|Sunday, 18 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-05-07
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 7 May 2010 Issue No: 3486
 Parliament OK's bailout schemeGreece's Parliament on Thursday ratified a draft bill formally requesting activation of a eurozone-IMF support mechanism for the country, which is expected to reach 110 billion euros, although four deputies' positions outside "party lines" led to their expulsion from their respective Parliamentary groups.
Following lengthy addresses by the prime minister and four other political party leaders, 172 deputies -- from ruling PASOK party and the small right-of-centre Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) -- voted in favour of the legislation, whereas three PASOK deputies voted "present". Voting against were 121 MPs -- from main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, the Communist Party (KKE) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).
PM: austerity package the only route
"I do not care whether I will be prime minister for only one term....What I care about is the future of Greece," Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed in Parliament during Thursday's debate on the measures tabled by the government, outlining the necessity for the package of savage public-sector wage cuts and tax hikes demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in order to activate the support mechanism for Greece.
"We either vote for and implement these measures or condemn Greece to default," he stressed.
The Greek prime minister, after referring to the tragic deaths of three people during the demonstrations against the measures that rocked central Athens on Wednesday, launched his speech with an appeal to main opposition New Democracy and the other opposition parties to finally support the draft bill and show that Greece stood united in the battle to save the country.
"The Parliaments of other countries, the people of other countries, are deciding to support Greece, to battle united to save the country. What do we say to them? We do not show that there is unity among the political forces," Papandreou said.
He also called for a condemnation of violence, stressing that this would not provide solutions:
"Today we are all called on to accept our responsibilities: Let us finish with the violence, the blood, the incidents, the terrorism, our fellow human beings that unjustly lose their lives. Let us all finally isolate the violence."
At the same time, the prime minister said he understood and shared the rage that ordinary people felt at the failings of Greece's political system:
"My own rage is immense when I see evidence emerging in ministries, constantly and on a daily basis, of the tragedy of irresponsibility, the attitudes of depredation that existed, the complete lawlessness and insensitivity that prevailed," he said.
Papandreou was particularly scathing about the previous New Democracy government, citing instances where public wealth had been recklessly squandered - like the minister that spent 28,000 euros on new curtains for his office - and noting that new suspected scandals were daily being discovered and forwarded to a public prosecutor, the latest being that of AGROTEM.
"This is demanded by the Greek people. It has nothing to do with feelings of revenge. It is about the Greek people's sense of justice," he underlined amid jeers and protests from the main opposition.
"Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? The Greek people are paying and you laugh? When a minister does these things he gives everyone a signal that anything goes: Vatopedi, structured bonds, Siemens. This is how our economy collapsed, gentlemen of New Democracy," Papandreou retorted angrily.
While PASOK had made "mistakes" in previous decades, the last five years had seen "crimes", he asserted:
"We essentially doubled the country's debt in a few years: In the year of the Olympic Games we had spending of 80 billion and in 2009 we had 40 billion on top of that. Since 2004 there were 60,000 new employees appointed to the public sector, even though we were under supervision and the new government was 'tidying up' the state. New contract workers exceeded 100,000 and 50,000 young people were in fake stage programmes. A second public sector was set up in five years," he said.
The prime minister additionally slammed ND for concealing the true size of the debt and undermining Greece's credibility abroad.
Papandreou admitted, however, that there was a more general responsibility among politicians and that they were all to blame, to a greater or lesser extent, for "tolerating illegality that bred a state operating with every kind of gift, for learning an attitude of taking without giving. Gifts to trade unionists, to the mass media for their support, to business interests - small and large gifts without the money to give them."
Politicians were to blame for allowing these interests and attitudes to take over the political system and democratic institutions, he added, while changing these attitudes was also an issue of democracy.
"We need an independent Parliament, justice system, and media, which can control and be controlled. To leave behind us the 'bad' Greece of the post-junta era, the guilty give-and-take," Papandreou said.
Replying to a call from left-wing parties for passing the draft bill with an enhanced majority of 180 votes, Papandreou stressed that the bill will be passed by PASOK's Parliamentary majority whatever happened, but repeated that such a major issue demanded broad political consensus.
"We are voting for the plan that will give Greece a chance to change, to stand on its feet," Papandreou concluded, stressing that there was no time to delay by even an hour. He promised that his government would work hard to turn what was now "the Greek problem" into "the Greek miracle".
 Samaras: Vote against measures, but support in effortThe measures tabled by the government will be voted down but they will be supported, main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras said in Parliament during Thursday's debate on the austerity package.
"Greece is credible, consistent and has honor," Samaras said, underlining that "these are measures that will push the country deeper into recession."
The ND leader stated that the PM's speech "raised the tone to unprecedented highs," pointing out that he should have sensed society after Wednesday's violence and reminded that the stock market scandal cannot be forgotten.
He said that in the political leaders' meeting that will be held under President Karolos Papoulias, he will put aside major differences and "back a 200-deputy-strong Parliament and the abolition of the minister liability law within the framework of a Constitutional revision."
Referring to the present crisis, Samaras accused ruling PASOK of "turning the debt problem it inherited into a borrowing problem." He also said that the measures adopted "lead to a catastrophic vicious circle of recession and tougher measures, while no measures are being taken to boost economy and growth and keep unemployment rate under control."
Samaras also stressed that "the state-owned and private property were not utilized properly," and accused the government of "raising money by cutting salaries" without opting for privatizations.
He reiterated that his party will not vote in favour of the measures but "will back certain clauses that support vulnerable social groups and liquidity."
Samaras assured that his party will observe the terms passed in parliament and will guarantee for the money that will be given "because Greece is credible, consistent and has honor. However, we will do everything we can to get out of this conjuncture because we (ND) want to be the expression of hope."
The ND leader stated that the measures set off social explosion referring to reductions in 700-euro pensions announced by the government.
Samaras underlined that there should be no negotiations on national issues at this moment of time, no debt restructuring will be accepted, while no desecration of monuments like the Acropolis or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier should be allowed to continue. He also said that the country should not be led to a vicious circle of recession, stressing that the blockades of seaports by protesters should stop. The ND leader also accused the government of "engaging in an effort, through an 'industry of investigation committees', to blame the previous government for everything."
In response, Prime Minister George Papandreou said that the credibility deficit of the country was the result of the "lies uttered by the previous government" referring to the state deficit figures presented by the ND government just days before the general elections last year. "You have been hiding (ND former PM Costas) Karamanlis but some day he will have to speak and give an account for all that happened," Papandreou said.
As regards the state-owned property, Papandreou said that the proposals tabled by the ND leader were "useful" but they would have been more reliable if transactions were made with "transparency when his party was in office and not like in the case of the Vatopedi", referring to the state-Church real estate scandal.
Papandreou accused ND of not taking the opportunity to "apologize to the people by voting in favour of the draft law" which is aimed at salvaging the country. He added that "we are not looking for accomplices. We are asking for a new beginning and we call on you to rise to the occasionBy saying 'we do not vote in favour of the draft law but we support it' you seek to please both the creditors and your voters using petty politicking practices."
 KKE leader blasts support mechanismCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, speaking in Parliament on Thursday during the discussion over a bill to implement a support mechanism for the Greek economy, emphasised that her party "shall not help you in order for capital to emerge from its deadlock."
Papariga stressed that "the people, with their majority, can change the laws. And first the laws change in society and then they become laws. And do not intimidate us for this."
She went on to say that "those who will impose real democracy are the people, not the KKE. The horizon is open and you will not make us hesitate or back down."
Addressing the government, Papariga wondered "from where do you deduce it when you say that Greece will be reborn in three years if it makes these sacrifices."
As she said, on the basis of the EU's spring report, the eurozone's public debt will have increased by 20 percent by 2011 and in the EU in general by 22 percent.
"Greece's participation is very small in the eurozone's debt. How, therefore, will Greece be reborn. And in addition when there is a predication that in the eurozone the cost of salaries will be close to -2 percent. Meaning that this cost does not participate in the eurozone's problems, this is not the problem. And you want to convince the Greek people that they must accept sacrifices to recover," she further said.
Papariga accused the government of "terrorising" the Greek people in saying that if they do not bow their heads in two or three months the state will not have money to pay pensions.
"You must say: We want an exit programme from the crisis with which we want to secure the unimpeded profit-making of capital. This, indeed, is a very logical programme," she concluded.
 LAOS party leader on support mechanism for economyPopular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis, speaking in Parliament on Thursday during the discussion on the bill regarding the implementation of the support mechanism for the economy, criticised the two mainstream parties, accusing them of increasing the public deficit and the public debt with their governance and called on the prime minister to reassure that "those responsible, who led the country to the guilotine, will be found and will pay."
Karatzaferis said that he will vote in favour of the measures because, as he said, the decision that the parties had to take was "whether the country will be executed, or if we shall allow it to fall into a coma."
The LAOS party leader spoke of a "weak government" that cannot cope by itself and added that the only solution is an ecumenical government "for us to protect the Greek people from the measures, that it is concealing today, and will bring tomorrow with Presidential Decrees."
He also spoke of a spark that is ready to ignite, stressing that "when the logic of the weapon prevails, nobody signs that what happened yesterday will also be the last incidents."
Karatzaferis pointed out that "with great pain we are going to a compulsory cession of 'yes'. However, we shall be there to wait for you and check what you shall do."
 Tsipras on support mechanism for economyRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras, speaking in Parliament on Thursday during the discussion on the bill on the support mechanism for the economy, referred to Wednesday's demonstration in Athens, saying that, in his opinion, the "demonstrators constitute an alternative factor to the setting being shaped by the (EU-ECB-IMF) troika, the markets and the forces of the IMF, as well as the parties that consent to the direction being given with the measures for the implementation of the economy's support mechanism."
"A new hope appeared yesterday (Wednesday). From the volume and the pulse, the gathering was one, and those speaking of two are making a mistake. All these people are working people, they are not SYRIZA's or of the KKE (the Communist Party of Greece) and they are mainly PASOK's. They were giving one message: You must listen to the indignation of the people who elected you. They are requesting you to listen to your conscience because the time of individual responsibility is also coming and above one's own benefit there is also the interest of the Greek people," he said.
"Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Samaras, you have nothing convincing to tell to the thousands who took to the streets. None of the two poles can express the anxiety of the people," Tsipras stressed, adding that the far-right is also standing by the two biggest parties.
 FinMin: Gov't assumes full responsibility and political costThe government assumes the responsibility and political cost of applying the harshest program for restructuring the economy, with a complete sense of the responsibility, and commits itself to succeeding, even without allies from the entire political spectrum, finance minister George Papaconstantinou stressed Thursday in parliament as the House began debate of the bill on the "measures for the implementation of the support mechanism for the Greek economy by the eurozone member countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)".
"We assume the responsibility for the country's last opportunity to do over the next three years all that has not been done for decades. We opted for the major structural changes, and will be judged on our efforts," Papaconstantinou added.
Speaking at the first reading (in-principle) of the bill, he noted that the draft law has been tabled under "urgent procedures" because a 9 billion euros government bond loan matures in two weeks and the country will not be able to repay it without borrowing, and the only way is to get the money from the country's European partners and the IMF.
"All our partners' parliaments are at this same time, deciding on the three-year program to which we have committed. Will the Greek parliament show that it commits?" he asked.
Conceding that the program is tough and painful, the minister warned that "the other option is to continue on our own and go bankrupt and default, sinking the country into a decade of recession".
The government has "opted to forge ahead, with sacrifices and contribution by everyone," he continued, and sharply criticised main opposition New Democracy: "We could have avoided this entire situation if six years ago the preceding government had given a breather to productivity and a boost to growth and employment instead of cronyistic appointments".
But that same party is now giving lessons in economy, acknowledging no blame and has not even apologised, Papaconstantinou charged, adding that he understood the positions of the Left, but called its reasoning "catastrophic".
The minister further denied opposition accusations that the government had delayed in taking action, stressing that in its seven months in office it has opened up fronts for credibility, tax reform and social security reform, "sectors that had become stagnant".
Papaconstantinou also pointed out that loans were being asked by EU countries that also had deficits and were facing speculative attacks. "The negotiation was not easy, and an immense effort was made to salvage all we could to support the low salary and pension earners".
"We aim, in three years' time, to have a country better than it is now and not at the mercy of its lenders. It is in the hands of the Greek parliament whether we will go ahead with this program and wage the battle together for this country," he stressed.
Papaconstantinou also said that it is the choice of some political parties whether they will leave the country on its own and hide their heads in the sand. "We, however, commit to succeeding, even if we have to act without the backing of the entire political system," he concluded.
 Labour minister: 'the dilemma is saving the country'Greece did not have the luxury of the political dilemmas of the past, Labour and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos stressed on Thursday, during the Parliamentary debate on the harsh austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF in order to activate the support mechanism for Greece.
"Today, the political dilemma is not whether there will be increases of decreases of wages and pensions, or full employment with all insurance rights. The political dilemma is saving the country, even with a temporary recession, and an economy that can be turned around or the country's collapse," Loverdos said.
He called on all political forces to show responsibility and stressed that "barren political dialogue has no friends in Greek society".
He stressed that in negotiations with EU and IMF officials, the government had presented powerful arguments and succeeded in saving the 13th and 14th wages in the private sector, as well as collective labour negotiations.
 Four MPs, 3 three from PASOK, ex-FM Bakoyannis expelled from respective Parliament groupsGreece's Parliament on Thursday ratified a draft bill formally requesting activation of a eurozone-IMF support mechanism for the country, which is expected to reach 110 billion euros, although four deputies' positions outside "party lines" led to their expulsion from their respective Parliamentary groups.
Following lengthy addresses by the prime minister and four other political party leaders, 172 deputies -- from ruling PASOK party and the small right-of-centre Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) -- voted in favour of the legislation, whereas three PASOK deputies voted "present". Voting against were 121 MPs -- from main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, the Communist Party (KKE) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).
Former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, who was a rival against current ND leader Antonis Samaras in a recent internal party leadership race, was expelled from ND's Parliament group after voting in favour of the bill. Samaras announced the ouster of Bakoyannis, the daughter of former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis.
On his part, shortly after the roll-call vote, Prime Minister George Papandreou conveyed a letter to the Parliament president announcing the expulsion of the three PASOK deputies who voted "present", namely, Yiannis Dimaras, Sofia Sakorafa and Vassilis Economou. PASOK's general director, Regina Vartzeli later asked the deputies to relinquish their seats, with Sakorafa refusing and Economou declining to answer, while Dimaras was unavailable. (ANA-MPA)
 Dora Bakoyannis expelled from ND partyThe main opposition New Democracy (ND) party's Ethics Committee decided on Thursday evening to expel Dora Bakoyannis from the party altogether.
According to a relevant announcement, the Committee decided that the reasons for the expulsion of the former foreign minister "are legitimate, both for her stance in the voting held in Parliament on the country's Support Mechanism from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, and for the statement that she made shortly after the decision taken by ND leader Antonis Samaras to expel her from the party's Parliamentary Group."
 Parliamentary debate on austerity package, bailout commencesDebate opened in Parliament on Thursday on a finance ministry draft law outlining a series of drastic austerity measures recently announced by the government, an all-important prerequisite for implementation of a eurozone-IMF support mechanism.
Ruling PASOK MP Giorgos Floridis defended the "necessary measures", underlining that "the government has opted for "national survival" and this wager should be won." In turning to the domestic political front, he launched an attack on main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, accusing it of hypocrisy and of lacking proposals, while characterising its stance as the "epitome of irresponsibility".
ND MP Costas Tassoulas accused the government of looking for "accomplices and not allies in the war" and added that his party "made and will continue to make credible proposals that will get the country out of the dire straits it is in." He also stressed that ND will "vote for the draft law articles that are in favor of the unemployed and the pensioners and reinforce the liquidity of the banking system."
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Nikos Karathanasopoulos spoke of "a brutal and continuous attack against the right to life, dignity and work," adding that the government "seeks to pass measures that will sacrifice the future of the younger generations."
Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) MP Makis Voridis accused the other opposition parties of providing "no alternative solution to the Greek people in case the country will not resort to the support mechanism and is unable to meet its obligations towards its creditors in the next ten days."
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) MP Dimitris Papadimoulis spoke of "express procedures" and "vicious neo-liberal policy".
 KKE, SYRIZA call for reinforced majority requirement to pass bill for austerity measuresThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary alliance on Thursday called for a "reinforced majority" of three-fifths of parliament to be required for ratification of the bill on the "measures for the implementation of the support mechanism for the Greek economy by the eurozone member countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)", under the procedure foreseen in Article 28, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution.
In motions tabled Wednesday as parliament began debate of the bill, the two opposition parties call for implementation of Paragraph 2 of Article 28 in the voting procedure for the bill, which requires a three-fifths majority, or 180 votes in the 300-member House, for the bill to be passed.
KKE parliamentary spokesman Thanassis Pafilis charged that the agreement with the EU-IMF "harms the economic and social rights" in Greece and "concedes sovereign rights" of the country to the two organisations, adding that his party intends to table a motion for a roll-call vote on the bill.
SYRIZA parliamentary spokesman Panagiotis Lafazanis said his party endorsed a reinforced majority requirement for adoption of the bill "given that sovereign rights in the exercise of economic and social policy are fully and totally conceded to the two foreign imperialistic organisations".
Parliament president Filippos Petsalnikos replied that the motions will be discussed before the roll-call vote, tentatively anticipated at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday (in the first reading, which will be followed by a by-article reading and vote and then the final vote on the overall bill).
Under Article 28, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution: "Authorities provided by the Constitution may, by treaty or agreement, be vested in agencies of international organizations, when this serves an important national interest and promotes cooperation with other States. A majority of three-fifths of the total number of Members of Parliament shall be necessary to vote the law ratifying the treaty or agreement."
 48 PASOK MPs seek in-depth audits of all that handled public moneyForty-eight ruling PASOK MPs have asked for an in-depth audit of the assets declared by everyone that has handled public money in the last 20 years, starting with ministers and MPs, in a letter sent on Thursday to Prime Minister George Papandreou, Parliament President Philippos Petsalnikos and PASOK's Parliamentary group secretary.
"We are daily recipients from society itself but also the media, of scorn and absolute depreciation. It is a demand of society but also a demand of the entire PASOK Parliamentary group that there be cleansing and transparency in our political system in order to save our political character and restore our Parliamentary standing," wrote the MPs, the majority of whom represent regional areas.
The MPs called for a careful check of the means and assets statements submitted by public figures and all those that have an obligation to provide such statements, calling for the confiscation of any assets whose acquisition could not be explained.
"Otherwise, as long as we allow this situation to continue and don't react with specific measures, the negative climate will continue and act at the expense of the entire political world, both just and unjust," they added.
 Deputy FM attends Adriatic-Ionian Initiative meetingThe noteworthy opportunities created via the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative (AII) for economic cooperation in the region, and particularly in the sectors of tourism, energy, transport and culture, were underlined by Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis at the AII ministerial meeting in Ancona, Italy.
Kouvelis expressed satisfaction for the adoption of the proposal made by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to quickly move ahead with cooperation aimed at creating "macro-regions" for the countries of the initiative following the example of the Baltic countries and the countries of the Danube. The proposal had been processed by Greece, Italy and Slovenia in the tripartite ministerial meeting in Rome on March 25.
 Commission sees deep but inevitable adjustment for Greek economyBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V.Demiris)
The European Commission sees a "deep but inevitable adjustment" for the Greek economy, in its spring report on the EU member-states' economies for the period 2010-2011 published in Brussels and released on Thursday.
The EU's executive said it expected a deep economic recession in Greece this year with -4.0 pct contraction in 2010 followed by a 2.5 pct contraction in 2011 and returning to positive growth rates from 2012.
Presenting the report, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the report did not take into account a package of measures included in an agreement between the Greek government, the EU and the IMF. Rehn predicted, however, that economic recession would be around the same levels despite the new measures, while he predicted that inflation would exceed 3.0 pct this year, falling to 2 pct of the workforce in 2011, while unemployment would total 12 pct in 2010, surpassing 13 pct in 2013.
Economic activity in the country is set to lose further steam, due to a number of factors, in particular worsening business and consumer confidence, the developments in financial markets and the implementation of an appropriately restrictive fiscal policy.
The Commission noted that after years of expansionary fiscal policies that resulted in the build-up of fiscal and macroeconomic imbalances, Greece adopted a number of fiscal consolidation measures, which are expected to have an unfavourable impact on real GDP growth in 2010. Successful and credible fiscal adjustment efforts, however, should boost confidence and improve sentiment. Credibility gains will compensate the vast economic cost of adjustment and lead to the beginning of a recovery process in the second half of 2011.
Market pressure, in the form of high spreads on sovereign debt, will be likely reduced as the fiscal adjustment program will develop, although economic activity will be negatively affected because of the continuing high and limited access of the private sector to financing.
Falling employment and wage growth, as well as lower non-labour income growth are expected to also weigh on disposable income in 2010, putting a brake on real demand, with private consumption expected to contract by 3.5 pct this year and to fall further.
The immediate outlook for the business sector remains poor, the Commission said, adding that investment is set to decline further in 2010 before showing some positive signs by the end of 2011. The construction sector is also set to contract further this year, while public investment activity, expected to remain flat this year, will likely begin to recover in 2011.
Weakening domestic demand is forecast to curb imports further, projected to falling by around 10 pct in real terms this year, driving down the country's trade deficit. Total exports, benefiting from the gradual recovery of the world trade and more favourable world demand prospects, coupled also with a relative decline in unit labour cost, are set to rise by almost 2.7 pct in 2010 and increase further in 2011.
The Commission said contraction of economic activity, reflected in weakening labour demand from the retail, wholesale and construction sectors, is weighing heavily on employment which is set to fall by almost 3.0 pct over the forecast horizon.
The report said that rising exports was expected to compensate more for the fall in domestic demand, leading to a higher contribution of net exports to GDP growth.
The Commission noted that significant progress recorded by Greece in terms of real convergence over the last decade was now considerably challenged. Bringing the Greek economy back to a sustainable convergence path involves the prompt correction of the factors underlying domestic and external imbalances.
 Katseli holds talks with Abu Dhabi Mar company presidentThe commitment of the Abu Dhabi Mar company for longstanding presence and activity in Skaramangas, as well as for the Skaramangas shipyards becoming a centre for the building of submarines and warships in the Mediterranean was stressed by the company's president and managing director Iskadar Safa in the working meeting he had on Thursday with Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli and the board of the working people's society "Triena" of the Skaramangas shipyards.
A solution was also given at the same time to the problem of the 161 unpaid employees of wheel machinery.
 ADEDY, GSEE demonstration in AthensThe Civil servants' labor federation ADEDY and the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) will stage a protest demonstration on Thursday afternoon against the austerity measures decided by the government and, at the same time, to express indignation for the criminal act that led to the deaths of three bank employees in downtown Athens on Wednesday.
A statement by GSEE said that the workers of Greece express rage and indignation for the cold-blooded murder of the three bank employees and the tough and unfair measures adopted. The statement also invites the Greek people to participate in a symbolic protest by turning off the lights for 10 minutes on Thursday night from 20:50 until 21:00.
 Geroulanos meetings with tourism sector representativesCulture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos on Thursday started a series of meetings with the political leadership and the tourism sector representatives. Geroulanos is currently in a meeting with Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) president Nikos Kanellopoulos in order to assess the situation in Greek tourism following Wednesday's violent incidents in downtown Athens which were broadcast throughout the world via the international media.
After the conclusion of the meeting, Geroulanos will meet almost all officials and agencies involved in the tourism sector aimed at forging a joint policy line for confronting the situation.
 Economic sentiment index down slightly in AprilGreece's economic sentiment index eased slightly to 69.1 points in April, almost unchanged from 69.6 in the previous month, but higher compared with the same month last year, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) announced on Thursday.
In a monthly report, IOBE said business expectations remained pessimistic but showed signs of improvement in the manufacturing and services sector, while the construction sector remained at historic lows. At the same time, consumer confidence fell to new record lows in April, reflecting consumers' worries over developments in the economy.
The consumer confidence index fell to -61 points in April, from -58 in March, remaining on a downward trend for the six consecutive month. Greeks are steadily the most pessimistic citizens of Europe, followed by Bulgarians and Romanians, while the consumer confidence indexes in the EU-27 and the Eurozone improved slightly to -12 and -15 points, respectively.
Greek households' estimates over the country's economic situation in the next 12 months worsened for the sixth consecutive month, to -49 points in April from -44 in March. Consumers' expectations over developments in unemployment remained at historic high levels in April, with the vast majority (91 pct) of consumers predicting a slight or marked rise in unemployment over the next 12 months.
 Greek economic imbalance index eases in '08Greece's economic imbalance index eased to 5.9 in 2008, from 7.6 in 1994, a report by the Hellenic Statistical Authority showed on Thursday. The report, based on a survey of Greek households' income and living standards, showed that the share of the wealthiest 20 pct part of the population income was 5.9 time larger than the poorest 20 pct part of the population.
The report said that excluding social benefits, the economic imbalance index rose to 9.1 pct in the same year. Greece ranked 21st among the EU-27 member-states, with Slovenia recording the lowest rate and Latvia the highest rate.
 Greek banks' interest rates up in MarchGreek commercial banks raised their lending and savings interest rates in March, with the average saving deposit rate for households -with a duration of up to one year- rising to 2.61 pct from 2.35 pct in February, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday.
In a monthly report, the central bank said the average interest rate on consumer loans fell to 13.84 pct from 14.14 pct over the same months, respectively, reflecting mainly technical reasons for the specific category of loans. Business loans saw their interest rate rise to 5.91 pct in March from 5.87 pct in February, the floating rate on mortgage loans rose to 3.21 pct from 3.08 pct and the fixed rate on mortgage loans up to five years rose to 4.79 pct from 4.67 pct.
 Emporiki Bank appoints new non-executive chairmanEmporiki Bank on Thursday announced the appointment of Nikolaos Ebeoglou as new chairman of the board, in place of outgoing non-executive board member Jean-Frederic de Leusse.
A bank board meeting also selected Bruno de Laage as its new non-executive member, replacing the outgoing Bernard Mary.
 Car registrations up 8.9% in Jan-AprCar registrations (including both new and used ones) rose 8.9 pct in the first four months of 2010, compared with the corresponding period last year, after a decline of 40.3 pct recorded in the January-April period in 2009, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics agency, in a report, said car registrations totaled 90,645 vehicles (new and used) in the four-month period, while registration of new motorcycles fell 2.6 pct to 17,774 over the same period.
 Stocks recover on Thurs.Stocks recovered at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, after a three-day sharp decline which pushed the composite index 11.12 pct down. The index rose 0.98 pct to end at 1,678.42 points, with turnover a moderate 190.272 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index rose 1.39 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.15 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 0.38 pct. The Oil (5.41 pct) and Utilities (4.78 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Health (4.73 pct) and Food (3.70 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 91 to 72 with another 56 issues unchanged.
Viohalco (12.28 pct), Optronics Technologies (10 pct), ATEbank (8.40 pct) and Mihaniki (8.33 pct) were top gainers, while Q&R (20 pct), Voyatzoglou (18.03 pct) and Perseus (15.15 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +5.41%
Personal & Household: +1.51%
Raw Materials: +3.70%
Travel & Leisure: -3.34%
Food & Beverages: -3.70%
Financial Services: +0.31%
Greek bond market closing report
The Greek electronic secondary bond market remained inactive for one more session on Thursday, reflecting lack of interest in Greek state securities.
The Bank of Greece said the return of the 10-year benchmark bond was 8.58 pct, with the yield spread against the German Bund at 572 basis points.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.22 pct, the six-month rate 0.95 pct, the three-month rate 0.64 pct and the one-month rate 0.40 pct.
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Alpha Bank and Eurobank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.94
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.87
HBC Coca Cola: 17.30
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.05
National Bank of Greece: 11.05
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.98
Bank of Piraeus: 4.78
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at 0.87 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover at 117.366 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 25,377 contracts worth 103.006 million euros, with 39,502 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 17,883 contracts, worth 14.360 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (7,123), followed by Eurobank (1,313), OTE (677), PPC (467), OPAP (781), Piraeus Bank (891), Alpha Bank (2,970), Mytilineos (413), Cyprus Bank (457), Motor Oil (376) and Intralot (203).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.282
Pound sterling 0.849
Danish kroner 7.502
Swedish kroner 9.789
Japanese yen 120.29
Swiss franc 1.424
Norwegian kroner 7.847
Canadian dollar 1.324
Australian dollar 1.418
 Bank firebombing victims died of asphyxiationThe three people, a man and two women, killed in central Athens on Wednesday in a firebombed branch of Marfin-Egnatia Bank died of asphyxiation, chief medical examiner Filippos Koutsaftis said Thursday after an autopsy was completed.
Only the male victim had light burns, which means that he attempted to pass through the fire. He was found dead on the stairway between the first and second floor.
Koutsaftis stated that a macroscopic examination showed that the three had inhaled huge quantities of smoke and toxic fumes. A toxicological examination will provide more details.
One of the two female victims, Angeliki Papathanasopoulou, who was found dead on the second floor balcony in her attempt to save her life, has been confirmed that she was pregnant.
A police manhunt is underway for the arrest of the culprits, who broke the bank glass window with hammers and dowsed the interior with flammable liquid before throwing a firebomb thus trapping the employees inside the building causing the deaths of three people.
The 25 people arrested during Wednesday's incidents will be led before a prosecutor on Thursday.
 Condemnation of violence that claimed lives of three working people in GreeceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
The International and European Trade Unions (ITUC and ETUC) in a joint announcement issued here on Wednesday condemn "the slaying of the three Greek working perople in a bank and the wounding of people, as morbid brutality."
In their joint announcement, the secretary general of the European Trade Unions, John Monks, and the secretary general of the International Trade Unions, Guy Rieder, call for those responsible to be led before Justice without delay.
In the same announcement, it is stressed that "GSEE (the General Confederation of Workers of Greece) condemned the blind violence and the vandalisms, that overshadowed the greatest protest in Greece in the past 50 years."
 Bank workers' union questions fire safety measures in torched bankThe bank workers' union OTOE on Thursday issued an announcement in which it said its 24-hour strike was held to demand that those responsible for Wednesday's tragic incident, in which three bank employees suffocated to death in a blazing bank torched by demonstrators, be brought to justice.
Among others, the union organisation questions whether the bank branch in question had adequate security and fire safety measures.
"The causes that cost the life of three employees at the Stadiou Street branch of Marfin Egnatia Bank must be investigated in depth and responsibility attributed to both the direct and moral instigators," it stressed.
According to OTOE, the evidence so far indicated that the bank branch in question did not possess an adequate fire-safety system, had no emergency exit, had not been fitted with high-security, shatter-proof glass or bars and had its central entrance locked at the time.
The union also questioned the management's failure to instruct employees to stay away on that particular day, given that the bank was on the route of the protest march and banks were well-known targets.
 Marfin bank branches to shut early on FridayMarfin Egnatia Bank on Thursday announced that all its branches and services will work with only a skeleton staff on Friday morning then shut at 11:00 so that Marfin employees can attend the funerals of their three colleagues, who were killed in a fire set during Wednesday's demonstration in central Athens.
 Twenty arrests in downtown Athens during incidentsTwenty people were arrested by police while 70 others were taken in for questioning after the serious incidents that occurred in downtown Athens on Wednesday.
Ten of the detainees are charged with the illegal occupation of a building on Zaimi street in the Exarchia district and three others are charged with looting a shop in downtown Athens.
 Two policemen injured in chase of armed robbersTwo policemen were injured during a chase of four armed robbers on Wednesday morning in the village of Zevgolatio in Nemea, Corinth prefecture.
According to initial reports, four armed robbers stormed the ELTA Post Office branch in Zevgolatio shortly after 10:00 a.m. and grabbed an unknown amount of money, and fled in a stolen car which they later abandoned for a second getaway car.
A police search located the second car in the village of Koutsomyti, Nemea.
When the robbers spotted the police, they stopped the car and one of the gunmen got out, firing with a kalashnikov against the patrol car, injuring one officer in the shoulder blade and a second officer in the leg.
The gunmen managed to escape, and a manhunt was launched for them.
 Drug arrest in TripolisTripolis (central Peloponnese) Police on Thursday arrested a 42 years old local man when they found in his possession a plastic bag containing 256 grams of heroin. A search of his house revealed three more makeshift plastic packages of heroine weighing a total 2.1 kilos, an electric precision scale, a mobile phone used for drug dealing together with 210,000 euros derived from drug dealing.
The suspect will be sent before a Tripolis prosecutor
 Superleague play-offs postponedThe football matches between Olympiacos Piraeus-PAOK Thessaloniki and AEK Athens-Aris Thessaloniki for the third day of the Superleague play-off scheduled for Thursday have been postponed, according to a decision by the Greek Superleague authority following a police request.
The full text of Superleague's announces is as follows:
"The Superleague following a Greek Police request, has decided to postpone the matches of the 3rd day of the play-off scheduled to be played on Thursday. The organising authority will announce a new the date for the matches."
 Cloudy on FridayCloudy weather and northwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 12C and 26C. Slightly cloudy in Athens, with northwesterly 4-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 13C to 26C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 12C to 24C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe death of three bank employees when their bank was torched by hooded individuals during a major labor demonstration in downtown Athens on Wednesday against the government's austerity measures dominated the front pages of Athens' dailies on Thursday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Cold-blooded murder! 3 dead, 47 injured, incalculable destruction to properties - Athens' center in flames".
APOGEVMATINI: "Mourning for three innocent victims - Nationwide abhorrence over the cold-blooded murder of Marfin Bank employees by hooded perpetrators with fire-bombs".
AVGHI: "Outcry against government - Abhorrence of the violence".
AVRIANI: "Explosion of public outrage, but also bestiality of the 'hooded' individuals who blooded the huge demonstration, killing three working people".
ELEFTHEROS: "(Demands of prime minister Papandreou) 'Giorgos get out now' - Murders of working people, orgy of violence and chaos in Athens".
ELEFTHEROS: "Bloodshed in order to set up the consensus - Shame on the political party leaders".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "They left Athens at the mercy of the killers - They painted in blood a monumental peaceful demonstration".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "People's outrage over the measures - Murderous arson - Popular uprising with unprecedented (in size) rallies and marches throughout the country".
ETHNOS: "Crime on the backs of the Greek people - Three innocent victims paid for the fury of the hooded individuals".
IMERISSIA: "Crime against the country - Hours of responsibility for all the parties".
KATHIMERINI: "Shock over the brutal violence - Three dead from fire-bomb at bank - Mass mobilisation against the measures".
LOGOS: "People's rage over the unfair measures - Mass participation in demonstration".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "The explosion of 'random' violence a blow for Greece - Three lives lost in the center of Athens".
NIKI: "Abyss Road, no. 0".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Mass turnout throughout Greece in strike demonstrations".
TA NEA: "The abyss and the responsibility - Rage and worry after the crime".
TO VIMA: "Everything at stake now - Greece froze from the triple tragedy".
VRADYNI: "The tragic consequences of the political inanity - Three dead in Athens' massive rally".
 Britain: A Cyprus solution stands at an important junctureNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The procedure for a settlement of the Cyprus problem stands at an important juncture, said here Thursday United Kingdom's new High Commissioner to Cyprus, John Christopher William Kidd.
Presenting his credentials to President of the Republic Demetris Christofias, Kidd repeated the UK's readiness to support a Cyprus process and to help bring a result nearer.
On his part, Christofias repeated the government's concerns over the positions of Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, noting he is waiting for constructive proposals by the new leader and continuation of the negotiations in the framework of the same procedure, from the point they were interrupted in March 2010.
Presenting his credentials, Kidd said that there is a particular intensity to the relationship between Cyprus and the United Kingdom.
There is the normal range of business that ties together any two countries inhabiting the same continent, belonging to some of the same organisations, and then there are substantial, established communities of Cypriots living in Britain and British people living here in Cyprus.
He reminded the unique commitments each country has made to the other, derived from the Treaties under which Cyprus established its Independence, noting that these provide a 50 year old, framework for co-operation, "which should be an opportunity, not a constraint, to building even closer links between our countries to our mutual benefit".
Kidd said he hoped to contribute to achieving three things in particular. First, that a "settlement of the intercommunal issue that has been elusive for so long. Cyprus needs it, and you are entitled to expect the UK to support you in looking for it. We agree on the criteria that need to define it, as set out in our Memorandum of Understanding. The settlement process stands at an important juncture, as a new Turkish Cypriot negotiating team takes its seat at the table. Without transgressing the important principle that the settlement is for the Cypriot parties to reach, as it will be for them to live in, the United Kingdom remains ready to support the process in any way that can help bring a result nearer".
Kidd said the parties' efforts so far have shown their commitment and courage but "even more will be needed in the future. I look forward to making my contribution to supporting them in whatever way can help them achieve ambitious outcomes".
Secondly, the High Commissioner said he hoped to promote "development of the work we do together, and the help we can given to each other, as members of the European family seeking to tackle some of the challenges facing our world: the environment, terrorism, energy security".
Kidd said Cyprus' EU Presidency in 2012 will be an important moment in addressing all these.
Thirdly, the British High Commissioner referred to "broadening and strengthening bilateral engagement, as we move into what we would call the Third Generation since Independence."
He urged Cyprus and Britain to "try to build more fully into our relationship the fruits of our countries' growth".
Accepting the credentials, President Christofias said the UK is one of Cyprus' main trading partners and British companies play an active role in a number of public sector projects in Cyprus. A positive step towards the facilitation and increase of investments between our two countries is the Cyprus-UK Business Association launched in 2008.
"We are also pleased by the fact that a large number of Britons visit Cyprus every year and a significant number, which is increasing year after year, have chosen to reside permanently in Cyprus."
He also referred to the large Cypriot community in Britain that plays an important role in the economic and political life of British society, and the large number of Cypriot students who pursue their education in British universities.
President Christofias said the United Kingdom was inexorably linked with Cyprus when it became a guarantor of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is also a partner in the EU and a fellow member of the Commonwealth.
Noting this solid foundation can be further promoted, the president recalled the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries in June 2008 marked a real turning point in contributing to the relations between the UK and Cyprus, providing an umbrella framework in our coordination on the Cyprus issue, towards the end-goal of reunification and on all aspects of our bilateral relations.
President Christofias referred to the negotiation procedure that "would be for the Cypriots and by the Cypriots, without artificial timetables and arbitration, aimed at finding a mutually agreed and acceptable solution, to be put forward for approval by the two communities of Cyprus in simultaneous and separate referenda".
He said that for 18 months, together with the former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, they made progress on some important aspects of the Cyprus problem. ƠIt had been hoped that more progress could have been achieved. "Unfortunately", he added, "Talat was not autonomous, nor flexible, being under the thumb of Turkey, which oft-led to unconstructive positions submitted by the Turkish side".
Christofias said he is waiting to see the positions of Talat's successor, Eroglu and "despite indications to the contrary, he will retract from his oft-declared and long-held belief in the existence of 'two peoples' and 'two separate states', which would create a new partnership in the form of a loose confederation."
He also said "we await constructive proposals by Mr Eroglu, a reaffirmation of the agreed basis, as well as a continuation of the negotiations in the framework of the same procedure, from the point they were interrupted in March 2010".
President Christofias also underlined that Turkey has to prove that it wants to solve the Cyprus problem and must also give the new Turkish Cypriot leader the green light for effective negotiations for a real reunified, federal Cyprus.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
President Demetris 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 because of the so-called elections for a new Turkish Cypriot leader, which Dervis Eroglu has won.
 Egyptian Foreign Minister received by President ChristofiasNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Aboul Gheit was received on Thursday in Nicosia by President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias, whom he briefed on the situation in the Middle East and listened to his views on the Cyprus problem.
Speaking after the meeting, the Egyptian Minister said ''it was a very warm meeting,'' and that he conveyed to President Christofias ''the greetings and regards and support from President Mubarak, Egypt and the Egyptian people.''
''I briefed him on the situation in the Middle East and the current situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I listened to his views on how he intends to pursue establishing understanding with the Turkish Cypriots and to find a way out from the current situation,'' he added.
Asked what had to be done for a nuclear-free Middle East, the Egyptian minister said ''we have to have a conference, an international conference, whereby the nuclear powers, as well as the regional countries, would meet and discuss how to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons.''
''That is the crux of the Egyptian-Arab-NAM proposal, it is not only an Egyptian proposal, and we are in discussions right now in the UN with the Americans, with the Russians, with the P-five, the permanent members of the Security Council, and hopefully we would agree on terms of reference, on how to agree to establish that conference and when to meet, how to meet, who would be calling for that conference and how to pursue the issue in the immediate future,'' he added.
 Israel maintains a balanced position on Cyprus, says House PresidentJERUSALEM (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Israel maintains a balanced position of principles on the Cyprus issue, President of the Cyprus House of Representatives Marios Garoyian said here Thursday after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, adding that there is room for improvement on the political, economic and cultural front.
"We had a really constructive discussion, it was a very useful and helpful meeting. We discussed the latest developments in the Cyprus problem, the Middle-East issue and other international concerns," Garoyian added.
Garoyian said Israel maintains a balanced position on the Cyprus issue, based on a policy of principles which is expressed by the United Nations and other fora.
"We all need to look at some things from a different angle and there is room for improvement in our bilateral ties," he added.
The House President also had a meeting with the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, whom he briefed on recent developments in Cyprus.
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