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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-03-04

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

Thursday, 4 March 2010 Issue No: 3436


  • [01] Government details spending cuts, tax hikes
  • [02] Measures a clear response to markets, FinMin says
  • [03] PM leaves open prospect of IMF recourse if EU backing not forthcoming
  • [04] PM briefs President on additional measures
  • [05] Papoulias briefed on fund to cut public debt
  • [06] Gov't tables supplementary measures in parliament
  • [07] Commission welcomes Greek gov't measures
  • [08] Rehn welcomes Greek measures, urges rapid implementation
  • [09] Juncker welcomes Greek measures, says implementation is key
  • [10] Merkel welcomes measures, rules out financial aid
  • [11] ECB satisfied with measures in Greece
  • [12] IMF welcomes government's fiscal measures
  • [13] Italian president: Greek crisis has shown need for more EU crisis management tools
  • [14] ND leader expresses disagreement with government's measures
  • [15] KKE urges strong popular reaction against new austerity measures
  • [16] Papariga calls for 'collective resistance' against wages cuts
  • [17] Karatzaferis on econ measures
  • [18] Tsipras, SYRIZA blast gov't on new measures
  • [19] Civil servants' union head on gov't measures
  • [20] Statements by social partners on gov't measures
  • [21] Major labour union declares 24h strike on March 16
  • [22] Pensioners protest outside gov't headquarters
  • [23] PM Papandreou to meet Sarkozy
  • [24] ND deputy Bakoyannis in Nicosia: Cyprus issue at critical turning point
  • [25] Katseli meets EIB VP Sakellaris
  • [26] Gerekou on ministry's plans for tourism sector
  • [27] Annual farm subsidies of less than 200 euros are cut
  • [28] Greek PPI up 5.8 pct in Jan
  • [29] Ryannair to begin flights from Volos to Milan and Frankfurt
  • [30] American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Franchise Association of Greece sign cooperation memorandum
  • [31] Stocks end slightly lower
  • [32] Greek bond market closing report
  • [33] ADEX closing report
  • [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [35] Environment minister addresses WWF Hellas event
  • [36] The mushroom 'hunters' of Grevena
  • [37] Staff for Special Demolitions Service announced
  • [38] Arsonists target Athens nightclub
  • [39] Recycling of electronic equipment on AUTH campus
  • [40] Three remanded in custody over 2007 structured bond scandal
  • [41] Man accused as terrorist released on bail pending trial
  • [42] Man killed falling off the Acropolis in Athens
  • [43] Cloudy, rainy on Thursday
  • [44] Athens Newspaper Headlines
  • [45] Community leaders to meet again Thursday
  • [46] German FM: A lot of work needs to be done for Cyprus solution
  • [47] Cyprus House President pessimistic over UN-led talks on Cyprus
  • [48] Cyprus and Belgium reaffirm excellent relations Politics

  • [01] Government details spending cuts, tax hikes

    The Greek government on Wednesday detailed a package of urgent measures aimed at boosting budget revenues by 4.8 billion euros or 2.0 pct of the country's Gross Domestic Product. In presenting the measures, government spokesman George Petalotis said the government also tabled a draft bill in Parliament via the urgent procedure.

    The package of measures includes an increase in VAT rates from 4.5 pct to 5.0 pct (in the lowest category); from 9.0 pct to 10.0 pct (in the middle category, mostly foodstuffs) and from 19 pct to 21 pct, the highest category, which includes most items. A previous exception for certain Aegean islands will not be changed. Revenues from the measure are projected at 1.3 billion euros or 0.55 pct of GDP.

    The government will also increase a special consumption tax on fuels - excluding heating oil - raising taxes on cigarettes from 63 pct to 66 pct, and a hike on alcohol taxes by 20 pct. Revenues are projected at 1.1 billion euros, or 0.45 pct of GDP.

    The draft bill also envisages abolishing the Public Power Corp.'s (PPC) exemption from a special tax on oil - excluding energy produced by renewable sources - and introducing special consumption taxes on luxury products, such as cars, with a factory price of more than 17,000, along with yachts, private helicopters, precious metals/stones and leather goods.

    The remaining 50 pct of the fiscal benefit from this latest package of austerity measures envisages actions to cut state spending.

    These include cutting Christmas, Easter and holiday bonuses by 30 pct -- the so-called "13th and 14th salaries" -- slashing all kinds of extra pay benefits by 12 pct (excluding family bonuses and performance bonuses), a horizontal reduction by 7.0 pct of all payments, compensation and bonuses in public sector enterprises, as well as cutting extra payments to government members. The plan also envisages a freeze to pension payments and reducing state funding to sector pension funds by 10 pct.

    Revenues from these measures are projected at 1.7 billion euros, or 0.7 pct of GDP. The government also announced a 5.0-pct cut in the national leg of a Public Investments Programmes and cuts in the Education ministry budget on new programmes, with revenues projected at 700 million euros or 0.3-pct of GDP.

    The government also said it prohibited bonus payments to all executives in the public sector.

    Under the plan, the government will freeze new hirings in the public sector, with the exception of Education, Health and Security Corps and introducing an "one for five" ratio for new hirings from 2011. The government will also introduce measures to cut prices on pharmaceutical products by 20 pct and subsidizing social insurance contributions for 65,000, mostly young unemployed people.

    The government spokesman said the government pledged to use all revenues from an expansion of OPAP's operating license and granting of new licenses for gaming to support actions aimed at boosting employment (revenues projected at 400 million euros this year).

    The government will also raise taxes on offshore real estate property to 15 pct, introducing a 45-pct tax scale for incomes above 100,000 euros, introducing for a three-year period of a higher tax rate on large real estate property and reintroducing a 2.0-pct duty on the use of radio frequencies by electronic media.

    [02] Measures a clear response to markets, FinMin says

    A package of measures approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday fully strengthened a target of reducing the country's fiscal deficit by four percentage points in 2010 -even more- offering a clear response to the European Commission and to markets, Greek Finance Minister George Papakonstantinou said on Wednesday.

    Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister said the measures were obviously hard but necessary because they judged the country's ability to borrow in capital markets. He added that Greece was doing what it has to do and that talks with the European Union and its partners would continue in the coming days and weeks to ensure the necessary support. He left the door open, however, for Greece to refer to the International Monetary Fund if the country did not find the necessary EU support.

    Papakonstantinou said the measures announced by the government was all it could do for 2010, while the government was taking additional permanent measures on the request of the European Commission, IMF and the European Central Bank and containing, or lowering payroll cost in the public sector. He added that payroll cost in the public sector has risen by 40 pct in the last five years. Papakonstantinou said the measures in the incomes policy were of permanent nature and would be implemented as long as the country remained under the supervision of the EU.

    The government will examine any corrective moves after the country would be in a position to exit the EU's supervision procedure and will introduce a new payroll system in the public sector, Papakonstantinou said. All cutbacks in the incomes policy will be introduced retrospectively from January 1st.

    The Finance minister said he expected the Greek economy to shrink by more than -0.3 pct -projected in the state budget- but below forecasts made by the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Greece (of a recession between 1-2 percent).

    Papakonstantinou said tax revenues in February were short of budget targets because of a series of strikes in the audit mechanism.

    [03] PM leaves open prospect of IMF recourse if EU backing not forthcoming

    Prime ̀inister George Papandreou left open the prospect of Greece seeking recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if the country is not financially backed by the EU, speaking after a lengthy Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning during which additional measures to slash the double-digit budget deficit were approved.

    Speaking during the Cabinet meeting, Papandreou told his ministers that the emphasis is now shifting to what the EU will now do. "A primary condition for Greece's success is for tangible European support and Community solidarity," he said, adding that in the wake of the second batch of austerity measures by Athens, the problem now cannot be characterised as only Greek.

    "He did what we had to do, and even more so ... now it's Europe's turn," Papandreou said, citing a historic moment for the Union.

    In terms of the IMF, he said such a solution would be a "last resort" measure if the EU did not react and if markets were unmoved.

    He also underlined that the country should avoid being placed in the same position, namely, to take additional measures.

    [04] PM briefs President on additional measures

    Prime minister George Papandreou on Wednesday briefed President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on the government's additional measures, after a lengthy Cabinet meeting earlier in the day in which the new measures were finalised.

    Speaking to reporters after his meeting with the President, Papandreou said he briefed the President on "the tough decisions we have taken" which, "are not simply a choice, but necessary" for "the survival of our country and our economy" and for bringing Greece "out of the vortex of the speculators and defamation", "so that we can breathe, and be able to wage this battle too".

    The premier said he and his government are "waging a battle", with the people at their side, for a more just society, and for the major changes that will bring development, jobs and a prospect to the country.

    In a brief exchange in front of the media before their meeting, Papandreou said that tough decisions are being taken in a difficult time for the country, with which statement Papoulias concurred.

    "These are hard times, but what we have decided is necessary. We took tough decisions in a difficult situation," Papandreou said.

    The premier noted that Greece is in the vortex of a cyclone, of creditors and the international markets, adding that "we are showing that Greece and the Greek people can responsibly take decisions".

    "We justly expect European solidarity, and that is the other side of this deal," said Papandreou, speaking of a historical responsibility on the part of Europe as well.

    "This is the necessary step for us to go into battle for major changes" and measures of social justice and protection of the citizens, "so that they will know that the state respects them and their money, and that it is creating prospects for them for work and development," the premier added.

    "This battle is being and will be waged by everyone, the government side-by-side with the Greek people," he stressed.

    Papoulias, in turn, said that he agreed with the premier, stressing that "we need to acquire social credibility with social sensitivity, and I believe that the Greek people will reciprocate when they are convinced that the measures are correct and fair, and that those who have more must contribute more".

    Papandreou replied that the burdens must be shouldered proportionately.

    He also thanked the President for his agreement to head the Support Fund for the country's economy, which was proposed by parliament president Philipos Petsalnikos.

    [05] Papoulias briefed on fund to cut public debt

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias met on Wednesday with Parliament President Filippos Petsalnikos, with the latter briefing Papoulias over an initiative to raise funds on a voluntary basis and exclusively for use to reduce the public debt. He also suggested that the effort be placed under the aegis of Papoulias.

    Petsalnikos stated that the endeavor "was met with widespread support reflecting the strong patriotism and values of the Greeks, inside and outside the country," adding that President Papoulias has accepted a proposal to be in charge of the Special Account created.

    [06] Gov't tables supplementary measures in parliament

    The government on Wednesday tabled a bill in parliament containing the supplementary measures for the economy that were finalised earlier in the day during a lengthy Cabinet meeting chaired by prime minister George Papandreou.

    The tabling of the bill was announced to the parliament plenary.

    The bill was tabled under "urgent" procedures, and will be examined by the relevant parliamentary committee on Thursday, with discussion and vote by the plenary slated for Friday.

    [07] Commission welcomes Greek gov't measures

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / M. Spinthourakis)

    The European Commission on Wednesday welcomed the announcement by the Greek government to introduce a set of additional consolidation measures.

    European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, speaking to reporters in Brussels, said the announcement confirmed the Greek government's commitment to take all necessary measures to deliver the programme's objectives and in particular to ensure that the 4 percent of GDP deficit reduction target for 2010 will be met. This assessment was shared by the president of the Eurogroup.

    "Greece's ambitious programme to correct its fiscal imbalances is now on track. The additional measures announced today appropriately include expenditure cuts, and in particular savings in the public wage bill, which are essential for achieving permanent fiscal consolidation effects and restore competitiveness. The announced revenue-increasing measures also contribute to fiscal consolidation," Barroso said.

    The president of the Commission said full and timely implementation of fiscal measures, along with decisive structural reforms, in compliance with the Council decision was paramount. This was in the interest of the Greek people, who will benefit from sounder public finances, better growth prospects and job opportunities. It is as well important for the overall financial stability of the euro area, he added.

    The Commission considered that correcting imbalances and restoring competitiveness is essential to put Greece back on a sustainable path. The Commission fully supports Greece in this endeavour, Barroso said, adding that the measures announced today (Wednesday) provide a strong signal of the readiness of the Greek government to proceed with courageous decisions.

    [08] Rehn welcomes Greek measures, urges rapid implementation

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V.Demiris)

    The Greek government's announcement of new supplementary measures was a critical turn in the history of the country's fiscal and economic developments, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Wednesday.

    Speaking to reporters in Brussels, the EU Commissioner said what is most important now is the full and rapid implementation of the measures.

    Rehn said Greece was showing determination and unity in reforming the country and putting its fiscal deficit under control. He said that measures announced would help Greece restoring its confidence in international markets and among its European partners, and contribute in calming down market concerns.

    Commenting on the measures announced, Rehn said the measures needed approval by the Greek Parliament and called for the maximum possible consensus among opposition political parties.

    The Commissioner said the EU's executive was present to help Greece and the Greek society and stressed that himself has many Greek friends wishing to see real changes in the society.

    "We had an economic, political and statistical explosion of the Greek fiscal deficit in recent years," which led EU to take decision to correct the deficit, Rehn said, while he expressed his satisfaction that measures focused on spending and stressed they were of permanent nature with a positive impact on the Greek economy's competitiveness -the "Achilles' heel" of the country in recent years.

    The Commission stressed, however, that the measures were adequate to achieving this year's goals, but further fiscal consolidation was needed in 2011 and 2012.

    [09] Juncker welcomes Greek measures, says implementation is key

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Aroni)

    Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg premier and finance minister who heads the monthly meetings of Eurozone member-state finance ministers, on Wednesday welcomed the additional austerity measures announced by Greece and said that the country was now "credibly on track" to curbing its budget deficit by 4 percent of GDP in 2010.

    "Greece's ambitious programme to correct its fiscal imbalances is now credibly on track," Juncker said in a statement. He also stressed that, from now on, it was important to boost the competitiveness of the Greek economy, in addition to achieving fiscal stability.

    Expressing his full support for the efforts of the Greek government, he said that the measures announced on Wednesday were an important message that Athens was prepared to take action, while stressing that "full and timely implementation of fiscal measures, along with decisive structural reforms" was paramount.

    The measures taken by Athens were also "important for the overall financial stability of the euro area," he said.

    Juncker reiterated a statement by EU leaders from February 11 that the euro zone as a whole was ready to take action, should it be needed.

    "The president of the Eurogroup confirms that euro area members stand ready to take determined and coordinated action, if needed, to safeguard the financial stability in the euro area as a whole," the statement said.

    [10] Merkel welcomes measures, rules out financial aid

    BERLIN (ANA-MPA - P. Stangos)

    The measures announced by the Greek government were a "very important message" that would help restore the markets' confidence in Greece and in turn support the euro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Wednesday. She made it clear, however, that Greece will not be getting financial assistance from Germany.

    An announcement issued by the German government said that "there was no alternative route" for Greece, apart from that of meeting its obligations.

    Merkel hailed the measures announced by Greece to curb its budget deficit by 4 percentage points in 2010, including new indirect taxation and sweeping public-sector wage cuts, and said she was "happy and satisfied that the Greek government and its prime minister are not sparing any effort to proceed upon this difficult path".

    Reducing the budget deficit by four percentage points in 2010 was "a first step in a greater course to restrict the deficit to 3 percent" she added.

    The German chancellor once again made it clear that financial assistance to Greece was not on the agenda during her talks with Papandreou on Friday.

    "We will discuss the implementation of these measure and I want to make it absolutely clear that the object on Friday will not be the provision of financial aid but the good relations between Germany and Greece," Merkel stressed.

    [11] ECB satisfied with measures in Greece


    The board of the European Central Bank, in an announcement in Frankfurt on Wednesday, expressed its satisfaction over "the additional measures of a permanent character" that the Greek government announced on Wednesday.

    The ECB termed the measures "necessary" and "suitable" and stressed that the intention for their immediate implementation shows the Greek government's will to achieve the goals set by the stability programme and monetary stabilisation in 2010 in particular.

    The ECB added that Greece recognises the need for the adoption and immediate implementation of decisive structural reforms, as the Ecofin Council of the 16th of February requested.

    "The decisive structural and monetary reforms programme will benefit the Greek citizens and will help the Greek economy to overcome today's difficulties and return, in the medium term, to a viable growth that will increase employment," the ECB's announcement concluded.

    [12] IMF welcomes government's fiscal measures


    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) welcomed in a statement on Wednesday the fiscal measures announced by the Greek government.

    "We welcome the substantial fiscal measures announced by the Greek authorities today (Wednesday). The authorities have put together a very strong fiscal package for 2010. The implementation of the fiscal program will be a crucial step forward in a multi-year process," the statement said.

    "We also encourage the authorities to develop and implement soon significant reforms to boost productivity and growth, complementing the fiscal consolidation that is now underway. We stand ready to support the implementation of the authorities' plans by sharing our technical expertise in these matters," it added.

    [13] Italian president: Greek crisis has shown need for more EU crisis management tools

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Aroni)

    The urgent situation in Greece has highlighted the need for additional "tools" designed to avert and handle crises within the Eurozone, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano stated during a press conference given with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday.

    Napolitano was replying to a question by an ANA-MPA correspondent on whether the Euro area needed a 'European Monetary Fund', in addition to the European Central Bank that could assist Eurozone members when the need arose.

    The Italian president said that the ECB and other Community bodies had a sense "that something was missing" from the EU's armory when it came to dealing with serious crises that affected the euro or euro-area countries.

    This need was made acutely apparent when there was a country that was in a more vulnerable fiscal state within the euro, he added.

    [14] ND leader expresses disagreement with government's measures

    Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras expressed disagreement with the economic measures announced by the government on Wednesday, saying that "the measures are not a salvation mixture for the economy, but paralyse it and injure the social fabric."

    Samaras criticised the government stressing that the ruling PASOK's "handlings over the past five months brought us above all to the threshold of bankruptcy, what it did and mainly what it did not do," adding that "this is the responsibility of today's PASOK that it cannot transfer to others."

    He further said that the country's problems "are very serious and all the parties that ruled, and of course New Democracy as well, have a longstanding responsibility."

    "New Democracy made mistakes and paid for them, today it has turned page, I am not apologising for anyone, I am looking at the future. The problem is the prime minister's, who instead of looking at the future is dealing only with yesterday," he said.

    Samaras went on to say that if Prime Minister George Papandreou had taken the measures earlier they would have been milder, less painful and would not be imposed by the European Union auditors, while claiming that until now borrowing with increased interest rates has cost us about 300 million euros.

    He assessed that "the measures will aggravate recession because 25 to 30 percent of the purchasing power of households will be lost and that if measures to boost the economy are not taken immediately the government will be obliged to take new decisions that will be painful for the people."

    The ND leader said "what is needed is a different policy mixture of policy for us to exit from the crisis and public extravagance must be curbed" stressing at the same time that ND rejects the VAT increase, the increase in taxation for fuel and the cutting of the 14th salary and counterproposes greater taxation for tobacco and drinks, greater taxation for luxury products, an increase in revenues from the utilisation of the public sector's property and greater cutbacks in the state's operational expenditures.

    Lastly, Samaras emphasised that "for us the red line is the protection of the low wage earners and the low pensioners and support for the middle class with measures that give breathers to the market."

    He proposed as being in a positive direction a bolder restriction of public extravagance, the boosting of the market, the taking of measures for the repatriation of capital from abroad, as well as the utilisation of the country's comparative advantages in tourism and shipping.

    [15] KKE urges strong popular reaction against new austerity measures

    The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) on Wednesday issued a call to all wage earners to join in the struggle to force the government to take back the economic measures it has announced, saying that developments had borne out its predictions of the coming storm against workers.

    "This storm in now underway. The war launched by the government and the European Union against the people, with the consent of New Democracy and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), is being waged on behalf of the Greek and European plutocracy. Also under the same attack are the peoples of Europe and more generally," a KKE announcement said.

    The party's announcement said that the working classes had a responsibility and a duty to reject the "terrorist dilemmas and lies" of the government, the EU and plutocracy and to rise up.

    "Patriotism is the struggle to stop the people becoming impoverished. Everyone must take to the street and join the struggle to stop the new, savage taxation in VAT and fuel, the drastic reduction of wages and pensions. We must avert the slaughter of the Easter/Christmas bonuses and the holiday benefit."

    KKE asserted that it was a lie that the cut in these bonuses would only be in the public sector, saying that the ultimate target was to do away with them entirely in both the private and public sectors.

    "We must stop the dismantling of social insurance and pensions, the facilitating of lay-offs and the abolition of collective agreements, measures that are ready and will form the next wave of the attack," the party announcement continued, warning that the measures were "not temporary" nor the last ones and that similar inroads into social gains will continue and become ever more savage unless these measures came up against a strong popular reaction right now.

    [16] Papariga calls for 'collective resistance' against wages cuts

    In a scathing attack on the government, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday slammed the wage cuts and other economic austerity measures it announced earlier the same day as "fat lies" and called for "collective resistance" against them, saying the streets of Athens and all of Greece must be filled with protestors.

    "The government spokesman said a fat lie today that the measures concern only those working in the public sector or those paid by the state. There will be a downhill slide and things will become even worse for all workers in the private sector. He also said a fat lie that the measures concern 2010. They are lasting measures and in two, three months we will have a new package of measures and by the end of the year, also, a new package of measures, Papariga underlined.

    Papariga stressed that it would be "tragic" for rights won through long struggle and sacrifice to be lost and incomes slashed, and "literally shameful if these barbaric measures pass without popular resistance, without popular counter-attack and much more if the impression is given that the people consent to these measures, as the government never misses the opportunity to claim."

    According to KKE's leader, the measures were sure to be passed by Parliament and she stressed that it was time for the people and forces outside Parliament to react.

    "The Parliament, in any case, was chosen by the people and its condemnation must also come from the people. And we are talking about political condemnation whose only means in a systematic, programmed struggle that looks forward, to a radical political change."

    As measures to wave money, Papariga proposed the backdated abolition of pensions for MPs, a drastic reduction in money given to MPs and various bonuses they receive for taking part in committees that were part of their job as MPs.

    [17] Karatzaferis on econ measures

    Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis stressed on Wednesday that "Greece should be salvaged", commenting on the government's latest round of austerity measures.

    Karatzaferis accused the country's political leadership, trade union leaders and the public figures, in general, of "failing for years to meet the challenges presented," while adding that "individual patriotism should set aside any personal benefits to have the country's badly hurt prestige restored."

    He also said that the measures announced should have been taken sooner and stressed that the government should not have waited for the last minute to take action.

    [18] Tsipras, SYRIZA blast gov't on new measures

    Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) leader Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday that the additional economic measures announced by the government earlier in the day were pushing the Greek society and its gains into the fire.

    "Today, the Greek government decided to surrender the Greek society and its conquests to the pyre," Tsipras said in Brussels, where he is attending a meeting of the European United Left-Nordic Green Alliance's (GUE/NGL) European Parliament group.

    "However, what the government appears to be open-handedly giving to the speculators does not belong to it but to the Greek working people and which were achieved with struggles and sacrifices in the last decades," he added.

    "No one can relegate to the fire what doesn't belong to him, especially when he hasn't received the owner's permission to do so, and in this case the owner is the Greek people, who's right it is to have the final say and choice," Tsipras continued.

    SYRIZA, in an announcement, charged that the new package of measures announced by the government "is the biggest attack against salaried labor" since the restoration of democracy.

    "The government is implementing the most extreme neoliberal policies, subjugating the Greek economy to the intentions of the market speculators and the international banking capital," SYRIZA said, and attributed "today's fiscal strangulation of the Greek economy" to the "present-day neoliberal framework of the EU".

    It added that the new measures will sink the country into a deep and extensive recession, and are part of an overall attack aiming at the full reversal of labor relations, incomes and the social security system, and placed blame on the PASOK and New Democracy governments of the past decades for dissolving the country's productive fiber, deepening the distortions of the domestic production model.

    [19] Civil servants' union head on gov't measures

    Prime Minister George Papandreou met on Wednesday with the presidents of the civil servants' union (ADEDY), the Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) and the vice-president of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

    ADEDY President Spyros Papaspyros stated afterwards that he underlined during the meeting that unions "want social cohesion and socially fair measures", stressing that "cutting salaries and pensions is not a solution when all the mechanisms, both private and public, that creates the problem remain untouched."

    He also referred to protest mobilisations called by ADEDY and expressed a determination to tackle a "unilateral and unfair situation, which is accompanied by deplorable populism, at a time when public administration should become a force that can lead the country out of the crisis."

    Papaspyrou requested a separate meeting between the government and ADEDY that will focus on public administration and remuneration issues.

    [20] Statements by social partners on gov't measures

    The president of the General Confederation of Handicrafts and Merchants of Greece (GSBEE), Dimitris Asimakopoulos, termed as "harsh" the measures announced by the government on Wednesday.

    Asimakopoulos said that "as of tomorrow ... we must all start, and the government, in particular, to talk about growth and production, as well as measures that must tackle the major problem that is ahead of us, namely, the stoppage of payments by the real economy."

    General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) president Yiannis Panagopoulos said the measures announced were "one-sided and lacked social justice" while he stressed that "our practices will be the burden to be shouldered by those who became rich."

    ESEE president Vassilis Korkidis said that "at this moment we have to manage the day after the measures, so that we shall not find ourselves in a year in the same position that we are in today."

    Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) vice-president Haris Kyriazis said that "the measures were necessary for our country to avoid bankruptcy'" and pointed out that SEB believes that these measures will intensify the recession and that for this reason the group told the government that it must proceed with a package of new growth measures immediately.

    [21] Major labour union declares 24h strike on March 16

    The civil servants' umbrella federation ADEDY on Wednesday called a 24-hour strike on March 16 and a demonstration on Thursday afternoon in downtown Athens in protest over additional measures announced by the government earlier in the day.

    ADEDY also said that further mobilisations will be planned after the March 16 strike.

    In an announcement, the labour federation said that the public services, which were the force for the country's recovery in difficult times, instead of being reorganised on a modern and healthy basis in order to contribute to exiting the crisis, are being devastated.

    The government's measures, it added, are decimating salaries in Greece, which are already the lowest in Europe, and leading to an extended recession and unemployment. "The unfair and one sided measures are unprecedented and apparent to all citizens," ADEDY said.

    [22] Pensioners protest outside gov't headquarters

    Minor incidents erupted on Wednesday during a march by protesting pensioners to the government headquarters at Maximos Mansion in central Athens.

    The pensioners broke through a police barrier and reached the entrance of the Maximos, while a delegation of the protestors is due to turn over a resolution to the government.

    According to police, no scuffles broke out during the incident, given that they had standing orders not to take action against the pensioners.

    For that reason, police said, the barrier was made up of women officers.

    [23] PM Papandreou to meet Sarkozy

    Prime Minister George Papandreou will fly to Paris on Sunday, 7 March to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of Greek prime minister's meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, March 9.

    Two days earlier (Friday, March 5), Papandreou will have a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    [24] ND deputy Bakoyannis in Nicosia: Cyprus issue at critical turning point

    NICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)

    Main opposition New Democracy (ND) MP and former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday said that the Cyprus issue is at a critical turning point, after consecutive meeting in Nicosia with AKEL party leader Andros Kyprianou and Democratic Rally (DISY) party leader Nikos Anastasiades.

    Bakoyannis, noting that "we have been trying for years to find a just and viable solution, for the island to be reunified and the (Turkish) occupation to be ended", stressed that "we must all remain united in order to be able to achieve this goal, without delusions that this road is an easy one".

    Asked if she considered the proposals put forward by Cyprus President Demetris Christofias are "functional", Bakoyannis said that the Cypriot president has made a very substantial effort "and has everyone's support", adding that this effort has been acknowledged abroad too, as well as Christofias' sincere desire to help find a solution.

    Kyprianou said that the discussion centered on the latest developments in the Cyprus issue, adding that he briefed Bakoyannis also on the situation in the Turkish Cypriot community.

    Anastasiades, in turn, said that he has had a friendly relationship with Bakoyannis for decades, adding that "her great interest in Cyprus is well known".

    Financial News

    [25] Katseli meets EIB VP Sakellaris

    Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli on Wednesday received European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Plutarhos Sakellaris, with talks focusing on the financing of investment and growth projects implemented by the Greek government.

    Katseli told reporters that the financing of Greece's participation in the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) programme was also examined, including an "up to two billion euros with a loan on very favourable terms for 25 to 30 years."

    "We also discussed the possibility of financing major development projects in our country, the promotion of the 'Jeremy' and 'Jessika' programmes, which concern small and medium-sized enterprises and local government projects," the minister added.

    On his part, Sakellaris said the EIB would not only continue financing Greece but would also intensify efforts through increased financing of important projects.

    [26] Gerekou on ministry's plans for tourism sector

    The performance of Greece's tourism industry over the next two years would largely determine whether the country would emerge from the economic crisis and return to positive growth rates, Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Angela Gerekou stressed on Wednesday.

    Speaking at the annual general meeting of the tourist and travel agencies association, Gerekou emphasised that tourism was one of the few sectors of the Greek economy that could have a catalytic role in bringing about an end to the crisis.

    At the same time, she stressed that the sector faced very real and structural problems that could not be solved overnight and she presented the ministry's planned strategy for this, based chiefly on reducing bureaucracy, 'green' tourism development, a new national strategic plan for marketing, upgrading and extending the tourist product on offer and extending the tourism season.

    [27] Annual farm subsidies of less than 200 euros are cut

    The payment of annual farm subsidies that are less than 200 euros is discontinued, in compliance with an EU regulation, the ministry of rural development and food announced Wednesday.

    The decision affects roughly 170,000 farmers who have the choice to buy farmer rights to exceed the 200-euro limit, otherwise their rights will become part of the national reserve. Transactions of farmer rights buying and selling can be conducted until May 15, 2010.

    The ministry also announced that certain product quality-related economic assistance, specifically directed to producers of hardy wheat (triticum durum), olive oil, olives, beef, sheep and goat meat, will be abolished and take the form of a special economic assistance to farmers (amounting to 78 million euros).

    Furthermore, the product-related subsidies for hard wheat, rice, nuts, protein-based cultivations, seeding seeds and processed citrus fruits are being abolished with the exception of cotton.

    All subsidies and the beneficiaries will be publicly announced.

    [28] Greek PPI up 5.8 pct in Jan

    Greece's Producer's Price Index rose 5.8 pct in January, compared with the corresponding month last year, after a decline of 4.0 pct recorded in January 2009, the National Statistical Service said on Wednesday.

    The statistics service attributed this development to an 1.0 pct increase in the domestic market index and an 1.7 pct rise in the external market index. The Producer's Price Index was up 1.2 pct in January from December, after an increase of 0.4 pct recorded in the corresponding period last year.

    [29] Ryannair to begin flights from Volos to Milan and Frankfurt

    Ryannair will begin scheduled flights from Volos to Milan and Frankfurt, starting May 2010, under an agreement signed between the prefectural authority of Magnesia and the low-cost airline company.

    Ryannair will flight four times a week from the airport of Anhialos to Milan and Frankfurth, while the airline company will be allowed to operate flights from Volos to the islands of Kos and Rhodes.

    Air Berlin is operating scheduled flights from Volos to Nurnburg during the last four years.

    [30] American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Franchise Association of Greece sign cooperation memorandum

    The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Franchise Association of Greece to reinforce the extroversion of Greek businesses active in the sector of franchise.

    The memorandum will enable the association members to develop Greek franchise concepts abroad. The agreement will also allow the participation of the members of the Franchise Association of Greece in activities undertaken by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in the United States.

    [31] Stocks end slightly lower

    Stocks ended slightly lower at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, ending a skyrocketing two-day advance in the market, although the composite index remained above the 2,000 level. The index fell 0.36 pct to end at 2,014.55 points, with turnover at 190.600 million euros.

    The FTSE 20 index dropped 0.96 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.21 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.18 pct. The Food (2.89 pct) and Personal Products (2.14 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Health (2.08 pct) and Media (1.76 pct) suffered losses.

    Allatini Ceramics (14.71 pct), Technical Publications (10.81 pct), Fashion Box (9.92 pct) and Kekrops (9.12 pct) were top gainers, while Neorio (13.41 pct), Koumbas (10 pct) and Vasilopoulos (9.79 pct) were top losers. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 101 to 77 with another 53 issues unchanged.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: -2.03%

    Industrials: -0.82%

    Commercial: +0.60%

    Construction: -0.51%

    Media: -1.76%

    Oil & Gas: -1.03%

    Personal & Household: +2.14%

    Raw Materials: +0.66%

    Travel & Leisure: -1.09%

    Technology: -0.54%

    Telecoms: -1.53%

    Banks: -1.50%

    Food & Beverages: +2.89%

    Health: -2.08%

    Utilities: +0.06%

    Chemicals: Unchanged

    Financial Services: -0.94%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, Eurobank and OPAP.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 7.10

    ATEbank: 1.69

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.00

    HBC Coca Cola: 19.06

    Hellenic Petroleum: 8.43

    National Bank of Greece: 14.71

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.42

    Intralot: 3.59

    OPAP: 15.05

    OTE: 9.01

    Bank of Piraeus: 6.48

    Titan: 18.96

    [32] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank spectacularly to 285 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 310 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 5.98 pct and the German Bund 3.13 pct. Turnover in the market totaled 1.047 billion euros, of which 462 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 595 million were sell orders. The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2015) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 213 million 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 rate 0.71 pct and the one-month rate 0.48 pct.

    [33] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.11 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover at 81.481 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 13,013 contracts, worth 65.353 million euros, with 33,047 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 16,565 contracts, worth 16.129 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (6,187), followed by Eurobank (1,146), OTE (1,886), Piraeus Bank (1,219), Alpha Bank (2,265) and Hellenic Postbank (263).

    [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.375

    Pound sterling 0.912

    Danish kroner 7.501

    Swedish kroner 9.872

    Japanese yen 122.07

    Swiss franc 1.474

    Norwegian kroner 8.139

    Canadian dollar 1.421

    Australian dollar 1.523

    General News

    [35] Environment minister addresses WWF Hellas event

    Environment, Energy and Climatic Change Minister Tina Birbili, speaking on Wednesday in the framework of an event by WWF Hellas, said that "the creation of a modern Forestry Service that will be able to secure the protection and the managing of our country's natural wealth, with the first step being the effective incorporation of the Forestry Service in its 'natural home', meaning the Environment Ministry, is a priority for our ministry."

    Birbili underlined the emphasis being given to the promotion of the procedure on the preparation and sanctioning of forest maps and the "clearing up of the existing institutional framework of the dozens of little windows that preserve the disastrous exploitation of forests."

    The minister further announced that the ministry will inaugurate a pilot multi-issue programme concerning the planning, coordination and implementation of actions for the protection of forests, with the participation and contribution of organised groups of volunteers and of independent citizens.

    [36] The mushroom 'hunters' of Grevena

    For decades, a unique form of 'hunt' has been taking place on the slopes surrounding the Valia Kalda valley in the prefecture of Grevena, northwestern Greece. The so-called "mushroom hunting", or wild mushroom picking, is a trade that has been passed down from generation to generation.

    The region is known for the more than 2,600 species of wild mushrooms that grow there, many of them edible, and for the plethora of local dishes featuring them, as well as an annual Mushroom Festival in the summer.

    A Mushroom Society has also been set up, which informs the public about the area's mushrooms and how to cook them.

    Whether a hobby or profession, mushroom picking is part of the daily life of Grevena. Indeed, wild mushrooms are an important source of revenue for Grevena, with many locals involved in the trade, while there is even a specialised local taverna that features dishes with more than 100 wild species throughout the year.

    Considered a select delicacy, some of the local wild mushrooms have a market value well above that of black caviar.

    [37] Staff for Special Demolitions Service announced

    The environment, energy and climate change ministry on Wednesday announced the 12 people that will make up the staff of the newly-formed 'Special Demolitions Service', who have been transferred to the posts from other civil service positions.

    The announcement said that the service's main task will be to locate the buildings erected without planning permission within land designated as forest and burnt during the fires that swept eastern Attica in 2009, and to then coordinate the various government services involved in issuing and carrying out demolition orders for these buildings.

    This also clarified that the special demolitions service will have the authority to carry out the demolitions itself, if the other state services charged with the task do not carry this out.

    To this end, the service has been manned with specialist and support staff, under a supervisor.

    [38] Arsonists target Athens nightclub

    A fire that broke out in an Athens nightclub on Wednesday morning was attributed later by police to arson.

    The nightclub's guard has testified that three unidentified individuals hit him on the head with the handle of a handgun and set the club on fire. Police have recovered traces of plastic bottles and other findings that back this scenario.

    The fire broke out at 7:00 am and was extinguished by firemen about two hours later. A police investigation is underway in cooperation with the Fire Department.

    [39] Recycling of electronic equipment on AUTH campus

    The recycling programme for computers and other electronic equipment is being successfully implemented in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH).

    Roughly 4.5 tons of used electronic equipment were recycled in the last three months alone, collected in two containers on campus.

    The initiative materialized in cooperation with the ministry of environment, energy and climate change's National Certified System of Alternative Management of Electronic Equipment, which collects the devices sent for recycling and forwards them to eight recycling plants across the country.

    In the last 3 years, roughly 8 million electronic devices (150,000 tons) have been recycled nationwide.

    [40] Three remanded in custody over 2007 structured bond scandal

    Three top executives of the Athens-based brokerage 'Acropolis Securities' were remanded in custody on Wednesday, by order of the appelate judges' council, over the brokerage's involvement in the sale of structured bonds to Greek social insurance funds at a price well above market value and with an unusually high commission.

    The Council was asked to settle a difference of opinion between the examining magistrate and public prosecutor in charge of the case on whether Sophoklis Priniotakis, Theodoros Priniotakis and George Apostolidis should be detained pending trial.

    It finally sided with the view of the prosecutor, Antonis Liogas, and ordered that they be remanded in custody, rather than imposing the 500,000 euros bail and travel restrictions recommended by the magistrate George Lekkas.

    The three are accused of fraud, legalising income from illegal activity, forming a criminal organisation and tax evasion, in connection with arranging the sale of a structured bond valued at 280 million euros to four state-run pension funds in 2007.

    [41] Man accused as terrorist released on bail pending trial

    The 21-year-old remanded in custody on February 4 over his alleged involvement in the terrorist organisation "Conspiracy of Cells of Fire" was released on bail by order of the appellate judges' council on Wednesday.

    The order orders his release with the requirement that he be forbidden to leave the country and report to a police station twice a month.

    The young man has denied the charges against him and stresses that the fingerprints that connect him to the terror group's safehouse in Halandri were all found on movable objects.

    [42] Man killed falling off the Acropolis in Athens

    An unidentified man was killed on Wednesday afternoon after falling off the top of the Athens Acropolis, on the side facing Dionysiou Areopagitou street near the Herod Atticus Odeon.

    A team from the Greek fire department has gone to the scene to recover the body and a coroner has been called in, who will try to determine what caused the man to fall.

    Weather Forecast

    [43] Cloudy, rainy on Thursday

    Cloudy and rainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 5C and 23C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with southerly 3-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 8C to 19C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 8C to 15C.

    [44] Athens Newspaper Headlines

    The prime minister's dramatic reference to the state of the economy at ruling party Parliamentary group meeting and expected announcements on additional austerity measures on Wednesday mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens ' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Government announces (austerity) measures for public sector".

    APOGEVMATINI: "(PM George) Papandreou created a climate of fear on Tuesday in order to prepare people for imposition of harshest austerity measures in modern Greek history".

    AVGHI: "PASOK divided over the anti-social measures - High ranking cadres and ministers believe government's leadership bypasses society and PASOK's limits".

    AVRIANI: "Black crows ready to devour country's wealth and leave half the population jobless".

    ELEFTHEROS: "European Commission: Papandreou government lying -- we never said a thing about abolition of 14th salary".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Finally we are sinking - Papandreou puts country in deep recession - Cynical confession without a trace of self criticism over his government's inertia and mistakes".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "We're in a state of war - Papandreou's dramatic speech indicative of forthcoming severe measures".

    ESTIA: "We're downgrading our national wealth".

    ETHNOS: "Shock measures decided on Wednesday by Inner Cabinet".

    KATHIMERINI: "Papandreou: Measures or collapse - In dramatic words, the prime minister refers to the 'end of an era'" for the country".

    LOGOS: "Say farewell to your bonuses VAT will also be increased".

    IMERISSIA: "Measures now or else bankruptcy - Papandreou: Hour of responsibility for all".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Papandreou's dramatic speech on new measures at Inner Cabinet meeting ".

    NIKI: "Storm of measures puts Greece in state of war".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "PAME (communist affiliated union) demonstrations on Thursday must shake country".

    TA NEA: "George's (Papandreou) dramatic speech ahead of measures - "We must sacrifice to save the country from possibility of bankruptcy".

    VIMA: "All night thriller over 14th salary".

    VRADYNI: "Severe austerity with plenty of populism".

    Cyprus Affairs

    [45] Community leaders to meet again Thursday


    The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali

    Talat will hold a new meeting Thursday in the framework of the negotiating process to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem.

    According to a press release issued by UNFICYP, the meeting will take place at 10 o'clock at the official residence of UNFICYP Chief of Mission.

    During their previous meeting, held February 24th, the two leaders discussed the chapter on economy.

    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.

    In January 2010, Christofias and Talat conducted two rounds of intensive talks.

    [46] German FM: A lot of work needs to be done for Cyprus solution


    German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has welcomed the current intensive talks on the Cyprus issue and said that "there are possibilities for success even if a lot of work needs to be done and that compromises should be done at the end of the day".

    In statements after meeting on Tuesday Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou who was in Berlin for an official visit, Westerwelle said that a "solution demands from all sides boldness, political vision and willingness for compromise and Germany clearly calls all interested parties to show exactly that".

    An official statement said that the UN are playing an important role in the procedure in Cyprus, adding that a solution can only be achieved with the understanding of both sides and negotiations with a constructive spirit on all open matters.

    In his statements, Kyprianou said that Germany is especially sensitive on the Cyprus problem because it was a divided country some years ago.

    "Germany has managed to become reunited and surely supports our effort for a positive development for a positive result in the talks in Cyprus. The fact that Cyprus is divided is an unnatural situation and it is something that is contrary to all principles and history. For this reason our side will make every effort to reach a positive conclusion", he added.

    Kyprianou pointed out that when the talks conclude the procedure will be the result of an agreed solution, which will be able to gain the approval of the people of Cyprus, meaning those who will live with the solution.

    He said there has been some progress in the talks but there are still many difficult chapters, which have not been negotiated.

    What is important, he added, is for a solution not to collapse but to secure a federal, republic of Cyprus, which will be a completely functional EU member.

    He also said he had the opportunity to discuss enlargement issues with his German counterpart, including Turkey's candidacy. A candidate state, Kyprianou added, should fulfill all preconditions to be able to continue the procedure.

    Regarding statements made by Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan to Greek Cypriot journalists, Kyprianou said, "We welcome every positive step, with caution of course, until we see the implementation of these positions at the negotiating table".

    "We do not depend on statements and speeches but on positions that are tabled at the talks," he added.

    On his part, Westerwelle said that there is a lot of work that needs to be done, however there is a chance for success. The result, he added, is important not only for Cyprus and Turkey but for the entire EU. "We are interested, he said, in the continuation of Turkey's EU course because it is an important motive for the reforms in Turkey."

    At the same time, he called on Turkey to normalize its relations with the Republic of Cyprus.

    Replying to questions, Kyprianou said that the Greek Cypriot side could not accept a solution with the presence of Turkish troops.

    "An overall settlement should provide for the withdrawal of troops and it is a fundamental precondition to achieve a solution", he added.

    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.

    [47] Cyprus House President pessimistic over UN-led talks on Cyprus


    Cyprus House President Marios Garoyian appeared on Wednesday pessimistic regarding the prospects of the ongoing UN-led direct negotiations for an agreed settlement to the Cyprus problem, due to the stance observed by the Turkish Cypriot side at the negotiating table.

    Garoyian received Belgian Defense Minister Pieter De Crem, who is currently visiting Cyprus for contacts in view of the assumption of the EU Presidency by Belgium the second half of 2010. De Crem was accompanied by Belgium's Ambassador to Cyprus and Belgian Defense Ministry's senior officials.

    An official press release issued Wednesday, notes that during the meeting Garoyian briefed the Belgian minister on the latest developments to the Cyprus problem, noting he is pessimistic regarding the prospects of achieving progress in the talks, adding that his pessimism stems from the intransigent stance of the Turkish Cypriot side, evident from the recent proposals submitted at the negotiating table.

    These proposals, Garoyian added, focus on a confederal solution and violate the principles and values of the European Union, as well as the UN Security Council resolutions.

    As he noted, the Republic of Cyprus urges the international community to exert pressure on Turkey, which denies complying with the principles of the international law.

    Referring to the ''very good'' bilateral relations between Belgium and Cyprus, Garoyian thanked the Belgian minister for his country's ''traditional principled stance concerning the Cyprus problem,'' expressing his wish for more intensive exchanges between the parliaments of the two countries.

    On his part, De Crem said he had always been following attentively the Cyprus problem and wished for a solution soon.

    He pointed out that political will, assurances that the new state to emerge after a solution will function better, as well as the public impression that the new state of affairs will be better than the existing one, are preconditions for a settlement.

    Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus.

    Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community are engaged in talks with a view to finding a negotiated settlement.

    [48] Cyprus and Belgium reaffirm excellent relations

    The excellent relations between Cyprus and Belgium have been reaffirmed at a meeting between the Cypriot Minister of Defense Costas Papacostas and his Belgian counterpart Pieter De Crem.

    In statements after their meeting held Wednesday at the National Guard General Staff Headquarters, in Nicosia, Papacostas welcomed the Belgian Minister in Cyprus and added that before coming here De Crem had been in Lebanon, visiting the Belgian troops participating in the UN peacekeeping force in neighboring country (UNIFIL).

    Papacostas wished Belgian Minister to have a pleasant and fruitful stay on the island, noting at the same time that during their meeting they reaffirmed once again the excellent relations between Cyprus and Belgium.

    He also said that he accepted an invitation by De Crem to pay an official visit to Belgium in order to discuss further the issues concerning the two ministries.

    Referring to the fact that Belgium will take over the EU Presidency on 1 July 2010, Papacostas said that Cyprus must have closer cooperation with Belgium in order to gain the experiences needed to assume the European presidency in 2010.

    "This is extremely important for Cyprus and the Cyprus problem'', he noted.

    On his part, the Belgian Minister thanked Papacostas for the hospitality and reiterated that he extended an invitation to him to pay an official visit to his country during the Belgian presidency of the EU of the in order to discuss a range of issues of common interest.

    De Crem referred to the excellent relations between the two countries and added that the objective of his Ministry is to further deepen and broaden the cooperation between the two ministries by exchanging soldiers for training.

    He also said that although his visit to the island was short, however, it yielded tangible results.

    Belgian Minister made a special reference to the excellent cooperation between the two countries, while he noted the Cyprus welcome policy when Belgian frigates make a stopover in the island.

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