|Monday, 20 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-09-23
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 23 September 2010 Issue No: 3600
 PM Papandreou addresses Economic Club in New YorkWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
Prime Minister George Papandreou, speaking Wednesday to powerful financiers and investors at the Economic Club in New York, presented the real picture of the state prevailing in Greece and the handling of its problems.
Papandreou stressed that the situation must be highlighted in its appropriate dimension and what precisely is taking place should be clarified, in contrast to disinformation that results frequently from certain economic analysts.
The prime minister said that six months ago all declared that they were certain that Greece would go bankrupt, adding that at present Greece is a different country, steadfastly adherred to longterm stability and growth, something that attracts the interest of investors and in this framework he invoked the recent response that the increase in the National Bank's share capital found, as well as the decision by social security funds in Norway to invest in Greek bonds.
He stressed that the return of investors is due to the Greek government proving that it means what it says, it achieves the targets it sets, and exceeds expectations, and noted that in a few months time the most ambitious and extensive reforms programme in Greece's modern history has been promoted.
The prime minister reassured that the deficit has already been reduced by 32 percent and "we shall achieve the target of 40 percent by the end of the year," adding that state expenditures decreased by 8 percent and the first stage deficit by 60 percent.
He spoke of the utilisation of the comparative advantage of solar energy, shipping, tourism and biological cultivations.
"We did not fear the political cost and we turned the economic crisis into an opportunity," he said, stressing that the latest opinion polls show increased support from public opinion compared to last April.
Papandreou further said he is determined to secure that the sacrifices of the Greek people will not be in vain and expressed certainty that the shortterm costs and the pain will be offset by longterm benefits.
He informed investors that the crisis was not the beginning of the end but a new beginning and reiterated that the public sector will utilise the real estate that it possesses which is worth 270 billion euros, an amount that corresponds to almost the entire public debt, as well as the deregulation of the energy market, while at the same time Greece offers prospects for aeolian energy that are unique in Europe. He also said that the sector of high technology also provides considerable opportunities.
Papandreou underlined Greece's geographical position which is surrounded by developing markets, while stressing that the country's importance has been recognised by China as well that has turned the port of Piraeus into a point of entry of its exports to Europe.
Lastly, the prime minister stressed that there shall be no bankruptcy and appeared convinced that soon Greece will return to high growth rates as was the case until 2008.
 PM's talks with world leaders, business circles in NYCWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA)
Prime Minister George Papandreou met with US Vice President Joe Biden at the White House here on Tuesday. In welcoming the Greek prime minister, Biden praised Papandreou for the "excellent work he is doing in the handling of the economic crisis and, God willing, he will put his country on the right path again."
Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Greek prime minister said his talks with Biden covered a wide range of issues, such as the global economic crisis, the Middle East issue, the Cyprus problem as well as the fYRoM "name issue". In reference to the latter, Papandreou cited Athens' political will to find a solution to the 19-year-old problem, while underlining the need for response by the other side.
Papandreou added that he briefed the US vice president on Greece's initiatives regarding the wider region's problems and highlighted Athens' volition and positive contribution in resolving these problems, including systematic efforts to further improve warming Greek-Turkish relations.
As regards to Cyprus, Papandreou reportedly cited the difficulties created by Ankara's and the Turkish Cypriots' stance vis-à-vis the ongoing Cyprus talks, while reiterating his support for the efforts of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias.
In talks regarding the Middle East, Papandreou cited his recent visit to Israel and the reciprocal visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to Athens.
Touching on his earlier meeting in New York City with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadi-nejad, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Papandreou underlined the international community's interest in the release of two US hikers held by Iran on charges of espionage, something Biden praised.
Along those lines, Papandreou emphasised that Greece wants peace in the Mideast, not just because of good intentions, but because the region is of vital importance for the east Mediterranean country itself.
Papandreou flew back to New York City on Tuesday evening, where he met with Greek-American businesspeople on Wednesday morning before meeting Jordanian monarch Abdallah II. The Greek PM cited the country's major effort to change the the investment climate in Greece.
 White House press release on Papandreou-Biden meetingWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis/CNA)
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and US Vice President Joe Biden held a meeting Tuesday in Washington during which they discussed the Cyprus problem, expressing their full support to efforts to reach a Cyprus solution.
A White House press release issued after the meeting said that Biden and Papandreou "discussed the situation in Cyprus and expressed their full support for the Cypriot-led process, under the good offices of the UN, towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus as a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation".
According to the press release, "the Vice President applauded efforts by Greece and Turkey to strengthen their relations".
In his statements, the Greek premier said that during the meeting he expressed his full support towards the efforts and initiatives of Cypriot President Demetris Christofias to give a new impetus to the efforts to reach a solution in Cyprus and reunify the island.
He also stressed Ankara's role towards efforts to achieve a Cyprus settlement, noting that Turkey "is the occupation force in Cyprus and has a major responsibility to contribute so that the Cyprus issue is solved in the framework of the UN relevant resolution and the European acquis communautaire".
In addition, Papandreou said they exchanged views on bilateral relations and Turkey's role and agreed to have a constant contact as regards those issues.
In its press release, the White House notes that "the Vice President met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou as part of the Administration's frequent consultations with our European allies on our shared agenda and in recognition of the historic relationship between the United States and Greece".
Furthermore it states that "the Vice President expressed strong support for Greece's economic and political reforms and applauded the Prime Minister's bold leadership".
"He also expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister's efforts to advance the integration of the countries of Southeast Europe into Euro-Atlantic structures, and he emphasized the need for leaders in Athens and Skopje to quickly agree upon a mutually acceptable solution to resolve their differences over the name issue".
The press release says that the two leaders discussed the recent decision by the International Court of Justice on Kosovo's declaration of independence and how to move forward so that the people of Serbia and Kosovo are able to become fully a part of a Europe whole and free and at peace.
Moreover, it is added that they discussed the Middle East issue. "The two leaders emphasized their support for the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and the need for both sides to continue the process until they reach an agreement on two states".
 PM Papandreou meets Cyprus President Demetris ChristofiasNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Prime Minister George Papandreou held a meeting with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Wednesday. Christofias thanked the Greek prime minister for the priority he places on the issue of Cyprus in all his meetings in the United States.
Welcoming Papandreou at the hotel where he is staying, the Cypriot leader expressed his special joy for having the opportunity to speak again with the prime minister of Greece as he said, stressing to Papandreou "I am grateful because despite the problems that Greece is facing you place the issue of Cyprus as the first issue."
On his part, Papandreou told Christofias that "our aim is to give the appropriate picture," adding that "because we believe in this major issue."
 FYROM president requests meeting with PM PapandreouNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) President Georgi Ivanov has requested a meeting with Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Papandreou responded positively and the two delegations are in the process of arranging this courtesy meeting.
Diplomatic sources say that surprise is created by the fact that at the time that president Ivanov was requesting a meeting with the Greek prime minister, the country's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski announced that he will not travel to New York, making once again negative statements on Greece, aggravating the climate.
The same circles noted that Gruevski's possible presence in New York would provide the opportunity for a meeting with the Greek prime minister, something that will not ultimately happen.
The meeting between Papandreou and Ivanov will take place, as the same circles claim, in the framework of Greece's steadfast and stable stance, that is working for an improvement of the climate in bilateral relations and is observing a constructive position in negotiations for a speedy solution to the issue of the name.
 Greek BSEC chair hosts working dinner in NYNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
The Greek chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organisation hosted a working luncheon in New York on Tuesday, during which it reaffirmed its commitment to green development, as reflected in the presidency's theme "Black Sea Turns Green".
Foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas and deputy foreign minister Spyros Kouvelis, who chaired the working luncheon, both stressed the importance of green development and the Greek government's commitment to it.
In his welcome address, Droutsas stressed the particularly high level of representation from BSEC member states, including the foreign ministers Davutoglu of Turkey, Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan, Jeremic of Serbia, Mladenov of Bulgaria and Haxhinasto of Albania which, he said, indicates the importance of cooperation among the countries in the region.
He also welcomed the participants' decision that green development should also be adopted as a priority by the following BSEC chairmanships.
Kouvelis, too, noted the theme of the Greek BSEC chairmanship and outlined its priorities on green development, modern approaches and environment-friendly growth.
He also announced that the next meet of the BSEC Foreign Ministers Council will take place at the Thessaloniki Forum on November 26.
Kouvelis further stressed the importance of a commitment to adopt a joint statement on confronting climate change, to be announced at the International Conference on Climate Change in December in Cancun, Mexico.
Meanwhile, Droutsas continued his series of contacts with his foreign counterparts in New York. He met on Tuesday with the foreign ministers of Canada, Azerbaijan, Cameroon and Kuwait, with whom he discussed bilateral matters and also briefed them on issues of Greek interest such as Greek-Turkish relations, the Cyprus issue and the FYROM name issue. They further exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East and the Balkans, and discussed ways of strengthening their bilateral relations.
 Bill liberalising road freight transport passed without amendmentsAn Infrastructure, transport and networks ministry bill liberalising road freight transport was passed by the third recess session of the Greek Parliament on Wednesday, without amendments or modifications.
After being passed in the first reading with 83 votes for and 16 against, in a roll-call vote requested by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party, it also passed in the subsequent vote on the controversial article 14 during a roll-call vote requested by main opposition New Democracy, with 53 votes for and 46 against.
Article 14 concerned the transition period until full liberalisation - which truckers had wanted extended to five years instead of the three allowed in the bill - and the value of truck licences, with truckers wanting licences to retain 35 percent of their value even after the transition period expires.
The article was passed with the backing of ruling PASOK MPs but opposed by all four opposition parties and two independent MPs in Parliament. Independent MP Dora Bakoyannis was absent.
Reacting to the news, the head of the truck owners federation George Tzortzatos stressed that truckers will continue protest action against the new law, even after it was passed.
"We will not stop. Whatever we had to lose we have lost," he told reporters, saying that truckers intended to carry out road blockades throughout Greece.
Commenting on the passing of the bill, government spokesman George Petalotis said that the government had proved that "Greece is no longer a defenceless state and is entering a phase of transparency and social accountability for all."
He stressed that the changes will make the Greek road freight sector viable, competitive and modern, adding that this first "opening" of a closed profession in Greece will be followed by the rest in order to eliminate the "outdated tactic of exchanging licences and all the pathogenies that closed professions bring with them".
Petalotis stressed that the government's handling of the affair had ensured that traffic and the movement of goods and people over the last few days had been unobstructed. Asked what the government intended to do if truckers continued their protests, he underlined that these issues would end now that the bill had been passed.
"It is a law of the state and we all have an obligation to respect the laws, especially when preceded by dialogue, necessary consultation and when we all know that we cannot become hostages of any professional group," he said.
During protests on Wednesday, truckers had blocked two lanes at the 23rd kilometre of the Athens-Corinth national highway near Athens and on Schistos Avenue, while they were alternately opening and closing the junction at Alimos and Vouliagmeni avenues. In the west Athens suburb of Dafni, traffic on the Athens-Corinth highway toward Corinth was down to one lane.
There was also a symbolic blockade by truckers at the Malgara toll posts in Thessaloniki, where traffic was being allowed through, while truckers blockading the Derveni junction in northern Greece were expected to open the road. The Thessaloniki-Halkidona road was closed at the village Gefyra, where police had prevented truckers from Giannitsa from driving into Thessaloniki.
 Government on request to Karamanlis to testify in ParliamentGovernment spokesman George Petalotis, in reply to questions concerning the invitation to former premier Costas Karamanlis to testify before a Parliamentary committee about the Vatopedi Monastery land swaps affair, on Wednesday stressed that such committees were obliged to seek out all those able to shed light on what happened.
"The preliminary investigation committee is not a special court. If those that are able to help investigate the truth are not called to these committees then we are talking about a cover-up," Petalotis said.
The spokesman once again criticised main opposition New Democracy for walking out of the committee and also for disputing whether the land swaps between the state and Vatopedi monastery had damaged state interests.
Asked whether the government would agree to call former premier Costas Simitis to testify to the committee for the Siemens kickbacks scandal, the spokesman said that there could be no "trade-off" in such matters.
"There is legality, a specific order in Parliament and we are all answerable to the people about the way that we deal both with citizens and politicians," he said.
According to an announcement by the head of ND MPs Costas Tzavaras on Wednesday, however, ND does not intend to ask that Simitis testify in the Parliamentary preliminary examination committee for the Siemens case.
Tzavaras stressed that ND would stick to its principles and not be drawn into political games, pointing to a recent decision of the preliminary examination committee that political figures would not be summoned unless new evidence had arisen.
"Let PASOK, which has 'experience' in summoning former premiers without evidence decide about Mr. Costas Simitis," he added.
 Papariga favours testimony by former PM"Former premier Costas Karamanlis should appear before the relevant parliamentary committee and answer questions," Communist Party (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga stated on Wednesday in a press conference in the northwest city of Kozani.
Papariga underlined that "no exceptions should be made" and added that the former prime minister "will have to take a stance" on the Vatopedi land swap furor.
In another matter, Papariga underlined that the "Kallikratis" local government merger plan constitutes a "vehicle" through which the memorandum's "anti-popular policy" will reach local administration.
 LA.OS requests testimony by former PM Simitis over Siemens affairOpposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) MP Costas Aivaliotis tabled a request on Wednesday suggesting that former prime minister Costas Simitis be summoned to testify as a witness before a parliamentary committee investigating the Siemens bribery and kickbacks scandal.
The LA.OS MP mentioned that the summons can be issued on the grounds that Simitis' associates, acting on behalf of the PASOK party, received money from Siemens Hellas executives.
The move follows Tuesday's decision to request testimony -- issued by a separate parliamentary committee -- from former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis regarding the land swap between the state and Vatopedi Monastery.
 ND spokesman on government, Attica region candidateMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party spokesman Panos Panayiotopoulos on Wednesday criticised the government over the way it is handling the issue of closed professions.
He termed "disastrous" the government's handlings and added that they constitute a "dynamite in the foundations of reforms and blow into the air the daily lives of millions of citizens."
Panayiotopoulos further said that "won't any minister be found at last to assume his responsibilities."
The spokesman also referred to Yiannis Sgouros, the Attica region candidate who is supported by the PASOK party over the positions he voiced publicly regarding the Memorandum.
Panayiotopoulos said that Sgouros backtracked on his initial statement and queried "how can you trust a region candidate, who changed his position on the Memorandum twice in two days."
 ND calls on expelled MEP to resign seatA decision by New Democracy-affiliated MEP Theodoros Skylakakis to retain his seat in the European Parliament in spite his expulsion from the party's European parliament group was widely criticised on Wednesday by officials, with the argument that "MEPs are being appointed and not elected" being amongst the primary rebukes against him.
The main opposition party maintains that Skylakakis should resign from his seat in the European Parliament and "return it to ND, where it belongs".
As regards a request of former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to testify before a parliamentary committee probing the land swap case between the state and Vatopedi Monastery, ND cited statements made by MP and former justice minister Nikos Dendias, who referred to a decision by ruling PASOK at the initiative of opposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS).
Finally, in a separate development and in reference to the ongoing mobilisations of truck owners in the country, ND reiterated that it backs the opening up and liberalisation of so-called "closed professions", stressing, however, that "the government proceeds with such reforms in the wrong way, igniting social unrest ..."
 Tsipras on November local electionsCoalition of the Left and Progress (SYN) President Alexis Tsipras, inaugurating the sessions of the party's Central Political Committee on Wednesday afternoon, that is discussing the issue of the local elections, said that November's elections constitute an important milestone for political developments and the country's future.
Tsipras stressed that the elections will be affected directly by the political conjuncture and will be crucial, since it is the first election in IMF conditions and for this reason he called on all of the party's forces to work for the success of tickets supported by SYN.
Referring to the economic situation, Tsipras said that it is already being confessed that the Memorandum is being led to failure, stressing the need for the government to sustain a defeat in the elections since, as he said, it is the first time after the implementation of the Memorandum that the citizens have the possibility to express their opinion.
He also criticised the main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, saying that its policy is not against the Memorandum, while also noting its responsibilities for the country's economic state.
 Naval exercise 'Astrapi'National Defence General Staff chief Ioannis Yiangos expressed satisfaction over the excellent planning and carrying out of the naval exercise ASTRAPI 3/10.
Yiangos followed the development of the exercise from on board the frigate SPETSAI on Wednesday.
The exercise ASTRAPI 3/10 is a national technical exercise of a small scale that is aimed at preserving, promoting and improving the level of the Frigate Administration's battle capacity. It is taking place from September 20 to 23 2010 in the region of the Central Aegean, in parallel with the exercise ORMI 3/10 of the Speed Boat Administration, as well as the exercise AIGIALOS 3/10 of the Landing Forces Administration.
The National Defence General Staff chief was accompanied by the Navy General Staff chief Dimitrios Elefsiniotis.
 FinMin on initiative to close pending tax casesThe number of pending tax cases totals 2.5 million, while cases in tax courts total 150,000, involving claims worth 30 billion euros, whereas tax inspection authorities are able to cover only 3.0 pct of tax cases each year, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou warned on Wednesday.
Addressing a meeting with relevant agencies and sector groupings to discuss a government initiative offering incentives to taxpayers and enterprises to voluntary close pending tax cases, Papaconstantinou said the plan did not intend to offer amnesty to those failing to properly meet their tax obligations, and stressed that "consistent taxpayers could not be blackmailed, nor forced to participate in the scheme".
He said a draft law foresees stricter rules and speedier legal action against tax evaders.
Representatives of producer classes called for greater flexibility in payment plans, and asked for assurances that the plan would result to a final settlement of tax cases.
 Credit expansion to slow further this year, recovery seen in H2 of 2011Greek banks' officials and analysts expected a further slowdown, from already very low levels, in credit expansion this year, with a recovery expected to begin from mid-2011.
Credit expansion growth slows steadily in the last few months, to an annual growth rate of 2.0 pct in July, down from 2.4 pct in June, 2.8 pct in May, 4.2 pc in December 2009 and 6.6 pct in July 2009. Analysts, however, stressed it was positive that credit expansion continued to grow amid very adverse conditions prevailing in the economy and the banking sector.
Alpha Bank's analysts said, in a bank's weekly bulletin, that uncertainties resulting from a fiscal and debt crisis in Greece led to a significant fall in consumer confidence and demand for consumer and mortgage loans, while they also raised money costs for banks, enterprises and households.
The annual growth rate of bank loans to households slowed to 1.1 pct in July, from 1.6 pct in June, 3.1 pct in December 2009 and 5.2 pct in July 2009. Mortgage loans grew by 1.9 pct, down from 2.3 pct in June, 3.0 pct in May 2010, 3.7 pct in December 2009 and 5.2 pct in July 2009. The 12-month rate was -0.5 pct in July, from 0.4 pct in June, 0.1 pct in May, 1.8 pct in December 2009 and 5.3 pct in July 2009.
Credit expansion to enterprises slowed to 2.8 pct in July, from 3.1 pct in June, 3.4 pct in May, 5.1 pct in December 2009 and 7.9 pct in July 2009. Most sectors recorded lower credit growth rates, while only tourism, shipping, electricity-water and transport-communications recording satisfactory rates.
Bank officials told ANA-MPA that most banks currently were working with existing customers, with their main task being to facilitating businesses in payment of their debts, through refinancing programs.
Alpha Bank's analysts expect the situation in the domestic banking sector to improve in the second half of 2011.
Greek enterprises' debt to banks accounted for 53.6 pct of the country's Gross Domestic Product, significantly down compared with an 80.3 pct average rate in the Eurozone, while Greek households' debt burden accounted for 50 pct of GDP, down from 66.5 pct in the Eurozone.
 Unemployment showed signs of stabilisation in Aug.The number of unemployed people registered with the Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED) fell slightly by 0.09 pct in August, compared with July, to 569,222, while the number of long-term unemployed people fell 0.18 pct in the same period.
Registered unemployed, eligible for unemployment benefits, totaled 191,653 in August, up 3.76 pct from July, while new applications for unemployment benefits fell 36.7 pct in the August-July period.
New hirings totaled 52,660 in August, down 0.24 pct compared with the same month in 2009, while lay-offs (including end of contract jobs) totaled 39,410, up 10.31 pct from August 2009.
 Local gov't employee union calls strike for Thurs.A union representing local government contract workers called a 24-hour nationwide strike for Thursday, while calling on tenured employees to hold a four-hour work stoppage from 07:30 until 11:30 in the morning.
Demands include revocation of a decision concerning the suspension of permanent hirings, permanent status for eligible employees, and abolition of practicse of seasonal employment.
 ASE remains on watch list in developed marketsThe Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) remains on the watch list in the developed stock markets category, ASE's president Spyros Kapralos said on Wednesday. Kapralos said he has received a letter from the FTSE notifying that the Athens bourse will remain on its watch list among developed markets.
FTSE will officially publish its stock markets list on Thursday.
Market officials said this development was very positive for the Greek market, as any downgrading from a mature to emerging market could create a turmoil leading foreign investment capitals of a medium- to long-term horizon away from the market, during a critical phase for the Greek economy, while it could also attract high-risk foreign capitals of a short-term investment horizon.
 Stocks end 0.38% higherStocks ended higher at the Athens Stock Exchange despite a decline in turnover on Wednesday. The composite index of the market rose 0.38 pct to end at 1,512.42 points, with turnover shrinking to 77.498 million euros.
The Big Cap index rose 0.43 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.83 pct down and the Small Cap index fell 1.26 pct. The Commerce (3.68 pct) and Utilities (3.66 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Insurance (3.01 pct) and Technology (2.82 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 112 to 51 with another 53 issues unchanged.
Crown Hellas Can (20 pct), Atlantic (20 pct) and Mohlos (9.09 pct) were top gainers, while Marak (16.67 pct), FG Europe (10 pct) and Creta Farm (9.68 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.07%
Personal & Household: +0.53%
Raw Materials: -1.05%
Travel & Leisure: +2.50%
Food & Beverages: -0.21%
Financial Services: Unchanged
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Motor Oil, DEH and Eurobank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.78
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.67
HBC Coca Cola: 18.52
Hellenic Petroleum: 2.90
National Bank of Greece: 8.02
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.43
Bank of Piraeus: 3.69
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 876 basis points on Wednesday, from 907 bps on Tuesday, falling below the 900 bps level for the first in months. The Greek bond yielded 11.1 pct and the German Bund 2.34 pct. Turnover in the market remained a low 87 million euros, of which 37 million were buy orders and the remaining 50 million euros were sell orders. The three-month Treasury bill was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 23 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.42 pct, the six-month rate was 1.13 pct, the three-month 0.89 pct and the one-month rate 0.65 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe September contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -1.72 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover shrinking to 23.272 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 5,296 contracts worth 19.212 million euros, with 25,774 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 6,430 contracts worth 4.060 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (1,630), followed by Eurobank (663), PPC (950), Piraeus Bank (454), MIG (430), Alpha Bank (622), Cyprus Bank (381) and Hellenic Postbank (149).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.347
Pound sterling 0.862
Danish kroner 7.509
Swedish kroner 9.200
Japanese yen 114.05
Swiss franc 1.332
Norwegian kroner 7.959
Canadian dollar 1.378
Australian dollar 1.409
 Gov't on Thessaloniki urban regeneration projectsThe westward expansion of Thessaloniki's suburban forest Seich Sou to double its size, is among the goals set by the "Thessaloniki 2012" programme, unveiled on Wednesday by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili in a press conference in the northern seaport.
The two-billion-euro programme, scheduled to be completed in a period of 15 years, includes the reconstruction of city squares, the relocation of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) and the regeneration of the greater area, including the construction of a cultural centre, as well as, transformation of downtown Tsimiski Street into a "mild traffic" street.
The planned projects also include the utilization of former military camps in the northwest of the city and in downtown Thessaloniki.
The "green walls and terraces" project, 3D art drawn on the sides of buildings, the restructuring of the city bus network and the promotion of sea routes to service coastal regions, are included in the urban renewal projects announced.
Meanwhile, tender procedures have been called for some 70 million euros worth of infrastructure projects concerning water purification and sewage networks in the city, which still does not field a stage III sewage treatment plant.
 Greenpeace makes case against diesel carsThe case against allowing the use of diesel-powered vehicles in Athens and Thessaloniki was made by Greenpeace Hellas on Wednesday, in an announcement to mark 'World Day Without Cars'.
According to the environmental group, allowing cars using diesel will lead to a massive increase in emissions of nitrogen oxides and greatly worsen photochemical smog and accumulations of toxic ground ozone during summer months.
Greenpeace pointed out that diesel engines still lag significantly behind petrol engines in terms of lowering nitrogen oxide emissions, even with the stricter guidelines introduced by the new European legislation Euro 5 that comes into force from January 2011.
Among others, the group pointed out that emission limits for diesel-fueled vehicles in Europe remain high, with levels in the United States set at 44 microgrammes/km since 2007, whereas even the Euro 6 legislation that comes in to force in 2014 only imposes limits of 80 microgrammes/km.
In addition, Greece had the third largest percentage (50 percent) of stations where ozone concentrations exceeded alert levels during the summer of 2009 and was fourth in line as the country with the most days (160) when levels exceeded long-term targets for the protection of human health.
 Freight vessel remains trapped in Corinth portThe Saint Vincent-flagged freighter "Klaipeda Spirit" that ran aground in sandy shaoows off the port of Corinth on Monday evening remained stuck for a third day on Wednesday after failure of several efforts to dislodge it on its own steam and by another vessel.
The tugboat "Artemis" arrived in the port at noon Wednesday to try to dislodge the freighter, which is carrying a load of timber.
Port authorities have prohibited the vessel from sailing out of the port until it undergoes inspection and receives certification from a classification society.
 Major fire threatened two villages on CreteA major fire that broke out on the island of Crete early on Wednesday, in a chestnut and plane-tree grove between the villages of Annisaraki and Vamvakado in the municipality of Kandanos, had spread over seven kilometres and threatened to engulf both villages later the same morning.
A strong fire-fighting force managed to prevent the flames reaching the villages and has now brought the blaze under control, while local residents say that it started in three places simultaneously and bears all the hallmarks of deliberate arson.
Two fire-fighting helicopters from Hania and Iraklion and two water-bombing aircraft from Elefsina assisted the force on the ground and had the fire under control by midday. Their work was hampered by strong winds blowing in the area and the inaccessible terrain.
The area was visited by Crete Region General Secretary Athanassios Karountzos, who said that the fire brigade would investigate the causes of the fire. Fire fighting forces remain on the scene in case the fire flares up again.
 Cloudy on ThursdayCloudy and rainy 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 13C and 30C. Cloudy with possible local showers in Athens, with northerly 4-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 19C to 27C. Cloudy in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 18C to 25C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe procedures for the closure of outstanding tax cases, the social security issue, the call by the parliamentary preliminary investigation commission on the Vatopedi monastery land swap affair to former prime minister Costas Karamanlis to testify, and New Democracy (ND) Eurodeputy Theodoros Skylakakis' expulsion from the party, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Violence in schools, too - Beatings, humiliations, robberies, blackmail, damages and terror in schools".
APOGEVMATINI: "Mr. Skylakakis leave your post - You are not elected, but appointed by ND to the Europarliament".
AVGHI: "Closure of outstanding tax cases: Surcharge for the small, gift to tax evaders".
ELEFTHEROS: "The procedures for the closure of outstanding tax cases".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Karamanlis' reply to the PASOK-LAOS 'conspiracy'."
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Environment Ministry mulling sweeping changes in licence requirements for building in areas not incorporated in the town plans".
ESTIA: "The whole truth about tax evasion".
ETHNOS: "Pay and you are clear!!! Five emergency actions to collect hot cash".
IMERISSIA: "Two-gear tax cases closure - Strict with the honest and mild with the tax evaders".
KATHIMERINI: "The State is incapable of absorbing 26 billion euros - EU funds blocked by bureaucracy while the enterprises are suffering".
LOGOS: "Government Vice President Theodoros Pangalos: We (politicians and citizens) spent the money together".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Pay two billion euros and close your books".
NIKI: "Closure of tax cases an opportunity for a new start".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Rallies and demonstrations on Thursday".
TA NEA: "Give and save yourselves! - Finance Ministry launches tax hunt".
TO VIMA: "Finance ministry plan for 'absolution' of tax sins".
VRADYNI: "Closure of outstanding tax cases for enterprises with turnover of up to 20 billion euros".
 President not to hold common meeting with Ban and ErogluNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Deputy Government Spokesman Christos Christophides said on Wednesday that President of the Republic Demetris Christofias would not be having a common meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
Christophides dismissed Turkish Cypriot press reports that such a meeting would be held in New York and noted that ''such a possibility was not even discussed during President Christofias' meeting with the UN Secretary General.''
''This issue has been raised by Mr. Eroglu in the past as well. Our side's position was well known and it surely does not help to continue raising the same scenario about a meeting between the President of the Republic and Mr. Eroglu in New York,'' he added.
The Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides have been engaged in direct negotiations since September 2008 with a view to solve the problem of Cyprus, divided since the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974.
 Cyprus satisfied with EP resolution on TurkeyNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cyprus government on Wednesday expressed its satisfaction with the approval of a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on EU trade and economic relations with Turkey.
Deputy spokesman Christos Christofides said that this is a positive resolution which provides advantages in our efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.
He noted that the government worked to achieve the approval of this resolution. Furthermore he praised the Cypriot MEPs, Greek MEPs, political groups and individual MEPs, "who contributed to the effort of our side."
He said that paragraph 11 of the resolution was particular positive, as it noted that for the fifth consecutive year Turkey has neither fully implemented that Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement nor removed all the obstacles to the free movement of goods.
He also noted that in the same paragraph, Turkey is called in an explicit manner, to implement fully and without delay all its obligations deriving from this Protocol in an non-discriminatory way and it is recalled that failure to do so may further seriously affect the negotiating process.
Christofides also said paragraph 24 was important as it noted Turkey's role in the Mediterranean region as a founding partner of the Barcelona Process and called on Turkey to fully respect all the states partners of the process.
The deputy spokesman also said that this resolution was also achieved due to the stance of the Cypriot government on the problem of Cyprus, which sends the message that "we are creative, fully prepared for a right solution to the Cyprus problem, something which contributes to the assessments and the positions of the European and the international community".
Turkey which aspires to become an EU member state does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state since 2004. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.
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