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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-03-10

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

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--1427249692-181686488-1299797177=:14607 Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=X-UNKNOWN; format=flowed Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8BIT

Thursday, 10 March 2011 Issue No: 3739

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM Papandreou meets EU's Van Rompuy
  • [02] PM addresses Cabinet ahead of EU summit
  • [03] ND spokesman criticises PM
  • [04] Turkish foreign minister visiting Thrace
  • [05] Turkish FM in Komotini
  • [06] Davutoglu: New positive status quo needed
  • [07] European Parliament resolution critical of Turkey over Cyprus, Greece
  • [08] Gaddafi warns EU against 'interference' in call to PM
  • [09] Libyan executive jet enters Athens FIR on way to Cairo
  • [10] China thanks Greece for helping evacuate Chinese from Libya
  • [11] ND leader visits western Thessaloniki
  • [12] KKE leader foresees political instability
  • [13] LA.OS leader chairs parliamentary group meeting
  • [14] SYRIZA on Cosmote lay-offs
  • [15] Papoulias meets with civil servants' leadership
  • [16] New armed forces chief-of-staff announced
  • [17] Moody's downgrades six Greek banks
  • [18] Austria's Nowotny: Lower interest rates for Greece, Ireland if conditions met
  • [19] Unemployment at 14.8% in December, ELSTAT reports
  • [20] FinMin SG resigns
  • [21] Hellenic Exchanges announces dividend payment, capital return to shareholders
  • [22] Chryssohoidis presents 'StartUp Greece'' plan
  • [23] FM receives Arab-Greek Chamber officials
  • [24] Stocks end 1.02% higher
  • [25] Greek bond market closing report
  • [26] ADEX closing report
  • [27] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [28] Late frost recedes after shutting schools, roads
  • [29] Illegal migrants end hunger strike
  • [30] Hunger striker 'supporters' charged for preventing them eating
  • [31] Hunger-striking illegal migrants in Thessaloniki stop action
  • [32] Homeless man dies of cold, two in serious condition
  • [33] Ruins of early Christian era villa unearthed in Thessaloniki
  • [34] Kim Wilde concert cancelled
  • [35] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
  • [36] President sees huge gap on the issue of citizenship Politics

  • [01] PM Papandreou meets EU's Van Rompuy

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M.Spinthourakis)

    Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou met here on Wednesday evening with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

    Speaking to the press after the meeting, Government Spokesman George Petalotis said that during the premier's meeting views were exchanged on current economic issues and the situation in Northern Africa, on which the Greek prime minister outlined Greece's views. The spokesman also spoke of difficult and tough negotiations that would continue, as regards the economic crisis.

    [02] PM addresses Cabinet ahead of EU summit

    "The March 25 EU Summit is yet another difficult milestone in the course of our country," Prime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday underlined addressing the cabinet meeting.

    Papandreou referred to the meetings he had with the political party leaders on Tuesday to brief them on the imminent negotiations in the European Union.

    He pointed out that the conservative political forces dominate in Europe and compared the decisions adopted last Friday by the two largest European political parties, the Socialists and the EPP.

    PM Papandreou underlined that while the SocialistsÂ’ text included all the positions supported by PASOK, as regards Europe and the tough situation faced by Greece and other countries, the EPP-adopted text included only the wish that the programmes implemented by Greece and Ireland will continue their successful course.

    He criticised main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras, accusing him of supporting the memorandum when speaking abroad and condemning it as catastrophic when addressing the Greek people.

    He also referred to the Greek proposal on the issuance of Eurobonds and the imposition of a financial transactions tax that won the European Parliament's vote.

    The premier stressed that the citizens' strong protests against the system's dysfunctions are justified and linked the disobedience phenomenon with the people's discontent.

    [03] ND spokesman criticises PM

    Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis criticised on Wednesday Prime Minister George Papandreou's statements made earlier in the day during a cabinet meeting.

    "Mr. Papandreou, during his address to his ministers, instead of coordinating his government, he opted, yet for another time, for attacking the New Democracy party," Mihelakis said in a statement, calling on to the prime minister to answer "if he has anything to say on the 15 per cent increase in unemployment".

    The ND spokesman also questioned whether "it is the complete failure regarding the state's incomes that led to the resignation of the Secretary General of the Finance Ministry George Georgakopolos earlier in the day."

    Regarding developments in the Mediterranean region, Mihelakis charged that Papandreou "should answer, as Socialist International president, questions regarding his broader political family which includes Kaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali."

    "For what reasons there has been no clear statement condemning the bloodshed provoked by the Kaddafi regime," the ND spokesman also questioned.

    [04] Turkish foreign minister visiting Thrace

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday continued a three-day visit to Greece by commencing a private visit to the northeastern Greek region of Thrace, where the country's Muslim minority resides. Davutoglu arrived in Greece on Tuesday for talks with Greece's leadership and held a press conference in Athens on Wednesday morning, before departing for Thrace.

    The Turkish minister arrived in the border city of Alexandroupolis by plane shortly before 1 p.m. and then travelled by car to Komotini to meet representatives of the Greek state but also members of the Muslim minority.

    "A thaw has taken place in Greek-Turkish relations," Davutoglu stressed upon his arrival in Komotini, where he was welcomed by the Eastern Macedonia-Thrace regional governor. The meeting with local authorities lasted roughly 20 minutes.

    En route to Komotini from Alexandroupolis, the Turkish foreign minister made a quick stopover at the village of Arriana, where he was received by representatives of the local Muslim minority. Davutoglu underlined the good atmosphere in the Greek-Turkish relations, reiterating that the "minority is a bridge of friendship between the two countries".

    Afterwards, Davutoglu was scheduled to visit Xanthi and the village of Ehinos in the mountains of Rhodopi before heading for the port city of Kavala to stay overnight.

    The private leg of Davutoglu's three-day visit to Greece will conclude on Thursday in Thessaloniki, where he is scheduled to visit the Turkish consulate in the northern port city. The consulate is located next to the restored residence -- now a museum -- where the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, was born and raised.

    Davutoglu is also scheduled to meet with Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris and take a stroll in the seaside city.

    He is due back in Turkey late on Thursday afternoon.

    [05] Turkish FM in Komotini

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressed on Wednesday evening members of the Muslim minority at a Komotini hotel, in the region of Thrace.

    Davutoglu called on his audience to stay "united" and preserve their "religion and language" while asking them to participate as "Greek citizens in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the entire country and not only of the region."

    He also noted that the Muslim minority "is a bridge of friendship between the two peoples", adding that Greek Prime Minitsre George Papandreou and his government have shown positive signs.

    Davutoglu is currently on a three-day visit to Greece since Tuesday and on Wednesday began a private visit to the northeastern region of Thrace, where the country's Muslim minority resides.

    [06] Davutoglu: New positive status quo needed

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu covered the gamut of Greek-Turkish issues, Cyprus and even his country's thorny course towards the European Union in a wide-ranging press briefing here on Wednesday morning, as the author of the mantra "zero problems with neighbours" detailed Ankara's positions before again calling for a "new status quo in a positive sense".

    Davutoglu, who met with Greek leadership a day earlier during the first day of his three-day visit to Greece, opened his comments by emphasising that past assumptions, as he said, regarding Greek-Turkish relations should be overcome, namely, that the two neighbours lie on an "east-west" or "Christian-Muslim" fault line.

    "Our relations cannot be seen as a confrontation between East and West; Muslim and Christian. This should not be a parametre," he said, repeating criticism of any notion of a "zero sum game" approach by either Athens or Ankara.

    Davutoglu reiterated that the Turkish side does not consider Greece a "rival" state or as a problem for Turkish diplomacy, reminding that no less than 24 bilateral agreements were signed since 2009, "when 35 agreements were signed in the previous 87 years." He also thoroughly dismissed what he called an "old paradigm" playing to Greek fears that Turkey will invade a Greek isle, or Turkish fears that Greece's Aegean islands will act as a springboard for intervention in Turkey's Asia Minor coast (Anatolia).

    The noted academic and diplomat nevertheless touched on the essence of a handful of standing differences still plaguing Greek-Turkish ties despite a more than decade rapprochement between the two countries.

    On Cyprus, he said a solution should be found "as soon as possible", although he countered that Turkey's strong support for the Annan peace plan in 2004 and a decision to "open the gates" -- a reference to the barriers between the island republic and the Turkish-occupied north -- rank as distinct "actions" proving Ankara's goodwill.

    Moreover, he accused the Greek Cypriot side of trying to use Turkey's EU aspirations as "leverage" in talks.

    "The worst-case scenario is for an EU stalemate (in Turkey's accession course), and no Cyprus agreement; no solution is not a solution," he said, pointing to what he called a "counter-productive" policy by both France and Cyprus vis-a-vis the accession prospect.

    Davutoglu also responded to a bevy of press questions on issues of particular importance -- and annoyance -- to the Greek side, including overflights of eastern Aegean isles by Turkish warplanes and accompanying Athens FIR infringements, as well as a controversial declaration by the Turkish Grand assembly in the mid 1990s authorising "measures" in case Greece extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles (from the current six). In terms of the latter, he dismissed the notion that the June 1995 resolution ranks as a "casus belli" (threat of war), saying the Turkish assembly motion followed a resolution by Greece's parliament on the an extension of territorial waters.

    Moreover, he said an immediate remedy to this specific matter could be a nullification of both resolutions by the respective legislative assemblies, something that could possibly be proposed by the governments in Greece and Turkey.

    Along those lines, he twice underlined his view that the Aegean Sea is the most "complicated" body of water in the world separating two countries, when was asked why Greece would acquiesce to waiving its right -- to legally extend territorial waters to 12 n.m. -- under the International Law of the Sea.

    Greece is a signatory to the latter, while Turkey has declined to sign the pact up until now, citing opposition to certain Articles.

    As per Turkish air force and naval activity in the Aegean -- which Athens has sternly criticised over the past four decades as aiming to dispute Greek sovereignty of islets, territorial waters and airspace -- Davutoglu said Turkey's position is against an imaginary "wall" being placed on its western shores and skies.

    [07] European Parliament resolution critical of Turkey over Cyprus, Greece

    STRASBOURG (ANA-MPA - N. Roussis)

    The European Parliament on Wednesday adopted a resolution on Turkey's accession progress that was strongly critical of its delay in adopting the Copenhagen criteria and ensuring good neighbour relations with Greece and Cyprus.

    In the resolution, Turkey was criticised for failing to lift the Turkish Parliament's 'casus belli' threat against Greece and the European Parliament stressed that it expects the Turkish government to stop continuous violations of Greek air space, including flights by Turkish fighter jets over Greek islands.

    It also urges Turkey to immediately sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, pointing out that this has been signed by the EU, its 27 member-states and all candidate countries bar Turkey and forms a part of the Community acquis.

    The Turkish government and all interested parties are also called upon to actively support and facilitate negotiations for resolving the Cyprus issue, including by creating a good climate for talks by initiating the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus.

    The two communities on Cyprus are also encouraged to work intensively to take advantage of the progress already made in order to achieve a viable solution.

    Turkey is also urged to give greater support for the committee seeking Cyprus missing, giving them access to military zones and files, while Turkey and Turkish-Cypriot authorities are asked to avoid creating new settlements of Turkish citizens on Cyprus.

    [08] Gaddafi warns EU against 'interference' in call to PM

    Government sources in Athens have confirmed an AFP report that Prime Minister George Papandreou spoke with Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on the telephone on Tuesday. The initiative for the call was made by Gaddafi.

    They said the prime minister had listened to Gaddafi's views on events in Libya and emphasised the importance of the UN resolution in his reply, stressing the need to find a solution in order to avoid the emerging humanitarian crisis and the escalation of violence caused by the increasing number of victims that was raising the chances of civil war.

    The AFP report, quoting the Libyan state news agency Jana, said that the Libyan leader had telephoned Papandreou in order to warn the European Union against interfering in his country's affairs.

    "Any violation of Libya's security or stability would necessarily have dire consequences for the security in north Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe," Gaddafi warned, according to Jana.

    He also noted that Greece was "a friend of Libya that can pass on this piece of advice to the European Union," AFP said.

    [09] Libyan executive jet enters Athens FIR on way to Cairo

    A Libyan airplane, identified as a Falcon 900 executive jet, entered the Athens FIR just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, southwest of Crete.

    The plane had reportedly filed a flight plan for Cairo, according to reports. The same sources added that no VIP was declared as being on the plane.

    [10] China thanks Greece for helping evacuate Chinese from Libya

    Chinese Ambassador to Athens Luo Linquan paid a visit to Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Wednesday and once again thanked the Greek government on behalf of the Chinese people for its assistance in evacuating Chinese nationals working in strife-torn Libya.

    The ambassador expressed his government's deepest gratitude for the immediate response of Greek authorities, who chartered ships and planes to bring 13,185 Chinese out of Libya and take them to Crete, until arrangements could be made for their return to China.

    He stressed that these decisions indicated the firm basis of the strategic partnership between the two countries, stressing that China attached great importance to its strategic relations with Greece and promised to develop mutually beneficial cooperation in all areas and on all levels.

    Luo particularly stressed the immediate response of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas to the Chinese government's urgent request on February 21, which allowed Chinese nationals to bypass visa requirements in order to enter Greece and stay until they could be returned home.

    He also thanked the Greek ministries of the interior, citizens' protection, and maritime affairs, local authorities on Crete, the Greek coast guard and civil aviation services and the ship owners that assisted in evacuating the Chinese.

    [11] ND leader visits western Thessaloniki

    The government's ineptitude and neglect was reflected in the 'picture' seen throughout the country, main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras asserted on Wednesday during a tour of western Thessaloniki.

    Visiting local authorities and mayors in the region, he was briefed on the area's problems and took a walk down the local high street.

    Samaras said that Greece had reached a critical phase when the economic problem had become deeply social and every political party had an obligation to stand at the side of citizens. He called for the support of the unemployed, pensioners, the poor and the social classes worst hit by the crisis.

    "In the last three months we experienced a recession of the order of 6.6 percent, which hadn't seen in this country after the Second World War," he said.

    He noted that when there was a lack of income and therefore no consumption, combined with a lack of state spending or investments, then markets came to a complete standstill. "Shops are closing and the market has 'dried up' while the government does not appear to want to deal with the problem," he said.

    The present government had one and only one course, Samaras emphasised, which was the one set for it by the Memorandum.

    "It has not at all considered the possibilities that might exist even within the Memorandum, if it had negotiated for this. It is not possible to overcome the problem of your financial robustness by the 'execution' of thousands of new unemployed every day, especially when this chiefly reflects the problem for young people," ND's leader said, noting that this created a "sick psychology" and injured society's cohesion.

    [12] KKE leader foresees political instability

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday predicted "political instability and heightened tensions" as a result of the ongoing economic crisis.

    Speaking to public radio, she stressed that political instability is likely in case the conservative parties fail to reach a consensus, adding that even if a consensus is reached the people could create the conditions that will make such governments unstable.

    Papariga also stated the new element in the crisis is the fact that economies on European and global level are interwoven thus lacking the ability to handle the crisis on national level as it was the case in the past.

    [13] LA.OS leader chairs parliamentary group meeting

    Opposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) President George Karatzaferis on Wednesday addressed his party's parliamentary group and called on his MPs to highlight the government's inconsistencies.

    Karatzaferis briefed the MPs on the issues discussed in the meeting with Prime Minister George Papandreou, underlining that the country will stand on its feet only through quick and dynamic economic growth.

    He also said that they discussed issues of national importance.

    [14] SYRIZA on Cosmote lay-offs

    Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday said that the decision to fire hundreds of staff at the state-run mobile phone service provider Cosmote was a "pilot programme" to reconcile broader public-sector workers with the idea that they might be made redundant and lose their jobs.

    Tsipras made the statement during a meeting on Wednesday with a delegation of Cosmote staff, saying the lay-offs served the dual purpose of "terrorising" public-sector staff and also ensuring continued high profits for OTE and Deutsche Telekom shareholders.

    Earlier on Wednesday, Tsipras and other SYRIZA MPs submitted a proposal for a Parliamentary committee to audit Greece's debt to Parliament President Philippos Petsalnikos.

    [15] Papoulias meets with civil servants' leadership

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday met with the leadership of the civil servants' trade union (ADEDY).

    Papoulias recognised what he called the trade union's willingness to compromise on certain issues, as well as, what he called its determination to stand its ground when necessary.

    ADEDY President Spyros Papaspyros emphasised that wage-earners cannot tolerate more pay and benefit cuts.

    [16] New armed forces chief-of-staff announced

    The high-ranking Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) on Wednesday announced promotions to the country's top posts in the three-branch military, with Hellenic Air Force Lt.-Gen. Ioannis Yiagos tapped as the new chief of the national defence general staff.

    Additionally, Vice-Adm. Dimitrios Elefsiniotis was promoted to the post of Hellenic Navy chief-of-staff, whereas Brig. Gen. Vassilios Klokozas was promoted as Hellenic Air Force chief-of-staff.

    Financial News

    [17] Moody's downgrades six Greek banks

    Moody's on Wednesday downgraded the deposit and debt ratings of six Greek banks, following the downgrade of Greece's sovereign rating to B1 from Ba1 two days earlier and its reassessment of some of the banks' standalone credit strength, reflected in their bank financial strength ratings (BFSRs), a Moody's announcement said.

    According to its decision on Wednesday, Moody's downgraded the ratings of National Bank of Greece (NBG) to Ba3 from Ba1; EFG Eurobank Ergasias (Eurobank) to Ba3 from Ba1; Alpha Bank to Ba3 from Ba1; Piraeus Bank to Ba3 from Ba1; Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATEbank) to b1 from Ba2; and Attica Bank to b1 from Ba2.

    The outlook on all these ratings is negative, Moody's said, adding that Wednesday's rating actions conclude the preview for possible downgrade, which Moody's initiated on December 17, 2010.

    The key drivers for Wednesday's rating actions are:

    (1) Moody's decision on 7 March to downgrade Greece's government bond ratings to B1 from Ba1. Under Moody's methodology, a government's credit strength serves as a key input in assessing the capacity of a country to support its banking system which, in turn, can provide rating uplift to a bank's deposit and debt ratings.

    (2) Moody's re-assessment of some banks' intrinsic financial strength (standalone BFSRs), due to persistent pressure on liquidity and asset quality, and the banks' material exposure to Greek government securities. Although Moody's central scenario is that holders of Greek government debt will not bear losses, the rating agency believes that the likelihood of a sovereign default or distressed exchange has risen, as denoted by the new B1 government rating.

    DEPOSIT AND DEBT RATINGS

    The downgrade of the Greek government's debt rating has prompted Moody's to lower Greece's systemic support indicator (SSI) , which is the measure Moody's uses to determine bank rating uplift due to systemic support considerations. By lowering Greece's SSI to Ba3 from Baa3, the uplift imbedded in the deposit and debt ratings of the banks was reduced.

    The SSI denotes the country's capacity to provide support to its banking system beyond that indicated by its own rating level, as it incorporates a range of tools at its disposal (financial and non-financial), which for Greece includes elements of support now available through European Commission/ECB/IMF programmes.

    These programmes include, but are not limited to (i) the ? 10 billion Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, which is available as a capital backstop; (ii) the ECB's decision to suspend the application of the minimum credit-rating threshold in its collateral eligibility requirements for marketable debt instruments issued or guaranteed by the Greek State; and (iii) the Greek government's guarantee scheme (approved by the European Commission). Under that scheme, the banks can issue debt that is eligible collateral for ECB's refinancing operations. The availability of these tools allows some systemically important Greek banks to be rated one notch higher than the government bond rating.

    STANDALONE BANK FINANCIAL STRENGTH RATINGS (BFSRs)

    The downgrade of the BFSRs was prompted by the increased credit and liquidity risk emanating from the banks' material exposure to Greek government securities. The downgrade of the Greek government bond rating to B1 reflects a rising probability of government-debt bondholders experiencing losses. In addition, today's rating actions reflect the banks' limited funding options and their dependence on ECB funding, which accounts for at least 20% of their balance sheet. Moody's believes that this dependency could increase during 2011 and that a possible government debt default -- or distressed exchange -- could not only pressure the banks' capital structures with material government securities holdings, but might also indirectly weaken their already weak funding positions.

    This would make them even more dependent on ECB funding. To capture these increasing risks, Alpha's BFSR was downgraded by one notch, compared with the two-notch downgrade of NBG and Eurobank. The smaller adjustment in the case of Alpha reflects the bank's relatively low exposure to Greek government bonds -- at approximately 80% of its Tier 1, compared with 150% plus for NBG and Eurobank.

    Moody's notes that the BFSRs of Piraeus, ATE and Attica Bank were affirmed at E+ with stable outlooks, as the low levels of these ratings already capture Moody's concerns outlined above.

    NEGATIVE OUTLOOK

    The negative outlook on the banks' deposit and debt ratings reflects (i) the negative outlook on the government bond ratings; and (ii) Greece's sustained challenging operating conditions and difficult macroeconomic environment. In particular, these two latter factors continue to exert pressure on banks' financial fundamentals -- including asset quality and funding metrics -- and their earnings generating capabilities.

    FOREIGN-OWNED SUBSIDIARIES

    Moody's has also affirmed the ratings of Emporiki Bank of Greece SA (Baa3/Prime-3/E+) and General Bank of Greece SA (Baa3/Prime-3/E+), with all ratings carrying a stable outlook. Both banks continue to receive significant uplift from Moody's assessment of a very high probability of support from their French parents (Credit Agricole SA (Aa1/C+) and

    Societe Generale (Aa2/C+), respectively). Moody's notes that the BCAs of Emporiki Bank and General Bank remain under negative pressure and could be lowered, within the E+ BFSR category.

    The specific rating changes implemented today are as follows:

    - National Bank of Greece SA, NBG Finance plc, and National Bank of Greece Funding Limited:

    - BFSR downgraded to D- from D+, mapping into a BCA of Ba3

    - Long-term deposit ratings and senior unsecured debt ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Backed (government-guaranteed) senior unsecured ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Preferred stock (Hybrid Tier 1) downgraded to B3 (hyb) from B1 (hyb)

    All the above ratings carry a negative outlook

    - EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA, EFG Hellas plc, EFG Hellas (Cayman Islands) Limited, and EFG Hellas Funding Limited:

    - BFSR downgraded to E+ from D, mapping into a BCA of B1

    - Long-term deposit ratings and senior unsecured debt ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Backed (government-guaranteed) senior unsecured MTN downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Preferred stock (Hybrid Tier 1) downgraded to Caa1 (hyb) from B2 (hyb)

    Deposit, debt and preferred stock ratings carry a negative outlook; BFSR carries a stable outlook

    Alpha Bank AE, Alpha Credit Group plc and Alpha Group Jersey Limited:

    - BFSR downgraded to D- from D, mapping into a BCA of Ba3

    - Long-term deposit and senior unsecured debt ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Backed (government-guaranteed) senior unsecured ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Preferred stock (Hybrid Tier 1) downgraded to B3 (hyb) from B2 (hyb)

    All the above ratings carry a negative outlook

    Piraeus Bank SA, Piraeus Group Finance plc, and Piraeus Group Capital Limited:

    - BFSR affirmed at E+, mapping into a BCA of B1

    - Long-term deposit and senior unsecured debt ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Backed (government-guaranteed) senior unsecured ratings downgraded to Ba3 from Ba1

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Preferred stock (Hybrid Tier 1) affirmed at Caa1 (hyb)

    Deposit, debt and preferred stock ratings carry a negative outlook; BFSR carries a stable outlook

    Agricultural Bank of Greece SA and ABG Finance International plc:

    - BFSR affirmed at E+, mapping into a BCA of B2

    - Long-term deposit and senior unsecured debt ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B2 from Ba3

    Deposit and debt ratings carry a negative outlook; BFSR carries a stable outlook

    Attica Bank SA and Attica Funds plc:

    - BFSR affirmed at E+, mapping into a BCA of B1

    - Long-term deposit ratings downgraded to B1 from Ba2

    - Subordinated debt ratings downgraded to B2 from Ba3

    Deposit and debt ratings carry a negative outlook; BFSR carries a stable outlook

    Emporiki Bank of Greece SA and Emporiki Group Finance plc:

    - BFSR affirmed at E+, mapping into a BCA of B1

    - Deposit and senior debt ratings affirmed at Baa3/Prime-3

    - Subordinated debt ratings affirmed at Ba1

    All ratings carry a stable outlook

    General Bank of Greece SA:

    - BFSR affirmed at E+, mapping into a BCA of B1

    - Deposit ratings affirmed at Baa3/Prime-3

    All ratings carry a stable outlook

    The previous rating actions on NBG, Eurobank, Alpha, Piraeus, ATE, and Attica Bank were implemented on 17 December 2010, when the ratings were placed on review for possible downgrade. The previous rating actions on Emporiki Bank of Greece SA and General Bank of Greece SA were implemented on 15 June 2010, when their deposit and debt ratings were downgraded.

    All banks affected by today's (Wednesday's) review are headquartered in Athens, Greece:

    - National Bank of Greece SA reported total assets of EUR123.5 billion as of September 2010

    - EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA reported total assets of EUR87.2 billion as of December 2010

    - Alpha Bank SA reported total assets of EUR67.7 billion as of September 2010

    - Piraeus Bank SA reported total assets of EUR57.6 billion as of September 2010

    - Agricultural Bank of Greece SA reported total assets of EUR31.9 billion as of September 2010

    - Emporiki Bank of Greece SA reported total assets of EUR26.8 billion as of December 2010

    - Attica Bank SA reported total assets of EUR4.8 billion as of September 2010

    - General Bank of Greece SA reported total assets of EUR4.6 billion as of September 2010

    [18] Austria's Nowotny: Lower interest rates for Greece, Ireland if conditions met

    VIENNA (ANA-MPA / D. Dimitrakoudis)

    European Central Bank board member Ewald Nowotny on Wednesday said Greece and Ireland could get lower interest against their loans on certain preconditions, such as greater efforts to achieve structural reforms and guarantees that similar problems do not appear in the future.

    In an interview with Austrian radio, Nowotny, a member of ECB's board and president of the Austrian central bank, said some adjustments can be made, but without these preconditions there was no reason to change anything.

    The Austrian central banker also stressed that he did not support a restructuring of the Greek debt, adding that in the past, creditors did not take in mind any financial risk, something that kept interests at very low levels for Greece. He also noted that different risk rates should be reflected on interest rates and prices.

    In another development, Nowotny cited personal reasons when asked if he would consider being a candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet at the ECB helm.

    Finally, Nowotny expressed a positive assessment over the proposed Competitiveness Pact. He noted that current imbalances could be corrected through coordination in taxation, wage, technological and fiscal policies, towards common "European economic governance".

    [19] Unemployment at 14.8% in December, ELSTAT reports

    Unemployment levels in Greece shot up to 14.8 percent in December 2010, up from 10.2 percent in December 2009 and 13.9 percent in November 2010, Greece's independent statistical authority ELSTAT reported on Wednesday.

    The number of registered unemployed in the country rose to 733,645, increasing by 228,535 relative to the same month in 2009 (an increase of 45.2 percent) and by 41,068 or 5.9 percent compared with November 2010, in spite of the higher economic activity due to the holidays.

    The total number of those in employment in December 2010 came to 4,233,765 individuals, decreasing by 223,893 in comparison with December 2009 (5.0 percent decrease) and by 73,290 individuals compared with November 2010 (1.7 percent decrease). The population that was not economically active in December 2010 came to 4,353,149 individuals.

    Rates of unemployment remained highest and rose rapidly among young people aged 15-24, standing at 39 percent in December 2010 (up from 28.9 percent in December 2009). In the 25-34 age group unemployment levels were 21 percent (up from 13.7 percent in December 2009) and for 35-44 years old they stood at 12.2 percent (from 8.9 percent in December 2009).

    Unemployment continued to be significantly higher among women than men, rising to 18.7 percent in December 2010 from 14.8 percent in December 2009. Rates of unemployment for men were 11.9 percent in December 2010, up from 6.9 percent in December 2009.

    By region, the highest levels of unemployment were recorded in the Ionian Islands (23.1 percent in December 2010 from 15 percent in December 2009), Western Macedonia (17.7 percent in December 2010 from 12 percent in December 2009), Central Macedonia (16.5 percent in December 2010 from 11.4 percent in December 2009, Eastern Macedonia-Thrace (15.6 percent from 12.5 percent) and the Southern Aegean (15.5 percent from 13.6 percent).

    In Attica, where the overwhelming majority of Greeks reside, unemployment was 14 percent in December 2010, up from 9.2 percent in December 2009.

    [20] FinMin SG resigns

    Finance Ministry Secretary General Dimitris Georgakopoulos submitted his resignation on Wednesday. The resignation was accepted.

    According to reports, Georgakopoulos resigned citing personal reasons.

    [21] Hellenic Exchanges announces dividend payment, capital return to shareholders

    Hellenic Exchanges SA - the operator of Athens Stock Exchange, Athens Derivatives Exchange and Alternative Market -- on Wednesday said it would seek shareholders' approval to a plan to pay a 0.15 euros dividend to shareholders and capital return totaling 0.10 euros per share.

    The Group said after tax and before an extra tax charge earnings totaled 29.2 million euros last year, from 41.6 million euros in 2009, for a decline of 30 pct. Including an extra tax charge, consolidated net earnings totaled 21.3 million euros.

    Group turnover fell 21 pct to 61.7 million euros, from 78.3 million euros in 2009, reflecting a decline in listed companies' share prices. The average capitalisation of the market fell 20 pct to 65.4 billion euros last year, from 81.7 billion in 2009, while average daily turnover was 139 million euros in 2010, down 32 pct from the previous year. Operating expenses fell for the sixth consecutive year to 22.2 million euros in 2010, from 23.1 million euros in 2009, a decline of 4.0 pct. EBIT fell 31 pct to 34.7 million euros, while net earnings per share -after tax- was 0.32 euros from 0.45 euros in 2009.

    [22] Chryssohoidis presents 'StartUp Greece'' plan

    Minister of Regional Development and Competitiveness Michalis Chryssohoidis presented on Wednesday a plan destined to support young entrepreneurs and innovation under the name ''StartUp Greece''.

    The support of innovative effort will help towards the transfer of hundred of thousands of working people (around 10 per cent of the working force) from non profit making activities to sectors helping economic extroversion, the minister said during an event organised by the Hellenic-American Chamber. The aim, as the minister said, is to make economy as well as entreprenerial activity "tartup" with innovative businesses.

    [23] FM receives Arab-Greek Chamber officials

    Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Wednesday received the president and the secretary of the Arab-Hellenic Chamber, Christos Folias and Mohamed ElKhazmi, respectively, who briefed him on the chamber's role and activities.

    Folias presented a plan for the further development of Greek-Arab economic and commercial relations as well as upcoming activities, such as the holding of the Arab-Greek economic forum.

    On his part, Droutsas expressed his support for the chamber's action plan, while reiterating the strong ties of friendship that exist between Greece and the Arab countries.

    [24] Stocks end 1.02% higher

    Stocks recovered on Wednesday, after Tuesday's sharp losses in the Athens Stock Exchange, helped by renewed buying interest for blue chip stocks. The composite index of the market rose 1.02 pct to end at 1,541.02 points, off the day's highs of 1,556.52 points. Turnover was a low 86.264 million euros. The Big Cap index rose 1.35 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.07 pct up and the Small Cap index rose 1.39 pct.

    Eurobank (4.19 pct), Ellaktor (4.18 pct), Hellenic Postbank (2.57 pct) and Alpha Bank (2.35 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while MIG (1.27 pct), OPAP (0.32 pct) and Viohalco (0.25 pct) were top losers.

    Banks (2.15 pct) and Constructions (1.95 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Health (13.11 pct) and Commerce (0.86 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 97 to 52 with another 50 issues unchanged.

    Sanyo Hellas (10 pct), Mohlos (10 pct) and Imperio (9.38 pct) were top gainers, while Alapis (26.09 pct), Alter (17.81 pct) and Atlantic (15.38 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: +1.67%

    Industrials: +0.33%

    Commercial: -0.86%

    Construction: +1.95%

    Media: unchanged

    Oil & Gas: +0.60%

    Personal & Household: +0.53%

    Raw Materials: +1.55%

    Travel & Leisure: -0.12%

    Technology: +1.54%

    Telecoms: +0.53%

    Banks: +2.15%

    Food & Beverages: +0.94%

    Health: -13.11%

    Utilities: +0.37%

    Chemicals: -0.26%

    Financial Services: +0.47%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OTE and OPAP.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 4.80

    ATEbank: 0.74

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.12

    HBC Coca Cola: 19.88

    Hellenic Petroleum: 7.30

    National Bank of Greece: 6.25

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.48

    OPAP: 15.45

    OTE: 7.54

    Bank of Piraeus: 1.43

    Titan: 17.30

    [25] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened sharply to 957 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 944 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 12.85 pct and the German Bund 3.28 pct. Turnover in the market totaled 50 million euros, of which 11 million were buy orders and the remaining 39 million euros were sell orders. The five-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 13 million euros.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.95 pct, the six-month 1.49 pct, the three-month rate 1.17 pct and the one-month rate 0.902 pct.

    [26] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.34 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a low 43.109 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 9,026 contracts worth 31.918 million euros, with 29,750 short positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 28,989 contracts worth 11.191 million euros, with investment interest focusing on GEK's contracts (6,137), followed by Eurobank (789), MIG (895), OTE (651), PPC (1,062), Piraeus Bank (4,006), National Bank (5,852), Alpha Bank (1,787), Marfin Popular Bank (4,500), Cyprus Bank (1,294) and ATEbank (335).

    [27] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.403

    Pound sterling 0.865

    Danish kroner 7.517

    Swedish kroner 8.875

    Japanese yen 116.06

    Swiss franc 1.302

    Norwegian kroner 7.813

    Canadian dollar 1.358

    Australian dollar 1.386

    General News

    [28] Late frost recedes after shutting schools, roads

    The late cold snap that ushered in Greek spring was already receding by midday on Wednesday, after a blanket of snow and frost caused schools and some roads, particularly in north Athens suburbs, to close earlier the same morning.

    The sun was out and the snow already melting by the middle of the day, while temperatures are expected to rise above 20C by the end of the week.

    Early on Wednesday roads were closed at higher altitudes in Attica, such as on Parnithos Avenue above the cable car, on the old national highway from Elefsina to Thiva, on Fylis Avenue from the Kleiston Monastery to Dervenohoria, on Dionysos Avenue from Dionysos to Agios Petros and Ethnikis Antistaseos Avenue in Kaisariani from Kalopoula to Hymettos. Cars also needed snow chains on the Kapandriti-Kalamos road.

    There were also some problems in Athens due to ice on Protopapadaki road in Galatsi and Kymis Avenue in Kalogreza while all national highways were clear.

    Schools remained closed in several municipalities of Athens and Attica, as well as mountainous regions of Thessaly, Karditsa, Trikala and Magnesia, in Tripoli, Kalavryta and Aigialeia in the Peloponnese, in Evritania with the exception of Karpenissi, Fthiotida except in Lamia and Domokos. All kindergartens and primary schools were closed in Viotia, while schools in Florina and Kastoria opened after 9.00 a.m.

    Schools also remained closed in Lasithi on Crete, and on the islands of Skopelos, Alonissos and Skiathos due to power cuts.

    [29] Illegal migrants end hunger strike

    Hunger-striking illegal migrants decided on Wednesday afternoon to stop their action after talks with the government and acceptance of the latter's proposals. A previously published offer by the government called for a six-month period of "tolerance", with the prospect of another six-month stay in the country.

    The proposal was presented to the hunger-strikers by Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and Labour Deputy Minister Anna Dalara.

    Following the meeting between a delegation of the hunger-strikers and the ministers, members of the group held a press conference at the central Athens mansion where they have been camped out.

    More than 100 of the hunger-striking illegal migrants in Athens and at the Thessaloniki labour centre are being treated in local hospitals as a result of their more than month-long abstention from food and most fluids.

    The migrants, all males from north African countries ferried from Crete last month, had demanded their full legalisation in the country, meaning residence and work permits. Initially, the migrants and their local supporters also demanded a full legalisation of all illegal migrants in Greece, a demand that was repeatedly and unequivocally rejected by the government.

    [30] Hunger striker 'supporters' charged for preventing them eating

    Two members of the Solidarity Committee supporting a group of migrants on mass hunger strike were charged with causing grievous bodily harm on Wednesday after doctors at a Red Cross hospital in Athens accused them of preventing hunger strikers from eating.

    According to doctors, the migrants had asked hospital staff for food but this could not be given to them after the two women from the Solidarity Committee stopped them from being served.

    The two women, charged with causing harm by omission and unlawful violence, are to go before a misdemeanours police court.

    The Solidarity Committee denied the charges against the two women in an announcement on Tuesday, claiming that the hunger strikers had themselves chosen not to eat. Their lawyer claimed that the migrants themselves refused to eat and the two women were not involved.

    [31] Hunger-striking illegal migrants in Thessaloniki stop action

    Fifty hunger-striking illegal migrants in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, stopped on Wednesday evening their action, following a similar move by hunger-striking illegal migrants in Athens earlier in the day.

    Their decision came after talks with the government and acceptance of the latter's proposals. A previously published offer by the government called for a six-month period of "tolerance", with the prospect of another six-month stay in the country.

    [32] Homeless man dies of cold, two in serious condition

    An unidentified man was found dead in Thissio park on Wednesday morning, while another two were in serious condition, apparently due to the cold weather of the past few days. All three are believed to be homeless.

    "This tragic development highlights in the most glaring way the fundamental weaknesses of our society and our organised institutions," Athens Mayor George Kaminis commented, stressing that the problem of homelessness was a serious issue that concerned everyone.

    The Athens municipality stressed that it had taken steps to help the city's poor and homeless when the cold snap began, offering blankets, sleeping bags, soup and tea at dozens of sites about the city, while its homeless shelter admitted anyone that asked.

    [33] Ruins of early Christian era villa unearthed in Thessaloniki

    A section of a villa dating back to the early Christian period was unearthed by archaeologists conducting excavations at a construction site in the Ano Poli (old quarter) district of Thessaloniki, it was announced on Wednesday.

    Archaeologists came across a section of remains of a 6th century AD urban residence featuring a formal dining room, called a triklinion (Latin: triclinium), a characteristic of domiciles belonging to the wealthier classes.

    The villa was inhabited in the 6th century AD and most likely was destroyed during the 7th century earthquakes that struck the region (circa 630 AD). A total of 18 such residences have been unearthed in the specific area, dated between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.

    [34] Kim Wilde concert cancelled

    A planned concert in Athens by British singer Kim Wilde on March 13 has been cancelled due to very low ticket sales, organisers announced. This would have been the first appearance by the veteran singer in Greece after her recent and very successful European tour to promote her new album "Come out and Play".

    Refunds for those that have already bought tickets will begin on March 17 and continue until April 18, on the Monday before Easter. Refunds can either be obtained from Ticket House or, for those who bought tickets online via Ticket Pro, by contacting the website (www.ticketpro.gr). Those who bought tickets from Musicland/Ticket House Thessaloniki will have to get a refund from Musicland/Ticket House Thessaloniki.

    [35] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    Prime minister George Papandreou's meetings with the opposition party leaders Tuesday to seek support on the economy ahead of two crucial eurogroup and EU summits and economic issues mainly dominated the front pages of Athens' dailies on Wednesday.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "We finally saw a...white day - Snow throughout Greece".

    AVGHI: "Carte blanche to Merkel".

    AVRIANI: "Default and return to the drachma in order to punish all the foreign loan sharks who have bled us dry".

    DIMOKRATIA: "Extraordinary contribution by self-employed professionals, real estate owners and others in order to increase the state's tax revenues".

    ELEFTHEROS: "The trickster Papandreou with his tail between his legs in the meetings with the party leaders".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "US-Merkel clash in Europe - Shadow Theater by Papandreou in Athens".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Samaras (main opposition ND leader), Karatzaferis (LAOS leader) and Bakoyannis (Democratic Alliance leader) appeared 'consenting' towards Papandreou".

    ESTIA: "Fundamental mistakes in the economy".

    ETHNOS: "PM: No early elections, but battle for package solution in EU".

    IMERISSIA: "US intercession for solution - Intense behind-the-scenes over the EU summit".

    KATHIMERINI: "They (government and party leaders) agreed only on the self-evident''.

    LOGOS: "He (prime minister) asked for backing, but...".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "New pressure in Europe for the stability measures".

    NIKI: "He (prime minister) called for national unanimity".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "No consensus on the rope with which they will hang the people".

    TA NEA: "Obama plan for the Greek debt".

    VRADYNI: "Greek light for hiring in the public sector".

    Cyprus Affairs

    [36] President sees huge gap on the issue of citizenship

    NICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)

    President of Cyprus Demetris Christofias said Wednesday that nothing new and nothing positive came out of his meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu in the framework of direct negotiations for solution of the Cyprus problem.

    In statements to the press upon his arrival at the Presidential Palace after the meeting, the president said that both sides reiterated their familiar positions on the issue of citizenship and the 'colonization' policy of Turkey in Cyprus.

    ''There's a huge gap between us,'' said President Christofias.

    Replying to a question the president said that Eroglu considers that the so called citizenship given by the puppet state in occupied areas is legal.

    ''This is our major problem. We certainly believe that the so called 'state' is the result of a breach of international law, with the invasion and occupation of Cyprus that has been condemned by the United Nations through a unanimous Security Council resolution and by the European Court of Human Rights,'' said President Christofias.

    Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus are currently engaged in UN-led negotiations, with an aim to reunify the island, under a federal roof.

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