have a future and predicted early elections, in an interview with ANA-MPA.

    Responding to speculation that PASOK will lead the country to elections in 2010 on the opportunity of the election for a new President of the Republic, Papandreou stressed that her party does not intend to "toy with the country's future". Responding to the argument concerning the high cost of elections amidst the financial crisis, she stressed that "the cost the country will be called to pay will be much higher if the current government remains in power".

    Vaso Papandreou questioned the government's credibility and its ability to proceed with a new stabilization programme and warned the ruling New Democracy (ND) party against further burdening the low income earners stating that major social unrest will be unavoidable.

    She also favoured the reduction of the military service following a reform of the armed forces' structure and expressed concern as regards the shortages recorded in the military pledging that PASOK will boost the domestic defence industry to protect the country from the designs of middlemen.

    [13] Freezing of bank accounts in Siemens case

    Special investigator Nikos Zagorianos on Thursday ordered the freezing of the bank accounts, deeds and securities of 34 people allegedly involved in the Siemens "slush fund" case.

    The order, which concerns present and former Siemens employees, top Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) officials, executives and stockbrokers, was issued in accordance with the law on money laundering, which includes people charged or suspected of perpetrating this specific offence.

    Zagorianos is expected to take a similar decision in the coming days for other people as well those examined as suspects, while an injunction on property cannot be ruled out, if acquisition is linked to the case.

    Suspects and witnesses begin receiving subpoenas to come forward to testify in the near future, as the investigator will start the preparation of indictments, regardless of the outcome of the appeal made to the Swiss authorities on the opening of specific bank accounts.

    Financial News

    [14] Flow of Russian natgas via Bulgaria restored

    The flow of Russian natural gas to Greece via Bulgaria was restored on Thursday, the Greek Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) announced. As a result, Greece has stopped supplying the Bulgarian market with natural gas derived from the Liquid Natural Gas Station at Revythousa, which had begun during the crisis.

    DEPA's announcement said that the supply of Russian natural gas to Greece had stopped on January 6 due to the Russian-Ukrainian dispute and stressed that Greece had been the only European country that had not had faced any problems in supplying its domestic market during the crisis, avoiding reductions or the need to turn off the supply to homes, power plants and industry.

    The company also denied reports that the Revythousa station had reached its limits during the crisis, stressing that it had not even been tested since its production on even the days with the highest demand were well short of its full operational capacity and maximum power.

    According to DEPA, the needs of the domestic market were covered fully and with absolute safety by the Revythousa liquid natural gas station, which was being replenished by additional shipments of natural gas.

    [15] Gov't briefed on OA privatisation

    Members of an inter-ministerial privatisations commission on Thursday were briefed by the Greek state's consultants over developments in the closely watched privatisation process for national carrier Olympic Airlines.

    Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis said the privatisation procedure was progressing smoothly and according to an agreed timetable. The meeting also unanimously agreed to extend authorization to Hatzidakis for handling the process in tandem with new Transport and Communications Minister Evripides Stylianidis.

    Stylianides took over from Hatzidakis at the transport ministry earlier this month after a Cabinet reshuffle.

    Hatzidakis said the privatisation procedure was progressing smoothly and that no alternative plans were necessary, while Stylianidis said the inter-ministerial commission was awaiting investors' binding offers.

    [16] Government on Trichet, Juncker references to Greece

    Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Thursday pointed out that Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker and ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, during their address on the economic crisis in the European Parliament, had referred especially to Greece but also to all other European countries that, like Greece, faced deficit problems.

    "All the countries together will take the measures needed, so that through gradual fiscal adjustment, with flexibility and social sensitivity, both the obligations toward the stability pact will be fulfilled and the repercussions of the economic crisis will be blunted," he said.

    [17] Gov't on special social cohesion bonus

    The Finance and Economy ministry announced on Thursday evening that the arrangement submitted in Parliament on the Special Social Cohesion Bonus concerns all the unemployed registered with the Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED), on the day of the relevant arrangement being submitted in Parliament, and not only the long-term unemployed, as was mistakenly written. The correction of the relevant arrangement will be taking place during the discussion on the amendment at the Parliamentary plenum.

    [18] NBG shareholders approve 350-mln-euro share capital hike

    A National Bank extraordinary general shareholders' meeting on Thursday approved a board plan for a share capital increase worth 350 million euros through the issuance of new preferred stocks of a nominal value of 5.0 euros each, part of a government-sponsored plan to boost and maintain liquidity in the Greek economy.

    Addressing the shareholders' meeting, Takis Arapoglou, the bank's chairman and chief executive, noted that National Bank continued to present positive results and profits despite the international financial crisis, and at a time when major international bank groups were suffering major losses.

    Arapoglou, in comments on Wednesday, said National Bank continued to support the Greek economy, while leaving open the prospects for new lending to households and small-and-medium-sized enterprises, while it remained amongst the top 25 banks in Europe.

    [19] Dep. minister optimistic on inflation rate

    Deputy Development Minister George Vlachos expressed optimism over the course of prices in the Greek market, while speaking at an event on the cutting of the New Year's "pitta" by ICC-Hellas on Thursday.

    Referring to the international economic crisis, Vlachos said that " a black picture is being presented today due to the international economic crisis. Compared to the other countries, Greece is better off. What is necessary is the redetermining of relations and more responsibility by all."

    He also referred to the importance and the role that Chambers of Commerce can play during this difficult economic period.

    [20] EL.PE subsidiary OKTA to cover temporary FYROM energy shortage

    SKOPJE (ANA-MPA / N. Frangopoulos)

    The OKTA refinery group in the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Thursday announced an urgent agreement with the country's government to supply diesel oil (mazout) to a local power plant and Skopje municipality's residential heating company.

    Specifically, OKTA will supply 30,000 tons of oil to the Negotino power plant and 23,000 tons to the municipal Toplifikacija over a period of three months. The rate per ton will be determined via a 1999 contract signed by the FYROM government and OKTA.

    The recent Russia-Ukraine squabble created an energy shortage in the neighbouring country, particularly in terms of power production and heating in Skopje, according to reports.

    The OKTA refinery, the only such facility in the landlocked country, was purchased in 1999 by Athens-based Hellenic Petroleum S.A (EL.PE). Although the company retains the right to export smaller quantities of oil to neighbouring countries, OKTA management stressed that meeting domestic demand is its top priority.

    [21] Kozani 'Xenia' to reopen after 11 years in disuse

    The traditional Xenia Hotel in Kozani, designed by architect Aris Constantinidis and built in 1968, will soon reopen (after 11 years in disuse), by decision of the Kozani municipal council following deliberations with the state Hellenic Tourism Properties S.A. (ETA) agency and private concerns, it was announced on Thrusday.

    The consultations resulted in agreement that the ETA proceed with a long-term leasing of the Xenia to private concerns, with a proportion of the proceeds from the hotel's exploitation going to the municipality, which owns the land plot on which the hotel was built.

    The Xenia is a big misadventure for the city that began about a decade ago, in 1998, when it stopped operating after its lease expired, Kozani mayor Paris Koukoulopoulos told ANA-MPA.

    Following the expiry of the lease, ETA S.A. commenced a sale procedure, against which the municipality reacted, which led to lawsuits being filed by both sides, Koukoulopoulos explained.

    However, following the new development for the reopening of the Xenia "we are totally satisfied since a historic hotel, which is situated in the best part of the town, on its northwestern hill which was also named 'Xenia', will operate once again," the mayor added.

    He stressed that the Xenia's infrastructures will be added to the area's existing hotel infrastructures, "which need to be upgraded", while movement will also be generated in the local market through the refurbishment of the hotel's building facilities, and new jobs will be created with the operation of the unit.

    Koukoulopoulos added that the consortium of private concerns that will undertake the refurbishment and operation of the Xenia were young, successful local entrepreneurs, and estimated that the Xenia would be ready for operation in a year's time.

    [22] Tourism enterprises urge immediate implementation of PM's announced measures

    The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) on Thursday urged for the immediate implementation of a package of measures aimed at supporting the sector, announced by the Prime Minister, without any changes or deadlines and warned that a 10-pct drop in tourism this year would result to a 2-pct shrinking of the country's GDP, while adding 50,000 to the unemployed rolls.

    SETE said it was imperative that announcements made by the Prime Minister to support the tourism sector be immediately implemented, and noted that regional authorities should also contribute to supporting the tourism industry amid the global crisis.

    [23] Greek stocks down 1.86% on Thurs.

    Greek stocks ended substantially lower at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, with the composite index of the market ending 1.86 pct down at 1,671.12 points. Turnover was a low 112.1 million euros, of which 3.1 million euros were block trades.

    Most sectors moved lower, with the Banks (3.72 pct), Oil/Natural Gas (2.86 pct) and Telecommunications (2.78 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Utilities (1.37 pct), Media (1.12 pct) and Insurance (0.70 pct) scored gains.

    The FTSE 20 index fell 2.46 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.35 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.79 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 114 to 71 with another 48 issues unchanged.

    [24] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to a new record high of 293 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, with turnover rising to 1.015 billion euros, of which 295 million were buy orders and the remaining 720 million euros were sell orders.

    In interbank markets, interest rates fell further. The 12-month Euribor rate was 2.42 pct, the six-month rate 2.34 pct, the three-month rate 2.25 pct and the one-month rate 1.91 pct.

    [25] ADEX closing report

    Greek futures contract prices ended Thursday's session in the Athens Derivatives Exchange with a discount. The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 2.28 pct with turnover of 89.844 million euros.

    Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 10,160 contracts worth 74.053 million euros with 32,539 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 24,884 contracts worth 15.791 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (4,379), followed by Eurobank (1,462), MIG (3,130), PPC (2,512), Piraeus Bank (1,490), Alpha Bank (2,868) and Marfin Popular Bank (1,111).

    [26] Foreign Exchange rates: Friday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.308

    Pound sterling 0.951

    Danish kroner 7.512

    Swedish kroner 10.776

    Japanese yen 115.90

    Swiss franc 1.515

    Norwegian kroner 9.102

    Canadian dollar 1.652

    Australian dollar 1.995

    General News

    [27] ISTAME conference on developments in the sector of media

    The media's influence on the political system and the internet and new models of communication and social organization were the main topics addressed by speakers in the second part of a one-day conference on developments in the sector of media hosted Thursday in Athens by the Andreas Papandreou Institute of Strategic and Development Studies (ISTAME).

    Former SYN President Nikos Konstantopoulos stressed that mass media have become a new form of power which suppresses and exhausts all the rest altering institutional functions.

    Main opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou put an emphasis on the internet expressing optimism that through the use of modern technology citizens will stop being passive listeners and referred to US President Obama's internet-based election campaign.

    International Federation of Journalists executive committee member Nikos Meggrelis referred to the inability of traditional media to cover breaking news due to the technological supremacy of the internet and their lack of credibility.

    ISTAME is a centre for political research and analysis with a focus on social democracy. Its key objectives are to develop new ideas and progressive strategies to address global challenges, as well as hosting events designed to promote deliberative democracy.

    [28] Papoulias received Hellenic Red Cross president

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday received the president of the Hellenic Red Cross, Andreas Martinis, at the presidential mansion.

    Papoulias was briefed on the Red Cross' mission and the condition of police officer Dimitris Mantzounis, who was shot by urban terrorists ambush in downtown Athens.

    Martinis briefed Papoulias that the police officer is recovering, while praising attending physicians' actions.

    [29] Ieronymos meets with Sioufas, Spiliotopoulos

    Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas paid a formal visit to Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece on Thursday morning, followed shortly afterwards by new Education & Religious Affairs Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos.

    [30] Twenty three kilos of "skunk" cannabis seized by police

    Police in Thessaloniki confiscated roughly 23 kilos of "skunk" cannabis and arrested two men, both Albanian nationals aged 45 and 39, in the municipality of Evosmos, western Thessaloniki, while a third suspect is wanted.

    The two individuals in custody were arrested after police found in their possession 14.5 kilos of "skunk" cannabis and 3,000 euros in cash. A search in the apartment of the third individual, a 38-year-old who is still at large, turned up another 8 kilos and 295 grams of the drug as well as 17 kilos and 300 grams of cannabis.

    "Skunk" cannabis is a potent strain of cannabis, grown through selective breeding, usually hydroponics which is a method of growing plants in nutrient solutions, without soil.

    [31] Man arrested in Voula for drug trading

    A 26-year-old Albanian national was led before a public prosecutor on Thursday to be charged with drug dealing, following his arrest by Attica police the previous day. The arrest was made during a raid conducted on one of three homes kept by the man in Voula on Wednesday morning, after police found a stash of 65.100 kilos of raw cannabis.

    In addition to the large quantities of raw cannabis, police also found 94 grammes of processed cannabis, nine grammes of cocaine, three sets of precision scales and 14 house keys.

    At the time of his arrest, the Albanian was carrying a loaded gun with a silencer, while another 12 clips, 640 euros and a car used to transport drugs were found on the premises.

    He was led before a public prosecutor to be charged

    [32] Armed bank robbery in Thessaloniki, two arrests

    Two individuals were arrested in Thessaloniki when they attempted to flee after robbing a bank armed with handguns and a grenade.

    According to eye-witnesses, the two opened fire injuring two bystanders in the leg, while another individual was slightly injured inside the bank after being struck in the head with a gun butt.

    The two were arrested by police that rushed to the scene outside the bank just minutes after the robbery had taken place.

    [33] Police arrest suspected loan shark, blackmailer

    A 34-year-old Albanian loan shark was arrested by police after a businessman accused him of trying to extort large sums money by threatening his life. The victim said that he had been harassed by the Albanian and his associates for over year, during which time his brakes had been cut and one of his business premises torched.

    The suspect was finally arrested by police when he turned up at a pre-arranged meeting point to pick up the blackmail money and led before a public prosecutor on Wednesday.

    According to the businessman, he had originally received a loan of 30,000 euros from the Albanian in May 2007 and returned the sum after six months, with an additional 15,000 euros. The 34-year-old came back during 2008, however, demanding to be paid 140,000 euros.

    When the businessman refused, the man and two fellow Albanians began to threaten him with guns and nearly killed him in October when they cut the brakes on his truck. During that time they also torched one of his shops.

    Fearing for his life, the businessman had finally agreed to pay the Albanian 80,000 euros but then reported the event to the Attica police, who set up an operation to arrest the suspect.

    [34] Solidarity rally in Athens trade unionist

    Riot police blocked a group of self-styled anti-establishment activists on Thursday evening outside the employment ministry in downtown Athens during a rally for a trade unionist who fell victim to a dastardly assault with acid last month.

    The rally began in the early evening outside the Athens University administration building, where members of out-of-Parliament leftist groups and trade unionist held a rally, which was later infiltrated by the self-styled anarchists.

    A resolution was read at the beginning that called for the arrest of the actual and moral accomplices of the attack on Bulgarian national Konstantina Kouneva, who was active in the cleaners' union.

    [35] HSAP railway employees work stoppage on Friday

    Employees of the HSAP electric railway network in Athens will observe a work stoppage from 10 a.m. until 12 noon on Friday, mainly seeking the satisfaction of their financial demands. Consequently, HSAP trains will not be operating during the above hours.

    [36] Diplomatic car torched

    A car belonging to the Saudi Arabian embassy was torched in the first hours of Thursday in the northern Athens suburb of Psychiko. Unknown individual placed a home-made incendiary device comprising two propane cannisters under the parked embassy vehicle, which exploded about an hour after midnight, causing material damage but no injuries.

    Weather Forecast

    [37] Cloudy, rainy on Friday

    Cloudy and rainy weather and southeasterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 5-9 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 7C and 18C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with southeasterly 6-8 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 11C to 18C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 7C to 12C.

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

    Farmers' mobilizations and the government's intention to enhance their income, the global financial crisis and speculation on early elections dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to decide on a support measures package for the farmers".

    APOGEVMATINI: "Marathon meeting between Agriculture Minister and farmers' representatives reached an in - principle agreement that gives a solution to the farmers".

    AVGHI: "Government uses PR tricks to face the crisis in the farming sector ".

    AVRIANI: "Karamanlis gives everything to the farmers - He is determined to support the low strata that are suffering from the financial crisis".

    CHORA: "War between Deutsche Bank and Piraeus Bank - Pireaus Bank CEO Michalis Sallas threatens the Germans with lawsuits".

    ELEFTHERI ORA: "By the time the farmers blocked with tractors the national highways, Agriculture Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis was 'elsewhere' ".

    ELEFTHEROS: "Knock off war between Karamanlis and main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou - Government raises the temperature of the elections thermometer".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "European Commissioner Joaqin Almunia and ECB governor Jean Claude Trichet give guarantees on deficit, debts and Spread".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The farmers uprising terrified Karamanlis, who ordered his ministers to resolve the issue immediately".

    ESTIA: "National cooperation on the economy - Prime Minister must take a necessary initiative".

    ETHNOS: "The government is bargaining on the farmers backs ".

    KATHIMERINI: "Policy of appeasement for the farmers - The government prepares measures to support farmers' income".

    LOGOS: "The situation in the blockades is out of control - The farmer uninionists are divided".

    NIKI: "Barefoot in the crisis - The government gives vain hopes without having a plan".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "The government provokes and deceives the small and medium size farmers".

    TA NEA: "They are seeking a life jacket in state bonds - Act of despair over the state debt".

    TO VIMA: "PM Karamanlis will make a pre- elections trip to Washington on the occasion of the anniversary of the Greek revolution against the Ottoman rule".

    VRADYNI: "Karamanlis orders (ministers) to support the farmers - Tractors blocked highways - Mobilizations thoughtout the country".

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