|Saturday, 17 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-03-11
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 11 March 2010 Issue No: 3441
 PM Papandreou says country's image abroad has changedWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/V. Mourtis)
Prime Minister George Papandreou, speaking to Greek reporters at the end of his working visit to the United States on Wednesday, said that the country's image abroad, at a political level, has changed completely as a result of his tour to Berlin, Paris and Washington.
Papandreou said that the struggle is now being waged with the markets which, as he noted, might possibly have special interests to be facing Greece in the way that they are facing it.
However, he added, the country "is continuing to wage its struggle, promoting big changes, in the tax system, in the pension scheme, creating the feeling of justice and that there is no impunity and, mainly, with the government's great effort and new big goal that is growth".
Referring to the "struggle against profiteering", Papandreou said that "in the near future the four leaders of the initiative against profiteering (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Eurozone President Jean-Claude Juncker and Papandreou) will be sending a letter to the European Union's relevant bodies to enable the necessary actions to begin for the creation of reaction apparatuses.
In essence, the communication of the letter to EU bodies also means a directive for the procedures to begin that might lead to legislative arrangements.
The legislative initiative will be European and, in essence, it will compel other countries to follow as well. It is a positive fact that there was agreement on the part of US President Barack Obama that initiatives are necessary and that the Americans are ready to contribute with their own ideas, despite the fact that there is no agreement on all issues."
The prime minister mentioned once again that the International Monetary Fund remains on the table, on the part of Greece, until at least the "day of judgement", as he termed it, meaning the day when it will be proved that Greece does not need the IMF. And this, as he added, also contributes to the mobilisation of Europe. The prime minister also said that Greece's possible resorting to the IMF, as it was ascertained during the discussions Greek Finance MInister George Papaconstantinou had with officials of his in Washington the day before yesterday, the fund would request from Greece to take the measures that the country has already taken. The difference, as he added, would be that the IMF would also provide the money with interest rates close to 1 percent, while the EU would not be able to give money.
Commenting on the meeting that he had on Tuesday evening, local time, with Greek American businessmen, he said that he saw great interest and special sensitivity and patriotism in Hellenism abroad, also following the attacks that Greece is sustaining from the profiteers and declared that they are ready to contribute with investments during this difficult period.
Foreign policy issues
Greek-Turkish relations, the issue of Cyprus and the question of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) were issues that the prime minister discussed during his visit to Washington with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On the question of FYROM, Papandreou told reporters that the discussion focused on all that is being discussed in the framework of the UN and he himself determined Greece's national red line on a mutually acceptable name with a geographical qualifier for all uses. Papandreou ascertained that the Americans understand the Greek position and show that they are inclined to support the effort to solve the issue on the basis set for it by Greece.
On the question of Cyprus, Papandreou let it be understood that he does not share the concern that the elections in occupied territory might complicate the situation. He said that the deepest problem in relation to Turkey is Turkey's stance on the issue of Cyprus and the lack of its will to proceed with the necessary steps for the solution to the problem exploiting the acquis communautaire. He brought this lack of will on the part of Turkey to the attention of President Obama and Hillary Clinton, while also expressing his full support for the efforts of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias.
Referring again to Turkey and replying to a relevant question, Papandreou stressed that he prefers the political and not the military leadership to have the upper hand in the neighbouring country. He added that this will also help Turkey itself in its European perspective.
Replying to another question on the issue of the Aegean continental shelf, Papandreou said that he raised the issue in his discussions as being one of the issues in Greek-Turkish relations. He mentioned that he undertook an initiative for the warming of Greek-Turkish relations, inviting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to Athens. On the question of the continental shelf, he spoke of exploratory contacts on its delineation, resorting to The Hague. He said that it is an opportunity to see this issue again after years.
Papandreou also pointed out that the delineations of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone must walk side by side. He added that it is a question of will on the part of Turkey to respect Greek sovereign rights and to abandon the threat against the Greek islands, "to enable us to talk as good neighbours".
 Greek Independence celebrated at White HouseWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
US President Barack Obama assured the Greek people that they have a friend and partner in the US in good and hard times, at the annual White House celebration of the March 25 Greek Independence Day, which took place on Tuesday with the attendance, for the first time, of a Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, and of a First Lady of the US, Michelle, as well as that of Archbishop Demetrios of America, traditionally.
The Greek Independence Day reception at the White House took place two weeks earlier this year, since Obama will be on a visit to Asia on the anniversary date of Greece's 1821 Revolution against Ottoman rule.
Addressing the event, Papandreou, who was accompanied by his wife Ada, spoke of the US' and Obama's efforts which "have given life to the concept of Democracy", while he also referred to the Greek and American revolutions.
The American-born Papandreou further commended Archbishop Demetrios, the "spiritual leader of the Greek American community, of which I am also a member", and his role in keeping the Greek Orthodox faith alive.
Papandreou further invited the US President to visit Athens, while he also noted the latter's desire to work together with Europe to tackle issues such as the rules and regulations in the globalising economy, making sure that it is a more just world, a more just economy, and a more humane world
He also noted the efforts of the Greek government and people to revive the economy and promote institutional changes.
In closing his brief address, Papandreou stressed that Greece and the US are always at each other's side in "our common quest for justice against all forms of tyranny and oppression in order to keep our world a place where it is worth living".
Obama noted that Papandreou is leading Greece in "challenging times", as his father and grandfather had done in the past, adding that he can't imagine a better way to celebrate Greek Independence Day than with the Greek prime minister.
The US President said that, as he had told Papandreou at their meeting, "whether in good times or in bad times, the people of Greece will always have a friend and a partner in the United States of America".
Obama said that on March 25, "we'll not only be celebrating a singular moment in time, we will be also reminded of the spirit that has defined Greece and its people for all time".
"There's a concept that captures it, and it doesn't translate easily, it doesn't really have an equivalent in English, but it's a virtue that all of you know well, because its the very essence of being Greek. 'Philotimo'. Literally, it translates as love of honor, but of course it means much more than that. Its a sense of love. To family, to community and to country. The notion that what we're here on this earth to do is to be all in this together. We all have obligations to each other. And to work together...It is the sense of nobility and morality," Obama continued.
"Philotimo, it is a sense of right and wrong, and the duty to do what is right," he added, "it is a sense of dignity and respect, as well, it's the determination that has driven generations of Greek Americans, like those here tonight, to struggle and sacrifice for the same things that all Americans want: to pursue our dreams, to realise our God-given potential, and to give our children an even better life."
The US President further noted Greece's contribution in WWII, and acknowledged the "Greece's efforts to extend security and stability in our time. Toward a just and final settlement in Cyprus, fully integrating the Balkans into Europe, and the prime minister's personal work to improve relations with Turkey. We thank you for your leadership."
He also commended Greece, "our close NATO ally, for standing up for peace and the security and opportunity of people around the world".
On the abolition of the visa requirement for Greek citizens wishing to visit the US, which was announced on Tuesday, Obama it will enhance the economic, political bonds between the two peoples.
"Greece's participation in the Visa Waiver Program will strengthen security in both our countries", and "whether its to do business or visit family and friends, it will now be easier for our Greek friends to visit the United States," he said.
Archbishop Demetrios referred to the Greek Revolution, stressing that it had achieved the impossible, against all odds, due to the soul, heart and mind of the revolutionaries. This example, he added, is an inspiration today to intensify efforts to consolidate democracy, freedom and peace throughout the world.
He noted that the Greek American community supports Obama's efforts to promote these ideals, as well as Obama's strong support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate's right to religious freedom, his dynamic and constant support for the reunification of Cyprus, and to the effort for a solution to the FYROM name issue.
 PM meets with former US President Bill ClintonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
Prime minister George Papandreou met on Tuesday with former US President Bill Clinton.
In statements afterwards, Clinton was positive on the Greek economy and on Papandreou's efforts.
He opined that the problem of the Greek economy stems from the fact that the EU first unified its currency before union at economic and political level, adding that the long-term prospects for Greece remain "exceptionally auspicious" and that it is a good bet that it will overcome the crisis.
Clinton also said that the Greek American community can significantly impact what will happen in Greece in the long run in tackling this difficult situation, adding that he was willing to help.
He further commended Papandreou's efforts.
"I will do all I can to help. I believe that the Prime Minister and his government are doing a very good job in a very difficult situation, which they can overcome. No one should bet against them," he said.
 Greece to join US visa waiver program in 30 daysGreece will join the US Visa Waiver Program in approximately 30 days time, according to an announcement issued on Wednesday by the US embassy in Athens. The decision, coinciding with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou's working meeting with Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday, was announced by the US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The development, a long-sought goal for Athens, was described as "a major milestone reflective of the strong and enduring relationship between the US and Greece".
"This is an exciting day for both the United States and Greece. A lot of hard work and cooperation by a lot of people in the United States and Greek governments have made visa waiver a reality for Greek citizens," US ambassador in Athens Daniel Speckhard said.
The Visa Waiver Program enables Greeks travelling to the America for tourism or certain business purposes to stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, though travellers will have to complete some information online prior to travelling.
To visit the US without a visa, a traveller will need the following items:
1. A passport with an integrated chip containing information on the data page which the Greek government has been issuing since August 26 and have the microchip symbol on the cover.
2. A valid return or onward, non-transferable airline ticket with a VWP-participating airline
3. An on-line authorisation or permission called the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). The ESTA is an electronic form which must be filled out online at the following and only the following website: https//esta.cbp.dhs.gov. It is similar to the forms traveller filled out prior to landing in the United States. Currently there is no fee for ESTA applications but there may be an application fee in the future.
Greeks with passports issued before August 26 must still apply for a visa or obtain a new Greek passport to take advantage of the visa waiver programme.
AHEPA applauds US administration's decision on visa
Meanwhile, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) on Wednesday issued a press release praising the decision, following a meeting by AHEPA national president Nicholas Karacostas following with officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"This is exciting and welcomed news. Greece has worked extremely hard to meet, and in some cases exceed, the United States' rigid visa waiver program criteria. We also thank the efforts of officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and our champions on Capitol Hill, especially the Hellenic caucus, for working ceaselessly to see this process through to its proper completion," he added.
According to a press release, the largest and oldest Greek-American organisation has worked with Congress since January 2006 to introduce legislation that designates Greece as a visa waiver nation, and hosted a public policy forum with leading administration, congressional, and policy experts to create awareness of the subject.
 White House statementWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
The White House said on Tuesday evening that US aid for resolving the credit crisis in Greece is not expected to be requested by the Greek leaders visiting Washington this week".
That is a European Union issue," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in reply to a press question, adding that "we believe they have the abilities to resolve this problem".
 ND spokesman on Samaras itinerary, visa waiver, PM's trips abroad, economyMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras will be in Brussels next Tuesday (March 16), as an official guest of European People's Party (EPP) leader Wilfried Martens, ND press officer Panos Panagiotopoulos said on Wednesday, adding that Samaras, knowing that the country is going through its most serious crisis of the last 50 years, was doing everything practically possible to help and support the country.
He said that Samaras will attend a working breakfast in Brussels that will comprise the important EU economy ministers, such as of France, Germany and Italy. The subject of the working meeting will be to discuss ways in which Europe will quickly and safely exit the crisis.
Samaras will also attend the EPP conference in Brussels on March 25, he added.
US Visa Waiver Program
On the abolition of the visa requirement for Greeks wishing to travel to the US announced by Washington on Tuesday, Panagiotopoulos said that ND considers this a positive development, and cited an announcement issued earlier in the day by ND former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis's office outlining all the actions taken under the preceding government of Costas Karamanlis up until June 2009 when the relevant agreements for the process of Greece entering the US Visa Waiver Program were signed.
To a relevant question, Panagiotopoulos said that, as noted in Bakoyannis' announcement, ND had completed the resolution of the visa issue, without this meaning, however, that ND wishes to detract from prime minister George Papandreou his share of the success.
PM's talks abroad
Panagiotopoulos further said that ND requests of the prime minister, upon his return to Athens, to immediately brief the political party leaders and parliament on the content of his talks in Germany, France and the US and the outcome.
He noted that, it arises from the government's announcements, that there is strong mobility in Greek-Turkish relations, with an exchange of letters between the Greek and Turkish prime ministers while, "according to Mr. Papandreou, a visit by Mr. Erdogan (Turkish prime minister) to Athens is pending in the early summer", while any developments on the FYROM name issue should be expected at around the NATO summit in the Fall of 2010.
Panagiotopoulos said it is self-evident that following Papandreou's return to Greece "we are waiting to see the practical and specific results of his trips abroad, the main result of which should be a reduction in the cost of borrowing by Greece.
He added that the cost of borrowing skyrocketed to dizzying heights "due to the prime minister's tactics after the elections", noting that although Papandreou had spoken of bankruptcy, he had not taken the necessary measures in time which, if he had, they would have been "milder than those he was forced to take".
 KKE on Papandreou-Obama meetingIn an announcement concerning the meeting between Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and U.S. President Barack Obama the previous day, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) on Wednesday stressed that the government's "triumphs" had little to do with the Greek people and their interests.
Papandreou's statements that Greece was participating in the war against international terrorism and had the shared values with the United States "mean that the Greek plutocracy and its political staff will participate more decisively in the raid of the imperialists-terrorists against the people. This is the basis for the support that PASOK's government received from the U.S. president."
KKE said that Obama's political support was actually support in the war being waged by the Greek government against its own people, in collaboration with the European Union, support for the abolition of any gains left to the working class and the spread of "galley-type" conditions in labour and income.
The party also asserted that PASOK had traded major sovereign rights in the Aegean, such as legalising the 'grey zones' alleged by Turkey, and active support for U.S. interests in the Balkans.
Regarding Greece's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, KKE said that this was essentially based on agreements giving free access to the personal data, including DNA and fingerprints, of Greek citizens and handing over the rights to U.S. anti-terrorist services to monitor Greek airports, passport offices and placed armed agents on transatlantic flights.
 LA.OS leader on gov't measures; 'name issue'Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis underlined on Wednesday that immediate measures are necessary to make Greece attractive again to foreign investors and in order to avoid recession, reiterating that he "supports Greece and not the government".
Speaking on a local private television channel, Karatzaferis called on all political party leaders to accept a 50-pct cut in the state subsidy paid to political parties, while referring to the prime minister's trip to the United States, he said that it was "one of the most successful trips ever made by a Greek prime minister."
Karatzaferis stated that the key statement made during the prime minister's visit to Washington came from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke of a "closer Euro-Atlantic alliance in the Balkans".
Turning to a thorny foreign policy issue, he also stressed that he rejects the name "Republic of Northern Macedonia" for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM).
Referring to main opposition New Democracy (ND) and internal party developments, he said ND leader Antonis Samaras "can do better".
 Tsipras: Barbarous attack against social and labour rightsSynaspimos leader Alexis Tsipras, in a television interview on Tuesday, stressed that "the mandatory structural changes are not the compression of labour cost, nor the dismantling of the social state and the abolition of the social security system, or the cutbacks in salaries in public and private sector".
Tsipras stressed that "We have a narrow restrictive fiscal policy which will create new deficits. We have a barbarous attack against the social and labour rights and income. This will lead to a decline in active demand, a decline in consumption, and even taxable items will decline. We have a faulty taxation system. The state cannot have revenues with this system, or it will have them by strangling the productive forces of the country".
"We have fallen into the trap (of fear) of bankruptcy which we ourselves set, and we are and will remain captives of the markets for many years to come", the Synaspismos and SYRIZA parliamentary group leader warned, adding that the EU wants the same austerity measures to be imposed also in the private sector.
"The fairy tale of bankruptcy, the dragon of bankruptcy, has died out but another dragon exists, that of competitiveness, and they will tell us: 'You are not competitive, make more cutbacks in salaries', as if to become competitive we must reach China's levels. To have labour relations and a social security system adopted from the US, that liberal model, and salaries adopted from China's model" said Tsipras.
Tsipras' interview was shown on SKAI private television.
 Heated Parliament debate on naturalisation billA heated Parliamentary debate on a government draft bill envisioning naturalisation for certain categories of legal migrants in the country took place on Wednesday, following a roll-call vote called for by main opposition New Democracy party and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) party.
From Parliament's podium, ND leader Antonis Samaras unleashed a scathing attack on the government over a recently added "rider" to the draft bill, demanding the withdrawal of a provision expanding the prime minister's emergency powers.
In a reply, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis spoke of a "political stigma" and a confrontation between ND and LA.OS as a result of George Karatzaferis' support of recent efforts of Prime Minister George Papandreou on the handling of the ongoing deficit and economic crisis.
Samaras referred to an "amendment of shame, one that fully legalises arbitrariness and illegality." He aimed his criticism at the provision providing the prime minister with the possibility -- in the face of emergencies and issues of major national importance -- of assigning committees directly with the preparation of studies and projects, as well as the right to determine the remuneration of researchers with the finance minister.
In reiterating ND's criticism of the naturalisation bill, he termed as "dangerous and lacking any security valve the bill, which paves the way for mass naturalisations of tens of thousands of migrants, at a time when Greece is experiencing, in the postwar era, its deepest economic and social crisis."
"You are turning the country into a very powerful magnet for illegal immigration. During a period of significant turbulence you are giving the impression that you are trying to change the electorate in municipal elections. You are leading Greek society to dangerous deadlocks. This bill ignites xenophobia and racism, it dynamites social cohesion. You will have the entire responsibility for whatever happens," Samaras said, repeating his pledge to repeal the bill if it is passed and he subsequently assumes power.
In his retort, Ragoussis said Samaras chose a time when "the Greek prime minister is at the climax of a personal and national campaign to change an unfavourable climate internationally (for Greece) so as to be able to change it in favour of national interests ... to question the prime minister's integrity. This clause is in the framework of the institution of the prime minister's office and comes amid his effort to restructure Greece, which was tottering..."
The minister also spoke of "reliable, transparent procedures that secure that those living permanently and for a long time in our country and have a real will shall be able, upon conditions, to be naturalised as Greek citizens."
He also rejected criticism by both ND and LA.OS regarding the risk of an adulteration of the municipal elections' result, stressing that even if all the legal migrants ask to participate, they will be a few tens of thousands scattered all over the country, that means that they will not exceed 1 percent in every prefecture.
On his part, LA.OS leader Karatzaferis, despite his strong disagreement he expressed on the naturalisation bill, gave support for efforts in the economy and the amendment concerning the premier's duties. He also reiterated his proposal for a referendum on the naturalisation.
"We set out with the logic that in the face of every prime minister we must have trust in our institutions. All prime ministers cannot be suspicious. The prime minister is requesting special powers to develop apparatuses for us to tackle the crisis. He must have the possibility ... to make a committee, even a confidential one," he said.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Parliamentary representative George Mavrikos spoke of an effort by the government to appear as the protector of the migrants, declaring that his party will not allow the bill to become an excuse for all sins, while calling on working people and migrants to participate en masse in the mobilisations for the reversal, as he said, of the country's anti-popular course.
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group president Alexis Tsipras spoke of a "perplexed government that does not dare to defend with vigour a bill that could be a reform for Greek society."
Tsipras added that "the dilemma is whether we shall go back to the revolutionary constitutions or whether we shall proceed to a society of solidarity, particularly in this period of economic crisis."
 President Papoulias meets head of Cyprus' European partyPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received the head of Cyprus's European Party Demetris Syllouris, who is currently visiting Athens.
During his talks with Papoulias, the Cyprus party president expressed his disappointment with recent developments that "created an injustice against Cyprus".
"We are completely disappointed with the political decision taken by the European Court of Human Rights last week, with the admission - proclamation, I could say - by the Turkish president and foreign minister that they intervened in the decision. It was our doing as well, they have said. And the question is: We who place our hopes in Europe, what kind of Europe should we hope for? Because we from Europe want justice, nothing more nothing less," Syllouris said.
He was referring to an ECHR decision that will henceforth require outstanding cases for the return of seized property by Greek-Cypriots to first go through a 'Immovable Property Commission' set up by Turkey in the occupied north of the island before they apply to the ECHR over property issues. The change came about because previously Turkey had denied responsibility for violations and presented the IPC and other courts as being those of the illegal occupation regime, which is recognised only by Turkey. Now, however, the IPC and High Administrative Court in the occupied north are considered to be Turkish and thus an "effective domestic remedy" that must be exhausted before cases are brought to Strasbourg.
 Bartholomew to attend meeting with ArincISTANBUL (ANA-MPA - A. Kourkoulas)
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is to have a working breakfast with Turkish Vice-President and State Minister Bulent Arinc on Thursday morning.
Arinc has invited the religious leaders of non-Muslim minorities and some of their community leaders to attend the meeting, which is taking place in the framework of a policy launched on August 15, 2009 by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and five members of the Turkish government. This had featured a similar meeting with Turkish Minister for EU affairs Egemen Bagis.
 No ANA-MPA services on Thursday, March 11, due to 24-hour strikeThe Athens News Agency (ANA-MPA) is obliged to discontinue transmissions and the dissemination of all news and information for all its services between 6 a.m. (04:00 GMT) Thursday and 6 a.m. on Friday (24 hours) due to a strike called by the Athens Journalists' Union (ESIEA) for March 11, 2010.
Additionally, the news items featured on the ANA-MPA's website will not be renewed for the duration of the strike.
All ANA services and transmissions will resume normally beginning at 6 a.m. on Friday, March 12.
We thank you for your understanding.
 Rehn spokesman on Greek austerity measuresBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
A spokesman for EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn reiterated here on Wednesday that the Union's mechanism to support Greece was ready to intervene when this is considered necessary, and if it was asked to do so.
The spokesman added that, at present, there are no substantial reasons for an EU intervention, as Greece has not asked for such.
He also reiterated that initiatives undertaken this past month by Greek authorities are moving in the right direction, underlining, at the same time that with the additional measures announced by Athens "a Greek solution is being given to Greek problems."
According to the spokesman, what the Commission has been underlining and insists on is that there must be a solid, reliable and effective stability programme, which will secure that the ambitious targets to decrease Greece's fiscal deficit will be achieved, something which, as he said, is being guaranteed by the latest supplementary measures.
 Greek parliament debates bill on EU funds' managementA draft bill, currently debated in Parliament, over the management of a Fourth Community Support Framework Program was aiming to achieve decentralization of funds management, simplifying procedures and adopting more efficient ways in implementing operational programs in order to accelerate the inflow of community funds and their distribution to projects and actions of high development results, Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Luca Katseli said on Wednesday.
Speaking in Parliament, during a debate in a parliamentary commission, the Greek minister said complex management systems, combined with bureaucrary from 2007 onwards, has led to serious malfunction and delay in implementing targets and absorbing EU funds. Katseli said absorption of EU funds from a Fourth Community Support Framework Program was a low 5.0 pct of total budget.
She stressed the need, particularly in the current negative economic situation, for urgent and drastic measures to change the situation, such as a redistribution of funds to cover more sectors of the economy, such as education, health and tourism.
 Budget deficit down significantly in Jan-FebState budget deficit fell significantly in the first two months of 2010, despite the fact that revenue growth fell behind the annual target, the Bank of Greece announced on Wednesday.
The central bank, in a report, said the central government's budget deficit fell to 1.6 billion euros in the January-February period, from 3.4 billion euros in the corresponding period in 2009.
In the first two months of the year, regular budget's revenues totaled 7.9 billion euros, for a growth rate of 6.5 pct down from an annual growth target of 10.8 pct. Spending fell to 8.5 billion euros, for a decline of 1.0 pct but down from a 2.2-pct annual decline target. The central bank said the state budget's primary deficit fell to736 million euros in January-February, down from a shortfall of 2.2 billion euros last year.
 Employment Minister rules out salary cuts in private sectorEmployment and Social Solidarity Minister Andreas Loverdos categorically rejected Wednesday that the government or any other source have proposed cutting the 14th salary (Easter and holiday bonus) in the private sector following the implementation of the measure in the public sector.
Briefing the responsible parliamentary committee on the draft law on "guarantees against labor insecurity", Loverdos stated that "the issue has not been raised by the government, the European inspectors or the responsible European Commissioner."
The minister underlined that "it would have been disastrous," adding that "the relevant discussion is meaningless and causes concern."
Loverdos attributed the ongoing talk on the fate of the 14th salary in the private sector to circles outside the political scene that have a strong influence on the mass media.
 SEB: Reduction of 14th salary in private sector 'not an issue'Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) president Dimitris Daskalopoulos on Wednesday stated that there is no issue of a cutback in the '14th salary' in the private sector", adding that there is an established framework of labor relations in Greece.
He said that the moblisations, upheaval and violence are instigated by those who for their own interest want to maintain the chronic problems that made Greece a beggar in the international markets.
Fortunately, there is also the Greece that works arduously, creates and produces with its worthiness exists, that has no place in the state's subsidies and partisan sinecures, Daskalopoulos said.
"This is the Greece that gives hope to all of us," he added.
 Crete to become tourism destination of excelleneThe signing ceremony for Crete's participation in the World Center of Excellence For Destinations (CED) will take place on Wednesday on the sidelines of the ITB Travel Show in Berlin, attended by Deputy Culture Minister Angela Gerekou and World Tourism Organisation (WTO) secretary general Taleb Rifai.
For Crete, participation in the programme, beyond the promotion of the island, will also contribute to the establishment of a detailed "destination management plan" that will additionally secure WTO guidance for a period of four years that will assist Crete to adapt in the new international tourism status quo.
 AB Vasilopoulos to pay 1.0 euro per share dividend to shareholdersAB Vasilopoulos SA on Wednesday said its consolidated after tax profits totaled 32.6 million euros in 2009, from 32.7 million in 2008, while its consolidated pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) rose 26 pct to 88.9 million euros last year, from 70.5 million in 2008. Consolidated pre-tax profits jumped to 52.2 million euros, from 41 million euros in 2008.
Consolidated turnover rose 10.2 pct to 1.437 billion euros in 2009, from 1.337 billion in 2008. The group's board said it will seek shareholders' approval to a plan to pay an 1.0 euro per share dividend to its shareholders.
AB Vasilopoulos plans to expand its network with the addition of 13-18 new units (including franchising units) this year.
 Alumil to issue 120-mln-euro bond loanAlumil SA on Wednesday announced the signing of an agreement to issue a common bond loan, worth 120 million euros. Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank will coordinate the issuance of the five-year bond. Alumil said it will use the new capital to refinance its existing debt.
 Wholesale turnover index down 5.5 pct in Q4Greece's turnover index in the wholesale commerce sector fell 5.5 pct in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with the corresponding period in 2008, after an increase of 4.0 pct recorded in the previous 12-month period, the National Statistical Service said on Wednesday.
The statistics service said the index was up 2.9 pct in the fourth quarter from the third quarter of 2009.
The statistics service also announced that the turnover index in the car sector dropped 7.3 pct in the fourth quarter compared with the same period in 2008, while the turnover index in car sales fell 12.2 pct in the same period.
The turnover index in the hotel and restaurant sector fell 18.8 pct in the fourth quarter last year.
 Stocks jump 2.62% on Wed.Stocks ended sharply higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, pushing the composite index of the market above the 2,100 level for the first time in two months. The index rose 2.62 pct to end at 2,139.80 points, with turnover rising to 242.838 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index jumped 3.14 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 1.75 pct and the FTSE 80 index rose 2.79 pct. The Raw Materials (4.52 pct), Industrial Products (4.36 pct) and Banks (3.97 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day.
Imperio (19.05 pct), Centric (13.24 pct), Akritas (9.80 pct) and Marfin Egnatia (9.40 pct) were top gainers, while Klonatex (14.29 pct), Cardico (10 pct), Praxitelio (9.76 pct) and Eurobrokers (9.48 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 153 to 42 with another 41 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.91%
Personal & Household: +0.56%
Raw Materials: +4.52%
Travel & Leisure: +2.59%
Food & Beverages: +0.15%
Financial Services: +2.20%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and Bank of Cyprus.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 7.56
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.70
HBC Coca Cola: 20.00
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.80
National Bank of Greece: 16.05
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.61
Bank of Piraeus: 6.76
 Bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the new 10-year Greek benchmark bond and the German Bund shrank to 310 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 317 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 6.25 pct and the German Bund 3.14 pct. Turnover in the market totaled 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 rate 0.71 pct and the one-month rate 0.48 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.45 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising to 103.564 million euros. Volume in the Big Cap index totaled 13,975 contracts, worth 86.221 million euros, with 34,783 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 20,214 contracts, worth 17.363 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,832), followed by Eurobank (1,021), MIG (931), OTE (739), PPC (693), Piraeus Bank (820), Alpha Bank (3,007), Marfin Popular Bank (1,541), Cyprus Bank (1,607) and Hellenic Postbank (540).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.371
Pound sterling 0.918
Danish kroner 7.500
Swedish kroner 9.795
Japanese yen 124.15
Swiss franc 1.473
Norwegian kroner 8.076
Canadian dollar 1.408
Australian dollar 1.497
 Police examine possible urban terror links in early morning shootoutA shootout between the two-man crew of a police patrol car and two armed suspects in the early morning hours on Wednesday in the Athens district of Dafni -- which resulted in the shooting death of one suspect -- is being regarded as a "very serious" case, according to Greek Police (EL.AS) officials.
According to reports, the slain 35-year-old suspect belonged to a so-called "anti-establishment" movement, with his first arrest recorded in 1995 for alleged participation violent incidents at the Athens Polytechnic.
Police officials said shooting spree took place at 4:43 a.m. in the central Dafni district when police motioned a car to stop for a routine traffic check. When the two suspects got out of the automobile they opened fire against the police officers, who responded with their service handguns. One of the suspects was killed and the other fled the scene on foot.
Next to the body police found a handgun was used in the shootout, while a hand grenade was found inside the victim's backpack. Additionally, a cordless communication device was hidden in the man's jacket.
 Cocaine trafficking ring dismantled in AthensA drug trafficking ring that smuggled cocaine from Argentina into Greece hidden in packages sent in the mail was dismantled by the ministry of finance Special Audit Service in cooperation with the German Customs Authorities.
The responsible drug enforcement agency was notified by the German customs at the airport of Frankfurt after tracing a package from Argentina with 250 grams of cocaine in liquid form hidden in a decorative glass ball destined for a recipient in Greece.
The package was received by a 53-year-old businessman in the district of Keratea, Athens, who had been recently released from jail after serving a prison term on drug charges.
During questioning he told police that the cocaine deal was organized by a 32-year-old Mexican national currently serving a prison term in Greece following his arrest in April 2009 accused of smuggling roughly 4 kilos of cocaine from Argentina hidden in packages.
A local man is also accused of being a member of the drug trafficking ring.
 Archaeologists unearth rare finds in Aiane, KozaniRare finds, among them the architectural ruins of tombs, pottery and clay statuettes, were brought to light during archeological excavations conducted at the Royal Necropolis in the region of Livadia, near the village of Aiane in the prefecture of Kozani, northwestern Greece.
The land of Aiane is rich in unique and rare archaeological finds, according to the head of the 30th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in charge of the excavations, referring to recent discoveries that include 25 tombs dating back to the Archaic and Classical Period and 4 tombs of the late Bronze Age.
The latest finds will be presented in the 23rd Scientific Meeting on the Archaeological Work in Macedonia and Thrace to be held at Thessaloniki Aristotle University (AUTH) on Thursday.
 Prosecutor orders police intervention to end protest outside the General Accounting OfficeFirst Instance Court Chief Prosecutor Yiannis Sakelakos ordered police on Wednesday to intervene and end the blockade by protesting former employees of Olympic Airways outside the General Accounting Office on Panepistimiou Street in downtown Athens.
Sakelakos ordered police do what is necessary to end the protest, suggesting that they proceed with arrests and lawsuits.
Members of Federation of Civil Aviation Authority Associations (OSPA) have blocked access to the General Accounting Office since last Thursday.
 Effort to declare 'Med Diet' an UNESCO cultural heritageThe noted harbour town of Koroni, in the southern Peloponnese's Messinia Prefecture, will represent Greece in an effort by four Mediterranean countries to have the so-called "Mediterranean Diet" recognised by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Greece, Italy, Spain and Morocco have submitted a candidacy file and efforts have already been launched to meet the goal, which, above all, will attempt to given an international stature to the Mediterranean diet.
The first relevant meeting will be held in Morocco during the coming weekend to focus on promotion of the endeavour and draw up a strategy.
The representative cities for Italy, Spain and Morocco are, Cilento, Soria and Chefchaouen, respectively.
 Cloudy, rainy on ThursdayCloudy and rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -1C and 19C. Cloudy with possible rainfall in Athens, with northerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 7C to 16C. Rainy in Thessaloniki with light snowfall in mountainous areas, with temperatures ranging from 2C to 9C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens dailies at a glancePrime Minister George Papandreou's meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington, the US government's decision to abolish the visa requirement for Greek citizens and the US's political support to Greece, the deliberations in Europe aiming to establish a common front against speculators, and the nationwide labour strike on Thursday, dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Thousands of contract holders in public sector justified by the plenary of the Court of Audit - They will retroactively receive their salaries".
APOGEVMATINI: "Greeks will not need a visa to travel to USA - US President manifested his support to Greece by abolishing the visa requirement, and US participation in the battle against speculation".
AVGHI: "Solidarity messages from confederation of European labor unions for Thursday's nationwide strike in Greece".
AVRIANI: "Papandreou called on Obama to put a stop to the speculators - Their meeting focused on the economy, the Cyprus issue, the (Aegean) continental shelf and the Balkans".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Piraeus Port Authority president George Anomeritis' provocative gift to unionists - He's giving money under the table while the employees' are groaning".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "He have visa (waiver) for support - Papandreou's 45-minute meeting with Obama".
ESTIA: "We must take care of our own house - Support from abroad is not enough".
ETHNOS: "Papandreou received visa (waiver) from the White House - Agreement on the international fight against speculators".
IMERISSIA: "Coalition against the speculators - Obama's pledge on markets' control".
KATHIMERINI: "Papandreou, Obama's meeting was held in a warm climate - After the meeting, the abolition of visa requirement for Greek citizens was announced".
LOGOS: ".....And the abolition of the visa came - Prime Minister described the action as 'a vote of confidence'."
NAFTEMPORIKI: "A support mechanism for Greece in being prepared - Europe mulling the intervention data if such is deemed necessary in the future".
NIKI: "The prime minister writes history....Papandreou-Obama meeting changed the status quo for Greece".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Government, EU and plutocracy: They curtail the salaries and the contracts and deregulate the firings in public and private sector".
TA NEA: "Obama's visa to George (Papandreou) - Support from the White House".
TO VIMA: "Obama gives visa (waiver), and US assistance to Europe".
VRADYNI: "Society in a crisis - The country at a standstill on Thursday due to nationwide strike".
 Foreign Minister says President Christofias active on Famagusta issueNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias sent letters to the EU leaders, UN Security Council members and European officers three months ago, concerning the issue of Famagusta, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Kyprianou said on Wednesday.
Speaking after a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, which discussed the issue of Famagusta, Kyprianou said that he had the opportunity to brief the House of Representatives on the moves of the government concerning Famagusta, and the initiatives of President Christofias.
He said that the president's letter refers to the need to allow experts to study the issue of rebuilding the town, in order for its legal residents to return, and that this would improve the climate in talks between the two communities for a solution of the Cyprus problem.
Replying to questions, Kyprianou said Famagusta was Turkey's responsibility and that the president was making moves to gain the support of all Cyprus' partners, who in turn would raise the issue with Turkey, either through the UN or the EU, or even both.
Furthermore, Kyprianou said that procedures to abolish visas between Cyprus and the United States were in the pipeline and that it would take a couple of years before the measure was implemented.
He added that one of the preconditions was the issuing of biometric passports, which was a time-consuming project.
Famagusta was captured by the advancing Turkish troops during the second phase of the Turkish invasion, in mid August 1974. Ever since it has remained sealed off, under the control of the Turkish military and remains to this day abandoned. Famagusta has been declared by the government of Cyprus a closed port of entry.
UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha (the fenced off area of Famagusta) by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN. Turkey has refused to comply with the UN call.
 EU Commission calls upon US to abolish visa for Cypriot nationalsBRUSSELS (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The European Commission has called upon the US government to abolish the soonest possible visa requirements for Cypriot nationals.
In a written statement Wednesday, European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom welcomed the announcement on behalf of the US government regarding the abolition of visa requirement for Greek nationals, visiting the country.
She also called upon the US government to include the soonest possible in their program of abolishing visas, four more EU countries, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.
 Suspects in custody in connection with theft of Papadopoulos' bodyNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The two persons who were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the theft of the body of the late President of the Republic of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos were brought before the Nicosia District Court on Wednesday, which ordered that they remain in custody for eight days, to which the suspects did not object.
The first suspect, a 31-year-old Indian, was arrested after he was identified as the person who revealed the location of the body to Papadopoulos' family, demanding a sum of money in return.
The Court heard that the Indian had willingly given a statement to the police admitting he had taken part in the theft of the body, naming the second suspect, a 48-year-old Cypriot, as his accomplice, and a third person, serving a life sentence in the Central Prisons, as the person who commissioned the crime.
The police told the Court that the third suspect, who is the brother of the second suspect, has also been arrested in the prisons.
The suspects are facing charges of conspiracy to commit an illegal act, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, participation in and agreement to commit a criminal act, insulting religion, illegal entrance into burial grounds, arrangement to commit a crime, criminal intervention, demand of money by use of threat, omission to prevent a crime, impulse to commit a criminal act, and violation of the law concerning income from illegal activities.
The police said the first suspect had explained in his testimony how the body was stolen from its grave three months ago and where it had been buried, adding that the Indian had repeatedly contacted Papadopoulos' family demanding money in exchange for information on where the body was.
On Monday, the body was discovered in another cemetery indicated by the Indian, who was arrested on Tuesday in the Larnaca district based on a description given by the family. Soon after that, the second suspect was arrested but did not answer any questions when interrogated, saying he would give a written statement after consulting his lawyer.
The police requested that the two suspects remain in custody for eight days to facilitate investigations. The two suspects did not object.
Papadopoulos' body was removed from the grave on 11 December 2009 from the cemetery of Deftera village, on the eve of his first annual memorial service.
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