|Sunday, 15 July 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-02-18
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 18 February 2011 Issue No: 3724
 Cabinet OKs closely watched draft tax billThe Cabinet on Thursday approved a new draft bill overhauling the tax system, including tougher sanctions to combat tax evasion, such as possible jail time for non-payment of VAT returns exceeding 75,000 euros and income tax above 150,000 euros.
The draft law also foresees the establishment of a financial prosecutor to combat tax evasion cases, publication of the names of large-scale tax evaders and stricter procedures in the selection and inspection of tax agency staff.
The draft law also includes measures to support business activity, such as lower corporate tax rates, changing the withholding tax on dividends and flexibility in VAT payments.
The government will adopt a three-year programme to combat pervasive tax evasion, including specific actions and measurable targets, with the first programme expected to be published by the end of March 2011. Under the draft legislation -- pending ratification by Parliament -- the finance ministry will issue a retail card to ensure greater transparency in consumers' transactions with businesses.
The finance ministry will also set up an internal affairs department to evaluate tax inspectors' alleged involvement to corruption and bribe taking. It also envisages the creation of a special tax arbitration force aimed to accelerate resolution of tax cases.
The draft tax bill is based on OECD's directives regarding taxation of global income for individuals residing in Greece for more than 183 days per year.
A corporate tax rate will be cut to 20 pct, valid as of Jan. 1, 2011, down from 24 pct previously, while for distributed earnings a 25 pct withholding tax is envisaged.
The ministry also aims to raise the tax rate on capital gains to 0.002 pct from 0.0015 pct. The new legislation extends for a period of four years, by Dec. 31, 2014, the right to an additional 50 pct discount for R&D spending by enterprises, including cargo centres into VAT status and extending a period of VAT imposition on buildings with unsold residences or commercial areas.
 ND on new tax billThe main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, commenting on Thursday on the new tax bill submitted at the cabinet meeting, spoke of "yet another fragmental and ineffective initiative by the government".
ND's alternate head of the Economy Political Responsibility Sector Yiannis Vroutsis termed the bill a "tax invention" which, as he mentions characteristically, "is based on making penalties stricter, ignoring the fact that the taxpaying capacity of businesses and of citizens has been exhausted."
 PM addresses Cabinet meeting"It's time for us to leave everything behind, after all that it has been said during the past few days," Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed on Thursday, addressing a Cabinet meeting.
Papandreou referred to pervasive pessimism by political forces, individuals and "well-paid commentators", "who fiercely bombarded the people on an every day basis".
"They are not coming from abroad but from inside the country. They are those who lay comfortably on vested rights and resist all changes. Thankfully, this peculiar and odd alliance of powers has not been vindicated," he stressed.
He again criticized the troika (IMF-ECB-EU) representatives stressing that they crossed the line and misinterpreted their role. "This steels our will to make Greece strong enough to stand on its own feet as soon as possible without needing any more loans," he said.
He stated that the memorandum expires in the spring of 2013 but the timetable set until 2015 is the government's will. "The government has the intention to negotiate, to brief and, in the end, to decide on the issue of the public property," he said, characterizing as indicative the 50-billion-euro target. He repeated that this is the government's will and not an obligation related with the troika.
The premier characterised ND's stance on the issue as hypocritical, and addressing his government's ministers, he stressed that pubic property will have to be registered, clarifying that its sell-off is out of the question. He repeated that the transfer of public property will be banned to prevent repetition of Vatopedi-type reasoning.
He also called on the political parties to state if they support the specific proposal and stop hiding or be hypocritical.
 Cabinet discusses special financial policeThe government's plans for a dedicated financial crimes police, whose main mission will be to fight tax evasion, were the focus of a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday.
According to sources, Finance Minister George Papacon-stantinou described tax evasion as Greece's "national sport" and said that he wanted a tool that would allow him to do his job. After some debate over which ministry would be in charge of the new financial police, responsibility for this was finally assigned to the Citizens' Protection ministry, while it was decided that the 'financial public prosecutor' will be a deputy appeals court prosecutor answerable to the justice ministry.
The cabinet also decided that the period for which financial crimes can be prosecuted will begin from the time they are committed until one third of the statutory period, which is five years for misdemeanour offences and 15 years for criminal offences.
In practice, this means that misdemeanour offences can be prosecuted for a period of 20 months from when they are committed and criminal financial offences for a period of five years.
 PM Papandreou in Samothraki: 'A strong Greece our target'Prime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday sent a message of hope from the northern Aegean island of Samothraki that Greece "will break the bonds of misery and enter the path of growth and progress."
Speaking during a meeting with production and local agencies, Papandreou stressed that the government and all the Greek citizens "turned their backs on a destructive wave that would sweep through the country and send it to the verge of bankruptcy and succeeded in keeping it upright with hard and systematic work."
The prime minister underlined that the government is working systematically against phenomena of pathogenies lasting for many years.
"The target of all of us is to create a strong Greece that will not need any memorandum, troika support packages and loan forces in the future," he said.
Papandreou further said the citizen must feel strong and that "it is imperative that we create a viable economy, where there shall be an equal distribution of wealth. We want to correct negativity, what has led us to this difficult situation. We want to create a society of justice and security for all citizens."
Addressing the island's production and local agencies, as well as the members of the municipal council, the prime minister made special reference to the island's growth, saying that it constitutes a model of green and sustainable growth.
Samothraki, he added, can promote the comparative advantages, combined with its rich tradition and excellent local products.
 PM Papandreou makes announcement on development of SamothrakiPrime Minister George Papandreou, addressing local and production agencies of the island of Samothraki on Thursday, announced a series of development projects aimed at boosting and strengthening the local economy of Samothraki.
Papandreou announced the starting of work to build the fishing refuge in 2011, the upgrading of the island's port infrastructures, the improvement of medical services provided by the Health Centre, the establishment of a telemedicine unit and the shaping of the castle at Hora.
The prime minister emphasised that agencies and the state must jointly shape the island's qualitative characteristics, aiming at the improvement of the quality of life of local inhabitants and visitors.
He also termed Samothraki a model of green and sustainable growth that can utilise in the best possible way its rich natural environment and renewable energy sources, such as geothermia, that exists on the island.
 FM concludes London visitLONDON (ANA-MPA / L. Tsirigotakis)
Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas concluded a two-day visit here on Thursday after meeting with British Deputy Foreign Minister David Leadington, who is responsible for southeastern Europe and NATO.
Droutsas held talks on Wednesday with Foreign Secretary William Haig as well as with new opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
Speaking to reporters at the end of his talks, the Greek foreign minister said his meeting with Haig focused on developments in Egypt, illegal immigration and the European prospects of western Balkan coutries.
Droutsas departed for New York City where he will meet with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.
 FM due in New York, meeting with UNSGGreek foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas is due to arrive on Thursday in New York, where he will meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon the following day.
Droutsas and the UN chief will mainly discuss the Cyprus issue ahead of the secretary general's report, which will be submitted to the UN Security Council by the end of the month.
Other topics of discussion will be the FYROM name talks and the situation in the Middle East.
 ND leader Samaras addresses conference on transparencyMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, addressing a conference on transparency on Thursday, stressed the need for the restoration of transparency to enable the country to win all the struggles it has to wage.
The ND leader termed transparency as the "oxygen and pride of Democracy", as well as a "precondition of social cohesion and of a competitive economy."
He further said that the country needs strong and relentless auditing apparatuses, so that "the perjuring civil servant as well as the corrupt politician will be found and punished."
Samaras reiterated the proposal he has made, for auditing apparatuses to be comprised of senior judges since, as he said, those checking must also be checked.
"Let us eliminate distortions in the political system, if we start eliminating distortions in the economy and if we restore auditing apparatuses with internal 'security valves', then transparency will be restored and corruption will be minimised," he said.
In another development, ND appeared satisfied on Thursday with the results of a poll showing the gap with the ruling PASOK party to be narrowing to only one percentage point. According to the poll by VPRC published on Thursday in the "Epikera" magazine, PASOK receives 33 percent against 32 pc for ND, followed by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) with 12.5, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and the Coalition with 5, the Ecologists/Greens with 4, the Democratic Left 2.5 and the Democratic Alliance with 2 percent.
 Deputy FM Kouvelis in BudapestVIENNA (ANA-MPA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis, inaugurating the sessions of the Greek-Hungarian Business Forum in Budapest, where he is paying a two-day visit accompanied by a group of Greek businessmen, stressed the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation between Greece and Hungary at all levels, based on historic, political and cultural ties, apart from all that has been done so far.
Kouvelis, who held consecutive meetings on Thursday with his Hungarian counterpart Janos Hovari, Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Zsolt Becsey and Deputy Energy and Climatic Change Minister Janos Bencsik, stressed in his inaugural speech his conviction that considerable steps can be made in bilateral economic cooperation with the support of the active Greek community and the businessmen who are in Hungary.
As he said, the holding of commercial exhibitions and the exchange of targeted business missions can provide speedy results and he hopes that the participation of Hungarian businesses in last year's Thessaloniki International Fair, where Hungary was the theme country, helped the strengthening of relations and the building of new ones between the two business communities, as well as the extension of cooperations already existing.
The Greek deputy minister hailed the presence in the Forum in Budapest of a series of Greek companies that cover a wide spectrum of activities, renewable energy, constructions that are environmentally friendly, software systems, pharmaceutical products, foodstuffs, beverages, paper and marble.
 Opening of closed professions bill voted 'in principle'The parliament plenary passed a bill on deregulating the so-called "closed shop" professions in principle (first reading) on Wednesday night.
The bill, which has drawn strong criticism from the opposition parties and the closed profession categories that will be 'opened', is the 'cornerstone' of the reforms being advanced by the government, and responds to the exclusion of young people from entering the economy on their own strength and knowledge, ruling PASOK rapporteur Markos Bolaris said.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) said it backs the philosophy of the 'opening' of the 'closed professions', but cannot vote for the bill because it is not founded on studies of the social repercussions and leads to de-organisation of the market.
 Parliament ratifies bill on 'closed professions'The Greek Parliament on Thursday evening ratified in its articles a bill regarding the opening up of so called closed professions.
The bill was voted by the ruling PASOK deputies.
 Gov't agrees to amend bill to prevent law firm 'chains'During debate of a draft bill to liberalise closed professions, Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sahinidis on Thursday agreed to changes that would prevent high-profile law firms from creating 'chain stores' by establishing branches throughout Greece, bowing to demands from MPs in all sections of Parliament.
Sahinidis said that article 6 of the draft bill will now stipulate that only members of the local bar association will be allowed to set up law firms in a given area and not members of any bar association as originally stated in the draft bill.
 Greece wants easier tourism visa regime for Russian, Chinese & Indian nationalsMILAN (ANA-MPA / Th. Andreadis-Syggelakis)
Greek Culture & Tourism Deputy Minister Giorgos Nikitiadis on Thursday inaugurated the Greek pavilion at Milan's BIT international travel fair, which brings together 5,000 exhibitors from 130 countries and around 150,000 visitors.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with European Commission vice-president Antonio Tajani, the Greek minister said the country has asked for ways to lift visa hurdles for citizens of China, Russia and India. He also proposed that an informal tourism ministers' council to be held in Rhodes with a parallel invitation to the Russian tourism minister for discussions over ways to facilitate tourist arrivals from Russia into the European Union.
"... Our aim is to facilitate the arrival of tourists from countries such as China and Russia with emerging middle classes who are available to travel and spend," the EU Commissioner told the ANA-MPA.
The EC official added it was important to attract new tourists, while he stressed that the Commission was working with Athens towards to organise a tourism ministers' council to discuss specific proposals.
The minister said Athens will also dynamically promote alternative forms of tourism (congress, sports, cultural and culinary).
Additionally, Greece is eyeing a target of two million Italian tourists annually, up from 1.5 million in 2010. Nikitiadis said that another priority is to promote long weekends and "city tours" in Athens and Thessaloniki.
 Nikitiadis meets with Hungarian counterpart at Milan exhibitionMILAN (ANA-MPA / Th. Andreadis-Syggelakis)
Deputy Tourism Minister Giorgos Nikitiadis, on the sidelines of the four-day International Tourism Exchange here, met with the Hungarian tourism minister, as Hungary holds the EU rotating presidency.
Among the events to take place within the framework of the BIT 2011 in Milan will be a painting exhibition with works by painters Georgio de Chirico and Nikos Engonopoulos organized by the local Greek community and the Greek tourism ministry.
 Deputy education minister in SwitzerlandDeputy Education minister Yiannis Panaretos began a visit to Switzerland on Thursday, during which he will meet with the federal minister of education, research and innovation.
He will also meet with the presidents of the Swiss Federal Technological Institute in Zurich (ETH) and Lausanne (EPFL), and the president of the Board of Trustees and Rector of the University of Zurich, as well as with representatives of local Greek organisations.
 Bakoyannis question on foreign ministry funding, diplomats' pay cutsIndependent MP and former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday tabled a question in Parliament addressed to the prime minister over what she termed "the extreme increase in secret funds managed by the foreign ministry".
Bakoyannis, who was expelled from main opposition New Democracy only to form her own party shortly thereafter, charged that the government has proceeded with "considerable cuts" in the foreign ministry budget, something she said drastically affects the operating expenses of Greek embassies and consulates in a number of countries.
She also cited what she called reductions in the salaries of diplomats and other foreign ministry personnel.
Conversely, according to Bakoyannis, the foreign ministry's "classified expenditures" reached 18 million euros in 2010, while in 2011 the sum increased to 34 million euros, as approved by a joint ministerial decision signed by the ministers of finance and foreign affairs -- Bakoyannis asserts.
 Patriarch receives new US envoy to TurkeyISTANBUL (ANA-MPA)
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Thursday received the new US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone at the Patriarchate seat in the Fanar district of Istanbul.
"It was a very great honor to come here on my first day back in Istanbul after being away from Turkey for many years. It was very moving, of course, to meet His All Holiness (Bartholomew). The last time I had yet him had been with Mrs. Clinton in 1996. We discussed issues of concern to the Church and also to the United States, the concern to support religious freedom everywhere in the world," Ricciardone said, adding:
"We both discussed with great pleasure modern Turkey's ambition to serve as an example of freedom and democracy. As always I conveyed the greetings of Secretary Clinton, the good-wishes of the United States, the people and government of the United States and my respect for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and for its community."
 Ecumenical Patriarch receives Thessaloniki mayorISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos extended wishes for a successful tenure in the municipality of Thessaloniki to the new mayor Yiannis Boutaris who visited him at the Phanar.
"We wish a good tenure for the benefit of the people of Thessaloniki," the Patriarch said, while Boutaris termed the meeting "yet another small stone in the very close relations that the municipality wants to develop with the Ecumenical Patriarcate."
 Gov't withdraws circular allowing back-dated municipal ratesIn a sharply executed u-turn on Thursday, the government first upheld and shortly afterward completely withdrew a ministry circular that gave municipal authorities the power to backdate municipal rates on previously undeclared 'semi-outdoor' spaces.
Acting on orders of Prime Minister George Papandreou, Deputy Interior Minister George Dolios left Thursday's Cabinet meeting and went to Parliament, where he announced that the circular was being withdrawn pending legislation that would prevent municipalities from charging retroactive municipal taxes.
The existence of thousands of such illegally enclosed building features, known in Greece by the shorthand 'semi-outdoor spaces' and usually the "handiwork" of contractors wishing to offer bigger apartments to buyers, was recently revealed when owners took advantage of measure allowing them to 'maintain' illegal building conversions for 40 years by paying a lump sum.
By giving municipalities a "green light" to possibly charge backdated rates, the government was seen to be backtracking on promises to owners making use of the measure that they would be exempt from retroactive taxes, new fines or surcharges in the future.
In reply to a question from the ANA-MPA on Thursday morning, Dolios confirmed that the law governing the 'settlement' of illegal conversions and extensions in 2010 did not exempt them from any local authority taxes that would have been due -- but only the real estate property tax.
He noted that local authorities in any case had the right to charge taxes based on the total surface of a building, whether enclosed or open, and that this right was not affected by the environment ministry bill, which had not specifically referred to it.
Dolios went so far as to say that municipalities had a duty to include such spaces in the calculation of taxes, since they would otherwise be discriminating against those who had originally declared such spaces, as they were required to.
In his subsequent announcement, Dolios said the government would bring legislation that abolished or forbid local authorities back-dating the municipal rates due to them.
Meanwhile, main opposition New Democracy (ND) party subsequently lashed out at the government, accusing it of misleading the people regarding the settlement of the illegally enclosed spaces on buildings and their legalisation for a period of 40 years.
ND spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis called on the government to immediately withdraw an interior ministry circular attempting to impose additional taxes and fines, even backdated, on the spaces in question that were legalized pursuant to Law No. 3843/2010.
Mihelakis stressed that "the people do not trust the state anymore because it lies and misleads".
Referring to the shipping sector, he accused the government of following an inadequate policy.
As regards the public property exploitation issue, ND accused the government of missing the essence of the matter and pulling publicity stunts.
 Deputy energy minister to visit Israel, Saudi ArabiaDeputy Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis is due to visit Israel on Sunday for talks on energy issues with Israel's Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau. According to a ministry announcement, they will discuss "all energy issues of mutual interest, with the aim of further boosting cooperation between the two countries".
Among others, the talks are expected to examine the possibilities of Greece's participation in the transport of natural gas reserves recently discovered in the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
Maniatis will also visit the city of Eliat in order to take part in a conference on renewable energy resources that will take place there and meet Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan to discuss issues of water management and protection in the framework of an initiative for cooperation between states initiated by Greece's Environment Minister Tina Birbili.
The deputy minister is next due to visit Riyadh in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, in order to represent Greece at the International Energy Forum ministerial meeting. This will bring together the energy ministers of 70 countries in order to discuss issues concerning the regulation of energy markets, analyse trends and discuss transparency in oil market data based on decisions for a Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI) World Database.
Ministers from the attending countries, among them Maniatis, will also sign the IEF charter.
 President Papoulias receives leadership of Arab Hellenic ChamberPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday received the president of the Arab Hellenic Chamber of Commerce Christos Folias, a former government minister, and the chamber's general secretary Mohammed Elkhazmi. During the meeting, he noted the delays in developing economic and trade relations between Greece and Arab countries.
"Even though political relations were so good, the trade and economic relations did not follow. Quite possibly this may have been due to us," Papoulias said.
Folias outlined the significant prospects of economic cooperation with the 22 Arab countries represented in the Arab Hellenic Chamber, which Papoulias urged the two men to develop.
 Greek companies in Bulgaria also hit by crisisAlthough the economic crisis forced many Greek businesses in Bulgaria to lay-off employees in 2010 and to limit or postpone investment plans and shut down production units, they still provide jobs to 82,000 people in the neighboring country, Greece-Bulgaria Chamber of Commerce president Panagiotis Koutsikos told ANA-MPA.
Koutsikos noted that the above figure is from the Bulgarian statistical service.
"The Greek enterprises in Bulgaria are also facing the economic crisis, just as in Greece. Namely (in 2010) we had worker layoffs, some production units were closed down and, more generally, they are reducing operational costs to the degree allowed under Bulgarian legislation," he said.
Naturally, he added, every enterprise is an isolated case and is facing the crisis with its own criteria. Koutsikos added that Bulgaria has been coming out of the economic crisis since September 2010 and its basic financial indicators are improving.
The total Greek invested capital in Bulgaria exceeds 3 billion euros, according to official figures, without taking into consideration the profits re-invested by those companies annually, which is not recorded by the Bulgarian statistical service.
The Chamber estimates the Greek capital invested in Bulgaria at approximately 4 billion euros, mostly in services and trade, followed by industry and light industry.
Koutsikos said that at least 40 Greek-interest companies in Bulgaria shut down in 2009, while Greek investments were estimated at 10 times less than in 2008.
 1st Extroversion Seminar 'How to do Business in USA'The 1st Extroversion Seminar "How to do Business in USA" aims at developing actions between Greece and the United States that promote bilateral trade, investments, the transfer of technology and know-how, "green" energy solutions, research and growth, as well as entrepreneurship through coordinated efforts by its partners.
The Seminar is being organised by the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce on February 22 at the Athens Hilton Hotel at 11 a.m. in the framework of the American Hellenic Entrepreneurial Initiative (AHEI).
The purpose of the 1st Extroversion Seminar is to present to the Greek business community the biggest market in the world, the strategies and the procedures that Greek companies must follow for strategic partners to be located that will conclude successful trade agreements.
The 1st Extroversion Seminar can be followed by companies desiring to cooperate with the US for the import and export of products or services, the creation of joint ventures and investments in the United States.
 Funding to PPC union nears 30 mln euros over past 12 yearsThe total amount of funding to the labour union representing Public Power Corp. workers approaches 30 million euros over the past 12 years (from 1999 to 2010), an amount that includes both trade union contributions by employees and direct funding by the state-run utility for union's holding of conferences, studies, transportation, etc.
The information emanates from a PPC document to the environment, energy and climate change ministry following the furor created when it was reported that PPC had extended a 500,000-euro loan to the union (GENOP).
 Fourlis Group purchases Intersport's network in TurkeyFourlis Group on Thursday announced that it has reached an agreement to purchase Intersport's branch network in Turkey for around 10 million euros.
Under the agreement, Fourlis will obtain franchising rights under the brand name Intersport Atletik in Turkey. The Greek group will participate in the new company through its subsidiary in Greece, Intersport Athletics SA, with a 75 pct equity stake, while the remaining 25 pct will belong to the previous franchisee. Intersport Atletik operates a network of 20 retail shops in Turkey.
Fourlis Group aims to expand this network to more than 50 branches in the next five to eight years.
Fourlis Group operates a network of 55 Intersport units in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
 House prices to continue falling in 2011, BoGHouse prices will continue falling this year after falling by 3.7 pct in 2009 and 4.0 pct last year, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday.
In a report on the domestic real estate market, the central bank attributed its pessimistic forecast to the fact that households remained cautious, excessive supply, a significant inventory of unsold homes and a squeeze in bank funding. Greek households are affected by increased uncertainty over employment and their future incomes, while most households have also postponed the purchase of new homes anticipating a further decline in prices over the next few months.
The report said house prices fell 8.1 pct in the last quarter of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009, for newly-built homes, and by 4.0 pct for older ones. House prices fell 4.4 pct (newly-built) and by 3.8 pct (older ones). In a geographical analysis, house prices fell 5.1 pct in Athens in the fourth quarter of 2010, by 9.0 pct in Thessaloniki, by 6.1 pct in other large cities and by 4.9 pct in other regions of the country.
 Eurodrip reports higher 2010 resultsEurodrip on Thursday said consolidated sales grew 14.5 pct last year to 68 million euros, up from 59.4 million euros in 2009.
The group said EBITDA totaled 9.2 million euros in 2010, from 7.8 million in the previous year, for an increase of 17.7 pct, while pre-tax earnings jumped 37 pct to 4.1 million euros.
Eurodrip attributed its improved results to an increase of its export activities, with 90.6 pct of consolidated sales coming from international markets.
Eurodrip has established activities in 60 countries around the world.
Eurodrip said it expected a further improvement of its results this year, with consolidated turnover projected to grow by 11 pct and earnings rising by 20 pct.
 Domestic tourism downOvernight stays at hotels and camping facilities fell by 2.1 percent, and customer arrivals fell by 2.6 percent in the 9-month period January-September 2010 against the corresponding period in 2009, according to figures released on Thursday by the independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).
ELSTAT attributed the reduction to a 7.9 percent decrease in domestic tourists and 10.6 percent reduction in overnight stays by domestic tourists in the period in question, with the average overnight stay falling to 4.2 nights per visitor (5.4 nights for foreign visitors and 2.6 nights per local visitor).
The hotel capacity rates (excluding camping facilities) rose slightly to 55.3 percent in the Jan-Sept. 2010 period from 54.8 percent in the same period in 2009.
 Greek hotel prices down 7% in Feb.Athens' hotel room prices remained stable in February, with the average price for an overnight stay in a standard double room at 85 euros, down from an average rate of 107 euros in European capitals, a survey by www.trivago.gr showed on Thursday.
Greek hotel prices were down 7.0 pct in February, compared with the same month last year, while hotel prices in Cyprus were unchanged over the same period.
Nurnberg (+51 pct) recorded a significant increase in hotel prices because of an international toy fair in the city. UK cities such as Edinburgh (+20 pct), Birmingham (+14 pct) and Manchester (+9 pct) also recorded increases in February.
 Stocks end 2.70% higherStocks ended sharply higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday as buyers reappeared in the market after a two-day absence. The composite index ended at 1,662.62 points, up 2.70 pct, while turnover rose to 130.395 million euros.
The Big Cap index jumped 2.87 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 2.17 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 1.72 pct. Titan (0.95 pct) and Jumbo (0.73 pct) were the only stocks to end lower among blue chip stocks, while ATEbank (10.93 pct), Hellenic Postbank (5.85 pct), MIG (6.82 pct) and Eurobank (6.13 pct) were major gainers.
Chemicals (4.79 pct), Utilities (3.75 pct) and Banks (3.48 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Insurance (5.51 pct) and Commerce (0.07 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 126 to 43 with another 52 issues unchanged. ATEbank (10.39 pct), Q&R (10 pct) and Hatzioannou (10 pct) were top gainers, while PC Systems (17.65 pct), Eurobrokers (8.96 pct) and Elfico (8.33 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.05%
Personal & Household: +0.93%
Raw Materials: +1.09%
Travel & Leisure: +2.58%
Food & Beverages: +2.25%
Financial Services: +3.22%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, OTE and DEH.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.59
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.67
HBC Coca Cola: 20.92
Hellenic Petroleum: 7.49
National Bank of Greece: 7.48
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.50
Bank of Piraeus: 1.62
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds fell to 843 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 868 bps the previous day. The Greek bond yielded 11.60 pct and the German Bund 3.17 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 51 million euros, of which 38 million were sell orders and the remaining 13 million euros were buy orders. The 17-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 18 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.72 pct, the six-month was 1.35 pct, the three-month 1.08 pct and the one-month rate 0.91 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.42 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover a low 48.507 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 9,392 contracts worth 36.061 million euros, with 32,307 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 28,306 contracts worth 12.446 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (5,294), followed by Eurobank (2,507), MIG (4,826), OTE (1,447), PPC (1,166), Piraeus Bank (3,544), GEK (422), Alpha Bank (2,823), Marfin Popular Bank (1,973), Mytilineos (863), Hellenic Postbank (1,087) and ATEbank (600).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.366
Pound sterling 0.847
Danish kroner 7.515
Swedish kroner 8.812
Japanese yen 114.3
Swiss franc 1.307
Norwegian kroner 7.87
Canadian dollar 1.343
Australian dollar 1.360
 FBI praise for Greek police probe of parent abduction caseThe US embassy in Athens on Thursday honored 11 Greek Police (EL.AS) officers involved in an international investigation that led to the whereabouts of three southern California children missing in a well-documented 2008 parent abduction case.
All three of the children were located in May 2010 in the Netherlands following what US ambassador to Greece Daniel B. Smith called an "exhaustive investigation" by Greek police and cooperation with US and Dutch law enforcement. Two Syrian-Armenian brothers, John and George Silah, were arrested for abducting their children -- two by the one man and one by the other.
During a brief ceremony at his official residence, Smith presented the 11 Greek officers with certificates of appreciation awarded by the FBI director, as the US federal law enforcement agency had featured the case on its parental kidnapping database. The US envoy emphasised that parental abductions are a tragedy for both the kidnapped children and the parent and family "left behind".
The US envoy also read out a letter by the mother of two of the childre expressing her appreciation of the efforts by EL.AS.
In July 2008, John Silah failed to return his son, 13-year-old Greg, to his ex-wife, who retained custody, whereas George Silah, failed to return his two sons, Alex and Zaven, 15 and 12, to his ex-wife at the end of a summer visitation. All three Silah children resided in southern California.
 President Papoulias to visit Ioannina for 98th anniversary of city's liberationPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias will honour in the city of Ioannina as of Saturday the three-day celebrations marking the 98th anniversary of the city's liberation. According to the programme, on Saturday he will be attending an event at the Memorial of the "Tseritsani Women Fighters" in the municipal area of Platania of the municipality of Dodoni.
On Sunday afternoon, he will be attending an event at the municipality's cultural centre and will inaugurate an archives material exhibition. The exhibition's theme will be:"Organi-sational administrative structures of the Epirus area after 1913." Immediately afterwards, the municipality will be hosting an official dinner in his honour at a hotel in the city.
On Monday, President Papoulias will attend the official religious service at the Agios Athanasios Cathedral, visit the headquarters of the 8th Division and lay a wreath at the Memorial of the Bizani Fighters.
 'I won't pay' movement strikes in the PeloponneseThe Coordinating Committee of the 'I won't pay' movement for the Peloponnese on Thursday announced plans for an organised protest at road tolls throughout the Peloponnese at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, defying the government's attempts to criminalise the civil disobedience movement.
In addition to Sunday's protest, there is separate protest at road tolls in the Peloponnese on Thursday organised by PAME, the trade union faction affiliated to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) that is raising bars at road tolls to allow drivers through without paying.
Representatives of the movement said they would continue to fight against what they consider unfair and unjust laws that allowed contractors exploiting roads to charge exorbitant road tolls.
"When injustice becomes a law of the state, then disobedience to those laws is not only justified but an obligation of the citizens," they stressed.
 Five-hour work stoppage for Athens buses on FridayAthens buses and trolleys will hold a five-hour work stoppage starting at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, while public transport workers in fixed-rail public transport are planning further strike action next week in protest against the law reforming Athens public transport passed by Parliament.
Buses will be parked between 11:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, while trolley buses will stop between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Workers on the ISAP electric railway have already decided to strike from noon until 4:00 p.m. on Monday. On the same day, trade unionists of the metro, tram and electric railway will hold a joint meeting to decide on further protest action.
 W. Macedonia recreation establishments closed on Monday in protest of smoking banRestaurants and recreation establishments will remain closed on Monday throughout Western Macedonia as owners will stage a protest over the government's ban on smoking in public spaces.
Vice-president of the Association of Cafeteria and cafe/sweet shop owners of Kozani, Calliope Semertzidou, told ANA-MPA that these establishments were having a very tough time as it was, financially, due to the economic crisis, "and then came the smoking ban to finish us off".
She added that the owners throughout Western Macedonia will continue and escalate their actions if a solution is not given to their problem.
 Cache of ancient artifacts found in pensioner's homeA cache of ancient artifacts was discovered in a couple's residence in eastern Attica prefecture on Wednesday during a police probe, leading to the arrest of a 67-year-old woman.
The suspect's 71-year-old husband is wanted by police on antiquities smuggling charges.
Police raided the residence on Wednesday night after reportedly acting on a tip-off. A total of 26 ancient artifacts dated to various period of antiquity were found. Several weapons were also confiscated.
 ID of German national found on victim of apparent road accidentA human skeleton was found inside a car at the bottom of a gorge on Thursday when a motorist on the Kalamata-Sparta highway in the southern Peloponnese spotted the vehicle at a depth of no less than 150 metres.
Apparently, the German license-platted car had veered off the gorge several months ago. A driver's license found on the victim belongs to a 56-year-old German national.
An investigation is underway to identify the victim and determine the causes of the accident.
 Drug dealer arrested in highschool on CreteA 24-year-old foreign national was arrested on the island of Crete for dealing narcotics in a highschool in Heraklion, while a 17-year-old pupil was also arrested as he was purchasing hashish from the dealer.
The dealer was spotted by the school guard in the school's men's room as he gave the hashish to the pupil, and the two were taken into custody by the local police.
 Rainy on FridayRainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-9 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 5C and 20C. Cloudy and rainy in Athens, with southerly 4-7 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 10C to 19C. Cloudy with local showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 7C to 14C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceEconomic issues once again dominated the front-page headlines in Athens' newspapers on Thursday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Military officers' pensions".
AVGHI: "For sale signs (for state assets), signed and sealed".
AVRIANI: "Marfin Investment Group's Vgenopoulos gave harsh reply to the slanderers of the country's biggest business group, in appearance before parliament's Social Affairs Committee".
DIMOKRATIA: "Espionage 'thriller' at foreign ministry over leak of secret documents of great national importance in last 10 days".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Scan with the semi-enclosed balconies".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Trickery with the semi-enclosed balconies".
ESTIA: "Papandreou (prime minister) a captive of his ruling PASOK party".
ETHNOS: "The new retirement ages in Army, Security Corps".
IMERISSIA: "The plan for the 50 billion euros - Concession contracts".
KATHIMERINI: "Intense behind-the-scenes with the troika".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "The planning for exploitation of state assets progressing".
RIZOSPASTIS: "The monopolies are the enemy of the small and medium size professionals and the workers".
TA NEA: "Semi-enclosed balconies - Backtracking on the municipal fees".
VRADYNI: "Retroactive trap for the semi-enclosed balconies".
 President asks for intensification of leaders' meetingsNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias has asked for the intensification of the meetings between himself and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
In statements after the meeting he held Thursday with Eroglu in the framework of the UN-led Cyprus talks, President Christofias said he also asked the Turkish Cypriot side to reaffirm the basis on which the Cyprus talks are being held.
This issue, he said, will be further discussed next Friday, in the presence of UN Secretary General's Special Advisor for Cyprus, Alexander Downer.
Speaking to journalists, the president said that the Greek Cypriot side has suggested that more meetings are held between the leaders of the two communities, saying that this issue will also be discussed at their next meeting.
The president reiterated his position that the negotiating chapters on properties and territory should be linked together, saying that the Turkish Cypriot side insists on not accepting this. He expressed deep concern over the real motives of the Turkish Cypriot side.
"Unfortunately, the Turkish Cypriot side does not accept this", he said, expressing his concern over the stance of the Turkish Cypriot side and its real aims.
"I am concerned whether the Turkish Cypriot side really wants a solution soon as it constantly declares", he stressed.
He said that without linking the two chapters no serious decisions can be made as regards the issue of properties.
"Everybody should be aware of this and I believe that the Turkish Cypriot side and the UN know this", he continued.
During the meeting, he said, they confirmed the progress achieved at the last meeting between the top aides of the two leaders on the chapters of the economy and the EU.
He also reassured that he would continue his efforts for a solution in Cyprus.
"I do not lose hope. We will continue the efforts because life itself demands the solution of the Cyprus problem", he concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and since then occupy 37% of the Republic of Cyprus' territory, situated in the north.
The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu are currently engaged in UN-led negotiations, with an aim to reunify the island.
Leaders confirm progress made by aides
The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus met on Thursday and confirmed the progress achieved in the last two meetings of the representatives on economy and EU matters, according to the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim.
She added that the leaders of the two communities would be meeting again on February 25 and that in the meantime their representatives would be holding three more meetings to continue discussions on the economy, EU matters, and governance and power sharing.
Speaking after Thursday's meeting, Buttenheim said ''the leaders met for about two hours and the progress achieved in the last two meetings of the representatives on economy and EU matters has been confirmed by the leaders.''
''Further planning and programming was discussed regarding the meetings of the leaders and the representatives,'' she said, noting that the next leaders' meeting will take place on February 25.
She pointed out that before that, their representatives were scheduled to meet on February 18, February 21, and February 23, to ''continue discussions on the economy, EU matters, and governance and power sharing.''
To an observation that the leaders had recently agreed to meet every Wednesday, Buttenheim said that ''apparently this is a scheduling issue for somebody, I'm not quite sure, but we agreed that they will meet next Friday.''
She noted that the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer ''will also be back next week,'' adding that ''he is coming back in the middle of next week, so he will be present for that meeting on Friday.''
Asked if it had been decided that the Wednesday meetings would not be taking place, Buttenheim said it had not. ''No. There wasn't a discussion about it. They simply discussed that they would meet Friday and that their representatives would meet tomorrow (Friday), Monday and Wednesday. So we will have three representative meetings before the leaders meet next Friday,'' he explained.
 Cyprus Foreign Minister meets with Israeli PM and FMNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus Minister of Foreign Affairs Markos Kyprianou concluded his visit to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman.
According to an official announcement issued here on Thursday, the minister discussed during his contacts the Cyprus problem and the Middle East peace process, as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Moreover, ways of promoting Cyprus-Israeli relations were also discussed, along with the issue of EU-Israeli relations.
The objective of Kyprianou's visit, it is noted, was to prepare the ground for the forthcoming visit of President Christofias to Israel in March.
Kyprianou also met with opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
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