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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-05-27

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

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

Friday, 27 May 2011 Issue No: 3797

CONTENTS

  • [01] Political party leaders meet under President Papoulias to discuss the economy
  • [02] PM convenes meeting with ministers on return from Paris
  • [03] ND leader: 'We consent to target, not means to reach it'
  • [04] KKE on the political leaders' council meeting
  • [05] Greek PM attends Clinton dinner at OECD anniversary event in Paris
  • [06] European Commission on Damanaki's statements
  • [07] ND accuses gov't of employing extortionist dilemmas
  • [08] Government dilemma 'open blackmail', Papariga says
  • [09] SYRIZA's Tsipras on Commissioner Damanaki's statements
  • [10] SEV president repeats call for referendum
  • [11] Geroulanos: 'funding of the arts should continue by OPAP after privatization'
  • [12] Interview with Canadian PM Stephen Harper
  • [13] Foreign minister congratulates Serbia on Mladic capture
  • [14] Crowd of 'indignant' citizens assemble at Syntagma Square for second day
  • [15] Tax violation charge aired against ex-minister Tsohatzopoulos
  • [16] Gov't officially launches process to sell 10% of OTE to DT
  • [17] Telecommunications company employees to strike over planned privatization
  • [18] Papaconstantinou on plans to exploit public real estate
  • [19] Van Rompuy: 'Greece must take measures to stabilise economy'
  • [20] National Bank reports 157-mln-euro net profit in Q1
  • [21] Greek trade deficit down 36.4pct in March
  • [22] Folli Follie reports lower Q1 results
  • [23] Flexopack reports higher Q1 results
  • [24] Business Briefs
  • [25] Greek stocks end slightly lower
  • [26] Greek bond market closing report
  • [27] ADEX closing report
  • [28] Foreign Exchange rates - Friday
  • [29] State takes over Petralona Cave Museum
  • [30] Internet use steadily on the rise in Greece
  • [31] Photo exhibition on 30th anniversary of Greece's accession to EU
  • [32] Pakistani man arrested on abduction charges
  • [33] Poet Varveris dies of heart failure at 56
  • [34] Culture ministry on death of poet Varveris
  • [35] Hania prefecture beaches receive 26 Blue Flags
  • [36] Traditional Greek dances to be performed in Odessa
  • [37] Another Cretan businessman commits suicide over financial woes
  • [38] Body savaged with wild animals found at Lake Koronia
  • [39] Scuffles outside health ministry between hospital staff, police
  • [40] 4.9R at the sea region of Kyllini
  • [41] Contraband cigarettes on board freighter
  • [42] Rainy on Friday
  • [43] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] Political party leaders meet under President Papoulias to discuss the economy

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias will convene an extraordinary meeting of the Council of political party leaders at 12:30 pm on Friday, an announcement issued by the president's office confirmed on Thursday.

    According to the statement issued, the meeting will focus on the economic situation and Prime Minister George Papandreou will brief the council members on the country's course and the discussions held in view of the decisions in the EU.

    The meeting will be attended by main opposition New Democracy (ND) party President Antonis Samaras, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga, Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S) President George Karatzaferis and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary group president Alexis Tsipras.

    The meeting was arranged following contacts between the president's office and the leaders of the political parties represented in parliament.

    [02] PM convenes meeting with ministers on return from Paris

    Prime Minister George Papandreou convened a meeting in his office in Parliament on Thursday, immediately after his return from Paris. Participating in the meeting were Parliament President Filippos Petsalnikos and the ministers Dimitris Reppas, Yiannis Ragoussis, George Papaconstantinou and Pavlos Geroulanos, as well as the prime minister's close associates Nikos Athanassakis, Costas Theos and Reggina Vartzeli.

    A ministerial meeting also took place under the chairmanship of Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, with the participation of Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Employment Minister Louka Katseli and Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou.

    [03] ND leader: 'We consent to target, not means to reach it'

    Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras reiterated on Thursday that his party will not be pressured into offering "consensus" over the government's policy to deal with the intense economic and fiscal crisis plaguing the country.

    The former ND minister spoke a day ahead of a quickly scheduled meeting to be convened by the president of the republic with the prime minister and Parliament-represented political leaders.

    Samaras spoke at a party event on the occasion of Greece's accession to the European Economic Community (today's EU) in 1980.

    Referring to this week's rapid-fire developments, he cited the high-profile proposals for a referendum, rumour-mongering of "no money after July" and even the Greek EU Commissioner's warning that some quarters are planning Greece's exit from the eurozone, "claims which are continuously denied", as he said.

    "On our part, we, New Democracy, confirm that we completely agree with the targets concerning fiscal restructuring. We cannot, however, support the ways with which they were decided. We agree with the target; we do not support, however, the means."

    Moreover, he reiterated his call for a renegotiating of the memorandum.

    [04] KKE on the political leaders' council meeting

    The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) will attend the political party leaders' council meeting, accepting the invitation of President Karolos Papoulias and will outline its positions clearly, resisting the blackmail for a consensus on the anti-popular measures sponsored by the government, the EU and the system mechanisms, a party statement read on Thursday.

    KKE pointed out that "we are separated by chaos from the line drawn by the government and plutocracy which is more or less supported by the rest of the political parties."

    KKE also maintained that "they seek to terrorize and blackmail the people to consent to their destruction and bankruptcy," adding that "the red line drawn by the party concerns the salvation of the workers, the self-employed, the poor farmers and the youth."

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga on Thursday said the aim of Friday's meeting of party leaders, convened by the President of the Republic, is to "blackmail and intimidate the people into making new sacrifices for the profits of big business".

    "Tomorrow's meeting is surely taking place at the initiative of Mr. (George) Papandreou", she said, adding: "what is first and foremost today is for the people not to succumb to this extortion."

    [05] Greek PM attends Clinton dinner at OECD anniversary event in Paris

    PARIS (ANA-MPA/O. Tsipira)

    Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou attended Thursday night a dinner hosted by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton at the American embassy in Paris for the political leaders attending a public commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

    Papandreou also had bilateral meetings with Clinton and a number of other political leaders on the sidelines of the dinner.

    The Greek premier's talks with Clinton focused on the international economic situation, and especially the Greek economy.

    According to sources, Clinton took a positive position on the Greek government's denationalisations program, considering it a good sign for the markets.

    She was also positive on the Greek government's determination in its efforts for implementation of the program to bring the country out of the crisis, and on Papandreou's initiative for consensus with the political forces in the country.

    Papandreou and Clinton further exchanged views on the situation in Libya, the Middle East and the Arab world.

    The Greek premier also held talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso chiefly on economy issues.

    He further met with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, French prime minister Francois Fillon, OECD general director Angel Guria, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme and Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa.

    Papandreou returns to Greece on Thursday.

    [06] European Commission on Damanaki's statements

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / V. Demiris)

    Greek European Commissioner Maria Damanaki on Thursday received the political backing of the European Commission vis-?-vis her statements a day earlier that Greece's eurozone membership is at stake.

    Responding to a relevant question, European Commission spokeswoman Amelia Torres told reporters that the Commissioner's intention and aim was to send a message to Greece and persuade the Greek people that reforms must be accelerated, competitiveness should increase and fiscal stability be reinforced to place public finances on a healthy basis.

    Torres noted that the 110-billion-euro loan offers support to Greece, allowing the country to borrow while avoiding high interest rates and enabling the state to pay the wages of public sector employees.

    The European Commission spokeswoman stressed that reforms are a "one-way street" and expressed certainty that Greece will continue the efforts and exit the crisis.

    She said that the references made by Damanaki to Greece's eurozone membership being at risk were merely a "figure of speech" and underlined that the specific question was never raised on any level, neither in the Commission nor the Eurogroup.

    "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done and we are expecting that Greece will deliver, in order to create job positions and be able to return to the markets," she concluded.

    [07] ND accuses gov't of employing extortionist dilemmas

    The main opposition New Democracy (ND) party lashed out at the government accusing it of "employing extortionist dilemmas, in essence, admitting the failure of the policy it follows".

    Speaking at a scheduled press briefing on Thursday, ND spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis told reporters that recent statements made by the prime minister, the finance minister, the government spokesman and the Greek European Commissioner constitute an admission that the government policy has failed miserably. He also stressed that the government now blackmails the people to shoulder the burden of yet another painful package of economic measures.

    "They are being irresponsible when they threaten with bankruptcy and leaving the Eurozone," he said, adding that the government is repeating the Nov. 2009 scenario when "they led the country to the memorandum under the threat of bankruptcy".

    Mihelakis stressed that ND rejects a consensus, underlining that it disagrees with the government's core policy of tax increases.

    Responding to the recent statements by the Dutch minister of finance on the necessity of a consensus, Mihelakis stressed that Greece has institutions, Constitution and dignity, calling on the government to respond to the statements made.

    The ND spokesman stressed that it is important that the nationwide citizen mobilizations launched on Wednesday will be left without "sponsors", adding that "we are watching them with great interest".

    [08] Government dilemma 'open blackmail', Papariga says

    The government had resorted to "open, obscene blackmail" by placing people before the dilemma of either accepting its harsh austerity policies or going bankrupt and returning to the drachma, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga told a press conference in the city of Larissa on Thursday.

    She was commenting on a statement made Wednesday by Greece's European Commissioner Maria Damanaki, in charge of the fisheries portfolio.

    Papariga also questioned whether Damanaki had made the statement entirely on her own initiative or after consulting with the ruling PASOK party in Greece.

    She further dismissed as "shameful" and "blackmail" a proposal made by the head of the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEV) Dimitris Daskalopoulos for a referendum on the proposed measures.

    According to KKE's leader, the process of default had begun and the Greek people were already bankrupt. She urged people to resist a storm of new measures on the way but also the extortionist dilemmas set before them both official and unofficially.

    Papariga said that developments were not only stripping entitlements won over decades but creating a modern barbarity that was an evolution of capitalism and enlisted a form of terrorism based on the fear of losing one's job.

    [09] SYRIZA's Tsipras on Commissioner Damanaki's statements

    Opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras on Thursday stressed that his party "advocates a different kind of tough negotiation with our creditors and not proposals that will put the country's economy at risk, like the comments made a day earlier by Greek European Commissioner Maria Damanaki."

    Speaking in parliament during the discussion on his party's proposal suggesting to set up a Public Debt Control Committee, Tsipras called on the government to request her resignation or condemn her statements.

    Deputy Finance Minister Filippos Sahinidis commented on SYRIZA's committee proposal, stressing that "there wasn't any complaint from SYRIZA regarding the deficits when the country had no credit problem."

    [10] SEV president repeats call for referendum

    The head of the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEV) Dimitris Daskalopoulos on Thursday repeated his proposal for a national referendum on the new round of austerity measures, taxes and privatisations proposed by the government to meet budgetary targets set by Greece's creditors.

    "Let us not be afraid of the people. Let us trust in their judgement and sense of self-preservation," he said.

    He insisted that a referendum on the measures was the healthiest political solution given that all the structural reforms "remained on paper", a national consensus between parties seemed impossible to achieve and new elections would simply repeat the impasse.

    According to Daskalopoulos, his proposal had been misrepresented by those who took fright at the thought that the people might decide and take responsibility for their future.

    He also noted that a discussion of the issues involved would oblige politicians and social agencies to talk about the real state of Greece's economy, the problems that had led to the current situation and explain the consequences of the country's course for everyone's lives.

    A referendum could give the government the required political momentum to go through with essential reforms, SEV's president added.

    [11] Geroulanos: 'funding of the arts should continue by OPAP after privatization'

    Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos on Thursday stressed that even in the case of complete privatization OPAP S.A., the state-run betting and lottery pools agency, should continue to reserve part of its turnover to fund the arts for a period of no less than a decade.

    Geroulanos made the comment while briefing the parliamentary Standing Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs on the goals and priorities set as regards the theatre and the arts.

    Referring to the issue of subsidies in support of the arts, Geroulanos said that they will continue in absolute transparency, clarifying eligibility for grants will be reserved for cultural organizations that produce notable work or are under culture ministry supervision.

    [12] Interview with Canadian PM Stephen Harper

    MONTREAL (ANA-MPA / I. Frangouli)

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed that his country supports a coordinated effort aimed at the stabilization and recovery of the Greek economy and pointed out that Canada and Greece can cooperate for the completion of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

    In an interview with ANA-MPA on the occasion of his first official visit to Greece on May 28-29, the Canadian premier underlined the great importance of bilateral relations and praised the achievements of the Greek-Canadian community.

    While in Greece, Harper is also scheduled to visit the town of Kalavryta to pay tribute to the Greeks slain by the Nazis on Dec. 13, 1943 during World War II.

    [13] Foreign minister congratulates Serbia on Mladic capture

    Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas on Thursday welcomed the arrest of Ratko Mladic by Serb authorities, saying the news brought satisfaction to those who believe and support the need to "mend the wounds of history, serve justice and bring about the reconciliation of peoples in the region".

    "Greece welcomes this development and congratulates the government of Serbia for its determination and persistence," he said.

    All that now remained was to complete the process for extraditing Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Droutsas noted, so that Serbia and the Serb people could fight, free from the burdens of the past, to implement the new great goal, which was Serbia's EU accession.

    [14] Crowd of 'indignant' citizens assemble at Syntagma Square for second day

    The summons to Syntagma Square in Athens appeared to be meeting with approval from Athens' "indignant" people for the second consecutive day on Thursday. A crowd of people began to assemble in front of Parliament at around 6:00 p.m. in the evening as groups of young people, families, elderly people, school classes with teachers and cyclists arrived to participate in the mass protest event that demonstrates the indignation against the government's economic policy felt by ordinary citizens, those who do not want to come under the flag of a party or of trade unions.

    Riot police are guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and two police vans are lined up at the top of Vassilisis Sofias avenue, but no one is concerned. The demonstration is absolutely peaceful. The participants' only concern is whether there shall be many again as on Wednesday.

    People of the facebook, however, are very optimistic since on Thursday, as they say, greater participation is expected. Even the bad weather does not seem to daunt the determined. All, in any case, have arrived equipped with umbrellas.

    [15] Tax violation charge aired against ex-minister Tsohatzopoulos

    Financial crime squad (SDOE) officials assigned with the investigation into the property assets of former PASOK defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos have collected evidence pointing at alleged tax violations vis-a-vis the declared value of an Athens apartment owned by the one-time high-profile politician, it was announced on Thursday .

    According to a report, the objective real estate value stood at 1.38 million euros, while the value that appeared on the real estate contract was 1.1 million euros.

    The SDOE findings have been forwarded to a preliminary Parliamentary committee of inquiry investigating the ex-minister's involvement in the German submarine kickbacks case.

    Tsohatzopoulos has been called to testify before the committee on Tuesday.

    Financial News

    [16] Gov't officially launches process to sell 10% of OTE to DT

    The Greek government is speeding up procedures to implement an eagerly awaited privatisation programme. Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Thursday, in a letter sent to Deutsche Telekom's management, launched procedures to sell an additional stake of Hellenic Telecommunications Organization to the German operator.

    Under the existing agreement, the Greek government has the right to ask the German group to proceed with the purchase of an additional 10 pct stake in OTE. Deutsche Telekom currently owns a 30 pct equity stake in OTE, with the Greek government owning a 16 pct while another 4.0 pct is owned by Greek pension funds.

    The Greek government is expected to request that Deutsche Telekom proceed with the purchase of an additional 10-pct equity stake in Hellenic Telecoms Organisation (OTE), probably this weekend, finance ministry sources said on Thursday.

    The same sources said the government was expected to launch over the summer several tenders to sell other affiliated public sector enterprises (Hellenic Postbank, Athens Water & Sewerage, the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, Larco, the Horse Racing Organisation, etc).

    Commenting on the creation of a state real estate property fund - which will monitor privatisations and the exploitation of the state's assets - sources said it will be a legal entity with no operating powers, which will also receive some form of technical assistance from the EC-ECB-IMF "troika".

    [17] Telecommunications company employees to strike over planned privatization

    The Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) trade union OME-OTE on Thursday announced a series of strike mobilizations in response to government plans to proceed with the company's privatization.

    OME-OTE called a 3-hour work-stoppage in the greater Athens region on June 2, while a nationwide 24-hour strike will take place on June 9.

    OTE employees will also participate in the nationwide 24-hour strike on June 15 called by trade unions of public-owned companies facing privatization.

    [18] Papaconstantinou on plans to exploit public real estate

    The process of listing and evaluating all the real estate property owned by the public sector is expected to start yielding results in June, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said in Parliament on Thursday in response to questions.

    The minister said that proposals for exploiting this property will begin to unfold and be implemented taking into account the conditions prevailing in international markets at the time.

    He said the government had begun to compile a complete record and evaluation of every feature in its portfolio of exploitable real estate, with the assistance of financial and specialised advisors.

    The process for exploiting these would be further facilitated by present but also future legislation that the government intends to pass, such as creating a general secretariat for public property at the finance ministry, the introduction of the concept of 'surface' that legally differentiates between land and the overlying buildings and other measures.

    [19] Van Rompuy: 'Greece must take measures to stabilise economy'

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Spinthourakis)

    Greece must take all the measures required in order to stabilise its economy and the European Union must do everything in its power to avert a credit event or default, European Council President Herman van Rompuy said in Deauville, France on Thursday.

    Van Rompuy, who was attending the G8 summit there, said during a joint press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that the problems of the eurozone will be discussed at the G8.

    Referring to Greece in particular, he admitted that there was popular opposition to the measures but stressed that it was up to the country's political leadership to make the right decisions.

    "We are confident that Greece will take all the necessary measures, will undertake all the necessary reforms so that the country will meet the budgetary objectives it has been given," Van Rompuy added.

    Noting that a team of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund experts were currently in Greece in order to assess the state of the Greek economy, he underlined that it was an absolute priority to carry out the privatisations and structural reforms and said that the goals set were "achievable".

    "As far as the restructuring of the debt is concerned, we will do all we can to ensure that there is no default or no credit event," he concluded.

    [20] National Bank reports 157-mln-euro net profit in Q1

    National Bank of Greek (NBG) on Thursday said its Group net profit totalled 157 million euros in the first quarter of 2011, compared with 21 million in the same period last year, despite the persistence of high provisions, which amounted to 381 million euros, up +21 percent from 2010.

    NBG, said that under extremely stressed conditions, the Group succeeded in growing its net income and, above all, sustaining its strong liquidity and keeping its capital base (Tier I CAD ratio) robust at 12.9 percent, while fortifying its balance sheet with higher provisions. At the same time, operating expenses declined by -1 percent yoy, mainly due to the drastic reduction in operating costs in Greece (down -8 percent year-on-year), as well as in SE Europe (down -3 percent). In addition, in the January-March period the Group maintained its strong liquidity, successfully keeping the level of its deposits in Greece unchanged despite the general contraction in retail savings in the country. At the same time, deposits experienced growth in Turkey (up +1 percent on the previous quarter, in Turkish Lira) and in SE Europe (up +5 percent on a quarterly basis). The Group's loan-to-deposit ratio remained at the healthy level of 102 percent, while in Greece it improved further to 92 percent (down -2 percentage points qoq). With regard to the quality of its liquidity support, it is significant that net dependence on the ECB's lending facility has declined: at the end of March, ECB liquidity support totalled 16.7 billion euros. The success in sustaining profitability in the banking business in Greece and the geographical dispersion of the Group's sources of income reflect its resilience in periods of crisis. More specifically in:

    -Group net profit grew to 157 million euros, compared with 21 million in the first quarter of 2010, reflecting strong performance in Turkey, the continued positive input of SE Europe, and the marginally positive result reported for Greece.

    -Net interest margin remains at the high level of 3.7 percent, down slightly on the previous quarter, despite competitive pressure on deposit pricing.

    -Operating expenses in Greece and SE Europe declined by 34 million euros, down -7 percent from 2010, underscoring the emphasis placed by the Group on sustained cost-cutting measures and enhancing efficiency. In Greece, the first quarter of the year saw an impressive -8 percent decline in operating expenses.

    Net profit from operations in Greece totalled 2 million euros, despite the +41 percent increase in provisions for delinquencies, which topped 307 million (compared with 219 million in 2010). Core earnings in Greece (before tax, provisions and trading income) grew by +3 percent from last year, reflecting the resilience of the Bank's sources of profitability

    Continuing its positive trajectory, the net profit of Finansbank amounted to 151 million euros (TL326 million) in the January-March period, up +28 percent from last year. This performance was in part due to lower provisions -- reflecting the high quality of Finansbank's loan book -- and the rapid pace of credit expansion on the wave of strong growth in the Turkish economy.

    The Group's SE European units remained in positive territory in the first quarter, posting net profits of 6 million euros, down -81 percent from 2010. Profits before tax and provisions stood at 49 million, down -42 percent. The deterioration in core profitability reflects primarily the contraction of the loan book by -4 percent and the decline in interest income, which was burdened by the increase in the volume and cost of deposits in the context of the Group's strategy for independent financing of all its subsidiaries. A significant development was the 685 million euros reduction in funding from the parent company to the Group's SE European units compared with 2010.

    National Bank said the aforesaid positive performance was achieved within a particularly adverse economic environment in Greece, impacting negatively the country's banking sector and the quality of banks' loan books.

    Net profit from the Group's operations in Greece in the first quarter stood at 2 million, compared with losses of 133 million a year earlier, mainly thanks to a -8 percent reduction in operating expenses, and despite the +41 percent growth in provisions. The Group's cost-cutting efforts have generated very strong results. Operating expenses decreased drastically by -8 percent from last year. Specifically, personnel costs and general expenses decreased by -7 percent and -13 percent, respectively.

    [21] Greek trade deficit down 36.4pct in March

    Greece's trade balance deficit dropped by 36.4 percent in March this year, resulting in a 33.4 percent decline for the first quarter of 2011, fuelled by rising exports and declining imports due to decreasing consumer demand, the independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT0 announced on Thursday in a report on the country's commercial transactions.

    The deficit of the Trade Balance, excluding oil products, for the 3-month period from January to March 2011 amounted to 4609.5 million euros (6263.2 million dollars) in comparison with 6917.5 million euros (9503.4 million dollars) for the corresponding period of the year 2010, recording a drop of 33.4%.

    The total value of exports-dispatches, excluding oil products, for the 3-month period from January to March 2011 amounted to 3651.5 million euros (5011.1 million dollars) in comparison with 3244.6 million euros (4492.1 million dollars) for the corresponding period of 2010, recording an increase of 12.5%.

    The total value of imports-arrivals, excluding oil products, for the 3-month period from January to March 2011 amounted to 8261.0 million euros (11274.3 million dollars) in comparison with 10162.1 million euros (1399.,5 million dollars) for the corresponding period of 2010, recording a drop of 18.7%.

    The total value of imports-arrivals, excluding oil products, in March 2011 amounted to 3016.7 million euros (4210.9 million dollars) in comparison with 3999.5 million euros (5410.6 million dollars) in March 2010, recording a drop of 24.6%.

    The total value of exports-dispatches, excluding oil products, in March 2011 amounted to 1305.9 million euros (1833.7 million dollars) in comparison with 1311.7 million euros (1785.1 million dollars) in March 2010, recording a drop of 0.4%.

    The deficit of the trade balance, excluding oil products, in March 2011 amounted to 1710.8 million euros (2377.2 million dollars) in comparison with 2687.8 million euros (3625.5 million dollars) in March 2010 recording a drop of 36.4%, according to provisional data.

    [22] Folli Follie reports lower Q1 results

    Folli Follie Group on Thursday reported a 4.4-pct decline in its first quarter sales to 219.2 million euros, down from 229.4 million euros in the same period last year, while adding that sales abroad accounted for 52 pct of total sales, up from 50.2 pct in 2010.

    Net sales for jewelry-watches fell 1.2 pct to 114.3 million euros in the January-March period, retail travel sales rose 1.0 pct to 39 million euros, net sales in department stores dropped 7.5 pct to 33.7 million euros and net sales for clothing/footwear fell 19.5 pct to 30.4 million euros.

    Gross earnings fell 8.6 pct to 106.8 million euros, EBITDA dropped 20 pct to 43.5 million euros and EBITDA margin eased to 20 pct in the first three months of 2011 from 23.7 pct in 2010. EBIT dropped 23 pct to 37.5 million euros and net earnings after tax and minorities eased to 22.9 million euros from 29.1 million euros in 2010. Earnings per share were 0.38045 euros.

    [23] Flexopack reports higher Q1 results

    Flexopack on Thursday reported higher first quarter results, with turnover rising 16.93 pct to 11.934 million euros in the January-March period compared with the same period last year.

    The Greek-listed packaging company, in a report, said its EBITDA totaled 2.013 million euros in the first three months of the year, up 13.46 pct from 2010, while pre-tax earnings rose 10.40 pct to 1.273 million euros. After tax and minorities earnings jumped 20.17 pct to 1.026 million euros from 854,000 euros in the same period last year.

    [24] Business Briefs

    -- Marfin Popular Bank on Thursday said its first quarter net profits totaled 71 million euros, while its Tier I capital base ratio rose to 12.1 pct, up 210 basis points compared with the previous quarter, one of the highest among banks in the Eurozone.

    -- The Public Power Corp., Greece's power utility, on Thursday reported a 64-pct decline in its first quarter profits to 93.3 million euros, down from 257.5 million euros in the corresponding period of 2010, reflecting increased competition, higher fuel costs and lower hydro-electric power production.

    -- Computer sales fell 33.8 pct in the first quarter with 196,238 units sold in Greece in the January-March period, down from 296,393 in the corresponding period last year, IDC said on Thursday.

    [25] Greek stocks end slightly lower

    Greek stocks ended slightly lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, as the market was unable to hold on to early gains. News that the President of the Republic has called for a meeting with political party leaders on Friday and uncertainty over the release of a fifth tranche of an EU/IMF loan to Greece, undermined sentiment late at the session. The composite index of the market fell 0.21 pct to end at 1,286.88 points, after rising as much as 1.64 pct during the day. Turnover was a low 69.769 million euros. The Big Cap index eased 0.42 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.28 pct down and the Small Cap index fell 0.81 pct. Hellenic Telecoms (4.79 pct), MIG (3.70 pct), OPAP (2.13 pct) and Viohalco (1.88 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while ATEbank (8.51 pct), Alpha Bank 4.62 pct) and Eurobank (3.37 pct) were top losers.

    The Banks (2.43 pct) and Utilities (1.49 pct) sectors suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Telecoms (4.79 pct), Travel (1.92 pct) and Financial Services (1.83 pct) scored gains. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 74 to 55 with another 53 issues unchanged. Perseus (9.52 pct), Dromeas (8.70 pct) and Karamolegos (8.70 pct) were top gainers, while Athens Electronics (16.67 pct), Fieratex (14.29 pct) and Sato (11.11 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: Unchanged

    Industrials: +0.86%

    Commercial: Unchanged

    Construction: -0.26%

    Media: Unchanged

    Oil & Gas: +0.92%

    Personal & Household: -0.55%

    Raw Materials: -0.76%

    Travel & Leisure: +1.92%

    Technology: -1.16%

    Telecoms: +4.79%

    Banks: -2.43%

    Food & Beverages: +0.21%

    Health: -1.03%

    Utilities: -1.49%

    Chemicals: +0.41%

    Financial Services: +1.83%

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

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

    Alpha Bank: 3.30

    ATEbank: 0.43

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 9.81

    HBC Coca Cola: 17.05

    Hellenic Petroleum: 6.67

    National Bank of Greece: 4.53

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.15

    OPAP: 12.92

    OTE: 7.00

    Bank of Piraeus: 1.00

    Titan: 16.71

    [26] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 13.56 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 13.77 pct on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 16.57 pct and the German Bund 3.02 pct. Turnover in the market was an extremely low 13 million euros, of which 11 million were buy orders and the remaining 2.0 million euros were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 3.0 million euros.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 2.14 pct, the six-month rate 1.71 pct, the three-month 1.43 pct and the one-month rate 1.24 pct.

    [27] ADEX closing report

    The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.38 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover remaining a low 25.810 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,027 contracts worth 20.331 million euros, with 38,406 short positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 11,468 contracts worth 5.479 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (4,048), followed by Eurobank (1,177), MIG (358), OTE (1,491), PPC (768), Piraeus Bank (342), OPAP (335), Alpha Bank (938), Ellaktor (222), Cyprus Bank (3232), Hellenic Postbank (355) and ATEbank (292).

    [28] Foreign Exchange rates - Friday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.438

    Pound sterling 0.881

    Danish kroner 7.568

    Swedish kroner 9.034

    Japanese yen 117.69

    Swiss franc 1.252

    Norwegian kroner 7.906

    Canadian dollar 1.406

    Australian dollar 1.358

    General News

    [29] State takes over Petralona Cave Museum

    The public sector has finally taken control of the Petralona Cave Museum, until recently managed by the Anthropological Society of Greece, after several legal battles stretched over a period of 35 years.

    The foundation and operation of the museum by the state sector was approved during a session of the Museums' Council on Wednesday.

    The museum is located 50 metres south of the entrance of the Petralona Cave, on the largest and most important caverns in Greece. It was built to house the important paleontological finds discovered within the cave, which date back 300,000 to 600,000 years ago.

    These include a hominin skull found entirely accidentally in 1960 that is believed to belong to a species that was a transitional stage between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.

    First founded by the Greek Anthopological Society in 1978, the museum receives roughly 70,000 visitors a year but some of the exhibits on show are considered particularly controversial.

    The exhibits include paintings, neolithic tools, fossilised sticks, reconstructions and objects of sometimes doubtful scientific accuracy and generally poor aesthetic quality.

    For this reason the Central Archaeological Council recom-mended during a meeting on Tuesday that the exhibits inside and around the building be removed, including models of prehistoric animals in the museum courtyard.

    A new exhibition will now have to be designed and approved by the Museums Council.

    [30] Internet use steadily on the rise in Greece

    Greek men aged 16-24, with higher-level education and living in large cities, are the most dynamic users of the Internet in the country, a survey by the Observatory of Information Society showed on Thursday. The report also showed that fixed-telephony has consolidated at around 85 pct, while mobile-telephony showed signs of saturation with 95 pct of Greeks, aged 16-74, owning a mobile telephone.

    The Internet is steadily gaining access in Greek households, having covered around 50 pct of the Greek population already. A 46 pct of Greek households said they had an Internet connection, while 41 pct said they had broadband connection.

    In 2010, one in two Greeks said they used a computer, while 44 pct said they had used the Internet and 25 pct said they had used 3G services through mobile telephony networks.

    The number of Greeks using the Internet was up 7.9 pct in 2010 compared with 2009 and 24 pct higher compared with 2008, although the distance from European average rates remained steady at 20-25 percentage points.

    The survey also noted a significant increase in the use of social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, MySpace, etc). The percentage of Greeks using social media was 36 pct in the fourth quarter of 2010, sharply up from 14 pct in the first quarter of 2009 and only 2.0 pct in the first quarter of 2008.

    Eurostat figures recently showed that Attica accounted for the highest percentage rate of Greek households with Internet connection (57 pct), while northern and central Greece recorded the lowest rates (37 pct and 38 pct, respectively).

    [31] Photo exhibition on 30th anniversary of Greece's accession to EU

    A photography exhibition marking the 30th anniversary of Greece's accession to the European Union (1981-2011) is being organised in Athens by the European Parliament offices in Greece, the European Commission representation in Greece and the Greek foreign ministry.

    The exhibition opens on June 2 at the "Apollon" events hall in Kaminia, at 1 Ermoupoleos street, and will run through June 15.

    [32] Pakistani man arrested on abduction charges

    A 22-year-old Pakistani man was arrested in Vrahati, Corinth on Thursday and charged with abducting and keeping hostage two 23-year-old illegal immigrants from Pakistan with the aid of three accomplices.

    The two hostages were lured to a hut by their captors, who promised to find them work, and then held at gunpoint while they called home to relatives in Pakistan and asked them to collect ransom money for their release.

    The two 23-year-olds managed to escape at around dawn on Wednesday, were found by police and reported their captivity at the Vrahati police station. Based on their testimony, police arrested the 22-year-old Pakistani and are looking for his alleged accomplices.

    During a search of the hut, police found a small quantity of hashish and a shotgun registered to a local Greek resident of the area, who was arrested for negligent storage of a firearm and then released.

    The 22-year-old is due to appear before a public prosecutor and the two illegal migrants held hostage will be deported.

    [33] Poet Varveris dies of heart failure at 56

    Greek award-winning poet, critic and translator Yannis Varveris died on Wednesday night at the age of 56 from heart failure.

    Varveris, who was born in Athens in 1955, studied law at the University of Athens and published a total of 11 poetry collections, as well as translations of foreign literature and Attic comedy.

    He published his first collection of poems "En Fantasia kai Logo" (In Imagination and Word) in 1975.

    In 1976 he also became a theater critic, and his theatrical reviews have been published in a series of six volumes.

    His poems have been published in anthologies in translations into English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Romanian.

    He was awarded the State Book Prize for Critique in 1996 for his book "Krisi Theatrou", the Cavafy Prize in 2001 for his poetry collection Poems 1975-1996, the literary journal Diavazo's poetry prize in 2002 for his poetry collection "Sta Xena" (Abroad), and the Poetry Award of the Academy of Athens' Petros Haris Foundation in 2010 for his entire poetic work.

    [34] Culture ministry on death of poet Varveris

    The political leadership of the culture & tourism ministry on Thursday expressed its grief over the death of poet Yiannis Varveris.

    "His contribution to the renewal of Greek poetry was decisive, the legacy that he is leaving for all of us is invaluable," a relevant announcement stated.

    [35] Hania prefecture beaches receive 26 Blue Flags

    Twenty-six beaches in Hania prefecture, on Crete, have been awarded the "Blue Flag" distinction this year, the Greek Society for the Protection of Nature announced on Thursday.

    Greece has ranked in second place this year among 41 countries worldwide, having been awarded "Blue Flags" this year for a total of 387 beaches, 98 of them on the island of Crete.

    [36] Traditional Greek dances to be performed in Odessa

    ?he Hellenic Foundation for Culture's branch in Odessa will present Greek traditional dances from several parts of the country on Saturday during a Dance Fest at the Bulgarian Culture Centre.

    Traditional costumes and historical data on the Greek traditional dances will be also be presented during the event.

    [37] Another Cretan businessman commits suicide over financial woes

    A 52-year-old businessman was found hanged in Crete, in an apparent suicide over severe financial problems, police said on Thursday.

    The body of the man - the latest in a rash of suicides on the island over financial difficulties -- was found by his brother on Thursday morning in his home in Anogeia, Mylopotamos in Rethymno prefecture.

    Sources close to the family told ANA-MPA that the businessman had kept the immense financial problems to himself so as not to worry his wife and their 22-year-old son, and was a serious family man with good social relations.

    Police are investigating the causes of the suicide.

    [38] Body savaged with wild animals found at Lake Koronia

    The body of an unknown man, savaged by wild animals and in an advanced state of decay, was found on the shores of Lake Koronia in northern Greece.

    According to a Thessaloniki coroner, the body is that of a man aged roughly 50 years old, with a height of 1.90 metres. There were no signs of injury to the skeleton, while his death is estimated to have occurred about a month earlier.

    The body was discovered last Tuesday by a passer-by who found human limbs by the lake. These were collected by police, who launched a search along the lake with the assistance of specially trained dogs, eventually discovering the man's remains on Wednesday.

    Authorities have launched an inquiry to discover the man's identity and possible cause of death.

    [39] Scuffles outside health ministry between hospital staff, police

    Scuffles broke out on Thursday between riot police and hospital workers holding a protest outside the health ministry, after protestors attempted to enter the building and were driven back.

    The protestors were staff at the Dafni, Dromokaiteio and Thriasio hospitals who had gathered to demand unpaid back pay for night shifts and overtime.

    [40] 4.9R at the sea region of Kyllini

    A moderate earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale was recorded at 2:27 a.m. Thursday, at a distance of 228 km west of Athens, with its epicentre in the sea region off Kyllini, southwestern Greece.

    According to the Geodynamic Institute of the Athens Observatory, the quake had a shallow epicentral depth of 15-20 km and thus was strongly felt in the wider area.

    No injuries or damages were immediately reported.

    [41] Contraband cigarettes on board freighter

    The Coast Guard discovered 2,700 crates of contraband cigarettes on board a Bolivia-flagged freighter sailing in the Thermaikos Bay off the northern city of Thessaloniki, it was announced on Thursday.

    The vessel had set sail from Famagusta, in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, and was destined for Varna, Bulgaria.

    The freighter and its cargo were seized while its five crew members are in custody.

    Weather Forecast

    [42] Rainy on Friday

    Rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 11C and 28C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with northerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 15C to 25C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 17C to 25C.

    [43] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    Greek European Commissioner for fisheries Maria Damanaki's statements that the country's European course is at risk, new cutbacks in pensions in the public and private sectors, the government's tax policy, and the peaceful protests against the political system and the Troika, mostly dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "The first 72,000 lay-offs on the horizon!".

    AVGHI: "Terrorists...".

    AVRIANI: "The only solution for Greece is a return to the drachma".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "They are executing the Greek economy in cold blood".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Blatant coercion, with exit from the eurozone as the 'bogeyman'."

    ESTIA: "Government insists on the new taxation".

    ETHNOS: "Express pension cuts".

    IMERISSIA: "Troika's ultimatum on the mid-term programme: June 3 the deadline".

    KATHIMERINI: "Dilemmas for all ahead of the new Memorandum".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "International political game for the Greek rescue".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Widespread rallies on Saturday throughout the country".

    TA NEA: "They are playing with fire! - Dilemmas with the spectre of the drachma".

    VRADYNI: "Government terrorising the people in order to impose the new austerity measures".

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