|Tuesday, 12 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-01-24
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 24 January 2009 Issue No: 3104
 PM calls on party leaders to 'take responsibility' for educational reformPrime minister Costas Karamanlis called for the commencement of a dialogue of substance, under the responsibility of the political party leaders, aimed at reforming lyceum schooling and change of the system of entry into tertiary (higher) education, speaking in parliament on Friday during an off-the-agenda discussion on the education sector held at his own initiative.
Karamanlis at the same time stressed the need for designation of the meaning of university asylum.
The prime minister said that changes in the lyceum and in they system of university entrance exams was a reform of major importance which "we want to arise from within common agreement" among the political parties, agencies and societies.
Karamanlis proposed that "we should all undertake, today if possible, a specific commitment towards the children and towards every Greek family".
"I propose that we, all the political leaders, take upon ourselves the responsibility of dialogue. That we, each of us, designate a colleague MP and set up a high-level Policy Committee for this purpose, the members of which will be in a constant, two-way communication with the minister of education, convey the ideas and suggestions of their parties, and also to brief their parties on the progress of the dialogue," Karamanlis said.
He elaborated that the processing of the specific proposals both on the 'new lyceum' and on the higher education entrance system would be conducted under the existing institutional framework as per Presidential Decree 127 of 2003, and specifically by the Council on Primary and Secondary Education that operates under that framework, but also in a two-way relatinship with the National Council on Education.
Under the prime minister's proposal, an ad hoc team would review the "most interesting systems" at international level and submit a relevant report both to the Council and the Policy Committee, while a working group would collect the views of the entire education community and society, making use also of the internet.
Karamanlis added that his ruling New Democracy (ND) party was entering into this dialogue with proposals of its own, and would designate a party MP as its representative to both the five-member Policy Committee and to the Council on Secondary Education.
"Our aspiration is a system that frees the children from the immense pressure they face during lyceum schooling, relieves the Greek family from the immense burden of 'para-education', and is rid of the mentality of memorization (learning by rote) and teaches the pupil 'how to learn'," the premier explained.
Karamanlis said that he came to the parliamentary discussion not to announce a governmental choice but "with the concern and determination for us to forge together the path that will be followed by ministers and governments, the path that the children will follow over the next 20 years".
The dialogue is beginning a "square one", and the government was not asking of anyone to ratify pre-determined decisions, he said. "We want a reform by all the parties, by the entire parliament, by all of us. We want equal participation by everyone, in good faith and with respect for all the views. We want national decisions. We want the dialogue to be of substance, and the parliament to be briefed regularly on its progress. I commit myself, in this respect, to hold another off-the-agenda discussion, in four months' time at the latest," Karamanlis continued.
Another focal point of the prime minister's address concerned the issue of protection of the University Asylum, which he said was being blatantly violated by "elements alien to the Institutions (of learning)" which "exploit the peaceful mobilizations, prohibit the dissemination of any other view, turn violently on the free students and teachers and engage in destruction". All these, he said, injure the operation and authority of the public university, and made it mandatory for the political forces to uphold the Rectors' Councils so that they could carry out their roles as set out by law.
"It is necessary that we all know precisely what we mean by 'university asylum' and precisely what it protects. In no instance, however, is the university a place for which no one is responsible. It is not a refuge and springboard of violence," the premier stressed.
Karamanlis further called on the political parties to take a stance on the phenomena of violence, destruction and takeovers in secondary schools: "It is necessary that we all take a clear-cut position. A position for open schools. A position for unhindered access of every student, every pupil, to his/her classes. A position, in the bottom line, of respect for democracy."
"The violence cannot continue. We must state this loudly and clearly. We must all say this, in unison. We must condemn and jointly isolate all forms of violence and all its expressors," the premier urged.
Turning to the current economic conditions, Karamanlis noted the difficulties due to the "immense public debt".
"We all know that the margins for interventions are stiflingly limited, as the state deficit, despite its substantial containment, remains at high levels," Karamanlis said, and reiterated that the government was aware of the difficulties faced by small and medium size enterprises, farmers, tourism and other sectors He also reassured that "we are exhausting all margins for supporting our farmers".
The premier stressed that each and every political force should follow the government's example and make its own self-criticism, adding however that the citizens' belief that party expediencies undermine the search for a national strategy. "This is a common challenge for all of us, to give a new momentum and prestige to the educational system...and on such matters it is our obligation to seek to the degree possible a common course of all the political forces...There is no room for evasion by anyone, each and every one must shoulder their responsibilities. We are assuming ours to the fullest. Now and for the future," Karamanlis concluded.
 PM: Dialogue on education to begin MondayDialogue on reforming Greece's senior high-schools or lyceums and the current nationwide exams for university entrance will begin the following Monday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced during his closing remarks in Friday's off-the-agenda debate on education in Parliament.
"I hope and believe that, even at the final moment, all will respond to this call," he added in a message to the political party leaders, stressing the sincerity of the government's proposal and saying that it remained on the table in spite of the misgivings expressed during Friday's debate.
In his address that launched Friday's debate, which was requested by himself, Karamanlis had invited political party leaders to take responsibility for the start of "dialogue with real substance" on changing the lyceum system.
"I propose that we, all the political leaders, take upon ourselves the responsibility of dialogue. That we, each of us, designate a colleague MP and set up a high-level Policy Committee for this purpose, the members of which will be in a constant, two-way communication with the minister of education, convey the ideas and suggestions of their parties, and also brief their parties on the progress of the dialogue," Karamanlis said.
In response to sceptical responses from the other party leaders, meanwhile, he urged all sides to adopt a clear and positive position on his proposal to begin an open and constructive dialogue from scratch, without setting conditions and provisos that could be used as 'exit clauses'.
"This is not the time for excuses but for decisions," he had underlined, while he had stressed the government's intention that this major reform should "arise through joint agreement" between the parties, agencies and society.
Karamanlis proposed that "we should all undertake, today if possible, a specific commitment towards young people and towards every Greek family".
He added that the processing of specific proposals on the 'new lyceum' and on the higher education entrance system would be conducted under the existing institutional framework as per Presidential Decree 127 of 2003, and specifically by the Council on Primary and Secondary Education that operates under that framework, but also in a two-way relationship with the National Council on Education.
Under the prime minister's proposal, an ad hoc team would review the "most interesting systems" at international level and submit a relevant report both to the Council and the Policy Committee, while a working group would collect the views of the entire education community and society, also making use of the internet.
Karamanlis added that the ruling New Democracy (ND) party was entering into this dialogue with proposals of its own, and would designate a party MP as its representative to both the five-member Policy Committee and to the Council on Secondary Education.
"Our aspiration is a system that frees the children from the immense pressure they face during lyceum schooling, relieves the Greek family from the immense burden of 'para-education', and is rid of the mentality of memorization (learning by rote) and teaches the pupil how to learn," the premier explained.
Karamanlis underlined that the government was not asking the parties to give their blessing to decisions made in advance and that the dialogue he proposed would begin from scratch, leading to a system that would be followed under all governments in the next 20-odd years.
"We want a reform by all the parties, by the entire parliament, by all of us. We want equal participation by everyone, in good faith and with respect for all the views. We want national decisions. We want the dialogue to be of substance, and the parliament to be briefed regularly on its progress. I commit myself, in this respect, to hold another off-the-agenda discussion, in four months' time at the latest," Karamanlis continued.
Replying to concerns raised by main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, meanwhile, he underlined that "we are not proposing 'our' dialogue. The dialogue is not 'ours' or 'yours'. We propose dialogue by all the political forces, all of Parliament, the academic community, and finall of all society."
PM on university asylum
Another issue stressed by the premier in his initial speech was the need to more clearly define the meaning of university asylum and prevent its abuse by elements "alien to the Institutions (of learning)" that "exploited peaceful mobilizations, prohibited the dissemination of any other view, turned violently on the free students and teachers and engaged in destruction". All these, he said, injured the operation and authority of the state university, and made it mandatory for the political forces to uphold the Rectors' Councils so that they could carry out their roles as set out by law.
"It is necessary that we all know precisely what we mean by 'university asylum' and precisely what it protects. In no instance, however, is the university a place for which no one is responsible. It is not a refuge and springboard of violence," the premier stressed.
Karamanlis further called on the political parties to take a stance on instances of violence, vandalism and sit-ins in secondary schools: "It is necessary that we all take a clear-cut position. A position for open schools. A position for unhindered access of every student, every pupil, to his/her classes. A position of respect for democracy."
Turning to the current economic conditions, Karamanlis noted the difficulties due to the "immense public debt".
"We all know that the margins for interventions are stiflingly limited, as the state deficit, despite its substantial containment, remains at high levels," Karamanlis said, and reiterated that the government was aware of the difficulties faced by small and medium size enterprises, farmers, tourism and other sectors, adding that the government was doing everything in its power to support Greek farmers.
He also cited the current economic crisis and past high deficits in order to explain the government's failure to fulfill a pledge to increase spending on education to 5 percent of GDP.
"When this was announced, PASOK governments were claiming that they were drawing up surplus budgets: we found deficits that in 2004 reached 7.5 percent of GDP. Today we are faced with a new economic crisis that imposes new self-restrictions," he said, adding that the "initial planning is not being abandoned," in spite of the huge difficulties and demands of the economy.
Education minister: The changes concern the future of the youth
Educatin minister Aris Spiliotopoulos invited all the political parties and the education community to contribute to the dialogue on education, which he reiterated would begin from square one, speaking in Friday's off-the-agenda discussion on education in parliament, warning that he would not allow the dialogue to degrade to an endless 'election-mongering', and acknowledged that the problems that required solutions were 'many'.
It is agreed across the board -- indirectly, but clearly -- that the responsibility for education is collective, he said, adding that "we all have responsibilities, because we all , in the preceding years, allowed populism to prevail on education, to become a laboratory of experimentation..."
The government, he continued, was open to hear all the views, adding that he had read main opposition PASOK's program and "I saw that there are proposals that we can discuss".
Spiliotopoulos further said that the government had no intention of "pulling surprises" or using the dialogue for petty party 'games', because the changes did not concern just 2009 or 2010, "but the future of the youth".
Papandreou: Last-ditch effort to salvage the government
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou charged on Friday that the off-the-agenda discussion on education being carried out in parliament at prime minister Costas Karamanlis' initiative was a "last-ditch effort to salvage the ruling party", but nevertheless outlined his own proposals "that ensure the seriousness of a dialogue to which PASOK commits itself as the future government".
Papandreou said that education in Greece needed a "radical re-orientation" which, however "the present government is not in a position to materialize" but which only a future government, with a different educational proposal linked with a model of green growth could ensure as well as the relevent resources from the EU.
Indicatively, Papandreou noted the operation of new technology electronic books which had the ability of contianing thousands of books in its 'memory', have access to the internet, and could conduct multiple-choice tests, and consequently could be introduced into the educational and examinations process.
"If all this sounds like science fiction, ask any youth the age of Alexandros who was murdered in Exarchia. You'll realize how close to his reality this is and how far from the reality of today's school," Papandreou said.
Among the terms and conditions for a dialogue on education, Papandreou included his proposals for converting the National Council on Education into an Independent Authority and for establishing an inter-party Committee on Education, while he also called for an end to the 'party favoritism in the education system". "You speak of evaluation in education. When there is no meritocracy, how can there be evaluation?" he asked.
"The problems will not be solved through violence, but through dialogue. There is no room for scapegoats, street tactics, bullying, the supposed revolutionary violence, the destruction of the public property of the (educational) Institutions. Let's safeguard the true meaning of asylum. And we all have a responsibility in this matter, first of all the government. But also responsible is the university community itself. We must contribute towards an EFEE (nationwide university students' federation) that can truly contribute to the protection of asylum. I consider it positive that even a section of the anarchists -- who the other day stopped a violent racist clash in an Athens neighborhood -- are against violence. The ends to not justify the means. This rationale has been used to justify the worst crimes against humanity," Papandreou said.
"As the head of a future government," Papandreou said, he committed himself to "reversing the class filter in education" through upgrading of technical education, interest-free loans for student's housing needs, abolition of the ceiling on the number of university entrants, and the entrance of the youths to Schools rather than a department so that the student will not be forced to decide on his professional future at the age of 15, but instead during his tertiary studies. On primary education, he said priority would be placed on the all-day school so that the pupil would not need to do work at home, with fewer but more substantial classes.
Papandreou said that all these would cost, but added that education is a part of the solution to the problem. Investment in the human being was a necessary condition for reversing the economic downswing, he said, stressing that every euro that went to education would be returned to the country "with interest". The PASOK leader said that funds would be cut from everywhere else, and the change would be apparent from his future government's very first budget, which would ensure one billion euros more for education.
The money will be found, not to be lost in a funnel, but to be used for financing the major changes and meeting the needs of the reforms, Papandreou assured.
Papariga: 'No' to type of dialogue proposed by the government
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga rejected the type of dialogue proposed by the government on the grounds that "this page of the dialogue being proposed is not blank, but full of measures and laws by PASOK and ND, which created the negative state of affairs" in the education sector.
Speaking Friday at an off-the-agenda discussion in parliament on education, instigated by prime minister Costas Karamanlis, during which she tabled a nine-page text of proposals by her party, Papariga made it clear that there were no expediencies hidden behind the KKE's rejection of this model of dialogue.
She said there were fundamental characteristics in the education system that could not be overcome, and "when the KKE says that it does not agree with the government's pollicy, this also includes education".
"We radically disagree with the way that the two mainstream parties (ND and PASOK) perceive development, because education is organized in accordance with the kind of society and growth you want. And knowledge is completely linked with development," Papariga said.
The KKE secretary general also expressed disagreement with main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, stressing that 'having an encyclopedia in your pocket does not mean that you have knowledge", commenting on a reference by Papandreou to electronic books, and added that the PASOK leader's proposal for a pupil-oriented school was dangerous and should be rejected as it rendered the teacher a simple observer and called on the young pupil to choose.
Papariga also said that the examinations system was not the substance of the problem, but comprised a lever for widening the class barriers in access to the higher education institutions, while she called free education a "myth".
The KKE leader further proposed a mandatory 12 years of schooling.
On the issue of university asylum, Papariga said that "when we say asylum, we don't mean only that on the dissemination of ideas, but also of a ceter of struggle in all its forms, not only for the students and pupils, but also other forms of the popular movement".
In her rejoinder, she said KKE wanted 15 percent of the budget devoted to education, the addition of EU funds to the state budget and free papers and post-graduate courses in higher education.
She said the dialogue proposed by the government "was meaningless" since it would be conducted on the level of general principles, and all the parties were aware of each other's positions so that there was no point in repeating them. She asked that any dialogue that took place be confined to Parliament and conducted by its educational affairs committee, to which the government might bring its proposals for consideration.
Alavanos: Sharp criticism of gov't policy in all sectors
Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) leader Alekos Alavanos put forward three conditions for the dialogue on education to be credible, speaking in parliament on Friday at an off-the-agenda discussion on education instigated by prime minister Costas Karamanlis.
The first condition was abolition of the existing framework law on education, the second was freezing the law on the KES (Liberal Studies centers, referring to franchise colleges), and the third was increased expenditure for education.
Alavanos further called on the government to conduct a dialogue with the country's two major teachers' and professors' umbrella federations OLME and POSDEP.
The SYRIZA parliamentary group leader strongly criticized government policy in all the crucial sectors, accusing it of being unable to provide solutions to the immense problems faced by the country.
"Something odd is going on. At the discussion of the budget in December, there was the shadow of education. At today's discussin (on education) there is the shadow of the budget and the justified farmers' mobilizations. This shows that the country is face-to-face with all the crucial sectors and that the government cannot give substantive solutions and answers," Alavanos said.
LA.OS: We haven't done well in educating youth (RECASTS)
"Let's agree that we haven't done well. Things today are not as they were," Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis said on Friday during a parliamentary off-the-agenda discussion on education, called by the prime minister, noting that LA.OS was the only opposition party taking part in the inter-party dialogue on education.
"There was a time when (the education system in Greece) produced educated and thinking people, a Tsatsos, a Kanellopoulos," Karatzaferis said, adding that "today, we don't teach young people what they should learn - to cultivate their minds, to understand the meaning of the nation...even here (in parliament), how many know the seven wise men, or the nine muses?"
"We haven't structured our society in such a way to provide useful learning, education to our children," he said.
Rally and march by highschool groups in Athens
A protest rally timed to coincide with the debate on education reform taking place in Parliament was carried out by highschool student groups outside the gates of the Athens Polytechnic on Friday.
Protestors shouted slogans expressing their opposition to the government's invitation to dialogue on a series of educational reforms but particularly plans to "redefine" university asylum. They then carried out a march to Syntagma Square opposite Parliament, where they remained for some time shouting slogans concerning ongoing demands of the educational community, before returning to their starting point and dispersing peacefully.
 Greek leadership briefed by Palestinian authority FMForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Friday met the Palestinian Authority Minister for Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki in Athens for talks focusing on all aspects of the situation that has arisen in Gaza since Israel's assault.
President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias also received al-Malki at the presidential mansion.
The meeting with Bakoyannis was held before a conference at an Athens hotel by Palestinian envoys to EU countries, a development that highlights Greece's desire and determination to help promote the Palestinian issue at an "exceptionally delicate time", in view of a special meeting that will be held by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday.
In a joint press conference afterwards, the Greek minister underlined the need "to open crossing points in Gaza" so that humanitarian aid could reach those in need. She said the opening of border crossings was at the heart of the negotiations, as was the lifting of the blockade.
"We had an opportunity in Brussels, last Wednesday, to put a clear request to our Israeli counterpart," she told reporters.
Bakoyannis underlined Greece's emphasis on the humanitarian aspects of the problem but also Athens' willingness to respond.
"It is the duty of all of us to protect the human population, regardless of race or religion," she said, adding that Greece was prepared to receive children and wounded from Gaza in state and private hospitals.
The two ministers also particularly stressed Palestinian reconciliation and unity as a condition for promoting the Palestinian issue, which lies at the heart of the Middle East problem.
"A solution cannot exist without Palestinian reconciliation and unity," said Bakoyannis and expressed Athens' full support for Egypt's efforts in this direction.
"Palestinian reconciliation is the greatest priority, so that we can deal with the great challenges," agreed al-Malki.
The Palestinian authority minister expressed thanks for the hospitality offered by Greece to Palestinian ambassadors in EU countries, who will hold meetings at an Athens hotel on Friday and Saturday that seek to prepare a joint position regarding the priorities in dealing with the repercussions of the Israeli invasion. This will be prepared in time for the discussion on the situation in Gaza that will be held by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Sunday, with the participation of their counterparts from the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.
He also thanked Bakoyannis for Greece's offer to accept children for treatment in Greece.
Regarding the issue of reconstruction that was discussed with Bakoyannis, he said the priority was in providing housing, especially for children that had lost both their homes and their family.
The signature of a memorandum for political consultation and the renewal of a two-year educational programme "reaffirmed the ties of the two peoples and the desire to develop bilateral cooperation," al-Malki added.
Bakoyannis again dismissing reports that munitions bound for Israel had been trans-shipped at a western Greek port, reiterating the premier's unequivocal denial in Parliament.
Papandreou meets Palestinian Authority FM
PASOK party leader George Papandreou held talks with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Al Malki in his office in Parliament in Athens on Friday, stressing PASOK's solidarity for the Palestinian people.
"The solidarity of PASOK for the Palestinian people is both a foregone conclusion and historic. I had the opportunity of welcoming the Foreign minister of Palestine who briefed us on conditions prevailing for the Palestinians in Gaza after Israel's invasion," Papandreou said after the talks.
"We express the hope that the ceasefire will be substantive and permanent, that we shall never see again scenes such as those that we saw recently, while we also make an appeal for the Palestinian issue to return to the path of dialogue to enable peace to be achieved, something that means a guarantee that there shall be a viable Palestinian state that will be able to live next to an Israel that will live in peace," Papandreou added.
Malki said on his part that he came to meet an old and great friend and added that "I briefed him fully on the killings, the destruction and the bombings by the Israelis and stressed the need for immediate intervention by the international community so that the necessary aid will be given to our people to face the human tragedy."
 ICJ sets deadlines for memos by Greece, fYRoMSKOPJE (ANA-MPA / N. Frangopoulos)
The International Court of Justice at The Hague on Thursday announced the deadlines for the submission of written memorandums by the governments of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) and Greece, in relation to a recourse brought against EU and NATO member-state Greece by its northern neighbour.
According to the decision, the fYRoM must submit its memorandum by July 20, 2009, whereas Greece's deadline is Jan. 20, 2010.
The government of the landlocked former Yugoslav republic filed a motion with the Court last November, claiming that Athens first violated the Sept. 13, 1995 "Interim Agreement", and specifically the part about not blocking fYRoM's entrance into international organisations.
This came after the country's bid to join NATO in April 2008 collapsed amid Greece's positions that the fYRoM government under Nikola Gruevski failed to foster good-neighbourly relations and proceeded with a series of provocations.
 Bulgarian discontent over closure of border checkpoints with GreeceSOFIA (ANA-MPA/B. Borisov)
The Greek embassy here received a written note on Friday expressing Bulgaria's discontent over the closure of all border checkpoints linking the two countries.
"The Bulgarian side expresses its discontent over the closure of all the border checkpoints on land, that link Bulgaria and Greece. The lack of the possibility of transportation by road obstructs relations between the two countries and contrasts with both the citizens' rights and freedoms in the European Union and with the principles of the Community's unified internal market," the note said.
"The Bulgarian side expects the relevant authorities of the Hellenic Republic to take measures immediately to restore traffic," the note added, referring to the closed corridors, that was communicated by the Bulgarian Transport ministry through an announcement in the mass media.
The closure of the Greek-Bulgarian borders due to protests by Greek farmers remains a focal issue in the Bulgarian media that highlight efforts being made by the Greek government to resolve problems with a dialogue and with compromising proposals to farmers.
 Freezing of liquid assets in Siemens caseAll liquid assets belonging to two individuals, a former MP and a former Siemens executive, were ordered frozen following a decision Friday by special investigator Nikos Zagorianos assigned to the Siemens "slush fund" case.
The bank accounts, deeds and securities of another 34 people, allegedly involved in the case, were also frozen on Thursday following an order by the special investigator.
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.
 S.A.E. Coordinator addresses letter of congratulations to new U.S. President Barack ObamaCouncil of Hellenes Abroad (S.A.E.) Coordinator for the United States Region, Theodoros Spyropoulos, has addressed a letter to new U.S. President Barack Obama, calling for a revision of American foreign policy regarding issues of Greek concern.
Spyropoulos congratulated President Obama on the assumption of his duties and for his inspired inaugural speech and underlined the positive reactions caused by his election among the Greek American community, as well as in Greece.
The Coordinator makes special reference in his letter to the issue of Cyprus, the violation of Greek air space by Turkey, the flagrant violation of the human and religious rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Halki School of Theology and the infringement of the human rights of the Greeks living in Northern Epirus (in Albania).
On the question of the name of the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), he stressed that the previous American government, acting unilaterally and in contrast with the European countries, officially recognised this country with the new name, an issue that constitutes the base of the problem between the two countries.
 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanks Ecumenical Patriarch for his prayersISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
A message thanking Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for his "blessings and prayers" was conveyed to the spiritual leader of millions of Orthodox Christians around the world by US Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey, on behalf of the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In her message, Hillary Clinton also stressed that she is "looking forward to the opportunity to serve her country in a new way".
The meeting at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople lasted roughly an hour and the US Ambassador assured Bartholomew of the United States' continuous interest and support, adding that he will brief the Obama administration on issues pertaining to the Patriarchate.
 Russian charge d'affaires address on 'Russia and European energy security' at ACGRussia is in a position to provide integrated, realistic, low-risk and mutually beneficial solutions with respect to supplying Europe with natural gas and oil, the charge d'affaires of the Russian Federation's Embassy in Athens, Mikhail Savva, said Thursday night, speaking on the subject "Russia and Euruopean energy security" at the American College of Greece's (ACG) Institute of Diplomacy and Global Affairs.
According to comparative figures presented by Savva on oil and natural gas production over the past decade, Russia appears to have larger production in relation to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, while it also has the largest confirmed reserves of natural gas in the world (followed by Iran and Qatar). At global level, Russian production of oil is surpassed only by Saudi Arabia.
Based on those figures, Savva noted that the hydrocarbons of the Caspian region cannot replace Europe's supply by Russian oil and natural gas, but could play a supplementary role and are welcome by the markets.
Savva further noted that the minimalization of the energy transit risks and direct link of the European states with the supplier country, namely Russia, constituted a challenge for Europe's energy security. In that direction, he added, the plan for the construction of the South Stream pipeline was particularly signifcant, and stressed that the Russian side was not opposed to any other plan, such as, for example, the Nabucco pipelline, reiterating that those two pipelines could act supplementarily.
Asked how reliable Russia was as an energy supplier, given its recent dispute with Ukraine (which resulted in a temporary discontinuation of the flow of natural gas to Europe), Savva said that Russia had a 40-year history to present regarding supply of energy resources to Europe, noting that this could not be compared to the two weeks (of the flow discontinuation).
To another question, the Russian charge d'affaires said he was categorically opposed to the use of energy as a lever of pressure for political matters. noting that the solution of Iran has been ruled out on the side of the US.
On the matter of the pricing policy followed by the Russian side, Savva stated that Gazprom's contracts were long-term, and set out in a very specific way the development of the price, unlike what was in effect for oil on the corresponding stockmarkets of New York and London.
 Farmers reject government aid offer, mobilizations continueFarmers will start receiving payments from the aid package announced by the government via the Greek Agricultural Insurance Organization, ELGA, with fast-track procedures beginning as early as Monday, Rural Development and Foods Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis said on Friday.
He failed to persuade farmers to end their mobilizations, however, after a deadlocked meeting between the minister and designated farmers' representative Vangelis Boutas, from the Nikaia roadblock in Larisa, central Greece. Boutas stated that the farmers' demands had not been met and called on Hatzigakis to withdraw the 500-million-euro aid package in order to proceed with solutions that will guarantee farmers' income.
Meanwhile, the farmers' blockades continued on Friday at various intersections along the National Highways network and three border crossings, in demand of increased farm subsidies and pensions, guaranteed minimum prices for their products, reduction of refundable Value Added Tax (VAT), and lower fuel prices.
Road blocks set up with tractors remained in place for a fifth consecutive day, with blockades along the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway at Tempi, central Greece, the Mikrothebes intersection, Nikaia in Larissa, and Kastro in Viotia prefecture.
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 Kozani-Florina stretch of the national highway was also blocked off by tractors.
The Serres-Thessaloniki national highway at the Strimoniko section was blockaded as well as the Egnatia Odos national motorway to Kavala and Drama in the northeast. Farmers in Kilkis blockaded the Evzoni customs office for two hours at noon, while tractors are moving toward the customs office in Doirani.
Farmers also went ahead on Friday morning with new blockades at the Halkidona junction, at the Triglia junction in Halkidiki, and at the Kipi border post in Evros.
Meanwhile, the Chania-Rethymno national motorway on the southern Aegean island of Crete is closed by farmers for a fourth day.
In addition, the newly established Greek Stockbreeders Union called on all its members to join the farmers' mobilizations, pointing out that the government announcements do not meet the sector's demands including more subsidies and higher milk prices.
 Gov't liquidity support plan adequate, banker saysPiraeus Bank's chairman Mihalis Sallas on Friday said a government plan, worth 28 billion euros, to boost liquidity in the economy amid an international financial crisis was adequate and that there would be no need for an additional support package.
Addressing a general shareholders' meeting to discuss a board plan for a share capital increase scheme through the issuance of prefered stocks, Sallas said liquidity in the Greek banking system was gradually returning to normality. "In the current globalised environment, a decline in global demand, combined with a liquidity crunch, forces for the need of measures to further boost liquidity, promoting programs to supporting enterpreunshi and small- and medium-sized enterprises, measures to supporting demand and accelerating a public investments program," the Greek banker said.
Sallas said Greece was suffering the consequences of an international financial crisis, despite the fact that Greek banks did not participate in so-called "toxic products". This fact, combined with the Greek banks' high capital adequacy rates, allowed the country to deal effectively with the crisis and to suffering less consequences compared with other countries.
Piraeus Bank has already approved more than 50 pct of funding applications made by small- and medium-sized enterprises, with handounts in the last quarter of 2008 totaling around 900 million euros.
The general shareholders' meeting approved a board plan for a share capital increase scheme, worth 370 million euros. Sallas said the board would propose dividend payment totaling 35 pct of the bank's profits for 2008.
 Aspis Bank announces 90-mln-euro share capital increase planAspis Bank on Friday said an extraordinary general share-holders' meeting approved a board plan for a share capital increase plan worth 90 million euros, part of a government-sponsored plan to boost liquidity in the economy amid the international financial crisis.
Under the plan, Aspis Bank will issue new preferred stocks worth 2.71 euros per share. The share capital increase plan will be fully covered by the Greek state.
 Greek current accounts deficit up 16 pct in Jan-NovGreece's current accounts deficit shrank by 3.0 million euros in November, compared with the same month in 2007, to 3.458 billion euros, the Bank of Greece said on Friday.
The central bank, in a monthly report, said the sightly lower current accounts deficit reflected a lower trade deficit in the month. The trade deficit, excluding ships and fuel, fell by 650 million euros in November, with exports rising 9.1 pct and imports falling by 9.7 pct in the month.
The current accounts deficit widened by 16 pct in the 11-month period from January to November to 31.8 billion euros, with the trade deficit widening by 10 pct to 40.9 billion euros, reflecting a 32.4 pct rise in the fuel balance deficit to 11.6 billion euros. Exports -excluding ships and fuel- grew by 16.1 pct in the 11-month period, while imports rose by 6.7 pct.
The services' surplus grew by 4.0 pct, reflecting higher net revenues from transport services (up 795 mln euros), while net revenues from travel services grew by 151 million euros. Net payments for other services grew by 297 million euros.
The incomes' deficit widened by 1.8 billion euros, reflecting higher net payments on interest, dividends and profits, while the current transfers surplus grew by 22 pct -reflecting higher transfers of EU money to the general government. The capital transfers surplus totaled 3.9 billion euros, up 1.0 billion euros from the same period in 2007, while the transfters balance (current and capital) recorded a suplus of 6.4 billion euros, up 1.4 billion euros from 2007.
The financial services balanced recorded a net inflow of direct investments totaling 1.3 billion euros, while the portfolio investment category recorded a net inflow of 15.8 billion euros.
 Greek stocks end 0.46% lowerGreek stocks ended lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday amid a negative climate in international markets. The composite index fell 0.46 pct to end at 1,663.39 points, with turnover a low 89.2 million euros, of which 1.1 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Insurance (5.46 pct), Travel (2.84 pct) and Raw Materials (2.30 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Telecommunications (1.79 pct), Financial Services (1.77 pct), Media (1.36 pct) and Utilities (1.32 pct) scored gains.
The FTSE 20 index fell 0.39 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 1.0 pct down and the FTSE 80 index plunged 2.23 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 125 to 57 with another 62 issues unchanged.
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices saw their discounts shrink in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover falling to a low 38.541 million euros. The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 0.65 pct, with volume of 7,723 contracts worth 32.033 million euros.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 7,213 contracts worth 6.017 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (2,173), followed by PPC (400), OPAP (469), Piraeus Bank (415), Alpha Bank (771) and Mytilineos (386).
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to a new record of 300 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Friday, with turnover shrinking to 362 million euros, of which 125 million were buy orders and the remaining 237 million euros were sell orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2018) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 85 million euros. The Greek 10-year bond yielded 6.16 pct and the German Bund 3.16 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving lower. The 12-month Euribor rate was 2.37 pct, the six-month rate 2.29 pct, the three-month rate 2.19 pct and the one-month rate 1.86 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates: Saturday/MondayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.289
Pound sterling 0.946
Danish kroner 7.513
Swedish kroner 10.791
Japanese yen 114.56
Swiss franc 1.507
Norwegian kroner 9.066
Canadian dollar 1.621
Australian dollar 1.999
 President Papoulias receives Greek expatriate youthsHellenic Republic President Karolos Papoulias received children of Greek expatriates from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay at the Presidential Mansion on Friday.
Welcoming the roughly 100 youths, President Papoulias stressed that "Greece is calling you no matter how far you are and I wish that you will keep it in your heart for ever". He also asked them to learn to speak Greek, pointing out that it is worth the effort, because for Europe, Greece is the center of civilization.
The expatriate youths are the guests of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad until Jan. 31 within the framework of a hospitality programme for young people, aged 18 to 25, who come from Southern Hemisphere countries.
Earlier, the president had received Palestinian Authority Minister of Information and Foreign Affairs Dr. Riyad al-Malki.
FM Bakoyannis addresses EPP youth conference
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said on Friday that what is needed is more and not less Europe that will exercise its influence in the Middle East and everywhere, adding that even when Euroscepticism exists one must respond positively.
Bakoyannis, who was addressing the youth conference of the European People's Party (EPP) that began its sessions in Athens, said that "the heart of Europe's work are its citizens. Those who are against the European Union are so because they feel distant from the elite in Brussels."
The foreign minister referred mainly to pessimism prevailing in Europe after the recent economic crisis where according to the latest data, the eurozone's economy will decline by 1.9 percent in 2009 and unemployment will exceed 10 percent by the year 2010.
Bakoyannis further said that the conflict in Georgia was added on to the economic difficulties to show that war in Europe is not only a memory of the past, while the recent events in Gaza confirmed the explosive situation in the Middle East with the tragic loss of human lives.
The EPP, with its 288 members in the European Parliament, constitutes the biggest political force and this gives it the possibility of influencing the European agenda in the handling of major issues such as immigration, climatic changes, security, terrorism, the demographic issue and others, she concluded.
DM Meimarakis addresses EPP youth conference
Defence Minister Vangelis Meimarakis stressed the need on Friday for peaceful coexistence and cooperation with neighbouring countries and pointed out that we must not move ahead "with our eyes turned to the Balkan yesterday but to the European tomorrow."
Meimarakis, who was addressing the youth conference of the European People's Party (EPP) that is being hosted in Athens by the ruling New Democracy party-affiliated ONNED youth group, said that Greece is trying to improve its relations with all, and with its neighbours in particular, because geographical position does not change and condemns in practice every form of violence, because violence begets violence.
"Our forces have a deterrent defensive position, aiming at thwarting every provocation or act of aggression. In any case, growth is also linked to security. Nobody invests in a country that is not safe. I am sure that our neighbours want cooperation as well," the minister said.
Meimarakis underlined that there is no crisis of ideology today, as is being claimed by other political groups, and added that "our ideology safeguards both the fair distribution of wealth and the weaker groups of the population, while the current government interventions are part of the same ideological framework as well."
The minister also called for creative disputing from young people because, as he noted, governments pursue what is feasible, but young people what is desirable.
ND secretary addresses YEPP conference
The conference of the Youth of the European People's Party, YEPP, comprising EU center-right political party youth organizations, began in the Zappeion Building in Athens on Friday, hosted by the ruling New Democracy (ND) Party youth organization ONNED.
Addressing the conference that focuses on the 2009 Euro-elections, ND party Secretary Lefteris Zagoritis stressed that the European Union is experiencing a decisive period for its future, not only as a result of the greatest enlargement ever attempted in its history but also because "this is an era characterized by very complex problems".
He pointed out that the ongoing global financial crisis is testing the foundations of the European social state and highlighted the importance of international cooperation in tackling the problems.
 International Hellenic University to offer new coursesThe International Hellenic University (IHU) on Friday announced the launch of four new postgraduate courses now in the planning stages that are due to begin before the end of 2009. Two of these will be offered by the Technology School and will be focused on energy and resource management and on technology and IT communications. The other two will deal with neighbouring cultures in the Black Sea and with the protection and management of cultural assets run by the Humanities School.
Meanwhile, the IHU Economics school has already launched two new postgraduate programme in management and Banking and in Finance, with students from Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Germany, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Greece.
There are currently 120 post-graduate students at IHU, whose first post-graduate programme was a two-year Executive MBA course that began in March 2008.
IHU is the first Greek state university in which classes are taught exclusively in English.
 Grandmother and grandchild killed in freak accidentA 64-year-old woman from Bulgaria and her 5-year-old granddaughter were killed in a tragic accident on Friday morning in the district of Liosia, Athens.
The woman was taking the little girl to the nursery school when both found themselves pressed between a parked car and a construction company truck carrying tar that had veered off course for unknown reasons.
The truck also crashed into a parked van and a city bus before hitting a street light pole that fell on cars parked nearby. The 28-year-old driver was arrested and will appear before a public prosecutor to face charges of manslaughter through negligence on Saturday.
Police are also seeking two more drivers in order to press charges - the owner of the car that was parked on the pavement and forced the woman and her grandchild to get out into the road, as well as the owner of the van that was also parked on the pavement and got rammed into a lamp-post that damaged other vehicles in its fall.
 Cargo ships run aground due to weatherTwo foreign cargo ships ran aground earlier on Friday due to rough seas in the region of Salamina, near Piraeus, and off the port of the island of Kos in the southeastern Aegean. No injuries were reported among the crew members and no pollution was caused in either incident.
The cargo ship "Amiral" with 14 foreign crew members but empty of cargo ran aground off the port of Kos where it had set anchor to avoid the adverse weather conditions. Shortly afterwards, the Sierra Leone-flagged tanker ship "Jasmine 5", also with 14 foreign crew members, ran aground in shallow waters near Salamina where it was anchored.
All ships hin the ports of Piraeus and Rafina have been anchored since Thursday night due to the strong winds blowing in the region, with the exception of one ferryboat servicing the Chios-Lesvos route.
 Vatopedi Monastery abbot and monk indictedFirst Instance Court Prosecutor Dimitris Pieros filed charges against Vatopedi Monastery Abbot Ephraim and the monk Arsenios for failing to testify as witnesses and ignoring a summons issued by the parliamentary committee investigating the land swap deals between the State and the monastery.
The indictment was issued following an investigation conducted by the prosecutor in response to a written document signed by the then parliamentary investigation committee chairman Christos Markoyannakis on the two monks' refusal to testify.
A court date has been set for Feb. 25.
 Foreign nationals arrested for theftsTwo Albanian nationals, aged 34 and 30, were arrested on the Ionian Sea Island of Zakynthos after breaking into a total of eight houses in the region.
Police on Friday announced that the two are accused of committing 81 thefts and break-ins across the country, from Athens to Lamia, in central Greece and Kalamata in the south. Their loot was cash money, jewelry, electronic appliances and other valuables amounting to over 300,000 euros.
 US Consular Section closed on last Wednesday each monthThe US Embassy's Consular Section in Athens will remain closed to the public on every last Wednesday of each month for internal reasons, according to an embassy press release.
In that context, the US Embassy's Consular Section in Athens will remain closed to the public on Wednesday, January 28.
This includes the non-immigrant visa section, immigrant visa section, pension section, US passports and naturalisation services, and services for US citizens section. and US passports section. In the event of an emergency on that day, please call 210-7212951 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and 210-7202490/1 after 5:00 p.m.
 Missing former MP's car spotted in ravineThe car of former Center Union and New Democracy MP Anestis Loras, who was reported missing by his relatives on Thursday, was spotted on Friday morning in a large ravine along the Kopani-Variades provincial road in Ioannina, police said. Police believe that the car skidded off the road into the ravine, with the 77-year-old MP inside. Rescue teams were on the way to the scene of the accident.
 Bank offices torchedUnknown individuals threw a home-made firebomb at the offices of ATEbank near Larissis Station in Athens at dawn on Friday.
Minor material damage was caused by the explosion and ensuing fire.
 Cloudy on SaturdayCloudy weather and southwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Saturday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 8C and 18C. Slightly cloudy in Athens, with southwesterly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 12C to 17C. Cloudy with local showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 10C to 15C.
The Friday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
The farmers' rejection of support measures on Thursday by the government, and persisting speculations of early general elections dominated the headlines on Friday in Athens newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Government's measures for the farmers - 500 million euros for the farmers".
APOGEVMATINI: "500 million euros support package for farmers - The government fulfilled a substantial proportion of farmers' demands".
AVGHI: " The small package increases the blockades - 'Operation placation' proved futile".
AVRIANI: "The detentions under remand over the SIEMENS slush funds affair begin".
CHORA: "Hot money to the farmers - 625 million euros government support package".
ELEFTHEROS: "Defence Ministry seriously examining the prospect of abolishing the mandatory constription,applicable for the Air Force and Navy, at an hour of major crisis".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Papathanassiou (economy and finance minister), Hatzigakis (agricultural development minister) offered 620 million euros package to the farmers, but the 'tough' persist".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Blockade of Souflias' 'gifts' - The farmers believe that the 500 million euros are crumbs".
ESTIA: "All the truth about the economy after the European Commission's forecasts".
ETHNOS: "Farmers returned Hatzigakis' (agriculture minister) package - Farmers widen the blockades of rage".
KATHIMERINI: "Benefits with eyes turned to the polls - In the midst of early elections speculations and gloomy developments in the state's finances".
LOGOS: "Farmers rejected the 500 million euros offer".
NIKI: "Government in a trap - They fear that other social classes will rise up".
RIZOSPASTIS: "We must strike a blow to profit and turn the tide against ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK".
TA NEA: "Souflias, give everything, here and now! -Government promises benefits from the empty state coffers".
TO VIMA: "Yannis (Papathanassiou, economy and finance minister) give everything! - Pre-elections climate - Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' orders to enviroment and town planning and public works minister George Souflias and the FinMin".
VRADYNI: "Blockades continue despite the support measures - 500 million euros to the farmers, but.......".
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