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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-12-20
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 20 December 2012 Issue No: 4252
 PM Samaras addresses Konrad Adenauer Foundation opening eventPrime Minister Antonis Samaras addressed an event on Wednesday evening inaugurating the re-opening of the Athens Offices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.- KAS), organised jointly by the KAS and the Constantine Karamanlis Institute at the new Acropolis Museum.
In his address, the prime minister welcomed what he said "not the opening, but the return" to Greece of the Adenauer Foundation, as it operated in Greece in the 1980's but closed down in 1993. Its presence now expands to more than 120 countries worldwide.
Samaras referred extensively to Konrad Adenauer, who was German chancellor from 1949 to 1963, and to German politician Gustav Stresemann, who served as a chancellor in 1923 for three and a half months, and then held the post of Germany's foreign minister, sharing a Nobel peace prize with his French counterpart Aristide Briand, in 1926.
The Adenauer Foundation marks "the upgrading of a vital political dialogue between Greece and Germany, touching beyond current affairs to principles and values", Samaras noted.
The foundation's current chairman is the former President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering.
Summing up his speech, the Greek premier said: "It's been said -even since the Roman times- that we Greeks are a history-producing people, and so we tend to disregard other people's history. It is exactly this argument that I tried to refute today. Yes, we are proud of our history for our history, but we do learn from other people's histories, especially from leaders who managed to turn ruins into strength, self-confidence and pride for their countries, like Gustav Stresemann and Konrad Adenauer... Mr. Poettering I again welcome you in Greece and we thank you very much for your presence here."
 Dep. Foreign Minister promises exporters 'effective economic diplomacy'The Greek foreign ministry promised to exercise an effective economic diplomacy as a foremost patriotic duty, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas told Greek exporters on Wednesday during a seminar at the ministry.
"The wager for development first passes through extroversion," he stressed and emphasised that economic diplomacy must now be the first priority of foreign policy and the "spearhead" for Greece's foreign relations.
The seminar, held twice a year to brief business people, focused on six countries: Belgium, France and Germany from the European Union, the rapidly growing large economies of Russia and Turkey and neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The particular choice of countries aimed to support and expand the share of Greek products with traditional, classical European clients and also create conduits for the introduction of Greek products into rapidly expanding markets with traditional historic, social and economic ties with Greece, the ministry said.
Kourkoulas outlined the foreign ministry's plans to convene mixed ministerial committees in the coming months as the main tool for boosting bilateral economic relations with Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil.
Referring to his recent visit to China, he relayed the strong and sincere interest of the Chinese in investing in Greece and developing trade and tourism. He said the Chinese side had promised that it will soon open an Athens office for the China Development Bank, the first office in Europe, with the ultimate aim of later founding a bank.
"I had especially encouraging talks with the leadership of COSCO, which is expanding its activities in Piraeus, after the agreement with the computer manufacturers Hewlett Packard and TRAINOSE. But apart from the important deal with HP, which ensures the distribution of large quantities of merchandise via Greece to Europe, I was especially glad to hear of COSCO's strategic plans to make Piraeus not just the gateway into Europe but also a distribution centre," he said.
He ended his address on an upbeat note, pointing out that exports in the first nine months of 2012 had increased by 12 percent while imports had decreased by 13 percent and the trade deficit decreased by more than 35 percent.
 SYRIZA leader meets Brazilian president RousseffBRASILIA (AMNA/A.Kavvadia)
Greece's main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, was received here on Wednesday by the President of the Republic of Brazil Dilma Vana Rousseff.
Tsipras was accompanied by Eurodeputy Nikos Hountis, as well as Yiannis Dragasakis, an Athens B' constituency deputy and head of the party's Economic Policy and Programme Committee.
The Syriza delegation met earlier with the country's Defence Minister Celso Amorim, Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Brazil Marco Aur?lio Garcia and the Parliament's speaker.
Amorim, a former foreign minister, expressed his wish for a further development of relations between Greece and Brazil. Foreign Minister Patriota expressed opposition to "austerity policies and the reduced political sightedness accompanying them".
Tsipras, on his part noted that the interest for Latin America is not only related to the fact that it is a "social laboratory of a meta-neoliberal policy" but also because there are great margins for further enhancement of economic cooperation between Latin American countries and Greece. Tsipras, heading a party delegation, departs on Thursday for Argentina.
 SYRIZA 'expects' political developments in MarchMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA-EKM) on Wednesday lashed out at the government noting that political developments are very likely in March next year. It stressed that new measures will be considered as a result of the "failure of the programme" implemented and that society will be faced with "acute humanitarian crisis phenomena".
In an informal press briefing, SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis spoke about an "unraveling" government, citing a recent European Commission report that referred to it as "fragile" formation. He also stressed that the tax draft bill "is designed to annihilate the financially weak and targets the middle class".
He said that the scenarios for a new election law constitute an effort to weaken SYRIZA, which will eventually act like a boomerang. He stressed that the people will find the way to give his party the opportunity to prove itself.
Skourletis said the new phase launched after the disbursement of the recent bailout loan tranche will be tougher, the debt is not sustainable, the government's statements that "these are the last measures to be implemented" are not true and, on the contrary, the framework created is "suffocating".
Citing a European Commission report, he maintained that the outcome of yesterday's political party leaders' meeting "is yet another effort to trick the Greek people," and accused the government of being unable to do even simple things.
SYRIZA parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras' political office director Nikos Pappas referred to the formal visit of a party delegation headed by Tsipras to Brazil and Argentina, stressing that those countries "have chosen an alternative path to neo-liberalism" and "were successful in controlling poverty and allowing people access to basic goods".
He underlined that SYRIZA will utilize the outcome of the trip "to ignite a discussion within Europe on an alternative course and upgraded relations with developing Latin American countries".
Coordinating Committee member Tassos Koronakis referred to the "Solidarity for all" (solidarity4all.gr) initiative undertaken by SYRIZA, stressing that it was aimed at "facilitating the coordination of numerous solidarity structures in Greece".
 Independent Greeks on party leaders' meetingIndependent Greeks party Parliamentary representative Notis Marias commenting on Tuesday's meeting of the leaders of the three parties that form the Antonis Samaras coalition government said that "the lack of political will fight against tax evasion was revealed at the meeting of the three political leaders, among others, since the troika of the interior is sending the bill on dealing a blow to tax evaders to the Greek calends, insisting at the same time on the ratification of the antisocial tax-implementing bill of Mr. (Finance Minister Yannis) Stournaras".
 KKE on the meeting of party leaders in Samaras' coalition governmentOpposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) on Wednesday stressed that "the improved coordination sought by the three political parties in the coalition government is aimed at escalating the attack agreed with the EU and the IMF".
KKE underlined that "they should be met with a well-organized disobedience and counterattack force put together by the workers and the financially weak that will oppose the new tax measures, the new hikes in the Public Power Corp. (PPC) rates, the overall policy followed and the memorandums that condemn the people to poverty in exchange for more profits for the monopolies and our country's presence in the EU."
 FM Avramopoulos in Libya on ThursdayGreek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos will pay on Thursday an official visit to Libya, a ministry announcement said on Wednesday.
Avramopoulos will meet with the President of the General National Congress of Libya Dr. Mohamed Yousouf Al-Megarief, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and International Cooperation Minister Mohamed Enhamed Abdelaziz.
The Greek minister will also meet with Tripolis Orthodox Metropolitan Theofylaktos and representatives of the Greek community in Libya.
 Public sector on strike WednesdayThe public sector in Greece was at a standstill on Wednesday, in a 24-hour strike called by the civil servants' umbrella federation ADEDY in protest over the measure of reserve labor. All municipal services were closed, as the municipal employees' labor organization POE-OTA is participating in the 24-hour strike.
The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE), the umbrella federation for private sector employees, participated in the action with a three-hour work-stoppage from noon to 15:00.
A protest demonstration was staged at 12:30 p.m. in downtown Athens' Klafthmonos Square, while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) affiliated labor organization PAME held its own demonstration a half hour later in nearby Omonoia Square.
The Athens Metro and ISAP urban trains held a stoppage early in the morning, from the beginning of the shift to 9:00 a.m., while the Proastiakos suburban train service and OSE Hellenic Railways will not be running Wednesday and Thursday.
Further, the Athens Metro ISAP trains and tram will not be running on Thursday as their workers' unions have called a 24-hour strike in protest of their imminent incorporation into the single salary scale.
Due to the 48-hour rail strike, the Athens Metro service on Wednesday and Thursday will not serve Athens International Airport (AIA) but will run only to the Doukissis Plakentias station, as the rest of the stretch to the airport belongs to OSE.
Olympic Air announced cancellations and changes to its flights, as the civil aviation employees (OSYPA) are taking part in Wednesday's strike with a four-hour work-stoppage from noon to 16:00.
 Development minister welcomes EIB decision for 500-million financing instrument for foreign tradeDevelopment, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis on Wednesday welcomed the European Investment Bank's announcement of a new trade finance tool providing guarantees of up to 500 million euro for commercial banks to finance the country's international trade.
Hatzidakis noted that the EIB's decision, announced on Tuesday, provided a real solution to the obstacles to exports created by bank liquidity problems. He also stressed that this was the first time the EIB had approved a similar programme, which would first be implemented in Greece.
"It is one more answer to the liquidity problem, the climate is gradually improving and the government will continue the effort in this direction," he said. The new financial instrument will be in addition to the EIB's programmes for financing small and medium-sized businesses, amounting to 1.44 billion euro by the end of 2015, that are unfolding according to plan, the ministry said.
The EIB programme calls for the provision of 600 million euro by January 31, 2013, a further 400 million euro by December 31, 2013 and the remaining 440 million euro by December 31, 2015.
The new 500-million-euro financial instrument for financing trade announced on Tuesday is added to the above and the amount of the guarantees financed via the specific programme is expected to support a volume of transactions in the order of 1.5 billion euro per year, directed at both SMEs and larger businesses.
In addition to the above, the EIB proceeded to make significant disbursements toward the Greek economy in December, financing investments in energy, transport and other areas. These included 200 million euro to finance the national contribution to projects funded under the 2007-2013 National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), 148 million euro to the Public Power Corporation (PPC), 30 million euro to the Hellenic Gas System Transmission Operator (HGSTO), 250 million euro to Attiko Metro to build the Thessaloniki metro system and 50 million euro to the School Buildings Organisation.
As a result, the EIB's total contribution to the Greek economy and SMEs in 2012 will reach 908.2 million euro, with the 17.7 million euro given for the Corinth-Tsakona-Kalamata highway.
 European Parliament ratifies big development plan for European transportThe relevant European Parliament committee on Tuesday gave the green light for a big development plan for European transports, having special economic interest for Greece, by approving the regulation on Intereuropean Transport Networks, the rapporteur of which was New Democracy party Eurodeputy George Koumoutsakos.
This plan is supported with the funding instrument "Linking Europe", that was also ratified as a regulation, supplying the transport network with 31.7 billion euros.
It is a strategic plan for European transport aimed at the unification of the fragmented networks (road, sea, rail, air) that will incorporate equally all of the EU's regions, strengthening territorial, economic and social cohesion and will respond to the more effective functioning of the Single Market, Koumoutsakos said at the press conference organised by the European Parliament immediately after the votes.
According to the regulation, the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki will be upgraded as hubs of the main network, and specifically of Corridor 4 (Nicosia-Piraeus-Burgas-Rostok-Hamburg) that will be linked with each other with the kind of transport considered suitable (sea, road, rail, air or rivers).
The airport and the port of Iraklio on the island of Crete is also included in the regulation in the central network, which is also the basic priority for funding, according to these two regulations.
 Finmin announces 'indirect' increase in tax allowance via receiptsFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Wednesday announced that the tax-free allowance for wage earners and pensioners can effectively be increased to 9,000 euro a year by indirect means, if tax-payers produce receipts for the purchase of goods.
The finance minister was speaking to Parliament's Standing Committe for Economic Affairs, where discussion of the new draft tax bill has begun.
Stournaras clarified that wage earners and pensioners with an income up to 21,000 euro a year will qualify for tax discounts amounting to 2,100 euro if they can supply receipts amounting to 25 percent of their income. Any further discount is then reduced by 100 euro for every additional 1,000 euros of income up to a total of 42,000 euro a year, after which there is no further discount.
The minister, responding to criticism from opposition parties, promised to remove the social insurance contributions of the self-employed from their taxable income.
Discussion of the new tax bill focused mainly on whether it was fair and effective. Replying to the opposition, the finance minister and New Democracy countered with the need to meet commitments made to the EU-IMF troika to secure an additional 2.0 billion euro from taxes. They also highlighted elements in the draft bill that were more socially sensitive and noted that the taxation system will be finalised with new legislation in May.
Stournaras said that the new system will drastically increase the taxation base and fully include groups that were previously incompletely taxed, such as the self-employed that on average declared annual incomes of about 5,000 euro. He said that over a three-year period, wage earners and pensioners will contribute by only 8 percent to the increase in taxation. The minister also promised that if the primary surplus at the end of 2013 exceeds the target set, 70 percent of the excess surplus will be spent on social policy measures.
"The bill was criticised as 'infanticidal'. They compared me to Herod. However, the majority of families with children will have lower taxation in reality. Up to 869,000 families with one or two children will for the first time receive a parental benefit and three-child families will benefit by 1,356 euro a year. Of the families with one child, only those with a family income exceeding 23,000 euro will be burdened - a percentage of 9 percent of the total," the minister noted.
The opposition parties had earlier criticised the draft bill, with main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' (SYRIZA) MP Dimitris Gelalis noting that the government, instead of proposing ways to tax the black economy and major tax-evaders, was proceeding to impose one-sided additional burdens on those already taxed.
"You are tripling taxation for lower ship crews, that are unemployed for half the year," SYRIZA MP Panagiotis Lafazanis said, noting that if big firms had come in for the same treatment there would have been an uproar. He also pointed out that the dividends multinational firm subsidiaries were not taxed at all.
"Where else does this happen? Only in the banana republic we inhabit," he added.
Independent Greeks MP Notis Marias stressed the plight of home-owners that had seen their wages and pensions reduced and were unable to pay home loans but not given any relief. "You cannot talk about fair taxation when you only have three taxation brackets," he stressed.
"The coalition government is proceeding with interventions in a more anti-popular direction. Taxation rates are reduced for high incomes and increased for low incomes. The tax allowance is abolished, as are a series of discounts from spending for working-class families and the tax allowance for children," said Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Nikos Karathanasopoulos.
Ilias Panagiotaros of Golden Dawn noted the separate taxation for self-employed with no tax allowance at a time when the market was essentially stalled, with only illegal street vendors doing well "because no one touches them".
PASOK MP Paris Koukoulopoulos defended the bill, noting that the tax burden was lower for incomes under 25,000 euro a year while noting that a series of draft laws tabled by his party had not been supported by the opposition at the time.
Asimina Xirotiri of the Democratic Left (DIM.AR) party, one of the three in the coalition government, said her party was treating the draft taxation bill as a "necessary condition given the situation faced by the country" and pointing out that the tax burden was lowered for 80 percent of wage earners and pensioners, while self-employed with receipt books also gained.
 Development Minister on PPC rate hikesDevelopment Minister Costis Hatzidakis, referring to prospective increases in Public Power Corporation (PPC) electricity rates, said on Wednesday: "Of course huge difficulties exist and each ministry will examine the issue with sensitivity and will take under consideration the country's international commitments deriving from the agreement with the EC, ECB, IMF troika and from the need for the PPC not to collapse. Because if the PPC collapses, regardless of whether either the rate is cheap or not, it will not exist at all."
Hatzidakis, speaking on private radio VIMA, also stressed that the government will exhaust all possibilities to curtail the cost for the citizens.
Regarding the major works and the motorways, the minister said that "these works were in state of semi-consciousness for 20 months. They are 75 percent financed by the private sector. I believe that if everything goes well, the bulldozers will start work in April".
 Supreme Court suspends lower court ruling prohibiting collection of property surtax via electricity billsA Greek Supreme Court (Areios Pagos) tribunal on Wednesday suspended a lower court ruling prohibiting the Public Power Corporation (PPC) from collecting an extraordinary property tax (EETHDE) via electricity bills, ruling in favor of a petition filed by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras challenging the lower court decision.
An Athens First Instance Court had ruled on December 4 that the collection of the extraordinary surtax on real estate via Public Power Corp. (PPC) electricity bills was illegal, after a class-action suit filed by consumer groups and federations.
The ruling concerns the legality of collection of the surtax via electricity bills, as the surtax itself was ruled constitutional and legal by the Council of State (CoS) in March by virtue of being temporary, since it will only be imposed for the space of two years. As a result, CoS justices ruled, its imposition did not contravene any Constitutional decree.
 Tender on selling of state buildings abroadThe Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) issued on Wednesday a tender for the sale of six real estate properties abroad owned by the Greek State.
The final date for the submission of offers to the Fund is 19 March 2013 and the final date for the signing of the contract and payment is 11 May 2013.
The buildings for sale are:
London: 2, Holland Park, W11 3TG
Nicosia: Aghios Prokopios str., Engomi
Brussels: Montoyer 25, Leopold district
Belgrade: 6 Kralja Milutina str.
Ljubljana: 17 Veselova str.
Tashkent: 3-4, Do'rmon Yo'li (ex - Zulaiho) str.
New draft bill on energy efficiency tabled in parliament
All new buildings to be constructed as of 2021 should be an almost zero energy consumption, while new public buildings should comply with the same regulations two years earlier, as provided for in a new draft bill on buildings' energy efficiency tabled in parliament by the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change.
For small apartments (under 50 square meters), which were so far excluded from complying with the energy regulations, the so-called Certificate of Energy Efficiency (CEF) will apply as of Jan. 1, 2016, according to the draft bill.
Among other provisions, the new regulations allow for the determination of minimum energy efficiency requirements. These vary for new and existing buildings: newly-constructed buildings must comply with such minimum requirements, while existing ones would have to adjust to them when undergoing full refurbishment.
 Gazprom Export increases natural gas deliveries to GreeceGazprom Export is increasing natural gas deliveries to Greece above contractual limits. As of December 12, Gazprom Export is delivering quantities of natural gas to Greece daily above the limits anticipated in the relative procurement contract.
"The company has gone ahead with an increase in daily deliveries responding to a relative request by its Greek partner, as a result of the cold wave that struck the country," said Gazprom's spokesman Sergei Kuprianov.
In agreement with Greece, the additional daily deliveries will amount to 2 million cubic metres and depend on the technical capacity. The specific delivery rate will also be maintained in the coming days.
 TAP consortium begins talks with Greece on agreement governing pipelineThe Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) consortium on Wednesday announced the start of talks with the Greek government on the agreement governing the pipeline.
At 1.5 billion euro, this is expected to be the single largest current Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Greece. Its implementation, however, depends on the final selection in early 2103 of the pipeline to be supplied by the Shah Deniz gas field by the BP-operated Shah Deniz consortium in Azerbaijan. TAP's main competitor is the Nabucco pipeline that does not go through Greece, whereas TAP is planned to start in Komotini and end in Italy, passing through Albania.
According to Rikard Scoufias, TAP's Country Manager for Greece, concluding the agreement with Greece will be a key step towards securing selection of the Greek route in 2013. "We are very pleased with our cooperation with the Greek government," he added.
TAP's shareholders are Axpo of Switzerland (42.5 percent), Norway's Statoil (42.5 percent) and E.ON Ruhrgas of Germany (15 percent).
 Thessaloniki to host 1st Greek-Russian business forum in 2013Fifteen Greek chambers of commerce and two business agencies, that are joining their strength to organise the 1st Greek-Russian Business Forum in 2013, are aiming at boarding the "train" of the continuous increase in Greek exports to Russia, that have increased by 34 percent in the first half of 2012.
The event will be held in Thessaloniki on May 16-17, in cooperation with the Greek-Russian Centre Hermes and with the cooperation of Russian chambers of commerce and Rusian business agencies.
The first official meeting of Greek chambers of commerce and agencies that are participating in the joint organising of the forum, for which about 150 businesses from Russia and 200 from Greece have already shown interest in participating, was held on Wednesday afternoon.
 Tourism Minister Kefaloyanni ensures cooperation with Atout FranceFrench know-how on tourism issues will be offered to Greece's National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) based on a protocol of cooperation between the two sides, while further actions will be launched to reinforce bilateral cooperation.
Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyanni met on Tuesday in Paris with French Government Tourist Office "Atout France" General Director Christian Mantei to discuss the prospects of a broad cooperation between the two countries' national tourism organizations.
After the meeting, she underlined that "the signing of the protocol is the beginning of a substantive cooperation that will contribute to the efforts made to boost Greek tourism".
The talks focused on the systematic exchange of information as regards tourism know-how, the adoption of initiatives to ensure quality upgrading of services, the development of new kinds of tourism and the gradual implementation of joint actions aimed at boosting bilateral relations in the sector of tourism and increase tourist arrivals.
 'Coca-Cola believes in Greece', top executive says"Coca-Cola believes in Greece," the multinational giant's number two executive worldwide Ahmet Bozer assured on Wednesday, speaking at an event in Thessaloniki.
Bozer, currently President of the Istanbul-based Eurasia & Africa Group, leading the Company's business activities in over 90 countries and slated to become President of Coca-Cola International, effective January 1, 2013, also expressed his conviction that Greece will emerge from the crisis stronger and more resilient and when that happens, Coca-Cola will continue to be active in the Greek market and will have an advantage over the competition.
Speaking at an event at the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki, Bozer said: "In the last two years we invested more than 160 million euros in Greece. If we did not believe in Greece, we would not have kept our headquarters for 23 countries here. Our commitment to Greece is strong and irreversible".
He said that the current leaders should see what is happening in Greece as an age of transformation and not a period of crisis, because "when you think of the crisis, you immediately enter into a process of protecting yourself, putting yourself in the corner".
If one looks beyond the negative news reproduced by the media, one will see the reality of Greece's many advantages, Bozer said: "It is the top power in merchant shipping, has almost 20 million tourists annually, an important producer of agricultural products and a significant regional investor. In Turkey, for example, 439 companies with Greek capital were officially registered, at the end of 2010, of which 252 were registered in 2005-2010".
He said that 2013 will certainly be a difficult year for Greece, with high unemployment possible and a continuing recession in entrepreneurship, but the course of growth must continue, adding that "the tough choices, which may hurt but without which everything will be lost, are necessary".
Bozer cited Coca-Cola Company chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent's recommendation to his executives, when the crisis started to become apparent in 2007-2008, to not let the crisis go to waste, noting that in times of crisis everyone steps back, making it a good opportunity for those who persist in developing, with investments and enhancement of relations with their customers. "There may be losses in the short-term from this strategy, but in the long-term the benefits will be many," he added.
Bozer said he was optimistic overall on the prospects internationally. "Because Coca Cola, as a company, stands for optimism and joy, some tell me that I have been 'poisoned' by the product I drink, and that is why I am so optimistic. The truth, however, is that there are many reasons for optimism. Peace continues to prevail in most regions and the average number of armed conflicts has been reduced spectacularly. At the same time, over the next 10 years one billion people will enter the middle class, while with the mass urbanization a new Athens is created every quarter. The people want to deal with their problems more cohesively: The Group of the once seven richest countries (G7) became the G20. In this scenery, Greece must take the position it deserves," he said.
Addressing the same event, Turkish ambassador in Athens Kerim Uras expressed conviction that Greece will board the train of the international commercial and economic flows and that Turkey will be the most suitable partner for this to occur, adding that if Greece corrects some weaknesses, especially bureaucracy and the job market and the closed professions, many more Turkish investors will come.
He also said that if a solution is given to the visa requirement for Turkish tourists, then the number of Turkish visitors to Greece will in a short space of time jump from the current 50,000 to one million annually, with Thessaloniki beige one of the first destinations to benefit.
Uras further noted the great progress Greece has achieved in the field of exports, noting that in 2010 the trade balance between the two countries had a surplus of 100 million euros on Turkey's side, but the ratio changed in just one year with a surplus on Greece's side. Specifically, he said, Greek exports to Turkey rose to 1.95 billion euro in 2011 compared with imports of 1.18 billion euro.
As for investments, he noted that Greek companies have invested more than 4.5 billion euro in Turkey, whereas Turkish investments in Greece are much lower, and can be counted in millions of euro. "This may change a bit with the collaboration of the Turkish Dogus company for Athens' marina," he added.
Uras said that Turkey still envisions its accession to the EU as a full member, "of course not tomorrow, but when the conditions mature". He said that the shrinking of the European economies because of the crisis has put a brake on Turkey's commercial transactions with the EU markets. Thus, while two years ago 52 percent of Turkey's exports were channeled to the EU, the percentage has now fallen to 37 percent.
Uras further spoke of Turkey's experience for overcoming the crisis it faced in 2001. Turkey, he said, chose a difficult path, making large structural reforms and strong fiscal adjustments, as well as restructuring of the banking, social security and health sector. In tandem, in the three-year period of 2009-2012, 3.7 million new jobs were created, while the 'structure' of the economy changed completely, going from an economy dependant on the primary sector to an economy that is now dependant 60 percent on services, 30 percent on industrial production and only 10 percent on agriculture.
 Tourist wave from Russia expected to substantially increase in 2013Tourist arrivals from Russia are expected to increase in the new tourism season, according to the Mouzenidis Group agency which has a strong presence in Russia.
Speaking to AMNA, Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agencies (Hatta) senior official Nikos Kelaiditis underlined that in the new year the number of Russian tourists that will visit Greece is anticipated between 800,000 and 1,000,000 compared with 600,000 that visited Greece in 2012.
The number of bookings so far from Russia for 2013 is indicative of this momentum, having posted a 100 percent rise in comparison with 2012, according to the tourist agency, which expects that the number of tourists it will bring to Greece will exceed 300,000 by the end of this year, compared with 200,000 in 2011.
 Greek merchant marine fleet down in OctoberThe Greek merchant marine fleet fell by 3.5 pct in October this year compared to the same month in 2011, totaling 1,958 vessels, Hellenic Statistical Authority (EL.STAT) said on Wednesday.
However, the total capacity of the Greek merchant marine fleet increased 1.4 pct for vessels of over 100 GRT (gross registered tonnage).
The statistics service, in a report, said total capacity of the Greek merchant marine fleet was 44,006,506 gross tons in October 2012.
 Air Canada subsidiary airline to fly to Greek tourist destinationsAir Canada announced that it will launch a new low-cost subsidiary company called "Rouge" that will fly to tourist destinations. The new airlines top destinations will be Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Scotland, Cuba, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
The subsidiary aims to offer competitive prices for tourist destinations in the Caribbean and Europe, using new Dreamliner aircraft.
The flights will begin in July, with departures be from Montreal and Toronto airports.
The flight details will be announced at a later date.
 Ryanair to open its first base in Greece at Hania airportLow cost airline Ryanair has selected Hania airport (Ioannis Daskaloyannis) to be its first base in Greece, which will also be the airline's 55th base in Europe.
The operation will start in April 2013, said the company's official Kate Sherry in a press conference held at the Hania Chamber on Wednesday.
The Ryanair base in Hania will operate from April until October and will serve 26 European destinations with 106 flights per week and a total of 500,000 passengers.
An aircraft will be parked permanently in Hania airport and the extension of the company's activities in the city will create 500 working positions.
Within the framework of the inauguration of the new base the company will offer 100,000 seats at 8 euros each starting from December 20 at midnight.
The cost of the investment is estimated at 70 million euros while the profits from this investment for the local economy are estimated at 250 million euros.
 POE-OTA decides temporary mobilisation suspensionThe Executive Committee of the Panhellenic Local Government Employee Federation POE-OTA decided at noon on Wednesday to suspend mobilisations temporarily "to regroup their forces, in light of a possible new clash with the government in the event that layoffs take place in 2013," as it said.
According to Executive Committee members, the Federation's union-members are being called on to organise "collective discussion procedures in the coming days for the struggle's next day." At the same time, the employees are being called on to assess and evaluate their action.
 Greek stocks soar 4.81 pct after S&P rating rise for GreeceGreek stocks soared 4.81 percent on the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, in roaring trade buoyed up by news that Standard & Poor's on Tuesday upgraded the Greek economy by six points, from selective default to B- with a stable prospect, its highest rating since June 2011. The recovery was further boosted by the European Central Bank's announcement that it would once again accept Greek debt as collateral from December 21. The general index closed at 878.41 points at the end of the session, with turnover at 63.803 million euro.
The Big Cap index shot up by 5.69 percent and the Mid Cap index by 5.01 percent. The Banks (9.94 percent), Telecommunications (7.53 percent) and Financial Services (6.87 percent) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day.
Eurobank (12.37 percent), Piraeus Bank (11.25 percent) and National Bank (10.40 percent) were top gainers among blue chip stocks. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 124 to 32 with another 23 issues unchanged. Fieratex (20.97 percent), Nikas (19.91 percent) and Kathimerini (19.57 percent) were top gainers, while Ellinikes Ichthyokalliergies (-19.15 percent), Minoan Lines (-14.00 percent) and Nafpaktos Textiles (-10.00 percent) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +2.60%
Personal & Household: +5.36%
Raw Materials: +6.69%
Travel & Leisure: +2.93%
Food & Beverages: +4.28%
Financial Services: +6.87%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, OPAP and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.41
Public Power Corp (PPC): 5.53
HBC Coca Cola: 16.85
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.86
National Bank of Greece: 1.38
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.66
Bank of Piraeus: 0.35
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds fell to 11.38 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday from 11.57 pct on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 12.80 pct and the German Bund 1.42 pct. There were no transactions in the market.
In interbank markets, interest rates remained mainly unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.54 pct, the six-month rate was 0.30 pct, the three-month rate was 0.18 pct and the one-month rate was 0.11 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe December contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount 0.75 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising to 51.214 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 16,356 contracts worth 24.594 million euros, with 37,680 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 169,897 contracts worth 26.620 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Bank of Cyprus's contracts (34,036), followed by National Bank (33,242), Piraeus Bank (29,818), Alpha Bank (18,925), OTE (12,115), GEK (6,131), Cyprus Popular Bank (5,990), OPAP (5,963), MIG (4,387), PPC (4,045), Mytilineos (3,865), Intralot (3,434) and Eurobank (3,363).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.350
Pound sterling 0.828
Danish kroner 7.572
Swedish kroner 8.796
Japanese yen 114.05
Swiss franc 1.227
Norwegian kroner 7.486
Canadian dollar 1.332
Australian dollar 1.285
 Ambitious plan to restore imposing Sarlitza Pallas hotel on Lesvos islandIn the early 20th century, the imposing Sarlitza Pallas luxury hotel was the crown jewel for the Thermi region in the eastern part of the island of Lesvos, but is now abandoned and in disuse, the victim of bureaucracy.
The Periphery of the Northern Aegean, however, has drawn up an ambitious plan to restore the hotel to its former glory and, together with its famous hot springs, thus putting the hotel back on the international map of tourist destinations.
The now abandoned hotel was built in 1909 in the seaside village of Kato Thermi, right next to hot springs, to designs by French architects commissioned by the Turk sovereign Hassan Mola Mustafa and financed by a Turkish businessman during the Ottoman period.
In fact, the name Sarlitza Pallas means Palace of the Yellow Therapeutic Waters, due to the deep yellow color the water left in the tanks and grooves. The area of Thermi itself got its name from the hot springs that abound there.
For nearly 30 years, after it passed into the jurisdiction of the Greek state, it was a magnet for kings and archbishops, but also attracting visitors, personalities and celebrities from all parts of the world.
From 1933 on it fell into decay as a result of the political troubles that beleaguered Europe from the mid-1930's up until the end of WWII, and eventually closed in the 1970s, a victim of bureaucracy. Although abandoned, the nearby hot springs are still functional, still attracting visitors daily today.
Just 11 kilometers north of the island's capital Mytilene, the entire area is known for its dry climate and olive groves. The town of Thermi actually consists of two villages Ano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Thermi, and was inhabited as early as the prehistoric era up to classical antiquity.
The seaside village of Kato Thermi, situated some 500 meters north of Prehistoric Thermi, and in Roman times was frequented by rich Romans for its hot springs. The mythical goddess Artemis, the patroness of hot springs, was worshipped in ancient Thermi and poetry and athletic contests were held in her honor.
The Periphery of the Northern Aegean has submitted a specific proposal to the hotel's current owners, the Healthcare Workers' Pension and Insurance Fund (TSAY) asking for the concession of the Ottoman-era hotel and the 19,164 square meter land plot in which the hotel and its hot springs are situated, for a 60-year-period, with the Periphery undertaking all the expenses of restoring the existing buildings and maintenance of the hot springs. It further hopes, pending approval by the state archaeological and other services, to fund the construction of additional facilities to turn the grounds into a thermal spring therapeutic center or a tourism development center, using funds available from several tools, such as the EU's JESSICA programme.
For the duration of the concession period, the Periphery will have the exclusive right of exploitation of the entire facility and will reserve the right to co-exploit with or sub-let the facilities to third parties.
 New Athens metro exhibition features finds from ancient 'Sacred Way'Work on the Athens metro has brought to light a large section of the ancient Iera Odos or 'Sacred Way', which archaeologists claim has been walked by most Athenians of antiquity. As a result of work to create the metro station at Egaleo, modern Athenians will now have the opportunity to trace their footsteps underground.
Some of these finds, such as the excavation of five separate layers of the city, were unveiled to the public on Wednesday with an exhibition inaugurated at line 3's Egaleo station. The extension of the metro for the Elaionas station has also given experts an opportunity to investigate finds such as the base for an ancient bridge across the Kifissos River and more sections of the Sacred Way wall.
The finds include walls from the ancient cemetery founded along the length of the Sacred Way, which has yielded finds such as sarcophagi, carvings, ancient wheel tracks, grave goods and other artifacts.
The seven glass display cabinets of the exhibition at Egaleo station features finds from the excavations, giving commuters a brief insight into the history of the ancient city and one of the best known roads in human history.
 Pharmacists suspend mobilisationsThe country's pharmacists are suspending their mobilisations. The board members of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Society decided during their session on Wednesday evening that pharmaceuticals must be given on credit again to those insured with the National Organisation for the Provision of Health Services (EOPYY).
The pharmacists, as they said after the board meeting, will reconsider their stance during the first 10 days of January, while according to Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Society president Thodoros Ambatzoglou "a pharmacy without money, is a pharmacy without pharmaceuticals".
 Public transport strike continues on ThursdayCommuters in Athens are in for another day of inconvenience on Thursday, as public transport employees enter their second day of industrial action.
The Athens Metro, ISAP urban trains, Proastiakos suburban train service and OSE Hellenic Railways will come to a standstill for the whole day.
However, buses and trolley buses will be running normally.
 Illegal migrants trafficking ring broken upPolice announced on Wednesday that they have broken up an illegal migrants trafficking ring following the arrest of two suspects, alleged to be two of the ring's leaders.
The two suspects, aged 43 and 29, were arrested in the last few days in Alexandroupolis, extreme northeastern Greece. Five members of the ring were arrested earlier during a police operation when police spotted a van along the Egnatia motorway in which 15 illegal migrants were hiding.
During the investigation it was revealed that the migrants had paid a total of 54,000 euros to the traffickers to smuggle them into a European country.
The ring picked up the migrants from the Greek-Turkish border in order to channel them, via Athens, to other European cities.
 Policeman found dead in his carA police officer on Wednesday was found dead in his car on the road to Kaimaktsalan ski resort, northern Greece.
The 28-year-old policeman had a wound to the head. His gun was found in the car.
Police tentatively believe the officer committed suicide, but no suicide note was found at the scene of the incident.
 Police arrest youth with 300 kg of hashishPolice of the "DIAS" group arrested a 24-year-old man from Agrinio in Larissa, central Greece, who was carrying 300 kilos of hashish in his car.
According to reports, the man refused to stop for a check by traffic police in Larissa. A pursuit followed and the man was ultimately arrested in a region outside Farsala.
 Elderly man falls on railway lines at Aghios Dimitrios Metro stationAn unidentified elderly man was hit by a train at the Aghios Dimitrios Metro station shortly before 8 p.m. on Wednesday and was seriously wounded.
It is not yet known whether the man fell deliberately to commit suicide or fell accidentally.
 Rainy on ThursdayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday. Winds 4-7 beaufort. Temperatures between -4C and 14C. Local showers in Athens with northerly 4-7 beaufort winds and temperatures between 3C and 9C. Slightly cloudy in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 1C and 6C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe initial agreement on the government's next steps reached during the leaders' meeting of the three parties supporting the coalition government on Tuesday, the pre-announcement of new increases in PPC electricity rates, the nationwide 24-hour strike in the public sector on Wednesday and the upgrade of Greece's credit rating by Standard & Poor's, mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
AVGHI: "Former Brazilian President Lula: Way out with public sector in front".
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: "Municipal employees' layoffs in court".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "PPC bomb on households and enterprises".
ESTIA: "They are destroying the economy".
ETHNOS: "Intervention on government's irregularities".
IMERISSIA: "Greece threatened with an energy crash".
KATHIMERINI: "Agreement on the next steps".
LOGOS: "Suicides a plague".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Standard & Poor's raises Greece's credit rating to B-".
RIZOSPASTIS: "We demonstrate on Wednesday against the tax looting".
TA NEA: "Four weddings and a funeral".
6 DAYS: "PPC rates increase a provocation".
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