|Wednesday, 13 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-01-15
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 15 January 2010 Issue No: 3397
 PM Papandreou: Stability plan is our only choicePrime Minister George Papandreou underlined that the effort over the next three years will be crucial for the future of the country, in an address to his Inner Cabinet on Thursday that convened to ratify Greece's updated Stability and Development plan ahead of its submission to the European Commission the following day.
"We will leave all the deficits behind us," said Papandreou, adding that "we must turn the biggest and most complex crisis of the last decades into an opportunity for the country."
"We will reverse all the established situations that are holding our country back," stressed Papandreou, who expressed his certainty that the goal of fiscal streamlining in the space of the next three years "is feasible with hard work".
The premier called for the acceleration of the reforms and changes, underlining that "we know what's to blame better than anyone else", and reiterated his position that "the country's fiscal problem is a symptom of the chronic problem with the way of governance of the country being the tip of the iceberg".
"The picture of a helpless country does not befit us. Just as we belied the 'Cassandras' (doomsayers) in the past, we will again do so now. We will not back down. There is no time to waste. The Stability plan is our only choice," stressed Papandreou, expressing belief that "our EU partners will appreciate not only the efforts of a government but of an entire country", adding that, "at the end of this endeavor, every Greek will be proud of his country".
"We will succeed because it is our historical duty and because this is in the best interest of our country," concluded Papandreou.
 Greece's new Stability and Development plan approved by CabinetThe Cabinet on Thursday discussed and approved the country's "New Stability and Growth Program - Roadmap for the restructuring of Greece" after it was unveiled by finance minister George Papaconstantinou, and which will be submitted to the European Commission on Friday.
Reduction of the state deficit from 12.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to 8.7 percent in 2010 and to 5.6 percent in 2011 is targeted in the updated Stability and Growth Program.
For the two following years, the Program also envisages further reduction of the deficit to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2012 and to 2.0 percent in 2013.
Regarding the state debt, the Program predicts an increase to 120.4 percent of GDP this year, from 113.4 percent in 2009, and a leveling off at 120.6 percent in 2011, followed by de-escalation over the next few years beginning in 2012.
The Program further envisages reduction of state expenditures and increase in state revenues, while Papaconstantinou put emphasis on the planned reform of the taxation system.
According to Papaconstantinou, the stability and development program was drafted with the substantial contribution of many ministries, and not only that of the economy, competitiveness and shipping ministry "because it contains a series of deep-rooted changes that concern all the ministries".
Papaconstantinou also noted that a team of experts from the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) had visited Greece in recent days, which helped in drafting the final text.
He said that the program reflects the need for the government to set out the quantified measures that will bring about a reduction of the state deficit from 12.7 percent of GDP last year to 8.7 percent in 2010, while a further reduction will be achieved in the following years.
The minister further said that the need arose for stipulating the changes to the taxation system and the policies that will alter the country's production model, and also to the social security and health systems.
The program "has a springboard from which we are starting out" with respect to the fiscal situation, Papaconstantinou said, "and explains why we have no reached fiscal derailment".
He said that the program's macroeconomic scenario predicts negative growth rate of 0.3 percent in 2010 against the -1.2 percent in 2009. "It is a realistic scenario because there are funds in the economy that can be channeled for growth, such as the 16 billion euros of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF)," he elaborated.
There are also specific policies for development and investments, while a reduction of the deficit will also boost growth, he added.
"We will enter into a development that will be founded on investments and exports, and not on consumption," the minister continued.
For the state debt, the program forecasts a de-escalation beginning in 2012, while it further details the institutional moves that will be made for the adjustment, such as turning the National Statistics Service (ESYE) into an autonomous body, the commitments to monitor the budget on a monthly basis, and the channeling of a "reserve" of 10 percent from the expenditures to the ministries, with the exception of salaries and pensions, in order to cover any excess expenditures and delay in revenues.
The Stability and Development program will be submitted to the European Commission on Friday, while it will be discussed by the Commission plenary (College of Commissioners) on January 27 or February 4.
It will be further discussed by the Eurogroup and ECOFIN on February 15-16, at which time Greece is expected to enter into the excessive debt procedure as per Article 104, Paragraph 9 of the EC Treaty.
Papaconstantinou said it was a difficult but ambitious program, a program of the entire government, as reflected by its discussion by the Cabinet, adding that it concerns the entire Greek society, which will gain from it.
 FinMin: Gov't aims to meet goalsFinance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Thursday said the government will do everything it needed to achieve the goals set in the updated Stability and Growth Programme, stressing it was ready to take additional measures, such as submitting a supplementary budget.
Speaking to reporters after presenting the updated programme, the Greek minister said the government has drafted an alternative scenario with even lower growth rates, compared with its main projections, adding that additional measures worth 0.3 pct of GDP in 2011 and 0.3 pct of GDP in 2012 could be needed in order to achieve fiscal consolidation.
Papaconstantinou said that if the alternative scenario prevails, "the Stability and Growth Programme envisaged commitments for further cutbacks in spending and higher taxes".
He added that the finance ministry would present to the Cabinet a full report on its three-year privatisation programme in the next few weeks, adding there was no decision taken so far, no discussion or examination of a plan to privatise Hellenic Postbank and dismissed any such reports. He reiterated the government's pledge not to cut its equity stake in Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE).
Papaconstantinou acknowledged that it was difficult to persuade markets and said he hoped that markets would have understood within the first half of the year just how serious the government was in implementing its programme. He said that according to early reactions by analysts the country's updated stability programme was "ambitious and difficult".
Meanwhile, National Bank of Greece's chief executive, Apostolos Tamvakakis, speaking at a general shareholders' meeting of the bank said "takeovers and mergers were not pre-announced".
He was commenting on shareholders' questions over National Bank's stance in case the government decides to sell-off Hellenic Postbank.
"In these procedures there has to be always the element of surprise," Tamvakakis said. (See also Financial News)
 ND leader on stabilisation and growth programmeMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, commenting on Thursday on the stability and growth programme presented by the government, said that "despite the government's unjustified delay and the fact that it ignored our constructive proposals, we point out as positive the recording of certain measures (even though incomplete) on the decrease of the monetary deficit in 2010."
Samaras spoke of "vacuums and weaknesses" in the programmme concerning both the procedure and the essence and stressed that the ND will watch step-by-step the implementation in practice of the government's commitments on decreasing the deficit and the debt since it believes that their full and reliable implementation will send the necessary positive messages both to Brussels and the international markets.
"The plan of the Greek Stability and Growth Programme for 2010-2013 is extremely important, not so because it reverses the budget of 2010 that has only just been ratified but because it is going to be implemented in a period of economic recession and the soaring of the country's cost of loan holding," he said.
Elaborating on the "vacuums and weaknesses", the ND leader underlined the following:
"-The government, while constantly invoking consultations, is proving the contrary in this case, on such a serious issue. It is an insult towards Parliament for the relevant minister to publicise the Programme at noon, present it in Parliament in the afternoon and send it to the EU the next day and promise a discussion afterwards.
"-With the exception of the first year, it does not include costed measures on the decrease of the deficit.
"-It is deficient-inadequate regarding the basic target which is monetary preservation over a three-year time horizon.
"-It lacks adequate offsetting measures in support of active demand for the recovery of the Economy, which is also the basic precondition for viable monetary stabilisation.
"-There are no adequate measures for handling unemployment and the promotion of employment."
"What is necessary for the country to emerge from the present economic and monetary deadlock is the creation of first stage surpluses that, combined with the achievement of positive growth rates, will lead to the organic de-escalation of the public debt as a percentage of GDP, that is also the aim for monetary stabilisation," Samaras said.
"It is evident that in the PASOK government three whole months were necessary for it to land from the demagoguery of the election period on the harsh reality of the Stabilisation Programme that it submitted," he added.
 Opposition parties on stability and growth programmeOpposition parties on Thursday expressed their disagreement with the "express briefing" by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on the Stability and Growth Programme, during the joint meeting of the Parliamentary economic and European affairs committees, calling for the postponement of the meeting for adequate time to be provided for them to be informed of the content of the programme that covers many pages.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party Parliamentary representative Manolis Kefaloyiannis said that an extension could be requested from the European Commission so that the discussion could take place even over the weekend, if necessary, so that all views could be voiced.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) spokesman Nikos Karathanasopoulos said that "when we have antipopular and undemocratic measures in essence we shall have antipopular and undemocratic attitudes."
Popular Orthodox rally (LAOS) party deputy Constantine Aivaliotis said "we must face the new commissioner Olli Rehn who is tougher than the previous one, (Joaquin) Almunia," and added that the programme was only received by the party two hours ago and their was no time to examine it.
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras said that it is necessary that the discussion on the programme should take place with adequate consultation time and in the plenum as well.
 Deputy FM Droutsas holds talks with Lithuanian FMVILNIUS (ANA-MPA/N. Melissova)
Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas held talks with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas on Thursday saying afterwards that "Greece has found in Lithuania a very good partner for the promotion of the 'Agenda 2014'."
The talks focused mainly on European issues and had the character of an initial "coordinating" meeting for the preparation of the successive presidencies of the European Union of Greece and Lithuania.
Greece will assume the EU presidency in 2014, while it will be promoting in the same year, as a milestone for the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU, the "Agenda 2014" initiative.
Lithuania, which will be assuming the presidency in 2013 and must coordinate itself with the previous and next presidency, through the mandate of the Lisbon Treaty, took the initiative to invite the Greek side for the beginning of a dialogue in the sectors which they will be emphasising during their presidencies. The invitation included the Irish Foreign Minister who postponed his visit suddenly.
It will be the first presidency for Lithuania and it needs Greece's experience. Referring to the new Lisbon Treaty and its implementation, Usackas said that a great deal will depend on the Spanish presidency that will be the first after the implementation of the treaty, adding that the sectors of mutual interest that were on the table with Droutsas were, among others, energy, the need to maintain the enlargement momentum and the protection of external borders.
The Lithuanian foreign minister made special reference to the democratic dimension, saying that "we shall try in exercising the presidency to bring the making of decisions procedure closer to the citizens."
The Greek foreign minister reiterated, as he had done with his Latvian counterpart on the previous day, the need "for the warming of the sense of solidarity in the EU leading us to the right path in the future."
Earlier, Droutsas visited the Vilnius University where he was given a guided tour by the dean and met with students of the modern Greek language faculty.
On Thursday night, Droutsas was due to participating in the "meeting of snow", a Lithuanian inititiave that is held over the last three years at ministerial level and constitutes an international discussion on cross-Atlantic relations and relations between NATO-US-EU-Russia. This year, the ministers who have been invited from Sweden, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece and Moldova will focus on European security issues.
Droutsas will be departing on Friday morning to attend the official inauguration of the Thermes-Zlatograd corridor by the Prime Ministers of Greece and Bulgaria.
 LAOS leader requests off-the-agenda debate on migrationPopular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis, with a letter addressed to the parliament president, on Thursday requested an off-the-agenda debate in Parliament focusing on the country's policy for migrants.
Karatzaferis maintained that the government's intention to table a draft law allowing second-generation immigrants to acquire Greek nationality and giving foreign nationals that are long-term residents the right to vote in local administration elections creates many serious national, political and social side effects.
 Papoulias to receive Cyprus president on SaturdayPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias is to receive Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Saturday night. The Cyprus president is due in Athens earlier the same day for talks with Greece's state and political leadership regarding the Cyprus issue.
Christofias' talks in Athens will focus on the latest developments in the Cyprus problem after the last set of positions presented by Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, which are in no way satisfactory to Greece and Cyprus.
On Sunday the Greek president will leave for Abu Dhabi, as the guest of United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan, in order to attend the World Future Energy Summit taking place there on January 18-21, in which he will be the keynote speaker.
During his stay in UAE, Papoulias will have meetings with the president and his successor, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan. The World Future Energy Summit is taking place under the aegis of the crown prince.
Papoulias may also have other high-level bilateral contacts on the sidelines of the summit.
 PM and Cyprus president to visit fire-stricken Ileia regionsPrime Minister George Papandreou and visiting Cyprus President Demetris Christofias will visit the fire-stricken regions of Ileia next Sunday, during Christofias' visit to Greece, in order to pay homage to the assistance given by the Cyprus Republic after the devastating forest fires of 2007.
At that time, by order of the late Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, Cyprus had undertaken to fund the rebuilding of an entire village.
Papandreou announced the visit at the opening of Thursday cabinet meeting and said that the government will soon table in Parliament an updated version of a draft bill drawn up in 2007 by the PASOK party for the reconstruction of the regions ravaged by fires.
 PM: Support for quake-devastated HaitiPrime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday voiced support for and solidarity with the people of Haiti following a devastating earthquake that struck "one of the poorest countries of the planet".
Speaking at the start of a crucial Inner Cabinet meeting on the economy, Papandreou called on his ministers to do everything possible, each in his own area of authority, for immediate Greek assistance to Haiti.
Papandreou also recalled that Haiti had been the first country, in 1822, to acknowledge the Greek Revolution (against Ottoman rule), while adding that the latest developments "come to remind us that we do not live alone in this world".
 Greeks in Haiti 'safe and well'The foreign ministry is in constant contact with the Greek embassy in Caracas (Venezuela), Greece's closest diplomatic mission from earthquake-devastated Haiti, 14 of the 15 Greeks reported to be in the country were all safe and well in health, deputy foreign minister Spyros Kouvelis said on Thursday, adding that he had made contact with them, while the 15th Greek citizen was on a cruise and it was not known whether he had been in Haiti at the time of the quake.
On Wednesday, after the news of the earthquake broke, Kouvelis said immediately contacted international organisations with access to the island and able to provide assistance, including the World Food Organisation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF), adding that financial aid has also been dispatched.
Kouvelis explained that the idea of attempting to send a direct dispatch of aid was rejected, given the distance and the conditions prevailing in Haiti, which rendered such a contribution by Greece unfeasible.
The deputy minister also appealed to all organisations or volunteer groups wishing to help to contact the foreign ministry for better coordination.
Finally, citizens seeking information on their relatives or others in Haiti or to give information on Greeks in Haiti for tourism or for trade purposes may call the ministry at 210-3681212, 210-3681730, and 210-3681350.
 New road halves driving distance between N. Greece and BulgariaThe new road linking Thermes, near Xanthi, northeastern Greece with Zlatograd and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, will reduce the present 6-hour drive by half, to three hours.
The inauguration of the new road will take place on Friday at the Greek-Bulgarian border and will be attended by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his Bulgarian counterpart Boiko Borisov.
 SYRIZA on 100 days of PASOK governanceThe Radical Left Coalition's (SYRIZA) Secretariat, commenting on Thursday on the country's governance by PASOK so far, said that the first 100 days of the country's governance by PASOK were mainly characterised by the frontal attack on the achievements and rights of working people, youth, the vast majority of the Greek people.
SYRIZA added that the country "is experiencing the most painful consequences of the neoliberal options that took on greater dimensions due to the international economic crisis that broke out a year and a half ago."
It also accused the government that such options as "the decrease in incomes, the rapid increase in unemployment and the escalation of the deregulation of the labour market, the new tax raid on small and medium-level working class incomes are being promoted with full coordination with the plannings of the European Union, the IMF and NATO."
 Tsipras meets All-Attica cleaners' unionThe failure to catch the attackers of trade unionist Constantina Kuneva, a full year after she was attacked, constituted an "embarrassment for Greek democracy" according to Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group president Alexis Tsipras, in statements on Thursday after meeting the All-Attica Union of Cleaners and Domestic Staff.
"Also a great shame for our civilisation is the fact that the 'black hole' of uninsured, badly paid employment, the slave trade of human souls, in constantly widening in a sector where such incidents of mafia-like behaviour seem lately to be multiplying," he added.
Responsibility for this situation was shared between governments, which failed to uphold the laws, and the leadership of the trade union movement that failed to take an interest in what were treated as "second-class" workers, Tsipras asserted.
He also accused ruling PASOK and the government of changing its tune and forgetting its former concern about the ever-deteriorating conditions for labour now that it was in power.
 Main points of Greece's updated Stability-Growth Programme announcedGreece's fiscal deficit is projected to fall from 12.7 pct in 2009 to 8.7 pct in 2010, as the updated Stability and Growth Programme, unveiled on Thursday, also cites that spending on wages and pensions rose 11.5 pct last year and will slow to an increase of 2.8 pct in 2010, reflecting a cut in employment in the public sector, a tighter incomes policy and a 10-pct decline in pay benefits to employees in the wider public sector.
At the same time, spending on social insurance and operating spending will be cut, the Greek government promised on Thursday.
The country's public debt is projected to rise from 99.2 pct in 2008 to 113.4 pct in 2009 and 120.4 pct in 2010, with total borrowing needs for 2010 estimated at 53.2 billion euros. The public debt, as a percentage of the country's GDP, is expected to stabilise in 2011.
The Greek economy is expected to return to positive growth rates from 2011, the stability program said, after a negative growth of 0.3 pct this year to rise to 1.5 pct in 2011, 1.9 pct in 2012 and 2.5 pct in 2013.
The country's fiscal deficit will fall from 12.7 pct of GDP in 2009 to 8.7 pct this year, to 5.6 pct of GDP in 2011, 2.8 pct in 2012 and 2.0 pct in 2013.
The government envisages that the fiscal deficit will fall by four percentage points this year through a combination of higher revenues and a cut in spending. More analytically, state revenues are projected to increase through implementation of a new tax scale (1.1 billion euros), new taxes on real estate property (400 mln), raising a special consumption tax on tobacco and alcohol (710 mln euros), combating tax-evasion (1.2 billion ), social insurance contribution evasion (1.2 billion euros), EU funds' inflows for the government's Public Investment Programme (1.4 billion) and additional taxes on enterprises and large real estate owners (around 1.0 billion euros).
On the other hand, savings will purportedly result from a 10-pct cut in benefits allocated by the general government (650 mln), a freeze on new hirings (80 mln), slashing public sector contract employment (120 mln), cutting operating costs (360 million), lower subsidies payments to pension funds (540 million), a cut in defence spending (457 million), as well as lower spending on public hospital supplies (1.4 billion).
Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said the stability and growth programme also projects higher spending to support the economy, growth and social cohesion in sectors, such as: the Public Investment Programme, education, supporting low-income earners, the hiring more healthcare staff in the sector, along subsidising contribution payments on new hirings.
The Greek minister stressed that a drastic decrease of the country's public debt, as a percentage of GDP, will begin in 2012, after projecting a significant consolidation of its growth rate in the meantime. This goal will be achieved with the process of fiscal consolidation - aiming to produce primary budget surpluses from 2011 - returning to positive growth rates as from 2011, promoting a privatisation programme in the public sector (with estimated revenues of around 2.3 pct of GDP in the next three years), and a return of 3.8 billion euros of capital offered to commercial banks during the financial crisis period to boost liquidity.
The Greek economy is expected to shrink by 0.3 pct in 2010, after shrinking by 1.2 pct in 2009. The updated stability and growth programme envisages positive growth rates in the next three years (1.5 pct in 2011, 1.9 pct in 2012 and 2.5 pct in 2013.
The unemployment rate is projected to steadily rise from 9.0 pct in 2009 to 9.9 pct this year and 10.5 pct in 2011 and 2012, before start falling to 10.3 pct in 2013.
The inflation rate is projected at 1.4 pct this year, from 1.2 pct in 2009, rising to 1.9 pct in 2011, only to stabilize around 1.8 pct in 2012 and 2013.
Public consumption is expected to fall by 4.4 pct in 2010, 5.9 pct in 2011 and 2013 and to rise by 0.7 pct in 2013, while private consumption is projected to fall by 1.0 pct this year, rising 0.3 pct in 2011, 0.8 pct in 2012 and 1.0 pct in 2013.
Exports of goods and services are expected to rise by 2.5 pct this year, after a decline of 16 pct in 2009, rising to 4.0 pct in 2011, 6.5 pct in 2012 and 7.2 pct in 2013. Imports are projected to fall 3.0 pct this year, rising by 2.0 pct in 2011, 2.8 pct in 2012 and 3.4 pct in 2013.
Finally, commenting on reactions by markets, he said the government should not use daily fluctuations in Greek bonds' spreads as a main tool for dictating economic policy in the country.
Speaking later from Parliament, Papaconstantinou said the country's "fiscal derailment" was due to the international economic crisis, to a lesser degree, "although the biggest responsibility is linked with consequences of the election cycle.
"...Revenue-collecting mechanisms collapsed; there was an explosion in state spending, widespread waste and no productive objective," he said in criticising the previous government for, among others, not listing hospital debts on the state budget.
 SEB on stability and growth programmeThe Federation of Greek Enterprises and Industries (SEB) reacted positively to the Stability and Growth programme for the economy that was approved by the Ministerial Council on Thursday, but underlined the dangers arising in the event that the programme is not implemented, speaking of bankruptcy and foreign custody.
Federation president Dimitris Daskalopoulos said, among other things, that "the government has diagnosed the basic problems and the 'road map' that it is defining for their overcoming in the short and medium term is in the correct direction provided, of course, that the measures anticipated are implemented without compromises, without backtrackings. What we must all realise is that we have no ground to fail."
He further said that "if public extravagance is not curbed drastically, if this Stability Programme remains on paper as well, if it is annulled by petty partisan conflicts, intraparty frictions and trade union resistances, then our society will have signed its collective bankruptcy and its self delivery to foreign custody. It depends on us."
 Economy Minister addresses Hellenic-French Chamber of CommerceEconomy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli on Wednesday evening spoke at a dinner hosted by the Hellenic-French Chamber of Commerce in Athens.
The Minister focused on the government's actions and aims in economic policy that will also bring the enhancement and invigoration of Greece's and France's bilateral trade relations.
Katseli gave a speech on the theme "2010: Prospects in cooperation and development" and emphasised the government's Stability plan and her ministry's initiatives to boost market liquidity market and reduce bureaucracy in the foundation and operation of enterprises foundation in Greece. She also referred to the role that the programme "Invest in Greece" and the Exports Promotion Organisation (OPE) may play in the future.
The new staff members at the French Embassy in Athens and new managing directors of member-companies of the Hellenic-French Chamber of Commerce (Alstom Hellas, Alstom Transport, Danone, Emporiki Asset Management, Emporiki Bank, Gefyra, Geniki Bank, Gras Savoye, I.F.A., Interattica, L' Oreal Hellas, Olympia Odos και Ubifrance) were presented before the dinner.
 Fuel vendors federation calls for immediate use of cash registers in petrol stationsThe federation of fuel company vendors on Thursday vigorously came out in favour of installing cash registers in petrol stations, a long-standing demand by repeated governments that has always generated opposition by the gas station owners' associations.
The federation said a system to monitor the intake and outtake of fuels in stations should be installed in a second phase.
"Implementation of the measure to install cash registers is absolutely necessary and will mark the inauguration of a system to monitor the movement of fuels in stations, one that cannot be linked with any other pre-conditions ... and something that exists in every other member-state of the European Union and all other professional sectors," a federation press release stated, adding that any other reason cited is merely a diversionary tactic aimed at delaying or preventing the measure.
 Alcohol, cigarette, parental property transfers taxation amendment to be tabled FridayA controversial amendment dealing with tax issues, from a large hike in taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic drinks to provisions relating to inheritances and parental gifts tax, was tabled again in Parliament on Friday in the form of a draft law using the provisions for urgent proceedings.
The bill had originally been tabled as an amendment to an unrelated bill on environmental issues, again on the grounds of urgency, but was withdrawn by order of Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou after it met with strong objections from both ruling PASOK and opposition party MPs for violating Parliament's Rules of Procedure.
In addition to increasing tax on tobacco and alcohol, the bill stipulates that the transfer of real estate from parents to their children as a parental gift will be taxed according to a rate to be decided over the next few months, after dialogue on tax reform is completed and the relevant bill is passed. Until then, these transactions will be taxed on the basis of current tax laws but this will be 'provisional' and the final settlement will be made after the bill is passed in early May.
 Farmers threatening protest road blocksFarmers in northern Greece were on Thursday working up to another round of tractor blockades along national highways and at border crossings, similar to those that had paralysed road travel into and across the country last winter, with meetings to be held by regional farmer unions over the coming weekend.
Kastoria prefecture farmers came out with their tractors on Thursday and have already decided to blockade the Vogatsikos junction on Friday, preventing vehicles from travelling from Kastoria to Thessaloniki and from Kastoria to Albania.
Those in Florina prefecture have arranged to meet at the Krystallopigi and Niki customs posts by noon on Friday, where they will decide any further course of action, while farmers in Serres blocked a national highway for a few hours on Thursday before withdrawing later the same day and are due to come out in force again from Monday and block the Promahonas border crossing.
Farmers in Thessaloniki prefecture have arranged to set up road blocks next Tuesday, while those in Kilkis will hold their meeting outside the Doirani customs post on Saturday, deciding on the spot whether to blockade the border crossing into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Those from Halkidiki are to hold a further meeting on Thursday evening, after an unsuccessful meeting with Agriculture and Foods Minister Katerina Batzeli on Wednesday.
Decisions on whether to join the action are still pending from farmers in the prefectures of Pellas, Imathia and Grevena.
 Stocks end 1.0% higherStocks recovered some ground at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, following a recovery in intenational markets. The composite index ended 1.0 pct higher at 2,195.41 points, with turnover an improved 292.798 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index rose 0.81 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.46 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 0.04 pct. The Food/Beverage (5.57 pct) and Travel (4.82 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Personal Products (1.59 pct) and Insurance (1.11 pct) suffered losses.
United Textiles (16.67 pct), Texapret (13.33 pct), Elfico (11.45 pct) and Desmos (11.11 pct) were top gainers, while Klonatex (20.0 pct), Compucon (10.0 pct), Praxitelio (8.70 pct) and Edrasi (8.70 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 107 to 79 with another 52 issues unchanged
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.71%
Personal & Household: -2.19%
Raw Materials: +0.37%
Travel & Leisure: +4.82%
Food & Beverages: +5.57%
Financial Services: +0.19%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank,Alpha Bank, OPAP and Jumbo.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 7.88
Public Power Corp (PPC): 13.60
HBC Coca Cola: 17.19
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.59
National Bank of Greece: 17.35
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 7.88
Bank of Piraeus: 7.40
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium (0.37 pct) in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover remaining a moderate 92.810 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 13,408 contracts, worth 74.254 million euros, with 24,453 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 17,214 contracts worth 18.556 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (4,041), followed by Eurobank (1,484), OTE (898), OPAP (1,411), Piraeus Bank (844), Alpha Bank (3,803), Cyprus Banks (383), Hellenic Postbank (2,674).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.460
Pound sterling 0.897
Danish kroner 7.499
Swedish kroner 10.252
Japanese yen 133.94
Swiss franc 1.492
Norwegian kroner 8.229
Canadian dollar 1.506
Australian dollar 1.571
 Culture minister announces changes at ERTCulture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos on Thursday said in a press conference that the government had succeeded in making significant cost cuts at the state broadcaster ERT, chiefly by not renewing the contracts of consultants and staff that provided little or no services, thus saving nearly four million euros, by trimming pay packets to its staff - including a 30 percent reduction in salaries of general managers - thus bringing savings of over 2.0 million euros.
Speaking during a press conference, he announced that ERT would enter a new phase of its operations after the appointment of a new president and a new board director, who would be two separate people.
At that time, he clarified, decisions would be made about which programmes would continue and which not, a new organisational chart will be drawn up and a new policy for evaluating both programmes and personnel will be unveiled.
He noted that the government's aim was to ensure transparency, meritocracy and good quality programmes in the state broadcaster, while its new management, to be appointed in the coming week, will be selected based on their knowledge of management, technology and political criteria.
The current board would remain for a short time after the new president and board director were chosen, he added.
 Reppas on reopening of nat'l highway at TempiInfrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Dimitris Reppas stated ον Thursday that he is waiting for the proposals of the concessionaire construction company that will define the method to be used and the time needed to repair the damage and to allow the reopening of the Athens-Thessaloniki motorway at the Tempi Valley section of central Greece.
The specific section of the national highway has been closed to traffic since Dec. 17, 2009 following a landslide.
Responding to a current question tabled in parliament by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Antonis Skyllakos, the minister clarified that "based on the contract signed the maintenance, operation, safety and exploitation of the motorway section in Tempi belongs exclusively to the concessionaire company namely, the company that has undertaken to build the new major motorway."
Reppas referred to the initiatives undertaken in the region aimed at providing permanent solutions, including a monitoring system that will record soil erosion phenomena. He pointed out that this is an ongoing problem that deteriorates depending on the conditions present.
He also stated that representatives of the ministry, the TRAINOSE railway company and the railway infrastructure manager company (EDISY) are in the process of visiting European countries with "rolling highway" technology which can be used to carry buses and trucks past the blocked-off section of Greece's main north-south road axis.
 Trial on beating death of Australian youth Doujon Zammit opens on LesvosThe trial began on the island of Lesvos on Wednesday against a former bouncer at a club on the island of Mykonos who is accused of intentional homicide in the death of 20-year-old Australian tourist Doujon Zammit outside the nightclub.
The trial opened Wednesday after Greece's Supreme Court on December 8 rejected an appeal by the criminal case defendant against a lower appeals court ruling indicting him on intentional homicide charges in the death of Zammit.
Zammit's beating death, which generated international media coverage, occurred outside a bar on the island of Mykonos in late July 2008.
The defendant Marios-Sosipatros Antonopoulos, a bouncer at the now defunct "Tropicana" club at the time of the fatal incident, is also charged with the attempted homicide of other foreign tourists accompanying the victim, possession of a lethal weapon and unprovoked grievous bodily harm. Three other men, club staff who were with the primary suspect and were released by a lower court, are co-defendants and face the lesser charge of attempted homicide.
The trial began with the submission of a series of objections on the trial procedure. Present in court were the victim's father Oliver and mother Rose and his two brothers, who flew to Greece for the court procedure, together with Costas Gribilas, who received Doujon's heart in a transplant after the parents donated Doujon's organs after the young man was declared clinically brain dead.
ΤέλοςφόρμαςΑρχήφόρμας"We are putting our faith and trust in the Greek justice system and its lovely people who have supported us so far to send out the right message that this is not Greek behaviour that has been shown," Oliver Zammit said, adding that the perpetrators must be punished.
The trial will resume on Thursday with Doujon's father, Oliver Zammit, taking the stand.
The Zammit family has endeared itself to the Greek public, apart from the compassion for the unprovoked loss of their son, with their decision to donate Doujon's organs for transplant. Gribilas, who received Doujon's heart, postponed his honeymoon to be at the Zammit family's side during the trial. Gribilas recently married his sweetheart Poppy in Sydney, with Oliver Zammit standing as his best man.
The Athens Academy gave an award late last year to Oliver Zammit "for his altruism and noble humanitarianism", while the Greek National Transplant Organization (EOM) honored the family at a special ceremony in Sydney, and the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens also held a special event to honor the "extraordinary generosity" of the Zammit family, and for raising awareness on organ donation.
 East Thessaloniki police report major drug bustThe East Thessaloniki police drugs squad on Thursday reported dismantling a large drug-trafficking operation dealing in large quantities of illegal narcotics.
The bust followed the arrest of three Albanian nationals in a forest in Kavalari as they were in the process of selling a package containing five kilos of hashish to a Greek man, who was also arrested.
In the investigation that followed the arrest, police discovered a further 65 kilos and 860 grammes of hashish buried in the surrounding area.
The four men arrested, ranging in age from 22 years to 45 years, were led before a public prosecutor. Two of them were later discovered to be father and son.
 Two aides injured in attack on deputy justice minister's officeTwo aides of deputy justice minister Apostolos Katsifaras were injured on Thursday during an attack by a group of hooded individuals on his first-floor office in downtown Athens.
The minister's secretary and another assistant were injured when a group of 5-6 people wearing hoods stormed into the office, while about 10 others waited outside the building.
The assailants beat up Katsifaras' secretary, who was rushed to hospital by ambulance, and also vandalised the office before fleeing.
Katsifaras was not in his office at the time of the attack, as he was attending an Inner Cabinet meeting.
Police were investigating the attack and seeking the assailants.
 H1N1 shows signs of abating in countryThe novel influenza A (H1N1) is reportedly abating in Greece although scientists underline that the number of deaths caused by the virus has risen in the past few weeks, the National Influenza Pandemic Committee concluded on Thursday.
Seventeen of the 93 novel influenza victims since the outbreak of the epidemic died in 2010. The latest victim is a 50-year-old woman who suffered from diabetes and chronic respiratory failure, while a six-year-old girl with no prior health problem is being treated in a hospital's ICU since Wednesday.
Fifty people, on average, are being hospitalised on a daily basis with novel influenza and the need for vaccination still exists, particularly for high-risk population groups, according to the committee. Roughly 80 pct of the people who died from the novel influenza virus were in a high-risk group and 20 pct had no prior health problems.
 Annual Book Fair opens in downtown Athens on FridayThe annual Book Fair organised by the Association of Book Publishers of Greece opens Friday in Klafthmonos Square in downtown Athens, and will run for 10 days, through Sunday, January 24.
The country's largest book fair will cover an area of 1,000 square meters, with more than 500,000 books of all genres on display, including rare publications, which will be on offer for hefty discounts of more than 70 percent off list prices.
The 2010 Book Fair, which is under the aegis of the Municipality of Athens, will be open daily from 10:00 in the morning to 9:45 p.m.
 Actress Dukakis to lead acting master classesOscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis will give a lecture on Jan. 19 entitled "A Woman's Story: a Conversation with Olympia Dukakis", within the framework of her visit to the American College of Greece (Deree-Pierce) on Jan. 18-23.
During her visit the noted Greek-American performer will also offer acting master classes to ACG alumni and students of the college's theatre arts programme.
Dukakis' visit launches a series of events celebrating the 135th anniversary of the school.
 Drug trafficking ring dismantledA drug trafficking ring which channeled to the market approximately 71 kilos of cannabis was dismantled by the Thessaloniki Police Drug Squad on Wednesday night.
According to police, the ring consisted of three Albanians aged from 22 to 49, which had in their possession 70 kilos and 875 grams of cannabis. The three men were caught in the act and arrested while attempting to sell 5 kilos of cannabis to a 40-year-old compatriot, who was also arrested. The rest of the cannabis was found hidden in a forest nearby.
In a separate incident three individuals, a 28-year-old Greek, a 33-year-old Albanian and a 29-years-old woman from Albania, were arrested charged with drug dealing during well-organized Larissa (central Greece) police operation.
Police officers found in their possession 339 grams of cocaine.
 Arson attack against PASOK office in ThessalonikiAn arson attack targeted a PASOK local office in Thessaloniki at dawn Thursday.
The fire caused by a home-made incendiary device caused minor damage to the offices' entrance.
 Brothers' quarrel turns to family tragedyThe 22-year-old brother of a teen found on Wednesday morning stabbed to death in his apartment in the district of Kaminia, Pireaus was led before a prosecutor on Thursday, accused of the latter's murder.
The suspect turned himself in on Wednesday night and told police that he stabbed his 18-year-old brother during a quarrel. He said that he wandered for hours in Piraeus after he tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide, before being spotted by is father who convinced him to go to the police.
 Cloudy, rainy on FridayCloudy and rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -1C and 16C. Cloudy with possible showers in Athens, with northerly 4-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 8C to 14C. Cloudy in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 9C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glancePrime Minister George Papandreou's reassurance that the country will neither exit from the eurozone nor take recourse in the IMF, the withdrawal of the amendment on parental gifts and Moody's report on the Greek economy, dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Sales period price reductions will exceed 60 per cent".
APOGEVMATINI: "Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader attack against government".
AVGHI: "Government debacle ...ahead of Stability plan - Government withdrew the amendment on parental gifts, cigarettes and alcohol".
AVRIANI: "Citibank's board to face court, charged with felony".
CHORA: "Zero visibility! - Papandreou admits mistakes but does not give a specific perspective".
ELEFTHEROS: "Civil war among ruling PASOK MPs over the economy".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Outburst against ministers - PASOK MPs attacked government and destroyed Prime Minister's fiesta for the first 100 days in the country's helm".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "2010 to be a Calvary for all".
ESTIA: "Tax policy a Waterloo - State revenue are not guaranteed".
ETHNOS: "Express decisions for tax measures".
IMERISSIA: "Papandreou's message on taxes and pensions: Measures will be imposed rapidly".
KATHIMERINI: "The measures of the 100th day".
LOGOS: "Papandreou: "New start, it's now or never".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "No to scenarios on IMF and exit from eurozone".
NIKI: "PASOK's Guernica - Civil war in government".
RIZOSPASTIS: "No to "Kallikratis" plan which reinforces the urban state in the interest of capital".
TA NEA: "First 100 days' account".
TO VIMA: "Funds empty, 2010 will be a Calvary ".
VRADYNI: "PM Papandreou spoke as if the prime minister of another country: Money exists and we will...borrow it".
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