|Friday, 22 February 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-03-06
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 6 March 2009 Issue No: 3138
 Government will follow path of responsibility, PM says in proclamation to the nationPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis, in a message to the Greek people on Thursday evening, after holding talks with opposition party leaders, presented the framework on consensus that he had discussed with them and expressed his disappointment over the "negative stance shown by the parties on the appeal for consensus," while stressing that the government "will follow the path of responsibility" and that every party "is responsible for its options and actions."
Karamanlis pointed out that the crisis is becoming all the more intense and noted that the huge, as he termed it, public debt inherited by the New Democracy (ND) government provides no ground for flexibility. He revealed that 12 billion euros are needed every year for interest and added that the debt is a threat for the country's economic stability.
The prime minister presented the main points contained in the consensus framework that he presented to the opposition party leaders, and on which he believes the country must move on, so that the repercusions of the economic crisis can be handled in the best possible way and which are the following:
-First, observance of the rules applied in the European Union on stability in the economy.
-Second, coordinated actions to decrease the high public debt that constitutes both the huge and longlasting issue harassing the country.
-Third, the gradual decrease of deficits must be the top priority and the focal tool. What is necessary in this case is an effective decrease of public expenditures, the restriction of extravagance and not new taxation measures.
-Fourth, the public debt and the decrease of deficits determine the real endurances of Greek society, in relation to growth and social policy, and if control is lost, as the prime minister stressed, the situation will become uncontrollable and possibly dangerous.
-Fifth, the prime minister said that in some of the country's crucial sectors, such as, for example, tourism, special development actions are necessary and, of course, always with the observance of EU rules.
-Sixth, the prime minister noted that "under these difficult circumstances in particular it is our duty not to encourage excessive claims since the situation does not allow bidding for the highest benefits."
"Under the crucial circumstances that we are experiencing, there is no ground for competition," the prime minister said, adding that "unfortunately, I did not ascertain today a mood for an understanding on the self-evident."
Karamanlis also said that at a crucial time, like the one being experienced, all must rise to the occasion and underlined that every party is responsible for its options.
Lastly, Karamanlis made it clear that there is no dilemma for the government.
"We have chosen the path of responsibility and we are insisting on it. As far as we are concerned, the economy is a big national issue and our target is to curb the consequences of the crisis as much as possible," the prime minister concluded.
 Papandreou: Gov't has no planPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday received main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou for talks on the prospects of consensus among the country's political forces amid the ongoing international economic crisis.
Karamanlis initiated the meeting, with Papandreou followed by other Parliament-represented political leaders.
After the meeting, Papandreou told reporters that he outlined to the prime minister his concerns over what he called citizens' sense of insecurity, which he said was further exacerbated by rising unemployment, the "crisis in the markets" and a decline in households' income. The former foreign minister also referred to a "collapse" of the health and education sectors.
"We need a new plan, a new course that will guarantee immediate measures against the economic crisis, for the markets, for Greek families; a new development model that we must all together focus on," he said, adding that PASOK commits itself to "green growth" and a "strong negotiation" with a plan in the EU.
"Unfortunately, what I understood is that the government does not have a plan. I'm afraid that this government has only one plan: general elections," Papandreou charged.
"Over the last five years the government has rejected our proposals and what I realised from the meeting with the Prime Minister is that he wants us to give him a blank cheque," Papandreou concluded.
 KKE head briefed by PM, rejects proposalsPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday received Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga at his Maximos Mansion office, part of the Greek premier's ongoing high-level contacts with top opposition political leaders in the wake of an extraordinary EU summit on the global economic crisis last week.
After the meeting, Papariga said the prime minister referred to specific points he supports and gave her a relevant text, which according to Papariga, does not meet with KKE's approval.
Answering press questions on the possibility of early elections, Papariga stressed that KKE does not refer only to elections but also to popular struggles.
She also added that her party does not fear an election, which is a major opportunity to dent the "negative power correlation and to punish both poles of bipartisanism," as she said.
The KKE leader also said that her party will not back an "anti-social policy" and measures against the working class
She later expressed her certainty that early elections are unavoidable, pointing out that the government "will not last".
Papariga stated that she delivered a text to the prime minister with her party's positions focusing on measures that will lead the country out of the crisis.
Papariga stressed that if the prime minister wants consensus he should state publicly whether he will implement the measures suggested by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, that among others, include raising retirement ages, increased privatisations and lower wages than predicted by collective bargaining contacts, as she said.
 Deep crisis does not need superficial agreements, Alavanos says after meeting PMRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group President Alekos Alavanos held talks with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday stating afterwards that "I entered the Maximos Mansion as leftist opposition and I am departing as leftist opposition."
Alavanos added that a discussion was held on the crisis and pointed out that "such a deep crisis does not need superficial agreements. It needs deep change and we are moving in this direction."
He also informed the prime minister in writing of SYRIZA's proposals and positions, noting that they concern 25 points and initiatives that must be taken immediately, according to SYRIZA.
Alavanos said that, on the other hand, "I heard 6 points from the prime minister, in his philosophy, that I think are the points that must not be implemented."
Alavanos further pointed out that SYRIZA, "being a leftist and movements' force, will support the struggles of the working people," in this way rejecting the position of not providing benefits, while reiterating that his party is in favour of the speedy nationalisation of the National Bank which, "together with the Agricultural Bank and the Post Office Savings Bank, can constitute a great promoter of liquidity."
 Karatzaferis briefed by PMPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis held a 40-minute-long meeting with Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) founder and president George Karatzaferis on Thursday, within the framework of separate meetings he had with all other top political leaders the same day to focus on the ongoing international economic crisis.
Speaking to reporters, Karatzaferis stressed that "reason dictates to seek common ground in order to exit the crisis", adding that he submitted a memorandum to the Greek premier containing several of his thoughts, ideas and proposals, which will be made public soon. He also stated that the prime minister requested consensus on a specific framework of positions by political parties.
Responding to the ubiquitous press question regarding early elections, Karatzaferis stressed that it is not advisable to create a political issue amidst the economic crisis.
 Gov't details PM's econ axesThe government on Thursday outlined in detail the six key principles and facts presented by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during his separate meetings earlier in the day with the country's top opposition political party leaders.
Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros first underlined that Greece, as an EU and Euro-zone member, is focusing on economic stability and crisis management in compliance with EU rules, as proven in the extraordinary EU Summit meeting. He said the second point is the high public debt, a long-standing problem that will have to be tackled with coordinated actions in order to post results.
The third issue underlined was that the gradual deficit reduction is a priority, with reduction not achieved through the imposition of new taxes but through effective public spending cuts and eliminating wasteful spending. The fourth issue cited by the spokesman was that public debt and budget deficit reduction define the resilience of Greek society in relation to developmental and social policy and if are not kept under control the situation could become uncontrollable and possibly dangerous.
The fifth point was the urgent need for special initiatives in crucial sectors, such as tourism, always in compliance with EU rules, and finally, it was underlined that "extravagant demands" should not be encouraged as the current global economic situation does not allow for benefits-based policies.
Antonaros stated that the prime minister invited opposition parties to a fruitful dialogue to jointly decide what can be done to deal with the consequences of the global economic crisis, clarifying that the government has a realistic, complete and substantive plan. He also stressed that the country's credit ability is not being questioned.
 FM Bakoyannis attends informal NATO FMs conferenceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
NATO foreign ministers held an informal conference here on Thursday, focusing on the "Declaration on Allied Security", that will constitute the political basis for revising and shaping NATO's next strategic doctrine, relations between the Alliance and Russia and developments in Afghanistan.
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said in a statement that Thursday's extraordinary meeting of the ministers was in essence a conference in preparation for the Alliance's anniversary summit to be held in early April in an area, France and Germany (Strasbourg and Kehl), of special political and historical significance.
According to the minister, special emphasis was placed during the discussions on preparing the Declaration on Allied Security. The Secretary General presented a draft on the Declaration and initial observations and remarks were made on the text. Its finalised form, following processing at Permanent Representatives level, is expected to be adopted at the summit.
Bakoyannis said that Greece believes that the starting point and foundation stone for these texts must be, apart from common interests, the Alliance's fundamental principles and values, such as the principle of solidarity between member-states.
"We also place special weight on developing an equal relation, close and productive cooperation between NATO and the European Union, that will be based on the principle of respect for the institutional autonomy of the two organisations," she said.
On the question of relations between NATO and Russia, Bakoyannis stressed that "they must be of a sincere and substantive dialogue", as well as of "cooperation on handling common challenges such as, for example, international terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of weapons of mass destruction and the situation in Afghanistan."
In her view, the full utilisation of the institutional framework of the NATO-Russia Council is necessary and useful. In parallel, the foreign ministers accepted the activation, following the NATO summit, of the Council at ministerial level.
A review and assesment of the situation in Afghanistan was also made during Thursday's conference, as well as of the Alliance's contribution to the international community's efforts to achieve the stabilisation, reconstruction and democratisation of the country, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential elections.
"Greece believes that efforts made so far by the international community have led to the conclusion that the solution to the issue of the stability of this country and of the wider region cannot and must not be of an exclusive military nature," the Greek foreign minister said, pointing out that Afghanistan needs a multilevel and spherical approach and clear priorities focusing on a series of issues, such as economic and social development and the combatting of corruption and of the drugs economy.
"In this framework, the development of the Alliance's relations with Islamabad is important," she said.
Moreover, an assessment and review of the Alliance's presence, with the NATO KFOR force, in Kosovo was also made.
The minister further underlined that Thursday's meeting, combined with the United States-European Union summit, that is being scheduled immediately after the NATO summit, is expected to provide new characteristics for the strategic relation between Europe and the United States.
"To provide new characteristics for the transatlantic relation, that remains of fundamental significance for our common future, for internationmal stability and peace," Bakoyannis said.
 Foreign ministry spokesman on UN minority issues reportForeign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, commenting on Thursday on the report by the UN'S Independent Rapporteur for minority issues, said that Greece will be making an analytical presentation of its positions at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.
"Our positions are crystal-clear and are based on absolute respect for human rights, a principle that also applies for minorities, and this constitutes an achievement of the modern-day Hellenic Republic," the spokesman said.
Koumoutsakos further said that in Greece every Greek citizen has the inalienable individual right to determine himself and the state's care to strengthen and protect human rights is continuous and effective.
"This policy is based on our steadfast conviction that the apparatuses for protecting and strengthening human rights must ultimately boost the harmonious coexistence of the citizens of a country," Koumoutsakos further stressed.
"For this reason, these apparatuses as well must not be turned, either directly or indirectly, into an opportunity or an alibi for some who are consciously attempting to exploit them for the promotion of expediencies of their own at the level of inter-state relations. Moreover, they must not become a tool in the hands of those who, for selfish purposes, aim at the creation of discord and a climate of tensions inside a society," the spokesman concluded.
 Justice minister on correctional system draft lawJustice Minister Nikos Dendias on Thursday called on the main opposition PASOK party to assist in efforts made to improve the country's correctional system, in view of a relevant draft law to be tabled in Parliament in the coming period.
Responding to a tabled question by a PASOK deputy and in reference to a recent helicopter escape of two convicts from the Korydallos prison near Piraeus, Dendias said his predecessors are not responsible because they most likely were assured by prison authorities that all necessary measures were in effect to avert any such attempt.
Dendias stressed that the fact that he did not resign from office following the prison break does not mean that he is not politically responsible.
 Minister: Gov't considering changes in law for ministers' liabilityThe government is considering amendments to change the law regarding ministers' liability, the relevant justice minister said in Parliament on Thursday in reply to a tabled question by an opposition deputy.
Minister Nikos Dendias referred to a "disharmony" between the law covering ministers' actions and the legal provisions for the general public, while first, however, noting:
"Personally, I am in favor of short statutes of limitations (in this case), as I consider that uncertainty cannot be sustained, because a minister should not be delivered in the future as a hostage to whatever upcoming (political) majorities," Dendias added.
On his part, LA.OS deputy Athanassios Plevris agreed that a former or serving minister should not be turned into an "easy victim" by a majority, although he emphasised that equality before the law should also apply to ministers.
 Papandreou outlines 'Green Development'Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou outlined the three priorities constituting the party's integrated plan on "Green Development", during a special event held on Thursday evening in the presence of European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, the President of the European Renewable Energy Sources Council Arthouros Zervos and local administration, agency and organisation representatives.
Papandreou stressed that the current crisis "is related directly to the end of an economic model that promoted growth without guaranteeing the viability and prosperity of our society."
He added that the crisis is an opportunity to reverse a growth model that is breathing its last, "an opportunity to tell those who are smothering the possibilities of the country and of our people, to those who are preventing progress and are cultivating inertia and pessimism, to those who are restricting the right for a life of quality and dignity: make way for Greece to pass."
Papandreou pointed out that Green Development "is an overall solution to enable us to change course" and that "historically, whenever governments have attempted to emerge from crises through restriction, meaning with measures which decrease economic activity, they have failed" and added that "they have succeeded in emerging from a crisis when they have clear targets and a development position."
Analysing his party's three main priotirites, Papandreou underlined that the first priority is the climate and energy. The transition to an economy that reduces carbon emissions by 2020 and that can ultimately rid itself from mineral fuel by 2050.
The second is radical restructuring in all of the conomy's production sectors. In agriculture, fisheries, tourism, culture and processing. With the transition from the era of mass production, of low quality and cheap costs, to the era of quality.
The third priority, he noted, is economising with natural resources, with forests and protected regions, waters and refuse, as well as with green infrastructures, transportation, coastal shipping and the public environment.
Papandreou concluded that the transition to the green development model will take place with economic and institutional tools, with a green taxation reform, with strong public investing in research in the development of new technologies, with the creation of the "Green Fund", with the participation of the public and private sectors that will finance the improvement of the environment's quality.
 Leftist leader to visit CreteCoalition of the Left (Synaspismos) president Alexis Tsipras will visit the cities of Hania and Rethymno on the large island of Crete next week. An official itinerary for the visit has not been announced yet.
 Testimony in Vatopedi land swap case ends FridayTestimony by suspects in the case concerning a series of controversial land swaps between the Vatopedi Monastery and the Greek state will be completed on Friday.
The attorney representing nine members of the Vatopedi Monastery board delivered their written statements to Court of Appeals prosecutors assigned the case, underlining that the monastery never undertook the initiative to request land swaps or has forced a state official to commit illegal acts. They also underlined that they themselves, as individuals, own no real estate and have no personal bank accounts.
The monastery board members were summoned to testify as suspects of instigating breach of duty, fraud, false testimony, and money-laundering.
A memorandum was also submitted by the rural development and foods ministry Land Policy Office director who maintained that she followed oral orders given by the ministry leadership as well as ministerial decisions, pointing out that since 2003 she had expressed in writing her position that the Vatopedi Monastery had no rights on Lake Vistonida and the surrounding land.
The general secretary of the rural development and foods ministry will be the last witness to testify on Friday.
 Competitiveness Ministers Council convenes in BrusselsThe Council of Competitiveness Ministers convened on its first day in Brussels on Thursday and examined the international economic crisis and its repercussions for the competitiveness of the European economies. Greece was represented by Deputy Development Minister Ioannis Bougas.
The Council, that took place in the framework of preparations for the European Council 2009 Spring summit, initially dealt with the contribution of the internal market to the effort to achieve economic recovery.
Presenting Greece's positions in the framework of the discussion on the renewed Lisbon strategy on growth and employment, Bougas stressed the need for the planning of new measures to integrate the unified market to facilitate the access of small amd medium-size enterprises (SMEs) to it, while calling on the European Commission to have all the proposals on decreasing administrative burdens promoted as soon as possible.
During the exchange of views on direct support for SMEs in the present negative international economic conjuncture, the Deputy Development minister had the opportunity of outlining for his counterparts measures that have already been taken in Greece, such as the Programme for supporting the liquidity of Small and Very Small Enterprises, through guaranteeing and subsidising loan interest rates for working capital, as a result of which over 13,000 businesses from all over the country have benefitted by over 1.4 billion euros.
Bougas also called on the European Commission to proceed speedily with analysing the situation prevailing in the European industry in its entirety so that the May 2009 Council will be able to deal with other sectors that are also being equally seriously harmed by the economic crisis.
 Privatisations committee decisions on real estate, DEPAThe government's privatisations committee convened on Thursday, with the participation of Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou, Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and Employment Minister Fani Palli-Petralia. They decided to explore the potential for exploiting state-owned real estate in accordance with existing legislation for the sale and lease back of state property.
They also agreed to explore the possibility of finding a strategic investor for the Public Gas Corporation SA (DEPA).
The state's consultants will in both cases be appointed during forthcoming sessions of the privatisation committee.
 Gov't, sector officials cite different views on '09 tourism trendsGovernment and tourism sector officials on Thursday expressed sharply divergent views over tourism trends in the country for the coming season.
Addressing a seminar organised by the Economic and Social Commission (OKE) on the consequences of the international economic crisis on Greek tourism, Tourism Development Minister Costas Markopoulos expressed optimism over trends in 2009 and emphasised that the ministry would do everything in its power to maintain jobs in the industry.
On other hand, OKE head Christos Polyzogopoulos and the head of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), Nikos Aggelopoulos, focused on the repercussions on employees as a result of the economic crisis.
Polyzogopoulos said there was a risk of losing 90,000 jobs in the tourism sector, while Aggelopoulos said "we haven't seen anything yet, things will become much worse", while he announced job cuts as the industry was trying to cut costs.
The minister said Greece would maintain last year's ad logo and announced that this year's ad campaign would total 75 million euros.
SETE's head criticised the government for failing to launch its tourism campaign and said that according to TUI's early data, travel reservations from the UK were down 25 pct; from Germany down 22 pct; from France 19 pct, and from Scandinavian countries 30 pct.
 Ecocity conference in AthensThe first conference on green technology for cities will take place at EXPO Athens facilities on April 3-5, organised by the environmental organisation 'Ecocity' and the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE).
The conference will be dedicated to promoting green technology applications and scientific proposals in order to improve city environments. It is taking place under the auspices of European Commissioner for the environment Stavros Dimas and the European Commission's bureau in Greece and it is aimed at all staff in prefectures and municipal authorities, especially those at decision-making centres.
The conference programme will unfold along six axes: air and atmospheric pollution, water and ways to better manage this, energy and renewable sources, housing and greenspaces, green transport, recycling and economic resources development.
 Bill on OLP SA dock facilities ratified in principleThe draft law ratifying the contract on the concession of port installations at docks II and III of the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) S.A. was ratified in principle on Thursday with 149 "yes" votes by the deputies of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party majority, out of a total of 281 deputies voting.
Voting against ratification were 131 deputies (PASOK, KKE, SYRIZA and LAOS), while independent Deputy Petros Tatoulis voted present.
Voting on the ratification of the bill took place with a rollcaall vote at the request of PASOK and SYRIZA.
 Car registrations down 37.4 pct in Jan-FebCar registrations (new and used ones) dropped by 37.4 percent in the first two months of the year, compared with the corresponding period in 2008, the National Statistical Service said on Thursday.
The statistical service, in a report, said that car registrations totaled 46,677 vehicles in the January-February period, down from 74,597 vehicles in the same period last year. New car registrations totaled 20,453 units in February, down 34.8 pct from last year.
The statistical service said new motorcycle registrations fell 20.0 pct to 8,559 units in the January-February period, from 10,696 units last year.
 Cosmote raises stake in AMC to 95 pctAthens-based Cosmote on Thursday announced the signing of an agreement with the Albanian government to buy an additional 12.6-pct stake in its Albanian subsidiary, AMC, for 48.2 million euros.
After completion of the deal, Cosmote will control 95 pct of AMC.
The agreement was signed between Michalis Tsamaz, Cosmote's chief executive, and Albanian Deputy Economy Minister Enno Bozdo.
AMC is the leader in mobile telephony operations in Albania, with an exceptional EBITDA margin.
 Greek stocks end 1.72% downGreek stocks fell to their lowest levels since March 2003 at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, following a negative trend in other international markets. The composite index ended 1.72 pct lower at 1,481.46 points, with turnover at 101.3 million euros, of which 4.1 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Travel (4.87 pct), Utilities (3.53 pct), Banks (2.31 pct) and Commerce (2.16 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Telecoms (1.94 pct), Oil (0.91 pct) and Media (0.54 pct) scored gains.
The FTSE 20 index dropped 1.84 pct, the FTSE 40 index fell 1.17 pct and the FTSE 80 index ended 1.04 pct lower. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 131 to 58 with another 49 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.91%
Personal & Household: +0.91%
Raw Materials: -0.12%
Travel & Leisure: -4.87%
Food & Beverages: -0.41%
Financial Services: -0.48%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OPAP, National Bank, OTE and Bank of Piraeus.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 3.82
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.90
HBC Coca Cola: 9.16
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.00
National Bank of Greece: 9.16
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.60
Bank of Piraeus: 3.30
Titan Cement Company: 14.36
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a widened discount (1.12 pct) again in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover remaining a low 24.26 million euros. Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 4,719 contracts worth 17.033 million euros, with 32,028 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 8,575 contracts worth 7.227 million euros, with investment interest focusing on OPAP's contracts (1,795), followed by Eurobank (758), OTE (315), PPC (491), Piraeus Bank (819), National Bank (1,612), Alpha Bank (441), Marfin Popular Bank (476) and Cyprus Bank (362).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market shrank further to 465 million euros on Thursday, of which 185 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 280 million euros were sell orders. The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2013) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 120 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds widened to 271 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 5.76 pct and the German Bund 2.71 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates fell further. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.98 pct, the six-month rate 1.86 pct, the three-month rate 1.75 pct and the one-month rate 1.44 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.265
Pound sterling 0.897
Danish kroner 7.510
Swedish kroner 11.574
Japanese yen 125.71
Swiss franc 1.488
Norwegian kroner 8.977
Canadian dollar 1.626
Australian dollar 1.973
 Culture minister on protestors' siege of AcropolisCulture Minister Antonis Samaras appeared before Parliament's Educational Affairs Committee on Thursday to explain what had led a group of temporary contract workers at the ministry to take highly visible protest action, including blockading the entrance to the Parthenon and Athens Acropolis.
"I have met the contract workers three times in the 40 days that I am minister, I am aware of all these issues, I have given them instructions for action to resolve the procedural problem that exists, but I cannot and am not allowed to break the law," the minister underlined.
The specific contract workers are part of a group that have won temporary court orders allowing them to continue working at the ministry but have found their wages blocked by the Court of Audit, which decrees that it is not obliged to comply with court orders that are not final.
He explained that some 350 people, or three percent of the ministry's workforce, were currently working on the basis of temporary or lower court orders. Until the end of 2008, their wages had been paid from a special fund that had since been scrapped as an irregularity, following a detailed audit of the ministry's financial affairs initiated after a suicide attempt by former ministry general secretary Christos Zachopoulos and suspicions that this may have been prompted by blackmail over financial mismanagement.
"Today this account does not exist and I cannot bring it back for the specific problem," Samaras underlined, pointing out that MPs had unanimously voted in favour of its being scrapped.
He said the ministry was currently setting aside money for the payroll of the specific group from the regular budget but the Court of Audit had not approved the payments after January 1, 2009 on the grounds that there was no need to execute court orders that were not final.
Samaras said he had instructed the ministry's legal advisors to find a formula to solve the problem but also pointed out that this would not address the heart of the issue:
"We should not hide behind a lie: the main demand of the contract workers in question is their permanent employment at the ministry, even if they do not state this clearly. I am working with the other ministers involved and the Supreme Council of Staff Selection, in order to draft a proclamation that will appropriate points to their years of service," he said.
The minister also criticised the form of protest chosen by the contract workers, however, pointing out that they had once again caused images of the Parthenon - a symbol of Greece's highest achievements - to do the rounds in the world media in a negative context.
Members of the opposition parties called for an immediate solution to the problem through legislation or by giving additional cash to the culture ministry staff mutual assistance fund.
 Papoulias receives representatives of mental health sectorPresident of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday received a delegation of people and organisations active in the field of mental health, who conveyed strong concerns about problematic funding for their sector that was impairing the function of mental health facilities.
"We are here because we do not only express the demands that concern ourselves personally, nor do we want to express our own intentions concerning the work being done, but we are here because we also want to express our solidarity with the psychiatric patients themselves," the president of the Hellenic Psychiatric Society Prof. Nikolaos Tzavaras told the president, noting that psychiatric patients often lacked the ability to present their demands and problems as effectively as other minorities in Greek society.
"The people who suffer mentally are not comparable, I would say, to those suffering physically. The second have several opportunities to express their own pain and express their own demands. The first do not and for this reason we demand that the state, and society in general, show particularly sensitivity," he added.
Tzavaras stressed that those working in the sector were greatly concerned about the failure to ensure permanent funding for the work done by mental health units, creating a constant sense of existential insecurity in the mentally ill and also in those that worked in this area.
 Women scientists host tribute event to Amalia FlemingThe Hellenic Association of University Women (SEE) hosted an event in honor of Lady Amalia Fleming on the occasion of the association's 85th anniversary and International Women's Day.
Amalia Fleming (1909-1986) was described by the speakers addressing the event, held on Wednesday night, as a "beacon of inspiration, a model of a woman that became an example of a human being with principles".
Former parliament president Apostolos Kaklamanis underlined that her personality was unique perfectly combining her various roles of a woman, scientist, politician.
Amalia Koutsouri-Vourekas, Lady Fleming, was a doctor, activist and politician, born in Constantinople (Istanbul today) in 1909. She moved to Greece and during WWII joined the National Resistance for which she was jailed by the Italians.
In 1946, she received a scholarship to study in London where she met Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. They married in 1953 but her husband died less than two years later. She returned to Greece in 1963.
Amalia Fleming was arrested by the Greek junta and was released from prison in 1971 due to health problems. She was stripped of her Greek citizenship and forced into exile.
Lady Fleming returned to Greece after the fall of the junta in 1974, joined PASOK and was elected to the Greek Parliament in 1977, 1981 and 1985. She was active in several human rights organisations, notably Amnesty International, Democratic Concern and Human Rights Union.
Amalia Fleming initiated and funded the establishment of the Greek Foundation for Basic Biological Research "Alexander Fleming" (1965) which was later transformed into the Biomedical Sciences Research Center "Alexander Fleming", a governmental, non-profit institution which is actively involved in research areas covering immunology, molecular biology, genetics and molecular oncology.
 Greenpeace again rings alarm for seagrass meadowsGreenpeace on Thursday repeated a demand that the government fully chart and protect the vital seagrass meadows in Greek seas. Members of the organisation underlined in a press conference that the 'forests' of seagrass - known scientifically as Posidonia oceanica - were among the most important marine ecosystems in Greece and were being ravaged by unsound and destructive fishing methods.
The press conference was held to announce the completion of a chart of seagrass meadows off the Aegean island of Andros, conducted by Greenpeace in cooperation with the Southern Aegean Coastal Fishing Federation and volunteer scientists, which had begun last July.
It said that a similar process should be carried out throughout Greece and fishing methods that damaged the seabed should be banned in areas where seagrass was found. The environmental organisation also demanded that the state establish protection zones, noting that this was an obligation that Greece should have met by December 2007 under regulations for the Mediterranean.
According to the head of the Greenpeace Greece marine ecology campaign, Angela Lazou, the final goal of the organisation's cooperation with the fishermen of Andros was to create a marine reserve in the Cyclades area that had as its nucleus the island of Gyaros, which would enjoy absolute protection from all kinds of fishing activity.
The president of the Southern Aegean Coastal Fishing Federation, Dimitris Zannes, reported that fish had disappeared as a result of the destruction of the seagrass meadows and called on the state to ensure that they continued to exist.
According to Greenpeace, Posidonia or seagrass meadows are a home for more than 1,200 marine species and, like the forests on land, they trap carbon dioxide and help pump oxygen into the sea.
Despite being a priority ecosystem protected by a series of national, European and regional laws, Greenpeace estimates that about 80 percent of sea grass meadows in Greece remain unprotected because they are not adequately charted.
EU regulations for fishing require that Greece protect sea grass meadows from the sort of destruction caused by certain fishing methods that trawl along the seabed but so far such methods have been banned in only 57 regions of the Greek seas by the agricultural development ministry, the organisation adds.
 Large quantity of hashish confiscated in ThessalonikiFour men were charged on Wednesday in Thessaloniki, northern Greece for possession of 53 kilos of hashish.
Police officers initially arrested two men as they tried to sell the drugs to a policeman posing as a buyer.
Two accomplices were arrested afterwards during a police search of a house where they found the hashish and 14,695 euros in cash.
The drugs and money were confiscated, while the suspects will be led before a public prosecutor.
 Police officer shot dead by gunmanA policeman was shot dead on Thursday by a gunman who had earlier robbed a bank. The incident occurred outside a branch of Cyprus Bank at Davaki Square in the greater Piraeus district of Nikaia and the officer, who served at the police station in Paleo Faliro, was not in uniform when the incident took place.
Officers investigating the incident believe that the young officer became aware of the robbery and gave pursuit when he was shot. For reasons as yet unknown, the victim did not use his service revolver against the robber, even though he had it with him in a bag.
There were no eye witnesses to the incident and the shooter is believed to have escaped on a motorbike parked outside the bank. A manhunt is on to try and hunt him down.
 Free public transport for women on March 8Women will be entitled to travel free of charge with public transport means on the International Women's Day, Sunday, March 8.
The relevant decision was taken by Transport and Communcations Minister Evripidis Stylianidis, who stressed that on this day all women will have free transport with transport facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki and with the Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE) and the KTEL bus services all over Greece.
"This initiative constitutes a minimum symbolic gesture of recognition for the role and the contribution of the woman in modern-day society. This international day, a day without a ticket in transport means for all women, must remind us that honour and respect for women must be rprovided all the year round, through our activities and actions," the minister said.
 Acropolis closed on ThursdayThe archaeological site of Acropolis will remain closed on Thursday due to a Culture Ministry employees strike.
The employees are demand payment of four months' outstanding salaries and institutional changes.
 Cloudy, rainy on FridayCloudy and rainy weather and southeasterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 5-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 4C and 20C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with southeasterly 4-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 9C to 17C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 8C to 15C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAegean Airlines' and Chrysler Aviation's tenders for the acquisition of Olympic Airways (OA), Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' briefing of President of Republic Karolos Papoulias on the extraordinary EU Summit and Karamanlis' meetings on Thursday with party leaders were the main front-page headlines in Thursday's newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "The changes in university entry exams - What the rectors recommend".
APOGEVMATINI: "Homes will not be foreclosed for debts up to 20,000 euros. - Justice Minister Nikos Dendias reveals that measures that will be taken to protect consumer loan and credit card borrowers".
AVGHI: "Crippled education, closed universities - The inter-party committee meets on Tuesday and the council on secondary eduction convenes on Wednesday".
AVRIANI: "Bizarre and suspicious last-minute methodizaitons and tenders attempt collapse of government- MIG agreement on OA".
CHORA: "Business and hard political backdoor negotiations - Political families and press barons hold secret meetings in the midst of the financial crisis
ELEFTHERI ORA: "Bla, bla,bla - Prime Minister will meet on Thursday with political leaders, on a non-existent prospect of consensus".
ELEFTHEROS: "Main opposition PASOK, when it was government, brought the social security funds to their knees, and ruling New Democracy has dealt them the final blow".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "1.7 million cars' withdrawal - Exclusive: The government's five-year plan is ready".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Battle for Olympic Airways - Impressive move by Aegean Airlines with last-minute offer".
ESTIA: "In search of agreement over the obvious - That is what the financial crisis mandates".
ETHNOS: "Blind date for the consensus - Prime Minister seeks life-vest in his meetings on Thursday with party leaders".
KATHIMERINI: "Two new contenders for OA's acquisition".
LOGOS: "New bidders for OA - The negotiations with MIG".
NIKI: "Prime Minister's consensus trick - Karamanlis is seeking a life buoy in his meetings with the political leaders".
TA NEA: "The state declares stoppage in payments! - Red alert in Health, Education and social security funds".
TO VIMA: "The ten crucial hours - Karamanlis' proposals are vague ".
VRADYNI: "Dogfights over OA - Two new 'suitors' raise the bid".
 President Christofias: Convergences between the two sides on property issueNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Thursday said there are convergences between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot side on some matters regarding the issue of properties.
In statements after his 21st meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, in the framework of direct negotiations aiming to solve the Cyprus problem, Christofias said that the two leaders are now suspending discussions on the issue of properties, which will be further discussed by their aides George Iacovou and Ozdil Nami.
"We have suspended discussions on the issue of properties, but Nami and Iacovou will continue with the work done so far," Christofias noted.
Asked if the issue will come before the leaders when the give and take process begins, he replied: "it might happen before that."
Invited to say if there were any convergences or divergences during Thursday's meeting, Christofias said there was a good climate, adding that "there were convergences on some issues, at least those we discussed today (Thursday), and these convergences will be concluded, to have an agreement in the near future, probably."
Asked what issues these convergences concern, Christofias said he did not want to put his cards on the table and that "there are certain things that need to be discussed and I think we need to be careful."
Christofias and Talat have been engaged in direct negotiations with a view to solve the question of Cyprus, divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third.
UN Secretary-General's Special Representative
UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Cyprus Taye-Brook Zerihoun said after the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, that the two leaders had at first a tete-a-tete meeting for one and a half hour.
"After that, they continued discussion on property issues. They have now referred the matter to the representatives to consider, in tandem with other issues including governance and confidence building measures", he added.
Zerihoun also noted that the two leaders would now move to EU matters next Wednesday, 11 March. The representatives will also meet in the afternoon of the 12th of March to discuss the range of issues which are on their agenda.
Asked if the two leaders got any closer regarding the property issue after Thursday's meeting, Zerihoun said that's a difficult judgment to make.
"But as you will recall they started with exchanging their views on the principles that should guide the discussions. Following that, they talked about the criteria and also discussed, in this last meeting and the one before it, specific suggestions and proposals from each side. There has been a broad and substantive discussion on the issue, but I would not make that judgment, because it is a subjective judgment", he concluded.
 Cypriot FM: 2009 a year of decisive developments in Cyprus questionNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou has expressed the belief that 2009 will be a year of decisive developments with regard to efforts to solve the Cyprus question.
According to the Athens News Agency (ANA), in statements in Melbourne where he is paying a visit, March 4-11, Kyprianou expressed "reserved optimism" about the outcome of direct negotiations held between Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
He said he is not expecting at this phase any initiative by the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and noted that due to the elections in Turkey and the so-called elections to take place in April in Cyprus' Turkish occupied areas, Ankara is not expected to show any flexibility.
He expressed the view that after the elections and due to the evaluation of Turkey's EU accession course Ankara's real intentions will become clear.
Kyprianou said that Ankara is now recognizing the need to solve the Cyprus question, adding at the same time that the international community gives credit to the Greek Cypriot side for good faith in the talks.
Cyprus FM expressed satisfaction with the role of the UN Secretary Adviser on Cyprus Australian Alexander Downer "even if sometimes and due to his role he sounds more optimistic."
He also referred to the important role of Greeks and Greek Cypriots living abroad in raising awareness about the Cyprus question worldwide and stressed the need for rapprochement between the two communities in Cyprus.
Christofias and Talat have been engaged in direct talks since September last year, with a view to reach a settlement to the problem of Cyprus, divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.
 Church of Cyprus to file application against Turkey at ECHRNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Church of Cyprus will resort to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the destruction of 522 churches in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.
According to a press release, issued here by the Church of Cyprus, at the initiative of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, the Church is prepared to take Turkey to the European Court on account of the continuing destruction of 522 churches in the northern Turkish occupied areas of the country.
The Church will also highlight the need to safeguard Cyprus' religious and cultural heritage, much of which has been pillaged or destroyed since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island.
"This resort to the ECHR is necessary due to the fact that Turkey continues consciously to destroy the churches in our island and refuses to cooperate for the reconstruction and repair of all monuments which have suffered barbaric alterations", the press release says.
The Church of Cyprus notes that "a lot of churches have been converted into stables, stores, hen-houses, night clubs, libraries, cultural centers, morgues, mosques and military camps", since the Turkish invasion against Cyprus in 1974.
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