|Friday, 23 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-06-10
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 10 June 2010 Issue No: 3513
 Greece, Libya sign strategic economic cooperation agreementTRIPOLI (ANA-MPA/V. Mourtis)
A strategic economic cooperation agreement between Greece and Libya was signed here on Wednesday afternoon.
Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi spoke of a historic day, while he said that the instruction given by Libyan leader Muamamar Kadhafi is for Libya's economic relations with Greece to develop in every way. On his part, Papandreou spoke of a clear message and the revival of an old relation between the two countries that had begun by late Andreas Papandreou and Muammar Kadhafi.
It was announced that the agreement is included in a memorandum that was signed on the part of Greece by Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and on the Libyan side by the Economy and Planning minister.
The main sectors included in the cooperation memorandum are telecommunications, transportation, energy, tourism, farm products, archaeology, the construction of infrastructure works, mainly port works, real estate, pharmaceutical industries, health and education.
Both sides set tight time limits for the implementation of the agreement and the first assessment of its implementation will take place in three months.
A special work group was also created that will monitor the course of the entire cooperation and for which the Libyan prime minister expressed his government's desire for it to turn from a strategic cooperation agreement into a partnership relation.
 PM Papandreou meets Libyan leader KadhafiTRIPOLI (ANA-MPA/V. Mourtis)
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday held a two-hour meeting here with Muammar Kadhafi, something unusual for the Libyan leader. As Papandreou told Greek reporters afterwards, the meeting had its political aspect as well as its emotional human dimension.
The Greek premier said that they had the opportunity of referring to the past, remembering the beginning of relations which is due to late Andreas Papandreou and Muammar Kadhafi, as well as the Libyan leader's surprise visit and that of late Fancois Mitterrand to Elounda in Crete where Andreas Papandreou had invited them.
As regards the political part, talks focused on issues concerning political developments in the wider region and on Libya's role in Africa, since Libya can constitute a gateway to the "black continent."
Also discussed were the Palestinian problem, the Cyprus issue combined with the efforts of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, Greek-Turkish relations and the crisis surrounding the Gaza Strip and how ways can be found to promote humanitarian aid.
 PM Papandreou on Greek-Libyan relationsTRIPOLI (ANA-MPA/V. Mourtis)
Prime Minister George Papandreou said on Wednesday that the old good relation between Greece and Libya is being revived with the signing here on Wednesday afternoon of the strategic economic cooperation memorandum between the two countries.
Relations between Greece and Libya were always friendly but economc relations between the two countries receded visibly over the past period, he said. Now, however, as Papandreou added, cooperation between the two countries goes on to new bases and has very good prospects.
The climate during Papandreou's visit to Libya was termed as cordial and both sides expressed the strong desire for the further development of bilateral relations.
As Libyan Prime Minister Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi said, the memorandum, which was signed earlier in the day, will constitute the road map for the two countries' future cooperation that will concern many sectors. Mahmoudi said that on the part of Libya there is a desire for an increase in the volume of common investments, cooperation in the sectors of health and education, an increase in tourist movement between the two countries, cooperation in the sectors of energy and transportation, the simplification of procedures for the issuing of visas and the avoidance of double taxation. He predicted that in the next three months great mobility will exist in Greek-Libyan relations.
Libya also expresses interest on the participation of Greek companies in a huge programme of projects that has started and as Mahmoudi said his country has about 200 billion dollars to provide for investments. He added that the participation of Greek companies can benefit from this, while on his part he said that the Greeks who would want to work in Libya will have priority in all sectors. He further pointed out that Libya through scholarships wants to send young people to Greece for studies.
The Libyan prime minister referred in particular to the issue of energy and announced that a contract has been signed for the submerging of an optical fibre cable for the development of telecommunications, a project that, as he said, will be implemented soon by Greek companies.
On his part, Papandreou confirmed all that his counterpart said, underlining the new momentum that Greek-Libyan relations are now acquiring. Referring in particular to the energy sector, he said that the memorandum also anticipates the construction of a natural gas pipeline that will follow the Libya, Crete, Peloponnese, Astakos, Italy, Europe route. There can also be a similar pipeline for electric power as well. A corresponding route, for which Greece showed interest, could follow the cable that will transport electric power that will be produced in the Sahara from solar energy, a project that the European Union is also funding.
The Greek prime minister added certain other sectors of cooperation which are anticipated in the memorandum that was signed on Wednesday. They include cooperation in the monetary sector and contacts have already been made with the National Bank for cooperation in the sector of Libyan investments in Greece. Also anticipated is cooperation in the archaeological sector, tourism and the farming sector.
 PM Papandreou in Vienna on FridayVIENNA (ANA-MPA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou will be the main speaker at an official dinner on Friday with which the three-day sessions of the International Bank Federation's spring conference, which opened here on Wednesday, will be concluded.
Papandreou, who will be arriving in Viennna at the invitation of the German Deustche Bank's governor and president of the Institute of International Finance (IIF) Josef Ackermann, accompanied by Finance Minister George Papaconstantoniou, Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, will be holding talks at noon on Friday with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.
Papandreou and his entourage will then be attending a working luncheon given in his honour by Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer.
 Greek-Bulgarian police cooperation signedSOFIA (ANA-MPA / B. Borissov)
A cross-border police cooperation agreement was signed here on Wednesday by visiting Greek Citizens' Protection Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis and Bulgarian Interior Minister Cvetan Cvetanov.
The agreement is aimed at preventing public safety threats and combating cross-border organized crime through a framework of closer cooperation and information exchange.
Speaking to reporters, Chrysohoidis characterized the two countries as "strategic allies" and reaffirmed Greece's support to Bulgaria's bid to join the Schengen area.
He stated that after the recent inauguration of the Zlatograd-Thermes border crossing in Thrace, northeast Greece, by the prime ministers of Greece and Bulgaria "we will make sure that security will be guaranteed in the free movement of the people". He also underlined that organized crime is the biggest enemy of democracy and social peace and expressed satisfaction over the signing of the agreement.
Chryssohoidis praised the Bulgarian nationals living and working in Greece, stressing that they contribute to the economic development of Greece and Bulgaria, while underlining that they constitute a bridge of friendship between the two peoples.
On his part, Cvetanov characterized the talks with Chryssohoidis as "productive" and referred to the online communication between the Greek and Bulgarian police that will help in combating trafficking in humans and drug trafficking as well as any other form of cross-border organized crime. He also thanked Greece for its support to Bulgaria's bid to join the Schengen area in 2012.
The two ministers also commented on the problem of illegal immigration during a joint press conference after they signed the agreement, replying to press questions.
Cvetanov noted that this had been a central issue of the last European ministers' council in Brussels, where Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus had all supported a uniform position.
"You know that for eight years now there has been no solution to a most important problem with especial significance for this area. It concerns the non signature of the migrant readmission agreement between the EU and Turkey," he pointed out.
He said the three countries of southeast Europe had a shared position on this, along with Malta, since they were under the greatest 'pressure' from migrants arriving via Turkey.
The Greek minister, on his part, noted that the phenomenon had taken on the dimensions of a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people coming to Europe in the hope of a better future.
Given the current economic crisis, however, he warned that this phenomenon could well "torpedo" the foundations of European societies.
"We must speak plainly: the key is called 'Turkey'," Chrysohoidis underlined, pointing out that Greece has also signed a bilateral agreement with Turkey for the readmission of migrants, based on which it had submitted 80,000 applications for migrant readmission since 2001 of which only 2,500 had been accepted.
The Greek minister said that as long as southern European countries entered into reliable agreements with the Magreb countries, the majority of the migrant flow was channeled through Turkey. Once Bulgaria also joined the Schengen Treaty it would also find itself targeted as a transit country for migrants, he added.
Through the presence of FRONTEX forces on the land and in the air between the borders of Greece and Turkey, Europe was now aware of the situation and FRONTEX would soon acquire a base in Piraeus, Chrysohoidis said.
 Chryssohoidis met with Bulgarian PMGreece's Citizen Protection Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis met on Wednesday with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov within the framework of his one-day visit here.
Chryssohoidis said afterwards that he had a cordial meeting with PM Borissov focusing on regional peace and stability.
 Greece lodges demarche over Turkish airspace violationsThe Greek embassy in Ankara on Wednesday lodged a strong demarche with the Turkish foreign ministry, expressing Athens' extreme displeasure over an incident on Tuesday when a formation of Turkish fighter planes flew over a Greek Navy frigate from a very short distance in waters south of the island of Chios.
Diplomatic sources said that the Turkish government claimed ignorance of the incident and promised to investigate.
 ND on economy; parliamentary investigation committeesMain opposition New Democracy (ND) spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos stated Wednesday that the party's stance was vindicated by the statistical agency figures on the course of the GDP combined with other facts as well and urged the government to adopt measures aimed at boosting economic activity.
He announced that ND leader Antonis Samaras has launched a series of contacts with production sector representatives, adding that soon he will present a new package of updated development measures that can be implemented immediately without ushering in additional fiscal burden.
Panagiotopoulos said that in the meeting Samaras had with the Hellenic Bank Association he called on the banks to stand by the Greek people and help the small and medium size businesses.
As regards the rumors on Greece's exodus from the Eurozone, he said that they come from certain circles that have invested in this prospect, stressing that an end should be put to such scenarios.
He said that the country can overcome the crisis, stressing that Greece can be on the way to development only if appropriate measures are implemented.
"We call on the government to make the necessary steps in order to change the country's image abroad," Panagiotopoulos said, adding that in next week's European People's Party (EPP) summit the ND leader will have bilateral contacts toward this direction.
The ND spokesman welcomed the initiative undertaken by French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel to address a letter to European Commission President Barroso requesting stricter market monitoring and calling on him to suggest relevant measures by July.
On the Vatopedi state-Church land swap affair, Panagioto-poulos said that ND has made it clear that it will not interfere with the work of the parliamentary investigation committee.
As regards the Siemens bribery scandal and whether former PM Constantine Mitsotakis should be called to testify before the responsible parliamentary committee, he said that the decision belongs to the committee and not to the political parties.
 LAOS leader: 'no possibility of Greek default'Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis on Wednesday said that he ruled out the possibility of Greece defaulting, in statements concerning the state of the Greek economy.
"Most financial players worldwide are betting on our country's default but most governments, if not all, want the Hellenic Republic to continue. This includes America and Russia, of course Europe, China and the countries of the Middle East. There is, therefore, no danger of a default," he said.
While dismissing the rumours of a possible default, Karatzaferis urged the prime minister to set up a an 'ecumenical' government using individuals from other political areas, not only that of his own party.
"With just his own team, the country cannot have a guide to better days ahead of it," he said, accusing the government of "continuing to make mistakes upon mistakes".
Concerning his party's departure from the Parliamentary committee investigating the Siemens scandal, Karatzaferis termed this a "responsible political action" and indirectly accused the two big parties of attempting a cover-up.
"LAOS will return to the committee when there is a proper flow of information and not a 'cover-up' flow," he added.
 Renewalists split from SYRIZA parliamentary allianceFour MPs from the renewalist wing of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary alliance on Wednesday withdrew from the SYRIZA coalition, and declared themselves Independent MPs.
Up to now SYRIZA parliamentary rapporteur Fotis Kouvelis, Nikos Tsoukalis, Thanassis Leventis and Grigoris Psarianos submitted their resignations from the alliance during a meeting of the SYRIZA parliamentary group and sent a letter to parliament president Philippos Petsalnikos informing him of their decision and announcing that they will remain in parliament as Independent MPs.
Leventis will also submit his resignation from the post of parliament 7th vice-president.
A fifth renewalist, Dimitris Papadimoulis, will remain a SYRIZA MP.
SYRIZA parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras said later that the move was a negative development, adding that unity, not decimation, was necessary in periods of crisis.
He also said that a last-minute appeal had been made to the four renewalists to change their decision and not leave the alliance "which alters the popular mandate", but added that unfortunately "we were not heard".
Tsipras stressed that the SYRIZA parliamentary group will continue, with greater persistence both inside and outside parliament, to wage battles to counter the government's policy, and expressed hope that all will do likewise, noting that "this is perhaps a way for us to all meet again, together in the struggles".
 Former minister testifies in Siemens slush funds caseFormer PASOK government transport minister Tasos Mantelis testified for two hours on Wednesday before the Appeals Court Council regarding a prohibition passed on him from exiting the country following his recent admission to receiving money from Siemens as a "campaign donation".
Mantelis, who submitted to the Council a deposition, told reporters afterwards that he briefed the Council that his intention is to remain in Greece and, for that reason, he has voluntarily resigned from his job in Azerbaijan.
"It is my decision to stay in Greece and fight to prove my innocence of the dishonorable action of bribe-taking that has been attributed to me," Mantelis said.
According to the deposition, the charge against him of money laundering (legitimisation of income from illegal activity) concerns bribe-taking, and refers to a sum of 200,000 Deutschemarks deposited in 1998 in a Swiss bank account.
He also said that it was not certain that a second remittance (deposit in the same account) in 2000 was from Siemens but, in any event, it was also a campaign "sponsorship".
In his deposition, Mantelis further said that the statute of limitations has expired for the charge of bribe-taking but, in any event, it is not connected with the Hellenic Telecoms (OTE) program contracts signed in 1997, adding that, under a relevant 1996 law, program contracts were approved by an ad hoc committee of the Development ministry, followed by approval by the Transports ministry.
He continued that, via the ministry services, the transport minister's role was limited to checking the legality of the contracts and the minister did not have the right to negotiate or alter individual terms and conditions of the said contracts, which, he added, were approved by the OTE board of directors.
Mantelis further said to reporters that he reiterated to the Council his statement before the parliamentary fact-finding commission on the Siemens slush funds scandal that the accusations against him that he received a "kickback" of 10 million DM in 1997 is "completely false".
The Appeals Council is due to issue its decision by Friday. It is noted that appeals prosecutor Costas Hatzikos has asked for ratification of the prohibition from leaving the country, considering that the statue of limitations on the money-laundering charge has not expired.
 Education minister signs decision on College licensingEducation Minister Anna Diamantopoulou has signed the decision on the granting of operating licences to Postlyceum Educational Centres, as the so-called "Colleges" are now called.
The Education Ministry insists on the payment of a letter of guarantee that has already been set at 500,000 euros. Operating licences, following the necessary checks, will be provided by a special Ministry service.
 Public Administration Inspector presents 2009 report to ParliamentPublic Administration General Inspector Leandros Rakintzis on Wednesday submitted the 2009 report on the activities of the authority he heads up to Parliament President Philippos Rakintzis, who promised that Parliament will be "ruthless" with those found in breach of duty.
According to Rakintzis, the report fully reflects the problems dominating the public sector and the Greek state.
Petsalnikos emphasised the general desire for transparency and noted that the main aim was to prevent such phenomena. In order to ensure prevention, however, it had to be demonstrated that punishment would be severe, swift and ruthless for those that broke their vows and created problems.
 Parliament passes bill on energy efficiency in principleAn environment ministry draft bill on improving energy efficiency was passed in principle by Parliament on Wednesday, with the support of ruling PASOK and main opposition New Democracy. It was opposed by the left-wing parties while the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) did not vote.
"Our target is ambitious but realistic," stressed Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tinan Birbili, noting that there was a great margin in Greece for greater energy conservation.
"The rationalised use and saving of energy, coupled with a restructuring of production, is the first priority for the government in order to boost growth," she added.
Birbili said the government's target was the "20-20-20" policy, representing percentage reductions in emissions of pollutants, percentage energy conservation and the participation of renewable energy sources in energy consumption. She particularly emphasised the option given to small and medium-sized businesses to save energy by installing RES.
 Defence minister meets U.S. ambassadorNational Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday met U.S. Ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard in order to discuss defence cooperation between Greece and the U.S., as well as issues of NATO interest.
Venizelos will be representing Greece at the NATO defence ministers' council taking place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
 Thessaloniki Prefect announces candidacy in local administration electionsThessaloniki Prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis announced Wednesday that he will run in the next local administration elections and launched his candidacy for the office of the Central Macedonia Region, northern Greece.
In a press conference, he also said that he will address a letter to Prime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday informing him that he wishes to be a unifying candidate seeking the support of all political parties.
Psomiadis told reporters that he had no consultations with main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, underlining that he has "received the nomination directly from the people".
 FinMin: Reserved optimism on meeting econ targets, default rumors 'absurd'Finance minister George Papaconstantinou on Wednesday expressed "reserved optimism" that the Greek economy is totally in line with the targets that have been set out, noting that the second tranche of the EU-IMF support mechanism loan to Greece due in September "has been ensured", and also called recent speculation of an impending default by Greece as "absurd".
Speaking to reporters, Papaconstantinou said the bankruptcy rumors are an "absurd story", adding that the rumors and "terror-mongering" have two dimensions, the speculation dimension and the dimension of "how we function as a society", and appealed once again to the citizens to "not bite the bait in a groundless hysteria".
On progress in the execution of the budget, the minister said that the decline in the fiscal deficit in the first five months of the year was nearly 40 percent, given that revenues increased by more than 8 percent and expenditures were reduced by more than 10 percent, and noted that those figures have not yet included the reductions in public sector salaries and pensions, the new VAT increased and other revenue sources.
Replying to questions, Papaconstantinou said that 2010 will not be calculated in the upward revision of Greece's GDP (which will contain the deficit and debt as percentages), which has already commenced, adding that the government persists on its forecast of a 4 percent reduction in GDP this year.
In the coming weeks, he continued, the ministry's ad hoc Denationalisations Secretariat will present an action plan on the agenda approved by the informal council of ministers meeting. He said that concession was being mulled of the management of the Athens and Thessaloniki Water Boards (EYDAP and EYDATH), adding that he has not proposed that the Public Real Estate Organisation (KED) proceed with denationalisations, but only the merger of companies managing state property.
On the rise in inflation, he said there are profiteering and market control issues. "Obviously inflation worries us," he said, adding that there is a long-standing structural problem that needs to be solved with the opening of the markets.
He further said that a road show may be held in London in September for a presentation of the Greek economy.
Papaconstantinou said that a team of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) 'troika' is due in Athens on Monday, for a week-long visit, for a preliminary report (on execution of the budget, etc.), while the regular report is scheduled for end-July.
Also, the draft law on state expenditures (new system of budget drafting, automatic balancing of revenues and expenditures) will be tabled in parliament by the end of July, while the bill creating the Fiscal Stability Fund, which has currently been submitted to the ECB for observations, will be tabled by the end of June.
 Greek economy shrank by 2.5 pct in Q1The Greek economy shrank by 2.5 pct in the first quarter of 2010 reflecting a significant decline in investments and consumption in the country, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Wednesday. The statistics service, in a report, revised downwards its initial estimates for the country's Gross Domestic Product (2.3 pct), after shrinking by 1.0 pct in the first quarter of 2009 and by 2.0 pct last year as a whole. The country's Finance Minister George Papakonstantinou expects the country's GDP to shrink by 4.0 pct this year.
Gross investments on fixed capital fell 14.6 pct (16.7 pct on houses, 10 pct on machinery equipment and 29.3 pct on other constructions, while transport equipment recorded an 8.4 pct increase). Total consumption spending fell 0.7 pct (reflecting a 9.0 pct decline in public consumption and an 1.5 pct rise in private consumption), while exports fell 0.5 pct (exports of goods fell 3.9 pct, while exports of services rose 1.9 pct) and imports dropped 6.6 pct (imports of goods fell 11.1 pct and imports of services rose 10.7 pct). The country's trade deficit fell 15.8 pct in the January-March period, compared with the same period last year.
The statistics service said total Gross Added Value fell 3.2 pct in the first three months of the year, reflecting declines of 5.3 pct in manufacturing, 24.6 pct in construction, 1.9 pct in commerce and other services by 2.9 pct. Added value rose in farming (1.7 PCT) and financial services (0.2 pct). Wages fell 1.2 pct in the first quarter of 2010.
 Greek packaging sector hit by economic crisis, reportGreece's packaging sector recorded a significant decline in sales last year, hit by an international economic crisis, a survey by Hellastat SA said on Wednesday.
Reduced production by significant sector-customers (food, beverage, chemicals, building materials) had a negative impact on the packaging industry with several companies adopting cost-control measures, suffering from an economic recession, higher raw material prices and a conservative sales policy.
The packaging industry has invested heavily on automation but an economic recession reduced investment to renovation and extensive maintenance works in the last year. In Europe and Greece, the prevailing trend moves towards environmental-friendly packaging, replacing compatible products, despite the fact that these new products are costier and are not considered competitive in periods of economic crisis.
The most significant weakness of the market focuses on the limited domestic production of raw materials, leaving the industry dependent on imports and exposed to adverse price fluctuations.
Hellastat said a necessary precondition for the survival of the sector was promoting innovation through the research and development of new products, particularly environmental-friendly.
The industry reported an average 6.5 pct decline in the 2006-2009 period, while short-term bank debt rose by an average 5.5 pct and average net margin remained at a low 1.6 pct level.
The plastic packaging sector reported an average 10.9 pct decline in sales last year, although net profits grew 15 pct, with short-term bank debt remaining unchanged at 32 pct.
 ND tourism sector meetingMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party tourism sector chief Olga Kefaloyianni accused the government of "eight-month inertia and amateurish handlings in highlighting and promoting tourism," while speaking during a meeting of the tourism sector under party leader Antonis Samaras on Wednesday.
Kefaloyianni added that the non-existence of government policy will be paid for by the businessmen, those employed in tourism and the national economy and pointed out that tourism is the sector-vehicle for the exit from the crisis. She also said that professionalism and strategy are necessary and all must assume their responsibilities.
 Eurobank launches 1.2-bln-euro covered bond issueEurobank on Wednesday successfully issued two covered bond issues, worth 1.2 billion euros, as part of a strategy to boost its cash flow and secure funding of its development program.
The Greek bank issued its third series of covered bonds on Tuesday, worth 700 million euros, rated A3 by Moody's. The 12-month issue -with an option for one year extenstion- offers an one month Euribor rate plus 135 basis points. The bond is covered by the bank's mortgage loans in euro and Swiss francs.
On Wednesday, Eurobank issued its third covered bond, worth 500 million euros, rated A3 by Moody's. The 12-month issue -with an option for a one year extension- offers an ECB benchmark interest rates plus 135 basis points. The bond is covered by the bank's mortgage loans.
Eurobank has raised around 3.75 billion euros from a program of covered bond issues so far this year.
 Greek exports up 4.7 pct in AprilThe value of Greek exports rose 4.7 pct in April to 1.264 billion euros, from 1.207 billion euros in the same month last year, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Wednesday.
The statistics agency, in a report, said the value of imports fell 22.2 pct to 3.072 billion euros in April 2010, from 3.949 billion euros in the same month last year.
 Greek budget deficit down 34.76 pct in Jan-MayGreece's central government's cash deficit (net budget result including debt management accounts) fell 34.76 pct in the January-May period to 9.544 billion euros, from 14.628 billion euros in the corresponding period last year, the Bank of Greece said on Wednesday.
The central bank, in a report, said regular budget revenues rose to 19.897 billion euros in the five-month period, from 18.338 billion euros last year, while spending fell to 25.257 billion euros from 29.236 billion euros, over the same periods, respectively.
 Industrial production index down 5.1 pct in AprilGreek industrial production composite index fell 5.1 pct in April compared with the corresponding month last year, the National Statistical Authority said on Wednesday.
The statistics service, in a report, attributed this decline to a 3.7 pct increase in mining production, a 3.9 pct decline in manufacturing production, a 13.1 pct drop in electricity production and a 4.6 pct rise in water production in the month.
 Building activity off 20.2 pct in Jan-MarchBuilding activity (volume) in the private sector dropped 20.2 pct in the January-March period this year, compared with the corresponding period in 2009, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Wednesday, with only three regions reporting an increase in building volume (western Macedonia 54 pct, northern Aegean 25.4 pct and Ionian Islands 24.9 pct).
The number of building permits fell 2.8 pct in the first quarter of 2010. Building activity (volume), fell 36.3 pct in March, while the number of permits rose 3.6 pct in the month.
 Stocks rebound stronglyGreek stocks rebounded strongly in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, supported by a positive trend in other European markets. The composite index rose 3.76 pct to end at 1,461.83 points, with turnover at 110.670 million euros.
The FTSE 20 index rose 4.32 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 3.55 pct higher and the FTSE 80 index rose 1.79 pct. All sector indices ended higher with the Personal Products (5.59 pct) and Banks (5.34 pct) scoring the biggest percentage gains of the day.
Texapret (11.11 pct), Sarantis (10.79 pct) and Unibios (10 pct) were top gainers, while Atlantic (20 pct), Tegopoulos (13.95 pct) and Atticat (13.04 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 145 to 44 with another 42 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +4.47%
Personal & Household: +5.59%
Raw Materials: +5.13%
Travel & Leisure: +3.59%
Food & Beverages: +1.74%
Financial Services: +5.02%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Coca Cola and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.40
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.53
HBC Coca Cola: 17.04
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.85
National Bank of Greece: 9.65
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.78
Bank of Piraeus: 3.82
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 57 million euros on Wednesday, of which 31 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 26 million euros were sell orders. The five-year benchmark bond (August 20, 2015) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 15 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank slightly to 561 basis points from 565 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 8.16 pct and the German Bund 2.55 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month rate was 1.26 pct, the six-month rate 0.97 pct, the three-month rate 0.73 pct and the one-month rate 0.43 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -1.71 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover at 53.088 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 12,917 contracts worth 43.788 million euros, with 33,863 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 15,357 contracts worth 9.310 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (4,292), followed by Eurobank (2,091), MIG (881), OTE (1,086), Piraeus Bank (857), Alpha Bank (3,038), Cyprus Bank (569) and ATEbank (540).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.210
Pound sterling 0.832
Danish kroner 7.498
Swedish kroner 9.694
Japanese yen 110.87
Swiss franc 1.387
Norwegian kroner 8.017
Canadian dollar 1.262
Australian dollar 1.459
 Gov't eyes 'green wave' to speed tram journeysThe Infrastructure, Transport and Networks ministry on Wednesday revealed that it is mulling a plan that will give trams a 'green light' at all traffic lights. The plan is dubbed the 'green wave' and aims to reduce the length of journey times in order to make trams a more attractive form of transport for commuters.
A study conducted on behalf of Tram SA has shown that long journey times are the main drawback that discourages commuters from using the tram for their transport needs, since levels of satisfaction with punctuality, cleanliness, safety and other factors are high.
By abolishing the red lights on tram routes, journey times will be cut down by an average of 10-15 minutes on the main lines, so that the trip between Syntagma Square and the Peace and Friendship Stadium will take 40-50 minutes, the trip from Syntagma to Voula will be reduced from 65 minutes to 50 minutes and the journey from the PFS to Voula will go down to 35 minutes from the current 45.
The Athens trams have always operated at a significant loss. This was initially 6.4 million euros during the two-year pilot phase up until 2004, when the company employed just 156 people. This has since shot up to 155 million euros at the end of 2009, when the company employed 689 people.
According to Deputy Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Nikos Sifounakis, Public Administration General Inspector Leandros Rakintzis is currently investigating whether the additional staff were legally hired and his findings will be submitted to prosecuting authorities.
 New 'metropolitan' transport authority for AthensThe Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA) will be replaced by a Metropolitan Urban Transport Authority, Infrastructures, Transport and Networks Minister Dimitris Reppas announced Wednesday.
The goal of the endeavour will be to reduce the cost of operation, improve transport coordination and services and increase the number of passengers using public transport on a daily basis.
Under the new authority will be placed the Athens-Piraeus Electric Railways (ISAP), the tram and suburban railway, the metro, the ETHEL buses, the Athens-Piraeus Area Trolley Buses (ILPAP), part of Attiki Odos motorway, and the intercity buses (KTEL) operating within the limits of Attica.
The minister pointed out that ticket prices will not be raised in 2010.
 Turkey gives permission for annual mass in Panagia Soumela monasteryISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
Turkey gave a written permission for a mass to be held annually in Panagia Soumela Monastery in Trabzon province on Aug. 15 to celebrate the Dormition of Virgin Mary feast.
Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunai had informed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the decision on Monday evening at the inauguration of the Istanbul Festival held in Hagia Irini.
Bartholomew had requested permission to hold mass in the monastery that has been turned into a museum and has not operated as a Christian church since the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
 Bourazani Environmental Park, a veritable Garden of EdenThe Bourazani environmental park in Epirus is a veritable Garden of Eden, with 850 species of plants and trees, including 51 species of wild orchids, the biggest number in Europe in such a small expanse, 113 species of butterflies of the total 232 species in Greece and 430 in Europe, wild tulips, 172 species of birds, 17 species of reptiles, 12 sp3cies of fish in the waters of the Aoos River, and 22 species of libellulas, including the largest in Europe.
Organised tours to the park are booked daily in the afternoon hours.
The Environmental Park also contains a Wildlife park with deer, elks, boars and other wild animals.
 Student Ombudsman office in AUTHThe University Student Ombudsman operating in Thessaloniki's Aristotle University (AUTH) is a unique institution in Greece and has handled roughly 160 complaints since it was founded in March 2007.
The independent authority was established following an initiative by the university's administration and investigates disputes, mainly of an administrative nature, interpersonal relations and arbitrariness.
The University Student Ombudsman has received at total of 165 written complaints, 148 of which were settled immediately, 4 were forwarded to the Greek Ombudsman, 2 were settled in court and in 11 instances the process was interrupted at the initiative of the students.
 Eastern Languages and Culture CentreThe Eastern Languages and Culture Centre is beginning a series titled "Popular culture of the East" with works by anonymous creators that verbal tradition has saved until our times, as well as popular texts that are very popular among peoples of the East.
The series is inaugurated with stories by Nasreddin Hodja who, for centuries, entertains and teaches people in the East and West. The aim of the publication is for Greeks of a certain age to remember the grandmother or grandfather who brought them up with these stories, while the younger, knowing Hodja, to realise that humour also exists that, apart from entertainment, also provides thinking.
 Foreign model arrested, linked to international prostitution racketA 22-year-old Hungarian model was led before a public prosecutor on Wednesday, following her arrest by the Athens police vice squad the previous day for prostitution. Police say the girl is suspected of working for an international prostitution racket that booked sex appointments over the Internet.
Police said they had evidence that the girl was working on behalf of a pimping ring that offered sex appointments with models over the Internet for sums ranging from 250 euros to 1,000 euros. The 22-year-old told police that she had never met the people behind the ring, which has bases in Amsterdam, Moscow, Budapest and Prague, but deposited the earnings from her worldwide tours in a different bank account each time.
In the hotel room, police found and confiscated the sum of 3,100 euros, a large number of hand-written notes with the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of clients and the addresses and telephone numbers of various hotels around Europe.
Prostitution in Greece is only legal in brothels having permits, with women that are registered as prostitutes and pass regular medical examinations.
 Police break gang of purse and car thieves in AthensPolice in the central Athens district of Agios Panteleimonas on Wednesday said they had succeeded in breaking up a large gang of Algerian robbers behind a host of purse-snatchings and car thefts in the centre of Athens.
Eight Algerians were arrested as members of the gang on Monday, while another seven Algerians are being sought.
The gang's preferred targets were women on foot, while over its career they had robbed 41 pedestrians and broken into 102 vehicles.
They sold most of their loot in the areas of Omonia and Monastiraki and hid the rest in an apartment they rented on Maizonos Street.
During a raid of the apartment, police found a large number of electronic devices, computers, cell phones, cameras, watches, sunglasses, in addition to handbags, wallets, jewellery and other items. These are being held at the Agios Panteleimonas police station and will be returned to their legal owners if they are identified.
The eight men arrested were led before a public prosecutor.
 Four arrested on Rhodes for drug dealingPolice on Rhodes on Wednesday reported dismantling a drug dealing ring, arresting four people and confiscating 20 kilos of hashish found in their possession.
The four arrested were three residents of Rhodes and one Albanian.
 Pollution control planning exercise off AthensThe "TRIENA 2010" sea pollution control planning exercise was held in the sea off Hellinikon and the nearby coastline of Attica, southern Greece, on Wednesday.
The exercise was watched by the Coast Guard leadership and coastal shipping safety authorities and constituted a side event of "Posidonia 2010" international shipping exhibition.
 Cloudy on ThursdayCloudy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 2-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 13C and 33C. Slightly cloudy in Athens, with northerly 3-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 18C to 30C. Cloudy with possible rain in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 18C to 29C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe EU, IMF and ECB's satisfaction over the course of the state budget and Prime Minister George Papandreou's reassurance that the country is not heading to bankruptcy, the 5.4 percent increase in the CPI in May and the parliamentary fact-finding commissions' investigation on the Siemens and Vatopedi monastery scandals, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Contract employees in public sector to get permanent status".
APOGEVMATINI: "Speculators' game becomes more aggressive - Gambling on Greece's back, with speculation of return to drachma".
AVGHI: "Eurogroup decided to impose supervision not on the undisciplined but on the suspects".
AVRIANI: "CPI's skyrocketing brings price hikes - High prices have brought the people to their knees".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "Bilderberg Group: The black spider of humanity".
ELEFTHEROS: "People were hearing all night the machines at the Mint 'cutting' drachmas - Unbelievable orgy of rumors".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "New revelation on Vatopedi".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Front against the rumors - Do not believe mal-intentioned scenarios - Greece is safe".
ESTIA: "We must reverse the bankruptcy scenarios - The Greek economy can recover".
ETHNOS: "The investigation on Siemens slush funds a huge fiasco".
IMERISSIA: "Triple denial of rumors - Front against the rumors on the economy".
KATHIMERINI: "VAT and other taxes skyrocket the CPI to 5.4 percent in May".
LOGOS: "IMF pressures the European north...for more measures".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Recession and inflation an explosive mix".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Government-IMF/EU memorandum devastates the people".
TA NEA: "50 percent increase in real estate objective values".
TO VIMA: "Markets order 'euroausterity'."
VRADYNI: "The contradictions of the government's economic policy are disastrous".
 Spokesman says Eroglu violating understandingNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou has said that Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu is violating the understanding reached after a proposal by President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias to avoid public statements and a blame game concerning the Cyprus problem.
In statements on Wednesday, Stephanou noted that, if Eroglu did not question the agreed negotiating basis, talks for a Cyprus settlement could proceed, adding that the solution also depends on the quality of positions submitted at the negotiating table and the Turkish Cypriot side should remain consistent with the framework of the agreed basis.
''Of course, whether we reach a solution or not depends on the quality of positions submitted at the negotiating table and we call on the Turkish Cypriot community and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community to remain consistent with the framework of the agreed negotiating basis, which is the bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality, as described in relevant UN resolutions, for a single state with a single sovereignty, a single citizenship and a single international identity,'' he said.
Asked about the resolution on the report for the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Stephanou said the government had clear positions on this issue and was acting accordingly in view of the adoption of the resolution by the Security Council.
Replying to other questions, Stephanou said an international conference on the Cyprus problem would serve to discuss the international aspects of the problem, adding that such a conference should be under the auspices of the UN, with the participation of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the EU, the guarantor powers and the Republic of Cyprus.'
To questions concerning deadlines for a settlement, Stephanou said ''we have a clear position on this, we do not accept deadlines,'' adding that those suggesting deadlines should specify ''what and who the deadline aims at.''
''If they want a solution the soonest possible, then they should turn to the factor and the country that is the source of the Cyprus problem, and that is Turkey, its invasion and occupation that created and maintains the Cyprus problem. So, the solution of the Cyprus problem the soonest possible passes through exerting pressure on Turkey to review its stance and pave the way for a solution, and not turning against the victim, which is Cyprus and its people,'' he pointed out.
Referring to the town of Famagusta, which has been fenced-off since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island, Stephanou said the government of President Demetris Christofias has done more than any other government for Famagusta, and assured that efforts would continue.
He added that, after a letter sent by President Christofias to the EU member states, the EU officers and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, there is increased interest in the issue of Famagusta.
Asked if the change in government in the United Kingdom would affect the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, Stephanou said it would not, noting that on the contrary it served as guidance in relations between Cyprus and the UK, and in issues concerning the Cyprus problem.
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 Chinese official reaffirms support for Cyprus settlementNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Vice President of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Wang Gang has assured that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will do everything possible for a solution of the Cyprus problem.
Wang Gang, who is visiting Cyprus as head of a delegation of the Conference, was received on Wednesday in Nicosia by President of the House of Representatives Marios Garoyian.
During the meeting, Garoyian expressed satisfaction over the excellent relations between the two countries and their parliaments, adding that the political will existed for further strengthening those relations on all levels.
Garoyian also expressed gratitude to the Chinese government for its consistent and steadfast support to the struggle for a solution of the Cyprus problem and the reunification of the island.
He added that Cyprus supports China in fundamental issues and briefed the Chinese official on current developments in the Cyprus problem and talks to reach a settlement.
Wang Gang expressed gratitude to Garoyian for Cyprus' support to Chinese issues and, referring to the Cyprus problem, said a just solution must be found, based on principles and UN resolutions, adding that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will do everything possible for a solution of the Cyprus problem.
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