|Tuesday, 23 January 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-02-25
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 25 February 2011 Issue No: 3729
 PM: Europe must take important decisions in March summitsHELSINKI (ANA-MPA/N. Lionakis)
Greek prime minister George Papandreou stressed that it is crucial for Europe to take important decisions, during a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Mari Kiviniemi, after talks between the two premiers in Helsinki on Wednesday.
Papandreou also met in Helsinki on Wednesday with EU economic affairs commissioner Oli Rehn, the president of the Finnish parliament and the leader of the Social Democratic Party's parliamentary group, while he is due to wind up his trip to Helsinki on Thursday with a visit to the Finnish athletic products factory Suunto.
The meeting with Rehn, which took place as the Commissioner was visiting his home country at the same time as Papandreou, focused on the developments in Libya and the Arab world more generally, while the two men also exchanged views on the issues on the agenda of an extraordinary of eurozone leaders on March 11 and an EU summit on March 25 at which the final decisions are due to be taken on the support mechanism for the eurozone.
Papandreou, who is also president of the Socialist International, had been scheduled to meet with the leader of the Finnish Social Democratic party but, due to illness of the latter, met instead with the leader of the party's parliamentary group.
"It is crucial for Europe to take important decisions," Papan-dreou said on Wednesday in a joint press conference with Kiviniemi, adding that "these decisions we will take will be very crucial and historic for all of Europe, the eurozone and the euro currency."
Papandreou said that important and comprehensive "package decisions" must be taken in March so that stability may return to the markets, while he also underlined the major reforms being made in Greece.
"The (EU-IMF support) loan (to Greece) will be repaid, with interest," Papandreou stressed, adding that the Finnish taxpayers "have no need to worry".
On the extension of the repayment period for the Greek loan, Kiviniemi said that Finland is prepared to contribute to the establishment of a comprehensive package that will calm the markets, adding that if corresponding situations arose with other countries facing difficulties, such as Greece, the solution will be provided through that package.
She further expressed her country's satisfaction with the measures that were taken immediately by Greece to balance the economy, but added that the situation remained fragile and that "more painful reforms are still on the way".
"We anticipate that Greece will continue to institute tough structural reforms over the coming months," Kiviniemi said, adding that this was necessary not only for Greece's future but for the future of Europe as a whole.
"It is the best way to ensure the economic stability and prosperity of our citizens," she added.
Responding to press questions, Kiviniemi said that Finland was closely monitoring the evaluations of Greece by the EU and the IMF and, "up to now, the results have been good, but of course continuation of the reforms is of great importance", adding that "there is much more to be done".
Papandreou, in turn, said that Greece is committed to rendering the country's economy viable and credible to the European Union, its partners and its lenders. "We are credible and we will repay the loan with interest," he stressed.
He said that re-examination and reinforcement of the rules "for our greatest achievement, economic union", is necessary in order to create stability in the markets "because we saw great fear and nervousness regarding Greece but also other countries, and in general over the euro".
"This means that important and comprehensive package solutions need to be taken in March, and naturally Finland has played a key role in those," Papandreou noted.
Although such decisions are difficult and complex, "we are capable of taking the decisions and securing the support of our peoples and ensuring that the euro will continue to be strong and stable, of stabilising our economies and of making Europe competitive at global level", the Greek premier stressed.
"The bottom line is that we are called on to take decisions in accordance with the interests of our countries and citizens, because we are members of a Union, of a common family of values, we have a common currency, a common political and economic Union," he pointed out.
Asked if he believed that the EU member states will allow Greece to "re-program" its loans, giving it more time, and if he can guarantee that this would not entail a risk for the Finnish taxpayers, Papandreou stressed that one of the reasons that the reforms are being made is to make the economy viable and so that "we will have the ability to repay our debt".
"I can guarantee that the loan will be repaid, with interest, and that the Finnish taxpayers need not worry," Papandreou added.
He further said that 80 percent of the more difficult decisions have already been taken by Greece, noting that more still needs to be done with respect to transparency, e-governance, public administration, education, the agricultural model and tourism, adding that "we want to take advantage of the state assets, bring investments, be able to denationalise in order to help us reduce the state debt, in tandem with boosting growth".
"We aim to become the Finland of the South, to the degree possible," he said, responding to a reference by Kiviniemi, and noted that Greece was working closely with Finland in various sectors such as education, adding that other fields of cooperation were also discussed.
He also outlined the changes that have been made in Greece in just one year, adding that they will continue, having ensured the time required through the support mechanism on which "we collectively took important decisions".
Papandreou further thanked the Finnish government and people for their support to Greece.
On the developments in Egypt and Libya, Papandreou stressed that "we condemn violence" and that "we need a peaceful transition to democracy".
He also said that Europe, like Greece, has an important role to play, adding that Greece was currently taking part in the operation to evacuate citizens of third countries from Libya.
 PM gives interview to German newspaperBERLIN (ANA-MPA/G. Pappas)
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, in an interview published in the German newspaper "Bild" on Thursday, promised that Greece will meet in full the obligations for the repayment of the aid loans from the European Union.
"I promise you that Greece will pay off even the last cent," the prime minister reassured in his long interview with the newspaper with the biggest circulation, titled "Do you bet that you shall never pay your debts Mr. Papandreou?"
The prime minister stresses that "the Greek economy has a great momentum and at the moment it is experiening a real exposion in its exports, thanks to the continuous structural reforms and the sacrifices that the Greek people underwent last year and are continuing to undergo."
Papandreou held talks in Berlin on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 PM Papandreou to meet Azeri FMPrime Minister George Papandreou will be meeting the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov in his office in Parliament on Friday.
During his stay in Athens, the Azeri Foreign minister will also meet his Greek counterpart Dimitris Droutsas, focusing on bilateral relations between Greece and Azerbaidjan, as well as energy issues.
 Greece sends military planes to evacuate Greeks from LibyaThree C-130 Airforce planes took off from the military airport at Elefsis on Thursday morning to evacuate more than 140 Greeks wishing to return from Libya, with deputy foreign minister Dimitris Dollis and officials from the foreign and national defence ministries on board to coordinate the operation.
The planes are due to land shortly after noon at the airports in Tripoli and Sabah to pick up more than 100 and 40 Greeks respectively, after receiving landing permission from the Libyan authorities.
Dollis outlined the difficulties of the operation in a statement just before takeoff from Elefsis, noting that there are approximately 300 Greeks in Libya.
He said the planes are due to return from Tripoli and Sabah by Thursday night, while the ministry is working on alternative solutions for the other Greeks, noting that the conditions were very difficult and that was why he was going personally to coordinate the evacuation effort.
Meanwhile, two Greek passenger ships, the Hellenic Spirit and the Olympic Champion, set sail from the port of Benghazi at dawn Thursday with Greeks and citizens of other countries leaving Libya, and were due to arrive at the port of Heraklion, on the island of Crete, sometime after noon, while the Greek navy frigate Psara left a port in Crete at dawn Thursday and will remain off Libya on standby.
Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said that Greece is serving as a transit center for citizens of other countries leaving Libya, adding that, in collaboration with the Chinese government, Athens has undertaken the evacuation of some 13,000-15,000 Chinese citizens.
 Chinese evacuated from Libya arrive on Crete; more vessels dispatchedThe ship "Hellenic Spirit" arrived in the Cretan port of Irakleio on Thursday carrying the first group of Chinese nationals being evacuated from strife-torn Libya. Greece has agreed to offer hospitality to Chinese evacuees arriving from Libya, who will stay on Crete until arrangements are made for their return to China.
The first passengers disembarked from the "Hellenic Spirit" and were taken to hotels where they will be housed.
A second ship provided by the shipping firm "ANEK Lines" also arrived shortly before 3 p.m. with the remaining Chinese nationals that will be staying at hotels on the island.
On the scene are the Chinese Ambassador Luo Linquan and the head of the Crete regional authority, who are coordinating the operation.
In statements earlier, the ambassador praised the Greek government's prompt response and offer of assistance to China, saying that "it was a moment that would remain in the history of relations between the two peoples".
Another three vessels are expected to sail into Libyan ports late Thursday or early Friday morning. A sixth ship has already sailed into the port of Benghazi.
The ferryboat "Eleftherios Venizelos" provided by "ANEK Lines" has arrived in Benghazi, while the "Island of Rhodes", provided by the Greek shipping firm Hellenic Seaways, is expected to arrive late Thursday.
The Hellenic Seaways-owned "Express Santorini" will arrive later in the evening in the port of Ras Lanuf, while the "Knossos Palace" provided by the shipping company Minoan Lines departed from Irakleio at noon on Thursday destined for Misurata.
 ND on strikes; PM's contacts with EU; repatriation of Greeks from LibyaThe main opposition New Democracy (ND) party on Thursday referred to the previous day's 24-hour nationwide strike, stressing that "the large size of the protest rally held was the result of the desperation of the people that see no hope and progress that would lead to economic growth."
ND spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis on Thursday condemned the violence regardless of where it comes from, pointing out that the people "detest extreme and irresponsible actions."
Commenting on the results of the contacts Prime Minister George Papandreou had abroad, Mihelakis stated that they were "a total failure", adding that "the premier returned from Germany empty-handed". He also said that the government should not attempt presenting the extension of the repayment period for the Greek loans as a success, stressing that it was pre-decided by the Eurogroup.
Referring to scenarios on snap elections, he accused the government of being behind them.
The ND spokesman stressed that "if the government chooses to proceed with snap elections it will mean that it was trapped in the dead ends of its own policy", that "they have failed and want to flee".
ND also accused part of the domestic media of siding with the government. Mihelakis stressed that "the injustice done to ND is a provocation", adding that "the media atmosphere for the main opposition party is hostile".
Referring to the efforts for the repatriation of Greeks from the strife-torn Libya, Mihelakis accused the government of lacking coordination in a serious matter that concerns human lives.
 Greek minister: Europe won't tolerate uncontrolled surge of illegals crossing its bordersROME (ANA-MPA)
"Europe should be present in the crisis and send a clear and strong message to every direction that it will offer humanitarian and economic assistance where necessary helping in the strengthening of democratic institutions. However, it will not tolerate illegal migrants uncontrollably crossing its external borders and staying on its territory," Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis stressed on Thursday.
Referring to the conclusions of the six EU Mediterranean interior ministers meeting, held in Rome on Wednesday, and calling on the EU to take specific measures against illegal migration, Papoutsis stressed that "the continuous expansion and extension of the crisis is a cause for concern considering that its impact and the increasing flow of illegal migrants could affect our tourist regions and therefore, have a negative effect on our effort aimed at improving the economic situation in Greece."
Papoutsis said that despite its economic problems, Greece helps nationals of third countries that are in crisis regions, as in the case of Libya.
The common positions of the six EU Mediterranean member-states (Greece, France, Italy, Malta, Cyprus) were presented at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
In a joint statement the six countries pointed out that they already face dramatic consequences which cause great concern across the European Union.
They stressed that thousands of illegal migrants from Tunisia moved toward the coasts of southern Italy within a period of just a few days further increasing the existing pressures on the EU external borders in SE Europe.
The communiqu? warned of the danger of "uncontrolled flows of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers into Europe, with serious consequences and potential risks to EU internal security," in case more entry routes for illegal migrants open in the Mediterranean region.
The six EU Mediterranean member-states called on the EU to proceed with the adoption of nine measures namely, make the Mediterranean issue a central point in the community agenda; build a new relation with the southern neighboring states and take under consideration the difficulties with which EU states are met faced with disproportionate flows of illegal migrants.
Also, the EU is called to acknowledge the need and urgency of the strategies on issues of security, migration and asylum; encourage bilateral cooperation on migration issues; strengthen the role of Frontex; establish a common and viable asylum system in the EU by the end of 2012; promote regional assistance programmes in southern Mediterranean in cooperation with the UN and set up a special solidarity fund to handle the humanitarian crisis.
 Greek proposal on OSCE assistance for transition to democracy by Egypt, TunisiaVIENNA (ANA-MPA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
A Greek proposal on the assistance of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) for the transition to democracy of the countries cooperating with it, Egypt and Tunisia, was submitted at the Winter Plenum of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly.
The start of the assembly's two-day sessions at its headquarters in Vienna was declared by the Greek president of the Parliamentary Assembly, Petros Efthymiou, in the presence of Austria's Federal President, Heinz Fischer.
In his opening address, Efthymiou stressed the contribution of the so-called Corfu Process, during the Greek presidency at the OSCE in 2009 as well as that of the summit in Astana last December, in strengthening the momentum and the revival of the Organisation's political character.
 Gov't promises better utilisation of Olympic facilities; comments on Med Games lossBetter utilisation of Olympic facilities, sports tourism and the International Committee for the Mediterranean Games (ICMG) decision to take away the 2013 Med Games from Volos and Larissa were among the issues to which Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Giorgos Nikitiadis referred to on Thursday during an interview with ANA-MPA.
He underlined that the Olympic facilities in Athens have opened their doors to the people, implementing a pledge made by the prime minister. Specifically, he stated that a section of the Tae Kwon Do indoor facility in the Paleo Faliro district of southern coastal Athens has opened for rehearsals of theatre groups, while a tender has been announced for the construction of a metropolitan convention centre.
Nikitiadis also stressed that local residents were given free access to the Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre in Schinias, in cooperation with the local authorities. Meanwhile, efforts are being made in cooperation with the environment, climate change and energy ministry to ensure that the Aghios Kosmas Olympic sailing centre will become accessible to the people. In addition, the Ano Liosia Olympic Hall is utilised by athletes of several sports federations.
Responding to a question on sports tourism, Nikitiadis stressed that major sports events are being promoted, such as the annual Athens Marathon and the Acropolis Rally race.
Asked about the high-profile decision by the International Committee for the Mediterranean Games (ICMG) to take away the 17th Mediterranean Games in 2013 from the Thessaly cities of Volos and Larissa, Nikitiadis stressed that "we had lowered the cost by 1/3 compared to the initial budget and we were ready. Apparently, the ICMG had a different opinion. It is obvious that its decision had been taken in advance. It is clear that it did not want games without needless spending."
 Environment minister promises forest maps by MarchMaps of major Attica forests that have been the repeated targets of arsonists and would-be developers in recent decades will be completed and publicly posted by March this year, Environment Minister Tina Birbili promised during a press conference on Thursday. Presenting the targets of the environment, energy and climate change ministry for 2011, Birbili stressed that forest maps were a key priority and that maps for Marathonas, Pentelis and Nea Penteli will be posted in March, to be followed by six forest maps for the regions of Magnesia, Kavala, Ileia and Evros in May.
She also announced that the ministry will soon unveil a draft bill for development and improvement of the Faliro delta, where the new opera house is to be built, and that the environment ministry strongly supported the creation of a major park at the site of the old airport at Helliniko, along the lines of New York's Central Park of Hyde Park in London.
 Clinton classifies 'Revolutionaries Sect' as 'world terrorist'U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday attributed the special characterisation of "world terrorist" to the "Revolutionaries Sect", according to Executive Order 13224 and following consultations she had with the U.S. ministries of Justice and Finance.
This action will contribute to the control of the flow of economic resources to the organisation, since through it all the assets subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. to which the "Revolutionaries Sect" has an interest will be bound and all transactions by Americans with this organisation will be forbidden.
"Today's classification of the Revolutionaries Sect underlines the interest of the American government in terrorist actions by terrorist groups in Europe. This action also proves the support of the American government for the effort of Greece to dismantle, eradicate and defeat this group," said ambassador Daniel Benjamin, who is the State Department's anti-terrorist struggle coordinator.
 FinMin: Greek economy to begin recovery by end 2011Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Thursday expressed certainty that the Greek economy will begin exiting a dire economic recession this year.
In presenting an updated Memorandum, the minister said: "we are in the middle of a recession, at its worst part, but we will succeed because we are following the right course of stability and consistency." Papaconstantinou said 2010 results dismissed those who doubted the government's efforts and urged opposition political parties to participate in a dialogue over drafting a medium-term strategy fiscal framework.
He described the programme's targets by saying that at the end of this period the fiscal deficit will have fallen to 3.0 pct of the country's GDP, dropping further to 1.0 pct of GDP by 2015.
Government interventions to reach these targets in the period 2012-2014 amount to 8.0 pct of GDP. Papaconstantinou said the government cut the deficit by six percentage points to 9.4 pct of GDP in 2010 and aims at slashing the deficit to 7.4 pct of GDP this year.
Commenting on efforts to extend the repayment period for the EC-ECB-IMF bailout of 110 billion euros, Papaconstantinou reminded that the Eurogroup has agreed, in principle, on the issue last December, but predicted that an official decision would be included in a wider plan to be agreed upon by EU leaders in March. He noted that extending the repayment period was a significant step to deal with rising public debt, although he sounded cautious over whether such an extension was sufficient to stop a rising debt burden, saying it would also depend on how markets would respond to the EU's plan.
Papaconstantinou stressed that the Greek government has also supported a plan to buy back state bonds and lowering interest for loans offered by the support mechanism.
The minister added that an updated memorandum would not include the target of raising 50 billion euros from privatisations and exploiting the state's property, but reaffirmed that an existing target of raising 15 billion euros through privatisations. The government will hire an adviser by the end of March to record all commercial property of the state and to complete a first portfolio by June (a second commercial portfolio is expected by December).
Papaconstantinou said he supported mergers between banks and urged banks to proceed with "generous decisions" which will fortify them and make them independent from European Central Bank's funding. He acknowledged, however, that the strength of the banking system depended on progress made in a fiscal consolidation program and how rapidly fiscal deficits were cut by the state. He reiterated that the state would participate in an ATEbank share capital increase plan.
 ND spokesman on FinMin's interviewMain opposition New Democracy (ND) party spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis, commenting on Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou's interview on Thursday, called on the latter to resign.
"Today, Mr. G. Papaconstantinou announces in advance new measures, that are six times the cutbacks in salaries and pensions that took place in 2010. He is doing all-according to his own statement- that constitute proof of failure," Mihelakis said.
Mihelakis added: "after this, what does he intend to do? Can he still remain in his position?", raising once again the question of Papaconstantinou remaining in the government.
 KKE on European Commission's report, FinMin's interviewA comment by the press office of the Communist Party of Greece's (KKE) Central Committee on the European Commission's report and the interview by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, said "the Commission's report proves that the government has committed itself to the further drastic decrease of salaries, the 'deregulation of the labour mrket', meaning the generalisation of temporary-flexible labour, the even greater curbing of expenditures in Health and the remaining social expenditures, for new anti-insurance measures, new tax burdens, the sellout of public wealth and new privatisations and dismissals."
The comment concluded by stressing that "no importance to what the governmenrt says, through Mr. Papaconstantinou. The organised popular disobedience and counter-attack is a one-way path for repelling and reversing the barbaric anti-popular policy."
 EU report on Greek economyBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
Staff teams from the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Athens during January 27 to February 11 for the third review of the government's economic program, which is being supported by a EUR 80 billion loan from Euro area countries and a EUR 30 billion Stand-By Arrangement with the Fund.
The objectives underpinning the program are to restore fiscal sustainability, safeguard financial sector stability, and boost competitiveness-to create the conditions for sustained growth and employment. Maintaining social fairness in shouldering the burden of adjustment in the program also remains of paramount concern and this will continue to guide the direction of policies in the period ahead.
Our overall assessment is that the program has made further progress toward its objectives. While there have been delays in some areas, the underlying fiscal and broader reforms necessary to deliver the program's medium-term objectives are being put in place. However, major reforms still need to be designed and implemented to build a critical mass necessary to secure fiscal sustainability and economic recovery, the report said.
Regarding the outlook, the recession has to date been close to what was anticipated. Underlying inflation has remained low in the face of rising commodity prices. Downward movement of unit labor costs should support gains in competitiveness. Encouragingly, exports have performed well recently. We continue to expect the economy to stabilize late in 2011.
In the fiscal area, against the sharp macro headwinds, the authorities delivered a 6 percent of GDP fiscal adjustment in 2010, reducing the deficit to about 9? percent of GDP. This is an impressive achievement, but some tensions were evident in budget implementation, in particular shortfalls in revenue collections, and problems with spending control. The program has been designed to address these problems, and the work is progressing.
The government has begun to specify a medium term budget strategy, which will define time-bound actions to realize the full fiscal adjustment through 2014. The reforms are complex and cover among other issues taxation, health, public employment, and state enterprise reforms. The government is appropriately allowing time for consultation with social partners before moving beyond the design phase to begin implementation. The government's full commitment to this complicated process of institutional change, not least determination to resist vested interests, will be critical to success.
Concerning financing, the government continues to work toward securing a gradual return to bond markets at affordable interest rates. Strong program implementation, with financial support from the international community, remains key to achieving this. It is equally important that the government notably scales up its privatization program, and more generally realizes better returns from its extensive portfolio of assets. Work is proceeding to establish a comprehensive inventory of the government's real estate assets, and to define a phased action plan.
As to the financial sector, tight liquidity and rising non-performing loans are putting strains on the banking system and credit is contracting. Encouragingly, private banks have recently enjoyed some success in raising capital. It is essential that the government makes progress in addressing the stability and efficiency of the banks under its control. The Eurosystem has been a key source of liquidity support for the system, and this is allowing banks to gradually move towards a sustainable medium-term funding model. The Financial Stability Fund is available to provide support to banks in the system, if needed.
Structural reforms are making progress. Legislation covering aspects of the labor market, the liberalization of closed professions, health care reform, licensing, and the competition authority has either been passed, or soon will be. The authorities' focus must now be on implementing these laws, to make sure the new frameworks are effective as soon as possible. To secure economic recovery, early progress on structural reforms remains critical. The government must ensure that reforms are sufficiently ambitious and comprehensive to tackle the deep seated structural challenges facing Greece. The next steps will focus on, among other things, reviving the tourist industry, removing administrative barriers to exports, and strengthening public procurement.
Next Steps. Approval of the conclusion of the third review will allow the disbursement of EUR 15 billion (EUR 10.9 billion by the euro area Member States, and EUR 4.1 billion by the IMF). The mission for the next program review is scheduled for May, 2011.
 Chinese banks cite prospect of $10-bln fund for Greek shipowners; Minister concludes China visitBEIJING (ANA-MPA)
Chinese government Vice-President Zhang Dejiang this week expressed Beijing's appreciation for the assistance Greece has offered in the evacuation of thousands of Chinese nationals from strife-plagued Libya, with the first evacuation vessels reaching Crete on Thursday.
Zhang Dejiang made the statement during a meeting in Beijing with visiting Greek Maritime Affairs, Islands & Fisheries Minister Yiannis Diamantidis, in the presence of China's Transport Minister Li Shenglin.
Diamantidis concluded his closely watched week-long visit to China and a series of high-profile contacts with Chinese leadership on Wednesday, with talks focusing on the implementation of a five-billion-dollar development fund for Greek shipowners to build new vessels in Chinese shipyards. The latter agreement was first broached by the Greek and Chinese prime ministers in Athens last October.
Diamantidis met with China's Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying and the heads of three of China's biggest banking groups, Bank of China, China Development Bank and Ex-Im, as the prospect of increasing the fund to 10 billion dollars was also raised by the bank executives if demand by Greek shippers dictates greater funding. Chinese bank officials also promised the most competitive lending rates in the world, according to reports, while also pledging to promote investments in Greece by their clients.
In other contacts, Diamantidis signed a bilateral "action plan" with Chinese Transportation Vice-Minister Weng Mengyong, an initiative that foresees financing for ocean-going shipping enterprises, bilateral cooperation in the sector as well as in maritime education. The Greek minister also visited the headquarters of the China Classification Society (CCS), where he was met by CCS President Li Kejun.
Finally, Diamantidis was received by Cosco President Capt. Wei Jiafu at the multinational's headquarters in Beijing, with talks directly centring on boosting Cosco's presence at the port of Piraeus -- where it holds a major and ground-breaking concession -- as well as elsewhere in the east Mediterranean nation.
"The (Piraeus) PCT terminal project opens up a new chapter for Cosco's presence in Greece, as we are becoming a more significant operator of container terminals in the world. Our commitment to make Piraeus a better trans-shipment hub in the region is based on the long term, and we aim to achieve a win-win situation with our Greek partners," Wei said, adding:
"China and Greece are both influential maritime nations. With a globalised economy and prospering trade relations across continents, we see modern shipping routes are functioning like a new Great Wall on the sea, one that links China and Greece in a very unique and extraordinary way."
 Draft tax bill 'fair', finmin tells MPsFinance Minister George Papaconstantinou defended a draft bill introducing harsh penalties for tax evasion as "fair and measured" while appearing before Parliament's Economic Affairs Committee during discussion of the bill on Thursday.
"Tax offences threaten the existence of the financial system itself, they feed corruption, act like a bomb at the foundations of the country and the social state and render all Constitutional provisions a dead letter," Papaconstantinou stressed. The solution proposed by the government was "proportionate," with penalties that were fair and not excessive, he added.
Regarding the debt and deficit, Papaconstantinou predicted that it would take another three to four years to bring the deficit down to 3 percent, while the ultimate goal was a deficit around zero. Reducing the debt would be even harder, he added, warning that "everyone would be judged by their attitude, their choices and whether they had suggested alternative paths".
He underlined that the ministry's goal was a radical overhaul of tax inspection services, promising a thorough shake-up in order to find people that were capable and not afraid to do their jobs properly, uninfluenced by illicit or unlawful interference.
 Deputy Energy minister on ITGI natural gas pipelineDeputy Environment, Energy and Climatic Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis, outlined the position of the Greek government that the Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI) natural gas pipeline is the most mature, realistic and economically accessible plan, in his meetings on the sidelines of the extraordinary summit of the International Energy Formum's (IEF) Energy Ministers held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.
Maniatis met his Russian counterpart Yury Sentyurin and the Energy Ministers of Bulgaria, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Deputy Ministers of Japan and Norway and the Bulgarian Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traicho Traikov.
The demand made by Greece regarding the ITGI pipeline, in relation to other alternative plans that are being discussed, is that they should not be judged with political criteria but only with economic viability and effectiveness criteria.
The deputy minister together with other counterparts of his, participated as an official guest of the Saudi Arabian oil company ARAMCO in a visit to the biggest oil deposit in the world (KHURAIS), that produces 1.2 million barrels a day.
 DESFA profits total 52.7 million euros in 2010Profits of the Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) amounted to 52.7 million euros in 2010, increased by 56.1 percent compared to the previous year, according to the balance sheet approved on Thursday by the company's board.
DESFA's revenues reached 225.4 million euros, marginally down compared to 2009, while annual expenditures totalled 172.7 million euros, down by 22.9 million euros.
The budget for 2011, also ratified by the board, anticipates a further increase in pre-tax profits by 22 percent compared to the 2010 fiscal year.
The focus of DESFA's investments, according to a relevant announcement, is the further strengthening of the infrastructures of the LNG terminal at Revythoussa isle, and the completion of natgas pipelines in the Peloponnese and Evia island.
 Greek per capita GDP at 94% of EU average in 2008BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / M. Aroni)
Greece's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) totaled 94 pct of the average community rate in 2008, Eurostat announced on Thursday, with Attica (the greater Athens areas) and the Southern Aegean region the only Greek areas to surpass the EU average per capita GDP (113 pct).
The EU executive's statistics agency, in a report, said three Greek regions were below 75 pct of the EU average per capita GDP: Eastern Macedonia-Thrace (66 pct), Epirus and Western Greece (73 pct each). They were followed by Thessaly (78 pct), Northern Aegean (80 pct), Central Macedonia (81 pct), Western Macedonia and the Peloponnese (84 pct each).
Attica and Southern Aegean (113 pct each), Central Greece (100 pct), Crete (94 pct) and the Ionian Islands (90 pct) recorded the highest per capita GDP in 2008.
Central London (343 pct) recorded the highest per capita GDP among EU regions, while a region in Bulgaria posted the lowest rate, with 28 pct.
 Alpha: Merger proposal could result in bank's nationalisationAlpha Bank on Thursday detailed the reasons it declined a friendly merger offer by rival National Bank, pointing mostly at concerns over a "nationalisation" of the former rather than an equal merger of the two domestic banking giants.
"A merger between Alpha Bank and a bank like National Bank - whose management is appointed by the government -- could lead to the nationalisation of one of the strongest banks of the private sector and to the loss of an invaluable comparative advantage as well as the loss sustainable stability of a management enjoying the confidence of shareholders, customers and its staff," Alpha Bank said in its weekly economic bulletin on Thursday.
The comments permanently end any scenarios emerging locally, following a same-day rejection of National Bank's merger proposal by Alpha Bank last Friday.
"Continuing state control of banks through pension funds is making it difficult to promote business transformations, while pension funds are also obliged to maintain a portfolio of shares in state-controlled banks, regardless of their share performance or their outlook," the bulletin stressed.
Alpha Bank noted that the government could promote regulation to ensure the independence of pension fund management and other organisations' reserves, so that they do not act as a mechanism of control of large banks by the state.
"This is the only way to have a necessary restructuring of the Greek banking system," the bulletin said. The bank acknowledged that efforts at restructuring and rationalising the operations of financial institutions in the country - particularly state-run banks - have been delayed despite the fact that a Financial Stability Fund -managing 10 billion euros- has begun operations. The bulletin added that a merger between Alpha Bank and National Bank would not cover the hard work needed to be done towards restructuring state banks.
"There no short-cuts, or magic solutions to reach a recovery of the Greek economy. In any case, though, the banking system responds to the economy's funding needs in the best way possible, given the adverse conditions prevailing in liquidity because of the fiscal crisis. In this difficult environment, Greek banks are cutting expenses, reducing credit risks and balancing their lending/saving ratio. Cutting the fiscal deficit is a one-way street to ensure a return of the Greek state and Greek banks to international markets," the bulletin added.
 Emporiki Bank will not participate in restructuring of Greek banking systemEmporiki Bank, a member of Credit Agricole Group, has no plans to participate in a restructuring trend of the Greek banking system, Credit Agricole's chief executive Jean-Paul Chifflet said on Thursday.
In comments made to Reuters, the chief executive of the French group stressed its goal was the return of Emporiki Bank to profitability in 2012.
Meanwhile, speculation over developments in the domestic banking system continued flowing one week after Alpha Bank rejected National Bank's merger proposal. Efthimios Bouloutos, chief executive of Marfin Popular Bank said 2011 would be a starting year for mergers between banks in Greece and noted this was needed to creating larger groups with scale economics in order to have healthy competition in the market.
Bank of Greece governor, George Provopoulos, speaking in Parliament early in the week said 2011 would be a restructuring year for the banking system, while Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou also said he supported changes in the banking system and the creation of larger banks, capable of accessing the interbank market and not relying solely on the European Central Bank's funding operations. Finance Deputy Minister Dimitris Kouselas, commenting on developments in the banking sector said the government could not intervene in the terms and the preconditions in talks between banks.
The bank workers' union OTOE said any talk of merger between banks should have an integrated business and social plan fully justifying their purpose.
 Eurobank reports 69% decline in 2010 profitsEurobank Group on Thursday reported a 69-pct decline in its net profits to 113 million euros last year, saying profits from operations in central and southeastern Europe totaled 32 million euros in 2010, after losses of 44 million euros in 2009.
The group said saving deposits rose by 850 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 44.4 billion euros, with the bank reporting higher savings both in "New Europe" and Greece.
Loans grew 1.8 pct, on an annual basis, to 58.5 billion euros last year, with lending to enterprises rising 2.2 pct, mortgage loans rising 11.2 and consumer loans falling by 13.4 pct as part of a strategy of portfolio restructuring.
Nikolaos Nanopoulos, the bank's chief executive, commenting on the results, said: "In 2010 the Greek economy suffered the worst fiscal and economic crisis in its modern history and the country implemented an ambitious, long-term fiscal consolidation and structural reforms programme, which will gradually lead to a radical restructuring of the economy. Despite all these, significant challenges remain to exit the crisis, with the most significant being a return of the economy to positive growth rates".
Eurobank Group remained profitable throughout the year both in Greece and abroad. It also boosted, organically, its capital base and its cashflow through strategic moves, such as cooperation with Reiffeisen Bank in Poland and merging with DIAS Investment Co., Nanopoulos added.
 Emporiki Life changes into Credit Agricole LifeEmporiki Life on Thursday announced it was changing its name to Credit Agricole Life, reflecting the name of its parent company, French multinational Credit Agricole.
The company, founded in 2011,was a joint venture between Emporiki Bank and Predica - a life insurance company of Credit Agricole Assurances - and was fully purchased by Credit Agricole Assurances in late 2009.
The renaming of the company signals the French group's decision to strengthen bonds between Credit Agricole Life and the parent company.
Richard Sutton, chief executive of Credit Agricole Life, said the move was designed to further enhance Credit Agricole Life's position in the Greek market.
 Competition Commission fines 5 fish farms with 680,000 eurosGreece's Competition Commission on Thursday announced it was imposing fines totaling 680,000 euros against the country's five biggest fish farming enterprises and warned against price fixing cartels that limit competition by citing the economic crisis hitting the country.The market watchdog called on the five companies to terminate their practices, although it acknowledged that the fines were reduced, taking into consideration the special conditions prevailing in the country.
The Competition Commission fined Nereus Fish Farms SA with 273,582 euros, Selonda with 146,339 euros, Dias Fish Farms with 119,015 euros, Aquaculture Farms with 42,905 euros and Hellenic Fish Farms with 96,044 euros.
 Cargo traffic up, passenger traffic down at Piraeus port in 2010Cargo traffic grew by 42.5 pct in 2010, while vehicle-cargo traffic was up 27.3 pct, the Piraeus Port Authority announced on Thursday.
In presenting the figures, George Anomeritis, chairman and chief executive of the Authority, said passenger traffic fell 5.5 pct in 2010, while vehicle traffic was down 7.6 pct in the same year. Ships traffic totaled 25,650, while domestic and international passenger traffic totaled 20,336,418 persons. Vehicle traffic totaled 2,988,048, of which 1,978,394 were cars, 360,309 trucks, 18,865 buses and 630,480 motorcycles. Cargo traffic totaled 1,149,608 TEU.
Anomeritis met with the presidency of the Greek-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and discussed plans for Greek enterprises to expand activities in the shipbuilding and logistics industries of the People's Republic of China.
 Hellenic Petroleum announces 0.45 euro dividendHellenic Petroleum on Thursday said it will seek shareholders' approval for a plan to pay a 0.45-euro per share dividend to shareholders, unchanged from last year, after the group reported net profits of 180 million euros in 2010, down from 199 million euros in 2009.
Comparable net profits (excluding an extra tax charge and higher capital gains tax) grew to 205 million euros last year, from 174 million euros in 2009.
Consolidated sales grew 14 pct to 8.47 billion euros in 2010, from 7.42 billion euros a year earlier despite the fact that volumes of sales by refineries and its two downstream companies (EKO and Hellenic Fuels - the former BP) were affected by lower fuel consumption.
Yiannis Kostopoulos, chief executive of the group, stressed that "we achieved satisfactory results because of an improved refinery environment globally, higher oil prices, a recovery of the US dollar and significant progress in efficiency boosting works. This year will also be difficult, but Hellenic Petroleum expects a continuing improvement in competitiveness".
 Greek cuisine used as tourism attractionMaking the art of Greek cuisine known abroad and attracting tourists that select holiday destinations based on the local cuisine was the goal of the 2nd International Aldemar Gourmet Touring that took place in seven countries and 11 cities across Europe and Russia between Jan. 31 and Feb. 21.
Award-winning chefs from the Aldemar Hotels and Spa Group met with 360 travel agents in state-of-the-art cooking studios giving them the chance to not only to taste Greek dishes but also to learn how to prepare them.
The gourmet touring group traveled to Berlin, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, Milan, Paris and Brussels, as well as to the Russian cities of Samara and St. Petersburg.
 Stocks end 1.83% downStocks remained under pressure for another session at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, pushing the composite index of the market below the 1,600 level for the first time after 17 sessions. The index fell 1.83 pct to end at 1,599.97 points, with turnover a moderate 125.743 million euros.
The Big Cap index dropped 2.34 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 2.23 pct down and the Small Cap index fell 2.25 pct. OPAP (2.11 pct), Coca-Cola 3E (0.56 pct) and Hellenic Petroleum (0.14 pct) were gainers among blue chip stocks, while Hellenic Postbank (6.10 pct), National Bank (5.14 pct), Mytilineos (5.05 pct) and Cyprus Bank (4.98 pct) were top losers.
The Travel (1.81 pct) and Insurance (1.60 pct) sectors scored gains, while Chemicals (4.53 pct), Raw Materials (4.39 pct) and Health (4.03 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 125 to 43 with another 39 issues unchanged. Nutriart (10 pct), Pairis (10 pct) and Galaxidi (7.89 pct) were top gainers, while Neorio (16.22 pct), Attikat (14.29 pct) and Vivere (10 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.03%
Personal & Household: -0.76%
Raw Materials: -4.39%
Travel & Leisure: +1.81%
Food & Beverages: +0.50%
Financial Services: -3.86%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and Frigoglass.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 5.01
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.61
HBC Coca Cola: 19.61
Hellenic Petroleum: 7.41
National Bank of Greece: 7.01
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.77
Bank of Piraeus: 1.63
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was 866 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market, with the Greek bond yielding 11.79 pct and the German Bund 3.13 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 29 million euros, of which 20 million were sell orders and the remaining 9.0 million euros were buy orders. The five-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 7.0 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed. The 12-month rate rose to 1.73 pct, the six-month rate was unchanged at 1.35 pct, the three-month rate fell to 1.07 pct and the one-month rate was 0.86 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.29 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover at 55.469 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 11,902 contracts, worth 45.034 million euros, with 29,104 short positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 21,953 contracts worth 10.435 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (5,016), followed by Eurobank (1,372), MIG (1,250), OTE (1,227), Piraeus (3,572), Alpha Bank (3,429), Marfin Popular Bank (1,973), Mytilineos (684), Cyprus Bank (697), Hellenic Postbank (560) and ATEbank (366).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.388
Pound sterling 0.858
Danish kroner 7.514
Swedish kroner 8.868
Japanese yen 113.59
Swiss franc 1.285
Norwegian kroner 7.780
Canadian dollar 1.365
Australian dollar 1.379
 Charges against law school takeover; minister appeals for end to hunger strikeAn appellate-level prosecutor has indicated that criminal acts were committed during a takeover of an Athens Law School building last month by a group of more than 250 illegal migrants and their local supporters.
Prosecutor Spyros Mouzakitis proposed that misdemeanor charges of disorderly behaviour and vandalism of public property be filed against the illegals -- mostly North African nationals ferried to Athens from Crete.
Also to face charges are eight members of the 'Solidarity Committee' that helped bring the migrants from Crete, for instigating their actions.
Finally, the prosecutor recommended that charges be filed against the school's rector, Theodosis Pelegrinis, for breach of duty -- due to his delay in lifting the "university asylum" status so that law enforcement officers could enter the facility to remove the protesting and hunger-striking migrants.
Migrants and their supporters proceeded with the takeover in order to demand that the Greek government unconditionally legalise all migrants in the country.
In statements to reporters on Thursday, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis once again ruled out all prospect of an "exception" that would give the migrants involved legal residence and appealed both to them - and those supporting and encouraging them - to end their hunger strike.
The migrants are currently continuing their hunger strike in a building given for their use in central Athens.
"It is not possible for Greece to carry out mass legalisations because, if such a thing were done, we would be in grave danger as a country. For the government, there is no other road apart from implementing the existing law that was only recently passed by Parliament," Ragoussis said.
The minister also pointed out that the 250 migrants taking part in the hunger strike there can be a period of "tolerance" of about six months, with the possibility that this might be extended, that is given by one of the basic provisions of European legislation that has also been incorporated into Greek law.
The minister underlined that Greece had to adopt a tough stance on this issue, in light of an expected surge of migrants fleeing troubled North African countries but also an estimated 50 million 'climate change' refugees that are expected to be created.
 Eurojust prosecutor's term renewedA Supreme Court plenum on Thursday renewed for two years the term of First Instance Court Prosecutor Lampros Patsavellas to Eurojust, the EU judicial cooperation unit based in The Hague.
Patsavellas participated in investigations focusing on Siemens and the purchase of German submarines, coordinating the contacts between the Prosecutor Offices in Athens and Munich.
His term was renewed for two years, following objections raised by Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis to an earlier Supreme Court plenum decision renewing his term for four years.
 Escaped convict shot and arrested after Arta bank robberyPolice on Thursday shot and arrested a 36-year-old Albanian man who had just carried out a robbery in a branch of Alpha Bank in Arta and then threatened a police officer at gunpoint. The officer responded by opening fire in self-defence, wounding him in the right arm and shoulder. The arrested man was taken to Arta hospital for treatment, where doctors said his injuries were not serious.
Investigating officers subsequently identified the suspect as the same man that had threatened a car owner and his mother in Thesprotia earlier the same day when they discovered him attempting to steal their car, firing shots at the ground and at the car owner.
The suspect is then believed to have driven the car to Arta and carried out the robbery at Alpha Bank, taking 32,205 euro. As he was running back toward the vehicle, however, he was spotted by a police patrol and there was a shootout that resulted in his injury.
Further investigation showed that the suspect was an escaped convict from Patras Prison, who had failed to return from prison furlough in October 2010 and had been wanted since that time. He was originally incarcerated in January 2001 to serve a 42-year sentence for repeated robberies and thefts.
Police have confiscated the gun, ammunition and the money that was found on him at the time of his arrest. He will be led before the Arta public prosecutor in order to be charged, while local police are also investigating his possible involvement in other thefts and robberies.
 Nine arrested, charged for violence during Wednesday protestsNine individuals, among them one underage youth who will be tried before a juvenile court, were arrested and charged on Thursday for violent incidents that occurred during Wednesday's protest rally and march in central Athens.
The other eight face a variety of criminal and misdemeanour charges, including a charge of attempted manslaughter for a man found in possession of a bow and arrows.
Other charges against those arrested included those of disturbing the peace, illegal weapons possession and use and resisting arrest. In some cases the charges are compounded by laws for offences committed by persons concealing their faces and count as criminal offences.
 More incidents in Keratea on Wed.Incidents occurred again in the Keratea township of eastern Attica on Wednesday afternoon when local residents protesting the construction of a landfill in their district clashed with riot police.
Tension lasted for about two and a half hours and calm returned shortly before 9 p.m.
 Rainy on FridayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 4-9 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -2C and 15C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with northerly 6-8 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 6C to 9C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 2C to 7C.
 Spokesman: Turkish Cypriot leader engaged in ''blame game''NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou expressed surprise on Thursday over the remarks made by Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu on the negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem, adding that these statements are part of a ''blame game'' Eroglu is engaged in.
Commenting on the remarks made by Eroglu during an interview with a Turkish TV network, Stephanou said that, if the UN-backed negotiations for a settlement to the Cyprus problem are to make progress, Eroglu should commit to the negotiating basis, to negotiate in a substantive manner and accept the parallel discussion on the chapters of property with territorial adjustments and the issue of the settlers.
''It is not President Christofias who procrastinates in the talks, as Mr. Eroglu is claiming, he who procrastinates and does not negotiate is Mr. Eroglu, aiming at directing the talks to a stalemate so that the Turkish side can promote the convening of a four-party or five-party conference,'' Stephanou said.
He added that ''the Turkish side's obvious aim is the closure of the Cyprus problem with a foreign solution and not a mutually agreed solution through the inter-communal dialogue which would be put to simultaneous and separate referenda.''
Stephanou reiterated the Greek Cypriot side's well-known position with regard to the convening of an international conference.
''An international conference can be convened on the international aspects of the Cyprus problem, when the two sides will be close to a solution on internal aspects of the Cyprus problem, something which the UN Secretary General is pointing out. The international conference should be convened under UN auspices with the participation of the UN Security Council's five permanent member states, the EU, the guarantor powers (the UK, Greece and Turkey) and the Republic of Cyprus,'' he noted.
Pointing out that the Greek Cypriot side is working for a solution in the framework of the agreed basis, Stephanou said that, ''if a solution is to be achieved soon, the Turkish side should terminate the blame game, negotiate in a substantive manner and accept the correlation of the issues of territory, territorial adjustments and settlers.''
''For the negotiations to move forward, Mr. Eroglu should stop disputing and reaffirm his commitment to the negotiating basis,'' the spokesman pointed out.
With regard to Eroglu's remarks on property, Stephanou pointed out that Eroglu has rejected the Greek Cypriot side's proposal on property, recalling that the Greek Cypriot side rejected Eroglu's proposal on property because the proposal ''essentially leads to the annulment of the legal owners' property rights.''
Concerning territory, Stephanou said the Turkish Cypriot side denies negotiation on the substance of the chapter, pointing out that the criteria Eroglu refers to limit the territories to be returned under Greek Cypriot administration.
UN-backed talks for a settlement of the Cyprus problem began in September 2008. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 President and Turkish Cypriot leaders to meet FridayNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu meet Friday at 4.00 in the afternoon, in the framework of direct negotiations for solution of the Cyprus problem.
The meeting will take place at the Chief of Mission's residence, in the United Nations Protected Area of Nicosia.
Speaking after the last meeting of the two leaders on Thursday February 17, UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim said that the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus confirmed the progress achieved in the last two meetings of the representatives on economy and EU matters.
She also said that the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer will be present at Friday's meeting.
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