|Monday, 18 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-06-03
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 3 June 2010 Issue No: 3508
 Gov't unveils widespread privatisation programmeThe government on Wednesday reiterated its invitation to foreign and domestic groups to invest in the country through an ambitious programme of privatisations, flotations and exploiting public real estate assets, aimed at collecting three billion euros in the next three years.
The sum, in fact, is cited in a memorandum signed between the Greek state, the EU and the IMF.
In a joint press conference, the ministers of finance, George Papaconstantinou, infrastructure-transports Dimitris Reppas, environment, Tina Birbili, and culture & tourism, Pavlos Geroulanos, announced the government's decision to speed up procedures to exploit the country's assets with the aim to achieve economic restructuring and growth.
Assets available to investors are in the sectors of transport (Hellenic Railways, ports, airports), water and sewage (Athens Water, Thessaloniki Water), energy (PPC, Hellenic Petroleum), telecommunications (OTE), gaming (OPAP, casinos), project concessions and real estate (Olympic projects, tourism assets).
Speaking to reporters, Finance Minister George Papa-constantinou said the government did not plan to sell-off the country's wealth, while commenting on the banking sector, he said there were no announcements at the time and said conditions prevailing in the market are difficult to support any moves in the sector, although he urged the country's credit market to "see the next day strategically".
Regarding Hellenic Telecoms (OTE), the government plans to change its board and then discuss any plans for an additional equity sale to Deutsche Telekom.
On OPAP, the government does not plan to reduce its equity stake in the organisation, while as per PPC he said the state will maintain its 51-pct controlling stake.
Regarding debt-ridden Hellenic Railways, the state plans to sell 49 pct of TRAINOSE - the operator of railways - to strategic investors along with management control. Cancelling loss-making lines, restructuring of its personnel base and efficient management of the rail provider's real estate assets is also foreseen. The government also plans to divide cargo from passenger operations.
On the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki (the state has a 74 pct controlling stake in each organisation) and 10 regional ports, the aim is to create one or more expanded corporate entities; followed by strategic partners and then a listing on the stock exchange with the state holding at least 51 pct.
For the Athens International Airport, the government will seek expansion of a concession contract and to list the company's shares on the stock exchange. Regional airport will be given with concession contracts to strategic investors.
The government will sell a 23-pct equity stake in the Thessaloniki Water company and a 10-pct stake in the Athens Water company, while a holding company will be set up including all water companies in the country.
The government will sell a 39-pct equity stake in Hellenic Post, while for the Public Power Corp. (the state owns 51 pct) the government plans regulatory interventions to open up the wholesale and retail energy markets. The government will maintain an existing strategic participation in Hellenic Petroleum and Hellenic Telecoms.
All state-owned casinos will be sold, while a plan was unveiled to merge all real estate companies owned by the state.
 PM chairs cabinet meeting on privatisations, healthChairing an informal cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed that the government had to make major changes now, so as to exploit the momentum of PASOK's electoral victory and the current difficult crisis. The meeting focused on a raft of planned privatisations and healthcare.
He stressed that the current difficulties had to be turned into an opportunity to correct long-term problems and dysfunctions in the country, while noting that the harsh measures had to be offset by government support for the poorer sections of society and the middle class through properly functioning state services that dealt with people's everyday problems.
The prime minister revealed that the problems of public administration and the complaints and observations of the Greek Ombudsman would be one of the issues occupying one of the upcoming cabinet meetings.
Papandreou ended by criticising phenomena of poor cooperation and even rivalry between different government ministries, asking cabinet members to do their utmost to process issues where they have joint responsibility with another ministry.
He also commented on leaks to the press, saying that there must be support for the decisions taken without "demonising" different opinions.
 ND on privatisations programmeThe main opposition New Democracy (ND) party attributes a lack of planning and political will regarding the programme on privatisations that was announced by the government on Wednesday.
"The government, following a big period of time of postponements, delays and intragovernmental conflicts, without clear orientation and targeting, announced its 'programming'," ND alternate Political Responsibility for the Economy chief Christos Staikouras said.
He added that this "shows the government's lack of political will and the absence of planning on the promotion of an integrated privatisations programme and a systematic and rational utilisation of the public sector's real estate, as well as contradictions between the PASOK party's announcements before the elections, postelectoral programme commitments and current announcements by the government."
 PM Papandreou holds talks with visiting European Parliament president BuzekPrime minister George Papandreou met on Thursday with visiting European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Papandreou said that the Europarliament president's visit here is a strong gesture of support for and solidarity with the sacrifices of the Greek people for the country to regain its credibility and to create a viable economy with transparency and protection of incomes and pensions.
Papandreou said that apart from the economic crisis, "which concerns not only Greece but also the European and international economy", his talks with Buzek also focused on coordinating efforts for Europe to emerge more competitive from the crisis, having entered a developmental orbit and green growth.
They also discussed regional issues, with Papandreou briefing Buzek on the efforts to resolve the FYROM name issue, and on Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent visit to Greece and the efforts being made to build a new relationship founded on the principles of good neighborhood and territorial integrity, the premier continued.
Papandreou further discussed with Buzek the issue that has arisen regarding direct trade between the EU and the Turkish-occupied sector of Cyprus, reiterating his unwavering support of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias' efforts.
The talks also focused on Papandreou's "Agenda 2014" initiative for the accession of all the western Balkan states into the EU by that year, conditional to their fulfilling the conditions set out by the EU.
Papandreou said that, as Buzek could see for himself, Greece is a safe and hospitable country for tourism, adding that this message needs to be spread because there has been over-projection of negative pictures from protests.
Buzek, in turn, said he came here with a message of solidarity from Europe. "Greece is not alone," he said, adding that the government has a Herculean task to carry out and expressing certainty that it will succeed.
The Europarliament president likened the measures being taken in Greece to medicine, "bitter but necessary", and recalled his own activity as a member of the Polish "Solidarnosc" (Solidarity) trade union in the 1980s, noting that, during the 1990s, Poland had made tough efforts in order to join the EU.
He welcomed the Greek government's program as an indication of responsibility on the party of Greece, adding that it will not be easy, but is necessary.
Greece is a safe country, Buzek said, adding that tension always accompanies reforms.
Buzek is on an official visit to Greece at the invitation of Hellenic Parliament president Filippos Petsalnikos.
 Papoulias receives EuroParliament president BuzekPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received visiting European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek at the presidential mansion.
In statements as he was received by the president, Buzek stressed that his visit came at a significant time for all of the European Union.
"The problems are not just Greek, there is not just the Greek crisis, they concern all of Europe, all the member-states and equivalent measures, similar measures must be taken by all European countries. Precisely because the problems are in common, we have taken common measures on the level of the European Union," he said.
The EuroParliament President said that the first important measures was the fiscal stabilisation mechanism and the supervision of financial markets in the future and risk-assessment, which was extremely important for investments, while for the government another very important measure was the confirmation and reliability of statistical figures.
Another major issue for the Euro area was how to support the joint currency, he added, noting that the Euro area countries should not be just a monetary Community but also an economic Community, for which it was not sufficient to have a common monetary policy but also a shared economic policy.
Buzek also stressed that Greece was not alone during these tough economic times, nor alone in having to impose austerity measures, since similar measures had been taken in other countries, adding that the harsh measures taken by Greece were a "mark of responsibility".
 EP president Buzek addresses committeesVisiting European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, addressing the members of the Parliamentary Economy, European Affairs and Defence Committees on Wednesday, stressed that "reforms are unavoidable. They concern the EU in its entirety and not Greece only. If we want to recover, we must follow a painful therapeutical treatment."
Buzek praised the Greek Parliament for "the determination that it showed in adopting a difficult monetary adjustment programme," stressing that the "sacrifices for handling the crisis at European level are necesary."
"We must unlock the productive potential in all the regions of Europe, we must give emphasis to transport networks, to new technologies. We must secure jobs particularly for young people, we must invest in education, we must modernise our economies," Buzek said.
In parallel, however, it will be necessary "for us to work more hours, to decrease our leave, to save resources for our insurance. The solution to the demographic issue may be the best solution."
Buzek further said that "at this moment the demonstration of leadership abilities is required and as political elites you showed your leadership character. Greece needs more than ever the three virtues of Plato - wisdom, courage and moderation. This responsibility, of course, is undertaken by all Parliaments in difficult times," adding that "I hope that the path of recovery will be short, brief."
 Samaras meeting with Serbia's TadicMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras met with visiting Serb President Boris Tadic on Wednesday for a roughly 30-minute meeting focusing on current developments. No statements were made afterwards.
Earlier, Samaras held a meeting with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek at the party's central offices. He also met with Columbia University Prof. James Rubin.
Under US President Bill Clinton, Rubin had served as US assistant secretary of state for public affairs, chief spokesman for the US State Department and senior policy adviser to Madeleine Albright.
 Returning Greeks from Gaza flotilla report beatings, torture, communication ban by IsrealisThe first six returning Greeks from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian aid that was raided by Israeli commandos in the pre-dawn hours of Monday resulting in nine deaths, reported beatings, extensive use of rubber bullets, torture and a ban on communication by the Israelis, during a press conference a few hours after their return to Greece.
Thirty-one more Greeks from the six-ship flotilla, including two ships from Greece, are currently being held at Be'er Sheva prison in Israel, together with more than 600 other activists from the flotilla.
The six Greeks, who arrived at Athens International Airport on Tuesday morning after being deported by Israel, reported beatings and extensive use of rubber bullets by Israeli commandos during the raid and seizure of the ships, as well as torture, use of electroshock weapons and prohibition of any communication for the duration of their detention.
They also said that when the commandos boarded the ships they fiercely beat anyone who tried to resist them, while the also took away from the doctors any pharmaceuticals they had with them and did not allow the detainees to move until the ships reached the port of Ashdod.
One returnee said that if anyone tried to stand up, the commandos pounced on him. "We had to raise our hands, like children in school, to be allowed to go to the toilet", he said, adding that all their personal effects, cell phones, laptops and even clothing were confiscated
Speaking at the press conference, four of the returnees said that the attack on the two Greek ships, the "Sfendoni" and the "Eleftheri Messogios" (Free Mediterranean), took place at 5:00 a.m. Monday, just after the Israeli commandos' initial invasion of the Turkish vessel "Mavi Marmara".
A Palestinian who, although was not on the flotilla, had overseen the loading of the humanitarian supplies on the ships, said that all items had passed through strict checks before being loaded, stressing that there had been no violations of regulations nor any illegal items loaded.
 Air Force plane on standby to bring Greeks back from Israel - Foreign ministry secgen meets with Israeli ambassadorForeign ministry secretary general Ambassador Ioannis-Alexis Zeppos on Wednesday summoned Israeli ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya, to whom he "pointed out once again that we are expecting the immediate release of the Greek citizens (from the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla) who are in Israel and their return to Athens," as the Greek official himself said in a statement to the press after the meeting.
Zeppos stressed Greece's demand for the protection and wellbeing of the Greek citizens, and conveyed to the envoy the protests by some of the detainees of "maltreatment (by the Israeli authorities) during their arrest".
Yahya promised the Greek official that he hoped to have answers by the early afternoon.
Zeppos reminded Yahya that there has been previous agreement between foreign minister and premier George Papandreou and Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman for the speedy release of the Greeks and their unconditional return to Greece.
"We have agreed...and an Air Force plane is on standby since this morning which, as soon as arrangements are made also with our Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli authorities, will leave for Israel to bring these Greek citizens back to Greece," Zeppos added.
Yahya said he will do everything possible with his country's authorities for swift briefing on when the Air Force plane can go and pick up the Greeks.
A later announcement by the foreign ministry said that an airforce C-130 transport plane was to depart from Elefsina military airstrip for Israel at 15:00 in order to pick up the Greek citizens that Israeli authorities were expected to release.
 Droutsas - EU-Western Balkans meetingSARAJEVO (ANA-MPA/M. Savva)
Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said that a clear message that the Balkans belong to the European family was given from Sarajevo on Wednesday.
After the end of the high-level EU-Western Balkans meeting organised by the Spanish Presidency, Droutsas said that the fact that this meeting was held is of particular importance in itself and its message is the message that is contained in the Greek initiative on the "agenda 2014."
He pointed out that it is a very important event if one considers that until a few months ago the procedure on the rapprochement between the Western Balkans and the EU had become inert.
Droutsas said that this is the self-evident path because "the strategic goal of Greece is for economic activity to open to the wider region and our neighbourhood to become safer."
The minister also called publicly on his FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki for the neighbouring country to show a constructive spirit and come to the talks with a positive disposition.
Droutsas also had the opportunity of discussing with Turkish European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis Turkey's European prospect, the course of reforms in the country and the issue of the EU-Turkey agreement on the readmission of illegal immigrants.
 Alternate FM Droutsas meets Spanish FMSARAJEVO (ANA-MPA/M. Savva)
Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, speaking with the foreign minister of Spain and EU president Miguel Angel Moratinos on the sidelines of the EU-western Balkans meeting on Wednesday, expressed the hope that the return of the Greek citizens from Israel will be completed soon under conditions of security.
In a brief discussion with the Spanish minister in Sarajevo, Droutsas explained all the moves which the Greek foreign ministry made from the first moment to secure conditions of security for the Greek citizens who participated in the humanitarian mission.
The Greek side condemned the acts of violence immediately and showed in practice its protest with the decision for an immediate discontinuation of the joint military exercise with Israel.
It then demanded conditions of security for the repatriation of the Greek citizens and lastly a delegation from the Greek embassy in Israel went to the port of Ashdod where it contacted each of the Greek detainees in person to ascertain their personal state and needs.
 Gov't on Parliamentary com't investigating Siemens case"We shouldn't rush to conclusions because they could be proven wrong," government spokesman George Petalotis said Wednesday, commenting on the likelihood of an "artful" effort being underway for the marginalisation of parliamentary investigation committees.
The statement followed widespread criticism due to the misinterpretation of certain documents relating to the Siemens kickbacks and bribery affair, for instance, incorrecting attributing a payment to a "Cabinet" minister when in essence it was directed to a "cabinet" maker in New York.
Petalotis stressed that "the work of the parliamentary investigation committees should not be obstructed by surmise, misinterpretations and leaks that do not contribute to transparency."
Commenting on speculation concerning an email related to Siemens and allegedly addressed to main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, the spokesman said the rumors and leaks should be handled with the proper seriousness and caution. He stressed that the parliamentary investigation committees have their own way of operation, adding that they can and are obligated to investigate everything.
 Magistrates summoned over mystery e-mail in Siemens investigationSupreme Court Prosecutor Ioannis Tentes on Wednesday called the two appeals court examining magistrates handling the Siemens case to his office, to explain Tuesday's snarl-up over a document allegedly missing from the file sent to the Parliamentary committee conducting an investigation into the Siemens scandal.
The Parliamentary examination committee had been cast into an uproar by weekend press reports referring to a mystery e-mail sent to pharma industrialist Marios Katsikas, which had initially been construed to be about a payment to a minister in the New Democracy government. The same press reports revealed that the entire affair was later proved a case of being "lost in translation", and that the "cabinet man" referred to in the e-mail was not a member of the 2008 Greek government but a maker of kitchen cabinets ordered by Katsikas.
The e-mail refers to a payment in two installments, of 12,000 dollars each, while the company Built-it Ltd that is mentioned has been confirmed by the U.S. authority against money-laundering FINCEN to be a legitimate company that has had no dealings with Siemens nor been involved in any kind of bribery case.
The magistrates Maria Nikolakea and Ioannis Fiorakis assured Tentes that the e-mail in question had been included in the file on the case and a copy was sent to Parliament, numbered by Nikolakeas in person.
 Draft law eyes major reforms in Nat'l Health SystemHealth Minister Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou presented the key points of reforms in the National Health System (NHS), speaking at a press conference on Wednesday.
The relevant draft law will be made public within 10 days.
Xenoyiannakopoulou said hospitals will be open on an all-day basis and physicians will be paid overtime, thus being able to increase their income. As regards primary healthcare, she said all Social Insurance Foundation (IKA) medical care units will be incorporated into NHS.
A special office for the public will operate in each hospital to record any complaints made and forward them to the health ministry.
Medical school professors employed in public hospitals will be given an eight-month deadline to close their private practices or leave the public sector.
The electronic prescription practice will go into effect at all public hospitals in the second half of 2010, while all private clinics with a capacity of more than 60 beds will be obliged to have their own pharmacy or collaboration with social insurance funds will cease.
 Nationwide media strike on ThursdayA nationwide media strike has been called for Thursday, in protest to the changes to the social security system being advanced by the government and in demand of the safeguarding of labor rights and the signing of "dignified" collective labor agreements.
ANA-MPA will be taking part in the strike, which begins at 6:00 a.m. Thursday to 6:00 a.m. Friday, during which no news or other items will be broadcast or dispatched.
Journalists in Athens will hold a demonstration outside the Athens Journalists Union (ESIEA) building in downtown Athens, followed by a march to parliament.
 Greek exporters call for government support measuresThe Panhellenic Federation of Exporters on Wednesday urged the government to adopt measures to boost production, competitiveness, green development, employment and exports, along with measures to cut the country's fiscal deficit.
Addressing a general assembly of the Federation, its president Christina Sakellaridi stressed that a positive turn of export trends in the last few months was the result of efforts made by the business community and mainly an improved climate in global economy, which gradually and slowly emerges from the deep recession of 2008-2009.
Sakellaridi stressed that delays in resolving even the simplest bureaucratic issues burdened export business last year, with exports dropping 17.5 pct to 14.4 billion euros, to 2005 levels. "In other words, in just 12 months we lost all our gains over the last five years. We can't afford any more losses," she said.
The head of the Panhellenic Federation of Exporters called for a re-orientation of the country's productive model, with new innovative products promoted through modern, direct practices aimed at specific markets, while she stressed that green development, energy and renewable energy technology have a growth prospect of more than one decade.
 OTE a partner in bear gene pool projectThe Greek phone company Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and the brown bear animal conservation organisation Kallisto on Wednesday announced that they were extending a cooperative project to map the bear's gene pool to the region of Pindos and Valia Kalda.
The project uses the genetic code to monitor the bear population and was begun by Kallisto and OTE in 2009 on the mountains of Rodopi. Essentially, it takes advantage of the bear's preference for the wooden telephone poles used by OTE as scratching posts, due to the rich smell exuded by the material used to preserve the posts.
The organisations uses hairs collected at the telephone posts to carry out DNA analysis, thus identifying the genetic ID, sex and family relations between individuals and the rest of the bear population, as well as relations between different bear populations.
Its advantage is that it allows scientists to track and monitor the bears with a minimum disruption for the animals themselves.
 Public transport strike in Athens on ThursdayPublic transport workers will hold a 24-hour strike on Thursday.
The commuter strike includes urban buses, trolleys, trams, the ISAP electric trains and the Athens Metro.
The only transport means that will be running is the Proastiakos suburban railway.
 Court employees announce 2-day strikeCourt judges and prosecutors held rallies on Wednesday outside the First Instance Court buildings in Athens and Thessaloniki expressing "discontent for the unfavorable economic measures adopted by the government targeting their sector".
The protesting judicial employees also warned that their mobilisations will escalate if the government does not bow to their demands.
Meanwhile, a coordinating committee of the notary public associations decided to call a two-day strike on Thursday, June 3 and Friday, June 4 demanding that sector representatives participate in the dialogue on the social insurance draft law to ensure that no pension rights will be affected.
 Greek-Turkish chamber hosts tourism con'fThe Greek-Turkish Chamber of Commerce will host a three-party conference on tourism with the participation of tour operators and agencies from Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
The conference will take place in Halkidiki, northern Greece, on June 4-6 and focus on the establishment of joint ventures aimed at promoting two and three-week vacation packages in each of the participating countries.
An emphasis will be given to summer and winter tourism, and to medical and pilgrimage tourism.
 EFG Eurobank Insurance reports improved Q1 resultsEFG Eurobank Insurance on Wednesday reported a 33.6-pct increase in its premium production to 89.5 million euros in the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009 and said pre-tax profits rose 24.4 pct to 16.8 million euros.
The company said equity capital significantly surpassed necessary credibility rates. EFG Eurobank Insurance said premium production in life insurance contracts totaled 69.1 million euros, up 34.1 pct from last year, while pre-tax profits rose 8.1 pct to 11.8 million euros.
General insurance premium production rose 31.9 pct to 20.5 million euros in the January-March period, while pre-tax profits totaled 5.0 million euros, up 91.2 pct from 2009.
Finally production by its brokerage business totaled 9.6 million euros and pre-tax profits rose 2.0 pct to 400,000 euros in the first three months of the year.
 Stocks end moderately upStocks ended moderately higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, with investors reacting cautiously positively to a government's announcement of an ambitious privatisation programme.
The composite index rose 0.67 pct to end at 1,537.82 points, off the day's highs.
Turnover remained a low 100.888 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index rose 0.63 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.71 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 0.92 pct. The Health (3.32 pct) and Media (3.39 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Financial Services (1.03 pct) and Personal Products (0.12 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 92 to 65 with another 60 issues unchanged.
Texapret (11.11 pct), Technical Publications (10 pct) and Nakas (9.76 pct) were top gainers, while HOL (10.20 pct), Elfico (9.33 pct) and NEL (9.09 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.54%
Personal & Household: -0.12%
Raw Materials: +0.39%
Travel & Leisure: +1.09%
Food & Beverages: +0.83%
Financial Services: -1.03%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Informer, DEH and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.41
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.78
HBC Coca Cola: 18.71
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.60
National Bank of Greece: 10.06
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.91
Bank of Piraeus: 4.04
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market shrank to 50 million euros on Wednesday, of which 41 million euros were sell orders and the remaining 9.0 million were buy orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 19, 2019) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 8.0 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year benchmark bonds widened to 545 basis points, from 526 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 8.10 pct and the German Bund 2.65 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved higher. The 12-month rate was 1.06 pct, the six-month rate 1.10 pct, the three-month 1.10 pct and the one-month rate 1.05 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -1.11 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a record low 29.709 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 6,298 contracts, worth 23.650 million euros, with 25,828 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 13,754 contracts worth 6.059 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,150), followed by Eurobank (1,218), MIG (1,611), OTE (313), Piraeus Bank (821), Alpha Bank (1,236), Marfin Popular Bank (1,099), Cyprus Bank (389) and ATEbank (2,068).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.231
Pound sterling 0.840
Danish kroner 7.499
Swedish kroner 9.643
Japanese yen 113.26
Swiss franc 1.426
Norwegian kroner 7.985
Canadian dollar 1.295
Australian dollar 1.475
 Fate of Greece's toxic wastes largely unknown, experts chargeThe fate of an estimated 350,000-650,000 tonnes of toxic wastes generated each year by Greek industry is largely unknown, with little information on the exact quantities produced or where these end up, experts said on Wednesday during a seminar organised by Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) to mark World Environment Day on June 5.
According to environmental scientists, some 20 companies are largely responsible for producing the majority of the country's output of toxic wastes but current waste management systems made it impossible to estimate the precise quantities produced each year nor determine how these and the quantities of previous years had been disposed. Essentially, current practices meant that these were ending up on people's plates, in their water, in the food chain and the air, they said.
Greece's recent conviction in September 2009 by the European Court of Justice for the managements of hazardous wastes indicated the size of the problem, they added.
Speaking on behalf of the environment ministry, General Inspector for the Environment Panagiotis Merkos noted that hazardous wastes were daily being deposited in Attica landfill sites with the knowledge of local authorities, as well as being dumped in streams and on mountain sides, even land used for organic farming.
He also cited evidence of a dangerous 'laundering' o toxic wastes by creating 'fuel cocktails' - a practice that he described as "an environmental and financial crime".
Another practice he referred to was the import of toxic wastes across the border to be dumped in Greece from neighbouring countries.
Environment scientist Christina Theohari revealed that only 0.7 or 0.8 percent of locally produced toxic wastes was sent for processing in installations in Germany, Belgium, France and the UK. The management of the remaining 330,000 tonnes (which some estimates raised to nearer 650,000 tonnes), was essentially uncontrolled and the companies producing them spent little or nothing on processing them, boosting their own profits at the expense of the environment and the rest of society.
Citing figures collected by the environment ministry in 2004, which are considered incomplete, Theohari said that just 20 industrial units were considered to produce between 85-90 percent of the total annual output of hazardous wastes and these were mining firms, oil refineries, manufacturers of oil-based products, or producers of fertilizers and related chemical products.
Theohari stressed the need for an integrated system for managing such wastes.
 Greece the most popular tourism destination for Serbian vacationersGreece remains the most popular tourist destination for Serbian holiday makers, according to figures provided recently by the Serbian National Association of Travel Agencies (YUTA).
A survey showed that 59 pct prefer Greece for their summer holidays, followed by Spain (13 pct), Turkey (10 pct), Egypt (8 pct) and Montenegro (3 pct). Croatia, which used to be the most popular tourist destination for Serbian tourists, received only 1 pct.
According to the survey, Serbian tourists regard Greece as a safe and inexpensive destination.
This summer season, a majority of Serbian visitors said they will spend their vacation in Halkidiki, northern Greece, while amongst the other most popular destinations are the islands of Corfu in the Ionian Sea and Thassos in the northern Aegean.
 Illegal fencing on Agios Kosmas beach to be removed by June 20Illegal barriers and fences blocking access to Agios Kosmas beach southeast of Athens are to be removed within the month by two teams of workers from the Attica Region authority, the environment ministry announced on Wednesday. The removal of the fencing is part of a project to grant access to the 1.8-kilometre beach front from the former Fantasia night club to Akrotiri and Ippokambos.
The ministry said that the two teams will work simultaneously so that the removal of all fencing and obstacles up to Akrotiri will be completed by June 15 and to Ippokambos by June 20.
"The aim of the environment ministry is to convert the beach front to a living landscape without obstacles and unauthorised structures," the announcement said.
 Thieves target historic 11th century monastery in south AlbaniaUnknown suspects broke into a church at the Douviani Monastery compound in the Kato (Lower) Dropoli district of Gjirokastr prefecture in southern Albania and reportedly removed an old wooden cross, icons, as well as an old embroidered cloth considered of significant cultural and historical value.
Part of church's iconostasis (the screen decorated with icons that divides the sanctuary from the nave of an Eastern Orthodox church) was also destroyed.
This was the fourth time the monastery has been targeted by thieves and vandals.
A second church in the same village was also broken into but nothing was removed.
The monastery is dated to the middle Byzantine Era, circa 1089.
 City of Athens programme for recycling cooking oilsThe City of Athens on Wednesday announced the launch of a municipality programme for th recycling of used cooking oils and animal fats, timed to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5.
It plans to set up a network for the supervised collection of cooking oils (frying oils) from restaurants, food production units and households, in collaboration with a recycling company that will provide households and other establishments with containers for the collection of cooking oils at no cost. When these containers are filled, they will be replaced with new ones and the oils forwarded for recycling.
"This City of Athens initiative involves two innovative elements: It aims to collect edible oil waste, including that of households and, at the same time, donate funds to public benefit foundations and organizations, more specifically, 50 euros for every tonne of oil collected.
We believe that Athens' environmentally-aware citizens will respond positively to this effort and participate in the programme," said Deputy Mayor for Waste Management and Environment Yiorgos Dimopoulos.
The collection of edible cooking oils is considered imperative as it helps safeguard the environment and enables the reuse of waste in the correct manner, as foreseen by European and Greek law.
This type of waste creates enormous problems for the environment as cooking oils are frequently disposed of via drainage systems, which leads to the blocking of pipes and the sewer system, or in garbage bins, from which it spills out onto street pavements. A portion of used cooking oils is even used to produce animal feed, although this practice violates European regulation EC 1774/2002 (ABPR) concerning the safeguarding of animal health and the food chain.
Indicatively, a litre of oil can pollute one million litres of water, an amount that can cover the water needs of one person for some 14 years.
The correct use and reuse of these oils involves their conversion into soap products, while today's advancements in science and technology have led to their use in the production of bio-fuels.
 Ostrich breeding farm in SerresWhen Yannis Achlatlis moved back to Greece 15 years ago from Sweden, he brought with him the knowhow he had acquired working on an ostrich breeding farm in the Scandinavian country, he set up one of the first such farms here outside the village of Pentapolis in Serres, northern Greece, just 15 kilometers from the prefectural capital of the same name.
Since then, the venture has evolved into a profitable family business, the "Macedonian Ostrich Farm", located on a 10-acre expanse of land, which Achlatlis has designed to resemble the ostrich's natural environment as closely as possible.
The specific type of ostrich bred on his farm is very resilient to adverse weather conditions, able of tolerating temperatures ranging from -15 to +45 degrees centigrade, although the hatchlings are vulnerable to humidity when very young, Achlatlis tells ANA-MPA.
He notes that the some free-range adult 500 birds move freely in the fenced-in expanse, but the hatchlings are initially kept and cared for in specially-designed spaces.
Greeks have slowly started to develop a palate for ostrich eggs, which weigh approximately as much as 20 eggs from hens, but ostrich meat, which is very healthy as it contains no fat, is not widely used in Greece, mainly because of its price, Achlatlis says, although, he adds, some well--known restaurants in Athens and Thessaloniki offer ostrich meat dishes as a specialty.
Noting that six years ago there were more than 120 ostrich breeding farms in Greece, today only a handful survive, he says, attributing this to insufficient information to the consumers on the health benefits of ostrich meat.
The few ostrich breeding units still in operation today in Greece are scattered in Serres, Arcadia, Laconia, Argolis, Achaia, Aetoloakarnania, Viotia, Larissa, Veria and Trikala.
 Cyclist attempts to cover 1,600km non stopChampion cyclist Stelios Vaskos from Trikala (central Greece) will start on Thursday his attempt to cover 1,600 km non stop with his bicycle. The cyclist will set out at 12 noon from Trikala and to finish the round trip back to Trikala on Saturday 5 June at 7:30 in the evening. Vaskos will pass through the cities of Grevena and Thessaloniki, the Bulgarian cities Sofia, Plovdiv and Edirne and back.
"I am aware of the difficulties I will face and need a good tempo, and must also face the risk of hypoglycemia and dehydration. I am optimistic that this time I will be able to achieve my target," stated Vaskos
 Food delivery employee found dead in AthensÁ Pakistani food delivery employee was found murdered beside his motorcycle early Wednesday in the Athens district of Aghios Panteleimonas. The victim had been shot at the chest.
According to police, the Pakistani was not working at the time of the attack, while cash was also found on the corpse. Police are conducting an investigation into the reasons of the murder.
 Man, deep in debt, sets himself ablaze in bankA man roughly 50 years old set himself on fire in a bank in central Thessaloniki early on Wednesday afternoon. According to reports, he was facing severe financial problems and was a customer at the specific branch.
Witness accounts said that the man suddenly poured petrol over himself and set himself alight in front of the terrified bank employees, who rushed to get out of the bank.
The fire brigade was immediately called to the scene and managed to quickly put out the man's blazing clothes before he was fatally burnt, as well as a small fire that had started in the interior of the bank.
The would-be suicide was rushed to Thessaloniki Ippokration hospital to be given first aid.
 Two fires reported in CorinthTwo wildfires broke out on Wednesday in the prefecture of Corinth, one at the location Kyra Vrysi in Loutraki and a second in farmland near the village of Examilia.
The first fire was reported at 12:08 and is now partially under control as it burns through an expanse of meadow and trees, with a strong fire-fighting force from Corinth, Kiato, Nafplion and Argos sent to put out the flames.
The second started at 13:20 and burnt an expanse of farmland before it was placed under complete control.
Also participating in the effort to put out the two fires were two Canadair water-bombing aircraft.
 Rainy on ThursdayRainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-5 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 11C and 28C. Slightly cloudy with possible rain in Athens, with southerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 17C to 28C. Cloudy with local showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 15C to 24C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe changes in the pension system and social security system in general, the international community's demand for the immediate release of the humanitarian aid flotilla activists detained in Israel, the dialogue on labour relations, and the Siemens slush funds scandal, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Ruling PASOK's unbelievable fiasco in the Siemens kickbacks".
APOGEVMATINI: "PASOK responsible for the confusion in the parliamentary fact-finding commission on the Siemens affair".
AVGHI: "PASOK and main opposition New Democracy (ND) are attempting to keep their former governments' prime ministers out of the investigation".
AVRIANI: "The people are laughing with the fact-finding commission's unbelievable gaffes".
ELEFTHEROS: "All the cutbacks in benefits, incomes and bonuses in public sector and public utilities effective as of June 1".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Chairman of the fact-finding commission on Siemens, former PASOK minister and MP Sifis Valyrakis, is the mastermind of the political conspiracy".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Black money behind the fiasco".
ESTIA: "The economy is collapsing - The repercussions of the tax hunt".
ETHNOS: "Shock in Maximos mansion (government headquarters) over the pensions - Prime Minister George Papandreou takes over the deliberations with the troika (EU-ECB-IMF)".
IMERISSIA: "The crisis brings the market to its knees - Enterprises in state of siege".
KATHIMERINI: "Social security system tailor-made for IMF and EU".
LOGOS: "MPs' telephones tapped".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Talks on salary freezes begin".
NIKI: "Mergers save the bank deposits".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Pensions become a thing of the past, and are being replaced by a penury benefit".
TA NEA: "Pension 'sealed' at 40 years of work, with retirement age at 60 - Dramatic decisions for the new social security system".
TO VIMA: "Thriller with the IMF over the pensions of poverty - The memorandum brings turmoil in government".
VRADYNI: "Barbarous changes with the pension system - The troika (EU, IMF, ECB) pressures the government to cut the pension in half".
 Community leaders meet Thursday to discuss property issueNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu hold tomorrow their second meeting in the framework of direct negotiations, aiming to solve the Cyprus problem.
The property issue is expected to be the main item on the agenda. The meeting will begin at 1000 am local time (0700 GMT) at the specially designed venue at the now defunct Nicosia airport, which is currently under UN control.
Negotiations resumed on 26th of May after a short recess due to the "elections" in Cyprus' northern Turkish occupied areas, which resulted in the rise of Dervis Eroglu at the helm of the Turkish Cypriot community.
During the first meeting between the two leaders, UN Secretary General's Special Adviser Alexander Downer conveyed towards Christofias and Eroglu a message of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon on the resumption of Cyprus talks.
In statements after the meeting, Downer said that the leaders "began to discuss the property issue".
He also said that "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". In his message the UN SG warmly welcomed both delegations back to the negotiation table.
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.
 Peace will be the key of Pope's trip to CyprusNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Director of the Vatican's press office Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi has said that ''peace will be the key'' of the trip of Pope Benedict XVI to Cyprus, the first by any Pope to the island and Pope Benedict's first to a mainly Orthodox country.
Speaking at a press conference on the official visit of the Pontiff to Cyprus, from June 4 to 6, Lombardi said the island was a crossroads of cultures and religions.
Lombardi noted that the visit will emphasise unity among Christian churches, adding that Cyprus' Orthodox Church ''has good and strong relations'' with its much larger Russian counterpart.
Commenting on reactions amongst clerics in Cyprus, Lombardi dismissed the opposition as ''marginal.''
''I don't think that this will have much effect on the overall climate of the trip, which will certainly be very warm,'' he said.
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