|Thursday, 14 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-05-03
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Monday, 3 May 2010 Issue No: 3482
 Eurozone decides activation of support mechanism after Greece announces fiscal adjustment programmeEurozone's finance ministers decided on Sunday evening to activate a three-year support mechanism for Greece amounting to 110 billion euros of which 80 billion would come from the other 15 eurogroup countries and the 30 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The decision was taken hours after the Greek government had announced a fiscal adjustment programme for the country, envisioning a 36.4-billion-euro reduction of the budget deficit over three years to bring down the current 13.6 percent deficit to under 3 percent of GDP by 2014, in the wake of nearly two weeks of negotiations with EU Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and IMF officials in Athens.
Addressing an urgent Inner Cabinet meeting in Athens on Sunday morning, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Greece has a big feat to carry out, adding his optimism that the country will succeed in this effort despite the immense difficulties, noting that the Greeks have always emerged from difficulties stronger and a victor, while also expressing his total confidence in the forces of Hellenism. "If we all work together, we will succeed," the premier stressed, as European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso announced in a written statement released in Brussels that the conditions have been met for responding positively to Greece's request for activation of the support mechanism.
In a dramatic presentation of the state of the economy and the country, Papandreou stressed that he and his government do not promise easy and painless steps.
 PM Papandreou: Big feat aheadGreece has a big feat to carry out, prime minister George Papandreou told an urgent Inner Cabinet meeting on Sunday, hours before an extraordinary euro zone meeting in Brussels was due to decide and announce the size of the EU support mechanism for the Greek economy.
He added his optimism that the country will succeed in this effort despite the immense difficulties, noting that the Greeks have always emerged from difficulties stronger and a victor, while also expressing his total confidence in the forces of Hellenism.
"If we all work together, we will succeed," the premier stressed, as European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso announced in a written statement released in Brussels that the conditions have been met for responding positively to Greece's request for activation of the support mechanism.
"The Commission considers that the conditions for responding positively to the request by the Greek government are met and recommends that the coordinated European mechanism for assistance to Greece be activated," Barroso said in his written statement, stressing that the cutbacks in spending and reforms Greece has set in motion "constitute a solid and credible package", and thus the support mechanism loans will be decisive in helping Greece put its economy back on track and preserve the euro area's stability.
In a dramatic presentation of the state of the economy and the country, Papandreou stressed that he and his government do not promise easy and painless steps.
He elaborated that there were three directions in the government's task: First of all, everything possible will be done to protect the weaker strata of society; Second, every effort will be made to cement the sense of fairness that has been lost. "We understand the rage of the citizen, who is called on to pay for the sins of others"; Third, the present will be turned into a true opportunity to change.
Papandreou also referred to the tough negotiations with the "troika" of European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials over the past period, adding that the decision is not to touch the salary earners of the private sector. The measures being taken will affect the employees and pensioners of the public sector, "the sector that is the big patient, and where our efforts must focus".
"We did everything we could so that the repercussions on the weaker strata would be the least possible, and we have called on the political system to first set the example of the effort in this difficult period. And from Parliament to be the first in this effort," he said, adding that he will ask of the parliament president to call on the MPs to forego their holiday bonuses (the so-called 13th and 14th salaries).
Papandreou said he has further instructed the interior minister to draft a new electoral law, so that the political system may be placed on new, healthy foundations.
On the new package of measures agreed with the troika, Papandreou said that many of those measures would have been take anyway by the government, while many are of an urgent nature which could have been avoided if the government had the freedom of choice "which was denied to us by the high deficit and high debt" and time at its disposal, and smooth conditions instead of a crisis.
Papandreou stressed that, with the sacrifices the Greeks are called on to make, the country will be given a breather and the time to proceed with historic changes that will alter the landscape. "A new patriotism and a new national Greek conscience will be created, a message that we are sending in all directions".
The premier added that the support package is unprecedented, as is also the effort the Greek citizens are called on to make.
Acknowledging that the new measures will have a political cost for himself and his ruling PASOK party, Papandreou reiterated that he does not care about the political cost, putting the country's interests above any political cost.
"I do not care about terms in office, but in doing the right thing," the premier said, adding that what he cared about was, at the end of his term, to hand over a Greece that will not be bankrupt, but reborn.
The sacrifices the Greeks are called on to make are big ones, but the alternative solution would have been devastation and even greater pain. "We are determined not to back down one step. We are here to make the right decisions, and this is what we are doing," the premier continued.
On the EU support mechanism, Papandreou called the March 25 decision by the EU to set up such a mechanism as "historic" both for Greece and the entire EU, stressing that without the mechanism, the problems would have been "insurmountable".
Admitting that the creation of the mechanism had not, however, to enabling Greece to borrow on the international markets at reasonable interest rates, as had been expected, Papandreou attributed this to the ambivalence inside the European Union itself which "gave the signal that there is a lack of determination in Europe".
He said that the Greek government had pointed out early on that a small fire could easily spread into a major blaze, but this was not understood or believed by certain sides.
"So Greece became the target and the guinea pig, the weak link and the easy prey. And now the fire threatens to spread, doing bigger damage to the country, but also to other European countries. That is why the cost that will be needed for us to make for financing the needs will be bigger," he added.
Papandreou stressed that from the outset the government set out the country's interests and avoidance of bankruptcy as the national "red line". The struggle it commenced from the beginning was "tough and unrelenting".
The efforts were difficult from the outset, and the first measures his government took were tough and painful, but necessary, attributing to this the fact that today "we are in a position to pay salaries and pensions", and noting that the first positive messages, as a result of those measures, have already started to arrive.
One of the government's first concerns was to regain credibility in the citizens' eyes, Papandreou said, noting that the people were distrustful of even the present government, which was frank and had told the truth from the beginning.
The second concern was for the country to regain its credibility internationally, and chiefly in Europe. "Without credibility, we would not have been met with understanding, and all the more so with support. We would have been alone in the face of the markets and the speculators, and the only possible assistance we may have had would have been 10-20 billion euros, and this from the IMF, whereas the government's needs are some 60 billion euros annually," Papandreou explained.
 FinMin announces 3-year, 36.4-bln-euro fiscal adjustment programmeThe Greek government on Sunday announced a fiscal adjustment programme for the country, envisioning a 36.4-billion-euro reduction of the budget deficit over three years to bring down the current 13.6 percent deficit to under 3 percent of GDP by 2014, in the wake of nearly two weeks of negotiations with EU Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials in Athens.
The "laundry list" of state spending cuts, increased taxes, social security reforms and labour market deregulation pave the way for activation of an EU-IMF support mechanism for the Greek economy, agreed to last month.
A draft bill containing the latest austerity measures, reforms and structural changes for the period 2010-2014 will be tabled, debated and voted on in Parliament under an urgent process.
Speaking after an extraordinary Inner Cabinet meeting and just before his departure for Brussels, where eurozone finance ministers were to hold an extraordinary meeting to finalise the EU support package for the Greek economy, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou stressed that in the face of a dilemma of collapse or bankruptcy, the government chose to save the country.
Among measures announced were an increase in the VAT coefficients from 21 to 23 percent, from 10 to 11 percent and from 5 to 5.5 percent, a 10-percent increase in consumption taxes on fuel, tobacco products, alcohol and "luxury" taxes, another one-off contribution by profit-making enterprises, increases in the objective values of real estate and the first-ever taxation of unlicenced buildings.
Papaconstantinou further announced a drastic reduction of the so-called 13th and 14th salaries for civil servants, applicable in both public and private sector pensions, an additional 8 percent cut in civil servants' benefits, reductions in larger pensions and a three-year salary and pension freeze.
Specifically, the Easter and summer holiday bonuses -- the "14th salary" -- will be cut to 250 euros each for civil servants while the "13th salary" paid before the Christmas holiday will be cut to 500 euros, and will be allocated to civil servants whose gross revenues do not exceed 3,000 euros per month. Civil servants' benefits will also be cut a further 8 percent, while the salaries of employees in public utilities, enterprises and organisations in the wider public sector who do not receive benefits will be cut by 3 percent. For pensions in both the public and private sector, the 14th salary bonus will be 200 euros each and the Christmas (13th salary) bonus will be 400 euros for pensions that do not exceed 2,500 euros per month.
The measures further contain drastic changes in the social security system and job market.
Papaconstantinou said that, with the programme, Greece will be able to ensure the major proportion of its borrowing needs over the next three years.
He explained that the materialisation of the programme will be monitored on a quarterly basis, while progress in the implementation of the policies and achievement of its targets will be the criterion for the smooth continuation of the eurozone borrowing programme.
Moreover, the new fiscal adjustment programme to contain the deficit to under the EMU-mandated 3 percent of GDP by 2014 has three components:
The first is fiscal adjustment through immediate corrective and structural measures for the viable streamlining and management of the public finances, while at the same time increasing transparency and accountability.
The second is competitiveness and growth through immediate measures for deregulation of markets, the containment of cost and prices and structural measures to boost entrepreneurship, competitiveness and the economy.
The third is the credit system, through the guaranteeing of the smooth operation of the banking system, liquidity and capital adequacy, and through the introduction of better monitoring and control mechanisms.
Papaconstantinou noted that the "new package of measures", which will not be effective retroactively, contain measures included in the Stability and Development Programme and those that have already been agreed to with the IMF.
The minister explained that in order to reduce the deficit from the current 13.6 percent of GDP to below 3 percent as of 2014, a fiscal adjustment of 2.5 percentage points of GDP, or 5.8 billion euros is required this year. The required fiscal adjustment for 2011 will be at least 4 percentage points of GDP, or 10 billion euros; at least 2 percentage points of GDP or approximately 5 billion euros in 2012; and approximately 2 percentage points of GDP, or about 4.8 billion euros, in 2013.
As for the ballooning state debt, which currently stands at 115 percent of GDP, it will start falling as of 2014, Papaconstantinou forecast.
Based on the programme's targets, Greece will face a major recession this year and next year (-4.0 percent in 2010 and -2.6 percent in 2011), and will return to positive growth rates beginning in 2012 (projected at +1.1 percent in 2012, +2.1 percent in 2013, and +2.1 percent in 2013), while inflation is anticipated at 1.9 percent this year, -0.4 percent in 2011, 1.2 percent in 2012, 0.7 percent in 2013, and 0.9 percent in 2014.
The target is to reduce the fiscal deficit to 8.1 percent of GDP this year, to 7.6 percent in 2011, 6.5 percent in 2012, 4.9 percent in 2013, and 2.6 percent in 2014, Papaconstantinou continued, added that the state debt is expected to reach 133.3 percent of GDP this year, 145.1 percent in 2011, 148.6 percent in 2012, 149.1 percent in 2013 and 144.3 percent in 2014.
"We are called on today to make a fundamental choice: Collapse or salvation of the country, continuation of financing or a complete impasse," Papaconstantinou said, stressing however that "with the tough decisions taken by the government, which are painful for the citizens, the country will be able to secure unobstructed borrowing and its survival, while the foundations are being laid down for immense changes".
The minister expressed optimism that borrowing will normalise for Greece, stressing that the goal is Greece's return to the international markets "but without extortionate interest rates".
To a question on what will be done with those whom, according to the government, are responsible for creating the present situation in the economy, Papaconstantinou stressed that "we will punish those who are responsible, at all levels".
 Eurogroup decides activation of support mechanism for GreeceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M.Aroni)
Eurozone's finance ministers decided on Sunday evening to activate the support mechanism for Greece. According to Eurogroup President Jean Claude Juncker, the total amount of a three-year support mechanism would reach 110 billion euros of which 80 billion would come from the other 15 eurogroup countries and the 30 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
According to Juncker, who spoke during a joint press conference at the end of the finance ministers' meeting, the European Commission and the European Central Bank have ascertained that Greece's acess to international markets was not sufficient anymore, and for this reason the eurozone decided to activate the support mechanism together with all the legal and technical tools necessary for its activation in all eurozone countries.
Moreover, Juncker announced that a eurozone countries' summit would be taking place on May 7, noting that Sunday's decision would not be re-negociated.
On his part, the President of the European Central Bank (ECB) Jean Claude Trichet stated that the ECB had termed Greece's economic and fiscal adjustment programme, which was agreed between the Greek government and the from the ECB, EU and IMF, "ambitious", adding that the programme aimed at the proper total stuctural reforms and the necessary fiscal adaptation.
European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Olli Rehn noted that the European Commission approved the Greek goverment's economic programme which was announced on Sunday on the basis of the agreement that was reached between EU, IMF and the Greek authorities. Moreover, he underlined that the measures are difficult but, as he said, the size of the international economic support to Greece is unprecedented. He also noted that a long lasting persistent effort is necessary for the country to restore its lost credibility and its economy's competitiveness.
He also noted that the supervising of the implementation, by the Greek government, of the measures will take place every three monts and the first assessment will be held in June, adding that the Greek economy will face recession in 2010 and 2011 and will begin to recover at the second half of 2012 .
Rehn also said that from the total amount of the 110 billion, 10 billions will be given for the support of the Greek banking system.
On his part, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou expressed his satisfaction over the "eurozone's important decision for the activation of the mechanism", noting that the Greek programme is a liable three-year programme which "will lead to the country's fiscal adjustment, to its recovery, to the promotion of necessary fiscal reforms and to the increase of competitiveness."
Papaconstantinou also underlined the Greek government's committment to do everything necessary in order to put the country's economy on the track of viable growth.
Meanwhile, EU President Herman Van Rompuy announced from Brussels his decision to call a Summit of eurozone countries on Friday 7 May in order to finalise the procedures of the assistance to Greece.
 Barroso: Conditions have been metBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said here on Sunday that a new package of measures announced by Athens earlier in the day, following consultations with the ECB and the IMF, were "solid and credible", thereby activating eurozone support mechanism for the Greek economy.
The Commission considers that the agreed set of measures constitutes a solid and credible package and fully meets the conditions for positively responding to the Greek request for activation of the EU support mechanism for the Greek economy, and recommends its activation, Barroso said in a written statement issued in Brussels.
Barroso welcomed the decision reached in Athens with the Greek authorities on a multi-annual fiscal adjustment and structural reforms program jointly prepared by the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He said the Greek government, under the determined leadership of Prime Minister George Papandreou, has committed to a difficult but necessary process of reforms to put the Greek economy on a viable road and regain confidence.
 ECB welcomes Greek fiscal adjustment programmeThe European Central Bank (ECB) on Sunday also welcomed the fiscal adjustment programme unveiled earlier by the Greek government.
"The Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) welcomes the economic and financial adjustment programme which was approved today by the Greek government following the successful conclusion of the negotiations with the European Commission, in liaison with the ECB, and the International Monetary Fund," an ECB announcement issued on Sunday afternoon said.
"The ambitious fiscal adjustment and comprehensive structural reforms under the programme are appropriate to achieving the programme's objectives of stabilising the fiscal and economic situation over time and addressing the fiscal and structural challenges of the Greek economy. The programme is comprehensive and supported by strong conditionality. It addresses the relevant policy challenges in a decisive manner. It will thereby help to restore confidence and safeguard financial stability in the euro area. The Governing Council also considers essential that the Greek public authorities stand ready to take any further measures that may become appropriate to achieve the objectives of the programme," the announcement added.
 EU-IMF team: "Very strong, very credible, well-supported package"Greece's program for fiscal and economic recovery is a "very strong, very credible and well-supported package", European Commission and International Monetary Fund (IMF) senior officials told a press briefing in Athens on Sunday, stressing that rescheduling of Greece's debt has never been, nor will be, on the table.
European Commission Deputy Director General for economic and financial affairs Servaas Deroose and IMF European Department deputy director Poul Thomsen, told reporters that the ambitious program aims to bring the Greek deficit to "well below" 3 percent of GDP from the current 13.6 percent, but cautioned that fiscal adjustment will take a toll, while structural reforms take time to kick in.
Time must be allowed for the program to start yielding, and for markets to regain confidence, they said.
Thomsen said that the Greek government started out very ambitiously with strong measures, from the beginning of the year and "before the IMF came here".
This was a "defining moment" for Greece, he said, noting that "when we came here, the government put the package on the table before us". Asked if there was a possibility of rescheduling of Greece's debt, he said that this "has never been on the table" nor will it be.
"The IMF has never suggested it. It has never been discussed," he added.
Questioned on the "mechanism" for the release of the support funds for Greece, the two officials opined that there will be an initial up-front disbursement followed by quarterly remittances, with close monitoring of the program's implementation and performance.
To another question, Deroose said that if the need arises for "adjusting measures", those will be taken.
Noting that the program is a "very strong, very credible and very well-supported package", Thomsen said he expects the markets to "react positively" as they see that the Greek government is determined to implement it and there will be a significant, sustained decline in the spreads.
 Statement by Strauss-KahnWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T Ellis)
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn reacted to the developments concerning Greece with the following statement on Sunday:
"The Greek government has designed an ambitious policy package to address the economic crisis facing the nation. It is a multi-year program which begins with substantial up-front efforts to correct Greece's grave fiscal imbalances, make the economy more competitive and -- over time -- restore growth and jobs. We believe these efforts, along with the government's firm commitment to implement them, will get the economy back on track and restore market confidence.
"Fiscal policy and pro-growth measures are the two main pillars of the government's program. A combination of spending cuts and revenue increases amounting to 11 percent of GDP -- on top of the measures already taken earlier this year-are designed to achieve a turnaround in the public debt-to-GDP ratio beginning in 2013 and will reduce the fiscal deficit to below 3 percent of GDP by 2014. Measures for 2010 involve a reduction of public sector wages and pension outlays -which are unavoidable given that those two elements alone constitute some 75 percent of total (non-interest) public spending in Greece.
"Pro-growth measures will be aimed at modernizing the economy and boosting its competitiveness so that it can emerge from the crisis as quickly as possible. Steps include strengthening income and labor markets policies; better managing and investing in state enterprises and improving the business environment. Reforms to fight waste and corruption-eliminating non-transparent procurement practices, for example--are also being undertaken.
"In addition, the government is taking decisive steps to strengthen and safeguard the financial system. A Financial Stability Fund-fully financed under the program-will ensure a sound level of bank equity.
"The authorities' program is designed with fairness in mind. There will be a more progressive tax scale for all sources of income; a clampdown on tax evasion and a step up in prosecution of the worst offenders; and stronger enforcement and audit of high-wealth individuals.
"In addition, there will be protection for the most vulnerable groups. The reductions in wages and pensions are designed largely to exempt those living on the minimum. Social expenditures also will be revised to strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable people.
"Finally, there will be a significant reduction in military expenditures during the program period.
"To support Greece's effort to get its economy back on track the Euro Area members have pledged a total of ¬ 80 billion (about US$105 billion) in bilateral loans. An IMF staff mission, in consultation with representatives from the European Commission and the European Central Bank, also reached agreement today with the Greek authorities to support this program with a three-year SDR 26 billion (about ¬ 30 billion; or US$40 billion) Stand-By Arrangement. Our joint commitment will bring total financing to ¬ 110 billion (about US$145 billion). We have also activated the Fund's fast-track procedures for consideration of Greece's Stand-By Arrangement, and I expect the arrangement will go to the Executive Board for approval within the week.
"We believe these strong measures by the Greek government, along with the significant risks of spillover to other countries, merit an exceptional level of access to IMF resources-equivalent to 3200 percent of Greece's quota in the Fund. This represents the largest access granted to a member country and it indicates the Fund's high level of support for the program and for Greece.
"The success of Greece's recovery program will depend, first and foremost, on the commitment of its government and people. While the initial implementation period will be difficult, we are confident that the economy will emerge more dynamic and robust from this crisis -- and able to deliver the growth, jobs and prosperity that the country needs for the future.
"Our collective effort will contribute to the stability of the euro, will benefit all of Europe and will help to promote global financial stability and a secure recovery in the global economy," his statement concluded.
 Samaras: New measures an admission of gov't's WaterlooMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Sunday called anew package of austerity measures announced by the government earlier in the day a "Waterloo of the government's predictions and policies", adding: "my only concern today is the implementation of policies that will take us out of this vise at the earliest".
Samaras charged the prime minister of "announcing today as Greece's 'salvation' that which up to a few days ago he had been ruling out as harmful and unnecessary: Additional drastic measures, much worse than those already taken and which up until a few days ago were deemed as absolutely 'adequate'."
"We are seeing the admission of a genuine Waterloo of the government's forecasts and policies. They had predicted a recession this year of -0.3 percent, and today they admit that the recession will be more than tenfold up, reaching -4.0 percent. They had assured us that the Stability and Development Programme was fully adequate for this year. Now they admit that it has essentially failed and are imposing new, much more drastic measures, with new increases in indirect taxes and additional salary cutbacks in the public sector," Samaras said.
"Either they were lying to us up to now, or they lost control much earlier. Or both. At any rate, they have spent every last reserve of credibility in a few short months," the opposition leader said, adding that today the government was giving "a much bigger dose of a 'medicine' that has already failed".
"Today, we are more at risk of an overdose of the 'medicine' than from the 'ailment' itself," Samaras warned.
The ND leader charged that the new measures announced would not curtail wasteful spending, but contained only salary cuts and tax increases in a market that was already suffocating in conditions of an unprecedented, for Greece, recession.
"There are no measures to boost competitiveness, but there are measures to reduce pensions. There is no program for privatisations. There are no offset measures to stimulate the markets, which would limit the shut-downs and contain unemployment. There is not even a prospect of exploiting the state assets. In other words, lacking are all those steps that would have allowed Greece to swiftly tackle the problem of its excessive borrowing on its own power so as to exit from the 'vise' at the earliest at the earliest," he charged.
Samaras stressed that he had disagreed with this policy from the outset, warning that it would put Greece into a vicious cycle of increasing recession, and had disagreed with recourse to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), when it still could have been avoided.
"I know what this dramatic misadventure means for all the Greeks. I know how it can end the soonest and as painlessly as possible. And my exclusive priority is precisely that. We can do it, and we will do it," Samaras concluded.
 Other opposition parties' reactionCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga on Sunday sharply criticised the government's latest round of austerity measures, while stressing that "the time has arrived for the great and irreplaceable people's responsibility to prove that they do not believe the government's blatant lies but in the justness of their struggle".
She also called the new measures "barbarous".
"What prime minister George Papandreou said, that the measures will not affect workers in the private sector is a lie, the measures will affect the public and the private sector with new labour relations, social security reforms and the abolition of collective labour agreement negotiations, as well as the blackmailing by the large capitalist employers," KKE leader Aleka Papariga claimed.
"The time of responsibility has come. Each one from his post and all together. We can sweep them away. The worker must join forces with the employee and the employee with the poor farmer the small professional and all together in a major popular front. We must be on alert, the crisis will become deeper and will embrace all of Europe again. The measures are not for a three-year period, but in a few months they will change them again and again. If they find the people's movement with heads bowed, the tragedy will be incalculable. We are optimistic that we can sweep them away," Papariga said.
 LA.OS blasts 'weak' gov't'Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) George Karatzaferis sharply criticised the government on the new package of measures.
He accused the government of being weak, "that is why the negotiation (with the EU-IMF) was also weak, resulting in the measures announced by the government earlier today".
Karatzaferis described as "people of the New Rome" the 'troika' of European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials, "who imposed measures that crush our dignity without any guarantee for the future, without any guarantee that we will be able to have growth, without any guarantee that we will be able to permanently escape from the crisis".
He further charged that PM George Papandreou has "managed to become part of the problem".
Earlier, LA.OS spokesman Costas Aivaliotis said Papandreou's "rehashed painful ideas mean lots of anti-fever medicines but no flu medicine".
"They may give relief today, but without development, the symptoms will simply become worse tomorrow".
 Leftist party: Alternative path existsRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras called the latest austerity package "criminal choices that do not concern only the coming three years."
"The measures are sinking us into a dark tunnel that will continue for at least the next two decades because, if we accept this road, many years will be needed to restore even the few productive forces of the country," Tsipras said, adding that the choices the government co-authored with the IMF and the EU "in no way comprise the only road for the country".
He accused the government of proceeding "panic-stricken and without any democratic legitimacy" to the "unconditional surrender of Greek society to the savage intentions of capital and the markets".
Tsipras further criticised the government for "presenting as the only road" the "sinking of the Greek economy into recession, a sharp increase in unemployment, collapse of the small and medium size businesses, and disdain of the material and human productive dynamic of the country".
"An alternative road exists. It is the road of rekindling the economy, its productive restructure, a radical reverse redistribution of the income, so that the fiscal deficit may be covered through resources coming from 'those who have' and not from the low salary earners and the poor strata of the Greek society," Tsipras countered, while favoring a bevy of higher taxes on businesses.
 Athens chamber president on new measuresAthens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) president Constantinos Mihalos on Sunday warned the government that numerous Greek enterprises will close unless support is provided, "not only from the 'notorious' support mechanism, but also from other healthy powers of the market ..."
In a statement after the announcement of new austerity measures, Mihalos stressed that "the prime minister's responsibilities are huge. The country did not need a prime minister and a government that recklessly put everyone on a Procrustean bed. Everyone could have done that...
"This is not economic policy. it is a fierce attack against businesses, workers and pensioners. Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou's supposed specification of the measures, after the prime minister's vague announcements earlier at the Inner Cabinet, worsened the Greek people's and the entrepreneurs' worries on what lies ahead and created further confusion."
 Civil servants' union decries measuresThe civil servants labour union (ADEDY) on Sunday released an announcement, on the occasion the new austerity measures announced on Sunday, stressing that "we are facing historic changes, as Prime Minister George Papandreou stated and as Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou noted, through measures and policies that are leading society to poverty."
The civil servants' union charged that "society is collapsing, citizen are led to poverty ... this policy foresees no promising future, no economic selection for the county and the citizen. The crisis will again be an opportunity for 'haves', businesses and banks, known speculators and the society's blackmailers ... The rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer."
 Parliament to abolish MPs' bonuses, reduce benefitsGreece's parliament on Sunday announced its intention to abolish holiday and leave bonuses for MPs and cutbacks in their office and travel allowances, just hours after the government unveiled a new package of austerity measures to curtail the country's fiscal deficit and debts.
During a morning meeting of the Inner Cabinet, prime minister George Papandreou had asked of the parliament president to take initiatives putting the country's 300-member House at the front line of the effort for fiscal streamlining, with the MPs taking part in the national effort by foregoing their holiday bonuses.
Parliament announced on Sunday afternoon that the Christmas, Easter and summer leave bonuses will no longer be paid to the MPs, as well as a further 8 percent reduction to their office and travel allowance, by decision of the parliament president, which comes on the heels of an initial 12 percent reduction announced by the government in a first package of measures in March.
Also, an 8 percent reduction in benefits and cutbacks in holiday bonuses and overtime pay affecting civil servants will also be effective for parliament employees.
In this time of extreme crisis, "all of us, united, must wage this historic battle for the salvation of our country," parliament president Philippos Petsalnikos said, stressing that "the Hellenic Parliament, the MPs and the employees will rise to the circumstances, sending a clear message of substantive participation and contribution to the nationwide effort for the country to overcome the crisis".
 PM in parliament: Greece's future is the government's 'red line'Prime minister George Papandreou reiterated that Greece's future is the "red line" for his government, adding that the measures it is taking are mandatory for the country's very survival, speaking in parliament on Friday during the "Hour of the Prime Minister" and in reply to current questions tabled by Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis.
The premier also warned that any effort to link the country's national issues with economic issues would be a "political casus belli" for his government, stressing that the only thing linking the two issues is the "red line" that has been drawn, which is the interests of the country.
Papandreou and Tsipras crossed swords in parliament over the government's decision to take recourse in the EU support mechanism for the Greek economy and the harsh measures that have been taken.
The heated dialogue erupted during a discussion of a SYRIZA current question on the state of the National Health System (ESY), which veered into a new package of harsh measures that are expected to be announced in the next few days.
Papandreou stressed that, despite the difficulties, the government will invest in whatever concerns protection of the citizens and their right to health, "because it is a government priority", and called for everyone's support to exit the current situation "at the earliest".
Tsipras called on the premier to "not accept the country's downfall with recourse to the IMF" and to either hold a referendum or general elections for a "fresh popular mandate", because the steps that the current government is taking are not in line with the mandate it received in the October 2009 elections.
Replying to the current question, Papandreou pointed out that the ESY was "PASOK's child", and his ruling party grieves the condition to which it has fallen as a result of the clientele policy of corruption and intransigence of the preceding government of New Democracy (ND).
At any rate, he continued, the IMF was not to blame for the current situation, and claims to that effect were a "facile alibi for not changing anything" and "simply rebellious rhetoric".
Papandreou said that his government's goal is to bring about a genuine revolution in the sector of health and welfare: "We could have had better hospitals. The IMF is not to blame for the provocative wasteful spending, the corruption, and the cronyistic hirings".
He stressed that one of the government's priorities is to revive the welfare state, put the focus on the basic needs of the citizen and to strike a merciless blow to wasteful spending, corruption and profiteering.
Outlining the steps already taken, Papandreou noted the increases in Intensive Care beds, payment of the state hospitals' debts, the institution of measures to curtail waste in medicines spending and controls put in place on supplies, while he reiterated the government's pledge for the immediate hiring of 3,000 nursing staff and 915 doctors.
He added that the new taxation bill was part of that same effort: "For us, the ESY is a priority and no excessive deficit procedure and no IMF can change that".
Tsipras, in turn, accused the government that "for the past six months it has been divorcing itself from its history and from its mandate" and that, contrary to what it was saying, the government was "reducing state reinforcements, curtailing operational expenditures and lowering salaries", and "you say that these are not IMF decisions?"
"Do you realise what you're doing, with these destructive measures that the country has not witnessed since WWII? For months now we have been telling you to change course and turn the wheel around so as not to ram into the iceberg. And now that we smashed into the iceberg, you're telling everyone to jump into the sea," Tsipras charged.
Negotiation also entails demands, but "where did you say 'no'?" Tsipras asked.
The SYRIZA leader further warned Papandreou that the government's current "allies", namely LAOS leader Karatzaferis, former ND prime minister Mitsotakis and the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) "who asked for blood" will not continue to respect him for long. "When you have done the dirty work, you will be useless to them and they'll kick you out," he said.
The premier retorted that "the iceberg was before October 4 (the general elections that brought PASOK to power)", and accused Tsipras of petty party expediency in blaming PASOK for the present state of EU surveillance, noting that SYRIZA itself had voted in favor of the Maastricht Treaty that provides for surveillance (excessive deficit procedure) when a member country's deficit exceeds 3 percent of GDP.
The government, Papandreou continued, has "turned the wheel around and we have drawn the red line at exiting from the custody and surveillance that the previous governments have put us in as fast as possible".
"We are doing everything we can, with many no's to protect the weak. Not on the streets with rock-throwing, but through tough negotiations," he added.
Political casus belli
The premier also warned that any effort to link the country's national issues with economic issues would be a "political casus belli" for his government, stressing that the only thing linking the two issues is the "red line" that has been drawn, which is the interests of the country, in response to a current question tabled by Karatzaferis.
He also described as "mandatory for the country's survival" the measures that will be agreed with the "troika", and spoke of a "patriotic responsibility, the cost of which we fully assume".
Karatzaferis warned the government to be very cautious, since Turkey, "with its daily and systematic aggressiveness", has contributed "to the country's economy reaching a nadir".
Papandreou replied that the measures are necessary "for our protection, survival and future, and for us to stand firmly on our feet".
"It is a patriotic responsibility, the cost of which we fully assume. Changes are necessary immediately, because the country's survival comes first. We are under surveillance for our economy, but let me make it clear that we are not under surveillance for any other issue. This is our political casus belli, if someone dared anything like that," Papandreou added.
"We would be showing fear if we sat with our arms crossed and did not take initiatives, did not implement an outward policy to strengthen our presence abroad. Our mobility and effective defense of our national rights is mandatory, and also a strong negotiating tool for the Greece of today and tomorrow," the premier said.
 PM: Phone briefing of President on econ developmentsPrime minister George Papandreou briefed President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on developments in the economy on Friday morning, ahead of the President's meeting with main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras.
According to a release by the prime minister's press office, Papandreou, in a follow-up to a telephone discussion a few days earlier, briefed the President on the developments and stated his intention to call on the President personally immediately after completion of the government's negotiations with the "troika" of European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials, who are currently in Athens, on the activation of the EU support mechanism for the Greek economy.
The press release added that Papandreou asked the President to convene, after their own meeting, a meeting of the parliamentary political party leaders for a detailed briefing and discussion on the outcome of the negotiations for the activation of the support mechanism.
 Samaras asks President to convene urgent meeting of political leadersMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Friday called on President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias to convene an urgent meeting of the Council of Political Leaders to discuss Greece's economic crisis, during an extraordinary meeting with the President at the ND leader's request.
Samaras told reporters after the meeting that "these are hours of responsibility for everyone", adding that the country "is faced with decisions that will decide the country's present and future".
The ND leader earlier Friday asked for an urgent meeting with Papoulias "due to the gravity of the developments" and, speaking to reporters before going into the meeting, stressed that "we are going through critical moments that demand critical decisions for the present and future and for the social cohesion", adding that he wanted to set out his ideas to the President.
Papoulias, in turn, stated before the meeting that the situation is indeed tough and critical, noting that the battle must be waged by everyone.
"We must all acknowledge our mistakes, without exception, including myself, because I was also a member of many (past) governments," Papoulias stressed, and called for sensitivity towards the weak who are now called on to pay the cost.
Papoulias further said he was pleased with the "example of Portugal, where the prime minister and main opposition leader sat down together at the same table to find a solution to the economic crisis".
 PM: No secret agenda in Athens talks with ErdoganPrime minister George Papandreou reiterated that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not visit Thrace during his upcoming visit to Athens, replying in parliament on Friday to a relevant current question tabled by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis.
Erdogan and a delegation of 10 ministers are due for a two-day official visit to Athens on May 14-15, including the ministers of economy, foreign trade, European affairs, energy, transports, education, and the environment. The 10 Turkish ministers will arrive in Athens on the morning of Friday, May 14, while Erdogan will arrive that same afternoon and leave the following afternoon. During the visit, the Greek-Turkish High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, the creation of which was decided during alternate foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas' recent visit to Ankara and talks with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, will hold its first meeting in the afternoon of May 14, after the agreement formally setting up the Council is signed.
On Erdogan's visit and the activation of the High-Level Council, Papandreou said that these are in the context of the intensification of efforts for normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations.
The preparations are being made with a serious, systematic effort, and the agenda is being arranged via the diplomatic route. In any case, my every action and contact, either with Mr. Erdogan or any other leader, are in the context of reinforcing the country and defending its national interests, the prime minister stressed, adding that leaders of foreign countries are welcome to go to every part of Greece, with the agreement of the Greek government.
Karatzaferis opined that the Turkish premier's visit could be postponed for three months, since this was not the best period for Greece "which is wounded".
The LAOS leader also said that Greece was at the "nadir of its economy", and "the continuous provocativeness and aggressiveness" of its "bad neighbor" Turkey has contributed to that.
Karatzaferis continued that Ankara, with its attitude, is not showing any disposition for the development of a peaceful climate between the two countries, adding that Turkey could contribute in that direction since "with only one military exercise we cancelled, we saved the country four million euros".
He concluded that Erdogan is applying an "Ottoman policy, which has only demands, and this is why Greece must display the necessary caution".
Replying, Papandreou warned that it would be a mistake to intimate that we fear any visit by any leader, adding that "we must not show fear, especially during this critical time for our country".
The premier further stressed that there is no "secret agenda" on the content of the talks, and promised to brief both parliament and the political parties on the talks.
 PM holds meetings with Babacan, EU Fisheries CommissionerPrime minister George Papandreou met separately on Friday with Turkish National Assembly (parliament) vice-president Ali Babacan and EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki.
After her meeting with the premier, Damanaki said this was a very difficult time for Greece, in which everyone must do their duty to the best of their ability.
 Droutsas, Babacan address Economist conferenceAlternate foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas spoke of the new model of cooperation between Greece and Turkey that will be embarked upon during Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's official visit to Athens on May 14-15, addressing an Economist international conference in Athens on Friday.
Droutsas, who was on the same panel with Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, stressed that when the will exists, stereotypes and prejudices of the past as well as mutual suspicion in bilateral relations can be overcome.
Asked on the prospect of a mutual reduction in defence expenditure by the two countries on opposite sides of the Aegean, Droutsas noted that "this is the vision and the ultimate goal of our foreign policy, and it is worth working toward this in a systematic way".
He added that he had brought up this matter a few minutes earlier in his address to the conference, when he spoke of the "real benefit that will arise from the channeling of a part of our national wealth from armaments spending to other developmental sectors of the economy".
Replying to the same question, Babacan said that the perception of the threat in the region does not concern only the two countries, but was pushing and pressing for a nuclear-free region.
"Our vision is to see open borders, free movement of goods and people, and a reduced sense of danger," he added.
Addressing the conference, Droutsas stressed that peaceful resolution of differences contributes to consolidating stability and security at regional level, adding that security and stability were the main prerequisites for economic growth.
He noted that in 1999, when the Greek-Turkish rapprochement commenced, trade relations between the two countries skyrocketed: "We began with 600 million euros in transactions, and today our trade exchanges exceed 3.5 billion euros. The contacts of the society of the citizens increased and the first channels of regular contact and communication were created".
He also noted to the institutionalised schemes of bilateral military cooperation both in the context of NATO and at bilateral level, stressing, however, that much remains to be done in that area.
Droutsas further stressed that Turkey's European prospect was of catalytic importance for Greek-Turkish relations, as this would normalise the friction points. "Besides, respect of good neighborhood and the peaceful resolution of differences are among the fundamental accession prerequisites and priorities," he said, adding that Turkey's accession to the EU would contribute decisively to the cementing of security, stability and development in SE Europe.
With the new model of cooperation to be inaugurated by prime ministers George Papandreou and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "new structures and schemes will be created in the context of a structured cooperation, with the (newly-formed) High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council and the participation of a variety of ministers from both sides," Droutsas added.
Babacan, in his own address to the conference, assessed Greek-Turkish relations in a variety of sectors, noting that the relations have become very different from what they were a decade ago.
"There is a visible, substantial improvement and cooperation is broader in many areas," Babacan said, and called premier Papandreou the Greek side's "architect" of the rapprochement.
He spoke of the new chapter and new "tool" that will help bilateral relations proceed to the next phase, the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, the two prime ministers with 8-10 ministers from each side that will convene annually to examine a broad range of issues.
Babacan said that much can be accomplished with the creation of synergies in the sectors of energy, culture, education and banking. "Thus, we will overcome some difficult matters, and I think that the political climate will be very significant," he stressed, while he also mentioned the gradual increase in trade between the two countries, with Greek investments of 6 billion dollars in Turkey, and expressed hope that his country will reach the same level.
He said that Turkey's EU accession process was important for Turkey to come increasingly closer to the European structure but also for the reforms process and just state inside his country.
Babacan further recalled that when he was finance minister, the Turkish economy was in a very bad state in 2002. Back then, he added, Turkey was borrowing at a 66 percent interest rate and its debt was 80 percent of GDP, but a few years later, after tough choices and decisions, the interest rates fell and immense structural changes and reforms were made in the banking sector. "We were very tough with the bankers, I must admit. Because we lost much due to the banking crisis in 2000, one-third of our GDP was lost within the space of one year. We introduced the sense of personal responsibility for the banks and their directors. In other words, if they did not follow the rules and the bank had problems, the directors and owners were responsible with their own wealth".
He also said that Turkey was one of the few countries that began an "exit strategy" in September 2009 "and we saw positive results".
"For countries with a high debt, fiscal cutbacks help in the expansion of economic growth...from the moment there is confidence, then development will follow," he concluded.
 Nimets briefs UNSG on FYROM name talksNew York (ANA-MPA)
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon met in New York on Thursday with his personal emissary in the FYROM name talks, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, to discuss the current state of the talks, according to an announcement by the secretary general's spokesman.
The announcement noted that Nimetz met separately in the past week with the FYROM negotiator Ambassador Zoran Jolevski and Greek negotiator Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, in the framework of the talks between the two sides, in order to hear their views on the current status of the talks.
 LAOS leader in Nicosia: Cyprus issue at new turning pointNicosia (ANA-MPA)
Greece's Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis said that the Cyprus issue was entering a new turning point, speaking in Nicosia after a meeting with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Friday evening.
Karatzaferis, who arrived in Nicosia earlier in the afternoon on a two-day visit to Cyprus, also said that "we need to recruit our best ideas".
"We have a new negotiator on the other side, who is moving on an entirely different track," Karatzaferis said, referring to the new Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu who "won" the recent illegal elections in the occupied part of the island.
He expressed belief, however, that "with the appropriate handling, we can turn every disadvantage into an advantage".
 Labour unions and parties' rallies on Labour DayLabour unions staged several rallies on Saturday, Labour Day, in Athens under the shadow of the government's expected new austerity measures.
Athens Labour Center and the country's two main umbrella labour federations' rally was staged in Klathmonos square, downtown Athens.
PAME labour union which is affiliated to Communist Party of Greece held a rally at Syndagma square and SYRIZA parliamentary alliance and other leftist parties held their own protest outside the Athens Archaelogical Museum.
The rallies were concluded peacefully although scuffles were reported after the end of the demonstations.
 Nine detained in Labor Day scufflesNine individuals will be sent before a prosecutor charged with taking part in several violent incidents in downtown Athens during demonstrations staged on Labour Day.
According to police, the 27 detainees include three Greeks charged with attacking and insulting police officers, and another Greek and five foreign nationals (4 Palestinians and a Romanian) who were arrested for looting.
Seven police officers were injured, a National Broadcasting Company (ERT) van was burned and windshields were smashed in three buildings during the scuffles in Athens.
 KKE leader: Time for radical reversalCommunist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga addressing on Saturday the demonstrators participating in PAME (Labour union affiliated to Communist party of Greece) rally for the Labour Day stressed "Whatever billions of euros they will give to the Greek state means nothing to the people, because the capital will continue to manipulate the workers and the rotten political system will continue to trod over and intimidate the labourers and to want workers without any dignity".
Papariga noted that "The time has come. Now for real. We must not delay any more in order a major popular front of labourers and farmers aiming at the great, radical reversal. Only on this struggle's path lies the prospect something to become better for the workers."
PAME protestors staged a rally that began at downtown Athens Syndagma square and was concluded in front of the American Embassy. The protestors were holding red flags and banners and expressed their opposition to the new austerity measures attributing responsibilities to the US, the EU and the Greek government.
 Local gov't federation calls 24h strikeThe local government unions' umbrella federation POE-OTA has called a 24 hour strike for Monday in protest to new austerity measures unveiled by the government on Sunday.
Initially the strike will be for 24 hours, but the federation will meet at noon on Monday to decide whether to extend it.
 Stocks end 2.22pct upStocks ended up on Friday, with the composite index up 2.22 percent to end at 1,869.99 points, with the FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks up 2.07 percent, the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index was up 0.23 percent, and the FTSE/ASE-80 small cap index up 0.15 percent.
The biggest gains were in Public Utilities, up 5.74 percent; and Food & Beverage, up 4.32 percent.
The biggest losses were in Health, down 2.34 percent; and Financial Services, down 0.43 percent.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks was up 4.61 percent, the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index was up 2.57 percent, and the FTSE/ASE-80 small cap index was up 1.32 percent.
Of the stocks traded, 94 were up, 75 were down, and 59 were unchanged.
 Robber killed in shootout with police, linked with 2009 murder of police officer (adds police announcement)An armed robber was killed and three policemen were injured in a shootout in Thessaloniki on Thursday night, during a supermarket hold-up.
The gunman stormed into the supermarket in the Evosmos district shortly before 10:00 p.m. on Thursday after it had closed to shoppers and only employees were inside, grabbed nearly 50,000 euros from the safe and attempted to flee, but was detected by a local resident who immediately alerted the police.
A strong team of police officers rushed to the scene and cordoned off the area, trapping the robber as he was exiting the supermarket.
The robber started shooting against the police in an effort to escape, who returned the fire, wounding him.
Despite his wounds, the robber threw a handgrenade at the police officers, three of whom were lightly injured by shrapnel.
The wounded robber was rushed to AHEPA Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, while the three wounded officers were taken to a nearby military hospital and were reported in a non-life-threatening condition.
Police arrested a woman of foreign nationality, who was an accomplice of the perpetrator and was waiting for him in a getaway car outside the supermarket. Three pistols, two handgrenades and a kalashnikov firearm were found in the car.
Police investigating the case have information implicating the dead robber with the murder of 30-year-old police officer Spyros Theodorou in April 2009 in the central Athens district of Kypseli.
The 30-year-old officer Theodorou was shot at close range by an unidentified gunman in the early hours of April 3, 2009, in the Grava neighborhood of Kypseli, and his 26-year-old partner was injured in the incident. The police officers belonged to the then newly-set up motorcycle patrol teams and were familiarizing themselves with their beat, and were dispatched to investigate a report that a car theft was in progress. Theodorou approached a suspect on a motorcycle and was asking for his papers when a woman approached them, claiming that the suspect was a friend of hers and drawing the attention of the officers, at which time a second man who had not been initially perceived sneaked up behind the officers and fatally shot Theodorou in the nape of the neck and the second officer in the head, who was wearing a helmet and escaped with lighter injuries.
The two suspects grabbed the officers' weapons and mobile phones and sped off on the motorcycle.
The woman, who was taken in for questioning, was later charged with aiding the escape of a criminal.
 Thessaloniki police HQ announcementA Thessaloniki police headquaters announcement later said that the dead robber was a 34-year-old foreign national for whom a series of arrest warrants for homicide, multiple counts of attempted homicides, robberies, illegal possession and use of firearms and assault of police officers had been issued in the past.
Police said that the dead gunman, together with his arrested brother, had fatally wounded Theodorou and taken his service pistol.
Also, the deceased had also fired repeatedly against police officers as they were chasing him on his motorcycle after resisting a call for a routine check on the night of October 29, 2009 in the Metamorphosi suburb of Athens.
Further, an international arrest warrant had been issued for him by the Ukraine authorities for robbery and embezzlement.
In addition, one of the pistols found in the getaway car in Thursday's incident had been taken by Theodorou's injured partner in Kypseli, while the car and its licence plates were stolen in February 2010 from the Patissia district of Athens and Alimos suburb respectively.
Police said that in Thursday's incident, the perpetrator broke the front glass panel of the supermarket and held the employees at gunpoint, grabbing 47,650 euros from the strongbox, while his female accomplice remained in the getaway car outside.
The woman will be taken before a public prosecutor.
 Samaria Gorge opens for 2010 season on SaturdayThe world-famous Samaria Gorge on the southern Aegean island of Crete, one of the longest gorges in Europe, opens to visitors for the 2010 season on Saturday.
As of Saturday, entry will be permitted throughout the entire length of the main footpath, from Xyloskalo to Aghia Roumeli.
The Samaria Gorge, a national park in Chania prefecture in southwest Crete and a major tourist attraction of the island, was created by a small river running between the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) and Mt. Volakias.
The 16 kilometer-long gorge starts at an altitude of 1,250 meters at the northern entrance in the settlement of Omalos (Xyloskalo) and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Aghia Roumeli.
The actual walk through the Samaria National Park is 13 kilometers long, but the trekker has to walk another three kilometers to Aghia Roumeli from the park exit, making the hike 16 kilometers.
The most famous part of the gorge is the "Iron Gates" stretch, where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only four meters and soar to a height of 500 meters.
The gorge became a national park in 1962, chiefly as a refuge for the rare "kri-kri" Cretan goat, which is largely restricted to the park and an islet just off the shore of Aghia Marina.
There are several other endemic species in the gorge and surrounding area, as well as many other species of flowers and birds.
 Drug arrests in Crete, ArtaA 27-year-old Albanian woman was arrested on Friday in the port of Heraklion, on the island of Crete, with three kilos of heroin in her possession.
Acting on a tip-off, Heraklion drug squad police were waiting for the woman in the port by boat, and allowed her to board a taxi so as to follow her to her home.
Police arrested the woman as she exited the taxi, and found and confiscated six small packets of heroin weighing a total 3.068 kilos in her travel bag, as well as 2000 euros in cash coming from drug dealing.
A house search also turned up 27,500 euros in bank remittances to Albania and a bankbook with 15,000 euros in deposits, which were also seized.
In a separate incident in Arta, two local residents were arrested after police found 504 narcotic pills in their possession.
 Ten illegal migrants arrested near the Greek- Turkish borderEvros border police (northeastern Greece) arrested late Friday ten illegal migrants at a forestal area in the plain of Tyhero. Police officers spotted the migrants in a car heading for Alexandroupolis. The car driver ignored a police call to stop, who eventually stopped in a dark spot and fled.
The car with the migrants on board crashed on the road barricade. The migrants were arrested and sent to Alexandrou-polis' prosecutor while the car driver is wanted.
 Migrants arrested near KozaniThree foreign nationals aged 22,26 and 32 years old were arrested on Friday on the Kozani- Larissa national motorway by Kozani police while attempting to tranport seven illegal migrants ( five Pakistanis, one Iranian and an Afghani) .
During the investigation it was revealed that the migrants were picked up from Evros border region( northwestern Greece) and were to pay 5,000 euros each to the smugglers upon their arrival in Athens. The two cars that were used for the transportation were confiscated and both migrants and smugglers will be sent before a local prosecutor
 4.2 R jquake jolts northern CreteÁ quake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale was jolted northern Crete on Sunday afternoon.
According to Athens Geodynamics Institute the earthquake was recorded at 3:25 p.m north of Rethymno, with its epicentre 255km south of Athens and an epicentral depth of 42 km.
The earthquake was also felt in Iraklion, but no damage has been reported.
 Bomb explosion at bankUnknown individuals placed on Sunday noon a makeshift explosive device outside the HSBC bank branch at the Athens district of Neo Phyhico.
Damages were reported in the bank's entrance. Police is conducting an investigation.
 The weekend edition of Athens dailies at a glanceThe new package of austerity measures to be announced in the next days and citizens' reactions dominated the headlines on Saturday
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Cutbacks in salaries with individual working contracts!"
APOGEVMATINI: "Shock and awe - Unemployment, high cost of living, insecurity and poverty".
AVGHI: "And finally, barbarism - The alternative answer will be given through struggles...".
AVRIANI: "Let's rent to the Russians an island for 100 billion euros to use it as a war base for a hundred years and kick out the Germans and the Americans".
CHORA: "Prime Minister George Papandreou's bombs devastate society".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Greeks in the time of cholera".
EPOCHI: "Labour Day: Everybody in the streets - They( government, EU, ECB and IMF) are ruthless, we are determined".
ETHNOS : "Contract of terror, three years of austerity for salaries and pensions - The reprecussions of the harsh measures for millions of households".
KATHIMERINI: "Greece's tough wager - The cost of the new measures and the reprecussions for the political scene".
LOGOS: "IMF imposes 12 shocking measures".
NIKI: "PASOK(the party) and the people say NO - Greece belongs to the Greeks not the IMF".
PROTO THEMA: "Greece is saved, Greeks are destroyed - Despair over EU,IMF's unbearable measures".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Labour Day of the classes with PAME ( Labour union affiliated to the Communist Party of Greece) - Workers, farmers and professionals alliance".
TO PARON " The end... The country is sinking into chaos and the people are climbing a Calvary".
TO VIMA: "Fear, rage and hope - Citizens accuse political parties and politicians".
TYPOS TIS KYRIAKIS: "Pogrom in public sector - 300,000 lay offs by 2013".
VETO: "Greece for sale at discount - Sold for 120 billion euros".
VRADYNI: "Cutbacks in pensions - Abolition of benefits and bonuses".
 President Christofias urges Turkey to stop tricks and Eroglu to use common senseNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the Republic Demetris Christofias has urged Turkey on Saturday to stop its communication policy and tricks and also called on Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to come forward to the negotiations for a Cyprus settlement on the basis of common sense.
Speaking on the sidelines of events to mark Labour Day, President Christofias said Turkey's communication policy is very well known and it should cease its tricks.
The president was invited to comment on statements made by Turkey's Minister responsible for the Economy Ali Babacan, who was quoted as saying during the Economist conference in Athens that Turkey would like to see a solution to the Cyprus issue before the end of 2010.
He called on Eroglu, who last month succeeded Mehmet Ali Talat as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, to "come forward (to the talks), surely on the basis of common sense" and to honour all that was agreed by his predecessor as a foundation for the negotiations and the convergence that was achieved.
"Only then we will be able to satisfy Turkey by the end of the year", he said, adding however, that the point is not to satisfy Turkey "but the people and our conscience".
"We want a solution yesterday", said President Christofias, quoting former President George Vassiliou.
The president pointed out that the Greek Cypriot side wants a solution before the end of the year, but the point is how Turkey is leading the negotiators and what instructions is giving them.
He expressed hope that a solution must serve the people of Cyprus in its entirety, should be fair under the circumstances, viable and functional and "this is why we will continue working day and night and we will maintain a creative stance during the resumption of the talks", he added.
Invited by journalists to comment on the positive and negative repercussions of Cyprus joining the EU, on the occasion of six years since its accession, President Christofias said accession has "many, more positive consequences".
Christofias said that although accession to the EU also "creates difficulties, at the same time it creates a possibility to arm the Republic of Cyprus, which is a full EU member".
The president said this does not mean there are no problems, citing the issue with the regulation for so called direct trade with the Turkish occupied north and other issues, which as he said, "violate the Accession Treaty and Protocol 10".
"However, the EU is something which provides prospect for our Turkish Cypriot compatriots", the president said, remarking that he is referring to the people and "not those who wish to divide the island once and for all".
Referring to Labour Day and Cyprus' EU accession anniversary, President Christofias pointed out that the government is struggling to remain consistent to its pre-election pledges and government programme policy.
President Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat began in September 2008 UN-led talks for a mutually agreed settlement to the problem of Cyprus, divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The process was interrupted on March 30 ahead of the so-called ''elections'' for a new leader that were won by Eroglu, known for his long-held divisive positions on the Cyprus problem.
 House President urges UN, EU not to allow the Cyprus talks to degenerateNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
House President Marios Garoyian has said that "we are facing a new peak as far as Turkey's intransigence is concerned, noting that the continued negotiations for a Cyprus settlement are leading us nowhere.
He also warned that if the Turkish side continues to pursue a confederal solution, the direct talks will lead to further degeneration.
In a speech at the unveiling of a monument in Nicosia to mark the heroes of Turkish occupied village of Kythrea who fell or missing since the 1974 Turkish invasion, Garoyian said that "we honour the 90 heroes of Kythrea, but at the same time, we have a great sense of responsibility to continue their struggle and justify their sacrifice".
"We reaffirm and declare again our persistence for a fair, functional and viable solution to the Cyprus problem that will lead to the freedom and reunification of our country and return to our lands and properties", the House president said.
In his speech, Garoyian said that "almost 36 years after the Turkish invasion and the occupation of Kythrea by the Turkish troops, we are facing a new peak in Turkish intransigence and arrogance. Almost 19 months of continued direct negotiations have led to nowhere", he noted.
Unfortunately, he said, "the good will and flexibility of our side have not met the relevant response by the Turkish side", since Turkey insists on a confederal solution and is pursuing a solution of two states. At the same time, he added, as it has been proven by facts, the Turkish Cypriot community is playing no decisive role in the negotiations because it is Ankara that determines the Turkish policy and strategy on Cyprus, without taking into consideration the real interests of the Turkish Cypriots.
The House president warned that the direct talks "are at a critical hub and if the Turkish side does not abandon its intransigence the direct talks will be led to further degeneration. In this case, the UN and the international community will register yet another failure".
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