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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-02-08

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

Monday, 8 February 2010 Issue No: 3417

CONTENTS

  • [01] Finmin talks about tax and pension reforms in an interview
  • [02] Katseli on latest developments in economy
  • [03] Greeks back harsh measures as necessary, poll finds
  • [04] Tsipras slams PASOK 'divorce' from social forces
  • [05] Hardline farmers stick to their guns, Promachonas closed again
  • [06] Katseli says Tempi area businesses may receive support
  • [07] Foreign Exchange rates - Monday
  • [08] Support for burnt synagogue in Hania
  • [09] Panathinaikos maintains Super League lead
  • [10] Heavy rain and storms on Monday
  • [11] Athens' Sunday newspapers at a glance
  • [12] President: Solution must be viable and functional to be accepted

  • [01] Finmin talks about tax and pension reforms in an interview

    Evidence of income criteria for everyone and cash registers everywhere were just two of the upcoming tax measures unveiled by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Sunday, in an interview regarding the government's planned tax reforms that was published by the Sunday edition of the newspaper "Ethnos".

    The minister repeated earlier announcements regarding the abolition of separate tax rates for certain sources of income and said the government intended to abolish early pension privileges and unfair salaries in the public-sector. At the same time, he stressed the need for everyone to contribute according to their means and to provide protection for those that were weakest.

    "This is the direction in which the programme for cutting public sector spending is moving and this is also the direction of the tax bill," he said.

    Papaconstantinou explained that there were no plans to lower the very large tax-free allowance - currently the highest within the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - but that these high tax allowances would be linked to a system of receipts proportional to income. This would be coupled with new objective lifestyle criteria indicating minimum income levels.

    "For example, a tax payer declaring an annual income of 15,000 euros will be asked to explain how it is possible for him or her to maintain a villa, holiday home and yacht," the minister explained.

    He confirmed the abolition of a uniform property tax, to be replaced by a scaled property tax that would require those with major real estate holdings to pay the largest amounts, and emphasised the government's determination to use every electronic means available to monitor and cross-check the tax statements submitted by tax payers.

    On the planned pension reforms, the minister said that this was a major issue that addressed current inequities in the system:

    "We are not the only ones who see that when a private-sector employee is required to retire at 65, after a perhaps difficult and harsh working life, and receives the pension he is entitled to from IKA he might feel offended when he sees special groups enjoying pensions several times larger at much younger ages," Papaconstantinou pointed out.

    During the interview, the finance minister also referred to Greece's massive debt and deficit, pointing out that the country will have to borrow 54 billion euros from markets during the current year. He underlined that Greece had not submitted to the 'dictates of the EU' but was taking steps to comply with a set of rules that it had signed for when it joined the eurozone and was currently violating.

    At the same time, the government had to act in order to protect the country's economy at a time when borrowing conditions were extremely difficult, he added. Referring to the current model for growth in Greece, Papaconstantinou said that this was based chiefly on consumption fuelled by borrowing. He noted that the 2010 budget had allocated funds that boosted the income of groups with a high tendency for consumption but also allocated 10.3 billion euros for actions promoting development, noting that the funds freed from wasteful spending could be used to boost growth.

    [02] Katseli on latest developments in economy

    Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli, in a statement issued on Sunday on latest developments in the economy, said that "we shall tackle the challenges of the difficult conjuncture based exclusively on our own forces. Every initiative by our partners in the European Union to handle profiteering attacks and the stabilisation of the euro is certainly welcome."

    The minister added that "the Greek government has submitted the Stability and Growth Programme to the European Union, a full plan that constitutes the road map for monetary restructuring, the rewarming of economic activity and the country's production restructuring."

    [03] Greeks back harsh measures as necessary, poll finds

    A majority of Greeks believe that the harsh austerity measures announced by the government are imperative and a move in the right direction, according to the findings of an opinion poll carried out by Kapa Research and published in the newspaper "Vima" on Sunday.

    The poll was commissioned by the newspaper and conducted between February 3-4 using the method of phone interviews based on an electronic questionnaire, in a sample of 2,299 people throughout Greece with a distribution proportional to population in the 13 regions of the country.

    It found that 64.1 percent consider that the government's handling of economic issues is in the right direction and 64.3 percent that the harsh measures were imperative. Only 35 percent continue to believe that there are margins for policies that are less harsh.

    An overwhelming majority, 93.2 percent, agree that taxation with higher taxation of offshore companies, 85.5 percent agree with higher taxation of business profits, and 83.2 percent agree with an increase in taxes on dividends paid to major shareholders.

    There is more restrained support for a freeze on public-sector wages (63.6 percent), cutbacks in benefits to public-sector workers (64.6 percent) and further reductions in the number of people employed by public sector services (71.1 percent).

    By contrast, only 36.5 percent agreed with increasing the age of retirement and 60.5 percent opposed an increase in tax on fuel.

    In spite of their agreement with the government's measures, 61.5 percent believe that they will not succeed in stabilising the Greek economy and 57.5 percent believe that they are not sufficient to stop further cuts in the country's credit rating.

    Nor do the majority of Greeks believe that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy, however, with 66.3 percent considering this outcome improbable.

    Opinions are more dividing on an increase in public debt versus an increase in unemployment: 39.6 percent prefer an increase in public debt, 30.3 percent an increase in unemployment and 30.1 percent are unable to choose.

    The survey shows low support for mobilisations by trade unions and groups of employees to protect their privileges, with 55.6 percent opposed to a decision by the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) to call a general strike and 77.3 percent opposed to the reactions of certain sectors, such as tax and customs officials, against attempts to freeze or reduce their pay and benefits.

    The protest road blocks set up by farmers were supported by only 11.3 percent of those asked, though a further 45.7 percent said that they sympathised with their general demands but opposed the closure of highways as a means of protest.

    The polls also revealed a strong desire among Greeks for consensus in tackling the crisis, with 84.9 percent supporting a decision by main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras for conditional backing of the government's efforts on the economy, including 87.7 percent of ND voters. They seemed willing to give the Papandreou government additional time for its measures to bring results, with 32.6 percent prepared to wait for one year, 25.6 percent two years and 27.4 percent the whole four-year term.

    [04] Tsipras slams PASOK 'divorce' from social forces

    Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras once again targeted the ruling PASOK government on Sunday, saying that the party's leadership "has decided on a final divorce with the social forces that brought it to power with their support."

    He accused PASOK of entering into a grand conservative coalition in order to gain consensus for policies that would "level" Greek society.

    SYRIZA's leader said that this conservative alliance would soon find itself facing a great social alliance, made up of social forces from the entire range of the country's political life but chiefly from those of the Left that were fighting to give to Greek people an alternative plan for exiting the crisis.

    Tsipras was speaking at an event held in Thessaloniki's Thermi district on Sunday, in honour of veteran leftist activist Panos Demetriou.

    Financial News

    [05] Hardline farmers stick to their guns, Promachonas closed again

    The tail end of the farmer protests continued to cause problems at the Greek-Bulgarian border crossing in Promachonas on Sunday, where hardline farmers voted to once more close the border post to truck traffic after 15:00 in the afternoon. The blockade at Promachonas is the last in Serres after the road blocks at Strymonikos and Kerdyllia dispersed on Friday morning.

    Only the passage of trucks is being blocked at present, with cars and buses free to cross the border in both directions.

    Earlier on Sunday, in a meeting held at Tyrnavos in Larisa at midday, farmers taking part in the 12 remaining road blocks in Thessaly and Macedonia decided to stay put until the government backed down and met their demands.

    They will meet again on Monday afternoon at Nikaia.

    [06] Katseli says Tempi area businesses may receive support

    Businesses in the Tempi area that have suffered losses as a result of the landslide and closure of the highway running through the Tempi Valley may possibly receive some sort of support from the state, Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli said on Saturday.

    Katseli has been in the city of Larissa, central Greece since Friday night for meetings with local business associations and to attend a business event in the city. She did not specify what form such support might take, saying only that the government would announce initiatives with this aim.

    She also commented on the extended protest action by farmers, admitting that the farming sector faced many difficulties while promising that the programme unveiled by the government will soon allow a restructuring of crops that linked their production with manufacturing.

    During a press conference on Saturday, Katseli responded to questions concerning the objections raised by banks to a law passed in January regarding the settlement of business and professional debts.

    "The banks are partners of the state, as are all businesses. It is not possible to agree on everything; we listen and gauge the proposals of the financial system, but in the end we make decisions based on the public interest," she stressed.

    [07] Foreign Exchange rates - Monday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.380

    Pound sterling 0.880

    Danish kroner 7.504

    Swedish kroner 10.322

    Japanese yen 123.47

    Swiss franc 1.479

    Norwegian kroner 8.285

    Canadian dollar 1.481

    Australian dollar 1.594

    General News

    [08] Support for burnt synagogue in Hania

    Members of the Jewish communities in Athens and other areas of Greece travelled to Crete this weekend in order to attend Saturday's service at the Hania synagogue that recently became a target for two anti-Semitic arson attacks on January 5 and January 16. Roughly 100 people arrived to show their support for the Jewish community on Crete and protest against the attacks.

    In another show of support, they also announced that the synagogue on Crete will be twinned with that of Athens and would receive financial assistance from the Athens synagogue on an annual basis.

    At 12:30 on Saturday, those at the synagogue marched to the Hania town hall and met deputy mayor Aris Papadogiannis in order to present him with a resolution.

    The Hania synagogue, which suffered extensive damage in the double arsonist attacks, is one of the oldest synagogues existing in Greece and has been listed as a monument. In addition to structural damage suffered by the building, the two fires also destroyed roughly 2,500 books, some of them rare, computers and electronic files.

    Police later arrested two Britons, a Greek-American and a Greek man as suspects in the affair, while a U.S. national is wanted and still at large. One of the Britons, aged 32, has been remanded in custody and the other three released with conditions.

    Sports

    [09] Panathinaikos maintains Super League lead

    Panathinaikos Athens beat Larissa 3-0 away over the weekend and remained at the top of the Greek Super League standings, while Olympiacos Piraeus thrashed Levadiakos Livadia 5-1 at home and AEK Athens beat Xanthi 3-1 at the Athens Olympic Stadium.

    In other action:

    Aris Thessaloniki-Panthrakikos Komotini 0-2

    Kavala-PAS Yiannina 1-0

    Atromitos Athens-Panionios Athens 1-0

    Ergotelis Crete-Asteras Tripoli 4-3

    Iraklis Thessaloniki-PAOK Thessaloniki 1-1

    Standings after 21 weeks of play:

    1. Panathinaikos 52 points

    2. Olympiacos 46

    3. PAOK 44

    4. AEK 33

    5. Aris 32

    6. Asteras 29

    7. Atromitos 29

    8. Ergotelis 28

    9. Kavala 27

    10. Xanthi 25

    11. Panionios 24

    12. Iraklis 23

    13. PAS Yiannina 21

    14. Larissa 21

    15. Levadiakos 19

    16. Panthrakikos 9

    Weather forecast

    [10] Heavy rain and storms on Monday

    Heavy rain and storms are forecast on Monday, especially in the Aegean Sea, with snow fall and morning frost in areas of Macedonia and Thrace. Mainly northerly winds between 3 and 7 Beaufort and temperatures ranging from -2C to 15C. Rainy in Athens, with temperatures between 6C and 13C. Rain and sleet in Thessaloniki, with temperatures between 1C and 6C.

    Weather service issues storm warning in Aegean

    The weather service on Sunday warned of harsh weather conditions in the Aegean Sea, with very strong rain and storms forecast for the next 18 hours around the islands of the north and eastern Aegean, the Dodecanese islands, Thrace and possibly Crete and the Cyclades.

    There are also warnings of heavy snow fall in the mountains of central and northern Greece and in areas of Macedonia and Thrace.

    Earlier, heavy snow fall made snow chains necessary for three sections of the road network in the northern Greek prefecture of Florina, on the Florina-Kastoria national highway via Vigla and on two smaller roads going via Vitsi.

    [11] Athens' Sunday newspapers at a glance

    The austerity measures and the reaction to them, as well as an upcoming draft bill on taxes dominated the front-page headlines of Athens' Sunday newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Pension at 67 with 'extra stamps'! Andreas Loverdos to announce the government's plan for the new retirement age on Tuesday".

    APOGEVMATINI: "The big losers in the new social insurance system. 'Apogevmatini on Sunday' reveals the government's plan for raising the age of retirement".

    TO ARTHRO: "The banks are sinking. Government a spectator as 'blood' flows on Sophocleous [address of the Athens bourse]"

    AVGHI: "Pay them on Wednesday" [article warns that government will face a wave of strike action as a result of the 'shock' cutbacks in wages and labour rights, starting on February 10].

    AVRIANI: "Coronary infarction and cessation of payments in the private sector. Some 70 percent of businesses unable to pay salaries and insurance contributions, 30 percent heading for bankruptcy".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Papandreou's 'I said it, I unsaid it' cost us 825 million euros. We are having to pay dearly for the prime minister's delay in carrying out the things that [former New Democracy premier Costas Karamanlis] was saying before the elections."

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The blacklisted benefits. Public sector: the special handouts to employees that the government wants to 'trim'".

    EPOCHI: "The 'little pigs' rise up. Public sector strike on Wednesday, 10 February. Major campaign by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) against the measures."

    ETHNOS: "A clearer picture emerges for wages, pensions and taxation. The finance minister opens his cards to 'Ethnos on Sunday'".

    KATHIMERINI: "Stories of reckless waste. Outrageous benefits, scandalous pay rises and salaries to employees in Parliament and the Greek Railways Organisation (OSE)".

    LOGOS: "A 'storm' brewing for wage-earners, freelance workers. New tax bill to be announced within the week".

    NIKI: "Civil war makes PASOK bleed. Fight to the death between old guard and modernisers".

    PARON: "Cuts to bonuses and holidays! These are the 'benefits' and raises promised by George [Papandreou, prime minister]".

    PROTO THEMA: "Family 'income indicator' of 35,000 euros. Will apply for every family of four with a house and car. Objective taxation system under the new law for those that have avoided taxes so far.

    REALNEWS: "'With our compliments, Mr. Christoforakos'! Wishes and gifts from politicians to 'Mr. Siemens'".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Everyone to the PAME strike on Wednesday on February 10. Universal labour counterattack to the united anti-labour assault".

    TO VIMA: "Operation 'handcuffs' for prominent tax-dodgers and closure for businesses that break the law. Government wants arrests that make an example".

    VRADYNI: "The full plan for pensions. Exclusive: who will see their retirement age go up. What will happen in the heavy and hazardous labour categories. The changes for the armed forces and security services. Who is spared".

    Cyprus Affairs

    [12] President: Solution must be viable and functional to be accepted

    NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    The solution of the Cyprus problem must be functional and viable in order to be accepted by the Greek Cypriot side, President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias has stressed.

    Noting that neither Sunday's status quo on the island, nor Cyprus' division can be accepted, he expressed his determination to do his utmost to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the island.

    In his address Sunday at the Maronite Church in Nicosia, where he attended celebrations for Saint Maronas Day, President Christofias said he remains committed to the reunification of Cyprus and pledged to continue his work with consistency on principles, despite all difficulties.

    He underlined that the Greek Cypriot side is not willing to accept any solution, noting that the solution "must be viable and functional in order to become acceptable".

    President Christofias said that the solution must be to the benefit of all Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Amernians and Latins.

    "The solution must end the Turkish occupation and Ankara's policy of bringing illegal settlers to the island. The solution must safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms of our people", he pointed out.

    He went on to say that the solution must be a Cypriot one and must give the people of Cyprus the freedom to decide on their future.

    This year 2010, he said, marks the 50th anniversary since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus and added that "the international recognition of the Republic of Cyprus constitutes the most powerful guarantee for the continuation of our struggle".

    He also referred to another important event in 2010, namely the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI in June.

    "This visit will seal the relation of friendship and mutual respect which has been successfully developed between the Republic of Cyprus and the Vatican", he said.

    Referring to Maronites who live in Cyprus, he said that one of the government's priorities is to help them "retain their identity and secure their prosperity".

    Maronites of Cyprus, he said, have contributed to a great extent to progress and prosperity of the country.

    "It is for this reason that the government addresses with sensitivity the needs of Maronites, as well as those of the other religious groups of Cyprus, Armenians and Latins", he went on to say.

    He noted that the government handles with special care issues relating to Maronites living in the northern Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus, as well as issues concerning the preservation of Maronite churches and monuments in those areas.

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Peace talks began in September 2008 with a view to finding a negotiated settlement to reunite the country. After the Turkish invasion of 1974, Maronites had to abandon their villages which are now under Turkish occupation.

    The number of Maronites living in the Turkish occupied areas has steadily decreased from 2.000 in December 1974 to 150 persons today, who are of an average age of 70 and over.

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