|Saturday, 18 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-02-18
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Issue No: 3125
 PM, Azeri president discuss energy cooperationPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis and visiting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev discussed cooperation in the energy sector during their meeting in Athens at midday on Tuesday. Also present during their talks were Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis.
In statements after the meeting, Karamanlis underlined that Azerbaijan was a partner of strategic significance and a very important country for Europe and Greece.
The aim of the Greek government was to expand cooperation between the two countries, the premier added - an effort that had begun with the TGI pipeline carrying natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey and Greece.
"Our country is the first European Union country to import natural gas from Azerbaijan," he noted.
The prime minister also clarified, in response to questions, that the negotiations and cooperation with Azerbaijan in no way implied any change of strategy by Greece regarding relations with Russia.
"The supply of natural gas from Azerbaijan was always at the centre of our policy and one of our fundamental priorities, as well as being an indispensable part of common European targets," Karamanlis said.
The prime minister stressed that Greece's relations with Russia were at an extremely good level and that the two countries were going ahead with two foremost projects in the energy sector.
Greece was striving, planning and had succeeded in becoming an energy hub for south-eastern Europe, in this way managing to serve its own interests, bilateral relations but also European strategy at the same time, Karamanlis said.
President Aliyev said his official visit to Greece had been extremely successful, referred to the bilateral agreements signed while he was in Athens and invited Greek businesses to invest in his country.
He said that bilateral relations with Greece were at a very good level and that energy cooperation played a major role in boosting bilateral ties.
The Azeri president expressed an interest in expanding cooperation in the natural gas supply sector, stressing that his country had pipelines and installations that would improve the energy security of Europe and of Greece.
Azerbaijan can and will play a role in ensuring energy security in Europe, Aliyev noted, adding that the role of good relations with Greece was for this reason important. He also extended an invitation to Karamanlis to visit Baku in order to "continue their excellent cooperation".
 PM cites Athens' interest in Azeri natgas contracts"Greece is ready to sign agreements for natural gas supplies directly from Azerbaijan," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced during an event at the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) on Tuesday, amid business contacts between Azeri and Greek entrepreneurs.
Karamanlis pointed out that new long-term cooperation will be opened with the establishment of a basic institutional framework, confirming the existing interest in increased transactions in other sectors besides energy.
"Our economies are complementary and not antagonistic," Karamanlis stressed and called on entrepreneurs to create joint ventures, pointing out that there are opportunities present and that both governments will offer assistance. He also underlined that the TGI pipeline is very important to Greece's energy targets.
President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias referred to the notable prospects of bilateral cooperation beyond the sector of energy. He underlined that the four agreements signed this week will be the basis for dynamic development of bilateral relations in several economic sectors. Papoulias also accepted an invitation to visit Azerbaijan.
On his part, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev underlined that stability and peace in southern Caucasus is of major importance to his country and referred to the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
President Aliyev also stated that oil production increased fivefold in recent years, reaching one million barrels a day, while more investment opportunities are being created in the sector of natural gas exports to the European Union via Greece.
He pointed out that a safe business environment will be established in his country, underlining that today 85 percent of the GDP comes from the private sector even though it is a relatively new state that started out with no private investments whatsoever.
 PM: 'Stability plan responds to demands of the times'Referring to the current economic crisis, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Tuesday underlined that the government's stability plan was "clear, specific and responds to the needs and demands of the times." The premier made the comments in response to the positions outlined in the report released on Monday by Greece's central bank governor George Provopoulos.
Karamanlis described the global crisis now unfolding as "major" and stressed that nobody could predict its duration with any confidence. He said the government's plan was based on three main lines of policy: gradual reduction of the public deficit, boosting the real economy and supporting the weakest sections of society.
"We are striving for a climate of national consensus," the premier underlined, adding that the government was constantly on the alert for any changes and policy adjustments that were necessary. He also stressed the need for a calm, cool-headed and responsible approach, coupled with a spirit of national consensus, in order to weather the crisis.
Upon releasing the Bank of Greece monetary policy report on Monday, Provopoulos had said that a "long-term plan, including all necessary reforms, was needed in the country, with fiscal restructuring a top priority." The central banker stressed that Greece's fiscal deficit must fall below 3.0 pct of GDP this year, with the aim of falling to zero by 2012, and called for wage increases linked with the inflation rate and productivity increases by employees in the public sector.
He also commented on a widening yield spread between Greek and German state bonds and predicted no significant decline in the yield spread over the next few months, stressing the need to quickly achieve fiscal consolidation "in order to convince markets" that currently had reservations concerning the country's fiscal prospects and current accounts balance.
The central banker recommended a restrictive fiscal policy with cuts in overspending and improving the efficiency of state spending, also noting that tax evasion exceeded 20 pct of total tax proceeds.
 Government spokesman on liquidity planGovernment spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Tuesday denied speculations of a prospective bankruptcy of the country, noting that many responsible people, inside and outside Greece, have replied "in a responsible way to such an irresponsible question", stressing that there was no such issue.
Replying to questions during a regular press briefing, Antonaros also said that the government has taken specific measures -- which have already been announced -- to safe guard employment, in response to a question on why doesn't the government pass legislation to prohibit layoffs, due to the crisis.
Asked to comment on a delay in the placement of government-appointed commissioners to the boards of directors of banks that have announced that they will make use of the government's 28 billion euros liquidity package for the banking system, Antonaros said that the relevant process was being commenced by the guarantees system.
He explained that the said banks must sign a statement that they accept that part of the liquidity plan, after which the process would be completed with the designation of the commissioners.
Asked when there would be tangible results for the citizens from the liquidity plan, the spokesman said that the state of the economy was constantly developing, adding that the government was taking all the required measures to ensure liquidity.
"The plan has already been activated, is being materialized and is progressing," Antonaros said.
 Papandreou received by PresidentMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou was received on Tuesday by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, after which he told reporters that the country had an immediate need for a new government arising from the Greek people's decision.
Speaking to the press after the one-hour meeting, which had been requested by the PASOK leader, Papandreou said he briefed the President in-depth on PASOK's proposals for the rejuvenation of the economy, protection of the weaker economic strata and the middle class, and the need for Greece to adopt a new developmental model, that of green growth.
Papandreou said that the people needed a well-governed state, and not the present situation of lawlessness, corruption, wasteful spending of the public wealth, and clentele relations.
"The Greek citizen needs to be certain that the state protects him," the PASOK leader said.
He further said that the country was going through a deep political, economic and social crisis, "a crisis of values and credibility", warning that if the present situation was perpetuated the crisis would become deeper.
Papandreou also briefed the President on his call for early elections and for common backing of Papoulias for a second term in the country's Presidency if Papoulias also desired that.
Greeting Papandreou on arrival earlier, Papoulias said the country was going through a difficult period, as the Greek people were facing a very tough situation and the citizens were in a difficult position.
 PASOK spokesmanMain opposition PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou referred, during his daily press briefing on Tuesday, to the meeting party leader George Papandreou had earlier in the day with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, saying that the former discussed with the president "the really difficult situation of the country as well as his view regarding the need for the people to give answers through elections with a parallel party consensus regarding the election of the President of the Republic."
Papaconstantinou added that the main opposition had "a long-term plan" for the country by which it would persuade the electorate "until the holding of elections and which plan it will start implementing the day after the elections."
"The government has not a long life in front of it," the PASOK spokesman claimed, while refusing to name the election date.
Regarding a central bank report issued on Monday, Papaconstantinou said that his party respected the independence of the Bank of Greece "in contrast to the government's point of view", adding that PASOK agreed with the report's assessments that "the government's predictions on growth are too much optimistic, on the need to crack down tax evasion and for a drastic curtailment of government extravagances."
 Bakoyannis to OSCE Parliament, Gaza forumForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will travel to Vienna on Wednesday afternoon to attend the 2009 winter meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos announced.
During the two-day session on Thursday and Friday, Bakoyannis will brief the delegates on the priorities of the OSCE's Greek chair. On Thursday she is also to meet OSCE Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut and the members of a U.S. Congressional delegation to Vienna led by the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe). The minister will meet the same officials during her later visit to Washington.
On the same day, Bakoyannis is to take part in the joint session of all three general committees of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the subsequent working dinner given by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Joao Soares.
On March 2, Bakoyannis is scheduled to visit Egypt for an international conference on the reconstruction of Gaza after Israel's 22-day air strike offensive, that is taking place at the city of Sharm El Sheikh.
 FM Bakoyannis in Washington next week for talks with US leadershipForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will visit the United States on Feb. 22 in her capacity as Greek foreign minister and chairperson of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The visit will be launched on Monday, Feb. 23 in Washington D.C., where she will address the Brookings Institution, on the issue of "Collective Security in the 21st Century - Building New Bridges".
On Tuesday, Bakoyannis will meet with the president and members of the Helsinki Committee on OSCE issues.
Later on the same day, she will meet with the chairman and members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations followed by a meeting with the chairman and members of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
On Feb. 25, she will meet with her counterpart, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and attend a reception in her honor by US Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns.
The second part of her visit will concern contacts in New York to be announced later on Tuesday.
The foreign minister's meetings will focus on OSCE issues as well as on issues of mutual interest, both international and regional, such as the Middle East and the Caucasus. Additionally, issues of Greek interest, including the situation in the Balkans, relations with Turkey and the Cyprus issue will be discussed, according to foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos.
"Greek-US relations can acquire a new substance, depth and width," Koumoutsakos said, adding that the new US government allows for realism and hope.
Referring to a meeting Bakoyannis will have on Wednesday in Athens with US Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Koumoutsakos it is "a positive development" that allows for direct briefing on issues of major interest for Greece.
 FM to meet US Senator Durbin on WednesdayForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will be meeting on Wednesday morning at the ministry with US Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the foreign ministry announced on Tuesday.
Later in the day, Bakoyannis will also receive newly elected Secretary General of Cyprus' ruling left-wing AKEL party Andros Kyprianou.
 Athens: No temporary suspension in 'name issue' talks requestedThe Greek foreign ministry on Tuesday clarified that no request has been made by Athens for a temporary suspension -- until the European Parliament elections in June -- of UN-sponsored talks in the outstanding "name issue" negotiations involving the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (fYRoM) name.
However, ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said that the election process is a reality.
He also echoed recent comments by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Parliament, namely, that the Greek side considers that the most recent proposal tabled by a UN mediator includes certain elements that allow, "if goodwill is shown by the other side, for the specific proposal to acquire a dynamic that will lead to a solution".
Both sides met with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz last week in New York City, a meeting called "exploratory" by the Greek spokesman.
 PASOK positions on social insurance systemPresenting main opposition PASOK's positions on the social insurance system, the party's spokesperson Evi Christofilopoulou said the three main goals would be reforms to restore the system's financial 'health', assisting those on low pensions by establishing a minimum basic pension and better services with a fairer distribution of funds distributed by social insurance bodies.
The top priority would be to ensure state funding of social insurance funds, full records and publication of their financial state and a review of the problematic mergers carried out by the present government, she added.
PASOK also intends to promote a "consortium" of the four largest insurance funds and abolish measures leading to an immediate reduction in pensions, Christofilopoulou said.
Commenting on statements made on Monday by Bank of Greece governor George Provopoulos, she said the central banker had essentially 'exposed' the weakness of the government's economic policy while noting that his proposals could lead to greater poverty and a possible abrupt reduction of pensions by up to 40 percent.
 Papandreou chairs meeting on education, cultureMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Tuesday chaired a meeting of his party's education and culture affairs officials, in the first meeting to take place at PASOK's new headquarters on Ippokratous street in downtown Athens.
Speaking during the meeting, Papandreou said that education and culture were central issues in the PASOK platform, noting that there were immense problems in all levels of education, with funding as the most pressing matter.
Papandreou reiterated PASOK's commitment to earmark five percent of the budget expenditure to education and 2 percent to research, and the immediate channeling of an additional 1 billion euros in funds to education beginning in the first year of a PASOK government.
Further, with respect to the global financial crisis, Papandreou said that even in periods of crisis money can be found to back the major priorities such as education and culture.
 Gov't slams PASOK allegations regarding OAED, interest ratesThe government on Tuesday flatly rejected recent criticism by main opposition PASOK over changes supposedly made in Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED) registration guidelines after 2004, dubbing the opposition charges as "completely unfounded and misleading" or "indicating inadequate knowledge of the issue."
Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros referred to statements by PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou and PASOK's sector head for employment, clarifying that nothing has changed as regards subsidised or the non-subsidised unemployed individuals.
He stated that both Papaconstantinou and PASOK MP Evi Christofilopoulou have not said a thing about a reform adopted by the current government, reversing a practice that was in effect until 2004, according to which, pregnant women were eliminated from the OAED registries and their subsidisation was suspended.
Antonaros stressed that the ruling New Democracy government has abolished this discriminatory provision against women, thereby preventing the interruption of their unemployment benefit payments.
On the issue of the social work brought up by Papaconstantinou, the government spokesman called on PASOK to clarify if it will be paid or voluntary work, full-time or part-time, as well as how many people will be included and their employment status, as based on the work contract.
Antonaros accused the PASOK spokesman of distorting reality, referring to his comments that the government allegedly "supports the bankers". He also pointed out that Papaconstantinou chose not to say anything on the specific figures presented on Monday to display the course of interest rates since 2004.
The government spokesman referred to credit card use and consumer protection initiatives undertaken by the government, something he said was never done by any PASOK government.
"The past is here no matter how much PASOK and its leader wish to forsake it..." Antonaros said, adding that PASOK leader George Papandreou himself is remembered as a PASOK minister who never objected to any of the previous governments' policies.
 KKE begins 18th congress WednesdayThe proceedings of the 18th congress of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) begin on Wednesday morning with a much awaited speech by the party's General Secretary Aleka Papariga.
Papariga, in many of her recent statements, termed the 18th congress as "one of the most important in the party's history" because KKE "has steadily increased its influence in Greek society and also because it will discuss and decide on a deeply debated, during the pre-congress party deliberations, text proposed by the central committee regarding the struggle for Socialism."
The text also refers in depth to the Soviet socialism and analyses the reasons for its fall.
Delegates from 90 communist, workers' parties and national liberation movements from 72 countries will attend the congress, the biggest number of delegations ever registered in the latest KKE congresess.
The foreign delegations will also participate in an international solidarity rally on Tuesday in Athens and other events in the Attica region, Larissa, central Greece and Halkida.
 Papariga on OA privatisationCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Tuesday said that her party "will not close the issue of Olympic Airways, regardless of developments" after a meeting with a delegation from the civil aviation union federation OSPA. She stressed that KKE was in favour of the national carrier remaining in the state sector.
"Watching developments, we are determined to intervene in favour of the interests of the workers," she underlined, predicting that the airline's sale would be seriously detrimental for its workforce.
 Alavanos tables question on repercussions of economic crisisRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alekos Alavanos tabled a question in Parliament on Tuesday directed to the prime minister on the repercussions of the economic crisis on wage earners.
Alavanos said that certain businesses are promoting measures against the employees under the pretext of the economic crisis, while he asked the prime minister to detail the measures he intends to take to prevent whatever arbitrariness against wage earners.
 House ratifies Albania's, Croatia's NATO entryThe Parliament in a plenary session on Tuesday ratiefied the protocol regarding Albania's and Croatia's entry into NATO.
The ruling New Democracy (ND) and the main opposition PADOK parties voted in favour of the ratification while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) voted against.
 Obama, Pelosi thank you letters to parliament presidentUS president Barack Obama sent a letter to Hellenic parliament president Dimitris Sioufas thanking him for the congratulatory letter the latter sent on the occasion of the former's election to the US presidency.
In his letter, Obama said he looked forward to cooperation for the further advancement of the good relations between Greece and the US.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, also sent a letter to Sioufas thanking him for his good wishes on the occasion of her re-election to Congress.
 Rovlias attack on Hatzigakis; minister repliesPASOK spokesperson for justice issues Dinos Rovlias on Tuesday launched an attack on Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, accusing him of using untransparent and suspect hiring procedures during his previous stint as justice minister.
He accused Hatzigakis of bypassing the civil service appointments council ASEP in hiring staff, in order to favour "his personal electoral clientele and his party", claiming that he had arranged the recruitment of 48 people by the construction company Themis Kataskevastiki and made the company set up new offices it didn't need, as well as appointing 15 court bailiffs to the Court of Audit that included "close associates or relatives of close associates" of the minister.
Rovlias also claimed that prison guards and other Audit Council staff had been hired through "fixed" interviews.
Responding to the accusations with a later announcement, Hatzigakis denied the claims and spoke of a "complete distortion of objectivity and the true facts" in PASOK's attack, saying that it was based on "irresponsible rumours and reports that do not normally deserve an answer".
He countered the claims made by Rovlias on an individual basis, noting that the appointments to the Court of Audit had been carried out by a special committee comprised of top justices and under the supervision of ASEP, while all the successful candidates had much higher qualifications than the minimum requirement for the position.
 PASOK state deputy Papadimitriou passes awayThe death of main opposition PASOK state deputy Prof. George Papadimitriou was announced on Tuesday. A professor of Constitutional law at Athens University, who was born in Thessaloniki on August 15, 1944 and first elected to Parliament as PASOK state deputy in September 2007, Papadimitriou died on Monday.
His seat will now go to the runner-up in PASOK's election ticket, architect and civil engineer Ilias Beriatos, who is also a lecturer at Thessaly University.
In statements on Tuesday, PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou expressed the party's deepest condolences to the family of the late MP, noting that his death was "a great loss to Greece, to politics, to Parliament and to science".
Papaconstantinou said the late Papadimitriou had served PASOK governments in responsible positions and offered valuable services to his country, making a decisive contribution at crucial moments, such as the efforts for Cyprus' accession to the EU and that of European unification in general.
"He was a progressive politician, whose words and work were a credit to PASOK and the democratic faction, while for many of us he was a good friend and valuable partner that will be greatly missed," the spokesman added.
 Athens TV station attackedAt least four armed gunmen sprayed an Athens television station's parking lot on Tuesday afternoon with gunfire before also tossing what was described as a homemade explosive device through a backdoor of the station. The device reportedly failed to detonate. According to an employee of the "Alter" station in the west Athens district of Peristeri, the four suspects wore helmets and ordered him to flee the area, when he confronted them at around 7 p.m. local time (17.00 GMT). The perpetrators fled aboard two motorcycles, reports state.
 Gov't, parties and ESHEA condemn attack against ALTERThe government, opposition parties and the Athens journalist union condemned on Tuesday night an armed attack against the "ALTER" Athens television station's parking lot earlier in evening.
Government Spokesman Evangelos Antonaros termed the attack a "criminal act against information, social peace, security of citizens and of course against democracy," expressing at the same time the government's solidarity with the station's employers and pledging full investigation into the affair. Deputy Interior Minister Costas Gioulekas also strongly denounced the attack.
Main opposition PASOK Spokesman George Papaconstantinou condemned that attack saying it was "a violent, criminal attack from which could have ended with victims." "It is an attack against pluralism and freedom of expression," he added.
On his part, Makis Mailis, speaking on behalf of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said that "such repeated attacks point to the existence of a provocative plan which helps designs against the popular movement."
Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) party also condemned the attack in an announcement, noting that it was "an attack against freedom of expression," while a spokesman from the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) expressed his party's "abhorrence".
The board of the Athens Journalists Union (ESHEA) said in a statement it condemned "in the most categorical manner the terrorist, murderous attack" against the TV station, expressing at the same time its concern over what it called "increasing violence and attacks, recently, against people working at the mass media and the mass media itself."
 Minister: Announced measures for tourism will be implementedThe measures pledged by the prime minister, ones aimed at boosting the tourism sector, will be strictly implemented, new Tourism Development Minister Costas Markopoulos stressed during a press conference on Tuesday, pointing out that the 14 specific measures recently announced will soon be implemented.
Commending on projected tourism figures for the coming season, Markopoulos said no accurate predictions can be made as regards the number of tourist arrivals, considering that pre-bookings have been put off for two months to March and April as a result of the global economic crisis.
Speaking to reporters, the minister said the draft law will include 14 such as cutting municipal taxes and transforming the Hotel Chamber into a Tourism Chamber.
Markopoulos said the ministry also plans to table another draft law to Parliament, by September, envisaging stricter supervision of casino operations and the upgrading of the Greek National Tourism Organisation's (GNTO) offices abroad, with the ministry planning to open new offices in South Africa, Poland, Ukraine and India.
The minister said funds for this year's international ad campaign will be 50 pct higher compared with 2008, while an international promotions campaign will use the same logo and will focus on specific markets.
 NBG ups share in Greek state securitiesNational Bank on Tuesday said it has raised its portfolio in state bonds to 10.7 billion euros by mid-February, up 2.4 billion euros from the end of 2008, noting that this development was part of a strategic plan to further strengthen its leading role in the financing of public debt and to boost its presence in state securities' issues by redistributing its capital reverses.
The bank said it purchased five-year state bonds worth 2.7 billion euros, three-year state bonds worth 7.0 billion euros (buying bonds worth 350 million euros for its portfolio), it participated in a private placement of four-year FRN worth 2.82 billion euros (buying securities worth 680 mln euros) and in an auction of state bills worth 3.2 billion euros (buying another 542 mln euros in bills).
National Bank also announced it would issue medium-term securities, guaranteed by the Greek state, as part of a government-sponsored programme to boost liquidity in the Greek economy, despite the fact that the bank had nine billion euros in reserves.
 Trade deficit cut in Jan-NovBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
Greece's trade deficit totaled 33.2 billion euros in the 11-month period from January to November 2008, down 2.4 billion compared with the same period in 2007, Eurostat announced on Tuesday.
The EU executive's statistical agency, in a report, said Greek exports totaled 15.9 billion euros in the 11-month period, while imports totaled 49.1 billion euros in the same period. Greek exports were unchanged compared with the corresponding period in 2007, while imports fell 5.0 pct (from 51.5 billion to 49.1 billion euros).
Germany (168.2 billion euros) and the Netherlands (38 billion euros) recorded the highest trade surplus in the EU-27, while the UK (111.7 billion), Spain (84.2 billion), France (64.2 bln) and Greece (33.2 billion) recorded the highest trade deficit.
The Eurozone recorded a trade deficit of 32.1 billion euros with the rest of the world, while the EU-27 posted a trade deficit of 241.2 billion euros.
 FinMin meets Turkish minister of stateEconomy and Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou met on Tuesday with visiting Turkish Minister of State and deputy prime minister Nazim Ekren.
During the meeting at the economy ministry, the two officials discussed issues relating to the present world economic crisis and its handling by the governments of the two countries, as well as bilateral economic relations.
The Turkish minister had earlier in the day inaugurated the first branch in Athens of Ziraat Bank.
 SEB hosts Turkish state ministerThe Hellenic Federation of Industries and Enterprises (SEB) hosted a working luncheon for visiting Turkish Minister of State Nazim Ekren on Tuesday.
Addressing the event, the Turkish minister referred to the increasing trade volume between Greece and Turkey, nearing 5 billion US$, while also insisting on the role the governments of both countries could play in safeguarding the "necessary conditions for cooperation between the two business communities especially small and medium enterprises."
The Turkish minister had earlier in the day inaugurated the first branch in Athens of Ziraat Bank.
SEB Vice-President Thanassis Lavidas said on his part that Greek businesses have included Turkey in their expansion plans to other countries, looking forward for capiltalising on Turkey's 70 million consumers and cooperation with corresponding Turkish businesses.
 Turkey's Ziraat Bank launches first branch in AthensZiraat Bank on Tuesday officially inaugurated its first branch in Athens and will launch another branch unit in Komotini on Wednesday.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Turkish Minister of State Nazim Ekren said the operation of Ziraat Bank in Greece will further contribute to the promotion of bilateral economic relations and further boost joint investments between Greek and Turkish businesses.
Ekren said the launch of Greek operations by Turkey's oldest financial institution -- an investment budgeted at 18 million US dollars -- was very significant, while he stressed that businesspeople from both countries were contributing to further improving relations between the two countries.
He also cited the increasing volume of trade relations between the two countries, at 3.5 billion US dollars in 2008. Commenting on the Turkish banking system, Ekren stressed that reforms made in the last few years have led banks to a very good situation.
Turkey's ambassador to Greece, Ouz Celikkol, and the bank's general manager, Akin Canglar, in a brief address, underlined the significance of boosting bilateral economic relations.
Canglar emphasised the fact that Ziraat Bank operates in 17 countries around the world with more than 65 branches, saying that Ziraat Bank "goes where Turkish businessmen go".
 Banks' federation: No reason for 'bad bank' in GreeceGreek banks have no reason to request the creation of a "bad bank", while there is no such need objectively, the Hellenic Bank Association announced on Tuesday, commenting on recent speculation over the need of creating such an institution as an alternative to deal with the financial crisis worldwide.
In a statement, the Association said discussion around the world over the creation of a "bad bank" focuses on the purchase and management of so-called "toxic" investments and borrowing products by banks that are facing serious problems with their capital adequacy and suffering from heavy operating losses.
Greek banks have no such toxic products in their balance sheets, something confirmed by the Bank of Greece and auditors, the statement read.
 Seminar on building energy efficiency in AthensThe Swedish Trade Council is organising a seminar on alternative technologies for energy efficiency in buildings at the central Athens hotel Divani Caravel on Wednesday.
At the seminar, Swedish companies will present cutting-edge technologies in this area, while visitors can also get information from the Greek Development Minister and the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources (CRES) on the current situation and future prospects for geothermal energy, photovoltaic systems and energy efficiency in buildings.
The event is taking place under the aegis of the Swedish Embassy in Athens, in the presence of Swedish Ambassador Hakan Malmqvist.
 Port workers to strike over COSCO dealThe port employees national union federation (OMYLE) on Tuesday announced that they are escalating labour mobilisation to protest against the part-privatisation of the Piraeus port's container terminal at N. Ikonio through a concession to the Chinese shipping firm Cosco. In an announcement, the union federation said its board had decided on strike action at ports and harbours throughout the country in response to the imminent ratification of the agreement by Parliament.
These will include three successive work stoppages on Wednesday and Thursday, beginning at 11:00 am until the end of the shift and then from the start of the afternoon shift until 18:00 and finally, from the start of the evening shift until 1:00 am.
The following week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the union federation has decided to call three rolling 24-hour strikes.
The 1600 workers at Piraeus port have been refusing over-time work on weekdays and all work on weekends and holidays for the past 14 months, in protest over the government's plans.
Starting on Wednesday, OMYLE announced the start of a new round of meetings with the leaders of the opposition parties on this issue, while there are also plans for a rally at Klathmonos Square in Athens and a march to Parliament during the 24-hour strikes next week.
 Suspended trading of Rainbow shares due to acquisition talksThe Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday announced a temporary suspension of trading in shares of Rainbow SA, after the listed company announced that it was in talks with Info-Quest.
Info-Quest is in talks with Rainbow's chairman and chief executive, Georgios Vamialis, a company statement announced. In case the talks reached an acquisition agreement, the exact price of the acquisition and the transfer would depend on the results of a financial and legal audit, expected to be completed by March 2009, along with approval by market authorities.
Another precondition for reaching any deal is the successful completion of parallel negotiations with Apple, whose products Rainbow distributes and supports in Greece and Cyprus.
 Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling says net profits down 10% in '08Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling on Tuesday reported a 10-pct drop in net profits to 425 million euros last year (in a comparable basis and based on IFRS).
The company said its results were burdened by a write-down of assets worth 189 million euros. The volume of sales grew 5.0 pct in 2008 to 2.116 billion unit cases, while turnover grew 8.0 pct to 6.98 billion euros.
Fourth quarter results showed a 93-pct drop in net profits to 3.0 million euros, although turnover rose 9.0 pct to 1.59 billion euros and net earnings per share fell 11 pct to 1.16 euros.
 Stocks plunge to 6-year lowGreek stocks plunged to new six-year lows at the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday, with the composite index of the market ending at 1,603.80 points, off 5.19 pct. Turnover was an improved 164.8 million euros, of which 4.1 million euros were block trades.
All sectors moved lower, with the Food/Beverage (12.01 pct), Telecommunications (7.75 pct), Banks (6.32 pct), Financial Services (6.01 pct), Chemicals (5.62 pct) and Raw Materials (5.53 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
The FTSE 20 index dropped 5.42 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 3.91 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index fell 2.91 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 185 to 30 with another 32 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -3.43%
Personal & Household: -2.70%
Raw Materials: -5.53%
Travel & Leisure: -1.22%
Food & Beverages: -12.01%
Financial Services: -6.01
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, OPAP and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 5.16
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.96
HBC Coca Cola: 9.66
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.32
National Bank of Greece: 11.40
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.48
Bank of Piraeus: 4.52
Titan Cement Company: 13.10
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices maintained their discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Tuesday, with turnover at 55.840 million euros. The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 2.05 pct, in volume of 10,811 contracts worth 43.740 million euros and 32,279 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 15,378 contracts worth 11.698 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,631), followed by Eurobank (417), OTE (1,884), PPC (1,330), Alpha Bank (1,706), Piraeus Bank (749), Marfin Popular Bank (549) and Intralot (857).
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to 300 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Tuesday. Turnover was a low 584 million euros of which 247 million were buy orders and the remaining 337 million euros were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2018) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 125 million euros. The Greek bond yielded 5.98 pct and the German Bund 2.98 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month Euribor rate was 2.09 pct, the six-month rate 1.99 pct, the three-month rate 1.91 pct and the one month rate 1.60 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates - WednesdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.273
Pound sterling 0.892
Danish kroner 7.511
Swedish kroner 11.065
Japanese yen 117.13
Swiss franc 1.493
Norwegian kroner 8.864
Canadian dollar 1.608
Australian dollar 1.990
 Male model implicated in cocaine trafficking handed over to Greece by Bulgarian authoritiesBulgarian police handed over to their Greek colleagues a 30-year-old male model allegedly involved in a cocaine trafficking ring that attempted unsuccessfully to smuggle into Greece over 4 kg of the drug last Saturday.
The suspect was arrested at Sofia's airport where he was due to board an airplane to Dubai with a stopover in Istanbul, using someone else's passport.
The ring was busted by police in Halkidiki, in the north of the country, acting on a tip-off. Two of its members were arrested after showing up to claim the drugs that had arrived from Colombia at Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport. Both told police that the actual recipient of the drugs was a third person and named the model in question.
 Benaki Museum plans tribute to De ChiricoThe Benaki Museum in Athens is organising an exhibition in tribute to Greek-Italian pre-Surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico in March, to mark the 120th anniversary since the artist's birth in the Greek town of Volos in 1888.
The focus of the exhibition will be on the women that acted as 'muses' for the artist, through 100 works of art selected from his personal collection at the "Giorgio e Isa de Chirico Institute" of Rome, which include female portraits of the 20th century and nudes inspired by Rubens.
 5.4R quake rocks ZakynthosA moderate earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Ricther scale rocked the island of Zakynthos in the first hours of Tuesday, but no injuries or damage were reported.
The earthquake was recorded at 1:16 a.m. in the sea region south of Zakynthos, and was felt throughout the western Peloponnese.
 ISAP trains to bypass Thissio until March 6The management of the Athens-Piraeus Electric Railways (HSAP) on Tuesday clarified that trains will continue running between Tavros and Omonoia until March 6, while work is underway to renovate the line, but will make no stops at Thissio station in central Athens. They warned that, while the trains will continue running on the entire network, there may delays of up to 15 minutes on scheduled services.
According to the announcement, commuters will have the option of switching to the 500A bus between Omonia and Piraeus for a faster journey time.
 Armed robbery at Ķet cafeAn armed robbery occurred on Tuesday at an Internet cafe in Thessaloniki, northern Greece. A gun-toting suspect threatened employees and made off with roughly 1,000 euros from the cash register.
 Showers and storms on WednesdayShowers and storms are forecast in most parts of the country on Wednesday, with snow at higher altitudes, especially in the north and west. Winds from mostly southerly directions, 3-5 beauforts. Temperatures ranging from -2C to 16 C. Overcast in Athens, 4C-14C. Clouds, rain and snow in Thessaloniki, -2C to 9C.
 The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe Bank of Greece governor's forecasts on the economy and EU demands for immediate measures, and pending education reforms dominated the headlines on Tuesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "BoG governor recommends cutbacks in public expenditure and limited raises in salaries".
APOGEVMATINI: "Give the 28 billion euros (government's bank liquidity boosting package) to the people"
AVGHI: "Government to concede part of social security to private companies".
AVRIANI: "Gloomy days ahead for workers, professionals and merchants".
CHORA: "Harsh measures are the medicine for the crisis".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "The suspended step of the economy".
ELEFTHEROS: "BoG governor proposes shocking austerity therapies".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Shock-therapy for deficit, pensions, salaries".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Poison to salaries and social security - EU and BoG strike double blow to government".
ESTIA: "Karamanlis third election - Under what circumstances it can be achieved".
ETHNOS: "Serious reforms in University entry exams were discussed on Monday in a meeting at Education Ministry".
KATHIMERINI: "Urgent measures for the economy - Provopoulos (BoG government) call for deficit, bank mergers and 28 billion euros bank liquidity package".
LOGOS: "Ominous predictions for the Greek economy".
NIKI: "Provopoulos depicts the economy with grey colours".
RIZOSPASTIS: "We welcome Communist Party of Greece's 18th Congress with responsibilty and optimism".
TA NEA: "Extreme austerity or else we will become bankrupt".
TO VIMA: "Four years of austerity beginning from 2009 - Provopoulos bomb and anticipated EU instructions".
VRADYNI: "Nine changes in University entry exams".
 Washington to assist community leaders, US Senator saysNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The US will offer any assistance Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat may need, in their efforts to find a negotiated settlement in Cyprus, US Senator Richard Durbin has said.
Speaking here Tuesday, after a meeting with President Christofias at the Presidential Palace, Durbin noted that the US have not a specific offer to give, but it is up to the two sides to decide what that help might be. "We are going from here to Athens and then to Ankara to encourage both leaders and both governments to join us in this offer for assistance", he added.
The US official pointed out that President Christofias "is showing exceptional courage in moving forward with the peace negotiations to try and bring Cyprus back together", and expressed hope the people of Cyprus supports the two leaders.
"This is a historic opportunity and I wish them (the two leaders) all the success", he said, noting that it takes great courage for them to keep working.
Pointing out that this is not an official visit to Cyprus and that he is not here as a representative of President Obama, Durbin said that he will stress to the US President as well as the Secretary of State "that the US will consider this (the process for the solution of the Cyprus problem), as an opportunity of history that we should not miss. We should do everything we can if we are asked to call on to make this work", he added.
"There has been too much suffering on this beautiful island and we have to put history behind us and look to the future together", Durbin concluded.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat began last September direct negotiations with a view to reunify Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied one third of the island's territory.
House President receives US delegation
President of the House of Representatives Marios Garoyian stressed the importance of the US contribution to efforts for a solution of the Cyprus problem.
Garoyian, who received Tuesday a US delegation comprising US Senator Richard Durbin, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, counselors and members of their political bureaux, briefed the delegation about the current developments regarding the Cyprus issue and noted the importance of the US contribution to efforts for a political settlement.
According to an official press release, the House President noted the need to exert pressure on Turkey to change its stance and contribute constructively to a solution.
He stressed that the Greek Cypriot side adheres to a solution based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single sovereignty, one citizenship and one international personality.
"The pursued solution", he said, "must be viable, functional and must respect fully human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people of Cyprus and be in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the EU values and principles".
The US officials held later on a meeting with Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou.
In statements after the meeting, Kyprianou said they discussed issues concerning Turkey's EU accession course, EU-NATO relations, as well as bilateral ties and how they could be further enhanced.
Kyprianou noted that the US Senator is not on an official US government mission to Cyprus, but said that the Senator would inform US President Barack Obama about his visit.
He added that Senator Durbin is interested in the Cyprus issue and has been active as regards Cyprus in the Senate.
"We know his relations with President Obama. We believe it is reasonable to assume that he will inform him", he concluded.
Meanwhile, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou told journalists Tuesday that the visit of the US delegation constitutes a great opportunity to inform US officials about the Cyprus problem.
''Their visit here is a very good opportunity to brief important people of the US political life on the Cyprus issue, the ongoing negotiations and the goals we pursue regarding the solution of the Cyprus problem'', he said.
The spokesman added ''we can also inform them about what we think must be done in order to reach a solution, and what the international community can do to help our efforts''.
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