|Tuesday, 25 September 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-05-27
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 27 May 2010 Issue No: 3502
 PM chairs cabinet meeting on boosting competitivenessChairing a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that focused on ways to boost Greece's competitiveness, Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed that this was a key issue for Greece that Europe would be unable to tackle effectively.
According to Papandreou, the route to raising Greece's competitiveness would be to substantially improve the quality of Greek products, the quality of its human resources and to shift to a new model for growth. European Union officials, by contrast, considered the social state to be the central problem for the country's competitiveness, to be solved through cheaper labour and lower pensions.
While admitting that this might be a "necessary emergency balancing measure in a period of crisis," the prime minister stressed that the harsh measures taken by Greece had to be balanced by growth.
Other matters emphasised by the premier were the need to establish regard for the law, support for people on or near the poverty line and lowering prices.
On the latter issue, the prime minister said measures must be taken to boost local production and consumption of domestic products, as well as action to prevent practices such as under-pricing and over-pricing of goods.
During the meeting, the government's economic team outlined four main lines of action on the issue of prices, beginning with careful monitoring of the market to ensure transparency and efficiency. The next step will be to note and correct any distortions that are found, improve organisations for supervising markets and protecting consumers and improving the functioning of the Competition Commission.
Ministry officials said the monitoring will follow prices of goods from production to the shelf, as well as promotional activity such as special offers, either through legislation or market regulations.
The cabinet also held a general discussion on privatisations, which presages a substantial privatisation package involving infrastructure, the energy sector and tourism that is likely to be presented next week.
These privatisations will not all follow the same model since in some cases the state will retain a majority share, in others a strategic investor will be sought, while other concerns will be sold outright.
In addition to the above, they discussed legal aspects of cabotage, founding business enterprises, pricing of pharmaceuticals and developmental law.
Questioned about Tuesday's announcement that a number of tax office and finance ministry officials are being investigated for possible corruption, government sources said that all the cases will be examined but no names released at present, since the individuals involved may have amassed the properties they hold legally.
They noted that there was going to be a clean-up of tax offices around the country and a possible shift to a central system of control, with some tax offices closing or merging. In comments about upcoming pension reforms, the same sources said that the age of retirement for men and women in the public sector will start to be made the same by stages in 2011 and will be fully equalised by 2013.
 Minister on spiked inflation rateEconomy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli on Wednesday said the government was waging a battle against inflationary pressures, which she said were caused by higher special consumption taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and fuel, as well as higher VAT rates and rigid domestic markets.
Addressing an informal cabinet meeting, the minister attributed a 4.8-pct rise in the inflation rate to a 43-pct increase in oil products, an 18.5-pct rise in transport prices and a 10-pct increase in tobacco prices, although she stressed that there were several categories showing price declines, such as foods, beverages, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Katseli said rigid domestic markets have led to unfair practices by major suppliers, "cartel practices" as she said, along with a lack of transparency and delayed payments.
The four axes for controlling prices are monitoring markets with transparency and efficiency; abolishing rigidity in markets; upgrading a framework for market supervision, protection of consumers and finally, upgrading the operation of a Competition Commission.
 ND accuses government of 'communications tricks' in relation to pension reformMain opposition New Democracy (ND) spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos on Wednesday accused Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos of employing communications tricks in order to conceal the government's true intentions as regards social insurance and pension reforms.
"At ND we consider all the said in Mr. Loverdos' statements as the most blatant example of a generalised tactic of communications tricks promoted by the prime minister," Panagiotopoulos said, adding that Loverdos was simply following the same tactics and tricks used by Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Just as Papandreou had gotten himself elected by saying that Greece had money before the elections, only to do things completely different to those he had promised once in power, so Loverdos had agreed to specific things with the EU-IMF troika but was now trying to present them in a different light in order to show that he was fighting the battle, the spokesman said.
Panagiotopoulos slammed the government, saying its tactics were confusing people and extending their anxiety while also harming the government's credibility as a negotiator with the EU-IMF troika.
He particularly slammed plans to abolish pensions for widows under a certain age, established by the ND government in 2005, noting that these were a "life blood" for thousands of families and that the government's time was better spent cutting back public-sector costs.
 ND leader addresses conference on disabled peopleMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, addressing the party's conference on disabled people on Wednesday, stressed the need for an "Overall National Action Programme for the Social Rehabilitation of People with special needs."
Samaras proposed the "establishment of a Special General Secretariat to the Prime Minister for the full and total handling of the problems of this big category of our fellow citizens."
He stressed the need for the continuous operation of the intraparty Committee for disabled people, explaining that "the social rehabilitation of people with special needs has no partisan 'colour'. And neither can it serve partisan expediencies."
Indicating his party's increased sensitivity, Samaras announced the "creation in New Democracy of our new Secretariat for our fellow citizens with special abilities, with a fighter of yours as a worthy Secretary, Mr. Spyros Stavrianopoulos," as he said.
Samaras referred to his party policy, saying that "as a party, New Democracy has a policy with two parts: firstly, to facilitate the life of these people, to restore their full rights in daily life, in social life and social contribution. Secondly, for us to give the opportunities to all the people with special abilities to promote them. Not merely to help them to become like the rest. To support them to become better than the rest."
The special abilities that people with special needs have "are an asset of society," Samaras said and added that "ND in the years of its governance ratified Law 3304 of 2005 on the 'Implementation of the Principle of equal treatment in combatting discriminations in the sector of employment. Moreover, we ratified the UN Treaty for Handicapped people and we promoted the Social Economy institution, while we included policies for the boosting of employment for disabled people, with priority on the Operational Programme 'Development of Human Potential of ESPA for the 2007-2013 period'."
 Papariga on social insurance issue, Vatopedi"They threaten the people with destruction if they (people) do not accept self-destruction," Communist Party of Greece (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga charged Wednesday, while accusing the government of misleading the people, as she said in reference to the social insurance issue.
As regards the Vatopedi monastery-state land swap affair, Papariga said "we will not go easy on anyone."
Referring to speculation over a renegotiation of the country's debt and possible exit from the euro-zone, she said that "such proposals are made within the framework of the euro-zone, by the EU and by heads of states and come from all those who are responsible for the crisis."
 Witness claims former PASOK minister took money from SiemensA witness testifying during the Parliamentary inquiry into the Siemens kickbacks scandal on Wednesday openly admitted that Tasos Mantelis, a former minister under the PASOK government of Costas Simitis, had accepted 200,000 German marks in undeclared cash from Siemens in 1998 and deposited the money in a Swiss bank account. His testimony marks the first time that anyone has openly testified against Mantelis in this way.
The witness was George Tsougranis, a close friend of the former minister, who admitted under questioning from Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Thanassis Pafilis that he had helped Mantelis open the bank account in November 1998, at which time Mantelis had confided in him that the money deposited in the account was a donation from Siemens.
The Parliamentary committee conducting the investigation examined the former minister immediately after Tsougranis, who said he would be willing to be examined alongside Mantelis if necessary.
At that time, Mantelis was serving as transport and communications minister and had recently signed agreement 8002 between the Greek state and Siemens for the digital centres for the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) in 1997. According to Tsougranis, Mantelis had asked him to open a bank account abroad so that he could accept anonymous donations from political friends abroad to use in the elections.
The first deposit in the account, according to the file on the case, was the 200,000 german marks deposited on November 2, 1998 by former senior Siemens executive Ilias Georgiou, who had been in charge of handling Siemens' "slush funds".
Among others, Mantelis asked Tsougranis to open the account jointly with Mantelis' daughter.
Tsougranis had then opened the account with the code AROKOS, which he gave to Mantelis so that the former minister could contact the bank and be informed about his balance personally. He was also able to confirm that the money in the account was not spent on PASOK's election campaign but was unable to say who had deposited an additional 250,000 marks deposited into the account on February 8, 2000.
When the scandal about the Siemens slush funds broke out in 2007, Tsougranis said he had personally taken the initiative to close the account and transfer the 163,800 euros that remained to an account with Alpha Bank in Greece, after which he had returned the money to Mantelis.
The sums missing from the account were two withdrawals of 11,135 euros and 15,628 euros made in 2001 and 2002 by Mantelis' son and the sum of 35,000 euros that were taken out to pay his fees at Columbia University in the United States.
 Former PASOK minister Mantelis admits receiving 200,000 marks from Siemens companyFormer Transport minister, in a PASOK government, Tasos Mantelis, testifying on Wednesday before the Parliamentary factfinding committee that is probing the Siemens case, admitted receiving at least 200,000 marks from the German Siemens company in 1998, which he termed an "electoral sponsorship."
The former minister also indicated that "two years ago a person that really exists, known to some, he must have been German or a foreigner, leaked through the Greek press a news item that said that I received from SIEMENS ten million marks in January 1998."
The witness continued by saying that it was being attempted systematically "for me to appear as being bribed with a huge amount of money which indeed appeared as ministerial remuneration. Of course, one could say that 10 million marks are ministerial remuneration - in the way that they meant it - while it cannot be ruled out that part of it indeed went to the ruling party and was used in a side way in electoral or other expenditures. And this is also a lie, because this money never reached me."
The witness warned that the committee must investigate where these reports were leaked from, but the kickbacks of others must not pass over his back.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party's press office subsequently issued a stinging condemnation of Mantelis' statements, underlining that:
"During a juncture when Mr. (Prime Minister George) Papandreou's party is acting as a prosecutor of public life, indicting everyone for everything, now, after Theodoros Tsoukatos, another major PASOK cadre, Mr. Tassos Mantelis, admits to having received money from Siemens.
"Note that both (men) are not isolated political figures, but prominent and powerful; figures who during PASOK's governments were in decision-making positions, and which operated within a breath of its (PASOK) leadership team."
 Local gov't merger plan stirs heated Parliament debateDebate on a contentious draft law concerning the "Kallikratis" local administration reform and merger plan continued in Parliament on Wednesday, with Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis firmly rejecting any changes as regards proposed municipality mergers as well as requests made by MPs for modifications in the creation of new and larger municipalities within their election districts.
The debate also witnessed a verbal exchange between Ragoussis and Parliament President Filippos Petsalnikos, following the latter's request that the Makednon municipality in Kastoria prefecture, Petsalnikos' election district, not be changed.
Petsalnikos stated that to ensure growth the "political and geophysical map is not enough," stressing that "the historical and cultural map of each region should also be taken under consideration."
Ragoussis immediately rejected the proposal and stressed that criteria for new municipalities are clearly "development oriented", adding that "in the new era conditions no municipality with a population of under 10,000 people will be able to survive."
 Papoulias recieves EIB vice-presidentPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-president Plutarchos Sakellaris.
Asked by the President of the international situation was affecting the EIB, Sakellaris replied that the situation certainly had its impact, adding that it the situation was difficult in Greece but also in all of Europe, and "this affects everyone, including the credit and financial institutions such as the EIB, but also development".
Sakellaris continued, however, that he has a "picture of hope", given that a major contract has been signed with Hellenic Petroleum for a 1.2 billion euros investment, "which is the biggest industrial project in Greece".
 Alternate FM Droutsas attends 18th EU-ASEAN ministerial conferenceMADRID (ANA-MPA/Ch. Poulidou)
Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas referred during his address at the 18th EU-ASEAN ministerial session in Madrid on Wednesday to the "green growth" model, since the region of southeast Asia "is one of the regions of our world, that are harmed primarily by climatic change."
The Greek official reminding that "sustainable growth" is a major priority for the EU, observed that for "us to reach this goal we must improve information and sensitivity in consumer attitude and prefer those effective policy tools that will help us to change the stereotypes of a consumable consumption."
Referring to the economic crisis, Droutsas said that "in our view, green growth can be a reply to the present crisis" if it is promoted to a priority for the handling "of both the climatic change and the present crisis" since it can provide "substantive business opportunites, new markets and the creation of new jobs."
Lastly, the Greek Alternate Foreign Minister stressed that because "the international issues require international replies, the cooperation between the EU and the Organisation of the countries of Southeastern Asia is important - both in the course of reforming of the international economic and monetary architecture and the direction of an agreement that will refer to an ambitious policy on handling climatic changes."
 Alt. FM on EU-ASEAN ministerial meetingAlternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Wednesday underlined the importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that form the "largest regional market in world", referring to the EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held in Madrid on Wednesday.
"The countries in the specific region hold a key-position in the greater Asian and Pacific region," Droutsas stressed, pointing out that their "special financial weight has made them an important EU partner."
Droutsas stressed that an effort is being made in the 18th ministerial meeting to reinforce, strengthen and consolidate the organization's relations with the EU, while focusing on developments in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
The discussions will also concern the EU-ASEAN cooperation on energy security, measures against climate change, economic issues and averting nuclear proliferation.
 MEP Koumoutsakos attends 64th Turkey-EU JPC meetingISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
New Democracy (ND) MEP George Koumoutsakos, a former foreign ministry spokesman, on Wednesday attended the 64th meeting of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) here.
"Turkey is displaying a strong self-confidence as regards its strength and the role that it can play," he said, adding that the Turkish side hinted that its interest in a full EU accession should not be taken as a given, based on comments by Interior Minister Besir Atalay and Minister of State Egemen Bagis.
"These are the two main conclusions as regards Turkey's European prospect," Koumoutsakos said, noting that "we are aware that the Turks believe that the EU is being unfair to them with the positions it adopts [...] The European colleagues had many questions that confirmed the issues on which progress needs to be made - many and tough. I don't see that there will be progress soon, therefore, the overall picture has not changed following today's discussion."
 Education minister attends EU Competitiveness CouncilBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
Education, Lifelong Education and Religion Minister Anna Diamantopoulou attended the European Union's Competitiveness Council here on Wednesday that focused primarily on the new "Europe 2020" Strategy, the enactment of national targets for Research and Growth and preparation for the EU summit on June 17.
Addressing the Council on the issue of the 2020 European Strategy, Diamantopoulou stressed, among other things, that Greece's target for Research and Growth until 2020 "is not simply ambitious but radical, because a 2 percent target for 2020 in the present situation appears to be unattainable."
According to the Education minister, Greece is not only facing a deep monetary crisis but a decrease in the economy's competitiveness which is reflected in the huge current accounts deficit, investments and a decrease in private investments in Research and Technology.
As she said, the Greek government is proceeding, over a period of months, with structural changes that require years under normal conditions.
 Serb President in Athens next weekSerbian President Boris Tadic will pay a 3-day state visit to Greece next week, at the invitation of President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, it was announced on Wednesday.
According to an announcement by the office of the President of the Republic, Tadic will pay an official visit to Greece from June 1 to 3, arriving in Athens on Tuesday.
 Air Force chief to attend NATO SEAC conference in PlovdivChief of the Air Force General Staff (GEA) Lt. Gen. Vassilios Klokozas, will attend the annual NATO Southern Europe Air Chiefs Conference (SEACC) to be held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on May 27-29, a GEA announcement said on Wednesday.
The conference, which opens Thursday, will be attended by the air force chiefs of the southern wing of NATO, namely Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
The theme of the conference this year is NATO's transformation and its effects on the airforce environment in the wider region.
 PM's phone accidentally cut offHellenic Telecoms (OTE) on Wednesday attributed a temporary interruption of phone service for Prime Minister George Papandreou's residence to human error.
A statement by OTE stated that the residential phone line was cut off by mistake during the process of disconnecting another customer's line, because the two numbers were identical except for one digit.
The problem was fixed on Friday as soon as the company was notified while the PM office director was also briefed over the incident.
The PM was notified on Wednesday via a letter signed by the OTE president.
 EIB signs 400-mln-euro funding deal with Hellenic PetroleumEuropean Investment Bank (EIB) will more than double its funding to Greece, to a record 2.6 billion euros this year, compared with the average rate of the previous five years, Ploutarhos Sakellaris, the bank's vice-president said on Wednesday.
He spoke during the signing of a funding agreement - worth 400 million euros -- with Hellenic Petroleum group to raise production of clean fuel through an upgrading of the Elefsis (Elefsina) refinery.
Sakellaris said EIB funding to Greece will cover all significant sectors of the economy, particularly transport, energy, urban planning and education. This record increase is part of a wider package of support measures, including also priority funding to energy, climatic changes and infrastructure projects, "clean" transport and medium-sized enterprises.
The EIB vice-president said the Elefsis refinery will contribute to the improvement of environmental quality through the adoption of up-to-date technology in refinery and raising production of cleaner fuel.
Tassos Yiannitsis, Hellenic Petroleum's chairman, said the investment - worth 1.2 billion euros - was the largest industrial investment ever in Greece and would help to improve competitiveness, create new job positions, manufacture better and environmentally friendly products, as well as to cut imports, raise exports and significantly improve the refinery's environmental performance.
Yiannis Kostopoulos, Hellenic Petroleum's chief executive, said a total of 500 new jobs have been created so far with another 2,000 jobs expected by the fall.
 Greek fiscal deficit to fall to 8.1% of GDP this year, OECDThe Greek economy is projected to shrink by 3.7 pct this year and by 2.5 pct in 2011, a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated on Wednesday. The Paris-based organisation, in a report on the economic outlook of its members, projected that Greek unemployment would jump to 12.1 pct this year, up from 9.5 pct in 2009, rising further to 14.3 pct in 2011.
The inflation rate was projected at 3.0 pct this year, falling to 0.3 pct in 2011, pressured by reduced economic activity and rising unemployment in the country.
The country's fiscal deficit is projected to fall significantly to 8.1 pct of GDP this year and to 7.1 pct in 2011, down from a double-digit 13.5 pct in 2009. The report noted that deep and sustainable fiscal consolidation, along with structural changes, were the "keys" to restoring confidence in Greek economic growth and stressed that an agreement signed between Greek authorities, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in early May, raised credibility of fiscal policies and would result in lower borrowing costs and to a stabilisation of its public debt.
OECD noted that containing high public spending through a pension system reform and improving efficiency of the public sector were crucial to the success of the government's stability programme. Economic growth demands wide structural changes in product and labour markets, which will help also to an adjustment of prices and restoring competitiveness.
 Trade Balance deficit down 18.9pct in Q1Greece's trade balance deficit fell by 18.9 percent in the first quarter of the year against the corresponding period in 2009, according to provisional figures released on Wednesday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (EL.STAT).
The deficit of the Trade Balance for the 3-month time period of January-March 2010 amounted to 6220.6 million euros (8541.3 million dollars) against 7672.1 million euros (9918.4 million dollars) for the same time period of the year 2009, recording a drop of 18.9%. Excluding the oil products the deficit of the trade balance recorded a decrease of 208.1 million euros or 3.4% in comparison with the corresponding time period of the year 2009, ELSTAT said.
In a report on the Commercial Transactions of Greece for March 2010, ELSTAT said that the total value of imports-arrivals in March amounted to 3945.8 million euros (5337.9 million dollars) against 3841.6 million euros (4998.1 million dollars) in March 2009, recording an increase of 2.7%. The total value of imports-arrivals excluding the oil products recorded an increase of 335.2 million euros or 10.0% in comparison with the corresponding month of 2009.
The total value of exports-dispatches in March amounted to 1407.0 million euros (1914.8 million dollars) against 1208.4 million euros (1581.7 million dollars) in March 2009, recording an increase of 16.4%. The total value of exports-dispatches excluding the oil products recorded an increase of 178.0 million euros or 15.9% in comparison with the corresponding month of 2009.
According to provisional data, the deficit of the trade balance in March amounted to 2538.8 million euros (3423.1 million dollars) against 2633.2 million euros (3416.4 million dollars) in March 2009 recording a drop of 3.6%. Excluding the oil products the deficit of the trade balance recorded an increase of 157.2 million euros or 7.1% in comparison with the corresponding month of the year 2009.
The total value of exports-dispatches for the 3-month time period of January-March 2010 amounted to 3416.0 million euros (4729.0 million dollars) against 3379.3 million euros (4400.4 million dollars) for the same time period of 2009, recording an increase of 1.1%. The total value of exports-dispatches excluding the oil products recorded an increase of 80.5 million euros or 2.6% in comparison with the corresponding time period of 2009.
The total value of imports-arrivals for the 3-month time period of January-March 2010 amounted to 9636.6 million euros (13270.3 million dollars) against 11051.4 million euros (14318.8 million dollars) for the same time period of 2009, recording a drop of 12.8%. The total value of imports-arrivals excluding the oil products recorded a decrease of 127.6 million euros or 1.4% in comparison with the corresponding time period of 2009.
The deficit of the Trade Balance for the 3-month time period of January-March 2010 amounted to 6220.6 million euros (8541.3 million dollars) against 7672.1 million euros (9918.4 million dollars) for the same time period of the year 2009, recording a drop of 18.9%. Excluding the oil products the deficit of the trade balance recorded a decrease of 208.1 million euros or 3.4% in comparison with the corresponding time period of the year 2009.
It is pointed out that the above-mentioned data concern only the commercial transactions, and do not include the transactions of services and the non-registered transactions which with the commercial transactions are taken into account for the compilation of the tables of the National Accounts.
 Eurobank issues 750-mln-euro covered bondEurobank on Wednesday issued a second series of covered bonds, worth 750 million euros, rated A3 by Moody's.
The issue is aimed at further boosting the bank's liquidity by taking advantage of its assets. The 12-month issue has an option for another year extension and carries a coupon of ECB benchmark interest rate plus 135 basis points.
The bond is covered by Eurobank's mortgage loans to private clients. Eurobank's board has approved a plan to issue covered bonds up to 5.0 billion euros. The bank's issuance of such securities so far totals 1.25 billion euros.
 Athens commuter buses work stoppages on ThursdayAthens commuter bus drivers will hold two work-stoppages on Thursday, to pursue financial and institutional demands.
More specifically, the work stoppages are scheduled from the beginning of the morning shift to 8:00 a.m. and at night from 10:00 p.m. to the end of the shift. This means that buses will leave the depots to begin their routes at 8:00 a.m.
The drivers' union is demanding the hiring of more drivers and payment of daily wages which they claim the management has withheld illegally.
 Alexakis meets with Cosco president/CEOInvest in Greece Agency CEO Christos Alexakis met on Wednesday with President and CEO of China Ocean Shipping (COSCO) Group, Capt. Wei Jiafu within the framework of the latter's formal visit to Athens heading a company delegation.
Their talks focused on the investment environment in Greece and Capt. Wei underlined the great interest expressed on behalf of China and Cosco for investments in Greece.
 Viohalco reports improved Q1 resultsViohalco Group on Wednesday said its net after tax profits totaled 1.1 million euros in the first quarter of the year, or 0.0056 euros per shares, down from 1.5 million euros or 0.0077 euros per share in the corresponding period last year.
Consolidated turnover rose 8.9 pct to 648.2 million euros in the January-March period, while EBITDA rose 17.1 pct to 38.8 million euros and pre-tax and minorities results showed a loss of 4.4 million euros, down 73.1 pct from the same period in 2009.
Consolidated after tax and minorities results showed a loss of 2.8 million euros, 74 pct lower compared with the first quarter of 2009. Pre-tax profits fell to 1.5 million euros, from 2.1 million euros, over the same period, respectively.
 Merchant marine fleet up 5.6 pct in MarchThe Greek merchant marine fleet (vessels exceeding 100 dwt) grew by 5.6 pct in March, compared with the same month in 2007, totaling 2,128 vessels, the Hellenic Statistical Authority announced on Wednesday.
The statistical service, in a report, said the Greek merchant marine fleet had fallen by 5.6 pct in the period from March 2004 to March 2007.
Total tonnage of the Greek merchant marine fleet jumped 19.7 pct in March to 42,237,509 dwts, from March 2007, after recording a 0.2-pct decline in the 2004-207 period.
 Stocks recover stronglyStocks rebounded strongly at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, recovering a big part of the previous day's losses, in line with a positive trend in international markets.
The composite index of the market rose 2.98 pct to end at 1,585.75 points, with turnover jumping to 302.936 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index rose 3.76 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 1.22 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index ended 1.07 pct higher. The Health (12.21 pct), Food (6.43 pct) and Banks (4.88 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Commerce (2.59 pct) and Media (3.20 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 98 to 78 with another 50 issues unchanged. Klonatex (20 pct), Alapis (15.38 pct) and Elgeka (11.39 pct) were top gainers, while Imperio (19.23 pct), Minoan Lines (13.38 pct) and Edrasi (12.50 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.68%
Personal & Household: +0.10%
Raw Materials: -0.32%
Travel & Leisure: +2.99%
Food & Beverages: +6.43%
Financial Services: -2.18%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Titan, MIG, National Bank and Ellinika Petrelea.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.96
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.91
HBC Coca Cola: 18.82
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.07
National Bank of Greece: 10.60
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.22
Bank of Piraeus: 4.51
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 124 million euros on Wednesday, of which 80 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 44 million were sell orders. The 17-year benchmark bond (March 20, 2026) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 22 million euros.
The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 517 basis points, from 526 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 7.81 pct and the German Bund 2.64 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving upwards. The 12-month Euribor rate was 1.06 pct, the six-month rate 1.10 pct, the three-month 1.10 pct and the one-month 1.05 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -2.13 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising slightly to 63.809 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 13,855 contracts worth 51.265 million euros, with 24,931 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 12,329 contracts, worth 12.544 million euros, with investment interest focusing on MIG's contracts (7,302), followed by Eurobank (1,230), OTE (1,066), Piraeus Bank (1,681), National Bank (4,763), Alpha Bank (1,930), Hellenic Petroleum (1,284) and Hellenic Postbank (307).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.240
Pound sterling 0.861
Danish kroner 7.499
Swedish kroner 9.776
Japanese yen 112.24
Swiss franc 1.432
Norwegian kroner 8.041
Canadian dollar 1.319
Australian dollar 1.489
 Anafi, a getaway island in the CycladesThe small island of Anafi is found in the southeast of the Cyclades complex in the center of the Aegean Sea, with Santorini being the nearest island. Anafi has a population of roughly 300 people and in the past was used as a place of exile.
According to ancient Greek mythology, the god Apollo ordered Anafi to rise from the sea to provide refuge to Jason and the Argonauts during a fierce storm.
The island is ideal for tourists who like quiet vacations and because of its small size everything is within walking distance. Visitors are welcomed by the beautiful beaches of Klissidi, Roukouna and Aghii Anargiri, by picturesque villages with unique architecture, the ancient ruins of the Temple of Apollo and the monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa (The Virgin Mary of Kalamos), also know as Zoodochos Pigi (Virgin Mary the Giver of Life). The monastery of Kalamiotissa is built on the monolithic peak of Kalamos, one of the highest in the Mediterranean, at 584 meters, second only to the Rock of Gibraltar.
Anafi is of archaeological as well as mythological interest. At the monastery of Panagia Kalamiotissa, there are ruins of a temple built as an offering to Apollo Aegletus.
Ruins are also found at Kasteli, and most of the findings, such as statues, are now housed in the small Archaeological Museum in Chora, the island's capital town.
Another attraction for tourists is the local architecture, with the distinctive built furnaces (fourni).
The first inhabitants of the Anafiotika neighborhood, at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens, were the extremely skilled craftsmen from Anafi, who were invited by King Otto in the 1830s to build him a new palace. Because they stayed in Athens for a long time they built their homes under the Acropolis to resemble their homes back in Anafi.
 Ex-USAID administrator Natsios on ancient, modern Greek crisisFormer USAID top administrator Andrew Natsios on Wednesday emphasised, during a press briefing in Athens, that a "culture of accountability" is absolutely necessary for curbing corruption, a day ahead of a timely lecture on parallels between ancient and modern-day Greek crises.
Natsios, one of the most distinguished Greek-Americans in the upper echelons of US public service over the past decade, arrived in the Greek capital to deliver the lecture, entitled "What Classical Greece teaches Modern Greece -- Lessons on History & Crisis", hosted by the Deree College.
"The US developed this culture over decades and decades ... you must first build the institutions first, however, you must make the reforms quickly. In a big crisis, like the one Greece is facing now, you can take major reforms. However, we're talking about a 'narrow window', because special interest groups will then start combating changes," Natsios, a current professor of diplomacy at Georgetown, emphasised.
"... less pain now, more problems in the future; more pain now, more prosperity in the future," he warned.
Natsios, who amongst others oversaw the successful construction of Boston's "Big Dig" tunnel and served as US special envoy to Sudan in 2006 and 2007 during the Darfur crisis, also referred to a contradiction in various international indexes vis-à-vis Greece, with the UN's Human Development index putting the country in a prominent 18th place out of 192 countries worldwide, whereas the World Bank grades the east Mediterranean nation at a sub-par 60th place for starting new businesses.
Speaking directly on the subject of his lecture on Thursday, Natsios said what passed for lending institutions in 5th century BC Athens disliked loaning other city-states in the ancient world, judging them as poor risks. Conversely, lending institutions in ancient Greece were robust compared with their city-states' finances, something he said mirrors the current situation in Greece.
Asked about the negative publicity plaguing the country in the wake of the ongoing debt crisis, Natsios said that for Greek-Americans, at least, the perception is negative but temporary.
Queried over the heated sabre-rattling on the Korea peninsula following the sinking of a South Korean warship last March in the Yellow Sea, Natsios, the author of the book "The Great Korean Famine" (2001), said that if North Korea is behind the attack then only North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il could approve such an audacious strike.
Along those lines, he gave two possible reasons for such an attack: either another looming famine in north, one less serious than in the 1990s, but nevertheless a crisis necessitating a diversion and a rallying of the armed forces; or, a scheme to elevate his youngest son as a "symbol of power" for the isolated country to again rally around.
"It (attack) would be part of a succession problem, as he (the younger Kim) cannot possible rule that country ... the risk of destabilisation on the peninsula is disturbing," he stressed.
 Recognition of college graduates' professional rightsA presidential decree incorporating into the Greek law Directive 2005/36/EC, which obliges Greece to recognise the professional rights of European affiliated college graduates, was made public on Tuesday.
This development deals with the recognition of the diplomas awarded by EU universities to European citizens regardless of where they have completed their studies (universities or collaborating colleges), creating a new situation for younger generations of Greeks, a College Owners Association statement underlined on Wednesday.
The incorporation of the directive does not concern the academic recognition of college graduate diplomas.
 Protest against Kallikratis bill causes traffic snarl-up in AthensThe centre of Athens was virtually impassable to vehicles around midday on Wednesday due to a protest outside Parliament against the Kallikratis plan for the mergers of local authorities. In addition to demonstrators on foot, matters were complicated by a convoy of garbage trucks from the Elliniko municipality that were protesting against a planned merger with neighbouring Argyroupolis.
These were joined by the garbage trucks fielded by the local authority workers union federation POE-OTA and the resulting convoys greatly hampered the movement of vehicles in the city centre.
Among the protestors were residents of Kymi that oppose the Kallikratis plan, which envisages a massive municipality containing some 100 villages and spanning several kilometres. They began by blockading the bridge onto the island of Evia at Halkida and then boarded buses to Athens, to join the protest outside Parliament.
Others at the protest included the staff from municipality of Amfiklia, which objects to the seat of the new Kallikratis municipality being based in Kato Tithorea, from the municipality of Kasteli that objects to a merger with Iraklio, from the municipality of Mycenae that protests against being made part of Argos, the municipalities of Gargalianoi and Filiatra in the Peloponnese and those of Vassiliki, Kastania and Paliokastro in the Ioannina prefecture.
 Democrats Abroad chapter in Thessaloniki; Dukakis to attendThe Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) on Wednesday announced the founding of a new chapter for northern Greece, with US Democratic Party supporters to assemble at noon on Sunday in Thessaloniki for the purpose.
Former US presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty, who are visiting Greece, will speak at the event on the issue of the upcoming the 2010 US congressional elections.
The event will be hosted at the American College of Thessaloniki (Anatolia College), in the Pylaia district of Thessaloniki.
Gov. Dukakis and Mrs. Dukakis will visit Thessaloniki to attend a series of commemorative ceremonies for Anatolia College/ACT, and its education mission in northern Greece.
DAGR chairwoman Yvette Jarvis will conduct the Thessaloniki meeting, while vice-chair Alec Mally (a former US consul general in Thessaloniki) will explain the new Chapter. Additionally, Counsel Nicholas Pisaris will supervise the election of interim Chapter officers.
According to a press release by the group, membership in Democrats Abroad is free and open to all U.S. citizens who share the party's ideals.
 Frog migration stops traffic near ThessalonikiThe "invasion" of the roadway close to Langada juncture, near Thessaloniki, by frogson Wednesday is a natural phenomenon according to scientists and takes place during their migration period at the end of May each year. Frogs migrate during the night and in the early morning hours. Motorists in other European cities that are on the frogs' migration path are warned by special signs to prevent accidents.
A section of the Egnatia Odos motorway was closed for approximately two hours on Wednesday morning after the highway was overrun by thousands of frogs.
Traffic police closed traffic to all vehicles when thousands of frogs literally "invaded" the roadway just before the Langada juncture near Thessaloniki, causing surprise and panic to drivers that resulted in several car crashes, fortunately without injuries but with material damage.
According to police, three drivers lost control of their vehicles and rammed into the protective sidebars on the motorway.
The motorway was temporarily closed by traffic police for approximately two hours to enable removal of the frogs from the highway.
 Dismembered body of foreign national found in Magnesia Prefecture sea regionThe dismembered body of a 37-year-old Albanian national, most likely killed by the dynamite he used for illegal fishing, was found in the sea region of Siki, Magnesia Prefecture in central Greece.
Authorities had launched a search two days ago when the man was reported missing.
 Man arrested for cultivating cannabis on his roofThessaloniki police on Wednesday reported the arrest of a 46-year-old man in the city's Toumba district who was caught cultivating 66 cannabis plants on the roof of his house.
 Fair on ThursdayFair weather and variable winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 2-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 11C and 31C. Fair in Athens, with variable 2-4 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 15C to 31C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 15C to 31C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe social security reforms, the Finance Ministry's 'operation clean hands', the crisis in the eurozone and the Vatopedi monastery case, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Main opposition New Democracy charges on Vatopedi case: Ruling PASOK manufacturing 'guilty' individuals.
APOGEVMATINI: "Shocking increase in working years (required for pension) and dramatic cutbacks in working mothers' pensions".
AVGHI: "Derision of the workers with the new social security system ".
AVRIANI: "Civil servants', state suppliers', doctors', lawyers' and civil engineers' bank accounts to open".
ELEFTHEROS: "Former parliament president Apostolos Kaklamanis' outburst in parliament: I cannot be a colleague of 30 rats".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Millions of euros 'gift' to pharmaceutical companies the same time as the social security funds are called on to pay unbearable burdens".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "EU-government war of statements' over the social security changes".
ESTIA: "Taxation an obstacle and counter-incentive to development".
ETHNOS: "Tax Bureau employees caught in Tax Bureau's net".
IMERISSIA: "Operation 'Clean hands' - Tax Bureau employees under the authorities' microscope".
KATHIMERINI: "Tax bureau's employees' files open - Incriminating evidence on huge property holdings".
LOGOS: "What they are hiding from us on the social security changes - Pressure for 40 work-years escalates".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Triple blow against stock markets".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Government lies about alleged pressure for measures it has already decided".
TA NEA: "Discounts on bread, too, now - The economic crisis bares its teeth".
TO VIMA: "Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos' bluff on the 40-year work requirement for - Maximos Mansion (government headquarters) annoyed, 'but covers' Loverdos".
VRADYNI: "The Munchausen... government - EU exposed Loverdos' big lie".
 Christofias: 'We confirmed the convergences achieved so far'NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has said that during Wednesday's meeting in the framework of direct negotiations aiming to solve the Cyprus problem convergences already achieved were confirmed.
Negotiations resumed on Wednesday after a short recess due to the "elections" in Cyprus Turkish occupied areas, which resulted in the rise of Dervis Eroglu at the helm of the Turkish Cypriot community.
Invited to say how their first meeting was the president replied "in general it was good", adding that they did not speak about all issues.
"Of course the basis (of the negotiations) was reaffirmed with a statement of the UN Special Representative on the Cyprus problem Alexander Downer, as expressed in the Secretary General's report," he added.
"We welcomed this fact and we began talking on how we will address the issue of properties. We asked the reconfirmation of issues on which convergence was achieved, to whom properties belong and the points of categorization and we are moving forward," he added.
Asked if the next chapter to be discussed is that of properties, the president replied affirmatively, pointing out that "this was agreed beforehand".
Invited to say if Eroglu has accepted everything agreed between President Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, Christofias said that "we reconfirmed the convergences achieved so far."
Community leaders confirm existing convergences on property issue
The property issue was on the agenda of the first meeting of President, Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, as direct negotiations aiming to solve Cyprus problem resumed on Wednesday after a brief recess due to the "elections" in the northern Turkish occupied areas.
UN Secretary General's Special Adviser Alexander Downer said that the meeting was held in a warm and positive environment. He read a message of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki moon on the resumption of the Cyprus talks, which was welcomed by the two leaders "and made introductory remarks to each other and they began to discuss the property issue".
"They confirmed existing convergences (on the property issue) and they will continue discussing the property issue from where they left off before the talks broke up earlier this year", added Downer.
The two leaders will meet again next Thursday at 10 in the morning.
Their two representatives George Iacovou and Kudret Ozersay will meet on Monday afternoon at 14.00 at the specially designed venue at Nicosia airport.
In his message the UN SG warmly welcomes both delegations back to the negotiation table. "The parties made strong progress before the talks were suspended in late March. I am very encouraged by the convergences that were reached". Ban Ki moon adds that he is also encouraged that the two leaders have agreed to continue on the basis of the UN parameters, Security Council resolutions and the joint statements made on 23 May and 1 July 2008.
The peace process is at an important point, he stresses in his message, adding that "a settlement is within your grasp and this opportunity must be seized, as time is not on your side. Achieving an agreement will require vision, statesmanship and courage."
"Your communities want and expect a settlement," he underlines.
"This will require give-and-take on both sides, and the ability to understand the issues and what is at stake from the perspective of the other side".
"You must convince not only your own community of the value of a settlement; you must also convince the other community of your good faith. This is not a zero-sum game. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to arrive at a solution that clearly benefits both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots", the message said.
The international community is committed to continuing its support for this Cypriot led process, says Ban, adding that he truly believes that both leaders can reach an agreement in the coming months. He expresses his readiness and willingness to help together with his representative Alexander Downer.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. President Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat began peace talks in September 2008. Talks now continue with the President and Eroglu.
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