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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-03-08

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

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

Thursday, 8 March 2012 Issue No: 4016

CONTENTS

  • [01] EU Commission President Barroso letter to PM Papademos
  • [02] New ministers sworn into office before PM, President
  • [03] Energy minister briefs PM Papademos on privatisations and market deregulation in energy sector
  • [04] Gov't spokesman: Need to proceed to surpluses
  • [05] PASOK party leader condemns phenomena of violence
  • [06] Gov't, party representatives heckled during parade on Rhodes
  • [07] ND on PPC bills; so-called 'potato movement'
  • [08] KKE leader: No excuse for delaying elections
  • [09] LAOS requests off-the-agenda debate on foreign policy
  • [10] Tsipras: Government leading society to bankruptcy
  • [11] DM Avramopoulos visits military units in Crete
  • [12] Government meeting on bill for 'leaner' public administration
  • [13] Animal husbandry draft law approved in its first reading
  • [14] Bakoyannis meets with Juncker
  • [15] Bakoyannis meets with EFSF officials
  • [16] Tsipras holds meeting with Serb ambassador
  • [17] FinMin optimistic on success of PSI
  • [18] Private sector participation in PSI reaches 50 pct so far
  • [19] Eight pension funds accept PSI invitation
  • [20] Finmin meets representatives of 'Give Greece a Chance' initiative
  • [21] Gasoline prices in Greece second highest among EU countries
  • [22] Public sector lawyers receive pay hike
  • [23] Unpaid PASOK employees stage symbolic takeover of party headquarters
  • [24] GSEE labour confederation on International Women's Day
  • [25] Bussiness Briefs
  • [26] Stocks end 1.3 pct lower
  • [27] Bond market closing report
  • [28] ADEX closing report
  • [29] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [30] Papoulias welcomes Greek-Canadian academics
  • [31] Universities of Aegean and Cyprus sign cooperation protocol
  • [32] Contraband cigarettes found on catamaran reporting missing sailor, 7 arrests
  • [33] UK national arrested for drug trafficking; 6.8 kilos khat confiscated
  • [34] Suspects in violent assault rifle robberies arrested
  • [35] Incident with immigrant smuggler in Tycheros Evros region who escaped to Turkey
  • [36] Illegal migrants and traffickers arrested
  • [37] 3 foreign nat'ls arrested in abduction of compatriot
  • [38] Harp music concert
  • [39] Rainy on Thursday
  • [40] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] EU Commission President Barroso letter to PM Papademos

    European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso called for close cooperation between Greek authorities and the European Commission Task Force for Greece in the coming weeks, so as to pinpoint the areas requiring technical support, in a letter sent to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on Wednesday.

    Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said that the letter is a follow-up to Barroso's meeting with Papademos in Brussels last week.

    In his letter, Barroso says that priority must be given to cooperation between the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Investments Fund and the Greek entrepreneurship fund for utilisation of the 650 million euros for small and medium size enterprises, Hansen added.

    The letter also stressed the need for important infrastructure and energy projects, such as the Helios programme, to progress and for finding ways to accelerate the absorption of EU funds.

    Barroso stressed the European Commission's willingness to support Greek authorities in making decisions able to restore confidence and set in motion processes to revive the Greek economy.

    Referring to the second programme for Greece, the European Commission president said this was a comprehensive programme of structural reforms that will lay the foundations for a new, competitive and very dynamic Greece. He suggested that members of the Commission's task force in Greece meet with officials appointed by Papademos in order to examine the issues in details and put together a report to be submitted to the Commission by March 28.

    Barroso noted that the report must include clear recommen-dations on the actions that need to be taken in each sector, stipulating who will be responsible for carrying them out and a deadline for resolving the problems found.

    The Commission president also referred to a "host of actions" that must be carried out without delay in order to improve the business environment in Greece, support small businesses and young people and, finally, eradicate the dysfunctions in public administration and the financial system that prevent money from the structural funds reaching those that need it, in this way obstructing economic growth and the creation of jobs.

    He noted that the European Commission had already given more than eight billion euro out of a total of 20 billion euro that it had decided to make available to Greece via EU structural funds.

    "We are willing to help Greek authorities make use of the remaining funds, with the central goal of boosting growth and competitiveness. For the time being there is no insufficiency of funds but, as was said in our meeting, there continues to be an excessive number of unanswered questions and administrative obstacles that must be overcome in order for the available funds to reach the real economy," Barroso added.

    [02] New ministers sworn into office before PM, President

    The new ministers joining the government or moving to different ministries following a cabinet reshuffle were sworn in on Wednesday afternoon, in the presence of Greece's President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.

    The mini-reshuffle announced late on Tuesday night resulted in the appointment of two new ministers - academic George Babiniotis as education minister and Lefteris Economou as deputy minister of citizens' protection.

    Former development minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis was moved to the Citizen Protection Ministry, taking over from Christos Papoutsis who resigned last week, while former education minister Anna Diamantopoulou will take over the helm of the development ministry.

    The start of the ceremony was delayed for about 10 minutes while the prime minister and President Papoulias had a private meeting in the president's office.

    After the ceremony was completed, Papademos informed them that a cabinet meeting will take place on Thursday.

    [03] Energy minister briefs PM Papademos on privatisations and market deregulation in energy sector

    Environment, Energy and Climatic Change Minister George Papaconstantinou briefed Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on Wednesday at the Maximos Mansion on the ministry's issues and according to which the green ringroad will be implemented in Athens in September.

    The briefing focused on the course of privatisations and market deregulation in the energy sector, tendering for seismic hydrocarbon research, the utilisation of the former Hellinikon airport and environmental legislation.

    More specifically, the privatisation of the Public Power Corporation (DEH) with the possible entry of a strategic investor in the networks, the European Commission's decision on the access of third parties to DEH's lignite production as well as the new structuring of the electric energy market with the separation of networks and the new role assumed by the subsidiaries of DEH that manage the transportation and distribution networks, were discussed.

    Papaconstantinou also referred to the course of the privatisation of the Public Gas Providing Enterprise (DEPA), the Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) and the Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) that are underway, the energy cooperation agreement between Greece-Cyprus-Israel that will be signed next month, as well as to the role that Greece can play in the transit of natural gas to Europe.

    [04] Gov't spokesman: Need to proceed to surpluses

    Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis on Wednesday stressed the need for Greece to move on to surpluses.

    Speaking on private Antenna television, he said that more measures should be expected after June, adding that the new measures will be taken for 2013 and 2014 in order for Greece to move out of recession and move on to surpluses.

    He said that the PSI is slated for completion on Thursday, adding that the government was examining the issue of the small-scale private holders of Greek bonds, but declined going into detail.

    Kapsis further declined comment when asked when elections will be held, noting only that the agreement among the political parties backing prime minister Lucas Papademos' interim government that elections will take place when the government completes is job, approximately end-April or early May, still stands.

    [05] PASOK party leader condemns phenomena of violence

    PASOK party leader George Papandreou condemned in a statement on Wednesday current phenomena of vilonce in Greek society.

    "We have a duty today to defend with even greater intensity our principles and values against the phenomena of violence, from wherever they come from," Papandreou noted.

    Papandreou said that the citizens need more democracy and not supposed defenders, who resort to violence and underlined that all the democratic citizens "we are always against practices of 'counterdemonstrations', of the pin type, wherever they are mnifested, either in society, or culture or politics."

    [06] Gov't, party representatives heckled during parade on Rhodes

    A group of angered citizens heckled government and political party representatives and threw yoghurt and bottles of water at them on Wednesday during a parade on Rhodes marking the anniversary of the Dodecanese island's incorporation into the modern Greek state.

    The group first shouted insults at the officials, then broke through a police cordon to throw the objects at them, causing cancellation of the parade.

    [07] ND on PPC bills; so-called 'potato movement'

    New Democracy (ND) party spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis on Wednesday called on the responsible ministers of finance and energy to agree over a solution that will put an end, as he said, to the confusion stemming from an extraordinary surtax on real estate, now collected via electricity bills.

    Referring to conflicting statements made by the ministry of finance and Public Power Corp. (PPC), he referred to an "increase in the confusion and the taxpayers' hardship." He also stressed that (Finance Minister Evangelos) "Venizelos and (Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister George) Papaconstantinou have to reach an understanding and come up with a solution."

    ND also expressed support for the so-called "potato movement", a series of initiatives to cut-out middlemen in the sale of farm products to consumers, underlining that this is a genuine expression of a society of citizens.

    The party's commerce sector head, MP Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, said that "society is becoming self-organized and contributes to a proper market operation.".

    [08] KKE leader: No excuse for delaying elections

    "There is no excuse why elections should not take place right away, unless they (government) invent one," stressed Communist Party of Greece (KKE) secretary general Aleka Papariga on Wednesday speaking to private radio station Real.

    Papariga cited that she is against the haircut of the social security funds' bonds, adding that it will lead us to a point that the pensions will change every month.

    Referring to the extraordinary real estate surtax, she called it a "confusion" that "needs an electronic brain, and not simply an informatics system".

    [09] LAOS requests off-the-agenda debate on foreign policy

    Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party leader George Karatzaferis on Wednesday sent a letter to Parliament President Philippos Petsalnikos, in which he requested an off-the-agenda debate in Parliament on "national issues".

    Karatzaferis said that there issues of foreign policy were entering a crucial phase while the country was being rocked by the economic crisis, including Turkish provocations in the Aegean and Cyprus, challenges from Skopje concerning the name issue and actions against the Greek minority in southern Albania, as well as two unfavourable decisions on the Macedonia name dispute and Distomo massacres from the International Court of Justice.

    He also highlighted the need to discuss the exploitation of Greece's Exclusive Economic Zone and, at a time of great geopolitical upheaval in the Mediterranean and Middle East, to seek out alliances that would give Greece the initiative in developments, especially in terms of energy issues.

    [10] Tsipras: Government leading society to bankruptcy

    Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) leader Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday accused the government of "leading society to bankruptcy", adding that "every tragedy has, of course, its own comic moments", in a first reaction to the mini Cabinet reshuffle announced Tuesday night.

    "Imagine how effective a government that takes nine days to change one minister can be in saving the country from this economic crisis and in managing the PSI," Tsipras said, adding that "what we have been witnessing in the past period from the main political scene are comic scenes".

    "The essence remains, however, that this government, despite the changes in ministers, is a government that is taking the heavy historical blame of leading the society to bankruptcy and the Greek economy to the verge of disintegration," he said.

    [11] DM Avramopoulos visits military units in Crete

    Defence Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, who visited military units in Hania on the island of Crete on Wednesday, sent a message of unity and of the joint mobilisation of all to enable the country to overcome the crisis it is in.

    Avramopoulos concluded his visit late on Wednesday afternoon and told reporters "the country's armed forces are both resisting and defending in the hard reality we are all experiencing with the economic crisis being at its height. In any case, I repeat that we shall not let, we shall not allow the economic crisis to affect the functioning, the readiness, the fighting fitness of the Greek armed forces."

    [12] Government meeting on bill for 'leaner' public administration

    A government meeting was held at the administrative reform and e-government ministry on Wednesday in order to prepare a draft bill to trim public administration organisational structures by at least 30 percent. The bill must be tabled within the next fortnight and be passed by the current government.

    The meeting was attended by the heads of nearly all ministries in the government, including government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis, with the exception of the ministers for foreign affairs, defence, culture, finance and citizen protection. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was represented by the finance ministry's general secretary Ilias Plaskovitis. Others attending included Alternate Development Minister Sokratis Xynidis, Deputy Administrative Reform Minister Dinos Rovlias and a number of ministry general secretaries.

    Following five months of consultation with all ministries, the administrative reform ministry has drawn up new organisational charts that will be included into a single draft bill to be tabled in Parliament, which has also been approved by French experts called in to assist with the organisation of the Greek state.

    This seeks to eliminate overlapping authorities and responsibilities between different ministry services, save funds by cutting down on the levels of administrative hierarchy so that fewer supervisor bonuses are paid, reducing operating costs and designing mininal administrative structures and a cohesive administrative organisational pyramid.

    The bill will also seek to make more rationalised use of support services for each ministry and lead to a more streamlined distribution of staff between support services and policy-making departments.

    [13] Animal husbandry draft law approved in its first reading

    The agriculture ministry-sponsored draft law regulating animal husbandry and operation of livestock breeding facilities was approved in its first reading before the parliament's plenary session on Wednesday after winning the support of PASOK, New Democracy (ND) and Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S) MPs.

    The draft law introduces certain basic changes including a new stricter licensing model for livestock breeding facilities that will have to meet certain demands and preconditions and be subjected to regular inspections.

    The licensing cost is being reduced through the simplification of the environmental, spatial and town planning certification, while stockbreeders who will legalize existing facilities within three years will avoid paying fines for violations.

    An independent sub-registry of livestock breeding facilities will be in operation within the framework of the agriculture ministry veterinary registry and all licenses will have to be posted in the internet.

    Three-member committees will be set up on regional level to oversee the legal operation of animal husbandry facilities.

    [14] Bakoyannis meets with Juncker

    Democratic Alliance leader Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday met with Eurogroup president and Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg.

    After the meeting, Bakoyannis said they had a lengthy and useful discussion during which they agreed that the entire thrust of the EU and Greece's partners should be on the new strategy for Greece aiming at growth.

    "Growth must be our target. Hew jobs, which can and must be created, in accordance with the proposals submitted by Democratic Alliance and others, which our partners are mulling. The decisions, however, must be taken very quickly, so that precious time will not be lost," Bakoyannis added.

    [15] Bakoyannis meets with EFSF officials

    Democratic Alliance President Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday met with European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) officials in Luxembourg.

    According to information, she briefed them on the political, economic and social situation in Greece with an emphasis on social cohesion problems, underlining the need for a new "Marshall Plan".

    [16] Tsipras holds meeting with Serb ambassador

    Greek-Serb relations and the overall situation in the Balkans were the focus of Wednesday's meeting between Radical Lert Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary Group president Alexis Tsipras and the ambassador of the Republic of Serbia Dragan Zupanievac.

    The Serb ambassador briefed Tsipras on the economic situation in Serbia, as well as on the recent developments in his country's relations with the EU, while expressing support for the full development of Greek-Serb relations and for inter-Balkan cooperation in general.

    Tsipras supported the idea of the "Balkan joint development" plan and its particular importance in this difficult period of crisis that Greece is going through, as well as a large part of EU countries.

    Financial News

    [17] FinMin optimistic on success of PSI

    Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Wednesday he is optimistic that the PSI bond swap will be successful and that the Greek debt will fall to 120 percent of GDP "or even better" by 2020.

    "We will give an active response to the Cassandras (doom-sayers) that are trying to invalidate every possible solution, such as the PSI," Venizelos said, and sharply criticised the boards of the social security funds that refused to participate in the bonds swap, asking: "If the PSI does not succeed, what will be the value of their bonds? Zero!"

    [18] Private sector participation in PSI reaches 50 pct so far

    Private sector participation in a Greek state bond swap programme (PSI) has reached 50 pct so far. The Institute of International Finance on Wednesday announced that 30 of its members, Ageas, Allianz, Alpha Bank, AXA, Banque Postale, BBVA, BNP Paribas, CNP Assurances, Commerzbank, Credit Agricole, Credit Foncier, DekaBank, Deutsche Bank, Dexia,, Emporiki Bank of Greece, Eurobank EFG, Generali, Greylock Capital Management, Groupama, HSBC, ING, Intesa San Paolo, KBC, Marfin Popular Bank, Metlife, National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale and Unicredit, agreed to exchange bonds worth 81 billion euros, which account for around 39.3 pct of total Greek bonds eligible for the swap.

    Another 18 billion euros in bonds owned by the joint fund, under management by the Bank of Greece, will be included in the bond swap programme, along with around 2.7 billion euros in bonds owned by several Greek pension funds, raising the total value of bonds to 101.7 billion euros and participation to around 49.4 pct.

    [19] Eight pension funds accept PSI invitation

    Eight Greek pension funds, along with the social insurance organizations' mutual funds management company, have accepted a voluntary participation in a state bond swap program, or a 53 pct haircut envisaged by a PSI programe, adding another 3.31 billion euros to the programme, while another six pension funds did not accept the government's invitation. These six funds own state bonds worth 3.4 billion euros.

    [20] Finmin meets representatives of 'Give Greece a Chance' initiative

    Government vice-president and finance minister Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday met representatives of the businesses and individuals behind the international campaign "Give Greece a Chance", thanking them for their idea and for funding the campaign.

    He noted that this had made a very good impression and was a good example of the potential that exists when private initiative coincides with a national strategy.

    The meeting also focused on the prospects for further public and private cooperation in the effort to re-establish Greece's reputation internationally. Those at the meeting included Ioannis Kostopoulos of Hellenic Petroleum SA, Alexandros Makridis from the firm Chrysafidis SA, Eftychios Vassilakis of Aegean Airlines, Achilleas Constantakopoulos of Kostatera ATOEE, Vassilios Fourlis of Fourlis SA and Yiannis Olympios.

    [21] Gasoline prices in Greece second highest among EU countries

    Greeks are paying 12.5 percent more for gasoline in comparison with 2011, the Greek Consumers Center (ELKEKA) said on Wednesday.

    Specifically the driver of a 1400HP car who covers 1,250km with 9lt/100km at a gasoline price per litre of 1.57 euros, in March 2011 paid 176.63 euros. In March 2012, for the same distance, he pays 198.68 euros (22.05 euros more than in 2011).

    According to the study, Greece has the second higher price for gasoline in EU, after the Netherlands and Italy where the gasoline price is 1.80 euros per litre, while the average price in the EU is 1.54 euros per litre.

    [22] Public sector lawyers receive pay hike

    The monthly salaries of legal advisers appointed in the public sector will gradually increase 10-15 pct within the next three years, it was announced on Wednesday. Even higher increases will receive those appointed by independent authorities.

    According to a decision by the ministries of justice and finance dated Feb. 28, 2012, attorneys appointed in the public sector, the local administration and the farmers' pension fund OGA, will see their monthly salaries increase 10-15 pct. The legal advisers appointed in independent authorities, the Capital Market Commission and the Accounting and Auditing Oversight Board (ELTE) will have an additional monthly bonus of 400 euros.

    The minimum salary of lawyers that appear in First Instance Courts will be at 1,250 euros. Lawyers that appear in Courts of Appeal will have a minimum salary of 1,652 euros, while attorneys that can try cases in the Council of State (CoS) supreme administrative court, Arios Pagos Supreme Court and the Court of Audit will start with a monthly salary of 1,906 euros.

    They will also be entitled to family benefits, Christmas, Easter and summer vacation bonuses, as well as, position related bonuses.

    The salary increases decided will be retroactive from Nov. 1, 2011 and are pursuant to Law No. 4024/2011 that refers to the unified salary scale in the public sector, the labour reserve measure and the 2012-2015 medium-term fiscal programme.

    [23] Unpaid PASOK employees stage symbolic takeover of party headquarters

    Unpaid employees of the former ruling party PASOK on Wednesday staged a 45-minute symbolic takeover of the party headquarters in downtown Athens, blocking access to the building's entrance.

    The PASOK employees were protesting the fact that they are unpaid for the last four months, during which the party's financial directors say that disbursement of the state subsidies to political parties has been "frozen".

    [24] GSEE labour confederation on International Women's Day

    The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) calls on working Greek women, on the occasion of International Women's Day on Thursday, "to rally in the trade unions and to participate in collective struggles for dignified employment and social justice."

    GSEE also calls in its announcement on the trade unions to strengthen, promote and protect women's participation, backing the presence of women in their administrations.

    [25] Bussiness Briefs

    -- Production by the Greek textile industry dropped 22 pct in 2011, while the industry is facing a further decline in new orders in early 2012, a survey based on official statistical data showed on Wednesday.

    -- Foreign investors' participation in the capitalisation of the Athens Stock Exchange remained unchanged at 49.7 pct in February, compared with the previous month, while Greek investors' participation was 48.9 pct, up from 48.8 pct over the same months, respectively.

    -- Shell on Wednesday announced that it has raised its equity stake in Gas Supply Enterprise of Attica (EPA) - the natural gas distribution company of Attica prefecture (the greater Athens area) - to 49 pct, up from 24 pct, after buying an additional 25 pct of EPA shares from ATEbank.

    -- Mytilineos Group on Wednesday left the possibility to participate in the sale of energy sector companies included in a government's privatisation programme.

    [26] Stocks end 1.3 pct lower

    Sellers took the upper hand of the market once again in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, pushing share prices lower after Tuesday's sharp advance. Nervousness over the outcome of a PSI process undermined sentiment in the market. The composite index fell 1.30 pct to end at 745.23 points, with turnover shrinking to 59.170 million euros. The Big Cap index fell 1.22 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.14 pct lower and the Small Cap index rose 0.22 pct. Constructions (2.43 pct) and Industrial Products (1.51 pct) were the only sectors to move higher, while Media (9.73 pct), Food (4.72 pct) and Chemicals (4.40 pct) suffered the biggest percentage losses.

    Titan (2.87 pct), Ellaktor (0.79 pct), National Bank (0.40 pct) and Motor Oil (0.19 pct) were top gainers, while MIG (5.50 pct), Coca Cola 3E (4.83 pct), Mytilineos (3.99 pct) and Hellenic Postbank (2.33 pct) were top losers among blue chip stocks.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 83 to 80 with another 21 issues unchanged. Ilyda (28.74 pct), Motodynamic (25.84 pct) and Cyclon Hellas (22.82 pct) were top gainers, while Euroholdings (20 pct), Marak Electronics (18.06 pct) and Interfish (16.32 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Industrials: +1.51%

    Commercial: -0.47%

    Construction: +2.43%

    Media -9.73%

    Oil & Gas: -0.27%

    Personal & Household: -1.38%

    Raw Materials: -2.00%

    Travel & Leisure: -0.77%

    Technology: -1.99%

    Telecoms: -1.72%

    Banks: -0.46%

    Food & Beverages: -4.72%

    Health: -2.08%

    Utilities: -1.55%

    Chemicals: -4.40%

    Financial Services: -3.21%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, METKA and Eurobank.

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

    Alpha Bank: 1.55

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 3.28

    HBC Coca Cola: 13.61

    Hellenic Petroleum: 5.44

    National Bank of Greece: 2.50

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 1.16

    OPAP: 6.95

    OTE: 2.28

    Bank of Piraeus: 0.49

    Titan: 14.00

    [27] Bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds rose slightly to 27.71 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 27.66 pct on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 29.47 pct and the German Bund 1.76 pct. There was no turnover in the market.

    In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month rate was 1.55 pct, the six-month rate was 1.21 pct, the three-month rate 0.91 pct and the one-month rate 0.50 pct.

    [28] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount of 0.94 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a low 24.749 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,741 contracts worth 11.972 million euros, with 26,639 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 69,575 contracts worth 12.777 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (26,909), followed by Cyprus Bank (7,369), MIG (348), OTE (5,343), Piraeus Bank (6,680), Alpha Bank (19,864), Marfin Popular Bank (500), Mytilineos (367), Hellenic Postbank (756), (GEK (264), Hellenic Exchanges (218), PPC (214) and OPAP (236).

    [29] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.331

    Pound sterling 0.847

    Danish kroner 7.546

    Swedish kroner 9.057

    Japanese yen 107.54

    Swiss franc 1.223

    Norwegian kroner 7.559

    Canadian dollar 1.333

    Australian dollar 1.260

    General News

    [30] Papoulias welcomes Greek-Canadian academics

    President Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday sent an optimistic message while receiving three distinguished professors of modern Greek studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada.

    Addressing the delegation at the presidential mansion, headed by Andre Gerolymatos, a professor of history and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at SFU, Papoulias underlined that "we need a Greece that still creates."

    The visiting professors briefed the president on their work concerning Hellenic studies.

    [31] Universities of Aegean and Cyprus sign cooperation protocol

    The official ceremony for the signing of a cooperation protocol between the University of the Aegean and the University of Cyprus took place in Mytilene, the headquarters of the Aegean University, on Wednesday.

    The rector of the University of Cyprus, professor Constantine Christofides, signed the special protocol with the rector of the University of the Aegean, professor Paris Tsartas, that refers to the educational, scientific, research and administrative level of the universities' operation.

    [32] Contraband cigarettes found on catamaran reporting missing sailor, 7 arrests

    A total of seven people have been arrested by port authorities on the Ionian Sea island of Cephalonia after the discovery of 7,560 cartons of contraband cigarettes were found late Tuesday aboard a catamaran that had earlier issued a "man overboard" distress signal, authorities said on Wednesday morning.

    Coastguard officers on Tuesday reported the discovery of large quantities of contraband cigarettes on board the catamaran 'Ilios', which had earlier issued a man overboard distress call. The 'Ilios' was intercepted at midnight on Monday, 17 nautical miles west of Cephalonia.

    Earlier, its captain had informed a Coastguard patrol boat that a 40-year-old crew member, the ship's second engineer, was missing after falling overboard in unclear circumstances. A search and rescue operation was immediately launched in the area, with the participation of ships and a helicopter, but had not found the missing man by Tuesday evening.

    The catamaran and its five-member crew, 3 Greeks and 2 foreigners, was led to the port of Argostoli on Tuesday evening, and after completion of the counting of the contraband authorities said that 7,560 cartons were found aboard the vessel.

    All five crew members were detained, following the orders of a prosecutor, as well as a 59-year-old man believed to be the owner of the catamaran and another 69-year-old man.

    The crew members admitted to authorities during questioning that the catamaran had been carrying 16,000 more cartons of contraband cigarettes, which they dumped overboard.

    Rescuers had not located the missing second engineer as at Wednesday morning and were continuing the search.

    [33] UK national arrested for drug trafficking; 6.8 kilos khat confiscated

    A 25-year-old Briton was arrested on his arrival at Athens international airport after drugs squad officers discovered 6.8 kilos of the stimulant drug khat in his luggage. The arrest was made on Tuesday afternoon, during spot checks carried out by police in the airport arrivals area.

    Authorities also arrested two Albanian nationals aged 43 and 30 years old, respectively, on Tuesday for possessing and dealing cocaine.

    The suspects arrested were led before an Athens first-instance court prosecutor on Wednesday.

    [34] Suspects in violent assault rifle robberies arrested

    Police on Wednesday arrested eight individuals -- locals, Albanians and repatriated ethnic Greeks from the former Soviet Union -- all alleged members of the so-called "Kalashnikov gang", which recently robbed a jewelry store in Nea Peramos, west of Athens, wounding a police officer and three civilians in the process.

    The suspects were also charged with involvement in a series of robberies in western Attica and Piraeus.

    In a separate operation linked to a series of robberies and break-ins throughout the greater Athens area and in the prefectures of Viotia and Evia, in central Greece, police arrested an Albanian national believed to be the mastermind of the gang.

    A police investigation continues for the arrest of suspected accomplices.

    [35] Incident with immigrant smuggler in Tycheros Evros region who escaped to Turkey

    A new incident occurred on Wednesday with an immigrant smuggler who, in his effort to bring a group of illegal immigrants into Greece in a boat, threatened with a gun police and FRONTEX officials who were patrolling the Tycheros border region, in the Evros river, northeastern Greece.

    The smuggler was spotted while he was disembarking 16 people on the Greek bank. In an effort to avoid arrest and escape to Turkey, he started to threaten police and FRONTEX men with a pistol.

    The police initially called on him to surrender and then fired at the outboard engine to immobilise the boat, but the smuggler succeeded in escaping towards the Turkish bank in the rubber boat.

    [36] Illegal migrants and traffickers arrested

    Police arrested on Wednesday seven human traffickers from Afghanistan as well as 12 Afghani illegal migrants that had paid 5,000 euros each to their compatriots to transport them from the port city of Igoumenitsa to Italy.

    [37] 3 foreign nat'ls arrested in abduction of compatriot

    Authorities on Wednesday announced that they had cracked a kidnapping case that took place in Inofita, Viotia prefecture, in May 2010 involving a 28-year-old Pakistani man held for ransom.

    Three suspects, all Pakistanis, aged 33, 35 and 47, are accused of kidnapping the victim and holding him for three days. He was released after the kidnappers received a ransom of 2,200 euros.

    Two of the suspects, aged 33 and 47, were arrested in Inofita on Tuesday morning when police raided a local factory. An international arrest warrant is pending against the 33-year-old who is accused of committing a robbery in Pakistan.

    [38] Harp music concert

    The embassy of Ireland in Greece will sponsor a concert of harp music by musician Diana Rowan on Monday evening at the Deree College's Black Box Theater, in the Aghia Paraskevi district of Athens.

    Weather forecast

    [39] Rainy on Thursday

    Rainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 0C and 18C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with southerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 8C to 15C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 10C.

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

    The Cabinet mini reshuffle and the negotiations for the maximum possible participation in the PSI as well as the medicine shortages in pharmacies, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Municipalities sinking in debts!".

    AVGHI: "Wedge in intermediaries' ring".

    DIMOKRATIA: "Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos' and former president of ESYE (Hellenic Statistical Service, now the Independent Hellenic Statistical Authority-ELSTAT) Andreas Georgiou's bomb exploded".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Scam with PPC surtax (extraordi-nary surtax on real estate collected via PPC electricity bills)".

    ESTIA: "Taxes dissolved the economy".

    ETHNOS: "Dangerous games with medicines".

    IMERISSIA: "Initial 'yes' to the PSI".

    KATHIMERINI: "Change of leadership in three ministries".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Green energy investments of 5.5 billion euros via 'fast track' procedures".

    NIKI: "High interest rates and amnesty for those who will bring their money back to Greece".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Action on Wednesday for the unemployed at the National Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED) offices throughout the country".

    TA NEA: "Last battles outside the 'barbershop'."

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