|Tuesday, 12 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-04-16
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 16 April 2010 Issue No: 3469
 Greece requests talks with EU, ECB, IMF over econ programmeGreece on Thursday requested discussions with the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finalise details of a multi-year financial assistance programme should the country request activation of a "support mechanism" formulated by Eurogroup ministers last Sunday.
In a letter to EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Managing-Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said Athens was seeking the talks in accordance with a statement agreed by Eurozone finance ministers.
Ministry officials said the letter covered only talks between Greece and the three other parties, which began on Monday, April 12, while categorically dismissing speculation that the letter sought to actually activate the support mechanism.
"Greek authorities are requesting discussions with the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF on a multi-year programme of economic policies, based on conclusions of an ECOFIN meeting in February, that could be supported by financial assistance from the euro-area member-states and the IMF" the Greek minister stated in the letter.
Meanwhile, according to an ANA-MPA dispatch from Brussels, Commissioner Rehn's spokesman, Amadeo Altafaj, told reporters on Thursday that the letter by Papaconstantinou was of a typical and technical nature and does not constitute a request to activate a support mechanism.
The spokesman said the letter was necessary for participation of the IMF to consultations currently held with the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
Finally, in statement issued in Washington D.C. in the morning (local time), IMF head Strauss-Kahn stressed:
"Following a request by the Greek authorities, I have agreed to send an IMF team to Athens to begin discussions with the Greek authorities this coming Monday (April 19) on policies that could provide the basis for Fund financial assistance, under a multi-year program, in the case that the authorities decide to ask for such assistance.
"The Greek decision to initiate Fund program engagement is consistent with the agreement among European leaders last weekend that financial support from members of the euro area should go hand-in-hand with IMF engagement and financial assistance."
 FinMin on support mechanism, EU-IMFFinance Minister George Papaconstantinou, speaking to reporters after Thursday's informal cabinet meeting and shortly before leaving for an Ecofin meeting, said that the letter he sent to EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Director-General Dominique Strauss-Kahn, "is part of the natural course of things and in practice it means that it is preparing 'something', clarifying technical details so as to be ready to be used, if necessary."
Papaconstantinou said that on Monday experts from the European Central Bank, the Commission and the IMF will be in Athens and the political and borrowing framework will be discussed so that a final framework can be shaped since, as he said, "you cannot work with one page of an Ecofin decision."
The minister stressed that the stability, development and restructuring programme constitutes an "anchor" for Greece, underlining that the EU is the "pilot", while replying to a question he said that the IMF is not bound by the Eurogroup, adding however "we rule out it being outside the Ecofin's decision".
 EU commissioner Rehn on Greek economyBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn issued a statement on Thursday noting "according to the statement by the eurozone member-states on April 11, 2010 on support for Greece, the Greek authorities requested the holding of talks with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund for an economic policy programme lasting for many years that can be backed with economic aid from the eurozone's member-states and the IMF in the event that the Greek authorities decide to appeal for such aid."
The statement, which comes after the letter by Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou to commissioner Rehn, also notes that a European Commission delegation will be in Athens on Monday to continue discussions with the Greek authorities.
 Eurogroup head comments on Greek economyMADRID (ANA-MPA/M.Aroni)
Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker said here Thursday evening that Greece's appeal to the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "is not something unnatural," when asked to comment on a Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou's letter requesting discussions on the country's economic problem.
In a letter, sent earlier Thursday, to EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Managing-Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Papaconstantinou said Athens was seeking the talks in accordance with a statement agreed by Eurozone finance ministers.
"It does not annoy me neither does it surprise me," Juncker said before an Ecofin council meeting, noting however that he had never been an advocate of an IMF involvement in the EU's support mechanism.
"We will see tomorrow (Friday) what the Greek government is aiming at," Juncker added.
 IMF briefing on GreeceWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
The dispatch of International Monetary Fund officials to Athens is aimed at clarifying the amount of the loan that Greece might need, and to examine the policies that might possibly be implemented to tackle the economic situation, according to the Fund's external relations director Caroline Atkinson.
Speaking during the regular briefing Thursday, Atkinson said that the officials who will be going to Athens will be in close contact with the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
She said that it is the first time that the Greek Authorities requested such consultations that, as she said, could constitute the basis for the determination of the aspects of a borrowing programme of many years, while it will be examined along the course what amounts are available and the exact timetable for providing a loan.
In this framework, she explained that on the basis of its contribution to the IMF, the IMF would charge a rate of 1.26 percent for amounts up to Greece's quota of around EUR 3 billion, and 3.26 percent for additional funds over that amount.
Atkinson stressed that the IMF's whatever decision is taken on the basis of the technical preconditions and the Principles governing the Fund's operation.
 Gov't should request activation of support mechanism, Daskalopoulos saysThe head of Greece's largest employer union on Thursday urged the government to directly request the activation of a support mechanism agreed by the European Union.
In a statement to the press, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, president of the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises, stressed there was no point in negotiating with Brussels and the IMF over a timetable for structural changes that the country should have implement on its own years ago.
"The government realized that markets will not give a vote of confidence to the Greek economy. Today, with a move to request talks with the European Commission, ECB and IMF, the government essentially asks for a grace period. But prolonging uncertainty hits the economy on a daily basis, further raising borrowing costs and possibly weaken European will to support the country," Daskalopoulos said.
 PM chairs cabinet meeting on economyPrime Minister George Papandreou, speaking during Thursday's informal cabinet meeting, said that Greece is interested in there being a clear framework in which the eurozone countries will move when the support mechanism is going to be activated.
The prime minister said that this is so because the markets test every detail, adding that ever time that there is a grey zone the spreads go up.
It is on the basis of this government position that Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou had earlier in the day addressed a letter to EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Director-General Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Papandreou said that the spreads issue "remains in the discussion although the Greek government should gradually turn its attention of all to other issues that are also preoccupying the country."
However, as he pointed out, the spreads problem exists again and the country must confront it, whether using the support mechanism or not.
The premier stressed that cooperation already exists between the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the Internatiaonal Monetary Fund. Consequently, there is monitoring and supervision by all three agencies and this was the EU's final decision. Which, as the prime minister noted, "shows an EU that does not always have confidence in its own forces and for this reason the IMF also exists."
The prime minister further stressed that what is important on the part of Greece is for a climate of stability to be established, regardless of the course of interest rates. He said that even if the interest rates were favourable, Greece would go out into the market from time to time to borrow. For this reason, he added, psychological terrorism has been created in the Greek economy and the Greek citizen. And the government must tackle this, as he pointed out, and guarantee the citizen's security and confidence.
 Parliament Plenum ratifies taxation billThe taxation bill was ratified at the Parliamentary Plenum on Thursday in its articles and in its entirety.
The ruling PASOK party voted in favour of the bill, the main opposition New Democracy (ND) voted in favour of a third of the articles, while certain clauses were voted by the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parties.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) voted against all the articles, although it acknowledged that they include certain individual beneficial clauses that were mixed, however, with others that it disagrees with.
 ND reiterates opposition to draft tax billMain opposition New Democracy's spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos repeated his party's opposition to the government's draft tax bill on Thursday, saying that it will "plunge the daily life of Greek men and women into recession and decline".
He urged the prime minister to take immediate measures against unemployment, saying that the deepest danger from a prolonged deep recession would be "an explosion of economic indices to dizzy heights".
ND leader Antonis Samaras had referred to these issues during his meeting on Wednesday with Prime Minister George Papandreou, the spokesman added.
"Antonis Samaras analysed his view that there is an appropriate 'mix' of policies that, if implemented, will help the country overcome the crisis on its own, without needing to resort to the support mechanism," he said.
 Alternate FM briefs Parliamentary Foreign Affairs CommitteeAlternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, briefing the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on Greek-Turkish issues on Thursday, spoke of "the beginning of a new effort to normalise Greek-Turkish relations" which is, as he explained "a vision with absolute realism."
In parallel, he categoricalaly denied an enlargement of the "agenda" of Greek-Turkish issues during his recent visit to Ankara and attributed relevant reports that came to light "to a mistaken translation" of all that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in their joint press conference.
"If there was an issue of such a kind I would be the first, as I was sitting next to him, who would react and I would tell our position clearly and in explicit wording," Droutsas added.
"We are promoting the upgrading of our political cooperation, believing that it is in the interest of both sides. The cost of the failure of this effort will be greater for Mr. (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan," he said, adding that "our positions are the same, explicit and longlasting" and are "territorial integrity, respect of our sovereign rights, the withdrawal of Turkish occupation troops from Cyprus and a just solution to the Cyprus problem. We must now see from the words and the positive messages that the political leadership of Turkey is sending, actions as well."
Droutsas also said that it is Greece's ambition that with the creation of a Supreme Cooperation Council supervised by the prime ministers of the two countries, this to become a basic vehicle for the improvement, development and upgrading of Greek-Turkish relations. And for this reason it was agreed that it will be held once a year at prime ministers level and two at ministerial level.
"These decisions are being scheduled and developments will be judged by the outcome. Cooperation will only be implemented in the sectors where a coincidence of views and interests is ascertained," he concluded.
 Alt. FM at NATO summit this monthAlternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas will represent Greece at an informal NATO summit on April 22-23 in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, where the Euro-Atlantic Alliance will discuss its new strategic dogma, relations with Russia and the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis will be in the United States from April 16 to April 25 to attend events organised by Greek expatriate organisations and to promote economic diplomacy issues.
 FM spokesman denies Nimetz meetings with Greek, FYROM repsForeign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras on Thursday denied reports that UN special mediator on the FYROM name issue Matthew Nimetz will meet with the representatives of Greece and FYROM, saying that "there is no information to that effect".
He added in reply to a relevant question during a regular press briefing that "any effort must be very well prepared", and that "there must be consistent contact with the two sides and, when it takes place, it must bring results".
"It disappoints us to see a negative disposition on the part of FYROM, which is reflected in constant moves," Delavekouras said, adding that the latest example was "the issue concerning the upcoming presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE) by the neighboring country".
The spokesman elaborated that "on this issue, we are in contact with all our partners in the Council of Europe and the CoE Secretariat, because it is obvious that the FYROM leadership is attempting to abuse the post it is assuming in an international organisation through the process of the rotating presidency to advance its own positions", adding that FYROM had been severely criticised when it had attempted to do the same thing in the framework of the United Nations.
"That was unacceptable, and the same holds true now," Delavekouras concluded.
 LAOS leader calls for ND-LAOS cooperation in local government electionsThe leader of the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party, George Karatzaferis, on Thursday repeated a proposal for collaboration with main opposition New Democracy in the municipal elections.
Karatzaferis made the offer in statements broadcast by the local radio station Thema 9.89, urging meetings of the "party elders" to find compromise solutions for possible joint candidates in all regions.
"In this way, there will be the best possible electoral result with a restriction of 'rebels' and other selfish choices," he said.
 Tsipras attacks governmentRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras, addressing a Coalition event on the "Kallikratis" plan in the city of Kilkis on Thursday, stressed that towards the economic crisis, the government "did in the past six months everything possible for things to go from bad to worse."
"And now, since every of their appeasement moves failed, they are bowing their head willingly to the officials of the IMF, that have already been installed in the country and is offering its know-how for the demolition of social security, the breaking up of labour rights, the sellout of public property," he said.
Tsipras also accused the government of being "completely inadequate and unwilling to manage the debt crisis and protect social cohesion in an elementary way."
 Tsipras calls for 'broad front to defend public health care'Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras on Thursday visited the state hospital at Kilkis and called for a "broad front for the defence of public hospitals and public health care".
Tsipras met with the hospital's management and staff and was briefed on the problems they face, among them a lack of infrastructure, equipment and shortages of medical and nursing staff.
According to Tsipras, the government and the IMF technocrats being "brought in to govern us" saw only numbers behind human needs, which needed to be trimmed to reduce costs.
"Concealed behind the cost, however, are people and needs. Children that face the risk of dying or actually die because there are no paediatricians, patients that wait for hours for an X-ray and nurses that make superhuman efforts but cannot cope," Tsipras said, adding that the measures were leading to a society where those who could not buy health services would be second-class citizens.
 Opinion pollA total of 49.9 percent of respondents to an ALKO opinion poll said they were satisfied with the way George Papandreou was doing his job as prime minister, although 46 percent of the respondents felt that the measures announced by the government cannot successfully face the economic crisis.
According to the results of the poll, conducted by phone nationwide on a sampling of 1,000 people in the period April 8-13 and appearing in the latest edition of FANTOMAS magazine, 42.2 percent of the respondents said they have more confidence in a PASOK government headed by Papandreou to lead the country out of the economic crisis.
To a question on whether they are satisfied with the government's performance, 58.5 percent responded negatively, while 34.7 percent responded affirmatively.
Regarding the main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, 67.8 percent of the respondents said they are not satisfied with ND's presence and action, while 23.7 percent said they are satisfied.
On ND leader Antonis Samaras, 68.4 percent of the respondents who said they are supporters of the party said that Samaras is cementing his leadership of the party and are satisfied with his activities as ND leader.
 Foreign ministry outlines preparations for Turkish PM's visitThe foreign ministry is busy supervising the government's preparations for the first meeting of the Greece-Turkey High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, scheduled to take place during a visit by the Turkish prime minister in May, spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras announced on Thursday.
The spokesman said that letters were sent out by Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Thursday to all the ministries participating in the Cooperation Council, asking them to establish contact points in each ministry and set up working groups that will prepare the issues.
Meetings between the working groups are to take place at the foreign ministry next week, after which there will be intensive work to ensure that by mid May, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit, "we have done the groundwork for a useful meeting leading to results".
The Turkish ministers on the council are scheduled to arrive in Athens first, in order to meet with their Greek counterparts, followed by Erdogan so that the Cooperation Council can hold its first meeting.
The decision to set up the Cooperation Council was made during Droutsas' recent trip to Ankara, where he met his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu and Erdogan.
Delavekouras stressed in response to questions about Greek-Turkish rapprochement that the steps taken were "very careful".
"There has been a series of meetings, including on the level of the prime minister and the alternate minister, during which an attempt has been made to establish a basis and expand the field of cooperation," he said.
At the same time, he clarified that Greece had no illusions and was proceeding with realism. "We are not overlooking the problems or the provocations from the Turkish side. And it is given that there cannot be a true normalisation of relations unless there is a change of behaviour on the Turkish side," the spokesman stressed.
Regarding the next round of exploratory contacts with Turkey, Delavekouras noted that no firm date had yet been set but that Athens intended to hold the 43rd round of these talks before Erdogan's arrival in Athens. He also clarified that these talks had only one aim, which was to delineate the continental shelf.
 Foreign ministry again rules out 'zero-basis' talks on CyprusThe talks on solving the Cyprus issue and reuniting the island cannot begin again from scratch, the Greek foreign ministry repeated on Thursday. Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras made the statement in comments about the upcoming process on Sunday to elect a new leader for the illegal Turkish-Cypriot regime in the occupied north of the island.
"It is not possible for us to ever agree to talks from a zero basis. The process will be irreparably damaged if, on the side of the Turkish-Cypriot community, there is a person that does not desire a solution," foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras stressed.
"President Christofias has made great efforts to achieve measurable progress, which cannot be overlooked by the person that is opposite him," he added.
Delavekouras also underlined that Greece continues to question the legality of Sunday's so-called 'elections' in the occupied territories, both as a process and in terms of their result.
"We must not forget that there is an occupation army and settlers there," he added.
On action being taken by Athens and Nicosia at the European Union regarding a regulation for direct trade with the occupied territories, the spokesman appeared confident that Greek positions will prevail at the European Parliament.
"We consider that the arguments of the European Commission do not have a legal basis. The Cyprus Republic and Greece will do everything in our power to ensure that our positions prevail. We have lost nothing. Our arguments are very strong. We will fight the battle both in the EuroParliament and the Council for the best results that we can achieve," he stressed, pointing out that this was not the first time that the Greek side had faced this challenge and dealt with it successfully.
Elaborating, Delavekouras explained that the Commission was using the voting changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in order to push through the EU's regulation for direct trade with the occupied north, which have been blocked by member-state Cyprus under voting rules that demanded unanimity.
"In reality, the Commission has referred this along with some 500 outstanding draft directives for which decision are now taken through qualified majority voting," he said.
The spokesman stressed, however, that the specific regulation was one that affected the vital interests of a member-state and also one that raised issues of good faith for the Commission..
"It is inconceivable that there should not be consultation with the member-state involved before such an action. It is a clear-cut political issue and cannot therefore be dealt with as a 'process'," he underlined.
 FM spokesman on 'election' in Turkish-occupied part of CyprusThe Greek foreign ministry emphasised on Thursday that so-called "elections" in the Turkish-occupied north of the Republic of Cyprus this Sunday are "of questionable legality, both in terms of the procedure as well as the result".
Spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras also reminded, during his regular press briefing, that there are also issues of "settlers (imported from Anatolia) and an occupation army".
Referring to the "day after" of the "elections", Delavekouras said the next interlocutor for Cyprus President Demetris Christofias "will be very significant for the development of the negotiation process."
He also noted that the Cypriot president has made major efforts to achieve noteworthy progress on the Cyprus issue, "which cannot be ignored by anyone on the other side."
 Alt. FM condolences on China quakeAlternate foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas sent a message of condolences to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jienchi, expressing his deepest condolences for the victims of the disastrous earthquake that struck north-western China.
Droutsas also communicated by telephone with the Chinese Ambassador to Greece, Linquan Luo, expressing Greece's readiness to provide assistance if necessary.
 Greece, EIF discuss expanding JEREMIE programGreece's Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Luca Katseli on Thursday met with the head of European Investment Fund (EIF) of the European Investment Bank, Richard Pelly and discussed ways to expand cooperation and promoting new products to support small- and medium-sized enterprises and to ensuring liquidity in the Greek market, a program called JEREMIE (Joint Eurpoean Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises.
The JEREMIE program covers a wide range of products designed to support small- and medium-sized enterprises, along with micro-credits, equity participation and venture capital.
The program's initial budget totals 100 million euros. The first product of the JEREMIE program is expected to be presented in the next few weeks and will offer loans up to 100,000 euros to enterpises with an operation of up to three years.
 Birbili meets with reps of companies applying for marine wind park licensesEnvironment, energy and climate change minister Tina Birbili met on Thursday with representatives of companies that have manifested interest in building marine aeolic (wind energy) parks.
In the meeting with the representatives of the 11 companies that have applied for licenses, Birbili outlined the government's positions for the dynamic development of such wind parks.
"With the aim of ensuring the public interest, ensuring conditions of healthy competition, protectio of the environment, fair distribution of the sea space among the competitive activities, such as tourism, energy, fishing, etc., but also the efficient activation of the private sector, we have carefully reviewed the institutional framework in effect in other EU member states," Birbili explained.
She added that the Greek government has opted for a competition procedure among the interested parties regarding the licenses, "a procedure that has been successfully followed by pioneering countries in this sector, such as Denmark and England, but also be countries that have common characteristicws with Greece, such as Spain and Portugal".
A ministry announcement said that the new procedure requires the drafting of a strategic environmental study, in accordance with the relevant EU directives, and the selection of specific sites for the future installation of aeolic parks, after which a tender will take place for extending licenses to private concerns.
The procedure is expected to be completed by 2012, the announcement said.
Marine wind (aeolic) parks are the latest innovation in harnessing natural forces as renewable energy, focussing on the energy that is generated by the movement of sea waves and the fact that the speed of wind blowing over the ocean is greatly more powerful and predictable than that blowing over solid ground.
 Athens wants easier tourism visas for major non-EU statesCulture and Tourism Deputy Minister Angela Gerekou on Thursday called EU's support on tourism, saying Greece was hit hard by the affects of an economic crisis although she stressed that tourism could offer a way out of the crisis.
Addressing an informal EU tourism ministers' council in Madrid, she called on European counterparts to contribute in Greece's effort to overcome the crisis by promoting tourism programmes towards Greece for various groups of their population.
Additionally, she proposed making procedures for granting European tourism visas to certain third country nationals (Russia, Ukraine, India, China, UAE) much easier.
 Draft bill on pension system reforms at end April, minister saysLabour and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos on Thursday announced that the draft bill for reforming Greece's social insurance and pension system will be tabled in Parliament around April 30, after a report on the bill had been evaluated by the European Commission.
He noted that the European Commission's evaluation of the country will take place on May 15 and that the issue of social insurance was one of the most important under scrutiny.
Loverdos also announced that, based on figures collected by his ministry, Greece had definitely succeeded in meeting a goal of increasing social insurance contributions by one billion euros during the first trimester of 2010, as laid out in the Stability Programme.
 Greece, Bulgaria eye creation of supreme cooperation councilThe first session of a supreme council for Greek-Bulgarian cooperation will be held within the summer, a foreign ministry spokesman announced on Thursday.
The establishment of such a council follows a joint initiative by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Bulgarian Premier Boris Borissov, with a final decision coming during a recent meeting by the Bulgarian foreign minister and the Greek alternate foreign minister.
According to the spokesman, Ministers Dimitris Droutsas and Nikolay Mladenov have already discussed the matter during a meeting.
Among others, infrastructures, road networks, energy networks, environmental issues and water resource management will be discussed.
 Credit conditions worsen in MarchCredit conditions worsened in March, with the value of bounced checks totaling 150.8 million euros, up a staggering 285.10 pct compared with the previous month, official figures showed on Thursday. The number of bounced checks totaled 15,001, down 42.82 pct from March 2009, for a total of 36.704 checks, worth 366.011 million euros so far this year.
The number of unpaid bills totaled 12,640 worth 20.108 million euros in March, up 150.27 pct from the previous month, and 9.56 pct higher compared with March 2009. Unpaid bank bills totaled 31,584 in volume and 55.5 million euros in value so far in 2010.
 Emporiki Bank Romania expands activitiesEmporiki bank Romania is expanding its activities in the country, with its loan portfolio growing 61 pct and saving deposits up 21 pct in the last two year, while its branch network totaled 34 units around Romania at the end of 2009, double compared with 2007.
Alain Strub, vice-chairman and chief executive of Emporiki Bank, completed a two-day visit to Emporiki Bank Romania, as part of a scheduled tour to the group's international subsidiaries. During his visit he was briefed over the implementation of a five-year restructuring and growth plan (2009-2013) of the Romanian subsidiary of the group and stressed that after a full integration of Emporiki Bank in Credit Agricole Group -France's largest banking group- the Greek bank will be in a better position to benefit from the strong capital adequacy and high know-how in product and services of the French group.
 Vivartia sells bakery-candy sector for 730 mln eurosMarfin Investment Group (MIG) on Thursday announced a deal to sell Vivartia's bakery and candies business to a consortium of investors led by Olayan Group and Spyros Theodoropoulos (Vivartia's chief executive) for 730 million euros, of which 327 million euros is in debt.
Under the agreement, Vivartia will transfer the two businesses into a new company under the brand name Chipita.
MIG said the sale price reflects a 12.6 multiplier on its 2009 EBITDA, significantly higher compared with current market levels. The transaction is expected to be completed in July 2010.
Under the deal, MIG and Vivartia will have the right to repurchase for a period of four years up to 30 pct of Chipita at a price increased by 10 pct in the first year and by 5.0 pct in each of the next three years, while for a period of five years, MIG and Vivartia will be entitled for 30 pct of added value from the sale of Nonni's, Chipita's subsidiary in the United States.
MIG said the transaction will have a significant positive impact on its balance sheet, with Vivartia's net debt reduced from 891 million euros to 293 million euros, offering also significant cash flow to Vivartia.
Vivartia's board was also reshuffled, with Andreas Vgenopoulos taking over as chairman, Dionysios Malamatinas as chief executive and Spyros Theodoropoulos as a non-executive member of the board.
 Greek merchant marine fleet up 6.0 pct in FebGreece's merchant marine fleet grew 6.0 pct in February to 2,125 vessels, compared with the same month in 2007, after a decline of 6.0 pct recorded in February 2007 compared with 2004, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics agency, in a report, said the Greek merchant marine total capacity was up 19.8 pct in February to 42,063,412 grt, after a decline of 0.3 pct recorded in February 2007.
 Stocks recover strongly Thurs.Stocks recovered strongly in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday as investors viewed a letter sent by the Greek FinMin to EU Commissioner Olli Rehn as a move closer to activating an EU-IMF support mechanism for Greece. The composite index jumped 2.07 pct to end at 2,028.55 points, with turnover at 226.588 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index jumped 2.98 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.94 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 0.22 pct. The Banks (4.35 pct) and Constructions (3.96 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Utilities (2.53 pct) and Media (2.18 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 101 to 70 with another 54 issues unchanged. Klonatex (16.67 pct), Galaxidi (8.82 pct), Texapret (7.14 pct) and Hellenic Postbank (6.54 pct) were top gainers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.66%
Personal & Household: +0.39%
Raw Materials: +4.56%
Travel & Leisure: +1.06%
Food & Beverages: +0.08%
Financial Services: +1.51%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and DEH.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 6.60
Public Power Corp (PPC): 13.65
HBC Coca Cola: 19.86
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.28
National Bank of Greece: 13.70
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 6.62
Bank of Piraeus: 6.35
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened further to 400 basis points (after hitting a high of 426 bps in intraday trading) in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, with the Greek bond yielding 7.14 pct and the German Bund 3.14 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 485 million euros, of which 205 million were buy orders and the remaining 280 million were sell orders. The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2015) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 135 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.24 pct, the six-month 0.99 pct, the three-month 0.71 pct and the one-month 0.48 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.85 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover rising to 105.325 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 18,551 contracts worth 90.189 million euros, with 25,367 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 21,178 contracts worth 15.136 million euros, with investment interest focusing on MIG's contracts (7,489), followed by Eurobank (1,800), Piraeus Bank (1,318), National Bank (6,205), Alpha Bank (1,680), Intralot (490) and Mytilineos (532).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.365
Pound sterling 0.884
Danish kroner 7.502
Swedish kroner 9.784
Japanese yen 127.19
Swiss franc 1.445
Norwegian kroner 8.015
Canadian dollar 1.364
Australian dollar 1.462
 Four terrorism suspects remanded i n custody pending trial, other two to testify on FridayOne of the six suspected members of the 'Revolutionary Struggle' terrorist group arrested at dawn Saturday during a coordinated police swoop operation was on Thursday remanded in custody pending trial, after appearing before an Athens examining magistrate.
Three of the six suspects appeared before the examining magistrate on Thursday, while the other six had appeared before the examining magistrate on Wednesday.
Constantine Gournas was remanded in custody on Thursday after refusing to testify, claiming he does not acknowledge the procedure, while the other two suspects, Christoforos Kortesis and Evangelos Stathopoulos, requested and received an extension until Friday for their testimonies.
The other three suspects, Nikos Maziotis, his wife Panagiota Roupa and Sarantos Nikitopoulos were remanded in custody pending trial after their testimonies on Wednesday.
All six are charged with four felonies and four misdemeanours.
Maziotis and Roupa are charged with jointly heading the organisation together with "other persons as yet unknown", according to the charge sheet.
 Police announcement on terrorist organisationA car whose luggage compartment contained weapons, hard electronic computer discs, forged identity cards and many thousands of euros in cash, as well as two apartments that were possibly safehouses of the terrorist organisation "Revolutionary Struggle" are the new findings of the Greek police in investigations being carried out on the specific case.
Police chief Eleftherios Economou made relevant announcements on the findings on Thursday evening, beginning his briefing by referring to the vehicle found and which belongs to one of the defendants.
 Four caught with explosives to face criminal chargesFour people arrested in the Athens district of Kallithea for possession of explosives will be charged under the common criminal code since there is no evidence to support charges of terrorism against them, authorities said on Thursday.
The three young men and an older woman that police now identify as the mother of one of the three were brought before an first-instance court prosecutor, since they cannot be prosecuted under counter-terrorism law and thus referred directly to the special appeals magistrate handling the "Conspiracy of Cells of Fire" investigation nor that relating to the 'Revolutionary Struggle' group.
The charges against them include criminal charges for possession of explosives and various misdemeanour-level offences, while their case has been referred to the 31st regular examining magistrate.
The three men were arrested on Wednesday when they went to the home of the woman in Kallithea in order to pick up the explosives, unaware that they were under police surveillance at the time.
 EuroMed meeting fails to adopt water accordEfforts to adopt a 'Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean' fell through at a EuroMediterranean conference held in Barcelona on April 12-13, the Greek environment ministry announced on Thursday.
Despite almost complete agreement on technical, water-related issues and a climate of general consensus among 41 of the 43 nations participating in the meeting, the deal finally collapsed over political issues linked with the Middle East problem.
Special Secretary for Water Andreas Andreadakis, who represented Greece at the meeting, said that the result was an unfortunate developments that risked cancelling strenuous efforts for an agreement over the past two years, in which Greece had been actively involved.
"Water can and must be a factor of cooperation between peoples but it is proving that this is not always easy. However, the agreement of all countries on the essence of the document on the 'Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean' creates grounds for hope that the problems that arose will be resolved in the near future," Andreadakis added.
 Drug arrest in ThessalonikiA 26-year-old foreign national has been arrested by security police in the Menemeni suburb of Thessaloniki on drug trafficking charges.
Police said the man had concealed approximately 18 kilograms of cannabis in a specially enfenced area in Kalochori, and are investigating the detainee's possible participation in other drug trafficking cases.
 Church of Greece cites right to place religious symbols in classroomsThe Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece's Holy Synod on Thursday announced that it will legally intervene in a recent motion filed with the Council of State, Greece's highest administrative court, demanding that religious symbols be removed from the country's public school classrooms.
A Holy Synod announcement added that the Church's legal department has been instructed to deal with the matter in the courts. In the statement, the influential Church of Greece, which represents the majority of the faithful in the predominately Christian Orthodox nation, referred to a "respect of history, civilisation and the country's cultural heritage, in accordance moreover, with the Lisbon Treaty".
 Book presentation in D.C. on Greek civil warWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA)
An event was held here last month at the quarterly luncheon and meeting of the D.C.-based Military Order of Foreign Wars (MOFW) for the presentation of the book "American Arms, Greek Blood", dealing with the Greek civil war's (1946-49) military operations and the "Truman Doctrine".
The book is authored by Dr. Spiro Manolas, who served in Greece from 1949-1954. Part of the book deals with the first commander of Greece' s newly formed special forces "C" corps, the late general Pericles Papathanassiou, who was a protagonist in the conflict.
The book presentation was held at the Army-Navy Club in the US capital.
 Cloudy, rainy on FridayCloudy and rainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 8C and 27C. Slightly cloudy in Athens, with southerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 14C to 25C. Cloudy with possible local showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 10C to 19C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe Greek economy and the eurozone's decision to impose harsh penalties to countries with high debts and deficits, the clash in parliament over the tax bill, and markets' pressure for changes in the social security system, dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Pensions: Which will be reduced and for who - Draft bill to be submitted to Inner Cabinet on Thursday".
APOGEVMATINI: "Teachers' hiring in private schools too via ASEP (civil service hiring examinations board) and the appointment in private schools - System similar to that in public sector to be applied soon in the private sector as well".
AVGHI: "Employees and pensioners targeted - Government implements IMF measures".
AVRIANI: "Country sinking in a deadly vortex - Find money now or else call the IMF".
ELEFTHEROS: "They're pushing the workers to take out parallel private insurance".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Main opposition ND leader Antonis Samaras statement on economy: NO to IMF - We can do it by ourselves".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Prime Minister George Papandreou and ND leader Antonis Samaras deprecate IMF and call for low tones".
ESTIA: "How we diverged from Europe - The common currency and the impossibility of devaluation".
ETHNOS: "Alarm for hot cash in Tax Bureau offices - 'Raids' in April on orders of Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou".
IMERISSIA: "EU and IMF in our backyard - Markets press for immediate recourse".
KATHIMERINI: "Everything indicates recourse to IMF- EU - The rescue plan dominated Papandreou-Samaras meeting - New skyrocketing of the spreads".
LOGOS: "Poverty brings grumbling -Clash in parliament during debate on taxation system".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Heavy penalties for eurozone countries with high debts and deficits".
NIKI: "Door slams in 'popular' PASOK's face".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Rewriting of history and operation to consolidate anti-communism".
TA NEA: "Social security: Pensions will be reduced by 20-30 percent as of 2018".
TO VIMA: "Hastening of reduction in pensions and increase in retirement ages - Social security system to become even harsher under the spreads' pressure".
VRADYNI: "Development or into the IMF abyss? According to Fitch ratings firm, in a fortnight we will take recourse in the EU support mechanism ".
 FM: Regulation on direct trade is unacceptableNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
An EU proposed regulation on direct trade between Cyprus' northern Turkish occupied areas and the EU is legally wrong and politically unacceptable, Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou has stressed.
The European Commission has proposed a regulation to introduce direct trade between Cyprus' northern Turkish occupied areas and the EU, which is being promoted through the European Parliament.
Speaking here Thursday, Kyprianou said that the proposed regulation does not conform to the April 2004 Council conclusions.
He also pointed out that in order to prevent any decision which might be taken by the European Parliament on this issue, the Republic of Cyprus will focus its efforts on the three main EU institutions, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council, in order to explain the weaknesses of the regulation.
The foreign minister said the government considers the time the Commission has renewed efforts to promote the regulation as unfortunate because it undermines the ongoing direct negotiations between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus.
Replying to a question, Kyprianou said that the proposal of the Republic of Cyprus on the simultaneous return of the Turkish occupied town of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants, coupled with the regulation on direct trade is still on the negotiation table.
"We believe this is a good proposal which was set out by the previous government during Luxembourg's EU Presidency, and it was carried forward to the Finish and the German Presidencies in an attempt to promote it", he said, noting that the Turkish side objected to this proposal.
"Every time the so-called isolation of the Turkish Cypriots was part of discussions, we would propose this solution, namely the return of Famagusta and the opening of the city's port, under EU administration, but without any political gains for the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in the occupied areas", he said.
The foreign minister stressed that those who publicly state that they want to help the negotiations in Cyprus for a solution should have thought twice before they promoted the regulation. "This is one of our arguments, which we are trying to explain to our European counterparts", he added.
Kyprianou said he had the chance to have a very good and very constructive discussion with the Cypriot Euro MPs and he also talked to political parties about this issue.
Replying to questions, he said Nicosia is in close contact with the EU Presidency and its EU partners on the matter to explain the problems that arise from that regulation.
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in direct negotiations since September 2008 with a view to solve the problem of Cyprus divided since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.
 Cyprus Archbishop meets with Martin Schulz in BrusselsBRUSSELS (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II has met on Thursday in Brussels with President of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
The Archbishop briefed Schulz on the aim of his visit to Brussels and on the seminar on ''Religious freedom and Holy Sites in the Republic of Cyprus'', which took place Wednesday at the European Parliament.
During the meeting, he raised the issue of the protection of the monuments in the occupied areas of Cyprus and asked for Schulz help.
Chrysostomos II and Schulz discussed the issue of the EU proposed regulation on direct trade between Cyprus' northern Turkish occupied areas.
The Primate of the Church Cyprus noted that the target of the Turkish Cypriots is not the trade, but their recognition.
The Archbishop told Schulz that the trade can take place through the port of Famagusta with seals on the documents of the Republic of Cyprus, but the Turkish side does not accept such an arrangement.
Referring to his visit to Istanbul, the Archbishop said that is taking place at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
"I believe I will meet with the Turkish prime minister. I have sent him a letter, his stance was positive on the issue of monuments' maintenance, while I will have the opportunity to raise in details all the issues regarding the Cyprus problem", he concluded.
Schulz recognized that there is a problem with the monuments in the occupied areas of Cyprus, and stressed that Turkey and the Turkish troops have a vital role to play on that issue.
Finally, he expressed hope Archbishop Chrysostomos during his visit to Turkey, will meet with the Turkish prime minister.
Since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, more than 500 orthodox churches, in the northern Turkish occupied areas of the island, have been desecrated, destroyed or converted into mosques, military camps or hen houses. Hundreds of religious artifacts, including priceless icons, have been stolen and are being sold on the black market in Europe and the US.
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