|Thursday, 17 October 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-02-20
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 20 February 2010 Issue No: 3427
 Papandreou addresses London con'f on global governanceLONDON (ANA-MPA/G. Milionis)
Prime Minister George Papandreou, addressing a conference on "Global Governance" here on Friday, stressed that "Greece is not asking for a salvation plan, nor do we want money, we have a progressive programme of changes and we want support for this programme and we shall do everything that is necessary to achieve our target."
The Greek prime minister said the country will handle its problem with responsibility, but noted that profiteering is not only a Greek problem since, with these practices, the European economy is also dynamited.
"For us to be able to borrow with the same terms," he said and termed "very important" the decision by the 27 heads of state and government that was taken in Brussels on February 11.
He further said that, being a progressive leader, he also considers the crisis as an opportunity for necessary deep reforms and changes as well, adding that, in the same way, and the global crisis can be taken as an opportunity for changes and reforms.
Papandreou criticised the previous government for "apathy and resignation before the problems" and also accused it "that its policy was characterised by untransparency and corruption."
The prime minister went on to say that "Greeks are not apathetic and do not surrender before problems..." adding that "we are taking difficult measures, however, the citizens with percentages from 62-69 percent support this effort."
Moreover, the prime minister mentioned that "the progressive leaders have to face the challenges of a lack of transparency and profiteering internationally, the widening of global inequalities, as well as the failure for the achievement of an agreement in Copenhagen, to enable the overwarming of the planet to be handled and for us to enter an orbit of green growth."
Referring to the latter, Papandreou pointed out that "this failure did not allow the framework to be created in which investments in the green economy would take place."
Papandreou underlined that these issues can be handled with the enactment of rules in the economy, the creation of a state of law and fair redistribution, as well as green growth and noted that "these are political issues."
He also said that, as the president of the Socialist International, he has taken action with other leaders for profiteering to be dealt a blow and for "green growth" to be financed with new schemes.
"Progressive leaders can handle the markets much better than the conservatives because for the latter the markets are a 'god', while for us it is a means for us to serve our peoples and our economies in a better way," he concluded.
 PM Papandreou visiting LondonLONDON (ANA-MPA/G. Milionis)
Prime Minister George Papandreou, speaking to reporters here on Friday, said that support for Greece is a very serious issue, since all can see the Greek people's decision to tackle problems and this decision confronts rumours that "the Greeks do not want changes."
Earlier, Papandreou had a working luncheon with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then he addressed the conference on Global Progressive Governance and afterwards he met with British Foreign Minister David Miliband.
The prime minister said that it is evident that the problem does not concern Greece alone, adding that a part of the international markets are not looking at the longterm viability of the Greek economy, but are focusing on profiteering.
Papandreou also said that the target is the implementation of the Stability, Growth and Restructuring Programme and the existence of the necessary period of time to enable it to produce results.
The prime minister further said that it is a positive fact that Greece and the Greek government are trusted and, on the question of whether the government intends to take additional measures before the evaluation on March 15, pointed out that the evaluation must be waited for.
Referring to his meeting with the British foreign minister and whether the issue was raised of aid to Afghanistan by Greece, he said that such an issue was not discussed at all, but a review of the situation in Afghanistan was made, adding that Greece has taken its decisions on this issue.
Moreover, since the course of the Cyprus issue was discussed with Miliband, it was stressed that will has not been expressed on the part of the Turkish Cypriots, while the prime minister informed the British foreign minister of Greece's support for the efforts of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias.
 Alternate FM in SlovakiaBRATISLAVA (ANA-MPA/M. Savva)
Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas was received by the foreign minister of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajcak, on Friday for talks on bilateral relations, the global economy, speculators "attacks" on the eurozone and the European prospect for SE European countries.
The Slovak minister expressed his country's full support for the Greek government's measures aimed at overcoming severe problems created by the economic crisis.
In joint statements after their meeting here, the two ministers said they held identical views on several regional and bilateral issues and that they agreed to promote even closer bilateral relations in the future.
Droutsas thanked the Slovak minister for his government's support and solidarity for the Greek government regarding the economy.
He also thanked Lajcak for the considerable role being played by his country on the Cyprus issue, since the Slovak embassy in Nicosia is hosting inter-communal talks that are underway.
Before leaving for Slovakia, Droutsas was received in Zagreb by Croatian Parliament Vice-President Neven Mimica in the presence of the chairman of the Croatia-Greece Parliamentary friendship group committee, Krunoslav Markovinovic, as both men expressed the determined EU candidate-country's gratitude for Greece's support vis-à-vis its Euro-Atlantic prospects.
 Alternate FM in PraguePRAGUE (ANA-MPA/M. Savva)
Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Friday discussed bilateral and European issues with Czech Republic Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Jan Kohout.
The two ministers discussed the establishment of closer and regular bilateral exchanges and consultations on all issues preoccupying the two countries.
On his part, Droutsas referred to the excellent level of relations between Greece and the Czech Republic and to cooperation between the two countries within the European Union.
With his visit to Prague, Droutsas concluded his two-day tour of Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and was due back in Athens on Friday evening.
 Government on economy, opposition reactionsUnderlining the government's determination to successfully reorganise the economy and restore Greece's lost credibility abroad, government spokesman George Petalotis on Friday said that the Stability and Growth Programme (SGP) would be the vehicle that would ensure a safe exit from the economic crisis.
The government was not asking for any favours in this "titanic effort" - only the self-evident political support that was due from its EU partners, which it had received, and time to carry out the SGP, he added.
Replying to reporters questions, he repeatedly denied that plans to impose additional measures apart from those outlined in the SGP, noting that this contained the principles and main axes of the government's policy and was the only decision in force at this time.
Asked to comment on the pressures from Europe for further measures, Petalotis said that all would depend on the evaluation made by March 15, before which date it would be premature to say anything.
He also categorically denied the existence of a deal between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of 35 billion euros.
Replying to the statements made by main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras in Parliament about a planned Parliamentary probe into the doctoring of Greece's economic statistics, Petalotis stressed that Samaras would be better off looking at the connection between the present and the past.
"If Samaras had shown the same correctional zeal that he now shows toward PASOK to the government of Karamanlis, we would not now be at this point," he said.
Regarding the timing of the Parliamentary investigation, the spokesman said that the only decision made so far was that it should take place, not when or for how long. Such a Parliamentary probe could run parallel to any judicial investigation, he added.
Commenting on an ongoing strike by customs officials, Petalotis said they had a right to strike but should also consider their responsibility toward the rest of society during this critical period and that more 'privileged' groups of workers should be more willing to make some sacrifices.
 Samaras all-out attack on governmentMain opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras unleashed an all-out attack on the PASOK government, prompted by the latter's intention to set up a fact-finding commission on the economy, addressing his party's parliamentary group on Friday.
The main thrust of Samaras' address was on the significant problems faced by the Greek economy, which he attributed to its management by the past PASOK governments from 1981 onwards. He also criticised the handling of Greece's accession to the EMU (EU single currency), charging that "we entered the euro with a parity higher than that which would have preserved the competitiveness of the Greek economy".
"PASOK is suffering from 'the Titanic Syndrome'," Samaras said, adding that the government is "breaking up the domestic front with fact-finding commissions and converting a conjuncture in which the greatest unity is mandatory into a period of intense partisan clashes".
On PASOK's intention to set up a fact-finding commission on the economy, Samaras said that ND agrees with establishing a commission to investigate the management of the economic indicators "because we fear nothing in the least, nor have we anything to hide, and because the current state of the economy is not a matter of the last few years".
"We agree, and augment: Everything must be brought to light, the entire economic management must be examined thoroughly, not only from 2004 (when ND had taken over the government from its predecessor PASOK) onwards, not only from 2000 on, but from 1981 onwards," Samaras stressed.
He warned, however, that the proposal for a fact-finding commission on the economy "means that we will be poking our eyes out ourselves" because "don't delude yourselves, this slippery path will drag us to exo-European solutions...all these propel us to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and will be an acknowledgement of defeat of the eurozone, a blow against Europe".
Samaras also attacked Papandreou over his statement that Greece has "lost part of its national sovereignty", noting that many countries have reached a worse point that Greece, "but none declared that it lost its national sovereignty".
The main opposition leader further criticised the government on its bill on granting nationality to migrants, warning that Greece is "in danger of being converted into a magnet for illegal migration". "I forewarn that they are triggering explosions in Greece," he added.
Turning to ND's opposition tactics, Samaras stressed that "we are not conducting destructive opposition, tearing down everything in order to govern the ruins afterwards, nor are we engaging in passive opposition waiting for the government to fall like an over-ripe fruit. We are exercising progressive opposition, we are facing the situation as the future government".
He further clarified that "responsible consensus is one thing, and going along with a mistake is something else, responsible politics is one thing and co-responsibility in the mistake is something else".
"We are doing what is good for our country, but we are not co-governing," Samaras added.
 Papariga warns of foreign policy threat behind economic crisisCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Friday said that she was intensely concerned that the economic crisis would be used as a lever to force Greece into striking unfavourable deals over the Aegean Sea, the Cyprus issue and a series of other foreign policy issues in the Balkans.
"There is the problem of the agreement for the Aegean, for the Cyprus issue - agreements on the part of the Greek government, I do not mean Cyprus - and agreements on a series of outstanding issues that exist in the Balkans," she said, noting that these were behind the pressures on Greece and whether the government's final choice would lean more toward the U.S. or to the EU.
"The Greek government, putting the deficits and debts in the foreground, will try to hide from the Greek people that the agreements that appear to be underway are agreements that also have economic, political and military repercussions. These will turn against the Greek people and, in general, can potentially set off a new cycle of conflict and confrontation in the region over the coming years," she warned.
Indicative of this was the government's failure to react to almost daily violations of the Aegean by Turkey, culminating in the very dangerous situation around the island of Andros on Thursday.
She also claimed that the threats to cut annual salaries and further erosion of working-class incomes through rising VAT and fuel prices were linked with these foreign policy developments, likening the government cutbacks to a "lethal attack on the people".
"Why should the people pay? In answer to the front created by PASOK-ND-LAOS cooperation there must rise a popular front of workers and we must discredit all the false promises that with another sort of management, capitalism can become humane," she stressed.
 Finmin retorts angrily to SYRIZA's Tsipras over '14th salary'Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou strenuously defended the government's plan for overcoming the economic crisis in Parliament on Friday, replying to a question tabled by Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing 'Coalition of the Radical Left' (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group.
He accused Tsipras of reacting in a narrow-minded 'blinkered' fashion and urged him to "emerge from your self-satisfied shell and your narrow party testube" to see that people supported PASOK's proposals, provided that they brought results.
The SYRIZA Parliamentary group leader had tabled a question that asked Papaconstantinou to clearly and unequivocally state whether the government intended to cut wages by abolishing the 14th salary paid to Greek wage earners.
Replying, Papaconstantinou underlined that the government was proceeding with a programme that was "effective, balanced and rationalised and fighting to protect the Greek economy and the country's national sovereignty, as well as to support the economically weakest groups and end social inequities."
Noting that Tsipras had not "cornered the market" in social sensitivity, he added that SYRIZA's leader was the one "cultivating fear in society" by sticking to a narrow-minded party approach.
Tsipras countered by accusing the government of reneging on pre-election pledges and warned that there would be a huge social backlash if the government attempted to cut the wages of an estimated 70 percent of the workforce that earned between 500-1,000 euros a month.
He also accused the government of "playing a communications game" with main opposition New Democracy and failing to hold those responsible for scandals and squandering public money to account, predicting that "no one will do any jail time over Siemens, or the structured bonds, or the phone tappings".
The annual salary in Greece - which based on Eurostat figures for 2003 was on average just over half the average salary in the EU27 countries and considerably lower than that of Eurozone countries - is divided into 14 'monthly' installments instead of the customary 12 in order to boost consumer spending and stimulate markets around the holidays. One of the 'extra' salaries is paid just before Christmas, while the second is paid in two installments at Easter and in mid-summer.
 Chrysohoidis calls for 'all-nation' effort against crime in ParliamentWith a call for an "all-nation effort" to combat crime, Citizens' Protection Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis on Friday outlined the measures being taken by the government to tackle illegal migration, high crime rates in central Athens and organised crime, urging all sides to show their support. The minister was speaking in Parliament, in reply to a question tabled by the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party.
On the issue of illegal migration, the minister reported that matters had improved at the ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras, noting that the government was determined to "send a message that you will not get through from here."
"And I assure you, they will not get through," Chrysohoidis emphasised and clarified that he was referring to the trafficking rings.
He also announced that he had seen the head of the Turkish coast guard and written to his Turkish counterpart seeking a meeting where decisions might be taken, noting that action was also being taken on a European level, with France and Germany, for specific measures against Turkey that would persuade it to finally sign agreements for the readmission of immigrants.
On cleaning up central Athens, Chrysohoidis said that a dialogue was underway with the various bodies involved, including the municipality and local residents, to find a solution to the problem of the homeless currently occupying abandoned buildings in unhygienic conditions. He also promised to clear out prostitution, street hawkers and the drug trade, with zero tolerance for activities that tarnished the city's image.
As a means of tackling the drug problem, Chrysohoidis outlined plans to deploy a force of highly motivated and well-trained police that would go out onto the streets.
"Two thousand police officers will police the Attica basin every day and every 20 minutes they will pass by the houses of every one of us," he claimed.
At the same time, the government will set up crime units in individual municipalities, with 90 such security units manned by 3,500 officers, as well as more officers in police stations.
"We will provide 12,000 police by the start of April to the citizens of Athens, Thessaloniki and the capitals of each prefecture and the countryside," he said.
He went on to announce the creation of a Prosecution of Organised Crime service with 100 officers having special duties, who would do this work with Attica security police.
"It is a major mission. If we clamp down on the streets and destinations of black crime money, then we have won a part of this wager," he noted.
The minister took time to comment on a spate of recent embarrassments for the police force - such as the disarming of two police on foot patrol by criminals earlier this week, followed by the arrest of the same two criminals accompanied by a civilian death.
"What is happening, you ask? Some police officers, who earn 1,000-1,200 euros a month, are being asked to do battle with criminals wielding hand-grenades and AK47 assault rifles, criminals determined to kill. Some couldn't fight this battle, some others chose not to fight this battle," he said, adding that they should not have to make this choice.
 Athens confirms Papandreou response to fYRoM's GruevskiThe Greek government on Friday confirmed that Athens has sent a response to the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM), Nikola Gruevski.
According to the government spokesman, Greek Premier George Papandreou notes that a proposal for a visit to Skopje could be acceptable, while adding, however:
"Such as visit needs a very good preparation and, of course, a few rudimentary conditions" in order to materialise.
"In the response it is also mentioned that our public statements must also become more reserved," spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said.
 Pangalos: gov't to set up research body for oil explorationThe government is planning to set up a state body that will be exclusively responsible for hydrocarbon research and exploitation issues, government vice-president Theodoros Pangalos announced on Friday, responding to a question tabled in Parliament by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis on the exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves.
Pangalos pointed out that the extraction of oil and gas reserves only acquired economic interest when these were at a suitable depth and in conjunction with global prices.
The government's aim was to set up a state body that would administer the right to exploit such reserves, update existing legislation and archives, promote scientific research and attract oil companies to Greece, he said.
He also noted that nearly all exploration conducted so far had concluded that it was not economic to drill in Greece, with the exception of that conducted by the Prinos consortium that after 72 searchs between 1981 and 2007 had extracted 116 million barrels of crude oil, benefiting the Greek balance of payments by some 600 million dollars.
Regarding the issue of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) raised by Karatzaferis, the vice-president said that this was linked with issues relating to the continental shelf that had to be settled with neighbouring Turkey.
"[Turkey] is now the only country in the world that obstinately refuses to sign the global Law of the Sea Treaty, which clearly provides for the recognition of a continental shelf for islands. There is an ongoing dialogue for many years now with Turkey that has not led to a result," he pointed out.
Karatzaferis rejected this argument, however, asserting that the continental shelf and the EEZ were entirely unrelated issues, while Turkey had made EEZ agreements with Russia, Romania and Bulgaria in the Black Sea. He suggested that Greece's reluctance to proceed unilaterally was a result of its current economic weakness, stressing that the country still had the strength to defend its interests.
 S&P cuts Greek securitized bonds ratingStandard & Poor's on Friday cut its rating on Greek securitised bonds from AAA to AA.
In an announcement, the credit ratings agency said its revising its position on whether Greece's state risk could affect ratings of Greek securitized bonds.
S&P said the Greek economy could growth slower in the medium-term compared with earlier estimates.
Also, Moody's credit rating said it was putting almost all Greek structured financial transactions and covered bonds under review for a possible downgrade from its AAA status.
These transactions cover nine structured ABS products, eleven RMBS products, two CLO products and on covere bonds program, all enjoying the guarantee of Greek banks' mortgage loans.
 Customs employees extend strike, gas stations running out of fuelCustoms employees on Friday extended a three-day strike by three rolling 48-hour strikes, as reserves at petrol stations have started drying up.
The customs employees throughout the country had initially launched a three day strike from Tuesday to Thursday, but decided on Thursday evening to call an additional three rolling 48-hour strikes.
The border posts at Evzoni, Doirani, Nikaia and Krystallopigi remain closed on Friday due to the customs employees' ongoing strike, as well as the railway crossing at Idomeni in Kilkis prefecture.
Meanwhile, queues have started forming in front of gas stations that still have fuel, causing traffic jams on the main streets in major cities. Drivers hastend to fill up their gas tanks on Thursday afternoon after the announcement that the customs employees are extending their strike.
However, the customs employees in Thessaloniki and Crete suspended their strike on Friday, and the petrol stations have replenished their supplies.
In Attica prefecture most of the gas stations' have run out of unleaded gas, while their reserves in super unleaded are nearing depletion, the price of which has skyrocketed to 1.6 euros per litre.
 Costas Tassoulas elected as new secretary of ND Parliamentary groupMain opposition New Democracy MPs on Friday elected MP for Ioannina Costas Tassoulas to be the new secretary of their Parliamentary group, with 82 votes in favour, five abstentions and two spoiled votes.
 Greek current accounts deficit down 23.3 pct in 2009Greece's current accounts deficit shrank by 23.3 pct in 2009 to 26.7 billion euros, or 10.8 pct of the country's Gross Domestic Product, the Bank of Greece said on Friday.
The central bank, in a report, attributed this development to a large decline in the trade deficit and to a lesser extent to a reduction of the incomes deficit, while the services and current transfers surpluses also fell in the year.
The trade deficit fell by 13.3 billion euros in 2009, reflecting a decline in the trade deficit in goods - excluding fuel and ships - by 7.4 billion euros, net payments for fuel imports (4.6 bln) and net payments on ship purchases (1.3 billion).
Net import payments fell by 9.9 billion euros, or 24 pct, while export revenues fell by 2.5 billion euros or 17.8 pct in the year. The Bank of Greece said foreign capital inflows in the domestic primary and secondary state bond market totaled 31 billion euros in 2009.
The services surplus fell by 4.6 billion euros, reflecting lower net revenues from transport and travel services (down by 3.4 billion and 1.1 billion, respectively). Net payments for "other" services grew by 121 million euros.
The incomes deficit fell by 840 million euros, reflecting lower net payments on interest, dividends and earnings because of adverse developments in international and domestic money and capital markets. The current transfers surplus fell by 1.5 billion euros in 2009.
Direct foreign investments recorded a net inflow of 1.1 billion euros.
 Greek stocks end 2.42 pct higherGreek stocks ended sharply higher on the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday, pushing the composite index of the market above the 1,900 level. The index rose 2.42 pct to end at 1,927.62 points, with turnover remaining a low 146.220 million euros. The FTSE 20 index rose 2.76 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.90 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 1.30 pct. The Banks (3.85 pct) and Food (3.47 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Personal Products (0.33 pct) and Health (0.31 pct) suffered losses.
CPI (16.67 pct), Mihaniki (13.95 pct), Ilyda (9.57 pct), Crete Plastics (9.37 pct) and Voyatzoglou (8.80 pct) were top gainers, while Alma-Atermon (14.29 pct), Compucon (11.11 pct), Praxitelio (10.0 pct) and Elfico (8.89 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 114 to 61 with another 53 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.83%
Personal & Household: -0.33%
Raw Materials: +2.09%
Travel & Leisure: +1.08%
Food & Beverages: +3.47%
Financial Services: +0.51%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Marfin Popular Bank, Eurobank and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 6.72
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.19
HBC Coca Cola: 16.99
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.50
National Bank of Greece: 14.00
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 5.70
Bank of Piraeus: 6.17
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds fell to 319 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Friday, with the Greek bond yielding 6.46 pct and the German Bund 3.27 pct. Turnover in the market was around 1.0 billion euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.24 pct, the six-month rate 0.99 pct, the three-month 0.71 pct and the one-month rate 0.48 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading around its fair value in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover falling to 64.500 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 11,289 contracts worth 53.122 million euros, with 33,829 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 13,827 contracts worth 11.378 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,857), followed by Eurobank (1,005), MIG (710), Piraeus Bank (1,573), Alpha Bank (2,392), Marfin Popular Bank (722), Cyprus Bank (377) and Hellenic Postbank (394).
 Foreign Exchange rates - Saturday/MondayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.362
Pound sterling 0.885
Danish kroner 7.502
Swedish kroner 9.924
Japanese yen 125.16
Swiss franc 1.477
Norwegian kroner 8.170
Canadian dollar 1.432
Australian dollar 1.529
 Evros floods endanger wildlife, cause extensive damageFloodwater along the shores of the Evros River in the northeastern Greece appeared to be receding on Friday, after causing extensive damage to farmland, livestock and local communities.
Among the more unexpected casualties of the flooding were a herd of wild boar that became trapped by the large quantities of water pouring down the Evros in the region of Poros in Feres, so that several animals were drowned in irrigation ditches.
The remainder sought refuge in safer areas and several are thought to have crossed over the border into Turkey.
Greek forest and game rangers have set up an operation to locate animals that have survived, intending to catch and then release them on higher ground in the mountains. So far, four of the animals at risk have been found and transferred to safer areas.
"The animals are exhausted and are in danger from both floods and poaching. Our goal is to catch alive all those that have survived and rescue them," forest ranger patrols said.
Elsewhere in the Evros prefecture authorities appeared confident that matters would soon be under control, while technical crews were busy shoring up rifts in the earthworks raised to stem flood water that was still above alarm levels.
Extensive damage has been reported to crops, household effects and business premises and to the region's rural and municipal roads, drains, pumps, livestock farms and infrastructure.
Evros Prefect Nikolaos Zabounidis said that more than 25,000 hectares have been flooded, causing damages estimated at 50 million euros, and stressed the need for Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey to collaborate in order to end the recurrent floods in the region.
 Five rare Byzantine fresco-icons stolen from Evia church in 1978 return to GreeceFive rare Byzantine hagiography frescoes stolen in 1978 from the Palaiopanagia Church in Steni, Evia, returned to Greece from Basle, Switzerland at dawn Thursday.
The priceless fresco-icons, dating from the 13th and 16th centuries, stolen by Greek antiquities smugglers from the church in August 1978 and illegally sent out of the country were traced by the Greek authorities (Athens Security Police Antiquities Smuggling unit) in 2006 to a well-known Italian antiquities dealer, at a gallery he ran jointly with his German wife in Basle.
The Greek judicial authorities launched legal procedures for the return of the precious icons, on behalf of the Greek state, which lasted more than two years, instituting charges against the Italian antiquities dealer and all others involved, and sought the judicial assistance of the Swiss authorities for confiscation of the stolen icons. The Basle prosecutor's office in December 2009 issued a final judgement ordering the unconditional return of the frescoes to Greece.
The frescoes depict Saints Ermolaos, Nikitas, Makarios of Egypt and Nestor, and are unique examples of the school of painting prevalent in the 13th and 16th centuries on mainland Greece.
Palaiopanagia is a 12th century cross-shape roofed Byzantine church renowned for its exceptional art hagiographies that are distinguished for their precision of proportions and colors.
The five stolen frescoes are a point of reference in international and Greek studies, outstanding among which is a 1971 study co-authored by the present Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos titled "Medieval Monuments of Evia", which has been awarded by the Academy of Athens.
The study, in fact, was a key factor in definitively identifying the frescoes and positively establishing before the Swiss authorities that the five icons are protected Greek cultural monuments.
 Vyronas shootout suspects remanded in custodyThe two Albanian suspects involved in a shootout with police earlier this week were remanded in custody on Friday, after appearing before an examining magistrate. The pair had been arrested on Wednesday after an exchange of fire with two police officers in the Athens district of Vyronas that resulted in the death of a 25-year-old civilian, the father of an 18-month-old baby, who was killed by police fire.
The pair face a string of charges filed against them by a public prosecutor following their arrest, mostly related to prior offences that include a prison escape, robberies, weapons violations, possession of explosives and an attempted murder in Nafplion. They have not yet been charged for the events of Wednesday afternoon in Vyronas, since the case file had not yet been forwarded to the prosecutor.
 Porto Carras Casino robbedTwo hold-up men wearing hoods on Friday morning stormed into the Porto Carras casino in Neos Marmaras, Halkidiki prefecture, threatened the casino's employees and clients at gunpoint and took the money from the cashier.
Afterwards they put the banknotes in plastic bags and fled.
The amount of the stolen money is tentatively estimated to 500,000 euros.
 US Embassy Consular Section closed last Wednesday of monthThe US Embassy's Consular Section in Athens will remain closed to the public on every last Wednesday of each month for internal reasons, according to an embassy press release.
In that context, the US Embassy's Consular Section in Athens will remain closed to the public on Wednesday, February 24.
This includes the non-immigrant visa section, immigrant visa section, pension section, US passports and naturalisation services, and services for US citizens section. and US passports section
In the event of an emergency on that day, please call 210-7212951 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and 210-7202490/1 after 5:00 p.m.
 Cloudy, rainy on SaturdayCloudy and rainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Saturday, with wind velocity reaching 4-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 4C and 24C. Fair in Athens, with southerly 6-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 13C to 24C. Cloudy in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 8C to 18C.
 The Friday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe government's intention to set up a fact-finding commission on the economy and opposition reactions, a package of 23 measures proposed by main opposition ND leader Antonis Samaras for exiting the crisis, and additional austerity measures purportedly planned by the government to reduce the state deficit, were the main front-page items in Athens' dailies on Friday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "23 measures/breathers for the economy - ND submits with clarity its own proposals".
APOGEVMATINI: "Gravestone on thousands of green investments - Deceived businessman take legal action against environment ministry".
AVGHI: "The hour of struggle in Greece and Europe - This is not the time for patience, or consensus".
AVRIANI: "Christoforakos (fugitive Siemens Hellas former CEO) himself rigged his discussion with his lawyers - He points the finger at the 'dead' to save the 'living' in the graft scandal".
CHORA: "Christoforakos' 'waltz' with political families - 'Platinum' CD (of his 'burning' telephone discussions on graft, that were leaked to the media) with hot disclosures".
ELEFTHEROS: "All of PASOK in an uproar over the fact-finding commission - New dynamic reactions by the ruling party's MPs".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Samaras 'manifesto' for exiting the recession - Measures of small fiscal cost - 23 measures/breathers so that the market will not collapse".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The quandary with the new (additional) measures - Not now, says the government, but we'll see up to March 16 (when the EU will review the progress and results of the measures implemented under Greece's Stability and Growth Program)".
ESTIA: "Those responsible for the fiscal crisis staging 'cock fight' - Decadence of our political system".
ETHNOS: "Head-on clash over the fact-finding commission and the economy - PASOK's tabling of the proposal in parliament only a matter of time".
IMERISSIA: "Receipts (required for eligibility for full tax-free limit per income scale) reduced".
KATHIMERINI: "Suffocation on the market due to customs employees' strike - Shortages in petrol and merchandise 'blocked' (at customs clearing houses)".
LOGOS: "Political 'storm' in the midst of the crisis, over the fact-finding commission".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "24 billion euros sought for state bonds coming into maturity".
NIKI: "PASOK has...talent - Terror in ND over fact-finding commission, despite the tension inside the government itself".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Uprising to demand our rights".
TA NEA: "The urgent measures 'locked in' - Papandreou announcements by March 8".
TO VIMA: "EYP (National Information Service) also joins the battle against the speculators - Coordinated investigations (with its counterparts in other EU countries) at European level".
VRADYNI: "Fact-finding commission on economy due to new measures ahead - Disorientation of public opinion attempted by government".
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