|Thursday, 19 July 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-04-25
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Wednesday, 25 April 2012
 Exit from crisis in our hands, BoG head saysThe new adjustment programme provides more favourable conditions than previously but exit from the crisis will depend exclusively on the country's willingness and ability to rise to the historic challenge, George Provopoulos, the Bank of Greece's governor said on Tuesday.
Addressing the 79th annual shareholders' meeting, the central banker presented his annual report on the Greek economy saying that two years after the first Memorandum, the country was now facing with a new challenge, one that is especially crucial for the country's future. Despite the progress made, the failure to act in a resolute and timely manner, along with the recession, resulted in a worsening of the dynamics of public debt, making a new agreement for financial support necessary. The new loan agreement and the economic adjustment programme provide more favourable conditions than before for return to growth.
The new agreement offers conclusive evidence of our partners' willingness to support us.
However, uncertainty continues to surround the global economy, reflecting, in part, the sovereign debt crisis in European economies, Provopoulos said.
The central banker noted that the economic situation, both at home and abroad, leaves no room for complacency. To take advantage of the new opportunity, we must promptly implement what we have agreed to and make up for previous delays. There is no easy way out of the crisis. The adjustment must be pursued with determination. He added that the current pre-electoral period has temporarily sidelined planned reforms. If, after the elections, there is any question about the will of the new government and society to implement the programme, today's favourable prospects will be reversed; the country will then be at risk of finding itself very quickly in a particularly adverse situation, which will impact negatively on citizens' morale.
"What is at stake is the choice between: An orderly, albeit painstaking, effort to reconstruct the economy within the euro area, with the support of our partners. or a disorderly economic and social regression, taking the country several decades back, and eventually driving it out of the euro area and the European Union.The second adjustment programme, along with private sector involvement in the restructuring of Greece's public debt, that led to its substantial reduction, mark the end of one phase of the crisis. With the help of our partners, and with a hard effort and at considerable cost, under the first programme changes were made that were important, but still insufficient in relation to the size of the economic problem at hand. This explains the repeated underperformance with respect to the targets of the adjustment programme after the first Memorandum. The related revisions would have been avoided had we accepted from the outset our full responsibility for the necessary change in course, after it had become clear that the growth model followed was no longer sustainable.
The needed adjustment did not take place to the extent required. The Memorandum, which, in any case, contained reforms that should have been implemented long ago, was handled defensively and treated as an external imposition. This defensive stance, however, proved to be totally counter-productive - it magnified the costs of adjustment and deepened and prolonged the recession.
The lack of sufficient policy adjustment brought us to the restructuring of debt and the new loan agreement -- choices which, given the circumstances, had become unavoidable. The restructuring improves the dynamics of public debt and creates a more favourable framework for the economy. Thus, a very difficult phase of the crisis comes to an end, at great social cost, but without any devastating effects. We now find ourselves at a promising new starting point. In this sense, a battle has been won, but not the war. This is why there can be no slackening off or complacency. On the contrary, continued vigilance, an intensification of efforts and a faster pace are required. In order to succeed now, we need to promptly make fundamental qualitative changes mainly to the functioning of the state, the operation of the public administration and, more broadly, institutions, the political system, the judicial system, the social partners, as well as the values and attitudes that shape our behaviour.
For these changes to proceed, what is needed is the broadest possible consensus across society and the spectrum of political views.
Citizens must be convinced of the necessity of the changes stemming from the country's choice of euro area membership; further, they must understand that an eventual failure to implement the changes would entail losses many times greater, as well as an irreparable break-up of social cohesion.
It is to be hoped that political forces will agree on the issues that unite them, namely the country's European prospects and its growth potential; in this way the continuity of the state will be ensured," Provopoulos said.
The central banker stressed Greece was now better positioned than just a few months ago to take effective action. The objective conditions that make this possible are in place:
? The restructuring of the public debt substantially reduces the country's obligations and the cost of servicing them, thereby facilitating fiscal adjustment.
? The loan agreement and the accompanying economic adjustment programme were passed by Parliament with a large majority.
? Whilst the fiscal deficit remains high, it has been substantially reduced. The objective of achieving primary surpluses from 2013 onwards is clearly attainable.
? There is now broader public awareness of the gravity of the situation and of the need for radical change if Greece is to remain within the European Union.
? The banking system proved resilient during a difficult period and today looks forward to its restructuring, which will enable it to operate more effectively to the benefit of the overall economy.
These factors will help the economy, first, to recover from the crisis and, then, to settle onto a sustainable growth path. Nevertheless, the risks remain high and uncertainty is still considerable.
He predicted a continuation of the recession that began in 2008. In 2011, real GDP contracted by 6.9%. The situation worsened in the fourth quarter, reflecting, among other things, the fact that uncertainty remained high. The decline in GDP was driven by the fall in both consumption and investment, the latter dropping by more than 20%.
? A further reason for the deterioration in GDP in the fourth quarter of 2011 was the halt in the upward trend in real exports of goods, after four successive quarters of growth . Exports of goods increased on average in 2011, but more slowly than in 2010 (3.6% against 5.4%). The decline in exports in the fourth quarter can be attributed not only to the slowdown in economic activity in our trading partners, but also to financial constraints faced by exporting firms (in particular, limited access to bank and trade credit).
? On the supply side, output of the secondary sector fell sharply (almost twice as much as in 2010: -12%, compared with -6.1%). The decline in output of the tertiary sector intensified as well (-5.9%, against -3.1%). By contrast, agricultural output increased by 2.5%, but, because of the sector's small size, this positive development had little effect on GDP as a whole.
? The decline in production was the main cause of the net loss of some 300,000 jobs and the surge in the number of the unemployed by approximately 250,000 people in 2011.
? Conditions in the financial sector deteriorated. The rate of credit expansion to the private sector, which has been steadily decelerating since 2008, turned negative in 2011. While this development can be partly attributed to reduced demand for credit on account of the recession, an important factor was also the liquidity squeeze experienced by banks, resulting from the loss of confidence brought about by the fiscal crisis. Today many sound businesses are suffering the consequences of that squeeze.
The general government deficit as a percentage of GDP was reduced by 1.2 percentage point in 2011, according to figures released yesterday, while the primary deficit was reduced by 2.5% of GDP. Furthermore, in the first quarter of 2012, the central government deficit, on a cash basis, decreased markedly year-on-year, while a primary surplus in the order of 0.5% of GDP was recorded, compared with a primary deficit of 0.5% of GDP over the corresponding period in 2011. Primary expenditure fell, albeit less than targeted, due to increased subsidies to social security funds. Attaining the full-year targets will obviously require persistent efforts.
Provopoulos stressed that global economic activity slowed in 2011 on account of the sovereign debt crisis in advanced economies, the general decline in confidence, and the high prices of commodities.
The global economy's recovery suffered a blow in late 2011 from the rise in uncertainty caused by the intensifying sovereign debt crisis in the euro area. As a consequence, the risks surrounding projections for 2012 remain elevated. GDP growth is expected to slow both in emerging and developing economies. In 2012, the euro area is expected to experience a mild recession. This projection is subject to considerable downside risks, relating in particular to an intensification of the debt crisis as well as further increases in commodity prices.
In response to these challenges, the Eurosystem resorted to standard and non-standard monetary policy measures. At the same time, and in a move to restore market confidence, the firepower of support mechanisms was increased, he said.
The Greek economy: Projections of key macroeconomic aggregates for 2012
The available short-term indicators for the first months of 2012 suggest that the recession will continue this year.
? The Bank of Greece forecasts an average annual rate of decline in GDP of close to 5%; implying that the recession will be less pronounced than in 2011; this forecast assumes that the necessary structural reforms will be implemented without delay.
? The average unemployment rate is projected to increase this year and exceed 19%, up from 17.7% last year.
? Forecast reductions in unit labour costs for 2012-13, together with projected price developments, should lead to a marked improvement in competitiveness, thereby contributing to export growth and import substitution. In particular, it is estimated that by the end of 2012, two-thirds to three-quarters of the total cost competitiveness lost over the period 2001-2009 will have been recovered and that, by end-2013, all of the loss will likely have been recovered.
? The current account deficit is projected to decrease from 9.8% of GDP in 2011 to roughly 7.5% of GDP in 2012 and that this downward trend will continue in the years to come.
? The downward trend in inflation will also continue in 2012, with average annual inflation expected to be around 1.2%. In 2013 inflation is projected to fall further, possibly to below 0.5%.
The recession is negatively affecting expectations and fuelling the vicious circle
Delays with fiscal adjustment and the implementation of structural reforms, negative developments in the real economy and adverse conditions surrounding the provision of bank finance to the economy, apart from their direct impact on incomes and unemployment, are also contributing to uncertainty about the economic outlook. As long as the vicious circle of fiscal contraction-recession-uncertainty continues, the prospects for meeting deficit and debt targets will tend to weaken, thus refuelling negative expectations.
Some consider the vicious circle to be due to the tight fiscal policy pursued. Though not without foundation, this interpretation is incomplete. It fails to take into account that, while fiscal consolidation does bring about a decrease in aggregate demand, it also affects expectations. Positive expectations can be generated when:
? a fiscal consolidation plan convincingly forms part of a credible medium-term programme, aimed at reducing the share of the public sector in the total economy,
? there is strong evidence that the economic adjustment programme is likely to succeed and that its continuity is ensured, regardless of changes in the political landscape.
When these two conditions are in place, positive expectations can take hold, indirectly boosting consumption and investment. These indirect effects can, to some extent, offset the decline in demand brought about by the fiscal deficit reduction and gradually lead to economic recovery.
It has now become clear that the changes undertaken thus far are insufficient.
? Both the fiscal and the external deficits remain high, implying that the country continues to live beyond its means, by relying on the financial support of its partners.
? Major structural weaknesses in the public sector still remain, even in cases where measures to eliminate them have been legislated.
? Market distortions undercut competition and hamper growth.
? Whilst cost competitiveness has improved, structural competitiveness still lags.
It is therefore clear that the difficult task which we have before us calls for a persistent effort over many years.
A strategy for recovery and growth is of utmost priority. Failure to tackle the recession could compromise our ability to meet the targets of fiscal consolidation. In the current context, growth requires the mobilisation of the private business sector; this cannot be achieved as long as the state continues to dominate the economy. Nor can it happen so long as the fiscal deficit and public debt are persistently high. Moreover, there cannot be growth so long as there is a climate of uncertainty and distrust exists about the prospects of the economy.
The prerequisites for growth are therefore:
? The restoration of confidence and the elimination of uncertainty;
? the creation of an environment favouring entrepreneurship;
? the transfer of resources from the bloated public sector to the production of goods and services by the private sector and - more generally - from the sector of non-tradable goods and services to that of the tradable.
Actions for growth
As early as in 2010, the Bank of Greece pointed out the need for a comprehensive Action Plan for Growth, which would run in parallel with fiscal consolidation, specify needed structural policies, and provide a framework for coordinating the growth-enhancing activities of the public sector that do not put the fiscal targets at risk.
Such a plan is all the more urgent today. It includes the following goals:
Measures with immediate returns
Reforms to improve the business environment, including measures to deal with red tape and reduce the administrative burden on businesses, to simplify the regulatory framework, and to restore market competition.
? A speeding-up of the privatisation programme. Apart from generating proceeds that reduce the debt, privatisation may also entail further investment in order to fully exploit the assets to-be-acquired. Privatisations open up opportunities for foreign direct investment, which leads to technology transfer, efficiency increases, and productivity gains.
? A faster absorption of the funds for the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) and the securing of funds from international institutions, such as the European Investment Bank; such funds will ensure that important infrastructural projects that have been put on hold can be resumed.
Structural changes for a transition to a new growth model
Apart from measures with immediate returns, a long-term growth policy is needed. Such a policy must as of today strive for reforms to foster the transition to a new, export-oriented, growth model. These reforms must focus on changing the structure of production and on removing distortions. Greece's euro area entry did not bring about any significant differentiation in the structure of production; as a result, the level of structural competitiveness has remained low.
The last two years have seen an improvement in Greece's cost competitiveness, mainly as a result of lower relative unit labour costs. While this is definitely a positive development, it is not sufficient. An improvement in competitiveness is sustainable only when it is based on productivity increases. For this to be achieved, structural reforms are required in order to remove barriers and allow the transfer of resources to the production of internationally-traded goods and services. The ultimate objective is export growth and import substitution, i.e. a strengthening of the position of domestic products in both the external and the home markets. Structural reforms aimed at a business-friendly environment and at attracting foreign direct investment make a decisive contribution to progress in this direction.
Such reforms involve:
? bolstering competition in the markets for products and for factors of production;
? modernising public administration;
? ensuring a stable and growth-friendly tax system;
? speeding up judicial procedures;
? rationalising and simplifying the regulatory environment;
? encouraging innovation, research and export-oriented activities; and
? increasing the effectiveness of education at all levels.
None of this is new. The need for such reforms is widely recognised, and in many of these areas measures have already been adopted. However, the pace of implementation remains slow, meaning that the benefits are not yet visible. At the present critical juncture, all of these reforms must be pushed forward simultaneously, with boldness and resolve and without being watered down.
The recession and the evolution of credit flows interact
The fiscal crisis and the climate of uncertainty have significantly worsened financial conditions during the past two years. Doubts as to the Greek economy's ability to break out of the vicious circle affected Greek banks, with the result that they were shut out from international markets and experienced a continuous decline in deposits: from end-October 2009 to end-February 2012, domestic bank deposits by the private sector decreased by over ? 70 billion, an equivalent to approximately one-third of Greek GDP. The deposit outflows markedly constrained banks' ability to provide credit to the economy.
The economic recovery hinges upon the setting in motion of a virtuous circle, whereby an improved economic outlook fosters the strengthening of the banking system, so that the latter can, in turn, supply credit to the real economy, with positive feedback effects on expectations, and so on.
It is possible to improve the funding potential
Improving the funding potential for the economy can be achieved in the following ways:
First, by restoring confidence, which could initially lead to a return of bank deposits of some ? 10-15 billion of cash now being hoarded and then encourage capital repatriation. This would substantially improve banks' liquidity positions.
Second, by attracting funds from sources other than the banking system. Two sources can be mentioned in this regard. The privatisation programme, with expected proceeds of ? 19 billion by 2015, mainly in the form of capital inflows from abroad, will lead to much greater total inflows if the additional investments required to fully exploit the assets to-be-acquired are taken into consideration. Credit flows to businesses could be supported by an additional ? 15 billion, provided that our absorption rate of NSRF funds is improved. To this, one should add the funds available from the European Investment Bank.
The restructuring of the banking system
The key factor to improving financial conditions is the strengthening and restructuring of the banking system, currently in progress.
2012 will be a critical year in shaping the future structure of the banking system in Greece. Banks now face losses originating from the fiscal crisis. First, they are dealing with the implications of having invested in Greek government bonds, an instrument considered safe until recently. Banks' published annual statements show that the related impact is quite substantial. Second, banks also face the consequences of the increased difficulty that households and businesses have in servicing their debt obligations on account of the protracted recession. These developments imply that it is imperative for banks to strengthen their capital base - a process which is already under way.
Anticipating these challenges, early in 2011 the Bank of Greece, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, began planning a number of measures to safeguard financial stability. These measures include:
? meeting short-term liquidity needs through the Eurosystem,
? formulating, in cooperation with the government, a resolution regime for credit institutions, and applying it where necessary;
? securing ? 50 billion from the financial support programme for the banking system' s recapitalisation and restructuring.
The banking sector, following its restructuring, will be more sound, efficient and robust. The publication of banks' capital needs will substantially increase transparency, which will in turn help banks to gradually regain the confidence of markets and depositors. This will enable them to better perform their fundamental role of financial intermediation and contribute to the return of the Greek economy to a path of sustainable growth.
 Barroso defends austerity policies in Greece, stresses 'devastating' consequences of hard defaultBRUSSELS (AMNA - M. Aroni)
A hard default by Greece would have devastating consequences, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso underlined on Tuesday during a discussion organised by European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamantouros at the European Parliament on "Crisis in Europe: the challenge of winning citizens' trust".
Asked whether the European Union was putting markets above people, Barroso defended the policy followed by the European Commission and said its primary concerns were citizens and Europe's social and economic growth. He also criticised some national governments that refused to approve proposals such as a tax on financial transactions, noting that the crisis was at least partly caused by corruption in the financial sector, as well as the irresponsible actions of governments that allowed debt to rise to unsustainable levels. While Europe was not the problem, he added, it could become the solution.
Answering critics of the austerity policies and replying to questions about whether there was an alternative to the policies outlined in the memorandum for Greece, Barroso underlined that the alternative would have been a hard default and that those criticising austerity policies "didn't know what they were talking about".
He stressed that, according to the Commission's estimates, a hard default would have devastating consequences for society while the only other alternative would be to continue pouring money into economies that already had a high debt.
 PASOK, ND unveil state deputy ticketsOlympic medalist in weightlifting Pyrros Dimas, former minister and PASOK spokesperson Fofi Gennimata and PASOK political council member Nikos Androulakis will head PASOK's state deputy ticket, unveiled on Tuesday and comprising 12 candidates.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said the state deputy ticket is made up of individuals that represent a creative and optimistic Greece in contact with reality.
"We need to be optimistic and make a final effort. After this effort is made success will belong to all Greeks," Venizelos said.
Judges' and Prosecutors' Union President and Supreme Court member Haralambos Athanassiou heads the New Democracy (ND) state deputies' ticket followed by Chryssanthos Lazaridis and party spokesman Yannis Mihelakis, two close associates of ND leader Antonis Samaras. The ND state deputy list announced on Tuesday.
Unveiling his party's state deputies' ticket, Samaras said it reflects the top priorities of the ND policy, adding that it expresses the party's will to bring transparency to the country's public life.
He underlined that ND responds to the people's demand for justice and stressed that the ticket unveiled is directly linked with his decision to follow Cyprus' example and proceed with the delineation of the Greek EEZ.
 PASOK leader denies deal for post-election cooperation with NDPASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday denied that PASOK and main opposition New Democracy had already struck a deal for cooperation after the elections, regardless of the election outcome. He was speaking during a press conference for media in the Peloponnese.
Venizelos pointed out that the stance currently adopted by ND leader Antonis Samaras essentially precluded any such development and Samaras was "self-excluding himself from the discussion on the country's future".
According to PASOK's leader, the two parties had directly conflicting strategies and beliefs and he said that the country would be "ungovernable" if current opinion poll forecasts translated into votes, stressing the need for a "clear mandate".
 Former PM Karamanlis urges voters to support successor SamarasFormer prime minister Costas Karamanlis broke a lengthy and 'audible' political silence on Tuesday to speak in support of his successor at the helm of the New Democracy party Antonis Samaras, stressing the need to strengthen the ND party as a condition for political and governmental stability.
"The greater the support for New Democracy and Samaras, the more foundation there is to hope that we can emerge from the crisis without an even greater cost," he said in statement issued on Tuesday.
"The primary requirement at the upcoming elections is political and governmental stability. Crucial decisions must be taken, structural changes proceed rapidly and, above all, there is an urgency for a comprehensive policy for growth that will bring the country out of the dead-end vortex of recession.
The country must be capable of being government with a clear-cut political aim and a four-year time limit.
Otherwise, the unprecedented adventure that the country is experiencing can deteriorate on all levels; economically, socially and even nationally.
A necessary requirement for political and governmental stability is to strengthen New Democracy," Karamanlis' statement said.
 KKE's leader calls on voters not to 'waste' discontentCommunist Party (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga on Tuesday called on the people to avoid wasting purposelessly their discontent toward PASOK and New Democracy (ND) by engaging in self-delusions and turning into a passive audience.
Speaking to reporters during her visit to Athens' NIMITS Hospital, she warned voters that they "are at risk of experiencing greater conservatism as a result of a horrible disappointment".
 Tsipras: 'PASOK-ND policies are 2nd memorandum translated into Greek'The two main parties were reluctant to face the other party leaders in a face-to-face political debate because they both had precisely the same policy platform, comprised of the dictates of the second memorandum translated into Greek, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras had "signed for the impoverishment of the Greeks, signed for the concession of national sovereignty," Tsipras stressed during a tour of the Athens district of Kaisariani.
For this reason, the two main parties were seeking to organise a debate with only the two of them, which would in reality be a parallel monologue on a shared political programme, he said.
"The days when they could fool people with tricks are gone, never to return. On May 6 they will get their answer," Tsipras added.
 Democratic Alliance unveils list of state deputiesDemocratic Alliance party leader Dora Bakoyannis on Tuesday unveiled the party's list of 12 state deputies, noting that they were a group of people "determined to work hard for the country's exit from the crisis and to change the state".
Leading the list is Athens University of Economics professor Georgios Bitros.
The other 11 candidates include senior airforce officer Theologos Symeonidis, business consultant George Sarigiannidis, economist and business woman Alexandra Palli, businessman Miltiadis Karatzis, lawyer Yiannis Androulakis, Thessaloniki University Orthodontistry professor Olga Kolokytha, civil engineer and former Pefki mayor Pavlos Kamaras, journalist Lina Kleitou, journalist Adamantios Seitanidis, economist and businessman Dimitris Giannoulakis and former Council of State president George Panagiotopoulos.
 Eco-Greens to hold press conference at Zappion on WednesdayThe Ecologists-Greens party will hold a central press conference open to all the broadcast media at Zappion Hall at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, during which the head of the party's election campaign Ioanna Kontouli, who is also running in the 2nd Athens constituency, and the head of EcoGreens list of state deputies Yiannis Paraskevopoulos will answer questions asked by journalists or sent in by members of the public (via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The party is also continuing pre-election tours throughout Greece, focusing especially on rural areas that it says were largely sidelined in recent decades.
Having concluded a tour of Epirus, Paraskevopoulos paid a visit to the island of Lesvos on Tuesday and is due to visit Crete at the weekend, while Kontouli paid a visit to the Skaramangas shipyards on Tuesday, which she said should continue operating in a sustainable direction, and will meet Attiko Metro workers on Thursday.
 First indication of election outcome available at 9:30 p.m. on May 6The first safe indication of the May 6 parliamentary election results will be available at 9:30 p.m. on election night, SingularLogic Integrator firm executives said on Tuesday, clarifying that it will be based on a sample of 5,000 polling stations representative of the country's 56 constituencies. SingularLogic Integrator undertakes the task of collecting, processing and presenting the national election results for the past 31 years.
Interior Minister Tassos Yannitsis expressed certainty that the election procedure will run smoothly in the 20,560 polling stations nationwide, adding that a total of 9,851,000 people are eligible to vote and roughly 360,000 of them are first-time voters.
 New German ambassador presents credentialsNew German ambassador to Greece Wolfgang Dold presented his credentials to Greek President Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday, stating afterwards that "Greek-German relations are based on strong foundations."" He added that bilateral relations have been built over decades and have endured difficult times.
"The relations between our two countries is shaped, however, above all, by the thousands of people here and there, in other words, living in Greece and in Germany, respectively. And this is what renders this relationship so special within the European framework."
 Mayors paint grim picture of local administration futureThe Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) held a special general assembly on Tuesday, while mayors painted a grim picture of first stage local administration due to the state of economic suffocation that municipalities have reached.
The mayors called on all the parties "to assume their responsibilities for the institution of local administration in the country, society and cities not to be led to absolute and final collapse and democracy to a state of handicap."
KEDE's general assembly tables a series of demands for the present and the next government and calls on them to prove immediately and tangibly that they realise the need to support, defend and strengthen the institution.
 Ethnic Greek leader decries building demolitions in HimareThe president of the "Omonia" political organisation in neighbouring Albania, Vassilis Bolanos, on Tuesday denounced what he called the "unacceptable and selective" demolition of buildings belonging to ethnic Greeks in the Himare region.
He also referred to the "use of unprovoked force against the Greeks of the minority in Himare by state services and armed paramilitary groups."
Bolanos told AMNA from that Albanian state services "arrived in the region on April 19 for the demolition of unauthorised buildings, but made selected only building belonging to local residents, proceeding with demolitions without a ruling, only for vindictive reasons."
Bolanos held a meeting last Friday with a representative of the OSCE in Albania, who reportedly took note of the problems faced by the ethnic Greek minority in the region.
 Labour ministry detects over 200,000 illegal pensions and benefits over past two yearsThe Labour and Social Solidarity ministry has detected over 200,000 cases of illegal benefits over the past two years, while thousands of cases have been referred to Justice.
According to Labour ministry sources, these benefits cost the social insurance system 700 to 750 million euros a year.
According to the same sources, the solution is the restructuring of the benefits system and will be achieved with the unification of all the benefits in a unified agency.
The total expenditures of the social insurance system amount to 3 billion euros a month, 1.5 billion of which are paid for pensions and bonuses and the rest for health benefits and the paying off of debts owed by Funds.
 Seamen's union planning 4-hour strike on May 1The Panhellenic Seamen's Federation PNO on Tuesday announced a four-hour work stoppage on the Labour Day holiday on May 1 for all categories of ships, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon.
It said the work stoppage paid a "minimum homage" to those that had fought and struggled to establish fundamental labour rights that were now being demolished and levelled by government policies, with the support of and at the instructions of the EU-IMF troika.
Protecting jobs, dealing with the scourge of unemployment but also protecting social insurance rights were the top priorities for seamen, a PNO announcement said.
 Visa red tape 'major obstacle' to boosting tourism from Russia, Greek-Russian business forum toldLengthy procedures and red tape that delayed the issue of visas were a major obstacle to boosting the numbers of Russian tourists arriving in Greece, an official from the St. Petersburg Investment Committee Tourism Section Nikolay Isaev told a Greek -Russian business forum held in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Tuesday.
While Russians preferred holiday destinations that combined sea and sun, surveys showed that about 75 percent of Russian tourists chose their holiday destination a scant two weeks before they planned to travel, Isaev said. In this context, lengthy visa procedures were an insuperable obstacle, preventing the growth of Russian tourism to Greece. Backing up his claim, the Russian official pointed out that approximately two million Russians visited Greece in the last five years, whereas Russians holidaying in neighbouring Turkey where such visa obstacles did not exist approached 14 million in the same period.
The forum was organised by the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Thessaloniki municipality to mark 10 years since the launch of cooperation with the city of St. Petersburg.
 Stocks remain under pressureStocks remained under pressure for the second consecutive session in the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday pushing the composite index of the market below the 700 level for the first time since January 19. The index ended at 697.82 points, off 0.62 pct. Turnover remained a low 22.678 million euros.
The Big Cap index fell 0.65 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.16 pct lower and the Small Cap index dropped 1.67 pct. OTE (4.44 pct), Marfin Popular Bank (2.91 pct) and Viohalco (2.28 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while National Bank (3.53 pct), Eurobank (3.43 pct), Cyprus Bank (3.15 pct), Hellenic Postbank (2.86 pct) and Alpha Bank (2.73 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
The Telecoms (4.44 pct) and Media (2.33 pct) sectors scored gains, while Chemicals (7.18 pct) and Banks (2.70 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 68 to 48 with another 26 issues unchanged. Ilyda (24.5 pct), Zampa (19.8 pct) and HOL (19.8 pct) were top gainers, while Flexopack (30 pct), Avenir (23.88 pct) and Vioter (20 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -1.54%
Personal & Household: +0.89%
Raw Materials: -0.90%
Travel & Leisure: -1.24%
Food & Beverages: -0.05%
Financial Services: -0.27%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Alpha Bank and Bank of Cyprus.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.07
Public Power Corp (PPC): 2.56
HBC Coca Cola: 14.70
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.46
National Bank of Greece: 1.64
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.62
Bank of Piraeus: 0.26
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened slightly to 19.80 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Tuesday, from 19.75 pct on Monday, with the Greek bond yielding 21.49 pct and the German Bund 1.69 pct. There was no turnover in the market.
In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed to lower. The 12-month rate was 1.34 pct, the six-month rate 1.02 pct, the three-month rate eased to 0.72 pct and the one-month rate was 0.40 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount of 1.31 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Tuesday, with turnover remaining a low 5.244 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 1,831 contracts worth 2.448 million euros, with 21,749 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 22,505 contracts worth 2.796 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (13,073), followed by National Bank (4,440), OTE (359), PPC (459), GEK (211), Piraeus Bank (545), Mytilineos (103), Hellenic Postbank (199), ATEbank (93) and OPAP (133).
 Foreign Exchange rates - WednesdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.335
Pound sterling 0.827
Danish kroner 7.551
Swedish kroner 9.021
Japanese yen 108.47
Swiss franc 1.220
Norwegian kroner 7.669
Canadian dollar 1.321
Australian dollar 1.296
 Exhibition on Byzantium in US, RomeThe exhibition entitled "Byzantium: Masterpieces from Greek Collections" will be presented in US museums in the fall of 2013 until the spring of 2014 sponsored by the state-run betting pools organisation, OPAP, it was announced on Tuesday.
The 3.2-million-euro sponsorship guarantee will be used only if no other sponsors are found, according to the Central Archaeological Council.
A total of 300 unique masterpieces from state-run and private museums, monasteries and recent excavations in Greece, covering all periods of the Byzantine history from 330 AD to 1443 AD, will be on display in Washington's National Gallery and at the J. Paul Getty Museum north of Los Angeles.
Equally important will be another exhibition entitled "Byzantium: The New Rome" to be held in Rome in Jan.-April 2015 co-organised by the Greek ministry of culture and Scuderie del Quirinale, one of the most important exhibition spaces in the Italian capital.
A total of 116 Greek exhibits, as well as, objects that come from Italian collections and the Vatican museums, will form the core of the exhibition that will be under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Italian presidency.
 Photo exhibition at Nat'l Archaeological MuseumPictures of city dwellers, living in the area surrounding the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which were taken inside the museum and its gardens by photographers Anna Maria Hatzistefanou and Fotis Plegas, will be on display in an exhibition entitled "Museum Terminal".
The exhibition, one of the archaeological museum's cultural initiatives to be inaugurated on May 8, features the photographs of 32 local people as a reflection of their personal relation with the museum.
Admission for all visitors will be free. The exhibition will run until June 8, 2012.
 Publisher Kouris arrested for debts to stateWell-known newspaper publisher George Kouris was arrested on Tuesday for debts to the state.
Kouris, publisher of the Athens daily Avriani and owner of Alter television station was initially brought in for questioning to the police station in the Athens suburb of Psyhico in execution of a prosecutor's office document, and an investigation of whether the debts were active or a settlement for their repayment has been agreed.
The publisher was later seen being taken in handcuffs to appear before a prosecutor at the Athens Court complex.
Sources said the money owed amounts to 307,000 euros, and it was unknown whether part of the sum concerns non-attribution of VAT to the state.
Debts to the state are a misdemeanor, but non-attribution of VAT is a felony and carries heavier penalties.
Kouris argues that he has made arrangements with the Tax Bureau for settling the debt.
 Makis Psomiadis to be extradited to Greece on April 30Former pro football team and nightclub owner Makis Psomiadis, wanted in Greece on charges of match-fixing, is to be extradited from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) next Monday afternoon. Officers from the Greek National Central Bureau (NCB) of Interpol will be waiting at the Greece-FYROM border at 2:00 p.m. in order to take custody of Psomiadis from Interpol Skopje, the Interpol NCB for FYROM.
The extradition order was issued by FYROM's justice ministry in response to a request made by Greek Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou in mid-November, following Psomiadis' arrest on November 9 in a cafe in central Skopje and a decision that he be remanded in custody.
 Six lightly injured in train collisionSix people were slightly injured on Tuesday morning in a collision between a Hellenic Railways (OSE) passenger train carrying out the route Halkida Athens collided and an auxiliary train, inside the OSE station in Menida.
Five passengers and the auxiliary train driver were slightly injured.
Traffic police said that auxiliary train was behind the passenger train when the collision occurred, and surmise that the auxiliary train crashed into the passenger train when the latter stopped at the station.
The circumstances of the accident are being investigated.
 Trainose denies collision reportsRail operator Trainose denied media reports of a collision between two passenger trains at the Acharnes station in extreme northern Athens, which circulated earlier on Tuesday.
According to a statement, two people, both Hellenic Railways (OSE) employees, were slightly injured when an auxiliary train they were riding in abruptly breaked in order to avoid a preceding Proastiakos train, which was en route to Halkida.
The Trainose statement underlined that the two injuries were caused when the bumpers of the two trains "touched", adding that the Proastiakos train continued its trip and none of its passengers was ever at any risk.
 Appeals court hands down life sentence for bus driver's murder in SindosA Thessaloniki appeals court on Tuesday handed down a sentence of life imprisonment plus 21 years for the murder of a 59-year-old bus driver in Sindos, who was shot dead by a fugitive drug addict that had escaped after his arrest for stealing a wallet. During the trial, the defendant asserted that his addiction had clouded his judgement and claimed that the gun went off accidentally during his struggle with the bus driver.
His claims were contradicted by the findings of the coroner, however, leading the court to find him guilty of murder, attempted murder, abduction, illegal violence, robbery, theft, destruction of property, escaping arrest, resisting arrest, illegal weapons possession and use.
The defendant had been sentenced to life and 25 years imprisonment by a lower-level court.
The shooting occurred in May 2008 after the 36-year-old drug addict, until then held only for petty crimes, was arrested for stealing a wallet but was not handcuffed, allowing him to escape from a police patrol car and grab the service revolver from one of the arresting officers. Police gave chase, in the course of which the fleeing suspect took the drivers of private vehicles hostage and then boarded a Thessaloniki public bus where he killed the unlucky driver with the police revolver. He was finally caught by one of the bus passengers that he had also taken hostage.
Also convicted in connection with the case were the two officers that were accompanying the suspect after his arrest.
 Armenians hold protest outside Turkish consulate in ThessalonikiThe ethnic Armenian community in Thessaloniki organised a protest rally outside the Turkish consulate on Tuesday, marking the 97th anniversary of the commencement of the Armenian genocide.
Tension was reported between police guarding the consulate and demonstrators, when the latter reportedly attempted to approach the building but were prevented, before delivering a protest petition. The protest was held in memory of the more than 1.5 million Armenians reportedly killed in eastern Anatolia just after the outbreak of WWI.
Earlier, a memorial service was held at the Armenian cathedral in Thessaloniki.
 PC in court building being examined for child porn materialPolice electronic crimes squad officers were on Tuesday examining a PC at the Athens Appeals Court building for child pornography material.
The investigation was ordered by Athens chief prosecutor Eleni Raikou after relevant charges were filed with the prosecutors' office on Monday night.
Electronic crimes squad officers, accompanied by prosecutor Yiannis Dragatsis, arrived at the Appeals Court building and seized the PC, which was taken to the Attica Police Headquarters for examination.
Sources told AMNA that the PC was filled with computer viruses, thus hampering the examination.
 Turkish skipper accused of migrant smugglingThe Turkish skipper of a sailboat that ran aground last Sunday on a beach on the small Saronic Gulf island of Agistri, as it was carrying 60 illegal migrants of various nationalities, was due to appear before a Piraeus prosecutor on Tuesday.
The island lies just off Piraeus.
The suspect gave himself up at the local police station and was arrested for illegal migrant smuggling.
Fifty seven of the illegals were taken to holding cells in an Athens detention centre, two are hospitalised and one is being held at the Piraeus Port Authority.
 4.6R quake jolts Crete islandAn earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale was recorded one hour and fifteen minutes after midnight near Ierapetra, Crete island and was strongly felt throughout the island.
According to the National Observatory of Athens and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Geophysics Laboratory the quake occurred 371 kilometers south-southeast of Athens, with its epicentre 38km south-southwest of Ierapetra.
No damages were reported.
 Fair on WednesdayFair weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Wednesday. Winds 3-6 beauforte. Temperatures between 8C and 26C. Fair in Athens with southerly 3-5 beauforte winds and temperatures between 13C and 26C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 10C and 26C.
 The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe central Bank of Greece's (BoG) annual report on the economy to be released on Tuesday and the uncertainty in the eurozone after the developments in France and The Netherlands, mostly dominated the headlines on Tuesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "New Democracy (ND) now focuses on the citizen's daily life".
AVRIANI: "The Memorandum sinks us deeper into recession".
DIMOKRATIA: "PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos terrified by ND leader Antonis Samaras' plan for exit from the crisis".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Venizelos throws in the towel just before the ballots - PASOK leader takes his defeat for granted".
ESTIA: "How the French elections affect".
ETHNOS: "Samaras trying to avoid the debate with Venizelos".
IMERISSIA: "Last chance for the economy".
KATHIMERINI: "Europe upsets the markets".
LOGOS: "Labour market a jungle".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Explosion of state debt in the two years of the memorandum".
NIKI: "Zappeion III: Samaras peddling illusions".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Neither PASOK, ND or 'Anti-Memorandum' alliance - Strong Communist Party (KKE) now".
TA NEA: "Venizelos to Samaras: Cooperation the only way".
VRADYNI: "Two thorns for the new government: Recapitalisation and salaries".
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