|Monday, 11 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-02-19
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 19 February 2011 Issue No: 3725
 PM Papandreou addresses Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Regional CouncilPrime Minister George Papandreou, addressing the session of the Regional Council of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace in the city of Komotini on Friday evening, criticised those embarking on disaster mongering and pointed out that the country is experiencing one of the most difficult moments in the post-junta period.
"Some rightfully and others unfairly, we are all paying debts of the past, but we have a duty to today and to tomorrow to change Greece so as not to return to this position again," the prime minister stressed.
Focusing in particular on those protesting about the current problems, Papandreou said that they are doing well in protesting and he would be one of those protesting, but protest is not enough for a solution to be found.
Papandreou stressed the need for Greece to stand on its feet, while expressing optimism that it will succeed so as not to need alien forces, a troika and memorandums.
The prime minister also referred to the issue of immigrants, noting that for the first time a plan exists for managing illegal immigration.
He also expressed satisfaction over the agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan regarding the returning of immigrants and said that the Greek government has proposed to the EU the liberalisation on the issue of visas for Turkish citizens visiting Greece, because such a thing will also contribute to an increase in tourism.
Papandreou also referred to the institution of the elected region, stressing that it is a step for the decentralisation of resources and powers and the cracking down on bureaucracy, while calling on the members of the regional council to contribute to this issue and take decisions on the development of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.
Lastly, the prime minister pointed out that "we trust the local forces, but you must also trust yourselves, because you have great possibilities."
 PM tours Thrace region, visits predominately Muslim villagePrime Minister George Papandreou, who arrived for a tour of the extreme northeastern province of Thrace on Friday, pledged to settle the problems faced by the local Muslim minority.
On Friday he visited the village of Dimario near the Greek-Bulgarian borders, where he met with local people. This is the first time a Greek prime minister has visited the specific region.
The premier stressed that the government adheres to the principle of equality before the law, underlining that "red tape is the oppressor of Christians and Muslims alike". He also stressed that the government is struggling against discrimination and "old perceptions" as regards the minority.
The education provided by the minority schools was amongst the top issues raised by local residents.
The prime minister announced that no later than September, the special pedagogical academy (EPATh) for the Muslim minority school teachers will be one of the Thessaloniki Aristotle University (AUTH) faculties.
Papandreou also announced that oral exams for a driver's license will be available in the Turkish language as well, while local Citizen Service Centres (KEP) will be staffed with additional Turkish-speaking personnel.
Responding to requests by young people, the premier said the region's internet access will also improve rapidly.
As regards religious charitable foundations, so-called vakufs, the Greek premier stated that a solution will be found with their boards, while in reference to the all-important tobacco crops, he pointed out that they will have to be preserved and boosted, and considering that it is a monoculture of Basma-type tobacco.
The prime minister accompanied by a local imam visited the village's mosque.
 Protests by textile workers near PM's arrival in KomotiniProtesting textile union employees in Komotini, northeast Greece, were held back shortly before the arrival of Prime Minister George Papandreou at a local hotel, where the regional council of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace was set to meet.
Protesters had gathered near a local university adjacent to the hotel, chanting slogans and the riot police used tear gas when they attempted to approach further.
Members of the Communist Party-affiliated PAME trade union grouping had also gathered near the hotel to protest against government policy.
 PM's talks in Berlin next weekBERLIN (ANA-MPA/G. Pappas)
Talks between Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, due to be held here on Tuesday, are expected to focus on the Greek economy's course and the preparation of an European Union informal summit on March 11.
"Greece's economic situation, as well as the important measures that are being taken by the country in the framework of its public finances' restructuring programme, will be discussed," German government spokesman Stephen Zeibert said here on Friday.
In this respect, Zeibert underlined the "German support towards the great reform efforts that Greece is making."
Papandreou will also be meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) leader Zigmar Gabriel, the president of SPD's parlia-mentary group and former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the Green party co-president Claudia Roth.
On Monday, the Greek prime minister will give a lecture at the Humboldt University on the theme "The tackling of the financial-economic crisis, an opportunity for Europe".
 FM Droutsas discusses Cyprus issue with UN SGNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas met on Friday evening with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the international organisation's headquarters with the main topic of discussion being the Cyprus issue. The question of negotiations between Athens and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) on the name issue and the situation in the Middle East were also discussed.
Speaking after the meeting, Droutsas said that he pointed out to his interlocutor that the Greek side desires from all "objectivity in handlings" for the solving of the problem of Cyprus.
"We insist on a process which is a Cypriot one, from the Cypriots for the Cypriots," he said, adding that "this is the process we must follow" and "there is no place for beautifications or simplifications on these issues."
Droutsas stressed that "we want the events to be recorded with objectivity always", while noting that although Cyprus President Demetris Christofias submits "constructive proposals" the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Dervis Eroglu "does not always respond in the same constructive way" and presents positions "outside the agreed basis."
FM Droutsas' statements at UN
In statements after his 40-minute meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said that the Cyprus problem was the main issue of the discussion, adding that Greece expects objectivity in view of Ban's report to the Security Council for his Good Offices Mission in Cyprus.
Droutsas said he reiterated that Greece fully stands behind the UN Chief's efforts on Cyprus.
''We want to see a settlement and the settlement in our view must be based on the UN Security Council resolutions but also on the full respect of the EU acquis communautaire since the Republic of Cyprus is a full member of the European Union and this must be taken into account in the search for a settlement,'' he stressed.
The Greek FM also said that ''we want to see objectivity from everybody involved in the process,'' adding that facts should be ''presented in an objective way and in a realistic way.''
''For us reality says that you have President Demetris Christofias who is putting forward from the beginning of this effort, very constructive, forthcoming proposals but unfortunately we see the Turkish Cypriot community and especially the new leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community Mr. (Dervis) Eroglu, expressing positions that remind us of the past, that are also abandoning in some terms the basis agreed upon for the solution of the Cyprus problem and we encourage also the Turkish Cypriot community to look into the issue of the settlement in the most constructive way'', Droutsas underlined.
Replying to a question, Droutsas said President Christofias is presenting ''in a very constructive and forthcoming way his proposals, fully committed to a settlement of the Cyprus issue.''
UN-backed talks between the leaders of the two communities began in September 2008 aiming at reaching a mutually agreed settlement to the
Cyprus problem. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied 37 per cent of its territory.
As regards the fYRoM name issue, Droutsas said that he had the opportunity to underline to the UNSG Greece's positions for a name with a geographical qualifier for all uses, and reiterated Athens' willingness to find a solution.
Referring to developments in the Middle East and the Arab countries, Droutsas said that he told the UNSG of Greece's readiness to play an important role in the region's democratisation "in an effort to build real democracies".
 FM Droutsas meets Archbishop of America DemetriusNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas met here on Friday with Archbishop of America Demetrius, with whom he discussed a series of issues concerning Greece and expatriate Greeks.
Droutsas said that every meeting of his with Archbishop Demetrius constitutes "a special honour and joy" and stressed that they had the opportunity of discussing many issues.
"His Reverence had the goodness of briefing me on the Archdiocese's considerable work, particularly with regard to the expatriate Greeks, who are so important for Greece," he said, adding that on his part he briefed his interlocutor on developments in Greece, especially on "the efforts and the sacrifices" of the Greek people, as well as "the great structural changes and reforms that will lead Greece soon out of the economic crisis that we are facing and to a bright future for our homeland."
 FM critical of T/C side's stance in Cyprus negotiationsLONDON (ANA-MPA)
Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas sharply criticised the stance of Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, speaking here during an interview with London's Greek-language radio station.
Droutsas, who met with British leadership during a two-day visit to London, emphasised that the T/C leader is merely avoiding participation, "with productive positions", in the negotiation process for a solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem.
"On the one hand we have Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, who has proved throughout this entire period, from the commencement of the talks over the Cyprus issue, which he is promoting, processing and presenting positive positions and proposals. Conversely, on the other side, we have a Turkish Cypriot side, which is represented by Mr. Eroglu, which does not allow us the opportunity to say that he is presenting in the same productive his proposals," Droutsas said, adding that Eroglu's positions and approach "remind us of bygone times, antiquated ideas".
 Deputy FM Kouvelis concludes Budapest visitVIENNA (ANA-MPA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis concluded his two-day visit to Budapest on Friday after holding a series of contacts with Hungarian government officials, focusing on bilateral economic cooperation between Greece and Hungary in the sectors of tourism, new technologies, innovation, transport and energy.
The Greek deputy minister also inaugurated the Greek-Hungarian Business Forum and made an address at the Hungarian International Relations Institute where he presented the national growth strategy for the country's exit from the crisis, the improvement of competitiveness and the promotion of the Greek economy's extroversion.
 FM sec-gen's visit to CairoGreek foreign ministry secretary general, Ambassador Yannis-Alexis Zepos, had meetings in Cairo with a number of Egyptian political figures on Wednesday and Thursday, with whom he exchanged assessments of current developments in Egypt, a foreign ministry announcement said on Friday.
Specifically, Zepos met with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, the head of the Committee of Wise Men Professor Aboul Magd, the Secretary General of the Wafd party Abdel Nur, and with the EU, French and U.S. Ambassadors to Egypt.
In his meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Shafiq, Zepos conveyed Greece's strong interest in current developments in Egypt, given the close ties that traditionally link the two countries.
He also expressed Greece readiness to work with Egypt in any sectors deemed beneficial.
The Egyptian Prime Minister expressed his gratitude for the interest Greece is showing and underscored the importance to Egypt of Greek-Egyptian bilateral relations.
Finally, Ambassador Zepos met with members of the Greek community in Egypt, as well as with representatives of Greek enterprises and banks active there. He further spoke on the phone with Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and the President of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), Stefanos Tamvakis.
 FinMin: No early elections, economy starting to emerge from recessionFinance minister George Papaconstantinou on Friday ruled out the prospect of early general elections, and expressed his conviction that the Greek economy was starting to emerge from recession, during a heated discussion in parliament with Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) rapporteur Asterios Rondoulis on the exploitation of state assets.
Papaconstantinou said that a plan already exists for the exploitation of state property aiming to raise 50 billion euros by the year 2015, clarifying that this was not a "Memorandum obligation" but a government choice.
He also ruled out the prospect of early general elections, reminding that prime minister George Papandreou himself has categorically stated that elections will take place at the end of the government's four-year term in office.
Rondoulis earlier charged that the issue of exploiting the country's real estate assets should have been opened up by the Greek side after achievement of the targets that have already been put to deliberations, while Tsipras said that the Memorandum was a resounding failure and that the government lacks the legitimisation and popular mandate to ratify decisions that will affect the future generations.
Papaconstantinou accused Tsipras of "cheap popularism" and of "permanently resorting to facile cliches", adding that the government has the authorisation of the people. He said that Greece's democracy has rules, elections take place, and one party has the majority for four years.
Responding to Rondoulis on the issue of the 50 billion euros, the finance minister assured that early general elections will not be called, while adding that the recession has started to become "shallower" and that Greece is starting to come out of the tunnel.
Papaconstantinou appealed for a stop to the early election speculations.
He also stressed that that target set this year for revenues from denationalisations will be exceeded.
"We are doing work, and we will reach the end," he said, adding that "the Greek citizens are backing a difficult effort".
 Council of State gives green light to financial, e-crime policeGreece's supreme administrative court, the Council of State, on Friday gave a green light to a draft presidential decree establishing two new police units, one for financial crimes and one for prosecuting electronic crime.
The new units will have nationwide jurisdiction and will be answerable to and supervised by the chief of the Greek Police. Members of the two squads will also have access to all police files and those of other state services, organisations and agencies abroad.
The financial police will deal with a variety of offences of a financial nature, ranging from money-laundering and smuggling contraband to tax violations, failure to issue receipts or suspect transactions by credit and financial institutions, organisations and business groups.
 Illegal immigrants to also be received in prefabricated installationsAn amendment submitted in Parliament that will be included in the bill on the creation of Harbour Corps Headquarters anticipates the possibility of a change in the use of existing buildings and the building of prefabricated installations on public and private building sites in regions outside town planning so that they can function as Initial Reception Centres for immigrants entering the country illegally.
The amendment jointly signed by Environment, Energy and Climatic Change Minister Tina Birbili, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou and Citizen's Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis mentions that the aim of the solution chosen is, on the one hand, the handling of the reception needs of all citizens of third countries entering the country without legal formalities and, on the other, the keeping of nationals of third countries who are subject to the return process.
 SYN and Ecologists-Greens discuss cooperation on specific issuesThe Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) party on Friday held a meeting with the Greek Ecologists-Greens party to propose closer cooperation between the two parties on specific issues. Among these were the issue of migration, the monitoring of Greece's debt, waste management and environmental protection matters.
SYN clarified that its proposal was not for generalised political cooperation but an agreement on joint or parallel action on those specific issues.
An announcement from the Ecologists-Greens said that they were "open" to beginning a policy dialogue on the specific issues, which they described as highly topical for society. So far, the two sides have only agreed on dates for upcoming meetings for dialogue.
 Alpha Bank rejects NBG merger proposalAlpha Bank's board on Friday unanimously rejected National Bank's merger plan, which was announced earlier in the day.
The bid was the second in a decade where a merger plan between the two banks failed to materialise. A bank statement said Alpha Bank's board "unanimously, and after examining the terms of the proposed merger, rejects the plan, taking in view the uncertainty created by the current economic situation and the context of the plan, whose terms are considered not to be to the benefit of Alpha Bank's shareholders". (ANA-MPA)
National Bank's offer
National Bank of Greece (NBG) on Friday placed an offer to buy Alpha Bank through a merger deal, following an approval given by a joint meeting of the strategy commission, the bank's board executive members and the representative of the Greek state.
In a letter to the Capital Markets Commission, National Bank said it had signed an agreement of confidentiality with Alpha Bank in February 3, 2011, to hold exclusive negotiations and to avoid taking alternative measures. National Bank stressed it was confident over the financial and strategic benefits of its offer and expected that Alpha Bank's board would examine the offer very seriously.
Under the offer, Alpha Bank's shareholders would have received eight new shares of National Bank for each 11 shares in Alpha Bank, for an exchange ratio of 0.727 shares of National Bank for each one of Alpha. This offer included a premium of 23.4 pct over the closing price of Alpha Bank's shares on January 17. Under the offer, National Bank's shareholders' relative participation in the new group would total 71 pct, while Alpha Bank's 29 pct, with the Greek state and other pension fund participations totaling 0.9 pct and 12 pct, respectively.
Finmin welcomes Alpha-NBG merger talks
Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Friday welcomed news that National Bank of Greece and privately-owned Alpha Bank were discussing a merger, saying that the government encouraged similar initiatives that would strengthen the Greek banking system and lead to a faster exit from the economic crisis.
Papaconstantinou said the government had repeated pointed out the need for a reorganisation of Greece's banking system that would allow it to cope with the current more difficult conditions and play a positive role in the present crisis by directing liquidity to the real economy and growth.
The government encouraged similar initiatives, while noting that the final outcome of the attempt was the business of the two banks and their shareholders, who would have to make the final decisions.
 'Fast track' licensing for Elliniko investmentsThe investments that will allow development of the old Athens airport at Elliniko - which the government has promised to turn into one of Europe's largest metropolitan parks - are to be included in the "fast track" licensing process, according to a decision made on Friday by the Ministerial Committee for Strategic Investments.
Announcing the news, Minister of State Haris Pamboukis said that a "bold and visionary plan was now entering the stage of implementation" and highlighted the benefits of the investments. Among these he listed a "social dividend" for all residents of Attica and new jobs.
Pamboukis said the decision would allow him to visit Qatar next week with an overall proposal "that will interest every potentially serious investor".
 Bank of Greece: Substantial drop in Current Account deficit in Dec. 2010 yr/yerGreece's current account deficit dropped a substantial 38.5 percent year-on-year in December 2010, according to figures released on Friday by the Bank of Greece (BoG), the country's central bank.
According to the BoG, in December 2010, the current account deficit fell substantially by ? 1,184 million or 38.5% year-on-year, reaching ? 1,890 million. This improvement is attributable mainly to a decrease in the trade deficit and - much less -- to a small rise in the surplus of the services balance. These developments more than offset an increase in the income account deficit and a decline in the current transfers balance.
The drop in the trade deficit by ? 1,323 million year-on-year was accounted for by decreases of ? 621 million in the trade deficit excluding oil and ships, and of ? 610 million and ? 92 million in the net import bill for oil and ships, respectively. Specifically, receipts from exports of goods excluding oil and ships remained virtually unchanged (-0.2%) year-on-year, while the import bill for goods excluding oil and ships dropped by 21.4% year-on-year. It should be noted that total receipts from exports of goods rose by 27.2% as a result of very large increases in receipts from oil exports and sales of ships.
The surplus of the services balance rose by ? 25 million as the year-on-year decline in net payments for travel and other services more than offset a drop in net transport receipts. Travel receipts fell by 20.2% year-on-year, while travel payments declined by 27.6%. It should be noted that these large decreases reflect travel disruption in Europe due to particularly adverse weather conditions in December. Moreover, transport receipts (mainly from merchant shipping) showed a small decline in December (down by 1.8%).
The income account deficit rose by ? 108 million, almost exclusively due to higher net interest, dividend and profit payments.
Finally, the surplus of the current transfers balance narrowed by ? 56 million year-on-year, chiefly because the "other sectors" (emigrants' remittances) shifted to net payments of ? 36 million, from net receipts of ? 21 million in December 2009. General government net transfer receipts from the EU remained roughly at December 2009 levels. (It should be recalled that gross current transfers from the EU mainly include receipts from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF), as well as receipts from the European Social Fund, while current transfers to the EU include Greece's contributions (payments) to the Community Budget.)
In 2010, the current account deficit fell by ? 1.8 billion or 6.9% in comparison with 2009 and came to ? 24.0 billion or 10.5% of GDP (2009: 11.0% of GDP). The year-on-year decrease started in July 2010. The outturn for 2010 as a whole reflects mainly a fall in the trade deficit and a rise in the surplus of the services balance. By contrast, the surplus of the current transfers balance narrowed considerably, while the income account deficit rose slightly.
The ? 2.5 billion drop in the overall trade deficit mainly stemmed from a decrease of ? 3.8 billion in the trade deficit excluding oil and ships. Specifically, the import bill for goods excluding oil and ships fell by ? 3.9 billion or 12.6%, while the corresponding export receipts declined by only ? 150 million or 1.3%. By contrast, the net oil import bill rose by ? 1.0 billion or 13.6%, while net payments for purchases of ships grew by ? 264 million or 7.9%.
The ? 590 million increase in the surplus of the services balance mainly reflects higher net transport receipts and, secondarily, lower net payments for other services. Gross transport receipts (chiefly from merchant shipping) showed an increase of 13.8% and - despite a 15.3% rise in the corresponding payments - net transport receipts grew by ? 784 million. By contrast, net travel receipts fell by ? 539 million, as travel spending in Greece by non-residents dropped by ? 786 million or 7.6%, while travel spending abroad by residents declined by ? 247 million or 10.2%. Finally, net payments for "other" services decreased by ? 345 million.
The income account deficit widened by ? 244 million in comparison with 2009, reflecting higher net payments for interest, dividends and profits and (secondarily) higher fee payments.
Finally, the surplus of the current transfers balance fell by ? 1.1 billion in comparison with 2009. This decline mainly reflects the fact that the "other sectors" (emigrants' remittances etc.) showed net transfer payments of ? 98 million, against net receipts of ? 444 million in 2009, while general government net transfer receipts (mainly from the EU) dropped by ? 520 million (about 2/3 of this decrease was attributable to lower receipts and 1/3 to higher payments).
Capital transfers balance
In December 2010, the capital transfers balance showed a surplus of ? 1.2 billion, compared with a surplus of ? 53.6 million in December 2009. (Capital transfers from the EU mainly include receipts from the Structural Funds - except for the European Social Fund - and the Cohesion Fund under the Community Support Framework.)
In 2010, the capital transfers balance showed a surplus of ? 2.1 billion, compared with ? 2.0 billion in 2009. This mostly reflects an increase in EU capital transfers to general government. The overall transfers balance (current transfers plus capital transfers) recorded a surplus of ? 2.3 billion, compared with a surplus of ? 3.3 billion in 2009.
Combined current account and capital transfers balance
In December 2010, the combined current account and capital transfers balance (corresponding to the economy' s external financing requirements) showed a deficit of ? 699 million, compared with ? 3.0 billion in December 2009. In 2010, the deficit of the combined current account and capital transfers balance came to ? 22.0 billion, compared with ? 23.8 billion in 2009 (down by 7.7%).
Financial account balance
In December 2010, non-residents' direct investment in Greece showed a net inflow of ? 99 million. The most important transaction concerned a ? 90 million inflow for the completion of the participation of Soci?t? G?n?rale (France) in the capital increase of Geniki Bank. Residents' direct investment abroad recorded a net outflow of ? 114 million. The most important transaction concerns the ? 25 million participation of Chipita SA in the capital increase of its subsidiary in Hungary, Chipita Holdings KFT.
Under portfolio investment, a net inflow of ? 3.2 billion was recorded, reflecting both a ? 1.2 billion increase in non-residents' investment in Greek bonds and a ? 2.0 billion drop (inflow) in residents' investment in foreign bonds.
Under "other" investment, a net outflow of ? 3.2 billion was recorded, which mainly reflects a ? 12.2 billion decrease in non-residents' deposit and repo holdings in Greece. This development was partly offset by a ? 7.2 billion decline in resident credit institutions' and institutional investors' deposit and repo holdings abroad (inflow), as well as a ? 2.0 billion rise in the outstanding debt obligations of the public and the private sector to non-residents (inflow). Underlying the latter was general government net borrowing of ? 2.4 billion in December under the support mechanism for the Greek economy.
In 2010, direct investment showed a net inflow of ? 694 million. Specifically, net inflows of non-residents' funds for direct investment in Greece reached ? 1.7 billion (compared with a net inflow of ? 1.8 billion in 2009) and mainly concerned the increase of foreign investors' participation in the share capital of Emporiki Bank and Geniki Bank, while a net outflow of ? 1.0 billion was recorded under residents' direct investment abroad (compared with ? 1.5 billion in 2009).
In 2010, a net outflow of ? 20.9 billion was observed under portfolio investment (against a net inflow of ? 27.9 billion in 2009). This development mainly reflects outflows due to decreases of ? 33.0 billion and ? 1.1 billion in non-residents' purchases of Greek bonds/Treasury bills and shares of Greek firms, respectively. There was also a ? 1.1 billion outflow due to a rise in residents' holdings of foreign shares. These outflows were partly offset by inflows of ? 14.1 billion and ? 0.3 billion owing to declines in resident credit institutions' and institutional investors' holdings of foreign bonds and financial derivatives, respectively.
Finally, under "other" investment, a net inflow of ? 42.0 billion (against a net outflow of ? 3.6 billion in 2009) is mainly attributable to general government net borrowing of ? 30.0 billion, as well as a ? 3.9 billion increase in non-residents' deposit and repo holdings in Greece (inflow). There was also a decrease of ? 7.7 billion in resident credit institutions' and institutional investors' deposit and repo holdings abroad (inflow).
At end-December 2010, Greece' s reserve assets stood at ? 4.8 billion. It should be noted that the ? 345 million rise in reserve assets compared with the end of November is almost exclusively attributable to valuation gains on monetary gold. (It should be recalled that, since Greece joined the euro area in January 2001, reserve assets, as defined by the European Central Bank, include only monetary gold, the "reserve position" with the IMF, "Special Drawing Rights", and Bank of Greece claims in foreign currency on residents of non-euro area countries. Conversely, reserve assets do not include claims in euro on residents of non-euro area countries, claims in foreign currency and in euro on residents of euro area countries, and the Bank of Greece participation in the capital and the reserve assets of the ECB.)
Balance of payments data for January 2011 will be released on 21 March 2011.
 Black Sea Bank to double portfolio in GreeceThe Black Sea Bank of Commerce and Development will double its portfolio in Greece by developing 12 to 16 new programme worth 200 million euros in the next four years, Andrei Kodhakov, the bank's chairman said on Friday.
Presenting the bank's plans during an event organised by the Regional Development & Competitiveness ministry, Kodhakov said: "Only in Greece we do not have intermediate links from the financial system and we are very interested in developing such bonds".
The bank's chairman said fields of particular interest are renewable energy sources, "green development", shipping, tourism, supporting SMEs, infrastructure and mainly actions through co-financing with the public sector.
The maximum sum of funding per customer will total 38 million euros and could be no less than three million euros, Kodhakov said. He noted that a number of Greek enterprises, such as Alumil, Yula, Avin, Shelman, Hygeia, Neochimiki and Maillis have already received funding from the development bank and noted that the portfolio for small- and medium-sized enterprises will be raised in the future.
Greece, Russia and Turkey are the biggest shareholders in Black Sea Bank, each owning a 16.5-pct equity stake.
 Gov't OKs VAT refund to Trans-Balkan Pipeline co.The Greek government' s decision over a VAT refund to the Trans-Balkan Pipeline company for the period 2008-2010 was announced during a joint general meeting of shareholders and the Supervisory Board of Trans-Balkan Pipeline B.V. (" ), held in Rome on Feb. 17.
"The specific move and the fact that the two preliminary environmental studies have been approved as well as the timely preparation of the project's draft law reflect the continuous and firm efforts made by the Greek government to proceed with the project's materialisation," a Trans-Balkan Pipeline company statement underlined.
The further financing of the project was also decided while an agreement was reached on the adoption of cost minimisation measures. In addition, the Bulgarian shareholder received a deadline until March 20, 2011 to settle existing debt to the company and continue further financing the project.
 Nikitiadis announces overhaul of EOT offices abroadDeputy Culture and Tourism Minister Georgios Nikitiadis on Friday told Parliament that the Greek National Tourism Organisation EOT intends to fully restructure its services abroad in order to achieve a more efficient management of funds. He was replying to a question made by main opposition New Democracy (ND) sector head for tourism Olga Kefaloyianni.
According to Nikitiadis, the offices that EOT currently maintains abroad are costly and achieve poor results that in no way compare to those achieved by tourism agencies of other countries. He said the aim was to adopt more modern marketing techniques and a better cost-to-results ratio, based on a new strategy for Greek tourism.
He also announced plans to change the equipment and location of EOT's information desk at Athens International Airport and the establishment of a modern information office on the Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian road, opposite the Acropolis Museum.
 Koletsos appointed new head of GNTOGiorgos Koletsos on Friday was appointed as the new secretary-general in Greek Tourism Organisation. Koletsos, who studied economics and business management, has served as president of the ultimately ill-fated 2013 Mediterranean Games' organising committee and will take over his duties immediately.
GNTO has set two targets, namely, to obtain a structure that will allow it to operate more efficiently and second, to adopt an even more aggressive approach towards markets, both new and traditional ones.
The culture and tourism ministry and GNOT have announced cutbacks and terminated overspending leaving behind a period of mismanagement, aiming at restructuring the state-run organisation.
 Samaras at Elefsis ShipyardsMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Friday visited the Elefsis Shipyards, which are facing viability problems.
Samaras was briefed by the management and workers on the effort being made to maintain the jobs at the shipyard, and called on the government to head to a course of growth, expressing confidence in the country's labor potential.
The ND leader said that the unemployment rate in Greece has "hit red", affecting every household.
Greece, he added, needs to enter a developmental track, stressing that this was possible with the country's workforce.
The revenues of the shipyard, which employs more than 800 people, has plunged to 17 million euros this year from 37 million in 2008.
 Minister with Turkish Airlines head in GreeceDeputy Infrastructure, Transport & Networks Minister Spyros Vougias on Friday met with the director of Turkish Airlines in Greece Gulay Ozturk, in view of a new direct flight between the northern port city of Thessaloniki and Istanbul to commence by the end of May 2011.
Both sides confirmed that the initiative will enjoy their full support.
 Industrial new orders, turnover indexes up in Dec.Greece's turnover index in the industrial sector grew 7.1 pct in December 2010, compared with the same month in 2009, Hellenic Statistical Authority announced on Friday.
The statistics service, in a report, said the index was up 4.3 pct in December 2009. The average industrial turnover index was up 5.6 pct in the 12-month period of 2010.
The new orders index in the industrial sector was up 3.9 pct in the 12-month period from January to December 2010, while in December was index up 6.5 pct, after a decline of 3.2 pct recorded in the same month in 2009.
 New orders index up 3.9% in 2010The new orders index in the industrial sector, measuring both the domestic and external markets, fell 6.5 pct in December, compared with the same month in 2009, after a decline of 3.2 pct recorded the previous 12-month period, Hellenic Statistical Authority announced on Friday.
The statistics service, in a report, said the December figure reflected a 19.4 pct decline in the domestic market index and a 12.8 pct increase in the external market index. The average index in the 12-month period from January to December 2010 was up 3.9 pct.
 Harmonised inflation at 4.9% in JanGreece's harmonised inflation rate, measured by the consumer price index, was 4.9 pct in January 2011, compared with the same month last year, Hellenic Statistical Authority announced on Friday. The statistics service, in a report, said the average harmonised consumer price index in the 12-month period from January 2010 to January 2011 was also 4.9 pct up.
 IKA-ETAM spending on pharmaceuticals down 30 pct in Jan. 2011Spending on pharmaceuticals by the social insurance fund IKA-ETAM was 30 percent lower in January 2011 compared to the same month in 2010, declining by the sum of 56.306 million euros.
Total spending on pharmaceuticals came to 131.3 million euros in January 2011, down from 187.606 million euros in January 2010.
The labour ministry hopes to achieve even greater savings in pharmaceutical outlay once an e-prescription programme is fully implemented, as well as through the introduction of a health card in 2012 that will allow central monitoring and control of all pharmaceutical spending.
 Stocks surge on merger newsNews of a possible mega-merger deal between National Bank and Alpha Bank brought euphoria in the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday and pushed the composite index of the market above the 1,700 level to new year highs. The index jumped 3.16 pct to end at 1,715.13 points, for a net gain of 5.75 pct in the week. Turnover also rose to 192.174 million euros. Market authorities suspended trading in both banks' shares. The Big Cap index jumped 4.35 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 3.41 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 3.72 pct.
Hellenic Postbank (19.77 pct), Eurobank (16.89 pct), Piraeus Bank (15.43 pct) and ATEbank (10.59 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocksm, while OPAP (1.84 pct0 and Coca-Cola 3E (1.05 pct) were top losers. The Financial Services (8.77 pct), Health (7.91 pct) and Banks (7.12 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Travel (1.75 pct) and Food (0.99 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 133 to 45 with another 51 issues unchanged. Hellenic Postbank (19.77 pct), Dias (18.52 pct) and Eurobank (16.89 pct) were top gainers, while Ilyda (15.09 pct), Compucoin (12.5 pct) and Tzirakian (9.09 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +2.46%
Personal & Household: +3.69%
Raw Materials: +6.06%
Travel & Leisure: -1.75%
Food & Beverages: -0.99%
Financial Services: +8.77%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Piraeus Bank, National Bank, Marfin Popular Bank and Eurobank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.79
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.88
HBC Coca Cola: 20.70
Hellenic Petroleum: 7.67
National Bank of Greece: 7.57
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 5.26
Bank of Piraeus: 1.87
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 1.57 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Friday, with turnover rising slightly to 56.306 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 9,140 contracts worth 35.957 million euros, with 32,542 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 63,147 contracts worth 20.349 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Marfin Popular Bank (19,740), followed by Eurobank (7,428), MIG (2,785), OTE (2,193), Piraeus Bank (11,759), National Bank (3,952), Alpha Bank (3,144), Cyprus Bank (2,640), Hellenic Postbank (4,148), ATEbank (1,144) and Mytilineos (732).
 Foreign Exchange rates - Saturday/MondayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.373
Pound sterling 0.846
Danish kroner 7.514
Swedish kroner 8.802
Japanese yen 114.53
Swiss franc 1.307
Norwegian kroner 7.817
Canadian dollar 1.350
Australian dollar 1.358
 Ukraine-flag ship seized with contraband cigarettesA Ukraine-flag freighter loaded with 1,990 crates of contraband cigarettes was seized by port authorities off the Argosaronic Gulf early Friday.
The ship was escorted to the port of Keratsini, near Piraeus, where its 8-member crew, all Ukrainian nationals, was arrested.
The ship was sailing from Cyprus to the Albanian port of Durres.
The freighter was spotted as it was sailing southeast of Salamis island by Greek port authorities, who immobilised it and escorted it to Keratsini for inspection.
According the Economic Crimes Squad, the ship's loading orders were fake as the recipient company cited said it was unaware of any shipment.
The cigarettes were of several brand names, and initial estimates put the shipment at 19.9 million cigarettes.
Port authorities also ascertained that the vessel's seaworthiness certificates were expired.
The freighter and shipment were seized, and the crew will be taken before a public prosecutor.
 Violent incidents involving foreign nationals in AthensAn armed man injured two Pakistanis on Friday morning in Athens' working class Peristeri district, while a Bangladeshi national was injured on Kifissos Avenue earlier in a clash between Third World migrant street peddlers
In the Peristeri incident, an unidentified man armed with a pistol attacked the two foreign nationals, shooting one in the leg and pistol-whipping the other one before fleeing atop a motorbike, eyewitnesses said. Both victims are hospitalised. Police attributed the incident to personal differences.
Earlier, the Bangladeshi was brutally beaten by a group of foreign nationals, reportedly Pakistanis, on Kifissos Avenue and was rushed to a hospital.
According to a police investigation, the man was apparently a "turf war" victim and was attacked when he attempted to sell goods to motorists stopped at a traffic light in an area controlled by Pakistani illegal immigrants.
 Three hunger-striking migrants taken to hospitalAt least three of a group of illegal migrants that have been on hunger strike for the past 25 days have been taken to hospital, supporters of the migrants' cause reported on Friday. A fourth collapsed of exhaustion and hypothermia during a press conference held at the 'Ypatia' building in central Athens where nearly 250 migrants on hunger strike are currently housed.
According to a volunteer doctor monitoring their state of health, one man was admitted to hospital with serious heart problems, while others suffered severe dehydration and gastrointestinal problems. The condition of the remainder was described as "marginal" and likely to deteriorate rapidly in the next few days.
"They are very weak and we expect that they will soon need hospitalisation," he said.
The mostly Asian migrants taking part in the hunger strike are demanding that the government pass measures giving legal residence status to all migrants currently in Greece, while they appeared determined to continue their struggle to the bitter end.
The government, on its part, has ruled out all prospect of mass legalisation for migrants and is determined to avoid setting a precedent in which individuals not meeting the requirements for legal residence could use a hunger strike as a lever for exerting pressure on the Greek state.
Ministers point out that this was already done during New Democracy's term when a small group of migrants that again came to Athens from Crete were given residence permits by the then ND government after they started falling ill of a hunger strike.
Representatives of the hunger-strikers, however, are now asking Prime Minister George Papandreou to personally intervene in order to find a solution before the situation gets out of hand.
The number of migrants that have discontinued or suspended their hunger strike had risen to 10 on Friday, while 227 were not taking food for the 25th consecutive day. They also issued a call for a rally at Museum Square at 18:00, followed by a march to the interior ministry.
 Sailings banned due to strong windsSailings from the ports of Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio have been banned due to strong winds blowing in seas and reaching 9 beaufort in force.
The Rio-Antirrio line has also closed, while from Igoumenitsa-Corfu and Igoumenitsa-Lefkimi sailings are only taking place with closed type vessels and from Patra ships are only sailing for Italy.
 Noted Canadian pianist Lefevre in Athens for solo recitalsThe Canadian embassy in Athens on Friday announced that noted Canadian pianist Alain Lef?vre will return to Athens for two solo recitals at the Michalis Cacoyannis Foundation (206 Pireos St., Tavros) on Feb 23 and 24 at 9 p.m.
The recitals will be held in conjunction with the screenings of the film "Child Prodigy" which narrates the life of another pianist and composer, Andr? Mathieu, a musical genius known as "little Canadian Mozart".
Winner of numerous international prizes, Alain Lef?vre, is the film's music director and interpreter of Mathieu's compositions. Well known to Greek audiences from his earlier concerts at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall, the Little Epidaurus Theatre and the Kalomiri Music Festival, on this occasion Lef?vre will also perform a selection of his own compositions.
Tickets: ? 15 www.mcf.gr <http://www.mcf.gr> www.athens.gc.ca <http://www.athens.gc.ca> www.alainlefevre.com <http://www.alainlefevre.com>
 Study: Private schools popular in GreeceThe number of students attending private schools in Greece is the largest amongst the countries (France, Italy, UK) with private schools that do not receive state financing. The figure corresponds to 6 pct of the primary and secondary education schoolchildren population.
However, private schools in Greece are seen as a "necessary evil" and not as an essential part of the country's education system, according to a Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) study to be presented on Feb. 21.
Roughly 90,000 students attend private schools in Greece, where 14,000 people are employed, 8,500 of them identified as teaching personnel, according to the Association of Founders of Private Schools.
The state budget is spared roughly 650 million euros, the cost of educating 90,000 students in public schools, while the social insurance funds collect contributions amounting to 170 million euros paid by the private schools.
 Rainy on SaturdayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Saturday, with wind velocity reaching 4-9 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 5C and 17C. Cloudy and rainy in Athens, with northerly 5-8 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 10C to 14C. Cloudy with showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 5C to 10C.
 The Friday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Government in chaos".
AVGHI: "Ruling PASOK party showing signs of nervous breakdown due to resounding failure of government's economic policy".
AVRIANI: "How to retire earlier".
ELEFTHEROS: "Heavy cuts in 'heavy and hazardous' work".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Domino effect of collapse, with Papandreou (prime minister) as a simple observer".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Court for 7 tax violations".
ESTIA: "Attica withering away".
ETHNOS: "Flooding through the...semi-enclosed spaces".
IMERISSIA: "Court for tax evasion - Stringent penalties, imprisonment of up to 20 years".
KATHIMERINI: "PASOK in a vortex".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Penalties for tax evasion 'from the very first euro'."
NIKI: "The 'green' (PASOK) mutiny over the lawyers (opening of closed profession)".
PARASKEVI+13 (weekly): "Greece a colony - Troika: Shut up and sell".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Organised disobedience to the plutocracy and the parties that represent it".
TA NEA: "Draconian measures on tax evasion".
VRADYNI: "The categories of workers included in the 'heavy and unhealthy' jobs".
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