|Friday, 21 September 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-03-24
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Tuesday, 24 March 2009 Issue No: 3153
 Air transport entering new phase, PM Karamanlis saysPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis, referring to the signing of the Olympic Airways airline company's transfer agreemeent to the Marfing Investment Group (MIG) group, said on Monday "the period of decline for Olympic Airways is finally closing and our homeland is passing into a new phase concerning air transport."
The prime minister added that the period of decline of the airline that had unbearable burdens for the Greek taxpayer and legal troubles in the European Union is finally closing, while stressing that the Greek citizens will stop paying one million euros that Olympic cost on a daily basis.
The new company, Karamanlis further said, is expected to contribute 150 million euros a year to public coffers and the new Olympic Airways will continue its activities with the same name and emblem.
He said that the government worked systematically and in an organised way to have this issue concluded, adding that it held tough negotiations with the EU to enable the new company to forge ahead without the debts owed by Olympic Airways and the employees were safeguarded with the decisions taken.
Karamanlis underlined that Greece was entering a new period in air transport, and referred to "healthy competition between companies, possibility of multiple options for passengers and service for all the unproductive routes."
Olympic Airlines on Monday entered a new era, a long period of decadence finally ends giving its place to an era of high expectations and demands, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis said during a privatization ceremony of the national carrier and the signing of the final agreement for the purchase of Olympic Airlines' and Olympic Airways Services' assets by Marfin Investment Group (MIG).
"Olympic Airlines has been for years the big patient of our economy, creating huge debts of one million euros daily, burdening taxpayers and causing serious legal problems for our country," Hatzidakis said underlining that Monday was the peak of hard efforts which lasted 18 months. The Greek minister stressed it was very significant the fact that the national carrier was transferred to the hands of a powerful and credible investor such as MIG, amid a difficult international conjucture. "MIG's successful course during all these years is creating high expectations and makes us optimistic over the future of Olympic," he said.
Olympic Airlines cost around 350 million euros to Greek taxpayers annually, Hatzidakis said adding that the state would receive 177.2 million euros from the sale and another 150 million euros annually from tax and social insurance contributions. At the same time, Greece will enjoy a more healthy environment in air transport, without monopolies or unfair practices which will work to the benefit of consumers, he noted.
Andreas Vgenopoulos, vice-chairman of MIG, addressing the ceremony expressed his satisfaction over the signing of the agreement by saying: "We did our duty, it was inconceivable not to have an Olympic". He committed to create a new airline company, healthy, very strong and developing to the benefit of MIG's shareholders, its workers, tourism and of the national economy in general. "We promise to do everything to make Greeks proud for a new Olympic," he said.
Marfin Investment Group Holdings S.A announced that the definitive legal agreements (share sale and purchase agreement, shareholders agreement as well as all other necessary legal documentation) have been signed between the Company and the Hellenic Republic for the acquisitions of Pantheon Airways S.A (flying operations), MRO NewCo (technical base) and the Ground Handling NewCo (ground handling services) (collectively the "Acquired Entities"). The above mentioned agreements are subject to ratification by the Greek Parliament, expected to take place in the next few weeks, and will thereafter be vested with the validity of a law of the Greek State.
MIG informs investors about certain aspects of these transactions:
· All Acquired Entities are effectively start-up businesses, which own only selected assets to be sold by the Hellenic Republic and carry no liabilities or obligations whatsoever;
· The Acquired Entities are not in any way the successors, in a legal or any other manner, of the state-owned aviation companies, including but not limited to Olympic Airways, Olympic Airlines, Olympic Aviation etc. This is safeguarded by national legislation that is already in place and has been vetted by the European Commission;
· In a period of unprecedented financial and economic instability, the nature of the transaction ensures that MIG maintains significant strategic flexibility regarding the operations of the Acquired Entities. Indicatively, MIG can select at its own discretion the assets that it wishes to acquire (such as aircraft and technical equipment at a very favourable environment), the way in which such assets will be acquired (purchase, leasing etc.), the number and type of employees that it wishes to recruit, the routes in which the new airline will operate and a broad array of more strategic alternatives. MIG's full flexibility at this stage will enhance its determination to create a very efficient aviation business with strong competitive advantages.
MIG, in close cooperation with the recently retained aviation management team and external consultants, is currently finalising a detailed strategic and operational business plan for each of the Acquired entities. Post finalisation of this exercise, MIG will be able to provide visibility regarding its plans for, and the prospects of, the Acquired Entities.
Marfin Investment Group is the largest Greek business group in the wider South East European region. It numbers in excess of 50,000 employees and associates and has a presence spanning over 40 countries.
MIG is headquartered in Greece and listed on the Athens Exchange. 58% of its share capital is held directly or indirectly by Greek strategic, institutional and retail investors and 24% is held by international institutional investors. Dubai Group owns a c.18% stake in the Company, is represented on its BoD via 3 non-executive members and has no involvement in the management of the company.
Main opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou, commenting on Monday on statements made by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on the signing of the contract concerning the sale of the Olympic Airways airline to the MIG group, said "it is accompanied by a considerable cost for the Greek taxpayer in the region of 1.5 billion, to which the prime minister did not refer."
"Today's signing of the contract on the sale of Olympic Airways to the MIG company comes after a long period of systematic downgrading of Olympic by the present government, heightening with the announcement by the prime minister of the 'closure' of the company in 2005, following the failure of the initial plan on the fragmentation and sale of the company, and it is accompanied by a considerable cost for the Greek taxpayer in the region of 1.5 billion, to which the prime minister did not refer to today. What is required is for the specific solution to prove to be viable, safeguarding public interest and competition. For the time being, many questions and grey zones remain regarding the content of the agreement which has not yet been publicised. In any case, PASOK has stated its position in favour of a solution of a mixed form with private as well as public capital, in cooperation with an international air carrier. In this context, we shall examine the final text of the agreement, when it is publicised and comes to Parliament for ratification," he said.
Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary group leader Alekos Alavanos on Monday reiterated the party's demand for a state, national air carrier, adding that the struggle in that direction would continue.
Despite the signing (of the contracts for MIG's acquisition of Olympic Airways due on Monday afternoon), for SYRIZA the struggle would continue, he said, adding that Greece, a country which had a large community abroad, regional particularlities, security problems and tourism, neded a national air carrier, and therefore SYRIZA would continue to fight for that goal.
On the EU Stabilization Program, Alavanos said it was a self-destructive policy, and called on the Greek government to take its own initiatives.
Alavanos said that the EU, at this time, was following a self-destructive policy line that would result in the economies of its member countries running aground.
SYRIZA, he said, called on the Greek government to demand cover of and guarantee of its member states' loand from the European Central Bank in order to "stop the looting", and to demand that the 3 percent deficit limit not be applied for its members because this would lead to a full freeze of their economies.
 Bakoyannis to Tbilisi, seeks deal for OSCE mission's mandateTBILISI (ANA-MPA - N. Melissova)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis arrived in Tbilisi on Monday, six months after the outbreak of war in Georgia, to present the proposals of the Greek chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for a compromise formula that will ensure an extension of the OSCE mission's mandate in the area. The minister sought the agreement of all sides as a vital prerequisite for achieving her target.
"The presence of the OSCE is absolutely necessary for the entire region," Bakoyannis said after meeting Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri, Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze and other Georgian government officials.
Shortly before her departure for Tbilisi, Bakoyannis had discussed OSCE issues with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the telephone.
Renewing the mandate of the OSCE mission in the area, which ended last December, has stumbled on the fact that it requires the agreement of all 56 countries that form part of the OSCE.
"The key to achieving a compromise formula is the word flexibility," the foreign minister stated, stressing that the departure of the OSCE would have a negative impact on the peace talks taking place in Geneva since the war in August with the participation of the OSCE, EU and United Nations, based on proposals made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"The EU cannot replace the OSCE. We need more, not less, OSCE," the minister underlined during the joint statements given after a meeting of delegations led by Bakoyannis and her Georgian counterpart, attended by the head of the OSCE mission in Georgia Terhi Hakala.
"The situation remains unstable," Bakoyannis underlined. Referring to the role and intentions of the Greek chair of the OSCE, she said that as "an honest interlocutor, having faith in dialogue and respect for the principle of territorial integrity, we are determined to seek a solution".
At the same time, she underlined the need to "de-politicise" the discussion on the issue, focusing on the need to find a technical solution that will allow the continued presence of the OSCE in Georgia.
Vashadze said his government was ready to cooperate closely with the Greek OSCE chair and stated that Georgia will not be an obstacle, if all sides agreed. Both ministers described their meeting on Monday as "constructive" but did not go into details concerning the Greek proposals.
In her capacity as Greek foreign minister, Bakoyannis also held talks with the Georgian side on promoting bilateral relations and Greek investments in the region.
The Greek minister later paid a visit to the offices of the OSCE mission (which has a staff of around 250) and was briefed on the mission's activities and sensitive points. She then had meetings with representatives of the larger opposition parties, who expressed their views regarding the latest developments in the country, both in terms of domestic policy and foreign policy.
The Greek mission returns to Athens on Monday night.
 PM Karamanlis receives Archbishop IeronymosPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis met on Monday with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos at the Maximos mansion (government' headquarters)
No statements were made after the meeting.
According to a press release from the Prime Minister's office, the Archbishop stated to Karamanlis several issues concerning the Church of Greece and especially the Athens Archdiocese, including State and Church cooperation aimed at supporting the weaker in the framework of their distinct roles.
 Gov't: No change in labour lawThe prime minister left no room for "flexible labor relations", government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said on Monday in reply to press question, adding however, that "certain temporary solutions can be adopted if deemed necessary in special cases and for a limited period of time, but always in consultation with employees and in compliance with existing legislation."
Antonaros said the Greek government has no plan to change the legislative framework on labor relations, while as regards the issue of equalising retirement ages for men and women in the public sector -- pending a ruling by the Eurocourt this week -- he pointed out that a relative decision has not been issued yet.
 Gov't dismisses press report on PMGovernment spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Monday dismissed as "fantasy" a report in an Athens weekly claiming that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was considering stepping down as leader of ruling New Democracy if the party lost the next elections.
"The main concern of Mr. Karamanlis and the members of the Cabinet is to implement effective policies for the international economic crisis and all the rest has absolutely no basis," he stressed.
He also twice underlined that the prime minister "is too young to be thinking of retirement" and that the party would be running for election when the time came and with Karamanlis at the helm.
Similarly, the spokesman completely dismissed speculation about Karamanlis seeking to become president of the republic.
The assertion came in the form of a front-page story in a recently launched weekly, "Real News".
 Papandreou addresses PASOK Political CouncilMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, addressing the party's Political Council on Monday, stressed that the "government policy is unable to realize the true dimensions of the problem in Greece", and characterized the government as irresponsible, fatigued and dangerous.
The words "historical responsibilities" and "crucial moments" now acquire their literal meaning, he stated, and referring to the government he charged out that it was turning its failures into blackmailing quandaries for the citizens, accusing it of being responsible for the high crime rate and the dissolution of the security forces. He also accused the government of downrating labor relations, encouraging employer arbitrariness and adopting "client relations policies" instead of policies for the unemployed.
Papandreou underlined that the government has imposed new taxes on the small and middle incomes while affording tax gifts to the rich, accusing it of being responsible for the country's fiscal and international competitiveness deficit.
Referring to the European Union, Papandreou stressed the need for a "progressive direction" and spoke about a "socially-oriented Maastricht with measurable goals as regards development and employment."
He also referred to "new tools" namely, the "Green Development Fund" and the "new direction of the European Central Bank".
Papandreou reiterated that the "European Parliament elections will assume the form of a referendum on the government policy and on the Europe we want" and concluded by underlining that "the challenges we are being called to meet are of a historical nature and the current course should not be allowed to continue."
 PASOK leader chairs party meeting on EuroelectionsMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou chaired a meeting on Monday night of the party's central committee on Euroelections, saying "world economy goes through a great crisis which is not simply an economic one but a crisis of neo-conservatism and of the myths of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism."
He added that "now is the time for progressive and socialist forces of the entire world, of Europe and Greece, to give their own answers to developments."
The main opposition party leader also referred to his trip, Wednesday, to New York to participate in a meeting of the Stiglitz Commission expected to debate on "The Socialdemocratic answer to the international economic crisis".
 Euroelections have crucial character, PASOK spokesman saysMain opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou said on Monday that the Euroelections "are taking on a crucial character and the people will be called on to decide on whether they are in favour or against the policy of the (ruling) New Democracy (ND) party and to decide on what kind of a Europe they want."
Papaconstantinou, who was speaking after the session of PASOK's Central Election Struggle Committee for the Euroelections, chaired by party leader George Papandreou, termed the crisis "the result of the options of conservative governments," adding that "the citizens must, among other things, decide if the country will have strong negotiating with our European partners, if we shall go ahead with a 'green development' logic, if there shall be public and free education for all, if we shall have a welfare state or the current insensitivity will continue and if we shall have a democratic and law-abiding state or the present authoritarian and extravagant state of lawlessness."
Papaconstantinou concluded by saying that "we trust that the citizens will vote against the policy of the New Democracy party and will promote PASOK as the first party."
 KKE delegation visiting BelgradeBELGRADE (ANA-MPA/N. Pelpas)
A Communist Party of Greece (KKE) delegation, headed by party Secretary General Aleka Papariga, is in Belgrade to participate in the international conference organised by the Belgrade Forum and the International Peace Council on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the NATO bombings.
The conference is attended by representatives of anti-imperialist movements and agencies from 45 countries.
Papariga met with Serb National Assembly President Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic saying afterwards that "we are in Belgrade to remember and show our respect to the Serb people for the barbaric attacks by 19 NATO countries, and to renew the two peoples' friendly relations. We are linked by common problems due to the economic crisis, as well as the fact that war has not left our region. With the Assembly president we discussed us contributing to the development of relations between the two Parliaments. What is basic and substantive is for the peoples to exercise pressure on Parliament."
Early in the afternoon, Papariga and the members of KKE's delegation visited the home town of late president Slobodan Milosevic, Pozarevac, and laid a wreath at his tomb.
"We came to remind that crimes have no beginning and end. At this moment one can remember the abduction, in essence, of Slobodan Milosevic, that removed the myth from and fully uncovered the so-called European democracy. Precisely on this land, of Europe, that supposedly has a very great culture and humanism, the abduction of a person took place for him to be tried with lies and to die shortly before the outcome, reminding that the struggle of a people never has an end," Papariga said.
"The death of Milosevic happened before the final sentence," she went on, adding that the people of Serbia and the peoples of Europe "must lead matters to the ultimate condemnation of imperialism" since "there is also a popular trial, that inspires peoples."
Papariga was due to meet delegations of Serb communist parties later in the day, while on Tuesday she will be addressing the conference organised by the "Belgrade Forum" on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of NATO's bombings.
 European Left part of solution, Tsipras saysPARIS (ANA-MPA/O. Tsipira)
Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) President Alexis Tsipras met here on Monday with leaders of the French Left, in the framework of his tour of Europe ahead of the Euroelections.
The Greek politician met French Communist Party Secretary Marie-George Buffet, the president of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, Olivier Besancenot and the president of the Left Party Jean-Luc Melenchon, who quit the Socialist Party at the beginning of the year.
Speaking to reporters and referring to the aims of his tour, Tsipras said that "the Euroelections are an opportunity for the strengthening of the European Left" to enable it to give "an alternative solution to Europe."
In his opinion, the European Left "is part of the solution, at a time when the European Right and the European Social-democracy are part of the crisis."
 Archbishop Demetrios holds talks with Hillary ClintonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 50-minute meeting with Archbishop Demetrios of America at the State Department, during which they discussed the continuing ban on the opening of the Halki School of Theology in Turkey, the issue of Cyprus and the question of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
"It was a cordial meeting, in a climate of sincerity," Archbishop Demetrios said on his departure from the State Department, adding that "we are leaving with the hope that our positions will be taken into serious consideration."
U.S. Ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard, Alternate Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and expatriates John Katsimatidis, Andy Manatos and P. Karloutsos were present at the meeting.
Greek Lobby leaders in the USA have recently appealed in a letter to US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden not to adopt the (former president) Bush's Administration doctrine regarding the Cyprus issue which contradicts both Obama's and Biden's ''clearly articulated views on the issue.''
 Sioufas meets with IPU SGParliament President Dimitris Sioufas met with Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Secretary General Anders Johnsson, who is currently on a visit to Athens on the occasion of an event honoring 60 elementary and secondary school pupils distinguished in a design and essay competition organised by the Foundation of the Greek Parliament for Parliamentarianism and Democracy.
Sioufas noted that Greece is a member of the IPU since 1890 and supports all its activities, while the IPU secretary general pointed out Greece's considerable participation in recent years.
The IPU is the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and the firm establishment of representative democracy. It supports the efforts of the United Nations and co-operates with regional inter-parliamentary organizations, as well as international intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.
 Contract for SNf cultural complex signedThe government on Monday signed a contract for construction of the landmark 'Stavros Niarchos' cultural complex, which will include a new National Library and National Opera, at the site of the former horse-racing track in Paleo Faliro.
The agreement was signed behind closed doors, in the room used for cabinet meetings in Parliament, by Finance Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou, Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias, Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos and Culture Minister Antonis Samaras.
The new complex will be built according to a design developed by the world-renowned architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop, while the cost will be covered single-handedly by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNf) and the complex donated to the Greek State.
The 450-million-euro project will be spread over a 16-hectare site and will also feature an 'agora' inspired by the meeting place of ancient Greek cities and the Stavros Niarchos Park. It is due to be delivered for use in 2015.
A draught plan presented by Renzo Piano was dominated by a raised inclined roof covering an entire hectare, which is destined to house the arrays of photovoltaic cells that will meet the energy requirements of the complex.
Beneath these are the huge reading room of the National Library, which will be designed so that it can also function as a meeting place and will be flanked by convention and conference facilities. The material in the library itself will be enriched by papers from the greatest educational institutes in the world, such as Yale or Harvard.
The National Opera will be equipped with indoor theatres but also areas for open air concerts and other events that will take place in the 'Agora'.
The architectural team has given careful thought to the trees and plants that will planted in the Stavros Niarchos Park, which will be roughly the same size as the National Park in the centre of Athens and will seek to emphasise the Greek character of the landscape.
One of the highlights of the complex will be the canal that will run from the heart of the complex to the sea, filled with filtered sea water, which the architects envision as an ideal and safe environment for children to play.
In addition to constructing the new buildings, the project will cover the costs of making the contents of Greece's National Library available over the Internet throughout the world, while the entire complex will be constructed in accordance with the most advanced environmental and technological specifications, with buildings and installations that are self-sufficient in terms of energy and produce minimal carbon emissions, using a series of arrays of interlinked photovoltaic cells to cover the energy needs of the complex, which will be powered exclusively by solar and wind power.
 Tourism sector facing difficult year, industry officials sayA climate of uncertainty and insecurity is prevailing in the Greek tourism sector as a result of a global economic crisis, industry representatives said during a Tourism & Property in Greece conference entitle "The Global Economic Crisis and its Impact on Greek Tourism", organised by Real Travel.
Costas Drakopoulos, director general of the Federation of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), said it was still unclear how many hotels would open for the beginning of the season this year, while Makis Fokas, president of the Hotel Chamber said lay-offs were inevitable in the tourism sector, and particularly in hotels this year.
Drakopoulos said it was possible that tourist arrivals could fall by 20 pct this year, or two million tourists less than last year and 50,000 unemployed.
Aris Ikkos, chief executive in GBR Consulting, said there were two scenarios for this year, with the optimistic one calling for a 10-pct drop in tourist arrivals and a pessimistic one, projecting a 15-20 pct drop in arrivals.
John Kent, chief executive in YouTravel.Com, said tourist arrivals would fall by 5-7 pct, while revenues would drop by 15-17 pct this year.
Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis said the government would announce more measures to supporting the tourism industry
 Tourist promotion event for Zakynthos in MoscowMOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th. Avgerinos)
Greece's presence in two consecutive spring tourist exhibitions held in the Russian capital, MITT and Intourmarket, came to an end with an event held at a downtown Moscow hotel on the promotion of the Ionian island of Zakynthos as a tourist destination.
Over 130 tourist agents, journalists, representatives of Moscow's government and of real estate companies having a special interest in the Greek market, as well as the Greek authorities in the Russian capital responded to the invitation extended by the Zakynthos Prefecture and the Russian-language magazine "Ellada" which is published in Moscow.
"Full support for efforts to promote our tourist destinations in a market with great prospects and interest for Greece," was expressed by the Tourist Development ministry's special secretary Emmanuel Alexandrakis.
 Attica Group reports higher sales, lower profits in 2008Attica SA Holdings on Monday said its consolidated sales totaled 325.91 million euros in 2008, from 316.31 million in 2007, while its consolidated pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) fell to 47.67 million euros from 69.58 million euros over the same years, respectively.
Attica Group's consolidated results included extra earnings of 9.65 million euros from the sale of four RoRo vessels in early 2008, totaling 22.26 million euros (after tax) from after tax and minorities earnings of 50.72 million euros in 2007. The Group said its results were significantly affected by an unprecedented jump in fuel prices, raising the operating costs of each ship by 30.6 euros in 2008 from the previous year.
Attica Group sales came from Greece-Italy sea lines (52 pct), domestic coastal shipping lines (42 pct) and a Scotland-Belgium shipping line (6.0 pct).
Earnings per share totaled 0.18 euros in 2008, down from 0.49 euros in 2007. The company plans to pay a 0.07 euros per share dividend to its shareholders.
 National Asset Management to issue ETF in JuneNational Asset Management will issue the second ETF to follow the composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange, ASE said on Monday. The product is expected to be unveiled in the Greek market next June.
The Greek ETFs market was launched in January 2008 with the introduction of an ETF following the FTSE/ASE20 index, as part of the Greek market's efforts to offer more products and high-quality services to investors.
ETF products are highly successful in international markets, with activity in such products remaining at high levels last year despite a sharp decline in turnover in most European markets because of the credit crisis.
 SingularLogic reports spectacular 2008 resultsSingularLogic on Monday said its consolidated turnover rose 31 pct to 107 million euros in 2008, from 81.9 million euros in 2007. Pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) jumped 69 pct to 17 million euros, while consolidated pre-tax earnings jumped to 11.5 million euros and after tax profits soared 370 pct.
Commenting on the results, Yiannis Karakadas, the company's chairman and chief executive said the dynamism of the group, combined with increased cash flow, offered the company a comparative advantage in its growth course.
 Greek trade deficit cut in '08BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
Greece's trade deficit totaled 35.7 billion euros last year, down 2.7 billion euros from 2007, Eurostat announced on Monday.
The EU executive's statistics agency, in a report, said Greek exports totaled 17.2 billion euros, while imports totaled 55.6 billion euros. Greek exports were unchanged from 2007, while imports fell 5.0 pct.
Eurostat said Germany recorded the biggest trade surplus (175.5 billion euros), followed by the Netherlands (40.5 billion) and Ireland (28 billion euros), while the UK (118 billion), Spain (90.5 billion), France (67.9 billion) and Greece (35.7 billion) recorded the biggest trade deficits.
 Greek stocks jumped 2.53 pct on MondayGreek stocks surged ahead in the Athens Stock Exchange on Monday, following a rally in international markets. The composite index jumped 2.53 pct to end at 1,689.55 points, with turnover at 121.6 million euros, of which 2.9 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved higher, with the Banks (5.71 pct), Financial Services (5.37 pct), Media (4.22 pct) and Health (4.09 pct) scoring the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Chemicals (0.90 pct), Oil (0.81 pct) and Travel (0.72 pct) suffered losses.
The FTSE 20 index rose 3.14 pct, the FTSE 40 index jumped 2.99 pct and the FTSE 80 index ended 1.59 pct up. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 155 to 56 with another 45 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.81%
Personal & Household: +2.57%
Raw Materials: +2.66%
Travel & Leisure: -0.72%
Food & Beverages: +3.27%
Financial Services: +5.37%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and OTE.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.75
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.90
HBC Coca Cola: 10.90
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.50
National Bank of Greece: 11.90
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.36
Bank of Piraeus: 4.97
Titan Cement Company: 16.66
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 882 million euros on Monday, of which 565 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 317 million euros were sell orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2019) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 228 million euros. The yield spread between the Greek and German 10-year benchmark bonds was 262 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 5.64 pct and the German Bund 3.02 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates fell further. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.85 pct, the six-month rate was 1.71 pct, the three-month rate 1.56 pct and the one-month rate 1.17 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates - TuesdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.366
Pound sterling 0.936
Danish kroner 7.510
Swedish kroner 11.164
Japanese yen 132.17
Swiss franc 1.542
Norwegian kroner 8.703
Canadian dollar 1.688
Australian dollar 1.963
 Message to expatriates for March 25President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, in a message to expatriate Greeks on the occasion of the March 25 Independence Day this week, emphasised that "our faith in values and ideals, in principles and collective visions that constitute our timeless and priceless heritage will have to be declared once again."
This valuable legacy "should be transformed into practices that serve the collective interest, particularly in amid environment of international fluidity and uncertainly," he stressed.
"March 25 unites Greeks worldwide. My thoughts and wishes go to you and your families, who despite being far away from the homeland, hold the banner of Hellenism high," the president stressed in his message.
 Press con'f on UN Convention on Rights of Persons with DisabilitiesThe pressing need for the immediate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol, allowing people with disabilities to appeal to the international committee monitoring the treaty implementation, was underlined in a press conference in Athens on Monday, hosted by the bar associations in Greece, the National Confederation of People with Disabilities and the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR).
The need for court personnel's education as regards the treatment of people with disabilities as well as the creation of infrastructure in court buildings -- making them more accessible -- and the adoption of special measures to meet the needs of inmates with disabilities were also among the issues discussed in the press conference.
 Mandatory delivery service for passports with US visasTo improve customer service by eliminating the need for successful applicants to return to the U.S. Embassy in Athens after their visa interview, effective April 1, passports with visas issued by the embassy will be returned to travelers via a fee-for-service courier, the US embassy announced on Monday.
Travelers will make their own delivery arrangements with Courier Center, the contracted company, at the embassy after applying for their visas.
For a fee of Euro 4.20 in the Attiki region, Courier Center will deliver the passports within 24 hours after the embassy completes the processing of the visa. For a fee of Euro 7.00, Courier Center will deliver the passport within 48 hours to any other address in mainland Greece or the islands. Courier Center provides on-line tracking of deliveries and 24-hour customer service by telephone. Visit www.courier.gr <http://www.courier.gr>.
This practice has been used successfully at over 100 American embassies, and the delivery service to be provided in Greece will be among the most rapid and cost-effective in Europe. Use of this new delivery service will be mandatory. Passports will no longer be available for pick-up at the embassy.
For more specific information on this process or to make an appointment for an interview, please visit the U.S. Embassy website at http://athens.usembassy.gov/how_to_apply.html. With the traditionally busy summer travel season fast approaching, prospective travelers to the United States are strongly encouraged to apply for a visa well in advance of their planned travel to allow sufficient time for processing and courier delivery. The embassy recommends that applicants not make final travel plans until their visa has been issued and their passports delivered.
 Tsoklis' 'Live Painting' exhibition opens March 31A major exhibition with 100 "Live Painting" works representative of artist Kostas Tsoklis' style, introduced by the artist in mid '80s, will open at the "Scholeion" theatre in Athens on March 31, and run until the end of May.
The exhibition is under the auspices of the Hellenic Culture Organisation and the municipalities of Athens and Piraeus.
 Karatzaferis book launch in AthensA new book entitled "Eleftheria" (Freedom), written by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) founder and leader George Karatzaferis, was unveiled on Monday at the Old Parliament Building in Athens, in the presence of Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas. During a brief address, Karatzaferis stressed that "by using freedom as a tool we can fight for even more freedom."
 Child porn probe leads to 2 local arrestsAuthorities on Monday announced two arrests in relation to child pornography charges -- viewing pay-per-view child porn Internet site -- after a tip-off led to a 27-year-old British national on the island of Crete and a 49-year-old local man in Athens.
The pair also accused of exchanged hard-core child porn material over the specific site.
According to reports, pedophiles from all over the world paid between 2,000 and 8,000 euros to the operators of the site. Victims seen on the video footage and photos appear to come mainly from the Balkans and other European countries.
The case was brought to the attention of Greek police by US and British law enforcement authorities, who had arrested alleged members of the ring.
 Arsonists target furniture store, bankArsonists targeted a furniture, rugs and lighting fixtures store on Kifissias Avenue in Halandri shortly before dawn on Monday, causing extensive material damage.
According to eye-witnesses, a group of about 10 individuals broke the store's glass front and threw home-made fire bombs into the store at 3:00 a.m., which caused a fire that spread quickly.
A strong team of 21 firefighters with 7 fire engines rushed to the scene and managed to bring the blaze under control, after it had totally destroyed the ground floor and mezzanine.
Security police were investigating the attack.
About two hours earlier, arsonists targeted an Aspis Bank branch in the Alimos suburb of Athens, where a home-made incendiary device exploded, and the ensuing fire caused material damage.
 No ISAP services from Omonia to Tavros this weekendThe Athens Piraeus Electric Railways (ISAP) on Monday announced that its services will again be disrupted during the coming weekend due to works to upgrade and improve the line.
This Saturday and Sunday, trains will run between Piraeus and Tavros station and then between Omonia and Kifissia stations. There will be no trains between Tavros and Omonia but passengers will be able to catch the express buses 010 and 011 to travel between the two stations.
 Fair on TuesdayFair weather, and southwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Tuesday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -2C and 18C. Fair in Athens, with southwesterly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 4C to 18C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 2C to 15C.
 The Monday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe economic crisis, the beginning of the EU observation period on the Greek economy and the Economy Ministry measures to enhance the economy dominated the headlines on Monday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Absurd and contradictory poll results continue".
APOGEVMATINI: "New measures to save the economy - Economy Ministry focuses on permanent sources of revenues".
AVRIANI: "Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis decided an extraordinary party Congress after the Euroelections- The result will determine the political developments".
CHORA: "Ruling New Democracy party will split up if Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis leaves - Who want his 'retirement' and why".
ELEFTHEROS: "Cutbacks in salaries via ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK bills".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Hidden clause in new real estate loans - Banks' tricks with EURIBOR and ECB interest rates".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Joaquin Almounia will announce on Tuesday the European Commission' recommandations for Greece".
ESTIA: "Some optimism is needed to reverse the negative climate".
ETHNOS: "1,000,000 credit cards in the red - Upsets in household budgets in the midst of the crisis".
TA NEA: "Tax Bureau summons salary earners and professionals - Raid of despair in serch of revenues".
VRADYNI: "Revenues safari - EU strict timetables do not allow any delays".
 President concerned over "elections" in occupied CyprusNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has expressed concern over the forthcoming "elections" to be held in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus on April 19, warning that failure by the Turkish Cypriot leader to form a "government" will lead to steps backwards in efforts to find a negotiated settlement in the Cyprus issue.
Speaking to students and professors from the Universities of Athens and Palermo during a meeting held Monday at the Presidential Palace, President Christofias said that "if we don't reach an agreement with Mehmet Ali Talat, who is considered to be a progressive person, I don't know if we will ever reach an agreement".
The president talked about a "great risk" in the so-called parliamentary elections in occupied Cyprus, noting that Talat's party may not be able to form an administration.
Should the National Unity Party, founded by Rauf Denktash, prevail in the "elections" and possibly form a coalition with the party of Denktash's son, "things will lead to steps backwards".
"I believe it will be very difficult for Talat to move on and implement the policy he is trying to implement at the talks today," he added.
"We want to keep hopes alive. We must reunite the island and get rid of the Turkish occupation" he stressed, noting that both communities "must review their philosophies and policies".
He, also, said that "the policy of segregation, the policy of self-isolation and the policy of highlighting the particular characteristics of each community should be abandoned".
"We must respect each other and understand that we will live together," he said.
The self-styled Turkish Cypriot regime, in occupied Cyprus, is not recognised by any state except Turkey and the UN have described it as "legally invalid".
Referring to the property issue, one of the aspects of the question of Cyprus, he said that "the Turkish Cypriot side has some claims that need to be improved".
He explained that Talat acknowledges that properties in the northern Turkish occupied part of the country belong to Greek Cypriots but believes that the current user of such properties must have priority over the legal owner of the said property.
"However, we believe that the legal owner must have priority in his choice as to how to deal with his property, in order to deal with the property issue," the president explained, and noted that "our position is based on international law, European and international human rights conventions".
Christofias referred also to the massive influx of illegal Turkish settlers who are now residing in occupied Cyprus, something which has created fait accompli not only on the ground but also on properties and the social structure.
President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in direct negotiations since early September 2008, aiming at reuniting the island, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
 Turkish Cypriot party to boycott "elections" in occupied areasNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Turkish Cypriot New Cyprus Party has announced it will boycott the so-called elections in the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus, scheduled for April, and called on Turkey to give Cypriots the opportunity to speak out.
In a statement the party has said that "it is claimed that there are elections in the northern part of Cyprus but in reality, they cannot be called elections".
Alpay Durduran, Foreign Relations Secretary of the Party, said that "Turkey is everywhere in the north, affecting everything and our lives", noting that the boycott will convey the party positions to the Greek Cypriots.
He criticised Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, charging that he is influenced by Ankara. "Turkey should stop exerting its influence", Durduran added.
In its statement, the Turkish Cypriot Party urged other Turkish Cypriot parties to announce that they will not take part in the "elections" unless the structure of the ''electorate'' changes and the conditions for calling proper elections are created.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the island's northern third. Only Ankara recognises the regime in the northern occupied areas.
The New Cyprus Party said that elections have to be held in the occupied north to show that there is democracy in the northern part of Cyprus. "If we do not participate in the elections, they cannot say this; and for this reason they will be compelled to compromise with our position", the party said, adding "we are expecting support from the Greek Cypriots, too. They need to understand the meaning of this struggle and give their support for the whole of Cyprus".
The party recalled that the demographic change is a problem for everybody as tens of thousands are waiting to register with the "electoral" roll, to surpass the number of Turkish Cypriots.
It added that the "electoral process" and its subsequent results take place under pressure, threats, bribes, and with the intervention of the "deep state" in Turkey.
Turkey, it added, controls education and decides what is "national". Radio, TV stations and newspapers are dominated by civil and military officials from Turkey and paid columnists are trying to determine what people should think, the party said.
It also criticised Turkey for using violence to try to silence those who oppose its policies.
Durduran said there is no reason for the "elections" to be held as the results have already been decided, adding that they will have no meaning whatsoever since those elected will be people on whom Ankara can exert influence.
"This will not help at all the process to solve the Cyprus issue and reunite the island, so we ought to protect our island from foreign intervention. We want a new Cyprus, reunited", he concluded.
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