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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-03-17

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

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

Wednesday, 17 March 2010 Issue No: 3445

CONTENTS

  • [01] FinMin satisfied over ECOFIN results
  • [02] PM refers to 'important decisions' at EU Summit
  • [03] Eurogroup reaffirms commitment for 'determined and coordinated action' for Greek economy if necessary
  • [04] Rehn on Greek deficit reduction
  • [05] PM Papandreou holds talks with Hungarian counterpart
  • [06] PM in Budapest, addresses Hungarian Socialist Party event
  • [07] PM Papandreou addresses Hungarian Socialist Party event, University students
  • [08] PM in Brussels on Wednesday, Thursday
  • [09] Samaras: Goal a European solution for Greece, not an IMF solution
  • [10] Gov't on tax system, NSRF
  • [11] Beglitis addresses EXPOSEC 2010
  • [12] Seminar on regional media, targeted actions
  • [13] Democrats Abroad announces renewed country com't for Greece
  • [14] Greek KFOR military base in Kosovo to close
  • [15] Pension system reform experts present report
  • [16] IKA prescription monitoring system, cuts in spending
  • [17] IKA lowers price estimates for medical goods and services
  • [18] Greek pharmaceuticals' investments total 300 mln euros
  • [19] Deputy Tourism Minister Gerekou visiting Russia
  • [20] EU seeks return of 132.3 million euros in farm subsidies
  • [21] Experts committee submits report on social security system overhaul
  • [22] GSEE to hold regular national conference on March 18-20
  • [23] GENOP escalates strike action, power cuts a possibility
  • [24] Rally in Thessaloniki against economic measures
  • [25] Former Irish PM FitzGerald to address business event in Athens
  • [26] Alpha Bank says net profits down 23.8% in 2009
  • [27] Allianz Hellas reports 12.3% rise in 2009 turnover
  • [28] European Commission on Shell's Greek activities
  • [29] Forthnet reports improved 2009 results
  • [30] Transport turnover index down in Q4 2009
  • [31] Construction production index down 30.2 pct in Q4
  • [32] Stocks end 0.5% down
  • [33] Greek bond market closing report
  • [34] ADEX closing report
  • [35] Foreign Exchange rates - Wednesday
  • [36] National Geographic Mount Athos photo exhibition
  • [37] First Children's Opera Festival on Monday
  • [38] Armed robbers take 200,000 euros from Attica press agency
  • [39] Cloudy, rainy on Wednesday
  • [40] The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
  • [41] Leaders to discuss possibility of joint statement, says President
  • [42] UNSG hopes for a joint statement in Cyprus peace talks Politics

  • [01] FinMin satisfied over ECOFIN results

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / M. Aroni)

    FinMin Minister George Papaconstantinou on Tuesday expressed satisfaction over a "very positive signal" by ECOFIN over both the Greek government's job so far and prospects for a support mechanism for crisis-battered Greece, if needed, as he said.

    Speaking to reporters after an ECOFIN council meeting here, the Greek minister said a previous ECOFIN council - a month ago - had asked Athens to take the necessary decisions to deal with any risks from the implementation of an updated Stability and Growth programme.

    "We took difficult decisions for supplementary measures accounting for 2.0 pct of GDP," Papaconstantinou said, reminding of a decision to raise VAT by 2.0 pct and higher special consumption taxes.

    "The measures are difficult for citizens but necessary to lead the country out of a difficult situation," he said.

    He added that his counterparts in the Eurogroup and ECOFIN, as well as the European Commission and the European Central Bank, expressed positive reaction over the government's initiatives, while he also expressed his confidence of a prevailing perception, as he said, within the EU that the Greek government has done what it was needed to put its public finances in order.

    The country's stability and growth programme was moving forward and was ahead of timetables, both in terms of structural interventions and budget execution. Papaconstantinou said the country's fiscal deficit stood at 1.0 billion euros at the end of February, down from 4.0 billion euros in the same month last year.

    He said a decision by Eurogroup on Monday over a mechanism to offer financial assistance to Greece or other countries, as a stability shield for the eurozone, was a positive step.

    "We leave with a clear will to create a mechanism if Greece needs it," he told reporters, adding that Greece has asked for political support to deal with a difficult financial situation, overcoming huge borrowing costs and normalising bond spreads. However, he stressed that a series of technical issues needed to be cleared up within the next few days or weeks.

    Papaconstantinou said Greece would have received support if it asked for it, but stressed that "you never ask for something before you learn what will be offered to you".

    [02] PM refers to 'important decisions' at EU Summit

    BUDAPEST (ANA-MPA / G. Milionis)

    Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said here on Tuesday that the upcoming March 25-26 EU Summit will be taking very important decisions, with Greece doing the same, namely, determining its next moves after assessing the Summit's decisions.

    Papandreou was responding to a relevant question during a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart Gordon Bajnai.

    Papandreou, who is on a one-day working visit to Budapest, was referring to an Ecofin meeting in Brussels a day earlier, which failed to provide details over a possible financial aid package to debt-plagued Greece. At Monday's meeting, eurozone president Jean-Claude Juncker said the specific issue would be referred to the EU Summit on March 25.

    [03] Eurogroup reaffirms commitment for 'determined and coordinated action' for Greek economy if necessary

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni/M. Spinthourakis)

    The eurozone member states reaffirmed their commitment to take "determined and coordinated action" if needed for the Greek economy, during a Eurogroup meeting on Monday, at which finance minister George Papaconstantinou represented Greece, although no specific decisions were taken with respect to the prospect of financial assistance

    According to a Eurogroup announcement, the action could be activated swiftly if required, adding that the ministers clarified the technical aspects of the action, while also stressing that the Greek authorities have not asked for financial assistance.

    "It (the Eurogroup) clarified the technical modalities enabling a decision on coordinated action and which could be activated swiftly in the case of need," the 16-member group said in an announcement.

    "The Eurogroup reaffirmed the commitment by euro area member states to take determined and coordinated action, if needed," the announcement said, adding that "the objective would not be to provide financing at average euro area interest rates, but to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole."

    "The proposals ... would provide strong incentives to return to markets as soon as possible," the announcement continued, clarifying that the proposals will have to be adopted at the next EU Summit (on March 25), will be compatible with the Lisbon Treaty and the national legislations of the member states, and will be capable of sending the proper messages to the markets, as soon as possible.

    The announcement further said that "The eurogroup underlines that the Greek authorities have not asked for financial support", stressing that the measures taken by Greece contribute significantly to the viability of the country's public finances and to strengthening the confidence of the markets, and noting that those measures have been fully endorsed by the Eurogroup, the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB).

    Endorsing the Commission evaluation of the measures announced by the Greek authorities on March 3, which were ratified by the Greek parliament on March 5, the Eurogroup considers that those measures are adequate to achieve the targets for 2010, on condition that they are fully, swiftly and efficiently implemented.

    The Eurogroup at the same time urges the Greek authorities to decisively and immediately advance the adoption of structural reforms, in accordance with the Council recommendations, while the Eurogroup also stresses that the correction of imbalances and restoration of competitiveness are of decisive importance for keeping the Greek economy on a viable course and achieving reduction of the deficit to below 3 percentage points of GDP by 2012.

    The Eurogroup further stressed its strong support for the Greek government's efforts, saying that it is in the interests of the Greek people who will benefit from healthy public finances and better prospects with respect to growth and jobs.

    Finally, the Eurogroup asks of the Greek authorities to provide detailed information on the course of implementation of the measures that have been announced and all other measures that need to be taken in order to achieve the budget targets of 2011 and 2012, adding that Athens must submit the information by May 15 in the report that it will submit to the relevant EU services.

    Juncker

    No specific decisions on prospective financial support to Greece was taken, but Eurogroup president and Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said after the meeting that the issue will be referred for discussion by the EU heads of state and government.

    Juncker said that there is no issue of aid to Greece at this time, given that Athens has not submitted a request for such assistance, but noted that these are "details" that will be clarified.

    The Eurogroup chief appeared optimistic along general lines, opining that after the substantial measures that have been taken by the Greek government the markets will settle down and Greece's borrowing interest rates will gradually de-escalate.

    If, however, this did not happen, then the commitment taken by the EU heads of state and government on February 11 for assistance to Greece if required will be activated.

    Juncker explained that this assistance will be in the form of bilateral lending by member states to Greece through procedures coordinated by the Commission.

    Juncker also said that whether the Greek matter will be discussed a the upcoming EU summit on March 25 or at the following Summit is at the discretion of European Council president Herman van Rompuy, who was also present at the Eurogroup meeting.

    The Eurogroup chief also clarified that any assistance to Greece will be compatible with Community law as well as the national legislations of the eurozone member countries.

    European Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn also stressed the "substantial and brave" measures taken by the Greek government, noting that, apart from the matter of fiscal stabilisation, the Greek economy also has a serious problem of international competitiveness that needs to be remedied, as is also the case in a number of other EU member states.

    [04] Rehn on Greek deficit reduction

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)

    European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn said here on Tuesday that "Greece is now on track to achieve a target of 4 percent deficit reduction this year, 2010."

    He also added that Greece will present its next report by mid-May, reiterating that "euro-area member-states are ready to take determined and coordinated action to safeguard financial stability in the eurozone, if necessary," echoing statements from Monday's eurozone meeting.

    In concluding, he reminded that Athens has not asked for assistance as yet.

    [05] PM Papandreou holds talks with Hungarian counterpart

    BUDAPEST (ANA-MPA/G. Milionis)

    Prime Minister George Papandreou, speaking in a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart Gordon Bajnai after talks here on Tuesday, stressed that "there are many things that link our two countries, we joined our fortunes in 2004 with Hungary's entry into the European Union, there are common experiences in the management of the crisis, as well as understanding for problems, both for our region and for Europe."

    The prime minister added that an additional link between the two countries is the Greek community in Hungary, while terming cooperation between the two countries at European level excellent.

    Papandreou further said that he and his Hungarian counterpart discussed the measures taken by Greece and Hungary to handle the crisis, as well as the existing prospects and stressed that the emergency and profound reform programmes will help the two countries respectively.

    "Europe must forge ahead collectively," he pointed out and added that there must be a further strengthening of economic governance at European level.

    The prime minister mentioned that the government took difficult measures that hurt the citizens, but expressed certainty that the competitiveness of the economy will be improved in this way and the road will be paved for growth.

    "We have European support for the Stability, Growth and Reconstruction Programme," Papandreou said, while stressing that the issue of EU solidarity is being highlighted and the necessity for the creation of necessary "mechanisms" to enable profiteering trends to be tackled.

    Papandreou termed these "mechanisms" as oxygen that Greece needs in particular and that is now taking the first steps to exit from the crisis.

    The issue of the Western Balkans was also discussed during the meeting, with Papandreou hailing cooperation between Hungary, Serbia and Greece on these issues and saying that the proposal for the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU in 2014 "is a milestone that creates a momentum both in the Western Balkans and the EU, while it will also contribute to the handling of bilateral political problems."

    The prime minister congratulated Hungary for the signing of the Energy Security Pact and, referring to Greece's relation with it, said characteristically that "it concerns us", while on the issue of bilateral economic relations he said that Hungary will be the theme country at this year's Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).

    Papandreou also hailed Hungary's decision to return to Greece 22 items of archaeological value, saying that in this way the path for cultural exchanges opens further.

    On his part, Bajnai expressed his solidarity for the efforts being made by Greece to overcome the crisis and said that "you shall see results in a short while."

    The Hungarian prime minister referred in his statements to the policy that Hungary followed, by appealing to the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, saying that a protection net was secured and added that "all the member-states of the EU must be sure that they will have help if necessary, at least in the depth of the next decade."

    Bajnai called for "solidarity in Europe and showing responsibility by each member-state separately."

    [06] PM in Budapest, addresses Hungarian Socialist Party event

    BUDAPEST (ANA-MPA/G. Milionis)

    Prime minister George Papandreou, on a visit to Budapest, on Tuesday addressed an event organised by the Hungarian Socialist party.

    He said that there have been manifestations of solidarity from the EU, but also difficulties arising from its institutions, noting that the social-democrats are more prepared for changes in the EU, the international banking system and the international markets. "This is why we need a strengthening of the socialists in the EU," Papandreou added.

    The Greek premier did not hide his disappointment over the economic situation in Greece, stressing that the measures his government has taken are necessary, but added that "we must work together with our citizens for the changes, so that our economy will become more competitive on the one hand, while on the other there will be guarantees that the health system, the social security system but also the public administration system will be functional and viable".

    Papandreou underlined the immense importance of social consensus with the trade unions for those changes, stressing that in these difficult times "our strength is in the citizens", and at the end of the crisis the citizens will have acquired greater strength.

    [07] PM Papandreou addresses Hungarian Socialist Party event, University students

    BUDAPEST (ANA-MPA/G. Milionis)

    Prime Minister George Papandreeou, speaking on Tuesday morning at an event of the Hungarian Socialist Party, together with the party's candidate in the April 11 elections, Atila Mesterhazi, said that Hungary and Greece are managing the crisis while, apart from this management, the specific period is a period of changes that will lead to the stabilisation of the economy and will pave the way for "green growth", as well as fairer economies and fair redistribution of wealth.

    The prime minister said the crisis has an international character, mentioning that 20 years ago "the Berlin Wall fell and now the Wall Street wall fell and the mythologies on the God-state and the God-market fell with them respectively."

    Papandreou said "behind these mythologies lies a huge concentration of power, a concentration of bureaucracy and wealth and all this requires democratic arrangement, the enactment of rules and the enactment of limits for the handling of profiteering," stressing that one should cooperate in all these.

    He further said that the global governance constitutes a challenge for the younger generation and noted "we need more Europe and more global governance, whose challenge will be green growth, economic growth and democracy."

    "The vision of socialdemocracy is a realistic path of changes," Papandreou said.

    In another development, Papandreou made an address at the Corvinius University in Budapest at a forum on the management of the crisis, together with his Hungarian counterpart Gordon Bajnai and in the presence of hundreds of students and representatives of diplomatic missions, stressing that "the governments of Greece and Hungary have a difficult task and we must create the feeling of justice even in a period of crisis."

    Papandreou said that the crisis is not only national, but "a crisis of the international governance, since there are no international institutions which results in national institutions being undermined as well and in insecurity being created."

    "The case of Greece shows the need for more Europe," Papandreou said, adding that "we took difficult measures, we need Europe, the eurozone has the means either with the issuing of a eurobond or with the creation of a European Monetary Fund."

    The prime minister further said that "the crisis is an opportunity for Europe to take the next serious step."

    Papandreou said that Hungary needed time after the difficult measures that it took and stressed, however, that Greece is a member of the eurozone and this makes its case different.

    The prime minister also said that there were contacts with the International Monetary Fund and the measures that the Greek government took move in the logic of the measures that the Fund would indicate, stressing at the same time that Europe must make a decision, "we want an immediate reply, we need support for us to implement the Stability and Growth Programme, we must be able to borrow with the same terms."

    On his part, Bajnai said that Hungary, which is not a member of the eurozone, turned to the EU Commission and the IMF, acquiring a security net from the "package" of 20 billion euros and expressed support for the creation of a European Monetary Fund, saying that the IMF is doing now what the EU cannot do.

    The Hungarian prime minister has also expressed support for his country's entry into the eurozone as soon as possible.

    [08] PM in Brussels on Wednesday, Thursday

    Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday will fly from Budapest, where he concluded a one-day working visit on Tuesday, to Brussels where he will be meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the premier's press office announced on Tuesday evening.

    On Thursday morning, Papandreou will address a meeting of the European Parliament's Special Committee on the Fiscal, Economic and Social Crisis. The committee's meeting will focus on the European Economic Governance and the Instruments for Economic and Social Recovery.

    The Greek premier will afterwards meet with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, the announcement added.

    [09] Samaras: Goal a European solution for Greece, not an IMF solution

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)

    Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Tuesday participated here in a working breakfast of European People's Party (EPP) member-states' finance and economy ministers.

    Samaras said afterwards that Greece's ongoing fiscal problems were discussed, as well as repercussions for the eurozone and measures taken so far by the Greek government.

    "I explained our view over a necessary mix of policies, as well as the significance of urgent support (for Greece) at this very moment," he said.

    Samaras also told reporters that he reiterated to his EPP interlocutors that tangible support by Europe is now necessary in order to keep Greece's borrowing rates reasonable and shielded from market speculators.

    Moreover, he also stressed that Greece must also act immediately to take growth-generating measures for its battered economy, in tandem with measures aimed to cut the double-digit budget deficit.

    "The ministers expressed their solidarity towards Greece and briefed me on efforts towards a substantive expression of support. There is no agreement as yet; discussion is continuing until the end of next week, whereby a final decision will be taken at the EU Summit," Samaras said, adding:

    "On the 25th of March I will be back here (Brussels) again, following an invitation by German Chancellor Merkel, in order to present New Democracy's positions to the leaders and prime ministers of the European People's Party (EPP) ... Things are not easy, but the efforts of all of us are continuing, with the goal being a European solution and not an International Monetary Fund (IMF) solution,"

    [10] Gov't on tax system, NSRF

    Government spokesman George Petalotis on Tuesday said that the draft tax bill tabled in Parliament the previous day was a "simple and fair taxation system".

    "It is a framework in which every citizen can and must contribute according to his or her real ability [to pay]" he said.

    He also underlined that tackling tax evasion was the government's top priority.

    Regarding the finance ministry's initiative relating to the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), Petalotis said that these sought to simplify the laws for implementing the NSRF.

    [11] Beglitis addresses EXPOSEC 2010

    The need for restructure in the sector of national defense and rationalisation of Greece's defence expenditures was stressed by alternate defence minister Panagiotis Beglitis on Tuesday at EXPOSEC 2010, the 9th conference and exhibition on security matters taking place at the Zappeion Mansion under the auspices of the European Organisation for Security (EOS) and the KEPEA.

    Beglitis said that the aim of the defence ministry's new political leadership is to safeguard the fundamental principles of Greece's national independence and national sovereignty in an unstable environment with unique challenges, as well as in an environment of economic crisis conditions.

    The goal, he said, is to modernise the country's defense and to reassess the operational needs of the Greek Armed Forces, adding that for 35 years Greece has been a front-runner in defence expenditure, reaching up to 5.6 percentage points of GDP.

    The country had been following a quantitative approach on armaments issues, and has been buying without having determined the operational needs and without its strategy taking into consideration the cost-benefit factor, which led to clientele relations and a state-reliant national defence industry without developmental planning. Consequently, the defence industries in Greece were not able to stand on their own two feet and break their tie with the state.

    Outlining the targets and planning of the new government and ministry leadership, Beglitis stressed that both he and defence minister Evangelos Venizelos have the determination and daring to clash with the established perceptions, which have acted as "weights" in the defence sector in the preceding years.

    He spoke of a structural reform in the defence sector so as to break with the past in order to give a new prospect for the future. However, Beglitis explained, modernisation and rationalisation are necessary in the Armed Forces so that the country may acquire flexible defence forces capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

    Beglitis said that an end must be put to the quantitative approach and replace it with a qualitative approach in the Armed Forces sector, and did not rule out the possibility of merger of military camps where necessary, in the context of the new structure in the Armed Forces, even if this meant clashing with expediencies, stressing that the government places the country's interests above all else.

    He said that, for the new PASOK government, the country's national defence is at the crux of Greece's economic and social development, as it can produce national wealth in a properly formulated new structural framework.

    [12] Seminar on regional media, targeted actions

    A day seminar on Greek contemporary news-Targeted actions opened Tuesday, organised by the communications and information general secretariats, for the mass media of the Eastern Macedonia-Thrace periphery.

    Opening the event, government spokesman George Petalotis said the event was organised so that the journalists and staff of the Periphery's media and the government may open a channel of communication, that will be to the benefit of the Greek citizens.

    He said the event was the first in a pilot program launched by the two general secretariats.

    The goal of the two general secretariats is to aid the work of each given government with respect to information, which he said is linked with democracy.

    Petalotis also noted Greece's 41 press offices abroad, adding that an effort was being made to upgrade them.

    On the financial problems faced by the media in the Periphery, Petalotis said it was a "matter of survival", adding that their orientation should be pluralism, social cohesion and putting forward the problems faced by each region.

    Addressing the same seminar, agricultural development and food minister Katerina Batzeli said that the regional news media are the "information antennas" of the ministry, as they projected the issues falling under the ministry's competence more than the major urban media.

    She also said that the Kallikratis program for the merger of smaller municipalities into larger ones will also change the landscape in the regional media, as the decision-taking centers will relocate to the peripheries, bringing the citizens even closer to the state.

    On agricultural development, Batzeli said that her ministry has already submitted four draft laws to the prime minister containing the changes and reforms necessary in the sector.

    The agricultural economy, she added, must redefine its role in the overall economy so that an equilibrium will be reached between supply and demand of farm products, while modernisation of the cooperative organisations and farmers' trade union movement is also necessary.

    Environment, energy and climate change deputy minister Yiannis Maniatis, in turn, announced that a ministry bill on renewable energy sources will be tabled this week or next week in parliament, under which a benefit of 3 billion euros in investments is anticipated in the next three years.

    He also said that the government will shortly promote geothermal applications for household and agricultural use in the Thrace region, given that there is investment interest.

    Maniatis stressed the importance of Macedonia and Thrace's geopolitical upgrading, which will not benefit only the country but will also have offset benefits for the local societies.

    On the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline in particular, he said it is a project of great national importance.

    Regarding green development, Maniatis said that at a time when the country was at the brink of bankruptcy, a different growth model, that of green development, needs to be adopted.

    [13] Democrats Abroad announces renewed country com't for Greece

    WASINGTON D.C. (ANA-MPA)

    The Democrats Abroad organisation on Tuesday approved the refounding of the Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) as a country committee, according to a relevant press release here.

    Founded in 1964, Democrats Abroad is the official overseas branch of America's Democratic Party, which represents Americans living abroad.

    The Greek chapter had an active committee from 1986 until 2008.

    "It is particularly meaningful to welcome back Democrats Abroad Greece, as we recognize that it is the birthplace of modern democracy. With Yvette Jarvis' leadership, DAGR will bring both energy and enthusiasm to the entire organization and do all that it can to help get democrats elected to Congress this year," said Christine Schon Marques, the international chairwoman for Democrats Abroad.

    Yvette Jarvis, a long-time resident of Greece and a current adviser to the Athens municipality, will serve as the DAGR's chairwoman.

    The DAGR's current executive committee will consist of Jarvis, Alec Mally, Brady Kiesling, John A. Bacalis, Nicholas J. Pisaris, Lyn Waldie and Kostas Zafirakis.

    [14] Greek KFOR military base in Kosovo to close

    The command of NATO's KFOR multinational force in Kosovo on Tuesday announced the closure of the Greek military base "Megas Alexandros", where the Greek contingent in KFOR has been housed until now.

    A KFOR spokesman said the closure of the Greek camp was part of an overall restructuring.

    The Greek troops will not be leaving Kosovo but will be transferred to Belvedere Camp, which is also part of Multinational Battle Group North.

    An official ceremony for the closure of the 'Megas Alexandros' camp will take place next Tuesday, in the presence of high-ranking officers of the Greek Army, local political leaders and the command for Multinational Battle Group North, KFOR announced.

    The media in Serbia have reported that the KFOR restructuring will be completed this year and provides for the closure of smaller camps, the creation of multinational military bases and a reduction in the number of troops to 10,000 from 14,000 currently serving in Kosovo at present.

    Financial News

    [15] Pension system reform experts present report

    The team of experts holding dialogue on reforming Greece's ailing social insurance system held their final session on Tuesday and presented their report to the labour ministry's leadership. In the lengthy report, they basically arrive at 12 points of agreement that refer more to general directions than to specific measures.

    Accepting the report, Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos said that there was no other option than to adopt these policy directions and that the government was working in order to ready a draft bill that would be ready to table in Parliament immediately after the Easter holiday.

    The completion of the dialogue marked the start of a "race" by the ministry's leadership so that the entire Parliamentary process for reforming social insurance will have been completed within eight weeks and the bill passed into law by mid-May, Loverdos said.

    The minister said that the government's plans were already made and just two stages remained in preparing the draft bill: the first was an informal cabinet meeting where the ministry would outline the basic principles of the envisaged reforms and the second was the Parliamentary debate, which he said would be based on article 36, paragraph 7 of Parliament's regulations.

    Deputy Labour Minister George Koutroumanis repeated that established pension rights will not be affected and that the measures will go into effect after 2018.

    The 12 points on which the committee members agreed were the following:

    1. That there must be constant actuarial monitoring of the system

    2. That contribution-evasion must be checked; the system lost an estimated eight billion euros in contribution evasions during 2010 and this sum corresponded only to delayed payments, rather than to estimates of uninsured employment.

    3. Establishing a standard method of settling debts to social insurance funds.

    4. Securing additional funds in order to adequately finance the system; on this point, the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) has suggested the creation of a 'solidarity reserve fund' and there is a minority vote supporting a tax for social insurance.

    5. Optimum use of social insurance fund properties

    6. Control of medical spending.

    7. Greater controls for spending on pharmaceuticals.

    8. Rationalisation of the system for awarding disability pensions

    9. A new architecture for the pension system. The Commission agreed in principle to separating the welfare section of social insurance from that of contribution-related pensions but did not agree on a specific formula for the basic and contribution-based parts of pensions.

    10. Separating the health sector from pensions. The committee has called for the creation of a single health insurance fund, pointing to the successful implementation of this model in Germany and Austria. They also agreed that existing health care services run by social insurance funds should gradually be made part of the national health system.

    11. Further and deeper administrative mergers of social insurance funds, with the same rules for all insured so that there will be no need for more than one fund.

    12. The need to improve legislation for successive insurance in more than one social insurance body.

    [16] IKA prescription monitoring system, cuts in spending

    The Labour ministry on Tuesday announced the launch of a pilot scheme for the electronic scanning of prescriptions issued by the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA), Greece's largest social insurance body, in the cities of Lamia and Larissa in central Greece. The system is to be extended to all of Greece as of May 1.

    A ministry announcement said the system has the capacity to scan 135,000 prescriptions and day and can sort the prescriptions of an entire month during the month that follows. This will help authorities track spending on pharmaceuticals in record time, greatly speeding up a process that before took several months and was plagued by a host of mistakes and questionable results, since 2.7 million prescriptions had to be sorted manually each month.

    As of June 1, 2010 the same system is going to be introduced in other social insurance funds throughout Greece.

    According to the ministry, the system will help curb fraudulent and excessive prescription writing and the first indications show a 10 percent reduction in spending on prescription medication.

    "Through this system we hope to put an end to phenomena of fraud and corruption that plague the pharmaceuticals sector and have pushed the cost of medicine for social insurance funds over six million euros.

    The new system will be coupled with harsher penalties for those caught breaking the law, while it will be able to pinpoint 'suspicious' patterns - such as a doctor that writes out a significantly larger percentage of prescriptions than the average for doctors in his or her area.

    [17] IKA lowers price estimates for medical goods and services

    The labour ministry also announced that IKA will reduce its price estimates for a series of medical supplies and services where prices had spiralled out of hand, with other social insurance funds to follow suit.

    "These new prices will apply to private clinics and must be extended to state hospitals as well. Health Minister Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulo must extend this measure in the next days," the ministry announcement said, adding that the pricing cuts would cover all related goods and services.

    Among supplies whose prices are to be slashed by as much as 60 percent as materials used in cataract operations, angioplasty and vascular stenting, laparoscopic surgery, disposable surgical supplies and other types of angioplastic surgery. The above measures are expected to generate savings of roughly 50 million euros.

    The lower cost estimates concern treatment received in private clinics and hospitals and the financial gains resulting will be estimated once hospital fees for the the three-four months are settled.

    Also to be decided in the near future are maximum prices for orthopedic surgical supplies, life-support machinery, pace-makers and various types of stent.

    [18] Greek pharmaceuticals' investments total 300 mln euros

    Greek pharmaceutical companies are investing in six new production units, creating new job positions during a period of a general de-industrialization, while they are exporting in more than 80 countries around the world, developing and exploiting Greek know-how and supporting research programs, Theodore Koletis, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry has said.

    Addressing a meeting of a newly elected board of the Federation, Koletis -who was re-elected- said new investments in the last two years totaled 300 million euros, with the industry promoting 82 research programs, employing 15,000 workers and a provision of adding 1,100 new jobs, annual exports totaling 310 million euros with a provision to export an additional 120 million euros in 84 countries around the world.

    [19] Deputy Tourism Minister Gerekou visiting Russia

    MOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th. Avgerinos)

    Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Angela Gerekou, who met with the head of tourist policy in the Municipality of Moscow and with tourist agents and visited the Greek Visa Centre in Moscow, said that she is determined to claim a bigger share of Russian tourists in Greece.

    "It is a huge city of 15 million and 55 percent of tourists from Russia come from Moscow," Gerekou said after her talks with the government of Moscow, noting that "there is clearly a huge ground for an increase in this flow if we collaborate steadfastly, with consistency and I believe that there are very many possibilities for this to take place."

    Gerekou said that Greece can and must utilise its historic and cultural ties with Russia, aiming at increasing considerably the number of tourists from the approximately 250,000 at present, to much higher sizes, such as those being achieved by neighbouring countries, for example Turkey (2.5 million Russian tourists annually) or Egypt (1.5 million).

    [20] EU seeks return of 132.3 million euros in farm subsidies

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)

    The European Commission is asking for the return of 346.5 million euros from 20 EU member-states for mis-spent farm subsidies paid out in the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

    More than third of this money, or 132.3 million euros, is being demanded of Greece and chiefly concerns deficiencies in the Greek system for checking cotton production in 2004-2006, which accounts for 105.5 million euros of the total, with a further 18.5 million euros demanded for deficiencies in the system for agricultural development in 2005-2006.

    [21] Experts committee submits report on social security system overhaul

    The social dialogue on the social security system was wound up on Tuesday with the submission of a lengthy report by the ad hoc experts' committee to the labor employment ministry.

    Employment minister Andreas Loverdos said that the government's target is to bring the relevant draft law to parliament for vote in eight weeks' time.

    The report sets out the committee members' views and positions with respect to changing the formula with which pensions are calculated, on the unification of the social security funds into a single central Fund, checking health and medicine expenditure, a package of measures to curb contribution evasion, separation of the healthcare branch from the pensions branch, and other related matters.

    Loverdos said that the new social security system will enter into full effect in 2018, adding that all those who become eligible for retirement by 2013 will not be affected by the changes, even if they retire after that date.

    [22] GSEE to hold regular national conference on March 18-20

    The General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), Greece's largest umbrella trade union organisation that represents the majority of private-sector workers, is to hold its 34th Regular National Conference on March 18-20, in the northern resort of Kallithea, Halkidiki.

    During the conference, the trade unionists are expected to discuss the latest economic and labour developments, decide on GSEE's action and demands over the coming period and elect a new leadership.

    It will have roughly 490 delegates, while some 100 delegations from trade unions and international trade union organisations throughout the world will attend.

    [23] GENOP escalates strike action, power cuts a possibility

    Public Power Corporation (PPC) staff have decided to escalate strike action and shut down a larger number of power plants on Tuesday, something that may lead to power cuts during the day.

    Their union GENOP has shut down seven power plants (five in Kozani, one in Lavrio and one in Megalopolis) since dawn, with one additional power plant to be shut down in the next few hours.

    Should this happen, the PPC and the network manager DESMHE intend to employ a plan to lower power consumption through rotating power cuts throughout the country, in order to avoid a total black-out. As always in such cases, power will continue to be supplied to sensitive facilities, such as hospitals.

    GENOP has said that crucial decisions about whether to continue its strike action will be made during a meeting at noon on Wednesday between the trade union's leadership and Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos.

    Workers will strike on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest against pay and pension cuts, as well as a freeze on hiring at the PPC. The GENOP trade union's board will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to continue mobilisations.

    [24] Rally in Thessaloniki against economic measures

    A rally and protest march against the government's economic measures was organised in Thessaloniki on Tuesday evening by the Initiative of Private and Public Sector Unions, the Teachers Federation of Greece, the Union of Civil Servants Organisations of Thessaloniki, employee federations and students.

    The rally began at the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos with the participants expressing their opposition to the "antipopular", as they termed them, measures of the government and called for their withdrawal.

    A march then took place through central streets and reached the region of Kamara.

    [25] Former Irish PM FitzGerald to address business event in Athens

    Former Irish prime minister (Taoiseach) and veteran political analyst Garret FitzGerald will be the keynote speaker at a business lunch on Friday, where he will address the ongoing economic crisis affecting both countries.

    Dr. FitzGerald's is expected to share his perspective on how as Taoiseach in the 1980s he dealt with Ireland's economic difficulties at that time, just before the Irish economy was propelled into an unprecedented period of growth over the following decades.

    FitzGerald will arrive in Athens this week as guest of the Hellenic Irish Business Association (HIBA). HIBA was established in 2004 by Irish business people working in Greece as a vehicle to promote business contacts between Ireland and Greece.

    The event co-hosted by the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises, (SEV), the largest employers' organisation in Greece.

    During his stay in Athens, the veteran Irish statesman will also address economic students at the Economics University of Athens and participate in a foreign policy discussion on the topic of "The European Union After the Economic Crisis".

    [26] Alpha Bank says net profits down 23.8% in 2009

    Alpha Bank on Tuesday reported a 31.7-pct decline in its consolidated net profits to 349.8 million euros and said results were negatively affected by a worsening of business conditions in Greece and in SE Europe.

    The bank said net profits fell by 23.8 pct, compared with 2008, after adjusting an extra tax charge of 42.4 million euros imposed on 2008 profits. Alpha Bank said capital under management totaled 47.1 billion euros, while saving deposits totaled 42.9 billion euros (up 0.9 pct). Deposits in Greece totaled 36 billion euros in 2009, almost unchanged from the previous year.

    Its loan portfolio grew 2.0 pct to 53 billion euros at the end of 2009, from 52 billion euros a year earlier, reflecting a 2.9 pct rise in domestic lending and a 1.3 pct rise in Southeastern Europe.

    Loan handouts to small- and medium-sized enterprises and mortgage loans in Greece totaled 1.565 billion euros and 320 million euros, respectively, in the fourth quarter of the year.

    The retail banking business reported profits of 112.8 million euros in 2009, from 419.7 million in 2008, while in housing credit the growth rate slowed to 0.7 pct. Consumer loans totaled 3.7 billion euros, with a slowing growth rate of 4.6 pct, while credit cards grew 5.6 pct to 1.5 billion euros.

    Yiannis Costopoulos, the bank's chairman, commenting on the results, said the implementation of a fiscal consolidation program will affect the bank's results in the short-term. He stressed, however, that "we are confident that in the long term the programme will offer significant and permanent benefits to the Greek economy and our business prospects in southeastern Europe".

    [27] Allianz Hellas reports 12.3% rise in 2009 turnover

    Allianz Hellas on Tuesday reported a 12.3-pct increase in its 2009 turnover to 223.1 million euros, up from 198.6 million euros in 2008, with life insurance rising 8.9 pct to 119.1 million euros and damage insurance rising 19.2 pct to 98.7 million euros.

    Operating earnings grew 14.6 pct to 13.9 million euros, while after-tax profits jumped 33.6 pct to 9.4 million euros.

    Allianz Hellas said its liability rate jumped to 161 pct. General insurance reported a 10.6-pct increase in operating earnings with net profits at 7.3 million euros, while life insurance reported a 64-pct jump in operating earnings and net profits of 2.5 million euros.

    [28] European Commission on Shell's Greek activities

    The European Commission is referring the examination of the gaining of control by Motor Oil of the Greek activities of Shell in the petroleum products sector to the Greek Competition Committee.

    With its decision on 15.03.2010, the European Commission refers to the Greek Competition Committee, in accordance with the clauses contained in article 9 of the Community Regulation 139/2004, the examination of the agreement on the acquisition of the activities network of the SHELL OVERSEAS HOLDINGS company in Greece by the company MOTOR OIL (HELLAS) CORINTH REFINERIES.

    [29] Forthnet reports improved 2009 results

    Forthnet Group on Tuesday said its 2009 income totaled 376.985 million euros, from 218.193 million euros in the previous year, while EBITDA soared to 64.025 million euros from 6.474 million euros over the same period, respectively. Adjusted EBITDA jumped to 64.938 million euros last year from 15.446 million in 2008 and EBITDA margin soared to 17.23 pct from 7.08 pct.

    Forthnet reported after tax losses of 41.183 million euros in 2009, from a loss of 40.871 million euros in 2008, while pre-tax losses fell to 40.520 million euros, from 54.573 million euros in 2008. Pre-tax and interest losses also fell to 21.734 million euros in 2009, from 44.557 million euros in 2008. The Group said active subscribers totaled 316,000 at the end of 2009, adding 108,000 new subscribers in the year, while active cable TV subscribers totaled 364,419.

    Commenting on press reports over a possible partnership with HOL, Forthnet acknowledged that exploratory talks have been held occassionally -of non binding nature and under strict confidentiality- and stressed that the group would seek to achieve these growth business targets only if it were to the benefit of the company and its shareholders.

    [30] Transport turnover index down in Q4 2009

    Turnover index in ground transports and pipeline transport fell 2.1 pct in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with the corresponding period in 2008, the National Statistical Service said on Tuesday.

    The statistics service said the turnover index in maritime transport dropped 18.7 pct, while the turnover index in airline transport fell 21.2 pct over the same period.

    The turnover index in logistics dropped 7.5 pct, while the turnover index in travel services dropped 20.6 pct in the October-December period in 2009.

    [31] Construction production index down 30.2 pct in Q4

    Greece's production index in the construction sector dropped 30.2 pct in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with the corresponding period in 2008, the National Statistical Service said on Tuesday.

    The statistics service said the production index was up 6.2 pct in the fourth quarter from the third quarter of 2009.

    [32] Stocks end 0.5% down

    Stocks edged lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday, with the composite index of the market losing 0.50 pct to end at 2,112.67 points. Turnover was an improved 143.175 million euros.

    The FTSE 20 index fell 0.41 pct, the FTSE 40 index fell 1.23 pct and the FTSE 80 index dropped 1.43 pct. The Construction and Utilities sectors ended higher (0.02 pct each), while Technology (3.67 pct) and Chemicals (3.07 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.

    Klonatex (16.67 pct), Eurobrokers (12.05 pct), Pairis (8.97 pct) and Kordelos Bros (8.33 pct) were top gainers, while Tzirakian (15.38 pct), VIS (9.30 pct) and Technical Publications (9.26 pct) were top losers. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 126 to 49 with another 49 issues unchanged.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: -0.79%

    Industrials: -1.08%

    Commercial: -1.96%

    Construction: +0.68%

    Media: -1.43%

    Oil & Gas: -0.63%

    Personal & Household: -0.69%

    Raw Materials: -0.06%

    Travel & Leisure: -0.27%

    Technology: -3.67%

    Telecoms: -0.53%

    Banks: -0.54%

    Food & Beverages: -0.98%

    Health: -2.34%

    Utilities: +0.02%

    Chemicals: -3.07%

    Financial Services: -0.46%

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

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

    Alpha Bank: 7.33

    ATEbank: 1.70

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.50

    HBC Coca Cola: 19.40

    Hellenic Petroleum: 8.36

    National Bank of Greece: 16.10

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.67

    Intralot: 3.48

    OPAP: 16.79

    OTE: 9.40

    Bank of Piraeus: 6.60

    Titan: 20.31

    [33] Greek bond market closing report

    The Greek electronic secondary bond market showed signs of revival in the last few sessions, with turnover rising to 2.682 billion euros on Tuesday, of which 1.141 billion euros were buy orders and the remaining 1.541 billion euros were sell orders.

    The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2015) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 467 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was 308 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 6.22 pct and the German Bund 3.14 pct.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were 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.

    [34] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.48 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Tuesday, with turnover rising to 191.92 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 31,468 contracts worth 164.603 million euros, with 38,289 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 49,173 contracts, worth 26.917 million euros, with investment interest focusing on OTE's contracts (9,576), followed by Eurobank (2,440), MIG (3,278), PPC (2,263), Piraeus Bank (1,705), National Bank (5,107), Alpha Bank (9,063), Marfin Popular Bank (3,312), Hellaktor (1,400), Intralot (1,558), Cyprus Bank (2,283), Hellenic Postbank (1,882) and ATEbank (1,131).

    [35] Foreign Exchange rates - Wednesday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.383

    Pound sterling 0.914

    Danish kroner 7.500

    Swedish kroner 9.802

    Japanese yen 125.21

    Swiss franc 1.463

    Norwegian kroner 8.078

    Canadian dollar 1.405

    Australian dollar 1.512

    General News

    [36] National Geographic Mount Athos photo exhibition

    WASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)

    A National Geographic photo exhibition entitled "Called to the Holy Mountain: Mount Athos" was inaugurated at the Greek Embassy here.

    The photos accompanied an article on Mount Athos published by the review last December.

    The inauguration was addressed by author Robert Draper and photographer Travis Dove.

    [37] First Children's Opera Festival on Monday

    Greek highschool children are to perform on the stage of Greece's National Opera for the first time this coming Monday, March 22, in an event organised as part of the National Opera's educational programme in collaboration with the Experimental Musical Gymnasium-Lyceum of Pallini.

    The event is billed as the first Children's Opera Festival and will feature performances between 10:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night by students from the musical schools of Alimos, Ilion, Piraeus, Pallini, the Greek-French Lyceum Eugene Delacroix and the Children's Symphony Orchestra of the Kalamata Municipal Conservatory.

    The programme will include opera, musical theatre, rock opera, orchestral music, choir music and street music, all performed by school children.

    [38] Armed robbers take 200,000 euros from Attica press agency

    A group of armed robbers managed to escape with 200,000 euros during a robbery targeting the press distribution agency Argos-Europe in Geraka, Attica on Tuesday.

    According to police, four men carrying a bouquet of flowers approached the agency on Tuesday morning on two motorbikes. When they arrived outside they broke the plate-glass windows in the entrance using a sledge-hammer and pulled an automatic weapon out of the bouquet, using that and hand-guns to immobilise the staff while they removed the money held in the safe.

    All four then climbed onto their motorbikes and disappeared, while the investigation that followed was unable to locate their trail.

    Also the victim of an armed robbery but with a more modest loot of 4,800 euros was a post office branch in Sykies, Thessaloniki on Tuesday morning. The culprits again escaped on a motorbike.

    Weather Forecast

    [39] Cloudy, rainy on Wednesday

    Cloudy and rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Wednesday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -3C and 15C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with northerly 3-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 6C to 15C. Cloudy in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 3C to 12C.

    [40] The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    The new tax bill tabled on Monday in parliament and the changes it contains, the discussion in the eurozone on possible financial support for Greece and the possibility of resorting to the IMF for assistance, dominated the headlines on Tuesday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Awaiting a new loan - Brussels will decide on Tuesday or Wednesday".

    APOGEVMATINI: "Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras gives battle for Greece".

    AVGHI: "Europe divided, Greece on a tightrope".

    ELEFTHEROS: "How we will be taxed in 2010".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "From go-between to manager in the Public Water Company (EYDAP)".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Germany blocks support plan for Greece ".

    ESTIA: "Truths and lies on tax evasion - High taxation is the major reason".

    ETHNOS: "New burdens for medium and high incomes - Tax bill: Allowances for low incomes".

    IMERISSIA: "EU initially agrees to support Greece - The final decision will be taken at the EU Summit on March 25".

    KATHIMERINI: "German 'halt' to support - Issue referred to Summit - Greek government leaves open the possibility of resorting to IMF".

    LOGOS: "The bargaining continues ... Thriller in EU over economic support to Greece".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Support for Greece divides the eurozone".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Communist party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga tables current question in parliament: Ceding of sovereign rights to USA, Germany and France with government's commitments".

    TO VIMA: "Tax for all except...the exceptions".

    TA NEA: "The new tax bill - Receipts and VAT for all and everything".

    VRADYNI: "The Germans put up a new 'wall' - Berlin puts forward new conditions for the euro-assistance"

    Cyprus Affairs

    [41] Leaders to discuss possibility of joint statement, says President

    NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    President of the Republic Demetris Christofias has said that he will discuss with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mehmet Ali Talat the possibility of issuing a joint statement at their next meeting at the end of the month.

    The president also said that he would be ready to discuss any request for further meetings with Talat, in addition to the one on March 30, set to be the last one before the so-called elections in the northern Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.

    Speaking after a long tete-a-tete meeting here Tuesday with Talat, he explained that he had the tete-a-tete meeting with him, as usual, adding that they talked about various issues regarding the present and the future of the country, in relation to issues already discussed.

    On Tuesday, he noted, discussions focused on European concerns and other open issues on governance. "There is nothing to announce today," he said.

    Responding to questions about new convergence between the two communities, President Christofias said that "I believe we are achieving something, we do not waste our time. If and when it is possible to announce something, we shall announce it."

    Asked if a joint statement will be issued after the March 30 meeting, he said there was nothing to say on that score at this stage. "We shall discuss and examine this matter at our next meeting," he explained.

    "We are trying to accelerate the pace of the talks, but as you can understand we do not have many meetings left until the so-called elections in the occupied part of Cyprus and as such we expect to continue after these "elections"," the president added.

    Asked if the next scheduled meeting will be the last one, he said he could not say that with certainty.

    "In our scheduled programme of meetings, this meeting on March 30 is the last one. However, if there is any request, I am ready to discuss it," he pointed out.

    Replying to questions, he said at Tuesday's meeting he discussed with Talat whether they would be able to continue discussions after the so-called elections on the agreed basis for a bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality, a single state, single sovereignty, one citizenship and one international personality.

    Christofias and Talat have been engaged in direct talks, under UN auspices, since September 2008 with a view to finding a negotiated settlement to reunite the country.

    Talat is a "candidate" in the April "presidential elections" in the occupied areas of Cyprus.

    [42] UNSG hopes for a joint statement in Cyprus peace talks

    UNITED NATIONS (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon has expressed the hope that the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus will be able to issue some kind of a statement on what has been agreed so far at the ongoing talks they are engaged in.

    "We hope that the two leaders can issue some sort of joint statement on the agreement they have made, that's my sincere hope and I have asked Mr Downer to do his best effort to facilitate to make progress," he said at a press conference, replying to questions.

    Ban said that he had some telephone consultation with his Special Adviser Alexander Downer the day before yesterday (Monday) and added: "as you know the two leaders have been negotiating again despite this very busy electoral campaign season of Mr. Talat". Ban pointed out that "this is very important."

    "I am not sure how much progress they are making, but during my visit I stressed to them the importance of making progress. It is again very encouraging that the Turkish prime minister has made a quite good statement which is also a good demonstration of the commitment of the Turkish government," the Secretary General added.

    Ban recalled that Alexander Downer has visited both Greece and Turkey where he had very good consultations and received support from those two countries.

    Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in talks since September 2008 to find a negotiated settlement that will reunite the country, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion.

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