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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-12-13
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 13 December 2012 Issue No: 4246
 Greece says debt buy-back programme offers total 31.9 bln eurosThe Greek authorities on Wednesday said they have received offers worth 31.9 billion euros in a book-building process of a debt buy back programme which ended on Tuesday.
Greece's Public Debt Management Organization, in a statement, said that the offered bonds were secured with six-month securities, worth 11.29 billion euros, of the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), while the average repurchase price was set at 33.8 cents per euro nominal value of the Greek bonds.
The statement stressed that the Greek state plans to accept the offers in total if the EFSF agreed to raise its funding of the programme by 1.29 billion euros. Settlement date is set for Tuesday, 18 December.
 Eurogroup to decide on the release of aid tranche to GreeceBRUSSELS (AMNA/V.Demiris)
The European Commission expects that a decision on the release of an aid tranche to Greece will be reached during Thursday' s Eurogroup, a Commission spokesman said here on Wednesday.
Simon O'Connor, spokesman for EU Commissioner Olli Rehn, declined to comment on the outcome of a Greek debt buy back programme, however, the details of which were examined during Tuesday's Eurogroup's teleconference.
 Germany favours release of aid tranche to GreeceBERLIN (AMNA/F.Karaviti)
The German government is in favour of releasing the next tranche of an aid loan to Greece following the successful outcome of a Greek debt buyback programe, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a letter to the German Parliament, according to a Reuters report from the German capital. The letter stressed that amendments made in a Greek rescue programe and the success of a debt buyback programe meant that the stability level of the Greek public debt was such that "the German government favors the release of the next tranche to Greece".
 Debt buyback missed target, main opposition SYRIZA assertsThe debt buyback has missed its targets and evolved into a "farce" whose only purpose was to keep the ailing government of draconian austerity cuts and overtaxation "on its feet", main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' (SYRIZA) asserted on Wednesday.
According to the head of the party's economic policy brief Yiannis Milios, the book building process for the bond buyback ended without the government reaching its debt reduction targets. "Furthermore, in order to meet the offers, the sum that Greece must have at its disposal for the buybacks has increased by 1.29 billion euro".
Milios claimed that bond buybacks were in any case problematic as a way of reducing debt but the manner in which it was implemented by the government was such that it did not even meet its already humble targets.
"In spite of this, on Thursday it will most likely be considered 'successful' with the addition of certain measures for the extra one billion needed," he added, noting that the sooner the current government fell the better it would be for the productive reorganisation of the country, to be carried out by SYRIZA "with the social majority".
 Tax bill to be tabled in parliament on FridayThe new tax bill will be tabled in parliament on Friday, according to Finance Ministry's new programme.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras will present the main articles of the draft law to his eurozone counterparts during the Eurogroup meeting on Thursday.
 SYRIZA presents taxation system proposalsThe new draft bill on taxation is "just another 'memorandum freak' designed to loot the incomes of the weakest and medium classes and benefit the strongest," main opposition SYRIZA leftist party charged in a statement issued on Wednesday, in which it presents its own axes on which "a socially fair and redistribution-centered tax system should be based."
Specifically, SYRIZA proposes the following taxation basics:
Creation of a property register, to allow for fair taxation.
The level of personal income tax allowance should be determined each year in accordance to the respective poverty limit (for 2013, it should be at 12,000 euros).
Raising tax revenues from Legal Entities at the Eurozone average.
Abolition of special tax regimes (Special Economic Zones, Fast Track, etc.) and provocative tax exemptions.
Introduction of special, increased tax rates for banks.
Changing the ratio between direct and indirect taxes. Boosting revenues from fair direct taxes and reduction of indirect taxes.
Reduction of the highest VAT rate of 23 percent.
Introduction of tax on large property.
Abolition of all unfair and socially brutal harsh taxes, such as the one collected by the PPC and the solidarity levy.
Protection of low and medium incomes against tax office debts.
 Kammenos: Memorandum forces trying to find MPsIndependent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos charged on Wednesday that "some (party members) wanted to change the nature of the movement (party) and turn it into a center-right party", referring to resignations from his party on Tuesday.
In a statement on private Antenna television station on Wednesday morning, Kammenos added that "the forces of the
Memorandum are trying to find MPs," and when asked if the scenery was rigged, he replied that "the next hours will tell".
A third high-profile member of the Independent Greeks party resigned late Tuesday, as an ongoing crisis in the small opposition party continued, with Dimitris Stamatis tendering a written resignation following a verbal resignation after a joint meeting of the party's steering committee and parliamentary group.
His resignation followed that of party spokesman Christos Zois, which was accepted by Kammenos, and the stated intention to resign by Yannis Manolis earlier in the day.
All three are former New Democracy MPs. Stamatis and Zois were expelled by ND's Ethics Committee in February after they defied the ND policy line and voted against the new Memorandum in parliament, while Manolis had been expelled from ND for an anti-party attitude.
The three subsequently joined the Independent Greeks party, were elected to parliament on the party ticket in the May general elections but did not make it into the 300-seat House in the repeat general elections in June.
In a written statement, Stamatis reiterated "to every Greek citizen" his "steadfast position against the memorandum and in favor of the principles of the large Center-Right and the ideology of social liberalism".
"I will continue my struggle as a Greek citizen for the principles of the founding declaration of the United Europe and the Europe of the peoples. I will continue my struggle for European solidarity, the common currency and the prosperity of the peoples, and against the arrogance of politicians and the incidental transformation of policies every time it suits them," Stamatis said.
Kammenos, speaking on Antenna, denied as a "fairytale" Manolis' allegations of the existence of a non-paper appearing in the press after his meeting with the President of the Republic in May -- during the process of mandates to the three top vote-getting parties to try to form a cooperation government after the inconclusive general elections -- according to which he intended to give a vote of tolerance to a cooperation government.
He said he was surprised by Zois' resignation, clarifying that Zois has resigned from the post of party spokesman but has not left the party while Zois, speaking on private SKAI television on Wednesday, stressed that he will not return to ND. "I was expelled from ND for my views. I have not changed views, others have," he said.
Kammenos further said that the Independent Greeks are open to collaboration with the Left, the Center and with all citizens who agree with the party's positions.
Asked if there was a prospect for collaboration with main opposition SYRIZA, Kammenos said that before the elections there had been agreement with respect to abrogation of the Memorandum, but "SYRIZA had changed position", adding that another condition for any possible cooperation is the country's national issues.
 KKE leader meets OKANA drug rehab staff, stresses risk of 'private-sector intrusion'Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday expressed her party's support for the demands and aims of workers at Greece's OKANA drub rehabilitation centres, following a meeting with the OKANA staff union board held at her party's headquarters in Perissos.
She stressed that cutbacks in state funding for drug rehabilitation centres undermined the programmes for drug users and increased the insecurity of the workforce in terms of both their salary and job security. Primarily, however, they opened the way for the intrusion of private clinics and business people in the sector of both drug-substitution or even 'dry' programmes and for those "seeking to exploit people in tragic circumstances and working-class families willing to give any amount to save their children," she added.
 Papariga demands explanations by gov't on PPC rates hikesCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) leader, Aleca Papariga on Wednesday tabled a question in Parliament regarding the new hikes to be applied in the new year in electricity bills by the Public Power Corporation (PPC).
Papariga, who wants the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to explain his government's position on the issue, says that the big increases are part of the government's policy to make the PPC more profitable and attractive to potential investors, "in the framework of plans to speed up the liberalisation of the energy market and to privatise the PPC."
 President Papoulias receives Agricultural Development Minister TsaftarisAgricultural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris was received on Wednesday by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, following an invitation to brief the president on his ministry's priorities and actions on stimulating the rural sector and setting the primary sector as a growth pylon.
Papoulias was especially interested in developments in livestock raising and in the increasing number of urban residents returning to the province and taking up rural activities.
 BoG chief: Economy could recover even sooner than predictedThe materialisation of the "prior actions" of the loan agreement, the disbursement of the loan tranche and the lightening of the debt are positive developments that create grounded expectations that the Greek economy will be able to recover, and "perhaps even sooner that predicted today," central Bank of Greece (BoG) governor George Provopoulos told parliament's standing committee on the economy on Wednesday.
Presenting the central bank's interim report on the 2012 monetary policy, Provopoulos called recover and a return to growth "a national priority", setting out as conditions the abolition of the uncertainty over Greece's place in the euro zone, the completion of a national plan for the transition to a new developmental model, given that the Memorandum contains on the minimum conditions that ensure continuation of the financial support and the advancement of structural reforms that will eliminate the causes of the twin deficits.
He said the chief targets of the effort to hasten recovery should be the immediate implementation of measures conducive to a re-start of the economy (acceleration of absorption of NSRF programmes, utilization of the European Investment Bank's financing tools and the re-start of construction of major road arteries), restoration of smooth liquidity conditions with the recapitalization of the banks, immediate improvement of the efficiency of public administration through simplification of the legislative and regulatory framework, a steady tax regime with reduction of the tax burden, and acceleration of the denationalizations.
Particularly regarding the banking sector, Provopoulos noted that the sector continues face unprecedented challenges in liquidity and capital adequacy due to the crisis that has hit the country. In that context, completion of the recapitalization and reorganization of the banking system are crucial reforms, as an increase in the banks' own capital will boost the domestic depositors' and international money markets' confidence in the banks.
On the recession, Provopoulos described is "historically unprecedented for the Greek economy in times of peace, with substantial repercussions not only on incomes but also the production dynamic and social cohesion".
However, the fiscal adjustment has resulted to date in a major reduction of the deficits and recovery of 72 percent of the international competitiveness lost during the period 2001-2009, he continued, opining that the progress in structural reforms over the past two-and-a-half years are not negligible, given indications that exist of a correctional adjustment of basic indicators, which he said is the beginning for balancing and restructuring the economy (reduction of the current accounts deficit, reduction of the labor cost per unit of production, reduction of inflation, etc.).
"Despite the delays, the progress that has been made in important sectors is tangible and measurable. Despite the dangers and the continuing recession, the economy is changing. With the first clear indications that we are distancing ourselves from practices of the past and a new strategy is being forged for the future, the climate can be reversed quickly and the conviction can be consolidated that the end of the recession is on the horizon. This will be the first substantial step for a new course of growth," Provopoulos concluded.
 Greek banks recapitalization will not directly boost liquidity in market, BoG governorA recapitalization of Greek banks will not lead directly to a boost in liquidity in the market, but will enhance the banks' image in the eyes of depositors so that they return their savings and allow a gradual return to international markets, Bank of Greece governor George Provopoulos said on Wednesday.
Addressing a Parliamentary Economics Commission while presenting the central bank's interim report on monetary policy in 2012, the Greek central banker warned that if there were delays in implementing structural reforms, the impact would be harder than anything else until today.
"Following a recapitalization of banks there will be a huge respite of liquidity. But not through funding. As a result of there being a better picture for banks in the eyes of depositors, I hope that saving deposits will recover. Greek banks, being well capitalized and strengthened, will be able to gradually approach international capital markets again," Provopoulos said.
Several deputies expressed concern and objected to the central banker's comments, saying that the domestic market desperately needed new money to operate and to help the economy exit its current deep recession.
Provopoulos defended a fiscal adjustment programme and rebuffed criticism by deputies that the troika failed in its policy because of making wrong estimates. "No! The programme was implemented in the wrong way and as long as it does not work properly, the danger remains," the central banker said, adding that "the programme is based on fiscal restructuring and structural reforms, but we failed to implement structural reforms."
 EC Task Force chief: A lot of money has been given to Greece, but much more is needed to boost liquidity, as well as more reform effortsThe biggest blame for the explosion of unemployment in Greece should be sought in the country's inadequacies, and only one-third in the international crisis, state-run Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) director Elias Kikilias told an event titled "Building a new Greece" in Athens on Tuesday night.
Kikilias noted that in the period when growth in Greece was 4 percent, unemployment had been at 15 percent and unemployment among young people at 30 percent.
He said that in the period 1990-2007, the country's working-age population grew by 7 percent due to migration. At the same
time, the number of university graduates and post-graduate degree holders doubled, which meant 400,000 more than the demand on the job market, while workers with a lower education level declined, meaning 340,000 fewer than the demand.
He added that career and technical orientation was downgraded in Greece, noting that the Education Ministry has no career orientation department.
With a cumulative recession of 25 percent, an average European country would have an unemployment rate of 30-35 percent, whereas thanks to the OAED programmes, unemployment in Greece has been contained by at least five percentage points.
European Commission Task Force for Greece chief Horst Reichenbach noted the similarities in the assessment of the situation in the former East Germany after its unification with the then West German and the policies being applied in Greece, responding to a question at the same event.
Reichenbach said that a lot of money has been given to Greece, but much more is needed to boost liquidity, as well as more reform efforts.
"When the Wall fell, then Chancellor Kohl had predicted that very soon the picture of the landscape will be very different. Despite the fact that significant changes were made to administration and a lot of capital was invested, unemployment in eastern Germany remains at high levels today, Reichenbach said, also noting great difficulties in denationalizations.
Reichenbach noted the efforts made by the Task Force to boost financing, mainly of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and the needed changes in public administration in order to deal with bureaucracy and corruption.
 Support for real economy a priority, Development minister tells 'Der Handelsblatt'BERLIN (AMNA - F. Karaviti)
Staying "afloat" and supporting the real economy must be Greece's top priority at the present time, Greek Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis stressed in an interview with the German newspaper "Der Handelsblatt" published on Wednesday, one day before his scheduled visit to Berlin.
Hatzidakis admitted that unemployment and rising poverty in Greece were his main worries, adding that the government was making efforts to support the weakest social groups to the extent that the restricted budget and the cuts to government spending allowed, while concentrating its efforts on the recovery of economic growth.
"We are sailing in a storm with a strong wind of 10 Beaufort. The first thing we had to do is not capsize. So far we have been able to avoid this...Now we must do everything we can to support the real economy," he said.
According to Hatzidakis, a lack of liquidity in the Greek market was the first problem that had to be solved and the upcoming bank recapitalisation would play a key role in this direction.
During his meeting on Thursday with German Economics Minister Philipp Roesler, Hatzidakis said he intended to convey the Greek government's determination to do everything necessary for the country to make progress and fulfill the expectations of Greece's European partners.
In response to questions about why someone would want to invest in Greece at this time, the minister emphasised that Greece was close to "getting back on its feet" and had carried out significant structural reforms, creating a business friendly environment.
"The taxation system is being simplified to a great degree and foreign investors will also benefit from this. In addition, there is close cooperation with the European Commission Task Force in tackling graft," he pointed out.
He highlighted sectors such as tourism, energy and organic farming as highly promising for potential investors, while adding that the government will make every effort to make up for lost ground in terms of privatisations.
The minister referred to 29 privatisation plans now underway, starting with those for the Public Gas Corporation and the OPAP state lottery and football pools company and continuing with ports, airports, real estate, post offices and the railways.
"2013 will be the year of privatisations," he told the newspaper, while stressing that the government's job was to ensure that the right conditions for investments.
 New measures by Dev't ministry to aid company start ups and competitionA new legislative arrangement announced on Wednesday evening by the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transports and Networks provides for a reduction in the amount of the minimum capital requirement for starting up an SA and limited liability companies to 24,000 euros, from the current 60,000 euros and to 2,400 euros from 4,500 euros, respectively.
It also stipulates the abolition of compulsory registration with chambers for business, as of January 1, 2015, while private school tuition fees are liberated as of January 1, 2013.
The measures, according to the ministry, are envisaged to facilitate the establishing of new companies, cost reduction and boosting competition.
As shown in a World Bank study, Doing Business 2013, the cost of establishing new companies in Greece accounts for 20.5 percent of GDP per capita, compared with the average 4.5 percent in OECD nations.
 Greece-China business conference at Athens Chamber of Commerce and IndustryRecent developments in Europe and on a national level have created a new, more favourable climate for the penetration of Greek products in the Chinese market, the head of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) Constantine
Mihalos said as he addressed a Greek-Chinese business conference taking place at ACCI on Wednesday.
Mihalos, also head of the Central Union of Chambers of Greece, said that faith in Greece had been restored and said Greece was carrying out all necessary measures and reforms to improve the business environment in the country, ending a state of uncertainty that existed in the previous period. As proof of this, he cited recent decisions made by Greece's European Union partners to continue to lend to Greece so that it might quickly exit the crisis and return to growth.
In his speech, ACCI's president urged Greek and Chinese businesses to open up new avenues of cooperation in areas such as shipping, shipbuilding, tourism, infrastructure, commerce and technology.
An address was also given by China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Vice-Chairman Wang Jinzhen, who promised to help promote greater acceptance of Greek products in Chinese markets and invited the ACCI to bring Greek firms to participate in an international conference to be held in China in April 2013, promising that the Chinese side will do whatever is possible to promote Greek products.
Other speakers included the foreign ministry's general secretary for international economic relations and developmental cooperation Panagiotis Mihalos, China Shipbuilding Industry Co Ltd executive Sun Wei and the head of Greece's 'Invest in Greece' unit Angeliki Mihalopoulou.
 Greek authorities approve terms of final phase in OPAP tenderHellenic Property Asset Development Fund on Wednesday approved the terms of the second and final phase of an international tender to sell 33 pct of OPAP's equity capital and said that the highest financial offer will be the exclusive criterion of evaluation in this phase of the tender.
The Fund's board approved also the beginning of a tender procedure for the exploitation of 28 real estate property assets through a sale and lease back method. The board also agreed to launch an international bidding tender for the sale of six state properties abroad, four consulate houses in London, Belgrade, Taskent and Ljubljana, Greece' s Permanent Representation premises in Brussels and a land property in Nicosia, Cyprus.
 OPAP-led consortium wins state lotteries management for 12 yearsAn OPAP-led consortium won an international tender to operate Greek state lotteries for the next 12 years, after the Hellenic Property Asset Development Fund accepted an improved offer by the consortium.
The Fund, in a statement released on Wednesday, said that the deal will bring a total of around 1.5 billion euro to state coffers in the 12-year period, around 125 million euro per year. It also said that the state's earnings from the operation of state lotteries were aroud 80 million euro in 2010, falling to around 60 million euro in 2011 and 2012. The agreement is pending ratification by the Parliament (March 2013) and the consortium is expected to begin operation of state lotteries six months later.
The consortium is comprised of OPAP Investment Ltd, Lottomatia Giochi e Partecipazione Srl, Intralot Lotteries Ltd and Scientific Games Global Gaming Sarl.
Credit Suisse Securities Europe Ltd and Eurobank Equities acted as financial advisers to the Hellenic Property Asset Development Fund.
 Greek agricultural income down 2 percent in 2012, EurostatBRUSSELS (AMNA/V. Demiris)
Agricultural income fell by 2.0 percent in Greece in 2012, compared with 2011, Eurostat said on Wednesday. The EU executive' s statistics arm, in a report published here, said that agricultural income in the country rose by 3.2 percent in 2012, compared with 2005, while in the EU-27 agricultural income jumped 29.7 percent over the same period.
Eurostat said that agricultural income grew in 16 EU member-states while another 11 states recorded a decline. Belgium (+30 percent), Holland (+14.9 percent), Lithuania (+13.6 percent) and Germany (+12.1 percent) recorded the biggest percentage increases in the 2005-2012 period, while Romania (-16.4 pct), Hungary (-15.7 pct) and Slovenia (-15.1 pct) the biggest percentage declines.
In the EU27 real agricultural income per worker has increased by 1.0 percent in 2012, after an increase of 8.0 percent in 2011, according to first estimates issued by Eurostat. This increase was the result of a rise in real agricultural income (+0.5 percent), together with a reduction in agricultural labour input (-0.5 percent).
 Port of Piraeus has changed greatly since Cosco's arrivalThe commercial port of Piraeus, as you approach it from Perama, has radically changed over the last three years and the works carried out by the Chinese giant Cosco are visible, even to the most disbelieving, and Cosco's vision to turn Piraeus into the "Singapore of Europe" is progressing, and when the tracks of the rail network access are completed, the container traffic is expected to become more intense.
The picture of Greece's largest port is recorded in a television report by George Kouvaras on the AMNA Web TV portal, which has commences specialised high-standard production services that are addressed to television networks and informational websites.
"We consider the port of Piraeus very important, as it is in a very good location among the Far East, the Mediterranean and Europe," the Chinese giant's chief executive of the Piraeus Cargo Terminal, Captain Fu Cheng Qui Fu, told AMNA, adding that "20 of the largest shipping lines reach the terminal station".
The rail network that would unite Piraeus with the Thriassian Plain should have been completed in 2005, but the works have delayed. Their completion could give a big boost to the terminal station and is considered of great importance for the business world. Indicative is Cosco's recent agreement with Hewlett Packard and TrainOSE to use Cosco's cargo terminal in the port of Piraeus as a hub to distribute the electronics giant's products in central Europe, Middle East, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Europe.
"If the train reaches the terminal station, there will be rapid growth," Captain Fu says, adding that "we will be directly linked with very many directions and enterprises in Europe and this will give impetus to the terminal station in Piraeus."
Shipowner Nicos Vernicos is one of the staunchest supporters of Cosco's presence in Piraeus. "We hired Greek seamen, to, who continue to be paid without any reduction in salary," he said, adding that he sees big prospects for the port of Piraeus.
Asked how grounded are concerns that with a minor intervention the Chinese products will, from "made in China" be labeled "made in Europe" with a loss in taxes resulting, Vernicos replied that this depends on the legislation and it is at the disposition of each government to apply it. If there are rules that stipulate the percentage of added value and these rules are adhered to "I have no fear", he said.
Today, the slogan "Cosco Go Home" is no longer heard in Piraeus, however the representatives of the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) maintain their reservations on labor relations in Cosco's field.
The secretary of the Dockworkers' Union, George Gokos, told AMNA that the employees working for Cosco via sub-contracting agreements are paid much lower wages, whereas incomes have been cut by 35 percent at OLP. Further, Nikos Markakis, who worked for Cosco via a Greek company, said he was dismissed because he attempted to set up a workers' union.
A different perception exists in Cosco, however. "Cosco gave them a big opportunity. Cosco is their future. Cosco has come to stay. The future is brighter for the local economy," Captain Fu says.
Cosco's presence in the port of Piraeus is considered of key importance for the attraction of business from the large multinationals. Piraeus is becoming the hub of China's activity in Europe, and in 2012 it has been evaluated as the largest container terminal, with a 98.4 percent increase in merchandise moved.
Extensive excerpts from the audiovisual report have been uploaded on the AMNA main webpage ("http://www.amna.gr") and may be provided in greater length, uncut and with High Definition specifications, or in any other broadcasting format.
More information is available from AMNA's marketing department, at tel: 210-6405700.
 Work on highways to resume in April, Development minister announcesWork on major public projects such as highways is expected to be resumed in April, according to an announcement made by Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis on Wednesday.
Together with Alternate Development Minister Stavros Kalogiannis, Hatzidakis announced that the ministry's negotiations with the construction consortiums for five national highways were successfully concluded on Wednesday, opening the way for the second phase of negotiations with the banks and the European Commission that would provide the funding.
The second phase of the negotiations is expected to be completed in February, meaning that work on the new roads will start again in April. He clarified that there would not be new contracts and that the work contracted would remain the same.
He clarified, however, that for financial reasons and due to technical problems that had arisen the Olympia Highway would initially only go as far as Patras, while the remaining 20 percent of the project up to Tsakona would be postponed until two or three years later. Similarly, completion of the Trikala-Grevena section of the E-65 highway would be postponed by two to three years.
The minister underlined, however, that all the projects would finally be completed as they were initially planned, and that there would not be any change in the agreed policy for road tolls.
 Association of SA-LTD firms optimistic on new investments in GreeceCommenting on a recent investment in Greece by tobacco giant Philip Morris through its subsidiary Papastratos, in the western Attica region of Aspropyrgos, the Association of SA and Ltd Companies said on Wednesday it hoped that the development would serve as an example of a wise business decision to be followed by other multinational companies wishing to move their headquarters in Greece.
In a related statement, the association points to the fact that the new Papastratos tobacco line would allow for the creation of valuable new job positions, also contributing to state coffers.
It added that Papastratos decision to relocate all of its European production activities to its Aspropyrgos facilities is especially hopeful in stimulating the domestic sector of manufacturing. The Association also noted that an attractive tax regime and stable political setting may also help boost foreign investments in Greece.
 New soft packaging facility operates in Komotini's BIPEA new soft packaging production facility for food, owned by Alfa Beta Roto, has commenced operation again in the northern Komotini Industrial Region (BIPE), as the largest part of a 27-million-euro investment has been completed.
The plant, almost entirely destroyed by fire 15 months ago, can now operate up to 80% of its production capacity, and it is expected to be fully operative in about 18 months.
In the reconstruction of the plant, the management said, employees made a significant contribution, while the firm received damages of just under 26 million euros from insurance companies.
 Business Briefs-- The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) has accepted a new improved offer by the consortium OPAP-Scientific Games-Intralot, the bidder in an international tender for concession of the management of Greek state lotteries.
 Greek stocks end flat on Wed.Greek stocks ended flat in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday as strong buying interest for selective blue chips counterbalanced pressures on bank shares, such as National Bank. The composite index of the market rose 0.14 percent to end at 873.25 points, remaining on an upward trend for the sixth consecutive session during which it has risen by 7.79 percent. Turnover was a moderate 66.431 million euros.
The Big Cap index ended 0.16 percent higher and the Mid Cap index eased 1.48 percent. The Telecoms (3.75 percent), Personal Products (3.08 percent) and Commerce (2.39 percent) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Health (4.68 percent), Banks (2.35 percent) and Utilities (1.41 percent) suffered losses. Intralot (4.17 percent), Jumbo (3.99 percent) and OTE (3.75 percent) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Cyprus Bank (3.56 percent), Piraeus Bank (3.05 percent) and Terna Energy (2.42 percent) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 86 to 70 with another 15 issues unchanged. Alko (30 percent), Pairis (29.88 percent) and Cyclon (24.53 percent) were top gainers, while Kreka (17.82 percent), Spider (17.5 percent) and Pegasus (15.03 percent) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: Unchanged
Personal & Household: +3.08%
Raw Materials: +0.90%
Travel & Leisure: +0.08%
Food & Beverages: -0.30%
Financial Services: +1.15%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, OPAP, National Bank and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.64
Public Power Corp (PPC): 5.48
HBC Coca Cola: 16.95
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.90
National Bank of Greece: 1.37
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.69
Bank of Piraeus: 0.38
 ADEX closing reportThe December contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading around its fair value in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising significantly to 42.346 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 18,281 contracts worth 27.984 million euros, with 36,929 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 56,755 contracts worth 14.362 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (14,999), followed by Alpha Bank (7,437), Piraeus Bank (5,931), Cyprus Bank (2,980), OTE (7,022), PPC (4,252), OPAP (5,994), Cyprus Popular Bank (1,138), Mytilineos (1,243), Eurobank (1,818), Intralot (950), GEK (684), Ellaktor (628) and MIG (323).
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank substantially to 10.57 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 13.75 pct on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 12.53 pct and the German Bund 1.96 pct. Greek bond prices soared after the successful completion of a Greek debt buy back program. Turnover was a low 8.0 million euros, of which 6.0 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 2.0 million were sell orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving lower. The 12-month rate was 0.55 pct, the six-month rate was 0.33 pct, the three-month rate was 0.18 pct and the one-month rate was 0.11 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.323
Pound sterling 0.819
Danish kroner 7.572
Swedish kroner 8.756
Japanese yen 109.74
Swiss franc 1.229
Norwegian kroner 7.439
Canadian dollar 1.304
Australian dollar 1.254
 Christmas season inaugurated in AthensThe signal for the opening of the Christmas season in Athens was given on Tuesday evening by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, as 16 Christmas trees throughout the Greek capital were lit, inaugurating the Christmas celebrations for the city.
The Athens Municipality "Big Band" and Symphony Orchestra played carols before an audience of Athenians in downtown Syntagma Square, creating a holiday atmosphere, while 550 musicians and entertainers will perform in 30 Athens districts from 11 December until 4 January.
Addressing the turnout, Kaminis stressed that despite the tough times, Athens celebrates and struggles to remain alive and become festive. "All Athenians, young and old, from all races and religions, the homeless and those who are in bad financial condition, abandoned or jobless, have the right to celebrate".
The Athens mayor also clarified that the municipality has kept the cost as low as possible, at just 10 percent of the money spent in previous years, adding that this year's Christmas events do not seek easy and gaudy shows but hope to rekindle the deeper, more humanitarian meaning of Christmas and New Year to light up the city in a way deserving of a European capital with an ages-long tradition of culture and history.
 Parliament honours Greek Olympic championsThe Hellenic parliament on Wednesday honoured the Greek Olympic champions of the London 2012 Games.
The MPs who attended the special session acknowledged the adverse conditions in which the Greek athletes are training and the need for the Greek athletic sector to be upgraded and enhanced.
Parliament president Evangelos Meimarakis bestowed the parliament's gold medal on Olympic bronze medalist in judo Ilias Iliadis and Education, Religion and Sports Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos presented the same medal to Olympic bronze medal holders in rowing Christina Yazitzikou and Alexandra Tsiavou.
The parliament's silver medal was given to open sea swimming champion Spyros Gianniotis, who placed fourth in the open sea 10km race in London, and to the rowers Giorgos Tzialas, Ioannis Christou, Stergios Papachristos and Ioannis Tsilis that came fourth in the coxless fours race.
Fencing champion Vassiliki Vougiouka, who took the fifth place in the London 2012 Games was also bestowed the parliament's silver medal.
Moreover parliamentary silver medals were awarded to Vassilis Tsolakidis (6th in parallel bars), Byron Kokkalanis (6th in sailing), Spyros Lebessis (7th in the javelin throw), Costas Filippidis (7th in the pole vault) Costas Magdanis and Lefteris Consolas (8th place in rowing) and to Evangelia Platanioti and Despina Solomou (8th in synchronised swimming duet).
 Hellenic Olympic Academy member Dionyssis Gangas honouredDionyssis Gangas, member of the Hellenic Olympic Academy has been bestowed the "European Olympic Laurel Award", becoming the first Greek to be the holder of the two top Olympic distinctions. In the past, Gangas was been honoured with the "Olympic Order", which is the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) highest honour.
The award was given to Gangas at the unanimous decision of the Executive Committee of the European Olympic Committees for the passion and high morale with which he served the development and promotion of the Olympic Ideals from every position he held in the field of sports", a Hellenic Olympic Committee announcement said.
Gangas is also administration and operation consultant to the International Olympic Academy.
 Klimaka presents survey on 'profile' of new Athens homelessThe non-governmental organisation "Klimaka" on Wednesday unveiled the results of a survey of homeless people in the greater Athens area, conducted between September 2011 and February 2012 using a sample of 214 people.
Based on the results, more than half or 64.8 percent had been homeless less than two years, after the start of the economic crisis, while more than 87 percent were between the ages of 26 and 55. Their educational profile was also higher relative to previous years, with one in five having a higher education degree and 40 percent having finished high school.
Roughly a quarter said they had been employed in technical jobs or construction, areas hard hit by the economic crisis, 22 percent were private-sector employees, 18 percent freelance workers and 16 percent had worked in tourism.
More than 82 percent of those surveyed were men and the great majority were especially vulnerable in terms of their access to healthcare, with mental health issues being a particular problem. Specifically, 18.1 percent reported attempting suicide at least once, 38.1 percent reported frequent use of alcohol and 20.4 percent had a history of mental health issues.
After finding shelter, (85.6 percent), their highest reported problems were access to medical care (83.1 percent), finding work (76.5 percent) and sanitation (75 percent). More than 41 percent said they had problems finding somewhere to bathe.
According to Klimaka, 58.1 percent had no form of medical insurance and therefore no access to either drugs or medical tests.
Of those surveyed, about half lived on less than 20 euro a month, one third had been physically abused while on the streets at least once, 21.05 percent of women had been sexually abused and 44.1 percent had been victims of robbery or theft.
Klimaka noted that there were no official records concerning the number currently living homeless, though estimates placed the number at approximately 20,000 people living on the streets or in unsuitable accommodation, about half of them in the
Athens area. Much greater numbers are considered at risk of becoming homeless, with an estimated 25 percent increase in the rate due to the economic crisis.
The survey was presented for the first time to the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), of which Klimaka is a member. At the press conference to present its results, Klimaka also presented its collaboration with the Fourlis group, which runs Greek branch of furniture chain IKEA, and the renovation carried out by the company at the Centre for the Support of the Homeless and the Hostel for the Homeless last August.
 Universities complete electronic elections for administrative boardsGreek universities on Wednesday announced that internal electronic elections to select their administrative boards in accordance with the new framework law for tertiary education have been completed throughout the country. Earlier attempts to hold the elections in the traditional manner using a ballot box had invariably failed due to the reactions of groups within the academic community objecting to the new law.
The Panhellenic Federation of University Professors (POSDEP) issued an announcement on Wednesday saying that the election results were in at 19 universities throughout the country, with participation rates ranging from 55.1 percent for the University of the Aegean to 98.4 percent for Piraeus University.
The Greek Open University, the University of Western Macedonia, the University of Western Greece, the University of Central Greece and the International University all have governing committees and therefore do not hold an election process for a board of directors.
 Court orders seizure of suspects' assets in Proton Bank bad loans caseA first-instance court on Wednesday ordered the precautionary seizure of all movable and immovable property owned by the businessman Lavrentis Lavrentiadis and another 29 defendants on the stand for bad loans issued by the now liquidated Proton Bank to companies owned by the defendant.
The court accepted a petition by shareholders of the old Proton Bank claiming damages incurred without their knowledge through the activities of the former bank governor and other executives of the old Proton Bank.
As a result, it ordered the seizure of all assets owned by the defendant and those "in the hands of third parties" up to the total sum of 8.8 million euro.
 Court of Audit judges to extend labour action until Jan. 23Court of Audit justices on Wednesday announced that they will continue labour mobilisation until January 23, though they have lifted a 'ban' on publishing court decisions which will henceforth be published normally.
The decision was made during a general assembly of the Court of Audit judiciary officials' union on Wednesday, which said a new general assembly will be held on January 23 to decide on any further action.
Court of Audit justices are currently abstaining from court hearings from 10:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. each day.
 Angry pharmacists warn that further strikes are imminentRelations between pharmacists and Health Minister Andreas Lykourentzos deteriorated further on Wednesday, with angry pharmacists announcing their intention to escalate protest action with a 48-hour strike in the near future, while continuing to refuse drugs on credit to those insured by the National Organisation for the Provision of Healthcare Services (EOPYY)
The head of the Attica Pharmacists Association Kostas Lourantos slammed the minister as "unreliable" in a press conference, saying that pharmacists had often suspended their mobilisations because they had trusted in his promises to settle the state's outstanding debts. Nor did he spare Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, noting that prior to the elections the premier had acknowledged the fairness of the pharmacists' case and had promised that to at least offset the money they were owed against their debts to the state sector.
"However, something of this sort was not done for pharmacists, though it was done for pharmaceutical companies," Lourantos pointed out.
According to the Attica Pharmacists' Association, EOPYY's accumulated debts to pharmacists will be close to one billion euro by the end of the year, while he also stressed that this was money that pharmacists had already paid to their respective suppliers. As a result, 200 pharmacies had already closed, 800 were on the Teiresias bad creditors' list and 300 had payment orders issued against them.
"EOPYY simply exists, it does not function," Lourantos told reporters, while he also accused EOPYY of illegally withholding some 40 million euro each month from pharmacy social insurance contributions that should have gone to their social insurance fund ETAA-TSAY.
The governing council of the Panhellenic Pharmacists' Association will convene on Wednesday to make decisions concerning the sector's mobilisations, while pharmacists in Athens and Piraeus are to hold general meetings with the same aim.
 Municipal employees to strike Thursday, FridayThe federation of local government employees (POE-OTA) has called a 48-hour strike in municipalities throughout the country on Thursday and Friday, in protest of an Administrative Reform and e-Governance ministry decision to update the civil servants' census database, deleting from the list and putting into reserve labor all municipal employees of organisations that have not sent relevant data to the ministry.
The decision was made during an emergency meeting of the federation's executive committee on Wednesday, while a 48-hour strike for Monday and Tuesday next week was also decided earlier this week as well as participation in a 24-hour strike next Wednesday called by the civil servants' umbrella federation ADEDY.
The federation will stage a protest demonstration at noon on Friday, while local government employees will abstain from weekend duties, included garbage collection.
 IKA doctor given jail sentence for accepting bribesA doctor with the former Social Insurances' Foundation (IKA) health branch was on Wednesday given a suspended sentence of one year in jail for taking a bribe of 40 euros from a patient. The sentence was handed down by a Misdemeanours Court and suspended for three years.
The 59-year-old doctor was accused of demanding and accepting 40 euro from a 38-year-old father of two in order to "circumvent" the scheduled appointment process and vaccinate his two children.
The incident allegedly occurred in August 2011 at the IKA branch in Toumba and was reported by the father involved to the Greek Police, who conducted a raid and found pre-marked notes in the doctor's office.
The doctor denied the charges during the trial.
 Two killed in ambulance road accidentTwo people were killed on Wednesday morning when an EKAB ambulance veered off course and crashed into a car, subsequently overturning on the Heraklion-Rethymno stretch of the national highway on the island of Crete.
The collision was followed three explosions caused by medical oxygen tanks on board the ambulance, which was engulfed in flames.
The local EKAB ambulance service director and doctor and the representative of the EKAB employees were killed, while the ambulance's driver, a paramedic, was injured in the accident, as well as the two women in the car.
Health minister Andreas Lykourentzos ordered an investigation into the causes of the accident, and expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased.
The accident occurred as the EKAB director and EKAB employees' president were returning to Heraklion from Rethymno where they had taken part is a training seminar on administering first aid.
 Mostly fair with low temperatures on ThursdayMainly fair weather with a few showers in the east and south is forecast on Thursday, with frost during the night and in the early morning. Winds moderate, from mainly northerly directions, ranging from 3-5 Beaufort. Temperatures will range from -10C in some areas of the north to a maximum of 15C in the south. Cloudy in Athens, with the possibility of rain and temperatures from 4C to 13C. Sunny in Thessaloniki, with temperatures from 2C to 8C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe Eurogroup's meeting on Thursday and its anticipated release of the disbursement of 44 billion euro tranche of the EU/IMF bailout package to Greece and the imminent increase in PPC electricity rates mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
AVGHI: "Life in Greece comes to a standstill".
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: "Antonis (Samaras, PM) Chancellery".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "The nine changes to the social security system for 700,000 professionals".
ESTIA: "Sunday's lost 'turnover'."
ETHNOS: "Tuition fees in private schools deregulated".
IMERISSIA: "The tranche arrives - Growth now the wager".
KATHIMERINI: "IMF's objections over the (proposed) tax scales".
LOGOS: "Reserve labour status applied".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Political assessment of the bonds buy-back at the Eurogroup meeting".
RIZOSPASTIS: "PPC imposes up to 48.7 percent rate increases on working class households"
TA NEA: "Turmoil in parties - Split-ups and new alliances".
VRADYNI: "Pensions: All the changes for the professionals".
6 DAYS: "Ruthless collectors".
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