|Sunday, 22 September 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-02-04
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 4 February 2010 Issue No: 3414
 EU Commission adopts Greece's fiscal cuts planBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
The European Commission on Wednesday adopted Greece's fiscal cuts plan but placed the country under surveillance, while it decided to start procedures against Greece for failing to deliver credible fiscal statistics in the past.
The European Commission adopted a series of recommendations to ensure that Greece's budget deficit is brought below 3% of GDP by 2012, that the government timely implements a reform programme to restore the competitiveness of its economy and generally runs policies that take account of its long-term interest and the general interest of the euro area and of the European Union as a whole.
The Commission, in a report, said it shared the ambitious budget-deficit reduction targets that the Greek government has set itself as well as the fiscal measures and structural reforms announced in the stability programme.
The Commission also welcomed the announcement by the Greek government, on Tuesday, of a set of additional fiscal measures (concerning the wage bill, excises on fuel and pension reform), to safeguard the budgetary targets set in the programme. It called on Greece to spell out the announced fiscal measures and implementation calendar in the coming weeks and welcomed its readiness to adopt and swiftly implement additional measures if needed. The fiscal measures to be implemented in 2011 and 2012 should also be further detailed. Implementation of all the measures, including the reforms to increase the competitiveness of the economy in the field of pensions, healthcare, public administration, the functioning of product markets, labour market, absorption of structural funds, supervision of the financial sector, and statistics, will be carefully monitored through regular reports to be sent to the Commission by Greece.
"Greece has adopted an ambitious programme to correct its fiscal imbalances and to reform its economy. Yesterday's announcement strengthens the government's commitment to deliver the programme's objectives of more sustainable public finances and a more competitive economy. This is in the interest of the Greek people, who will benefit of better and more durable growth and job opportunities in the future, and it is in the interest of the euro area and of the EU as a whole. The Commission fully supports Greece in this difficult task," said Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, adding: " The Commission will monitor the execution of the budget and of the reforms very closely and regularly and welcomes the Greek government's readiness to adopt further measures as and when necessary ".
The Commission's integrated recommendations will be discussed at the February Eurogroup and ECOFIN meetings.
 Almunia on Stability ProgramEU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia on Wednesday expressed his full support for the Greek government's plans to correct the country's fiscal imbalances, although he acknowledged the risks and difficulties of implementing this ambitious programme, as he said.
Speaking to reporters, the Commissioner said the European Commission supported and has confidence in the Greek programme and stressed that in order to achieve these ambitious goals it needed the support of all political and social groups in Greece.
Commenting on the European Commission's recommendations over Greece's updated Stability Programme, Almunia emphasized that changes are needed in the health system, the pension system and in the goods and services markets, while he stressed that Greece and Portugal are facing major problems with their external trade balances.
He added that the EU's executive would closely monitor implementation of the programme and stressed that the Greek government should be ready to take additional measures if there was any deviation from its goals. Commenting on Greek premier's speech a day earlier, Almunia said George Papandreou's announcements were moving towards the right direction, adding it was urgent that reforms begin from the first quarter of the year so that they bear fruits within the year.
The EU Commissioner said if the Athens adheres to its programme then international financial markets would improve their stance vis-à-vis Greece in the short-term, while he expressed confidence that any problems plaguing Greece would be resolved within the Eurozone.
Almunia declined to comment on reporters' questions over plans to issue a euro-bond.
On Jan. 15, the Greek government submitted to the Commission its stability programme for the period 2010-2013 which envisages reducing the budget deficit by 4 percentage points to 8.7 percent of GDP in 2010 and thereafter to 5.6 percent in 2011, 2.8 percent in 2012 and 2 percent en 2013. The programme contains a package of concrete fiscal consolidation measures for 2010, with an estimated quantification for each of the measures, as well as a timeframe for their adoption and implementation. On the revenue side it includes the elimination of tax exemptions, the rise of excise duties on tobacco and alcohol and measures to fight tax evasion. Regarding expenditure, the government will cut public servant allowances, freeze recruitment in 2010 and will only recruit 1 for every 5 civil servants retiring thereafter. The government has also set up a contingency reserve and frozen all budgetary appropriations per ministry by 10 percent and already adopted nominal cuts in public consumption and operational expenditure. The programme also outlines a number of structural reforms aimed at improving the budgetary framework and the efficiency of public spending, enhancing investment and improving the functioning of labour and product markets. After the submission of the stability programme, the Greek government announced further measures concerning public wage, excises on fuel and pension reform. The Commission asked Greece to spell out the implementation calendar of these measures within one month. The plans for 2011and 2012 also need to be detailed in the coming months.
Given the state of the public finances in Greece and the persistent external imbalances, which result from accumulated competitiveness losses, and in order to allow for simultaneous discussion by the Council of fiscal policy and structural reforms, an integrated approach to the enhanced surveillance mechanism is being adopted.
The Commission recommended to the Council that Greece adopts a comprehensive structural reform package aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the public administration, stepping up pension and healthcare reform, improving labour market functioning and t he effectiveness of the wage bargaining system, enhancing product market functioning and the business environment, and maintaining banking and financial sector stability . This recommendation is made under Article 121(4) of the Treaty, ' with a view to ending the inconsistency with the broad economic policy guidelines and the risk of jeopardising the proper functioning of the monetary union'. The recommendations are largely included in the stability programme but require clarification in some cases.
The Commission has also adopted a recommendation under Article 126.9 of the Treaty on the excessive deficit procedure (formerly 104.9), whereby Greece is required to follow the adjustment path outlined in the 2010 stability programme in terms of nominal deficit, structural deficit and change in debt levels, and detail the measures to be implemented. The recommendations include measures to be implemented already in 2010, such as a reduction in the overall public sector wage bill, including through the replacement of only 1 of 5 retiring civil servants, progress with healthcare and pension reforms, the set up of a contingency reserve amounting to the 10 percent current expenditure, tax and excise duties increases and tax administration reform. In the medium term, Greece is required to implement further adjustment measures of a permanent nature, continue with tax administration reforms and improve the budgetary framework.
Greece is required to submit a first report in mid March 2010, spelling out the implementation calendar of the measures to achieve the 2010 budgetary targets, standing also ready to adopt additional measures if needed, and quarterly integrated reports from mid May 2010 on the implementation of the recommendations, including on the reforms.
The Commission's integrated recommendations will be discussed at the February Eurogroup and ECOFIN meetings.
 Papoulias re-elected President of the Republic by parliament with overwhelming majorityParliament on Wednesday re-elected the uncontested incumbent President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias to a second term in Greece's highest office, with an overwhelming majority of 266 votes in the 300-member House among the 298 MPs in attendance, while 32 MPs simply declared their presence.
Papoulias was re-elected with the votes of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), main opposition New Democracy (ND) and smaller opposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) parties' MPs in a roll-call vote during a special session of the unicameral parliament.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) MPs did not vote for the incumbent, but simply declared themselves present when called.
PASOK, ND, LAOS had all three nominated Papoulias for re-election in separate letters submitted to parliament president Philipos Petsalnikos.
The KKE's parliamentary group, in an announcement last week, had clarified that its stance has nothing to do with the candidate, incumbent President Karolos Papoulias, himself, but with the political system and the office of the President of the Republic in that system, noting that it was a well-known fact that, according to the Constitution, the President of the Republic must co-sign and agree to "the anti-popular laws and decrees". Consequently, it added, regardless of who the candidate is and what his views are, the role of the President is pre-determined.
Papoulias is the sixth President of the Republic since the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974, following Mihalis Stasinopoulos, Constantine Tsatsos, Constantine Karamanlis, Christos Sartzetakis and Costis Stephanopoulos.
He will be sworn in for his second term on Friday, March 12 at noon.
Under the Constitution, a two-thirds majority of 200 votes is required for the election of a President of the Republic in the first sitting. If Parliament fails to elect a President in the first sitting, a repeat election is held five days later, requiring the same two-thirds (200 votes) majority.
If in the second vote the set majority is not achieved, the vote is repeated in a third sitting, after five days, when a majority of three-fifths of the total number of deputies (180) is required to elect a President.
If the reduced (three-fifths majority) is not achieved in the third vote, Parliament is dissolved within ten days of the third vote and general elections are called for a new Parliament.
The Parliament which will emerge from the new elections, once it is constituted into a body, elects with a roll call vote the President of the Republic with the majority of the three-fifths of the total deputies.
Should this majority not be attained, voting is repeated in five days and the person receiving an absolute majority (151) of the votes of the total number of Members of Parliament is elected President of the Republic.
Parliament chief officially informs President Papoulias of re-election
Parliament president Filippos Petsalnikos, heading the House presidium, officially informed President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias at noon on Wednesday of his re-election to the country's highest office in a roll-call vote during a special session of the 300-member unicameral House earlier in the day.
Petsalnikos stressed the overwhelming majority of 266 votes in favor of Papoulias' re-election, and told the President that "you are called on to continue the exercise of your Constitutional duties at a critical time for the country, which faces huge challenges".
Papoulias replied that the re-election is a great honor for him, but also entails greater responsibility, while he also thanked the representatives of the Greek people (MPs) for the honor.
"It is necessary to enlist all our forces in order to overcome the crisis, and we must improve the performance of the institutions of the Greek state," the President noted, adding that "a fair, strong and efficient state can reverse the present situation and can open up better and happier roads for the Greek people".
Papoulias further said that the Greek state and citizens alike must all do their duty and rally together for a "historic transition", adding that "on the opposite shore, we must also be together, united", and stressed that "I rally with you in this effort".
PM Papandreou congratulates President on re-election
Prime minister George Papandreou called on newly re-elected President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday to congratulate him.
"You honored the office in the best way and have the broadest consensus. I am certain that in the face of the national crises, as the country is going through a big misadventure, a very broad consensus is being formed among the Greek people to back the policies needed so that we may move forward," Papandreou said.
Papoulias expressed his appreciation of the ruling PASOK's nomination and support for his re-election.
Papoulias congratulated by Samaras
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras on Wednesday congratulated President of Republic Karolos Papoulias over his re-election to the post.
Samaras went to the presidential mansion soon after Papoulias' election by Parliament deputies to convey his best wishes.
"My congratulations for your sweeping re-election, allow me to wish you strength," Samaras was quoted as telling Papoulias, who thanked him for his support.
 Austrian president congratulates PapouliasVIENNA (ANA-MPA / D. Dimitrakoudis)
The Federal President of Austria Heinz Fischer sent a congratulatory telegram to Hellenic Republic President Karolos Papoulias on his re-election and wished him success in his second term.
The Austrian president stressed in his telegram that Papoulias' re-election with an "overwhelming majority" in Parliament is proof of the respect he enjoys across the political party spectrum.
He also expressed the belief that the excellent bilateral relations will improve further and pointed out that Papoulias' political experience will be very useful to Greece in the years to come. He also stated that he is looking forward to a new meeting with the Greek president.
 FYROM president congratulates Papoulias on re-electionSKOPJE (ANA-MPA - N. Frangopoulos)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) President Georgi Ivanov has sent a letter congratulating Greek President Karolos Papoulias on his re-election by the Greek Parliament on Wednesday.
Ivanov expressed his country's readiness for "sincere cooperation" with Greece in promoting good neighbour relations and underlined that FYROM was absolutely determined to fully respect European principles and continue its progress for full accession to the European Union and NATO, noting that this will "undoubtedly benefit stability and the prospects of the entire region and contribute to efforts for a united and prosperous Europe."
Ivanov expressed hope that a meeting with the Greek president will take place in the near future.
 Letter of congratulations to President Papoulias by SAE presidentCAIRO (ANA-MPA/N. Katsikas)
Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) President Stefanos Tamvakis expressed the "warm congratulations" of SAE's Directorate and of Hellenism everywhere to re-elected Greek President Karolos Papoulias.
"It is the highest state office, that you honoured worthily during your previous tenure, defending the just causes of Greece and of Hellenism throughout the world," Tamvakis stressed in the letter he addressed to the President of the Republic on Wednesday.
"I wish to reassure you that SAE and the Expatriates are always by your side and recognise in your person, through your longlasting support, a very important ally and supporter and we wish you every success in your work," he added.
 Ecumenical Patriarch at Athens AcademyEcumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos congratulated President Karolos Papoulias on his re-election as President of the Republic, at the beginning of his address at the Athens Academy on Wednesday evening.
Apart from President Papoulias, the event was attended by Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos, many Holy Synod clerics, university professors and academics, former prime minister Costas Simitis, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and party representatives.
Vartholomeos referred in his address to the Ecumenical throne's ecological initiatives and concerns and conveyed to the Greek people "the love and blessing of the Mother Church."
Earlier in the day, the Ecumenical Patriarch inaugurated an exhibition, while at noon he held a 45-minute discussion with Prime Minister George Papandreou at the Maximos Mansion.
On Thursday, he is expected to visit Archbishop Ieronymos at the archdiocese and at noon he will go to Sofokleous street and attend the archdiocese's meals for immigrants.
 Papandreou, Gruevski hold telephone conversation on Wed.SKOPJE (ANA-MPA/N. Frangopoulos) - The government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) announced here on Wednesday that PM Nikola Gruevski held a same-day telephone conversation with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, with issues of mutual interest reportedly discussed.
According to reports, the two leaders exchanged views on the economic situation in the two countries as well as on other issues of a bilateral and regional character.
The announcement by Skopje also mentions that the telephone conversation took place at the initiative of Gruevski, in the direction of improving bilateral relations and the promotion of the process on finding a mutually acceptable solution to the still unresolved "name issue".
 State Department spokesman on Droutsas talks in WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs, made note of Greek alternate foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas' visit to Washington and talks with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Deputy Secretary James Steinberg, during the daily press briefing on Tuesday.
"This morning, we had Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitrios Droutsas here to see both Secretary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Steinberg. They covered a range of issues of mutual concern between the United States and Greece, including developments in the Balkans, Cyprus, and other regional issues," Crowley said.
To a question on the process for Greece's inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program, Crowley said that "there is no particular timeline" (for concluding the process), but stressed that "we are committed to getting Greece into the Visa Waiver Program".
"There are a number of eligibility requirements that the program sets forth, and we acknowledge the hard work that the governments of Greece and the United States have done together," he said.
"It's hard to characterize where we are in the process, but we are committed to getting Greece into the program as soon as possible," Crowley added.
 Gov't on economy, draft bills and retirement ages"The government is determined and is nationally imperative to materialize the Stability Programme and the additional measures taken to get the country out of the major economic crisis," government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis stated Wednesday.
He attributed the current situation to "poor policies" adopted in recent years "for fear of political cost".
He stressed that all the moves made by the government are well-prepared and targeted, adding that the longer the country remains a "weak link" the more will be a field for speculation.
Responding to a question on whether draft laws, such as the "Kallikratis" local administration mergers and the granting of Greek nationality to children of second generation migrants, will proceed, Petalotis said the two are unrelated and that there will be no delays. He pointed out that they constitute campaign pledges for the ruling PASOK party and are regarded by the government as "groundbreaking reforms".
On the pension age limits, Petalotis stated that they will be defined in the dialogue on the social insurance system reform.
As regards the announced "freezing" of wages and whether the sectors of health, education, defense and security are exempt, Petalotis commented that these are priority sectors and therefore, there will be special provision concerning their needs in personnel.
 LA.OS party leader on economyPopular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) party leader George Karatzaferis, speaking in an interview with a television channel, expressed disagreement with the taxation measures and a contribution to the national effort for an exit from the economic crisis for the approximately two million Greeks finding themselves below the poverty level.
"It is irrational and unfair even for us to discuss it," he said and referring to Tuesday's private meeting with the prime minister agreed on the one hand that "all the Greek people must help the effort for the recovery of the economy and an exit from the crisis but, however, we cannot tell all that we are increasing taxation by 10 percent."
He assessed that "there should be a scale, saying that for the low levels, meaning for the approximately two million citizens living below the poverty level we cannot impose any kind of tax."
 Draft law on RESs in Parliament com'tEnergy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili on Wednesday announced that a draft law on renewable energy sources (RES), to be presented in Parliament, will include both "minor and major changes".
Addressing relevant Parliamentary committee on the draft law, Birbili stressed that many of the proposals submitted during a public consultation will be included, adding that she is open to further changes.
Ruling PASOK, main opposition New Democracy (ND) and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) expressed support for draft law, in principal, while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) expressed opposition.
 Decisions by PM concerning his office staffEconomics professor of the Warwick University in the UK, Iraklis Polemarhakis, will become the head of the prime minister's Economic Office, following a decision taken by premier George Papandreou.
According to a decision by the prime minister, Andreas Drymiotis will assume the post of head of a Technology, Information and Communications Issues Unit.
As regards the Committee on the Modernisation of the Functioning of the Government, its coordination will be undertaken by Minister of State Haris Pamboukis.
Earlier in the afternoon, Prime Minister George Papandreou met at the Maximos Mansion with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
 Farmers adamant, continue road blocksProtesting farmers continued to block roads and border crossings with their tractors in areas throughout the country on Wednesday, in a mobilisation that is now in its third week.
The problems continued to be particularly acute in northern and central Greece, with blockades around the Promachonas border post with Bulgaria, at the Ormenio and Kipi checkpoints in the northeastern prefecture of Evros, and on major intersections in Serres.
At Promachonas, the road was opened to private cars for just two hours after midnight on Tuesday it was closed for 12 hours and a 20km line of trucks, lorries and cars had formed on both sides of the border. Tempers were running short in the -8C conditions and scuffles erupted between farmers and drivers that attempted to break through the roadblock and cross the border.
A major police force remains at the site in order to prevent clashes between drivers and protesting farmers.
Other farmers blocked one of the lanes of a motorway leading to Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport, causing major traffic problems.
Roads bypassing the Doirani and Evzoni checkpoints in Kilkis prefecture were open, as were the Krystallopigi and Niki checkpoints in Florina prefecture.
The Exochi border post in Drama prefecture was open during the night but the Chryssoupoli intersection at Kavala was blocked.
Grevena prefecture farmers remained on the Egnatia motorway and several others gathered at the Servia bridge in Kozani, but without obstructing traffic. At a meeting on Wednesday afternoon they decided to further escalate their protest action and will hold a further meeting on Thursday to decide their stance.
Thessaly farmers remained at their roadblocks at the Nikaia and Microthebes intersections on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway, while those at Alamana - already in the 20th day of their protest - decided to extend their blockade of the national highway.
On Tuesday they parked their tractors across both the northbound and southbound lanes of a crucial junction at Thermopylae for more than an hour, effectively cutting communications between north and south Greece entirely, and have promised to repeat the blockade for ever-longer periods of time each day. While the road remained blocked on Wednesday, hundreds of cars and trucks remained immobilised in tailbacks more than 10 kilometres long since there are no alternative routes that vehicles can use at that point, with the exception of some tiny rural roads leading from Lamia to Amfissa.
Other farmers are preparing more road blocks just after Domokos, on the old Lamia-Larisa road, which will effectively cut off traffic between Lamia and Larisa, Karditsa, Trikala. Also toughening their stance are farmers at the Elateia road block on the borders of Fthiotida and Viotia, who have also cut access to minor roads that had allowed private cars to bypass their road blocks.
Access to vehicles has also been blocked by farmers at the 110th kilometre of the Athens-Lamia highway at Kastro, who have blocked the parallel roads and forced traffic onto the rural road network.
Commenting on the situation in Greece, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov expressed hope that the farmer protests will be resolved with the assistance of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. He was speaking after a cabinet meeting held in Bulgaria to decide whether Sofia would go to court in order to seek compensation from Greece for economic losses suffered as a result of the road blocks.
Speaking to reporters about the possibility of resorting to the European Court of Justice, Borisov noted that Bulgaria would thus become embroiled in a lengthy court case between two member-states that would act as a precedent in the European Union and could take several years to complete.
 Organizing Committee for ND 8th party congress appointedMain opposition New Democracy (ND) President Antonis Samaras appointed the members of the organizing committee for the party's 8th Congress.
Dimitris Avramopoulos was appointed president of the 20-member committee.
Interior minister briefs LAOS leader on upcoming legislation.
Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Yiannis Ragoussis on Wednesday met with Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis to discuss issues related to the interior ministry and legislation it intends to bring to Parliament.
 Tsipras urges workers to help block government's measuresIn strongly worded criticism of the economic measures announced by the government, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday announced that SYRIZA will start building a broad resistance movement in the next few days and appealed to working people to "block the measures of PASOK's leadership". He also appealed to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) to support the united effort.
"The measures suddenly announced by the government take society several years back," Tsipras stressed, predicting that they would lead to a rise in unemployment, demolish the social insurance system and redistribute wealth in favour of the rich.
In addition to being socially unjust, Tsipras also predicted that the measures would not bring the anticipated results and succeed in reducing the deficit and debts.
"Increasing the age of retirement is a measure that extends the life of social insurance funds by only a few months. The advice to sell the property of social insurance funds we return to [Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou] as unacceptable. The freeze of wages and cutbacks in benefits in the public sector is a measure that is absolutely inefficient and unfair. It sends a message to the private sector for a general freeze on wages. It is strangling the already constricted market, which is now suffocating," he said.
Tsipras said the the cut in the wages and number of public-sector workers would act as the final blow to social services already on the verge of collapse and further selling off of public wealth.
 Agriculture minister at inauguration of exhibitionAgricultural Development and Foods Minister Katerina Batzeli, addressing the inauguration of the 23rd International AGROTICA Exhibition of Agricultural Machinery, Equipment and Supplies of Helexpo in Thessaloniki, said that "we are making structural changes to tackle the present crisis and to prepare the agricultural economy and the farmers themselves for the post-2013 era. This target cannot be 'blocked'."
The minister added that "the mobilisations of the farmers, with a considerable cost for society, as well as for themselves and the agricultural economy, once again highlight the failure of Greek agricultural policy and the lack of strategic orientation of first stage production."
Referring to the government's targets in the sector of agriculture, Batzeli said that planned support for the agricultural sector is being sought with substantive changes and resources that will aim at its longterm viability.
 Labour confederation, employers organisations fail to agreeA meeting on Wednesday between the board of the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and employers' organisations, on the signing of a new national collective labour agreement, failed to produce results.
GSEE president Yiannis Panagopoulos said that the employers' stance "is in essence corresponding to the message of cutbacks and austerity," adding that labour unions in the private sector will struggle and get increases despite the desires of the markets.
A GSEE board plenum will be convening on Thursday with the possibility of deciding a nationwide strike on February 24.
 Civil servants' union decries gov't measures; strike announced"The measures announced by the government confirmed our (worst) predictions," the head of the country's largest civil servants (ADEDY), Spyros Papaspyrou, stated on Wednesday, adding that this was the reason for a 24-hour nationwide strike called by Greek unions on Wednesday.
"Participation in the industrial action will be decisive for developments, because the measures announced will not be the last. The ball is now in the workers' court," Papaspyrou stressed.
 Greek economic sentiment index slightly up in JanGreece's economic sentiment index rose slightly in January to 76.1 points, from 75.9 in December 2009, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Wednesday.
IOBE, in a monthly report, said the January figures showed a reversal of a two-month decline in the economic sentiment index and noted that the index remained a low levels, although it recovered from levels seen in January 2009. The report noted that despite difficulties, sentiment was more optimistic in early 2010, compared with the corresponding period last year, reflecting mainly improved conditions in the manufacturing sector.
Business expectations in the manufacturing sector improved both for the current level of demand and new orders, while inventories fell markedly.
In the services sector, business expectations fell in January regarding the short-term developments in demand and new activities.
In the retail commerce, business expectations fell more strongly compared with other sectors, while in the construction sector, business expectations fell after a four-month period of improvement.
Consumer confidence fell significantly, reflecting a sharp decline in households' expectations over their finances and their forecasts over unemployment. Greek households' expectations over the country's economic situation worsened in January.
 Sifounakis and Chinese delegation discuss telecommunicationsDeputy Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Nikos Sifounakis on Wednesday met Chinese government official Cao Kangtai, director of the Legislative Affairs Office of the PRC State Council, who is currently conducting a tour of India, Egypt and Greece in order to exchange views, knowhow and be briefed on telecommunications issues.
They discussed these in relation to the legal framework existing in Greece and the European Union, policies for promoting use of broadband, secure networks, privacy of communications and means for prosecuting electronic crime.
Chinese authorities are now in the midst of efforts to reform telecommunications in China.
 Greek tourist sector representativesA meeting between representatives of the Greek tourist sector and potential buyers from Denmark's tourist industry, held in the framework of the 1st tourism roadshow workshops, taking place for the first time in Scandinavia, was successfully concluded in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen was the first stop and was be followed on Wednesday by Stockholm and on Thursday by Oslo.
The Greek mission is comprised of directors and officials from 30 companies that represent 10 Greek tourist destinations, 80 hotels representing over 15,000 rooms, 75 Blue Flags, 100+ International Awards and 130 diving centres.
 Stocks end 1.92% lowerStocks ended sharply lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The composite index of the market fell 1.92 pct to end at 2,018.98 points, after rising as much as 2.0 pct during the session, with turnover rising to 254.407 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index fell 2.11 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.45 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.52 pct. The Chemicals index was the only one to scored gains (0.85 pct), while Financial Services (3.47 pct) and Food/Beverage (2.97 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
United Textiles (16.67 pct), ELGEKA (10.45 pct), Desmos (10.0 pct), Mouzakis (10.0 pct) and Zampa (9.96 pct) were top gainers, while Korres (9.87 pct), Neorio (9.18 pct), Mathios (8.57 pct) and Vell Group (8.06 pct) were top losers. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 107 to 70 with another 59 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.51%
Personal & Household: -0.11%
Raw Materials: -1.84%
Travel & Leisure: -2.15%
Food & Beverages: -2.97%
Financial Services: -3.47%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, Eurobank and Piraeus Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 6.98
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.61
HBC Coca Cola: 16.65
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.68
National Bank of Greece: 16.00
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.39
Bank of Piraeus: 6.20
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 348 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 356 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 6.69 pct. Turnover in the market totaled 1.380 billion euros, of which 612 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 768 million were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 19, 2019) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 500 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.094 pct, the six-month rate 0.96 pct, the three-month rate 0.66 pct and the one-month rate 0.42 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount of 0.71 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising to 101.928 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 16,256 contracts worth 84.637 million euros, with 27,832 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 16,536 contracts worth 17.290 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (6,503), followed by Eurobank (1,163), MIG (784), OPAP (405), Piraeus Bank (1,036), GEK (401), Alpha Bank (3,012), Intralot (574) and Cyprus Bank (385).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.409
Pound sterling 0.883
Danish kroner 7.504
Swedish kroner 10.186
Japanese yen 127.74
Swiss franc 1.485
Norwegian kroner 8.231
Canadian dollar 1.495
Australian dollar 1.588
 Alexandria Patriarchate sends aid for HaitiCAIRO (ANA-MPA - N. Katsikas)
The Alexandria and all Africa Patriarchate on Wednesday announced that it is sending a substantial quantity of medical supplies, drugs and orthopedic products to the aid services of the Greek foreign ministry to assist the effort to collect humanitarian aid for earthquake victims in Haiti.
The aid was collected at the request of the Greek foreign ministry's International Developmental Cooperation General Directorate and delivered by the Patriarchate's non-governmental organisation "Light of Africa" on Tuesday, while it included a donation by the Alapis group of companies.
 Dukakis to star in film shot in GreeceNoted Greek-American actress Olympia Dukakis and Australian filmmaker Nadia Tass (Tassopulos) are in Athens on the occasion of the shooting of a new movie entitled "The journey". The script is written by actress Alexandra Lazaridis.
Speaking to reporters, Dukakis said she will portray a woman during WWII and resistance to the Nazi occupation of Greece.
The film is a Spanish, Irish, Australian and Canadian co-production.
Scenes will be shot in the northeast city of Xanthi, Athens, Paris and New York.
 Trial of policemen accused of 15-year-old pupil's fatal shooting postponedThe Amfissa trial of two special police guards on murder charges related to the December 2008 shooting death of 15-year-old pupil Alexis Grigoropoulos was postponed on Wednesday, due to a death in the family of the chief prosecutor in the case.
A new date was not immediately set by the court in Amfissa, western Greece.
Absent from the session Wednesday was the main defendant Epaminondas Korkoneas, a 37-year-old father of three, who faces charges of intentional homicide with possible malice and illegal use of a weapon. Korkoneas was rushed earlier from the nearby Malandrinos jail where he is held to the psychiatric clinic at the Korydallos prison near Piraeus.
The second defendant, Korkoneas' 32-year-old partner, Vassilis Saraliotis, who is charged with complicity, was present at the proceeding.
Following Wednesday's development, the Amfissa court will set a new date, unless a petition is submitted to the Areios Pagos (Supreme Court) for relocation of the trial to Athens and such a petition is approved by the Supreme Court.
The two special guards are standing trial for the shooting death of pupil Alexis Grigoropoulos in the Exarhia district of Athens during an incident on Dec. 6, 2008 that sparked an unprecedented month of urban rioting in Athens and in major cities across the country.
 Suspected member of terrorist group to testify ThursdayÁ 21-year-old man arrested on Monday and charged with being a member of the terrorist group "Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire" asked for and received an new extension until Thursday to prepare his testimony.
According to the case file, the suspect's fingerprints were found on a mobile object in the Athens district of Halandri safehouse alleged to be used by members of the latter group.
 Abduction of ship owner's elderly wife solvedAttica Police have solved the abduction case of 74-year-old Evanthia Frankogiorgi, wife of shipowner Aris Theodoridis, who was kidnapped on June 19, 2009 in Paleo Faliro, Athens.
Police arrested five of the eight culprits; two Egyptians aged 35 and 32, respectively, that were employed by the victim's husband and three Albanians, aged 27, 28 and 35. Still wanted and at large are another three Albanians, aged 29, 30 and 31, who returned to their country soon after they received the ransom and released the 74-year-old.
The woman was abducted in the morning hours of June 19 near her house in Paleo Faliro when the suspects climbed into her car after threatening her at gunpoint. The vehicle was abandoned in Kallithea and the woman was taken to their hideout in another car. A few days later, on June 25, the woman was released after her husband paid a ransom of 1.8 million euros.
A police investigation is underway to locate the place the abductors used as a hideout and recover the ransom money.
 Major heist at Athens metro stationFour unidentified gunmen armed with assault rifles held up employees and security guards at the Ethniki Amyna metro station in Athens on Wednesday and made off with a whopping 250,000 euros.
The four gunmen had covered their faces with surgical masks. They fled on motorcycles.
The suspects escaped on motorcycles.
 Fair on ThursdayFair weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -5C and 14C. Fair in Athens, with northerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 3C to 13C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from -2C to 8C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe harsh measures announced Tuesday by Prime Minister George Papandreou aiming at the economy's quicker recovery, main opposition New Democracy's conditional support and the opposition parties' reactions, monopolised the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Papandreou's televised address to the nation: Harsh measures".
APOGEVMATINI: "5,104 job opportunities in public sector and 186 positions in private sector".
AVGHI: "Papandreou's address was a shock for the people, and even for his party cadres".
AVRIANI: "Storm of harsh measures to avoid bankruptcy".
CHORA: "Ministers 'duel' over the empty coffers".
ELEFTHEROS: "Germany made U-turn (in stance) on Greece".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Sacrifices without hope".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Triple shock from George (Papandreou)".
ESTIA: "Measures on fiscal deficit are mandatory".
ETHNOS: "Shocking measures with Brussels' mark".
IMERISSIA: "Dramatic rescue measures - Salaries' freeze - Pension at 67 for all".
KATHIMERINI: "Harsh measures, message to markets".
LOGOS: "Prime Minister announced shocking measures".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Prime Minister chose harsh adaptation measures".
NIKI: "In the guillotine in order to avoid bankruptcy".
RIZOSPASTIS: "No support or consensus to government's, EU's, capital's harsh antisocial measures".
TA NEA: "Salvation package with painful measures".
TO VIMA: "Severe measures and pension at 67".
VRADYNI: "All the burdens on the employees - Prime Minister announced who will pay the cost".
 Downer:The venue of a meeting does not have implications on UN policyNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Wherever the UN Secretary General meets anybody it has no implications whatsoever on the UN policy as regards ecognition of the Republic of Cyprus, UN Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer has said, adding that the UN recognizes the Republic of Cyprus.
Donwer made these statements after a meeting he had here on Wednesday with Democratic Rally President Nicos Anastasiades, in light of the reactions by the Cyprus government and the Greek Cypriot political leadership after the visit of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the so-called presidential palace in Cyprus Turkish occupied areas to meet the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
Dower said that he briefed Anastasiades on the visit of the Secretary General to Cyprus and explained in particular that the outcome of the visit is that leaders will be meeting again and continuing with the negotiations. "We are very encouraged and pleased by that," he said.
Asked about the reactions to the SG's visit to the so-called presidential palace, he recalled that the spokesman for the UN explained on a number of occasions over the last few days what the arrangements were.
He added that "wherever the SG meets anybody it has no implications whatsoever for the recognition about the UN, absolutely no implications at all. The UN recognizes the Republic of Cyprus. It has done throughout. Nothing that the SG did and nowhere that the SG went during his visit to Cyprus had any bearing on that and had any bearing on UN resolutions. Not at all."
He also stressed that the really important thing for Cyprus and the really important thing for Cypriots is these negotiations. "These are the central issue for the future of this country. That is the central issue and the focus needs to be on the continuation of the talks and the negotiation of a solution to the Cyprus problem. That is what is really important," he said.
He noted that "the perspective of the UN is that we need to get these negotiations to succeed. This is an incredibly important period in the history of these negotiations and Cypriots need whether they are in the South or the North to concentrate on the success of these negotiations and give support to the leaders as they work through the difficult issues that they are working through."
Asked if these negotiations were jeopardized due to this meeting, he said "No. I think the negotiations absolutely are going ahead and they are going ahead constructively and I think the SG was able to make a very valuable contribution to pushing of the process forward."
He said that throughout this process "the UN made arrangements with the two sides for the visit and we have explained what those arrangements were, our spokesman has explained what those arrangements were and we just take things as they come."
Downer said that "the really important thing here is to concentrate on the centrally important issue which is the negotiations. The SG's visit had no implications whatsoever for the question of recognition, not at all. We had arrangements that had been put in place before. Whatever happened with those arrangements, anything that happened had no implications for UN recognition."
Asked why the SG did not make any reference to UN resolutions during his statements on the island, his Special Adviser said that of course the SG supports UN resolutions and that there is no need for him to continue to repeat it. "The SG doesn't of course pass the resolutions. The Security Council passes the resolutions. By definition the UN Secretariat supports these resolutions," he said.
Invited to say if the talks will continue in an intensive pace he said that no decision has been made about that "and we look forward to hearing that from the leaders very soon on when their next meeting is going to be and the nature of those meetings. But the leaders will be working on that themselves."
Anastasiades said that explanations given by Downer as to the SG's visit to the so called presidential palace show that the UN was unaware of these arrangements by the Turkish Cypriot side.
Anastasiades also noted that the UN diplomat insisted that the time until the so called elections in the occupied areas must be used so that the leaders will be able to deal with all pending issues in the negotiations.
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Talat have been engaged in direct negotiations since September 2008 with a view to solve the problem of Cyprus, divided since the invasion of Turkish troops in 1974.
 President Christofias returns to his dutiesNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Chrostofias has returned to his office on Wednesday and assumed his duties, said Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou.
In a written statement, Stephanou said that at 11am local time, the president chaired a meeting with the participation of Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis, the spokesman, Under Secretary to the President Dr. Titos Christofides, the Permanent Secretary of the Finance Ministry Christos Patsalides and the Director of the President's office Vasos Georgiou.
The meeting dealt with economy, development and social policy issues, the statement concluded.
President Christofias was discharged on Tuesday evening from the Nicosia General Hospital, where he underwent medical tests after having felt unwell earlier in the day.
Doctors said that said that possibly exhaustion and the president's heavy schedule caused the condition that led him to hospital.
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