|Saturday, 24 February 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 10-12-23
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 23 December 2010 Issue No: 3675
 Parliament ratifies state 2011 budgetThe Greek Parliament ratified in the early hours of Thursday the 2011 state budget in a roll call vote which produced 156 votes in favour and 142 against. Out of the 300 Parliament deputies, 298 participated in the roll call vote just after midnight in a nationally televised session held to consider the draft 2011 state budget.
 PM: 'This government and the people do not bow, do not succumb'Prime Minister George Papandreou, addressing Parliament on Wednesday night shortly before the roll call vote on the 2011 state budget, stressed that "I declare myself more optimistic than ever for Hellenism and Greece. In 2012 we shall enter a growth orbit and in 2013, riddance from the memorandum. The painful measures are now behind us."
Papandfreou added that "as we have denied the local and international Cassandras of disaster, in the same way we shall deny them until they leave us alone, until they realise that this government, these people, do not bow and do not succumb."
Papandreou referred to "myths" which, as he said weaken the effort for the recovery of the country's prestige and sink Greek society in misery and fatalism. He added that one myth wants the crisis to be an international one, a capitalist one which is irrelevant with Greek reality.
"Both are valid," the prime minister said, "the crisis found Greece in a state of collapse, because we did not do what we should have done for years."
He further said that another myth considers bankruptcy to be inevitable. "There is no discussion which is more corrosive, more dangerous and unfair than that which some are maintaining: We found,ourselves on the verge of bankruptcy, we passed through hell in 2010, but we stood up. We are facing the issue of the debt with prudence, systematically, in an organised way and with careful negotiations, such as for the extension of the repayment."
Papandreou also referred to Greek responsibilities saying: "Must we blame the IMF? Did we not have responsibility for the corruption of the National Health System (ESY). For the unbelievable bureaucracy, the clientele relations, the lack of regional development, the fact that we created an agriculture depending on subsidies without being competitive, that our universities are unacceptably low in the international rating, that our islands lack drainage, refuse dumps, places of recreation."
The prime minster underlined that the government's top priority in 2011 is "a state at the servive of the citizen" with electronic Citizen Serving Centres, the citizen's card, a unified salary scale, a card for the registration of receipts.
Lastly, Papandreou pointed out that "we shall do everything so that this crisis will not deal a blow at the poorest. We shall exhaust all margins in cooperation with the local administration bodies (OTA), the society of citizens, even with the Church, in this direction."
 ND leader calls on government to change policy nowMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, appealed to the government to change its policy now.
"We shall not going to give consensus to this policy mixture. We shall not become accomplices on the path of bankruptcy that you have imposed," he added.
Samaras stressed that the ruling PASOK party "baptised the memorandum as a one-way path to cover its historic inability and its recent responsibilities," underlining that the 2011 budget "is the mirror of PASOK's inability to handle the crisis."
The ND leader said that today, on Christmas of 2010, "we are experiencing a deep crisis which is rocking society and reversing plannings," while pointing out that "there are two truths, the one that the government does not admit, meaning that the memorandum policy does not overcome the problem, and on the other that hope and a different perspective exist.
Samaras further said that since the beginning of the year the government 'degraded the country abroad by advertising its corruption" and chose a perspective that was neither a one-way path of salvation nor did it negotiate it as toughly as it could, as other countries did and particularly Ireland recently.
He also charged that the government, while speaking of extravagance, cut back the pensions of low pension earners, or cut the bonuses for large families so that domestic devaluation can be achieved.
"If the government wants to implement the different mixture, that leads to recovery we are here, but this does not mean consensus for the memorandum, but consensus for a policy that leads to an exit with recovery and growth," the ND leader said.
Lastly, Samaras stressed the need for a speedy change in policy "because the country cannot live with the dissolution of society and the paralysis of the economy," and pointed to the need for initiatives in the sectors of education, health, defence and infrastructures.
 Working people must prepare for real war, KKE leader saysCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, addressing Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, said that "the working people must realise the cause of the crisis and prepare themselves for a real war, a conscious one, a planned one, an organised one, which lead to the toppling of power."
Papariga further stressed that "whatever policy mixture is used, neither will the debt and the deficits be tackled, nor will Greece become competitive, nor will it avoid bankruptcy" and added that the best solution "is the refusal to repay the debt which, however, only a labour-popular government can manage, without proceeding with further antipopular measures."
 Greece must request debt transfer for decade, LAOS party leader saysPopular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, said that Greece must request to have its debt transferred for a decade, stressing that "we are not experiencing the biggest crisis. We are experiencing a crisis. It needs correct and bold decisions which I do not see, however."
Karatzaferis also pointed out that a change in course is necessary and added that "there must be a substantive understanding between the political leaders", while placing responsibilities for the current economic state that Gereece is in on both the ruling PASOK and main opposition New Democracy (ND) parties.
 Tsipras on recession, debt crisisRadical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras, addressing Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, told the government "you are sinking Greece into the recession and the debt crisis, because the last thing that interests you and the troika and the economic oligarchy that supports you is the debt."
Tsipras added that what interests the government are the "structural reforms, meaning the dismantling of the social state, the privatisation of public utilities and the abolition of every protection for the working people in the private sector."
He added that the deficit may have been reduced by six units but recession increased by 4.2 percent "which means the soaring of unemployment".
 Interior minister outlines government policy over next three yearsInterior Minister Yiannis Rangousis, addressing Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, outlined government policy over the next three years, stressing that the dilemma "submission to the bankrupt postwar growth model, to the bankrupt post-junta state or conflict has been answered by the ruling party finally, without preconditions and clearly."
Rangousis made it clear that the government has taken its decisions: it prefers to be the first government that will sacrifice its future, assuming its patriotic duty, so as not to sacrifice the future and the interest of the Greek people.
"We shall not be yet another government that, in order not to sacrifice its own future, will sacrifice the future of the country," the minister concluded.
 Deputy FinMin on economic crisisDeputy Finance Minister Filippos Sahinidis, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday during the debate on the 2011 state budget, said that the crisis facing the Greek economy is deeper than a simple fiscal one, it is a crisis of the production model, as well as of the system, given that the global capitalist economy is facing a corresponding crisis.
"Day by day, howevever, the New Democracy government saw the deficit of the current accounts balance widening and did not react. The foreign products flooded the shelves of the Greek department stores and replaced the Greek ones, while the Greek ones did not find a place on foreign shelves. Unemployment was swelling slowly slowly and ND covered them up with the stage, with the one and the other. It let the economy go astray regarding its production model and it solved the problem silently, creating stage positions," he added.
 Dep. FinMin on state budget; state-run enterprisesDeputy Finance Minister Filippos Sahinidis on Wednesday expressed certainty that there will be no "defections" in the ruling PASOK party's ranks during a midnight vote to ratify the 2011state budget, probably the most closely watched budget in modern Greek history due to the ongoing economic and debt crisis plaguing the country.
Speaking to an Athens radio, Sahinidis said "all PASOK MPs realise the huge problems with which the country and people are faced. They realise that the country cannot move forward with deficits of tens of billions of euros. Something needs to be done," he stressed.
Referring to public utilities and state-run enterprises, he said some of them will be dissolved or merged.
As regards overdue debts by specific taxpayers, Sahinidis said a list with debtors' names will be made public.
 Alt. labour minister addresses Parliament on 2011 budgetA maximum reduction of 25 percent in contributions to social insurance funds paid by both employers and employees to be implemented within a period of three years through the creation of the appropriate preconditions was announced in Parliament on Wednesday by Alternate Labour Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis.
He also announced the expansion of the Manpower Employ-ment Organisation (OAED) programmes in 2011 through comprehensive local programmes with the twofold purpose, of preserving existing job positions and creating new ones.
Speaking in Parliament during the discussion on the 2011 state budget, he referred emphatically to the problem of unemployment underlining that the unemployment rate has been reduced through a total of 17 programmes currently in progress.
Based on OAED figures made public on Dec. 21, the programmes mentioned created 103,939 new job positions, of which 52,425 are permanent job positions and 51,514 seasonal job positions. Koutroumanis also stated that a total of 111,873 applications for subsidized social insurance contributions to preserve 247,000 job positions were filed until Dec. 21.
The alternate labour minister announced that the draft law on Social Economy and Social Labour will be tabled in parliament early next year.
He underlined that the unemployment problem is still big and its solution presupposes that the crisis will be overcome and the country will re-enter a development course.
On the planned reduction of social insurance contributions, Koutroumanis stated that "in a country where undeclared labour is estimated to 25 percent and the overall contribution evasion is close to 30 percent, corresponding to more than nine billion euros annually, we have to utilise all contemporary means to combat the phenomenon and create a new social insurance mentality in order to increase and not reduce the revenues of the social insurance funds."
The ministry of labour estimates that the revenues of the social insurance funds will increase by 1.2 billion euros that will come from the collection of past debts and also from actions, such as, the implementation of a new social insurance system for household personnel, farm and animal husbandry workers and occasional workers, as well as, through the payment of wages and contributions through the banking system.
Koutroumanis announced that the draft law on the reform of the Labour Inspection Agency (SEPE) will be tabled in Jan. 2011 and will include the enactment of the employment card to be introduced in July 2011 as an important tool against undeclared labour and contribution dodging.
Referring to the social insurance funds' expenditures and effective operation in 2011, Koutroumanis announced the adoption of new measures that will lead to a further reduction of over-spending in the sector of health amounting to 1.4 billion euros; specifically, the introduction of e-prescription in all social insurance funds in April 2011 and the pensioners' census.
The measures also include the utilisation of the single payment authority for pensions, the establishment of a single authority for health services, the operation of a handicap certification centre, the completion of the actuarial studies for all funds - including the auxiliary - in June 2011 and the updating and introduction of the new list of hazardous occupations.
 Petalotis: '2011 will be landmark year for Greece'The year 2011 would be a 'landmark year' for Greece's exit from the economic crisis, government spokesman George Petalotis told reporters on Wednesday, during the last regular press briefing for 2010.
Outlining the government's goals for the next year, Petalotis stressed that 2011 would be a year of major changes in which the rule of law would be established.
The spokesman described the year 2010 as the "most difficult since the return of democracy" during which the government had given priority to averting the country's bankruptcy and succeeded.
He also expressed confidence that the 2011 budget passed by Parliament after midnight will be fully executed, since that would boost the country's credibility. Concerning the criticism voiced by several ruling PASOK MPs against the draft budget, Petalotis said that the government strongly supported discussion, took the opinions and concerns of MPs into account but would not accept ultimatums.
Concerning reactions to government plans to open 'closed' professions in Greece, Petalotis stressed that the existence of closed professions was "pathogenic for Greece's economy" and that opening them would contribute to establishing social justice.
"We are the last country in Europe where they still exist," he underlined, stressing that legislation to end this state of affairs would be tabled early on in the new year.
Asked whether the government was still considering a civil mobilisation to deal with strikes by public transport staff, the spokesman said that this would be a last resort. The government was not considering such a move at present, he added.
"Everyone has a sense of responsibility and the mistakes of the past do not concern the government alone but also the workers and can be dealt with through dialogue," he said.
Concerning rumours that the rating agency Fitch was preparing to cut Greece's credit rating yet further, Petalotis replied that the answer was to "meet our targets and boost our credibility with everything we say and everything we do".
"Greek bonds are not junk. We do not accept this," he added.
 Papariga to gov't: Give back money to municipalities"We are aware that governments alternately withheld money that should have been given to municipalities," Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga said on Wednesday during a meeting with a delegation from the local governments union KEDKE.
"Today the government leaves its highly touted Kallikratis plan exposed, by proceeding with serious decreases, for which we cannot find an excuse".
Papariga also called on the government to return the money it owes local governments, in order to avoid cuts for schools' maintenance and other social works.
 Palestinian diplomatic mission disputes press claims related to clashes in PatrasThe diplomatic mission of the Palestinian Authority in Athens on Wednesday emphasised, in a press release, that none of the dozens of foreign nationals arrested in recent clashes in the port of Patras are Palestinians.
Additionally, the diplomatic mission said that none of the hundreds of migrants involved in the clashes between rival gangs attempting to control "access" to the port -- viewed as a 'gateway' to western Europe for Third World illegal migrants -- are Palestinian, stressing that they come from different countries but declare themselves as Palestinians upon arrival in Greece.
In a statement issued in response to press reports claiming "clashes between Afghans and 'Palestinians' in Patras" the diplomatic mission stressed that "Greek authorities provided such people with necessary legal documents bearing the indication 'Palestinian' in compliance with the current practice followed in cases of self-determination of individuals of undetermined nationality."
The Palestinian diplomatic mission underlined that it is unfair for the Palestinians living in Greece to be stigmatised by actions they did not commit, "when the overwhelming majority of them (Palestinians in Greece) are peace-loving and law abiding citizens, who love and respect Greece, its people and laws and are grateful to the Greek people for the hospitality and also for the solidarity they show to the Palestinian people's struggle for justice, freedom and peace."
 Greek econ sentiment index unchanged in Sept-NovGreece's economic sentiment index was unchanged in the September-November quarter from the previous quarter (June-August), standing at 67 points on average, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) announced on Wednesday.
In a report, IOBE said the index remained below the 70-point level since March after reaching a low of 61.9 points in May. The September-November performance of the index was significantly lower compared with the long-term average rate of the 2001-2009 period (95.7 points) and well below the 78.4 point level of last year. Business expectations remained at very low levels, particularly in the retail sector and construction, while consumer confidence has fallen to record low levels, hit by a credit squeeze in the country.
From the demand side, consumer confidence fell further in the quarter, to new record lows, with Greek households' expectations worsening further, while on the supply side, a mild recovery of business expectations was recorded in constructions and retail sector, a slight improvement in manufacturing, while in services expectations remained unchanged at last quarter's levels.
IOBE said an agreement reached between the Greek government and the troika and the measures currently implemented were necessary to restoring fiscal stability and improving the country's competitiveness and noted that without the memorandum, the country would have defaulted on its debt with devastating consequences over its economy and social cohesion.
The Institute, however, noted that the measures were fully necessary but were inadequate to ensuring the economic recovery of the country. IOBE expects an economic recession to reach 4.2 pct this year, pushing unemployment at 12.2 pct for the year. In a report, IOBE noted that the memorandum failed at promoting development while it also included significant gaps (such as the pension system) and needed to be reviewed. It also said that authorities failed to fully explain the feasibility of the government's fiscal adjustment effort, creating insecurity among citizens and allowing speculative moves in markets.
IOBE said that the opening up of closed professions and abolishing hurdles in business activity could boost the country's GDP by more than 17 pct in the long-term and by around 10 pct in the next five years. The Institute, however, stressed that these benefits have not been properly promoted in the troika's official reports thus they were largely ignored by markets.
IOBE also urged for speedier moves towards a better exploitation of the state's real estate and recommended a package of 11 measures aimed at abolishing all tax exemptions offered to citizens and their replacement with focused direct spending; an electronic system to detect and combat tax-evasion; reviewing all social benefits; merging state hospitals and privatising smaller and less used state hospitals; merging and abolishing certain military units; merging higher education institutes; another reform of the pension system; simplifying legislation, setting quantitive targets in upgrading state institutions and linking energy with research and innovation.
It also called for the use of managers from the private sector to help in achieving the government's ambitious goals.
 Gov't urges listed state-controlled enterprises to adopt cost-cutting measuresThe Greek government on Wednesday urged listed state-controlled enterprises and their affiliates to harmonise their payroll costs with a wider cost-cutting programme adopted by the government in the wider public sector.
In a letter sent to the managements of listed state-controlled enterprises, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said listed public enterprises must participate in a payroll cost-cutting programme during the ongoing and crucial fiscal conjecture, doing their part to help the recovery of the Greek economy.
In the letter, the finance minister underlined that the state would use its rights as a major shareholder to ensure the implementation of this cost-cutting effort.
 Joint Greek-Bulgarian firm established to build natgas pipelineSOFIA (ANA-MPA)
Representatives from natgas utility DE.PA, Edison and Bulgarian Energy Holdings on Tuesday signed a statute establishing a new company projected to build a north-south feeder pipeline between Greece and Bulgaria (IGB).
The pipeline will extend 170 km, of which 25 km will be in Greek territory, linking Komotini with Stara Zagora in Bulgraria. The project has a budget of 130 million euros, of which 45 million euros will come from Community funds.
The Greek-Bulgarian natural gas pipeline is part of the Turkey-Greece-Italy (TGI) pipeline, set to carry up to 11.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually from the Caspian region to the Balkans and west European markets.
Jordan Georgiev was appointed as the chairman of the new company, entitled Natural Gas Interconnector Greece Bulgaria, while Antonis Natsikas, DE.PA deputy director, was appointed as one of two chief executives.
An announcement by the environment, energy and climate change ministry said the Greek-Bulgaria pipeline will aid efforts to boost the country's position as an energy hub and to secure natgas supplies to Greece.
 GSEE, ADEDY unions hold rallyThe General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) carried out a three-hour work stoppage between noon and 3 p.m. on Wedesday. A rally was followed by a march to Parliament where a delegation delivered a resolution.
The resolution called for, among other things, the country's "release from the memorandum's bonds, the reshaping of the budget, the withdrawal of terms contained in the recent law on labour relations and the return and widening of social insurance rights."
 Public transport unions water down most strikesBuses will operate on Thursday between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., while unions representing employees at the state-run metro, electric railway and tram lines have also called off a 24-hour strike and will instead run between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., ostensibly to allow shoppers easier access to the city centre and markets.
All industrial actions on Christmas Eve have also been called off, except for a work stoppage by bus drivers between noon and 4 p.m. to allow the holding of a union general meeting, albeit during regular working hours.
 Telecon'f between US, Greek officials on cruise tourismImplementation of legislation abolishing the decades-old and practically Greece-exclusive regime of cabotage, efforts for the development of cruise tourism and promotion of Greek ports as cruise ship home ports were the focal points of a teleconference discussion between US executives active in the cruise sector and Greek government ministers on Wednesday.
The teleconference was hosted by new US ambassador to Greece Daniel Bennett Smith at the US embassy with the participation of Minister of State Haris Pamboukis, Maritime Affairs, Islands & Fisheries Minister Yiannis Diamantidis, Culture and Tourism Deputy Minister Giorgos Nikitiadis, a representative of Piraeus Port Authority S.A. as well as tourism sector professionals.
 Emporiki Bank closes Frankfurt branchEmporiki Bank, the Greek subsidiary of Credit Agricole, on Wednesday announced to the Athens Stock Exchange that it has closed its bank branch in Frankfurt, after settling all outstanding accounts as of Dec. 13, 2010.
 Microsoft Innovation Center in AthensMicrosoft Hellas announced that the relocation of the Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) in the company headquarters in Athens' Maroussi district will be launched on Jan. 1 and is expected to be completed by Sept. 2011.
The new MIC facilities will feature updated infrastructure and will operate on a 24-hour basis providing easier access to those interested. In addition, the MIC will boost its services providing even more reliable and speedier network infrastructures ensuring unhindered network access and more productivity.
In the recent Information and Communications Technology - ICT Forum held in Athens last October, the MIC received the Greek ICT Award 2010 for its overall contribution to the promotion of innovation and young entrepreneurship in Greece.
 Stocks end downStocks ended lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, hit by losses in blue chip stocks such as National Bank and Eurobank. The composite index of themarket fell 0.69 pct to end at 1,449.12 points, with turnover a low 58.983 million euros.
The Big Cap index fell 1.03 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.54 pct higher and the Small Cap index fell 1.67 pct. Mytilineos (2.59 pct), Jumbo (2.41 pct) and Motor Oil (2.23 pct) were major gainers among blue chip stocks, while Eurobank (4.66 pct), National Bank (3.52 pct) and PPC (2.18 pct) were major losers.
The Personal Products (2.18 pct) and Chemicals (2.15 pct) sectors scored gains, while Commerce (5.61 pct) and Media (2.81 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 83 to 62 with another 60 issues remaining unchanged. Spider (15.38 pct), Mohlos (10 pct) and Druckfarben (9.76 pct) were top gainers, while Edrasis (12.5 pct), Atti-kat (11.11 pct) and Athina (9.38 pct) were major losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.80%
Personal & Household: +2.18%
Raw Materials: +1.84%
Travel & Leisure: +0.02%
Food & Beverages: -0.73%
Financial Services: +1.97%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Eurobank and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.03
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.24
HBC Coca Cola: 19.90
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.90
National Bank of Greece: 6.31
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.89
Bank of Piraeus: 3.70
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds remained at very high levels in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday (915 basis points), with the Greek bond yielding 12.09 pct and the German Bund 2.94 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 11 million euros, of which 10 million were buy orders and the remaining 1.0 million were sell orders. The market was largely unaffected by a Fitch Ratings warning of a possible downgrading of the Greek economy.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.53 pct, the six-month rate was 1.25 pct, the three-month 1.02 pct and the one-month rate 0.81 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -2.40 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover falling to a low of 17.481 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 4,038 contracts worth 13.554 million euros, with 24,401 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 9,967 contracts worth 3.927 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Piraeus Bank's contracts (3,443), followed by Eurobank (1,075), MIG (1,400), National Bank (1,581), Alpha Bank (724), Hellenic Postbank (233) and ATEbank (161).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.321
Pound sterling 0.855
Danish kroner 7.511
Swedish kroner 9.053
Japanese yen 110.56
Swiss franc 1.260
Norwegian kroner 7.934
Canadian dollar 1.342
Australian dollar 1.324
 Christmas messages from Orthodox Church leadersThe leaders of Orthodox Churches in Greece and abroad issued messages for the Christmas holiday on Wednesday, among them Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece.
In his message, Patriarch Bartholomew highlighted the difficulties faced by many people around the world this Christmas as a result of the economic crisis, which had rendered countless people jobless, plunged them into poverty or even made them homeless.
He emphasised that the Church offered a message of hope during such difficult times and that Christ's message had also concerned people's suffering on earth and not just their spiritual well-being in the hereafter.
"This is the time for a practical application of the Gospel, with a high sense of responsibility! The time when the apostolic word is heard more strongly and intensely: "Show me your faith by your works," the Patriarch's message wrote.
Similarly, Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos stressed that Christians had unshakable faith that God was not indifferent to the fate of people and for this reason had sent Christ to save mankind.
Alexandria Patriarch Theodoros II noted that Christ's birth had overturned the history of humanity in a revolutionary way, since the Son of God "had come to doubt the established order and to identify himself with the weak and oppressed".
Patriarch Theodoros particularly highlighted the fate of African orphans that had lost their parents to AIDS. He stressed that in addition to the ills of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, corruption and war, they were also faced with social exclusion and the rejection of their families and friends and became the "sacrificial victims" of the worst catastrophe to strike Africa since slavery.
Athens Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Church of Greece, noted that the current holiday appeared overshadowed by worry, disappointment and concern about the fate of Greece and the entire world. He stressed the need, at a time when everything seemed dark, to "turn our gaze to the light" and "once again place Christ at the centre of our lives".
 Police search possible urban terror safehouseA search of a reputed urban terrorist group's safe house in the Athens district of Halandri was allegedly used by two suspects already arrested and currently facing several terror-related charges, all linked to the activity of the ultra-leftist gang "conspiracy of the cells of fire".
The name of the lease-holder, "Stamatis Denetis", is fictitious, police said, although the apartment was allegedly used by would-be mail bombers Panagiotis Argyrou and Gerassimos Tsakalos, who were arrested on Nov. 1 in central Athens.
A search by the police counter-terrorism squad turned up only household items and a PC, but no weapons or explosives, authorities said.
 Suspected drug boss remanded in custodyA 34-year-old car dealer suspected of running a nine-member drug-trafficking ring supplying illegal narcotics to rich and famous clients was remanded in custody on Wednesday after appearing before an Athens examining magistrate.
The suspect has been charged with drug and weapons law violations, as well as participation in a criminal group. He is accused of being the mastermind of a ring that included eight Greek nationals and one French national.
The 34-year-old was arrested while engaged in selling a quantity of cocaine to two other suspects that have also been charged in connection with the case. Based on intelligence about the group's activities, the Greek drugs squad had obtained a warrant to tap the phones of specific suspects between September 21 and December 17.
The surveillance of these phones provided evidence against another 50 or so people, many of whom will be prosecuted separately in the next few days.
The 34-year-old car dealer denies the charges against him and says he has been a drug user for the past 15 years and suffers from mental health issues. He named an Albanian national, giving his full details, as the leader of the drug dealing outfit. The suspect also supplied information about a storage space in Pagrati where he went to pick up drugs.
According to the car dealer, he was introduced to the Albanian drug trader by a well-known Greek businessman also dealing in cars and in return for the "services" he provided to the drug dealers he was provided with his dose.
Two more suspects arrested in connection with the case have appeared before the magistrate so far and were released, since they faced only misdemeanour level charges. The remaining six suspects are due to appear before the magistrate on Thursday.
 Ex-wife charged in psychiatrist's murderPolice in Thessaloniki on Wednesday announced the arrest of a murder victim's ex-wife on homicide charges, a week after the body of the man, a local psychiatrist, was found on a downtown intersection in the northern port city.
According to reports, the victim's 27-year-old former wife, a Cuban national, and her Greek fianc?, 27, were arrested and charged with the man's homicide.
The 48-year-old psychiatrist's body was found with fatal stab wounds to the throat area on a central Thessaloniki intersection.
 Partial solar eclipse on January 4Greece will experience a partial solar eclipse starting at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of January 4, the first Tuesday after the New Year.
Weather permitting, the Hellenic Astronomy Club will set up telescopes outside the entrance to the Evgenidis Foundation's Digital Planetarium at 11 Pentelis St in Paleo Faliro and amateur astronomers will assist those that want to view the eclipse through a telescope.
The head of the Planetarium Prof. Dionysis Simopoulos said that only up to two thirds of the solar disc will be covered by the moon in Greece when the eclipse is at its height, at around 10:23 a.m.
Roughly 12 hours earlier, the earth will be at the closest distance from the sun during the year (147,105,721 kilometres). The eclipse will begin at 8:40 a.m. in north Algeria and will be visible from north Africa, the greater part of Europe and central Asia.
 Cloudy on ThursdayCloudy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 3C and 23C. Slightly cloudy in Athens, with southerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 11C to 19C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 8C to 15C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe annual debate in Parliament over the 2011 state budget, decisions to open so-called "closed professions" and a new possible downgrading of the Greek economy by an international ratings service mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Changes in salaries, pension and taxes from Jan. 1, 2011.
AVGHI: "From bad to worse..."
AVRIANI: "Government's decision to extract oil will cover 30 percent of country's needs".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "PASOK MPs reject economic policy".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Problem with closed professions' bill".
ESTIA: "Garbage during Christmas has become an annual tradition".
ETHNOS: "Ministers' backstabbing, MPs nagging".
IMERISSIA: "Rating firm Fitch warns over new downgrading".
KATHIMERINI: "Redeployment and turbulence in government".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Pressure for new downgrading intensifies".
NIKI: "Tax storm arrives with new year".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Anti-popular policy of health -- operation of public agencies as private enterprises".
TA NEA: "Sweeping draft law for closed professions".
VRADYNI: "Development via ... gambling".
 International agreements do not affect the Cyprus problem, FM saysNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
International Agreements signed by the Republic of Cyprus and the activities to promote its financial interests have nothing to do with the ongoing efforts for a solution to the Cyprus problem, Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.
Responding to a press release issued by the Turkish FM concerning the signing of a bilateral agreement with the state of Israel for the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone between the two countries, the Cypriot FM notes that ''the recent agreement on the delimitation of the EEZ was concluded in the framework of the exercise of its sovereign rights.''
''Issues concerning the Republic of Cyprus and the exercise of its sovereign rights do not concern any other third state,'' the Cypriot FM notes in a press release issued on Wednesday.
The Cypriot FM also indicated the recent EU General and External Relations Council conclusions, endorsed by the EU Summit where the rights of all member-states to exercise their sovereign rights are reaffirmed.
''The EU stresses again all the sovereign rights of the member-states which, inter alia, includes the entering into bilateral agreements in accordance with the EU aguis and the international law, including UN Convention on the law of the sea,'' the EU Council conclusions read.
''The Republic of Cyprus constitutes the only lawful state in Cyprus, which is fully recognized and represents the whole of the Cypriot people including the Turkish Cypriots,'' the Cypriot FM notes adding ''Turkey does not have the right to dispute, on the contrary, it has the obligation to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, in the framework of its accession course, as provided in the EU Council declaration of September 2005.''
The Cypriot Ministry also notes that ''the international convention signed by the Republic of Cyprus and the activities for the promotion of its financial interests have nothing to do with, neither can nor should affect the talks for a solution to the Cyprus problem''.
''These conventions concern and benefit the Cypriot people as a whole. What is obstructing the Turkish Cypriots from benefiting from the initiatives of the lawful state is the illegal Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus. Therefore, Turkey should actively assist the efforts for a solution to Cyprus problem,'' the Cypriot FM concludes.
Turkey, which invaded Cyprus, an EU state since 2004, in 1974 and has been occupying 37 per cent of its territory, objects Cyprus' right to explore its EEZ for hydrocarbons.
 Cyprus protests Turkey's airspace violations to the UNNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus has protested Turkey's violations of its air space to the UN, pointing out that this contravenes international law and threatens air safety.
The Republic's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Minas Hadjimichael, has sent a protest letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, drawing his attention to ongoing violations of the international air traffic regulations and the national airspace of the Republic of Cyprus by military aircraft of the Turkish Air Force.
The violations were recorded from 1 September to 30 November 2010.
The Cypriot diplomat strongly protests the continued abuses by Turkey and calls for their immediate cessation, noting that these systematic violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey clearly violate international law and air traffic regulations and seriously threaten the safety of international aviation in the region.
Hadjimichael underlines that these continuing provocations by Turkey put at risk the peace and stability in the entire region of the eastern Mediterranean and are unfitting for a country currently serving as a member of the Security Council.
At the same time he recalls that "the undisputable jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus over its sovereign territory, and hence the rejection of any claims by Turkey or its subordinate administration in the occupied part of the island to the airspace over Cyprus, has been determined on multiple occasions" such as in the case of the so-called Kibris Turk Hava Yollari (KTHY) and CTA Holidays vs. the Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland where the Court of Appeal of England and Wales upheld the earlier decision by the High Court of England and Wales that the Government of the United Kingdom was right to refuse permits to "KTHY" and "CTA Holidays" to operate direct flights from the United Kingdom to the occupied part of Cyprus.
In his letter to the UNSG, the Permanent Representative of Cyprus also indicates that such actions are especially unhelpful at the present juncture in the Cyprus question, in the context of the ongoing negotiations aimed at finding a just, lasting and peaceful solution.
Turkey, whose troops occupy Cyprus' northern part since they invaded in 1974, does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus. The legal government of Cyprus is prevented from exercising its jurisdiction throughout the country by the presence of some 40,000 Turkish troops.
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