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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-04-08

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

Thursday, 8 April 2010 Issue No: 3462


  • [01] PM urges focus on solving problems, not rumours
  • [02] FinMin meets with visiting IMF team of experts
  • [03] FinMin briefed by central bank chief
  • [04] ND attacks gov't over statement that sent bond spreads soaring
  • [05] Alternate FM Droutsas visits Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos
  • [06] Alt. FM Droutsas interview to Turkey's "Sabah"
  • [07] Greek, French environment ministers to meet in Paris on Thursday
  • [08] Greek authorities study the adoption of French public debate model on the environment
  • [09] Interior Minister Ragoussis addresses letter to KEDKE president; OTA mobilizations
  • [10] Former PM Tzannetakis' funeral held in Kifissia, Athens
  • [11] EU denies renegotiation of support mechanism for Greece
  • [12] U.S. ambassador sees benefits in Greek dollar bonds
  • [13] Greek GDP down -0.8 pct in last quarter 2009, Eurostat finds
  • [14] ADEDY to decide escalation of public employee mobilizations
  • [15] International Summer Holidays exhibition in Thessaloniki
  • [16] Stocks fall 2.98 pct
  • [17] Greek bonds market closing report
  • [18] ADEX closing report
  • [19] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [20] First Greeks inaugurate visa-free travel to U.S.
  • [21] Defence alleges far-Leftist link in Grigoropoulos homicide trial
  • [22] Study shows up Internet-unsavvy MPs
  • [23] Male brown bear found killed
  • [24] Cloudy, rainy on Thursday
  • [25] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
  • [26] National Council decides to hold three-day meeting
  • [27] Remains of 649 individuals exhumed in framework of CMP project
  • [28] Foreign minister to visit Greece Politics

  • [01] PM urges focus on solving problems, not rumours

    Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday urged his ministers to stop "an easy preoccupation" with rampant rumours and turn their attention to tackling the country's problems.

    Speaking during a meeting of the full cabinet, he underlined that the government will continue strict implementation of the Stability and Growth programme while curbing wasteful public spending and fighting tax evasion as it launched the country into a growth trajectory.

    Papandreou stressed that the agreement on an EU mechanism to support Greece had marked a happy ending to the previous period, which had been dominated by the economic crisis, and marked a landmark success for Greece, as well as the European Union.

    "We could say that we created and ensured a safety net for Greece and any other country that faces a similar problem," he noted. Through this mechanism's existence, Greece had now entered a period where its problems would be manageable, Papandreou said.

    The task that now lay ahead was for Greece to acquire long-term credibility, Papandreou added, in addition to the short-term credibility won by the new government through a new attitude and its determination to make necessary changes.

    "The Greek people have at this time proved that they possess both maturity and a desire for changes, provided that these are inspired by the principles of reliable governance, social justice, a fair distribution of burdens and wealth, transparency and collective effort," he stressed.

    Wednesday's cabinet meeting focused mainly on a draft bill presented by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili concerning illegally enclosed 'semi-outdoor' structures on buildings, such as balconies and porches.

    The prime minister said the bill would mark a final solution to this problem while also creating a framework for major improvements in cities like Athens, with the project for redeveloping the Faliro seafront and the 'twin urban regeneration' plan in the city centre, linked to the building of the Athens Panathinaikos club's new soccer stadium.

    [02] FinMin meets with visiting IMF team of experts

    Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou met on Wednesday noon with a team of International Monetary Fund (IMF) experts who arrived in Athens earlier in the day to provide technical assistance to the Greek government.

    Papaconstantinou told reporters after the meeting, which was also attended by deputy minister Philippos Sachinidis, that the two sides reviewed the implementation of the government's new tax bill, with the main thrust on materialisation of the measures aimed at curbing tax evasion, conducting extensive cross-checks, and reorganisation of the relevant services.

    With respect to state expenditure, Papaconstantinou said they discussed matters related to the government's planned initiatives for transition to "program budgets", the introduction of a fiscal regulation and creation of an expenditures monitoring committee, will be contained in a specific draft law to be tabled by the summer.

    He added that the IMF team, which will be in Greece for approximately two weeks, did not recommend new measures but dealt with the practical aspects of implementation of the government's initiatives.

    [03] FinMin briefed by central bank chief

    Finance minister George Papaconstantinou met on Wednesday morning with Bank of Greece (BoG) governor George Provopoulos, but no statements were made after the talks.

    According to sources, the central bank chief briefed Papaconstantinou on the qualitative data on the 2009 tax year and the liquidity of the Greek credit system, with the focus on bad debts, which stand at 8 percent.

    The two men also reviewed the developments in the Greek economy, while the BoG governor briefed Papaconstantinou on the applications for 15 billion euros in guarantees from the 28 billion euros package for boosting bank liquidity that have been submitted by four banks (National Bank, Alpha Bank, Eurobank and Piraeus Bank). It is noted that the program, which aims to increase the liquidity of the Greek economy, was originally introduced by the preceding New Democracy government and recently reactivated via a Ministerial Act by Papaconstantinou.

    The BoG is expected to make public by the end of the week a decision for distribution of the above guarantees to the four banks, but according to sources each bank will receive 3-4 billion euros based on the share of the market held by each of the banking groups in overall lending.

    [04] ND attacks gov't over statement that sent bond spreads soaring

    Main opposition New Democracy on Wednesday launched a scathing attack over a statement apparently leaked by a member of the government to German media, thus starting a rumour that caused the interest-rate spread for Greek bonds to skyrocket.

    ND spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos slammed the alleged leak as "completely unacceptable" and called on the prime minister to find out who was responsible for starting the rumour, noting that a later government denial had failed to undo the damage.

    "The prime minister has an obligation to find and name the government official, or else he will be personally responsible for the damage done to the Greek economy," Panagiotopoulos said.

    The spokesman accused the government of generally failing to act in ways appropriate to the circumstances, noting that ministers made too many statements and sent out conflicting messages.

    Panagiotopoulos also commented on plans to impose an 8 percent tax on invoices, saying that this would further 'strangle' the market, even if rumours that this would be reduced to 5 percent were finally borne out.

    [05] Alternate FM Droutsas visits Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos


    Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas visited Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos at the Fanar on Wednesday and reassured that Greece and the Greek government are always by the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the difficult task that it is carrying out.

    Droutsas reassured the Patriarch that in talks he will be having in Ankara on Thursday, the Greek side will raise the issues of the Patriarchate's rights, which also constitute "obligations of Turkey that emanate from the fact that Turkey is a candidate country for accession to the EU."

    On his part, Vartholomeis referred to the special importance attributed by the Patriarchate to the course of Greek-Turkish relations "both for its own existence and the stability and balance in the relations of the two neighbours and allied peoples."

    He also expressed the wish that Droutsas's visit to Turkey "will be blessed and prepare, in the best possible way, the visit by the prime minister of Turkey to Athens."

    Lastly, he called on Droutsas to convey to Prime Minister George Paspandreou the "warm and always sincere interest of the Ecumenical Patriachate in the success of the government's work and the overcoming of the difficulties that Greece is facing."

    [06] Alt. FM Droutsas interview to Turkey's "Sabah"

    "We are determined to reach an understanding by entering talks even with those who have different positions from ours. Let it be clear, however, that this definitely does not mean that we are negotiating on our principles or sovereign rights," Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas underlined in an interview published in the Turkish daily "Sabah". Droutsas is due to visit Turkey on April 7-8 for talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

    Droutsas pointed out that the message he intends to convey during his visit to Turkey is that "the time has come to jointly build" Greek-Turkish rapprochement, adding that "political will, good faith and trust, are necessary in this effort."

    He also announced that the talks with Davutoglu will focus on the preparations for the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Athens, underlining that "we want it to be a significant step toward rapprochement between the two countries."

    Droutsas stressed that Athens wishes to boost the process of exploratory talks between the foreign ministries of the two countries for delineating the limits of the Aegean continental shelf. He pointed out that Greece's position on the issue is clear, underlining that "if no breakthrough is reached within a reasonable timeframe the issue will have to be referred to the International Court in The Hague. We must show the world that our countries are able to settle a legal dispute. Our vision is to make the Aegean a sea of peace."

    Droutsas added that "if we are successful, the positive results that will be achieved will affect the entire spectrum of Greek-Turkish relations. This is the 'peace dividend' PM George Papandreou was talking about as early as ten years ago; the 'peace dividend' that will lead to a mutual reduction in armaments for the benefit of both peoples. For decades, our countries spend many billions in defense systems. Instead, the money could have been invested in education, health, infrastructure and culture. The relevant messages sent out lately by the Turkish political leadership and PM Erdogan himself are definitely to the right direction and are encouraging. We want to believe in the sincerity of those messages. The time has come for action."

    Droutsas underlined that Turkish provocations in the Aegean "are hurting bilateral relations seriously" and added that "it is obvious that any rapprochement effort is doomed to failure if this practice continues. It is our strong belief that adherence to International Law and the rules regulating international and good neighbourly relations should be the basis for a new rapprochement effort."

    The alternate FM pointed out that "the unconditional withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus" would have been a "positive" and "specific" step leading Greece to respond accordingly. He stated that "certainly, the Cyprus issue is not a bilateral problem. It has international dimensions. Such a move, however, would have contributed decisively not only to the solution of the Cyprus problem but to the substantive improvement of the atmosphere between our countries. It would have been a clear political action that would prove that Turkey is determined to let the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots alone reach an agreement on their common future in the EU, which constitutes a real guarantee for all the people of Cyprus."

    As regards the Cyprus issue and the Christofias-Talat talks, he underlined that "we should all let the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots alone to discuss and negotiate their common future in the EU and the solution that will be reached should fully respect the EU acquis communautaire."

    Droutsas stated that "soon we will know if Talat will continue to represent the Turkish Cypriot side in the negotiations. President Christofias has repeatedly proved that he puts the reunification of the homeland of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriots above anything else. But in order to proceed he needs a credible interlocutor that will work in a constructive manner for the solution of the Cyprus issue; a partner for peace."

    The alternate FM rejected Turkish criticism as regards the Muslim minority in Thrace and stressed that "minorities should not become an instrument for political exploitation," adding that "there is no room for considerations of 'reciprocity' when dealing with such issues."

    Referring to the issue of visas for Turkish citizens wishing to visit the Greek islands, Droutsas pointed out that Greece, as a Schengen member-state, has no authority to unilaterally abolish the procedures in question. He added, however, that directions have been given to the Greek consulates in Turkey for greater flexibility within the framework of the existing restrictions in order to issue visas within 24 hours.

    [07] Greek, French environment ministers to meet in Paris on Thursday

    Environment, Energy and Climate Change minister Tina Birbili will meet in Paris on Thursday with her French counterpart, Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Sea minister Jean-Louis Borloo.

    The two ministers will exchange views on and investigate cooperation prospects in the sectors of the environment, energy and green growth.

    [08] Greek authorities study the adoption of French public debate model on the environment

    The environment, energy and climate change ministry is considering the adoption of the French model of public debate on the environment (Grenelle de l' Environnement) in a bid to set up a similar process adjusted to the Greek reality.

    The French ministry of ecology, energy, sustainable development and sea Commissioner General on Sustainable Development Assistant Michele Rousseau will be in Athens on April 8 and 9 for this purpose, following a formal invitation.

    Rousseau will give a lecture on the Grenelle de l' Environnement reforms on April 8 at the Institut Francais in Athens, held under the aegis of the Greek ministry of the environment and the French embassy.

    On April 9, she will meet with Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili and ministry officials to discuss the conclusions and best practices of the French initiative.

    The Grenelle de l'Environnement public debate on the environment was launched in France in 2007 with the participation of representatives of the French state and civil society aimed at building an ecologically responsible democracy. The viewpoints presented led to the adoption of relevant legislation.

    [09] Interior Minister Ragoussis addresses letter to KEDKE president; OTA mobilizations

    Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis addressed a letter to Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) President and Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis on Wednesday reassuring him about the financing of local administration organizations (OTA). The elected local administration authorities will hold a protest rally at Klathmonos Square on Thursday expressing concern over the reduction in funding.

    Attached to the letter addressed to Kaklamanis is a letter by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou addressed to the interior minister, which mentions that the OTA funding will take place in accordance with the state budget and the updated stability and growth programme.

    The finance minister's letter mentions that the decision for the distribution of the special funds (KAP) allocated annually for local authorities was signed in accordance with the criteria set by KEDKE and in compliance with the state budget and the updated stability and development programme.

    The instalments paid in the first three months, particularly in March, have appeared noticeably reduced due to the fact that in the first three months of the year they are in the form of advance payments.

    Meanwhile, the national local authority staff union (POE-OTA) decided on a number of protest mobilizations against the economic measures announced by the government.

    According to a statement issued, its members will participate in the mobilizations of the elected local administration officials to take place in Athens on Thursday. Also, they will stage a four-hour work stoppage at the end of the shift (11.00-15.00) on April 14 and hold a protest rally outside the health and social solidarity ministry building.

    On April 22, they will stage a symbolic two-hour sit-in protest (10.00-12.00) at the municipal buildings of major cities nationwide to inform the citizens on the effect the government announced measures will have on the workers' income.

    [10] Former PM Tzannetakis' funeral held in Kifissia, Athens

    Former Prime Minister Tzannis Tzannetakis' funeral was held Wednesday at the municipal cemetery in Kifissia, Athens.

    A eulogy speech was delivered by main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras, who underlined that the deceased was a political symbol for the party, Greece and democracy. He also stressed that he had bridged the gap between the right and the left and won the respect of his fellow politicians.

    The funeral was attended by former prime ministers Konstantinos Mitsotakis and Costas Karamanlis, ND spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos, ND MP and former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis, MPs and business sector representatives.

    Wreaths were sent by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister George Papandreou.

    Former Prime Minister Tzannis Tzannetakis passed away on Thursday, April 1 at the age of 82, at a hospital in Athens. Tzannetakis had briefly served as premier between July and October 1989, as head of a coalition government formed by New Democracy and a coalition of left-wing parties that included the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

    Financial News

    [11] EU denies renegotiation of support mechanism for Greece

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)

    European Commission spokesperson Amelia Torres on Wednesday dismissed press reports claiming attempts to renegotiate the EU Summit's decision on a support mechanism for Greece, saying these were unfounded rumours.

    Replying to questions concerning the size of the Greek public deficit for 2009, the spokesperson cited statements made by Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Tuesday.

    She also pointed out that the EU member-states had an obligation to inform Community authorities of their forecasts for the public deficit and debt by April 1, which all the 27 member-states had already done, and these forecasts were then examined by Eurostat.

    Torres noted that Eurostat is due to present its own estimates for the deficit and debt of the EU member-states on April 22.

    Concerning the support mechanism for Greece, the spokesperson noted that there were some technical points that had not been fully clarified but that this was not urgent as long as Greece had not applied to have the mechanism activated. She stressed that there was a methodology agreed on the level of EU heads of state and government and that no further talks were underway at this time for additional clarifications regarding aspects of this mechanism.

    [12] U.S. ambassador sees benefits in Greek dollar bonds

    Issuing dollar-denomination bonds "makes sense" for Greece and might help to reach a larger number of investors, U.S. Ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard stated on Wednesday when asked whether he considered such bonds a good idea.

    "I think it makes some sense if Greece is trying to keep interest rates as low as possible and provides an opportunity potentially to tap some additional investors for financing that may be interested in the dollar denominations as opposed to the euro denominations," the ambassador told reporters during a press conference at Athens' International Airport.

    "So, from the perspective of trying to make sure that you are reaching all the potential investors in Greek bonds, you have the opportunity by doing the dollar denominations to perhaps reach some investors you hadn't been reaching before and hopefully that would help with your interest rates," he added.

    The ambassador paid a visit to the Athens airport on Wednesday to check that everything was running smoothly on the first day that Greeks were able to travel to the United States without a visa, using the Visa Waiver Program.

    [13] Greek GDP down -0.8 pct in last quarter 2009, Eurostat finds

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)

    Greek GDP fell -0.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared with the third quarter, according to second estimates released by Eurostat in Brussels on Wednesday. In the same period, Euro area and EU27 GDP rose 0.1 percent.

    The growth rate in Greece in the fourth quarter of 2009 when compared with the fourth quarter of 2008 was -2.5 percent of GDP (down from -2.6 percent in first estimates published on March 4). In the same space of time, Euro area GDP declined 2.2 percent (2.1 percent in the first estimates) and EU27 GDP declined 2.3 percent.

    [14] ADEDY to decide escalation of public employee mobilizations

    The civil servants' umbrella federation (ADEDY) Executive Committee decided to recommend to the federation's General Council, set to meet on April 9, that the public employee mobilizations against the government-announced economic measures continue through the adoption of different forms of protests including a 24-hour strike. The strike action will most likely take place between April 20 and 30 in coordination with the private sector trade unions.

    The Executive Committee underlined in a statement issued after its meeting on Wednesday that the workers, pensioners and the unemployed are the ones shouldering the burden of the measures, adding that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) create a system that will safeguard the privileges of the few while downgrading the living standards for low and medium incomes.

    The statement also stressed that the social front should be united to avert new interventions in the social insurance system, the imminent restructuring in the public sector and layoffs in the public and private sector.

    [15] International Summer Holidays exhibition in Thessaloniki

    The 4th International Exhibition "Summer Holidays Expo" will be inaugurated on 22 April at the Helexpo Exhibition Centre in Thessaloniki. The exhibition will be free of charge for visitors and will run until April 25.

    According to the organisers, visitors will be able to choose and make reservations for their summer destination on the spot.

    The exhibition, organised by Helexpo, is under the auspices of Culture and Tourism Ministry, which will have its own stand. The prefectures of Florina, Pieria, Messinia, Evia, Dodecanese, Chania, Heraklion, Lassithi, Rethymno, Preveza, Chios, Kythera and the Tourism Organisation of Cyprus are among the participations that will have their own pavilions at the exhibition.

    The 7th International Book Fair will be taking place at the Helexpo premises at the same time.

    [16] Stocks fall 2.98 pct

    Greek stocks lost more ground on the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, diving on news that bond spreads had shot up to 409 basis points. The composite index of the market plunged 2.98 pct to end at 1,987.58 points, with turnover at 201.394 million euros.

    The FTSE 20 index plunged 3.06 pct, the FTSE 40 index dipped 3.74 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index dropped 1.58 pct. The Insurance (2.26 pct) and Media (1.78 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Personal & Household (-5.65 pct) and Banks (-4.21 pct) suffered the biggest losses.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 135 to 37 with another 50 issues unchanged.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: +2.26%

    Industrials: -3.43%

    Commercial: -0.81%

    Construction: -1.76%

    Media: +1.78%

    Oil & Gas: -3.14%

    Personal & Household: -5.65%

    Raw Materials: -2.54%

    Travel & Leisure: -2.49%

    Technology: -4.11%

    Telecoms: -0.67%

    Banks: -4.21%

    Food & Beverages: -1.77%

    Health: -2.32%

    Utilities: -0.05%

    Chemicals: -1.62%

    Financial Services: -1.48%

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

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

    Alpha Bank: 6.60

    ATEbank: 1.48

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 13.57

    HBC Coca Cola: 19.95

    Hellenic Petroleum: 7.94

    National Bank of Greece: 13.76

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.20

    Intralot: 3.19

    OPAP: 16.70

    OTE: 8.90

    Bank of Piraeus: 5.83

    Titan: 19.49

    [17] Greek bonds market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to 409 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 7.19 pct and the German Bund 3.10 pct. Turnover in the market totaled 1.377 billion euros, of which 445 million were buy orders and the remaining 932 million euros were sell orders. The five-year bond (August 20, 2015) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 283 million euros.

    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.

    [18] ADEX closing report

    The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount 2.06 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday with turnover rising to 73.770 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 13,230 contracts worth 64.270 million euros, with 24,744 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 10,173 contracts, worth 9.500 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,375), followed by Eurobank (2,001), Alpha Bank (1,204), Piraeus Bank (741), Intracom (654), OTE (447), MIG (420) and PPC (358).

    [19] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.344

    Pound sterling 0.885

    Danish kroner 7.503

    Swedish kroner 9.752

    Japanese yen 126.04

    Swiss franc 1.443

    Norwegian kroner 8.028

    Canadian dollar 1.347

    Australian dollar 1.452

    General News

    [20] First Greeks inaugurate visa-free travel to U.S.

    Passengers leaving Athens on Delta Airlines' Wednesday morning flight for New York were no doubt surprised when U.S. Ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard suddenly arrived at the airline's check-in desk to check on their progress, surrounded by a bevy of reporters and cameras. Several among them were also surprised to learn that theirs was the first flight leaving Athens on which Greek citizens were able travel to the United States without a visa.

    Greece was formally added to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program on Monday, allowing Greeks to forgo the often laborious process of getting a visa via the embassy. Those wanting to visit the U.S. can now simply fill in an online application called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) that gives them clearance to travel.

    For many people waiting in the queue, this was of mainly academic interest; a large number of the passengers were either U.S. citizens themselves or frequent travellers to the United States with visas obtained several years earlier. There were also those that had obtained their visa just a month or two beforehand, before Greece's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program was announced.

    Not all, however. The ambassador spoke with passengers at the check-in desk to ensure that everything was going smoothly and several had used the new system and praised its much greater ease and convenience. A group of travellers from the island of Crete, especially, said they were able to travel simply by filling in an application online, whereas previously they would have been obliged to make an arduous four-day round trip to Athens.

    In a brief statement to reporters at Athens airport, Ambassador Speckhard explained the new online system, accessed at the site <>, and recommended that travellers apply at least 72 hours before they intend to travel. If the ESTA is completed successfully, the applicant will receive an electronic confirmation and a number, which can be printed and presented when checking in at the airport.

    The Visa Waiver Program only applies for individuals holding a valid Greek passport with an e-chip issued after August 26, 2006 and an approved ESTA is valid for two years and can be used for tourist and most business travel for up to 90 days. Those denied or unable to get an ESTA can still apply for a visa at the Embassy.

    The ambassador quoted U.S. President Barack Obama in saying that the introduction of the Visa Waiver Program - decided during a visit by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in March - was "really a symbol of the strong relations between Greece and the United States and a symbol of the partnership and friendship our countries have shared for so long."

    "I know a lot of people have worked on this program, to get this into place, and I'm pleased that now Greeks and Americans can travel safely and securely back and forth to the United States without needing a visa," he added.

    Upstairs in the departures lounge, the first day under the new system was not entirely glitch-free and without incident. Whereas most of the passengers had not been informed that Greece was now a Visa Waiver country, a handful arrived thinking that their visit to the U.S. would be entirely process-free and had failed to obtain an ESTA beforehand.

    One woman less familiar with computers was particularly distraught when informed that she would have to "web check-in" from a computer terminal in the airport and required assistance that was hard to find. Another was stopped while checking in because of minor discrepancies between the information she submitted on the ESTA and her travel papers.

    The morning ended in smiles all around, however, especially for a passenger that arrived at the airport only to discover that she had left her visa at home, on the island of Evia. In all cases, the passengers were able to have a new ESTA issued online within a few minutes, allowing them to board their flight.

    [21] Defence alleges far-Leftist link in Grigoropoulos homicide trial

    A court in the town of Amfissa on Wednesday issued a warrant ordering that a 17-year-old boy appear as a witness at the trial of two special police guards facing charges of homicide, possibly with intent, for the December 2008 shooting death of 15-year-old pupil Alexis Grigoropoulos. The youth summoned to testify was a friend of the deceased, who was with him at the time of his death.

    The court order stipulates that if the witness refuses to appear in court, he should be forcibly escorted by police to the proceedings on Thursday morning.

    The warrant was issued after Alexis Kouyias, the high-profile defence lawyer of the primary defendant, told the court that an anonymous letter sent to his law office last week identified eye-witnesses that had testified in the trial as members of an extreme-left organisation that recruits pupils and students -- among them Grigoropoulos and his 17-year-old friend -- for subversive action.

    Kouyias submitted the letter to the court, along with printouts of internet websites making similar allegations, apparently signed by three of the said witnesses.

    The main defendant, Epaminondas Korkoneas, a 37-year-old father of three, faces charges of intentional homicide with possible malice and illegal use of a weapon. The second defendant, Korkoneas' 32-year-old partner Vassilis Saraliotis, is charged with complicity.

    [22] Study shows up Internet-unsavvy MPs

    Online communication between the members of the Greek parliament and their constituents is "unsatisfactory" based on a study conducted by Athens' Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences on Nov. 24-Dec. 15, 2009 and updated in March 2010.

    According to the study, two out of three MPs have their own website, the use of email is very limited (7.3 pct) and online communication is unsatisfactory, lacking dialogue with the citizens. Also, blogging is limited (9.6 pct), one in four MPs has a facebook account and leading political figures refuse to adopt online political communication.

    Furthermore, only one in four websites that belong to MPs are regularly updated to refer to current political events, while the way political positions are being presented is not characterized as satisfactory, with the majority of those websites functioning as bulletin boards.

    [23] Male brown bear found killed

    A male brown bear was found dead in the wider region of Neapolis, Kozani, northwestern Greece. According to the Arcturos non-governmental wildlife and environmental protection group, the 220kg bear was killed possibly last Friday but the conditions of its death can not be precisely defined due to decomposition. However, the position in which the dead animal was found indicates that the death was not from natural causes while a wound on its leg leads to the conclusion that the death could be attributed to human intervention. The location where the dead animal was found is a brown bear reserve full of oak trees and farmland. At this time of the year the brown bears roam the area in search of acorns to eat.

    Moreover, the spot where the animal was found is one kilometre away from the Siatista-Krystallopigi intersection on the Egnatia highway, on which most of brown bears found dead last year had been hit by passing cars.

    The brown bear is a protected species in Greece and all of Europe, and the killing or public display of the animal is punished by law with imprisonment.

    Weather Forecast

    [24] Cloudy, rainy on Thursday

    Cloudy and rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 4C and 21C. Cloudy with possible local showers in Athens, with northerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 9C to 19C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 7C to 18C.

    [25] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    The skyrocketing of the Greek bonds spread to 4 percent, IMF experts' arrival in Greece on Wednesday for "technical" assistance and the planned changes in the social security system dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Eight billion euros were sent to banks in Switzerland, England and Cyprus - The government's gaffes plunged the Athens Stock Exchange and widened the spread on Tuesday".

    APOGEVMATINI: "Nightmare on 'Rumours Street' - Anonymous 'leaks' and also anonymous refutations skyrocketed the spread to 408 points".

    AVGHI: "Government lays down red carpet for IMF and new measures'.

    AVRIANI: "Markets are leading us to bankruptcy and the speculators are having a party with Greek bonds' interest".

    ELEFTHEROS: "They are looking for the speculators' snitch in the government - His leaks to the foreign press skyrocketed the spreads".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Government's triple gaffe sinks the country - The cost of the loan at 7 percent - One step before recourse to IMF".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Tough gambling with the IMF as the trump card".

    ESTIA: "Government without goals - It has been improvising over the last six months".

    ETHNOS: "Endless torment with the spreads - The cost of state borrowing at record high".

    IMERISSIA: "Dangerous turbulence - Spreads set record - Economy in a vise".

    KATHIMERINI: "Greece encumbering its borrowing - The country's deficit review and irresponsible statements skyrocketed the spreads".

    LOGOS: "Spread skyrockets - Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou: We are not seeking to change the terms of the European agreement".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Government's vagueness and slip-ups skyrocket the spread".

    NIKI: "The people's sacrifices at risk of ending up in the speculators' pockets".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Ruling PASOK, main opposition New Democracy and Popular Orthodox Party (LAOS) blackmailing with the pretext of the markets' pressure".

    TA NEA: "Speculators' party under the IMF's shadow - Rumors skyrocketed the spread".

    TO VIMA: "Rumors 'drove crazy' the spreads".

    VRADYNI: "30 percent cutback in pensions, too".

    Cyprus Affairs

    [26] National Council decides to hold three-day meeting


    President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and the members of the National Council have decided to call a three-day meeting of the Council in late April, to discuss developments in the Cyprus problem in detail.

    Speaking after Wednesday's National Council meeting, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou said that the president briefed the members of the Council on the latest developments and views were exchanged, adding that the new meeting of the National Council will be held on April 26, 27 and 28.

    Replying to questions, Stephanou said that the members of the National Council were fully briefed on the course of the negotiations for a solution of the Cyprus problem, and the positions of both sides.

    Asked about possible changes in the positions of the Turkish Cypriot side if Dervis Eroglu wins the so-called elections in the Turkish occupied areas of the Republic later this month, Stephanou said he preferred not to comment on a hypothetical scenario. ''When we have the facts before us, we will be able to evaluate them,'' he noted.

    To questions regarding different views among the members of the National Council concerning the handling of the Cyprus problem, Stephanou said he did not wish to comment on the interpretations given by political parties and that ''these issues are discussed at the National Council.''

    He reiterated President Christofias' position that ''nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.''

    Asked if the government hoped that the unity of the internal front could be achieved during the three-day meeting, Stephanou said that this was the aim and that ''there is no other way than dialogue and discussion through mutual respect.''

    The National Council is the top advisory body to the President on the handling of the Cyprus problem and comprises parliamentary party representatives.

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.

    President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in UN-led direct negotiations since September 2008, with an aim to reunify the island.

    [27] Remains of 649 individuals exhumed in framework of CMP project


    To date the remains of 649 individuals have been exhumed from different burial sites located across Cyprus, in the framework of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) project on the exhumation, identification and return of remains of missing persons, according to the CMP latest Progress Report.

    To date, 217 remains of individuals exhumed within the framework of the CMP project have been identified through this process (166 Greek Cypriots and 51 Turkish Cypriots).

    Third Member of the Committee Christophe Zirod said that "we still have lot of work and we are exhuming. Of course we could always do better."

    "But I can say it is going ok, given the fact that we have to recruit the people, to hire the diggers or to buy them. I think it is quite impressive what the Cypriots have done in three years. Of course from the family view point you always hope that it goes quicker and faster. Unfortunately these things take always more time than we think," Girod noted.

    On his part, Greek Cypriot member of the Committee Elias Georgiades said that eight crews are currently conducting the exhumations, six of them in the Turkish occupied areas and two in the government controlled areas of the island.

    He also said that despite the fact that they have been given the green light and began working at a site where military exercises take place in the Turkish occupied areas, no access have been given so far for exhumations at military camps.

    The first positive identifications of remains were reached at the end of June 2007.

    The families concerned were notified of the death of their missing relatives and were offered the possibility to view the remains of their loved one at the CMP Family Viewing Facility. The remains of the identified individuals were then returned to them.

    The arrangements for the funeral of identified individuals are made by their family with the financial and, if need be, practical support of the CMP.

    A team of psychologists from each community provides psychosocial support to family members should they require or request it.

    [28] Foreign minister to visit Greece


    Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Kyprianou will be flying to Athens on Friday for a visit, during which he will be received by Prime Minister George Papandreou and will hold talks with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Demetris Droutsas.

    He will also be the main speaker at an event organised by the Union of Cypriots in Greece for the 1st of April 1955 anniversary.

    36, TSOCHA ST. ATHENS 115 21 GREECE * TEL: 64.00.560-63 * FAX: 64.00.581-2 INTERNET ADDRESS: * e-mail: anabul@ana gr * GENERAL DIRECTOR: GEORGE TAMBAKOPOULOS

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