|Monday, 26 October 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-07-08
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 8 July 2010 Issue No: 3536
 House endorses in principle social security billThe Parliament ratified in principle on Wednesday night a landmark social security reform bill tabled by the government last week.
Addressing the parliamentary debate just before the voting, Prime Minister George Papandreou gave a 'personal guarantee" for the improvement of the terms of the social security bill after the Greek economy's exit from the crisis and supervision.
Highlighting the slogan "solidarity, viability, social justice" for the future social security system, Papandreou stressed that this initial intervention secures viability "even in today's difficult conditions."
The prime minister added that this means that "when our economy stands on its feet we shall be able to improve pensions and provide better services for working people, the insured, pensioners. Because this is our target. For this reason we explicitly predict the adjustment of the 800 euros bonus. I personally guarantee that this will happen when we overcome the crisis."
Papandreou explained that "we are experiencing the end of the clientele state. This government will finish off the clientele state."
He further said that the government had to make drastic interventions in the social security scheme even without the troika since, among other things, "without our intervention, the expenditure for pensions would reach 26 percent of GDP, that would mean that the system would be blown into the air and we would have a country that paid pensions and nothing else."
 Parliament debates social security billEmployment Minister Andreas Loverdos told Parliament on Thursday, during the debate on the social security bill, that "we are writing off a period of transitional artificial prosperity and we are securing the pensioners and the next generation, trying at the same time to bring Greece back through the monetary restructuring as well, to the path of growth, reliability and prosperity."
Loverdos also said that "if the country stands on its feet there shall be many possibilities for injustices, set as conditions by the lenders, to be lifted."
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party Parliamentary spokesman Costas Markopoulos said that the bill "constitutes the absolute demolition of the social state, the signed squandering of the country's resources."
Markopoulos also stressed that "we shall support certain articles, such as the reshaping of the heavy duty and unhygienic that are also on our programme."
ND's spokesman concluded that "those who supported the Memorandum also supported its consequences. I call on them to at least vote against those that were not in the Memo-randum."
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga included the measures on the social security issue "in the need of capital for cheap labour potential due to the capitalist crisis, a need that unavoidably degrades the capital reserves of funds." "You are crushing the social security scheme to have cheap labour potential," she accused the government.
Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis accused the two mainstream parties of "burdening Greece with debts" with the main responsibility being that of the government of Costas Karamanlis.
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras proposed the holding of a referendum for the social security bill in the framework of article 44 of the Constitution, while calling on the deputies, mainly of the majority, "to rise to the occasion during the vote and vote with their heart and conscience."
 Parliament vote resultThe Greek Parliament ratified in principle on Wednesday night a landmark social security reform bill tabled by the government last week. 289 out of the 300-member chamber participated in the vote, while voting in favour of the bill were 159 deputies of the ruling PASOK party and two independent deputies, while 137 deputies from the main opposition New Democracy (ND), the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA). Two independent deputies declared themselves present.
For the bill to become law it must be approved in a second vote expected on Thursday, the day when a general 24-hour strike has been organised by the main public and private sector unions against the reform.
 Samaras unveils ND strategy for exit from crisisMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Wednesday unveiled his party's strategy for Greece's exit from the economic crisis and its fastest possible disengagement from the terms and consequences of the Memorandum signed with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Unveiling the strategy during a press conference, Samaras lambasted the government, charging that with its mistakes and omissions it had brought the country to its present condition, and warned that implementation of the Memorandum will not bring the country out of the crisis, proposing instead a different mix of economic policy.
Samaras' proposal contains a series of measures, including the introduction of "offset measures to boost the economy" that will "neutralize the recessionist effects of the fiscal adjustment without burdening the process because they are of zero cost".
Such measures include unification of the state's collection mechanisms, balancing of debts to the State via a system of monthly clearing of debts, internal transfers in the public sector since hirings cannot be made, restructuring of the Hellenic Rail Organisation (OSE), individual cost accounting of the state hospitals, and electronic prescription writing.
He also proposed "supplementary offset measures" such as the "reinstatement of the major investments in renewable energy sources and link with the island".
Samaras said that, in addition to the offset measures, corrective measures are also necessary, namely "correction of the huge mistakes of the cutbacks, which have caused injustices", citing as an example the restoration of the low-pension owners' pensions. "This is our commitment and we will do this and, since we are bound by the Memorandum, we will make cuts elsewhere," he said.
Areas from which revenues can arise include a clamp-down on fuel smuggling, cuts in public sector ad hoc committees and councils, reduction of travel allowances in the public sector and payments and subsidies to legal entities.
All those cuts in codes contained in the state budget could save the country half a billion euros annually, Samaras said.
He further proposed a series of developmental measures, based chiefly on the exploitation of the state property. By exploitation, "we do not mean selling off the silver," Samaras explained. "It does not mean putting up monuments or places linked with our history or with our national security for sale," he added.
He elaborated that the State's real estate holdings have remained totally unexploited, and cited the state's Hellenic Properties S.A. which controls real estate properties valued at 272 billion euros in objective prices.
"If we give just a small part of all these real estate properties for exploitation in the form of long-term leasing, we could generate revenues of up to 5 billion euros annually," Samaras said.
Another way to generate revenues from the state property holdings is to lease them as tourist accommodations for high-income visitors, while development and exploitation of the country's ports and airports could also bring in high yields while at the same time spurring regional development.
Samaras further said that better planning and a clear-cut timetable are needed to advance an integrated program of denationalisations. "An estimated 50 billion euros can be generated over the next two years from the commercial exploitation of a small part of the state property and bold advancement of an integrated program of denationalisations.
Another category of measures is also necessary, to improve the psychological climate and spur development, he said.
"The most important of the immediate developmental measures is the repayment of the public sector's debts, the tax rebates to businesses, and the subsidies under the development law. This will give an immense liquidity breather to the market and the restoration will begin of the state's credibility," Samaras explained, adding that the debts could be repaid with the issue of state bonds that can be bought back before maturity by the banks and then refinanced by the European Central Bank (ECB)," he said.
Other measures in that category include the immediate advancement and ratification of an investment law containing strong tax incentives in order to strike a hard blow to illicit trade, "which kills trade".
Samaras further spoke of measures that "free the momentum of growth, but which are not allowed immediately by the Memorandum". Such measures include a reduction in taxes in all categories, beginning with indirect taxes and the VAT on fuel, and also taxes on incomes. "We can clamp down on tax evasion only if we reduce the tax rates," he said, adding that another measure could be "branch investments" in areas where the country has comparative advantages, such as tourism, shipping and manufacturing.
The ND leader proposed that the major investments come directly under the prime minister's office, and that the prime minister should have personal supervision of autonomous tourism and shipping ministries "which have been abolished by the current PASOK government".
"The path we propose is not one without sacrifices. It is a path with fewer sacrifices which, however, the economy and society can endure and will bring results," Samaras stressed.
The ND leader accused the PASOK government of "inflating the fiscal deficit to 13.6 percent of GDP", adding that "even with the most moderate estimations, the government's creative accounting caused an artificial increase in the deficit of 3.7 percentage points of GDP".
"If from the 13.6 percent that the overall deficit was in 2009 we subtract the 3.7 percent of the creative accounting, the deficit falls to 9.9 percent. Of that 9.9 percent, 3.2 percent is a cyclical deficit, meaning that it is due to the recession, while 6.7 percent is the structural deficit. The cyclical deficit will be reduced with measures for containing the recession, while the 6.7 percent, which is the structural deficit, is the beast that we must kill," said Samaras, who is an economist.
Continuing his criticism, Samaras said that the government has displayed lack of preparation and a serious operational plan to confront the crisis, ignored the warnings by Greek and foreign exports, presented a policy statement that contained benefits instead of cutbacks, thus sending erroneous and contradictory messages to the markets, thus hurting the country's credibility, and tried to coerce the country's European partners with the threat of resorting to the IMF, which boomeranged in the end.
Making an account of the implementation of the austerity measures so far, Samaras said that unemployment was rising and has already reached 11.7 percent, the recession was deepening and was estimated to reach approximately 4 percent in 2010, inflation was rising and has skyrocketed to 5.3 percent, and the psychology of the market has become paralaysed and society's sense of insecurity has intensified.
Samaras also said that the measures contained in the Memorandum will reduce the deficit by 2014, but they will also increase the state debt from the current 115 percent to 149 percent in that same period, whereas the measures proposed by ND, if implemented, will reduce the state debt to 110 percent with a zero or small deficit and growth as well.
 Gov't on ND leader; "Agrogi"Government spokesman George Petalotis referred to the main opposition New Democracy (ND) strategy for Greece's exit from the crisis unveiled by party leader Antonis Samaras on Wednesday.
Petalotis characterised Samaras' intervention as "extremely disappointing for the Greek people" and spoke of "economic theory lecture" on behalf of the ND leader.
Referring to allegedly illegal hirings at a state-run company "Agrogi" during the previous government's tenure, Petalotis stated that individuals hired illegally will be fired and will no longer be civil servants, adding that the specific case will be brought to justice.
 Deputy FM Kouvelis visiting WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis is on a two-day visit to Washington as of Wednesday. During his stay in the American capital, he will be meeting at the Greek embassy with members of the Hellenic Society, having a working breakfast with a columnist of the newspaper Washington Times and will be speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.
Kouvelis will also participate in a working luncheon hosted by Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez and will be meeting U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar .
On Friday he will be visiting the American Hellenic Institute and meeting with other U.S administration officials.
 Dep. FM Kouvelis interview with ANA-MPADeputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis underlined on Wednesday that during periods of economic crisis, economic diplomacy is called to play a supplementary and developmental role through the adoption of well-targeted action.
In an interview with the ANA-MPA, he referred to a recent meeting he had with Saudi Arabian businessmen on the occasion of a business forum in Athens, where he underlined the increased investment interest expressed by the Arab world. Kouvelis pointed out that their interest focused on infrastructures, constructions, environment and energy and added that in the immediate future, Greece intends to attract investments worth billions of dollars.
He cited a 3.5-billion-dollar energy investment at the harbour of Astakos of western Greece signed between Athens and Qatar milestone agreement, stressing that it is a "green technology" investment that will produce roughly 1,500 jobs.
The logistics centre in Thriasio was described by Kouvelis as very important project that will complete the work done in the port of Piraeus.
He underlined the need for a dynamic presence by Greece through the utilization of every opportunity available for regional cooperation. Referring to Greece's BSEC (Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization) Presidency until the end of the year, he stressed that the target is to achieve a common regional perspective.
As regards his recent visit to Moscow and Sochi, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, he said that the Greek side expressed strong interest in investments in the sectors of constructions, tourism and cruise ship tourism, underlining the mutual interest in cooperation for the preparation of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Referring to his meeting with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Plutarchos Sakellaris, he said that they discussed cooperation with Greece in the sectors of climate change, green development and energy. He also outlined the main goals of the Greek economic diplomacy in the immediate future with an emphasis on the regions of the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.
Kouvelis also stressed that there was a setback in the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline project following the statements made by the Bulgarian premier adding, however, that Greece remains firm in its intention to have the relevant plans materialized.
As regards the meeting held recently in Athens with the Azeri energy and industry minister, he said that the strong interest of the Azeri government in the promotion of bilateral cooperation on energy issues was confirmed, while both sides underlined the need to accelerate the construction of the ITGI pipeline (Turkey, Greece, Italy). He said that the meeting will serve as a basis for the preparation of the Joint Inter-ministerial Committee scheduled to meet in Baku within the next few months.
 Gov't on interim EU Commission report"The implementation of additional measures in 2010 is out of the question," government spokesman George Petalotis reiterated on Wednesday when asked about the recently released Interim European Commission Report.
"We have undertaken specific commitments in order to get out of the crisis and reduce deficit," he said, pointing out that "the report gives credit to the government praising it for its efforts while mentioning that the materialization course of the commitments undertaken to exit the crisis is very positive."
Petalotis added that "any remarks that may exist express the concern of our partners and no one can say that things are easy."
 Tsipras visits Court of AuditCoalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday met with the president of the Court of Audit George-Stavros Kourtis, who briefed him on the Court plenary's ruling on the government's social security and pensions bill and on the problems faced by the Court.
"We had the opportunity to be briefed by the President of the Court of Audit on the plenary's unanimous ruling that basic provisions of the social security bill (which is currently being debated in parliament and is slated for vote on Thursday night) violate the country's Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights," Tsipras told reporters afterwards.
"We believe that the government, today and tomorrow, is insisting on the advancement and ratification of a draft law that is unconstitutional and which, in every eventuality, even if it is passed, we believe will be overturned because, with the first executive act, there will be recourses which will invalidate the bill de facto".
"Beyond the destruction of the social state, we also have a blatant violation of the Constitution, which is a major problem of democracy in the country," Tsipras stressed.
He praised the Court of Audit for ruling on the issue with a sense of professional responsibility and above and beyond political expediencies, adding that the Greek Constitution is above the Memorandum signed with the EU and the IMF, and above the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
 Papoulias receives public administration general inspectorPresident Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received Public Administration General Inspector Leandros Rakintzis, who presented the head of state with his annual report.
Responding to a relevant question by Papoulias, Rakintzis stressed that "corruption in the public sector is reduced compared to last year".
 Assessment report on Greece regarding transparency issues, funding of political partiesPARIS (ANA-MPA/O. Tsipira)
The Council of Europe publicised on Wednesday the "Assessment Report on Greece regarding Transparency issues and the Funding of Political Parties."
The report constitutes the "third assessament cycle" which was carried out by GRECO (Groupe d'Etats contre la Corruption-Group of Countries against Corruption), a special body of the Council of Europe that watches the improvement of member-states on corruption issues.
"More transparency", "simplification of the very complicated legal framework", "abolition of the writeoff limits for exercising prosecution of former politicians or politicians in active service", are some of the Council of Europe's 27 recommendations in all to Greece.
GRECO will return in 2012 to check to what degree these recommendations were followed by the country.
 ANA-MPA services disrupted due to strikeANA-MPA services will be disrupted between 6 a.m. (04:00 GMT) Thursday, July 8 to 6 a.m. Friday, July 9 due to a 24-hour media strike in the country called by the Athens Journalists' Union (ESIEA).
 Economy shrinks 2.5Q in Q1BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / V. Demiris)
The Greek economy shrank by 1.0 pct in the first quarter of 2010, compared with the fourth quarter of 2009, Eurostat said on Wednesday. The EU executive's statistics agency, in its second estimates on GDP in the Eurozone and the EU-27, said Gross Domestic Product grew 0.2 pct in the Eurozone on a quarterly basis in the first quarter of 2010. On an annual basis, the Greek economy shrank by 2.5 pct in the January-March period, while in the Eurozone GDP grew by 0.6 pct and in EU-27 GDP grew by 0.5 pct.
 Construction of national motorways announced in Major Works Committee meetingThe newly-established Committee on Major Works held its first meeting on Wednesday, to be followed by a second one in 15 days. The meeting focused on the promotion of major projects and infrastructures, their inspection and course, as well as, on the solution of problems in co-financed projects as regards environmental studies or expropriations.
The committee comprised Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Dimitris Reppas, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, Economy, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Louka Katseli, Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and Minister of State Haris Pamboukis.
Reppas announced the construction of two major national motorway projects; the Elefsina-Thiva national motorway, linking the Athens-Lamia and Athens-Corinth national motorways and the underwater tunnel linking the Ionian Sea island of Lefkada with the nearby Greek mainland.
He also announced that the reform plan for Hellenic Railways (OSE) has already been forwarded to the Support Mechanism, underlining that it is ambitious and bold and will be made public soon.
 GNTO president: Debts being paid off, new promo initiativesGreek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) President Nikolas Kanellopoulos referred extensively to the initiatives undertaken by the culture and tourism ministry to reverse whatever negative images of Greece abroad over the recent period.
In an interview with ANA-MPA, he pointed out that the organization's debts to international mass media are being paid off systematically and gradually, thus contributing decisively to the restoration of lost credibility and the establishment of good relations with media outlets.
The GNTO president also referred to a Greek tourism promotion campaign focusing on "fam trips" held since mid May 2010, with the participation foreign journalists representing major markets including Germany, UK, Russia, Italy, France, Netherlands and the United States, as well as on the new communications policy adopted featuring the "You in Greece" promo video, filmed in Athens with testimonials of real people.
As regards GNTO, he said its services are being modernised, while its mission is being reconsidered to undertake the promotion of Greek tourism abroad.
 Inflation slows to 5.2pct in JuneGreek inflation slowed to 5.2 pct in June, from 5.4 pct in May, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said on Wednesday.
The independent statistics service, in its monthly report, said the consumer price index rose 5.2 pct in June, compared with the same month last year, after an increase of 0.5 pct recorded in the previous 12-month period. The CPI fell 0.3 pct in June from May 2010, after a decline of 0.1 pct recorded in the same period in 2009.
The statistics service attributed the 5.2 pct inflation rate in June to an 18.9 pct rise in alcohol and tobacco prices, a 2.4 pct increase in clothing/footwear, a 7.9 pct rise in housing prices, an 1.5 pct rise in durable goods prices, an 18.2 pct increase in transportation prices, a 3.7 pct rise in communications, a 3.0 pct increase in education prices, a 3.5 pct rise in hotel-bar-restaurant prices and a 5.1 pct increase in other goods and services. On the other hand, food and beverage prices fell 0.8 pct in June.
Greece's harmonized consumer price index was 5.2 pct in June, from 5.3 pct in May.
 24-hour nationwide strike on Thursday, July 8The greater Athens area will remain without public transport as of 6 a.m. on Thursday to 6 a.m. on Friday, since employees in public transport will be participating in the 24-hour strike called by the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) in protest for the changes included in the social security bill that is expected to be ratified by Parliament on Thursday.
Problems will also be faced by passengers choosing to travel by air on Thursday since dozens of flights are being cancelled and others are changing departure times due to the 4-hour work stoppage from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. announced by air traffic controllers, that means that Greek airspace will remain closed during this period.
Unions representing employees of the Athens metro also decided to join the strike, which will mostly affect the greater Athens and the public sector around the country.
 OECD: Greek unemployment to reach 12.1% in 2010Unemployment rate is projected to reach 12.1 pct this year and 14.3 pct in 2011, up from 9.5 pct in 2009, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced on Wednesday.
In its annual report on employment, presented by the Organisation's secretary-general Angel Gurria in Paris, the OECD said unemployment in the OECD area probably peaked last May, reaching 8.6 pct of the workforce, although Gurria stressed that despite signs of a recovery in most countries, the risk remains that millions of people will remain out of work. He noted that a simultaneous decline in unemployment and fiscal deficits was a difficult challenge and stressed that current unemployment rates were unacceptable. The report said 17 million new jobs must be created, for employment to return to its pre-crisis levels. In total, there are 47 million people unemployed in the OECD area.
Unemployment in Greece rose from 8.0 pct in December 2007 to 10.2 pct in December 2009. Including under-employed people and those not seeking jobs, the unemployment rate was estimated at 15.1 pct in Greece in the last quarter of 2009.
Employment in Greece is projected to fall by 2.8 pct this year and by 2.5 pct in 2011, after falling 1.1 pct in 2009, while in the OECD area, employment is projected to rise 0.2 pct this year, and by 1.0 pct in 2011 after falling 1.8 pct last year.
Labour productivity in Greece fell 0.9 pct in 2009 and it is projected to fall another 1.0 pct this year and stabilize in 2011.
 DSGI to invest 15 mln euros in GreeceDSGI Greece, a group including Dixons, Kotsovolos and Electroworld, on Wednesday unveiled an ambitious expansion program, envisaging investments of 15 million euros in the period 2010-2011.
Presenting the plan to reporters, Chris Matthews, DSGI's chief executive, said it was the group's response to a difficult period for the country and the electric appliances' sector.
DSGI will invest in upgrading its existing retail sales networks and enhancing its presence in the Internet. Under the plan, DSGI has already transformed nine shops under the brand name Kotsovolos into new modern shops. Part of the plan also includes Electroworld, which will be transformed into a digital brand, with a new upgraded site on the Internet offering online shopping. Electroworld's four shops in Athens will be put under the Kotsovolos brand name, while its two remaining shops, one in Athens and another in Thessaloniki, will be closed.
Chris Matthews said the management's ambition was to transform Electroworld into the top online shop in Greece and ensuring new, dynamic conditions to boost the profitability of Kotsovolos.
 N. Greece manufacturing sector shows decline in turnover, results for 2009Manufacturing businesses in northern Greece presented a negative picture both in turnover and results last year, compared with 2008, an annual report by the Federation of Northern Greece Industries (SBBE) stated on Wednesday.
The report, based on the balance sheets of 300 members of the federation, showed a dramatic decline in turnover, more than 14 pct on average in 2009, with three out of four enterprises suffering a decline in turnover. One in 10 enterprises said turnover fell by more than 50 pct.
The textiles, clothing/footwear, paper and wood products sectors suffered the heaviest turnover decline in the 2005-2009 period, the report showed.
Pre-tax profits fell by more than 14 pct last year, after a decline of more than 50 pct in 2008, with net profits falling by 43 pct in the five year period from 2005 to 2009.
SBBE said 6.3 pct of enterprises in the report reported losses more than 2.0 million euros, while 30 pct of the sample reported profits no more than 100,000 euros. Profit margin fell to 2.3 pct.
 Stocks end moderately lowerStocks ended moderately lower at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday as investors took profits after Tuesday's sharp advance. The composite index of the market eased 0.75 pct to end at 1,491.76 points, with turnover a low 71.041 million euros.
The Big Cap index fell 0.80 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.38 pct higher and the Small Cap index eased 0.52 pct. The Health (5.11 pct) and Utilities (1.41 pct) sectors scored gains, while Media (4.02 pct) and Food (2.43 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 83 to 61 with another 63 issues unchanged. SIDMA (10 pct), Unibios (10 pct) and Tzirakian (9.76 pct) were top gainers, while Alsinco (9.76 pct), Kordellou Bros (9.38 pct) and Moda Bagno (9.30 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.78%
Personal & Household: +0.25%
Raw Materials: +0.04%
Travel & Leisure: -0.11%
Food & Beverages: -2.43%
Financial Services: +0.44%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, DEH, OPAP and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.25
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.41
HBC Coca Cola: 18.04
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.94
National Bank of Greece: 9.10
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.12
Bank of Piraeus: 3.76
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market shrank to 16 million euros on Wednesday, of which 11 million euros were sell orders and the remaining 5.0 million were buy orders. The five-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 5.0 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was 764 basis points, with the Greek bond yielding 10.24 pct and the German Bund 2.60 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates fell further. The 12-month rate was 1.33 pct, the six-month rate 1.06 pct, the three-month 0.80 pct and the one-month rate 0.52 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe September contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.26 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover a low 26.618 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 6,508 contracts worth 22.821 million euros, with 22,128 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 6,354 contracts worth 3.797 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (1,522), followed by Eurobank (525), MIG (809), PPC (378), Piraeus Bank (257), Alpha Bank (543), Intracom (319), Intralot (330) and Metka (314).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.266
Pound sterling 0.838
Danish kroner 7.512
Swedish kroner 9.692
Japanese yen 110.44
Swiss franc 1.341
Norwegian kroner 8.165
Canadian dollar 1.341
Australian dollar 1.494
 PM attends launching of new Church NGOArchbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos on Wednesday unveiled a new Church-affiliated NGO under entitled "Apostoli", in the presence of Prime Minister George Papandreou, during a special ceremony held in the Old Parliament building.
Speaking during the event, the prime minister hailed the initiative taken by the Church and promised the state's assistance for its task in the framework of distinct roles, as he said.
Papandreou referred to the existing global crisis, poverty, unemployment and social problems, "all these that place us before our responsibilities."
Papandreou added that the Church and the state must cooperate, while agreeing with the archbishop that the crisis being experienced is also spiritual.
"Our country is experiencing difficult moments and we are waging a struggle at a difficult level, international and internal, we have the understanding of the people for us to proceed with steadfast steps, with changes and transparency," he concluded.
 Konitsa, the springboard for Mt. Smolikas, the Dragon Lake, and rafting in Aoos RiverThe town of Konitsa in Epirus, northwestern Greece, near the frontier with Albania, and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful border areas in the country.
Fanning out amphitheatrically on the slope of Mt. Smolikas, the second highest mountain in Greece after Mt. Olympos and the highest peak of the Pindos mountain range, and overlooking the valley where the Aoos and Voidomatis Rivers meet, Konitsa is an excellent starting point for visitors who want to explore the Pindos mountains, go rafting in the Aoos, or go parapenting (paraskiing).
One of the most beautiful alpine routes in Epirus is the round trip from Konitsa to the Vassilitsa ski center and back to Konitsa, which passes through the Aoos Gorge, the Smolikas Dragon Lake and through exceptional settlements of stone buildings and offers a majestic view of nearby Mt. Tymfi.
Konitsa is built according to the traditional style of Epirote architecture with stone buildings, old mansions dating from the period of the Ottoman rule, beautiful churches and monasteries, cobbled roads, stone fountains, traditional stone bridges and countless cultural monuments, in an absolute harmonization of the past and present.
It is also a good starting point for visits to the Vikos-Aoos National Park, the Vikos Gorge, the famed Aoos stone bridge, the sulfur baths of Kavasila, the monastery of Stomio in the Aoos Gorge, and the Zagorochoria, a group of small mountain villages, while sights in Konitsa itself include the 17th century church of the St. Apostles (Agioi Apostoloi), the chapel of St. George with 120 icons by hagiographers from Chionades, the local Folk Art Museum, the town library, the 16th century mosque of Sultan Suleiman, the mansion house of Chamko, mother of Ali Pasha, and the 1412 Byzantine country church of Kokkini Panagia ("red" Virgin Mary, which takes its name from the red color of the bricks with which it is built) and the 14th century wall paintings in its sanctum.
 Cloudy on ThursdayCloudy and showery weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 14C and 33C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with northeasterly 3-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 21C to 32C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 20C to 27C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe Employment ministry's last-minute changes to the social security bill as debate on the draft law began in parliament on Tuesday and the political parties' positions, the economy, and the grades released of the nationwide university entrance exams were the main front-page items in Athens' newspapers on Wednesday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "ND will vote against the social security bill - Samaras termed it 'unfair and ineffective'."
APOGEVMATINI: "Changes in the student transfers system for siblings".
AVGHI: "Parliament must heed the people's rage".
AVRIANI: "They hid away the file with the evidence on the bribes for the C4I system".
CHORA: "Pogrom against the '700 euros generation', as the social state is being dissolved".
ELEFTHEROS: "Samaras: The 7 reasons we will vote against the social security bill".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Panic-stricken changes to the social security bill".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Social security bill: Marginal corrections in view of general strike and vote".
ESTIA: "Positive prospects for the economy - Binding targets set for the first time".
ETHNOS: "Social security bill: Regulation/breather for purchase of fictitious years of work".
IMERISSIA: "Manufacturers' discounts will be rolled over directly to the supermarket shelves".
KATHIMERINI: "EU sees three land mines - Public sector and state hospitals' debts and inflation undermining the economic adjustment program".
LOGOS: "Changes to the social security bill".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "European Commission ascertains progress and problems".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Interior ministry bill on election campaign expenditures obstructs the man-on-the-street's right to seek election".
TA NEA: "Double 'face-lift' to the social security bill - Last-minute changes".
TO VIMA: "They're sweetening the pill for mothers, widows, military conscription".
VRADYNI: "Social security bill 'burns' the working people".
 Turkey should abandon the communication tricks, Spokesman stressesNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
If Turkey wishes a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of 2010, it should abandon the communication tricks and in practice respond and contribute for a solution, Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou has said.
Speaking here Wednesday, Stephanou said that statements made by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu for a multilateral conference on the Cyprus issue, reveal intentions for deviation from the agreed process and from the agreed basis of the Cyprus problem for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation,
"These statements reveal intentions for using the danger tactic of the artificial timeframes and the arbitration, which we have never accepted and we will never accept", he noted.
Commenting on an announcement, which denies that a meeting and a discussion between Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Chief Negotiator with the EU Egemen Bagis in Brussels took place, issued by the Turkish Ministry of Presidency, Stephanou said that a short meeting and a discussion between President Christofias and Bagis took place in Madrid, as Christofias has stated, and not in Brussels.
Spokesman said that during that meeting they discussed the issue of Varosha. President Christofias has demanded the return of the sealed-off city of Famagusta (Varosha) to its legitimate inhabitants, as provided by the UN relevant resolutions, which Turkey denies to implement.
"This constitutes a sample of Turkey's negative stance on the Cyprus issue. Turkey ignores and does not implement the UN resolutions and does not fulfill its obligations towards the EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus", he stressed.
Stephanou pointed out that if Turkey wishes a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of 2010, it should abandon the communication tricks and in practice respond and contribute for a solution, that will be based on the UN resolutions, on the principles of the International and European law and on the High Level Agreement between the two communities of 1977 and 1979.
He also noted that Davutoglu's statement for a multilateral conference on the Cyprus issue, just like the one took place in 2004 in Burgenstock, Switzerland, falls within that communication policy.
Commenting on statements made by Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, Stephanou said that he should respect the agreement and avoid the so called blame game and focus on the negotiations.
He noted that Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu continues to blame the Greek Cypriot side and President Christofias for the course of the negotiations.
"If Eroglu wishes to intensify the talks, he should respond to the Greek Cypriot side's position for discussion of the property issue, along with the chapter of the territorial rehabilitation and the issue of settlers", he concluded.
Talks between the two communities in Cyprus began in September 2008 with a view to solve the problem of Cyprus, divided since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.
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