|Monday, 19 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-01-31
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 31 January 2013 Issue No: 4284
 PM in Qatar: New relation formalized, impetus to investmentsDOHA (AMNA/Sp. Goutzanis)
A new relationship between Greece and Qatar has been formalized, following Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' discussions with senior Qatari leaders, Greek government sources told AMNA on Wednesday.
Samaras, on a visit to Doha, met successively on Wednesday with the Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Crown Prince of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Khalifa Al Thani, followed by a ceremony for the establishment of a Greece-Qatar Business Council. On Tuesday evening he met with the prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
Addressing the inaugural session of the Business Council, Samaras called Wednesday "an important day for the relations between our two countries", since "we are given the opportunity to commence something new, with a new way of though and action", adding that "we can give new impetus to investments and business opportunities".
Samaras, who arrived in Doha on Monday evening accompanied by several key ministers and a 40-member business delegation, began his official talks with Qatari officials on Tuesday, aiming at enhancing economic relations between the two countries and attracting investments to Greece, and rekindling Qatari investment interest.
"The Greek businessmen who are today in Qatar are the best. The two countries have many common fields for a new beginning in their relations. Both love life, trade and the sea," he said, adding that "this government is an enemy of bureaucracy and understands the obstacles it raises to growth and business activity".
Samaras later visited the Pearl-Qatar in Doha, an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters, while he is also due to tour the Museum of Islamic Art, and the new airport, which Greek companies participated in the construction of, before departing Qatar on Wednesday evening.
A government source told AMNA that substantial steps were made toward restoring the confidence and credibility between the two countries, which will form the basis for accelerating business agreements.
The same source stressed that the disbelief created in the Qatari leadership from previous contacts has been overcome, and "now we are moving ahead, but steady steps will be made, we will proceed plan by plan".
The source said that Qatar continues to insist on its preferred inter-state agreements, but understands the difficulties in Greece due to its commitments to the European regulations for international tendering procedures. The emirate has expressed specific interest in some of the 37 regional airports and 48 marinas due to be denationalized by the Greek government.
Also, a plan is being advanced for setting up a joint investment fund, with capital from both countries that will invest in small and medium size enterprises.
The Greek government requires EU approval for the plan, while it is also seeking the capital for its own participation, which could be part of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) monies.
The source said that the new relationship between the two countries creates margins for the development of direct relations between businessmen from both countries.
Samaras, the source continued, noted that the businessmen accompanying to government delegation to Doha are of a very high level, which constitutes a vote of confidence in the Greek government.
He further presented to the Qatari leaders dossiers of specific plans that Greek entrepreneurs have drafted, in which Qatari private or state capital could participate, in such areas as medicines, health, tourism, energy, and even the development of commercial Malls.
The source said that Qatari interest still existed for the creation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) station in Greece, not in Astakos, which plan has been aborted, but possibly in Kavala and Alexandroupolis.
 PM Samaras wraps up visit to QatarDOHA (AMNA / Sp. Goutzanis)
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday wrapped up his two-day visit here with a tour of the country's new airport, where a number of Greek construction companies are operating.
Earlier, Samaras visited the Museum of Islamic Art and was offered a guided tour by its director.
 SEV on goals of Greece-Qatar Business CouncilArousing the interest of big foreign business groups in making investments in Greece was the key aim of an initiative to establish a Greece-Qatar Business Council, Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) official Thanassis Lavidas said on Wednesday.
Lavidas, who heads SEV's Business Council for International Actions, had just signed the agreement with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce on behalf of SEV at a forum held in Doha, Qatar and attended by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the delegation of ministers that accompanied him on the trip.
The Greek side of the new Council includes 22 companies occupying leading positions in the construction, energy, industry, building materials, IT, pharmaceuticals, clothing, finance and legal services and consultancy sectors.
"Greece enterprises, in spite of the all the difficulties and challenges, through their presence here indicate their readiness to proceed with business plans that will yield real benefits, create work and new jobs and contribute to our country's and Greek society's growth," Lavidas said.
He pointed out that the Greece-Qatar Business Council was the first to be established between Greece and one of the Persian Gulf states and was part of SEV's strategic plan to create a platform of contacts and networks outside Greece's borders in areas of primary importance to the Greek business community.
Lavidas reported encouraging first signs and announced that SEV's Business Council for International Actions will organise talks by Qatar speakers in Greece in the coming months.
 KKE party on PM's Qatar visitThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE), in a statement Wednesday on the prime minister Antonis Samaras's visit to Qatar, said that "the 'favourable business climate' that the government promised to the tycoons of Qatar means a relentless blow against the just causes of the working people and rich privileges to capital authority, as well as starvation salaries."
"The people must throw this growth in their faces and select the path of growth for their benefit, with their struggle and organising," the statement added.
 EU Council chief: 'The worst is behind us'BRUSSELS (AMNA/V. Demiris)
"The worst is behind us," European Council president Herman van Rompuy told a joint meeting of the EU member states' national parliaments and the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, in an address on the economic crisis.
Rompuy said that the euro is a road of no return, underlining that the situation was now improving, chiefly in the countries that were under pressure over the last three years.
"In Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain, the fiscal situation is healthier, exports are rising and the cost of borrowing is falling," he said, adding that 2012 had been a turning point in dealing with the crisis and proved that responsibility and solidarity are interdependent.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, in turn, underlined that those who had predicted the dissolution of the euro were proved wrong, noting that the painful efforts being made at national level aiming at stability are not been in vain but have produced fruit.
He added, however, that the unemployment situation, especially among young people, which he said in 12 of the 27 EU member states exceeds 25 percent, is an issue of strong worry, while the social situation in many of the member states causes great concern.
 Protestors scuffle with riot police outside Labor MinistryScuffles broke out between protestors and MAT riot police outside the Labor Ministry in downtown Athens at noon Wednesday, when a group of Communist Party-affiliated PAME labor organization protestors, who had earlier staged a takeover of the 8th-storey of the building where Labor Minister Yannis Vroutsis' office is housed, walked out of the building to find riot police who had encircled the premises.
More PAME demonstrators were also gathered outside the Ministry entrance.
According to sources, some 30 people were taken into custody during the scuffles, while the riot police made limited use of chemicals and traffic in the surrounding streets was temporarily disrupted.
Minor damage was caused on the 8th floor of the building, where an office door was broken and dossiers and office material were vandalized.
About 40 PAME members, headed by organization representative George Perros, staged the takeover in protest of new changes planned to the social security system, demanding to meet with the Minister. It was unknown whether Vroutsis was in the building at the time.
A group of protestors attempted to block the police van carrying the remanded persons from leaving by forming a human chain around the front of the vehicle, but it later left after riot police intervened.
Sources told AMNA that two of the remanded people in the van are injured.
Meanwhile, about 100 protestors were marching to the police headquarter in a show of support to their remanded fellow-protestors, under the surveillance of riot police, while a strong police contingent remained outside the ministry.
 Government spokesman on the labour ministry takeover by protestersGovernment spokesman Simos Kedikoglou on Wednesday commented on the labour ministry building takeover by protesters earlier in the day, underlining that "such phenomena will not be tolerated by the government".
He also added that any form of violence should be condemned in a tangible way and not just with words. The minister noted that the takeover of Labour Minister Yannis Vroutsis' office, the damage caused and the threats hurled against Vroutsis were practices designed to make the political environment volatile at a very crucial time for the country.
He stressed that all groups engaging in violent practices and seeking to outdo each other in displays of extremism "will find society set against them because their motives have become obvious."
About 40 Communist Party-affiliated PAME labour organization members, headed by organization representative George Perros, staged the takeover in protest against new changes to Greece's social insurance and pension system, demanding to meet with the minister. It was unknown whether Vroutsis was in the building at the time.
About 30 of them were later taken into custody by riot police that had surrounded the building and taken to the central police headquarters on Alexandras Avenue, prompting a protest march by their colleagues demanding their release.
 KKE demands the release of protesters arrested in the labour ministry takeoverIn a statement issued on Wednesday, opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) condemned "the injuries, arrests and brutal attack on tens of labour trade unionists launched by the anti-riot police at the ministry of labour" and demanded the immediate release of those arrested.
KKE stressed that the protesters "expressed opposition to the new provocative statements on social insurance made by the labour minister," adding that "instead of apologizing for his insulting statements and provocative policy the minister responded with the raw violence of the anti-riot police, the injuries and the arrests and detentions".
According to the KKE statement, "the government and its partners are out of touch with reality if they think that by using naked violence they can intimidate the labour movement".
Earlier in the day, about 40 Communist Party-affiliated PAME labour organization members, headed by organization representative George Perros, staged a labour ministry building takeover in protest to new changes planned for the social security system and demanded to meet with the minister.
 SYRIZA accuses government of "new orgy of repression"Main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA-EKM) on Wednesday condemned the "new orgy of government repression in downtown Athens that manifested with the use of violence and chemicals and with the detentions of SYRIZA MPs, PAME trade unionists and workers on five-month contracts in social services," referring to the incidents at the ministry of labour earlier in the day.
According to SYRIZA, police violence was exercised on its MPs, Christos Karagiannidis and Costas Barkas, despite the fact that they had identified themselves, and on Markos Basioukas, member of the party's labour policy body.
SYRIZA demanded the immediate release of the arrested Communist Party-affiliated PAME labour organization members, stressing that the government's target is the Left and the labour movement.
 Foreign ministry spokesman on Turkish PM's statements"The Greek state is handling issues concerning the Muslim minority in Thrace with due responsibility," Greek Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said on Wednesday, replying to questions by reporters in relation to recent statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Speaking to the ruling party's Parliamentary Group, the Turkish prime minister spoke of the status of Muslim religious mentors in Thrace, referring to a meeting he had on Tuesday in Doha with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
The Greek Foreign ministry's spokesman, with the reservation of the correct reference of Erdogan's statements, underlined that the Greek state always moves "with respect for international contracts and human rights" and "in the framework of the principles of equality before the law, equality of rights and the free exercise of the minority's religious rights".
"In no way do such statements help the climate in bilateral relations," Delavekouras stressed.
According to an AMNA dispatch from Istanbul, while briefing his Parliamentary Group on his meeting with Samaras in Doha, Qatar, Erdogan said "I conveyed to the Greek prime minister our desire on the decision (concerning the appointment of 240 imams in Western Thrace) not to be implemented and to be annulled".
The Turkish premier added "we desire wholeheartedly that recently arisen issues - and mainly the issue of the 240 imams - be resolved so that the idea of our good neighbourliness and cooperation is not harmed."
 UN envoy Nimetz concludes joint meeting with Greece, fYRoM representativesNEW YORK (AMNA - P. Panagiotou)
UN secretary general's special envoy Matthew Nimetz, speaking after his two-hour joint meeting at the UN's headquarters with the representatives of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM), ambassadors Adamantios Vassilakis and Zoran Jolevski, said that the negotiating process in the framework of the UN to find a solution to the landlocked republic's name issue is continuing and new meetings will be held soon.
Nimetz futher said that "there is nothing tangible", that they discussed "difficult issues", the "essence of the problem" and that "there is increased international interest, from the UN, USA, EU" and that it is a "sensitive issue in a sensitive region" and does not only concern the relatons between the two countries.
Replying to questions, he pointed out that there was "reaction to his ideas", noting that "the process is constructive" and that he was realistic, adding that "I am not at all disappointed". He also expressed the view that "both sides are showing prudence".
Replying to a relative question, Nimetz reiterated that the issue is continuing to be discussed under the auspices of the UN.
According to diplomatic sources, during both Wednesday's joint meeting and in Tuesday's separate meetings between Nimezt and the representatives of Greece and fYRoM, the side of Skopje did not present "any new element" and its positions "moved in the same known frameworks".
The time of the next meetings is set in March and again at the UN's headquarters.
 PM Samaras voted 'Greek of the Year' by Cypriot magazine readersNICOSIA (AMNA / A. Viketos)
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was voted Greek of the Year for 2012 in a competition sponsored by MAN magazine in Cyprus, it was announced on Wednesday.
The award was received on his behalf by Greek Ambassador to Nicosia Vassilis Papaioannou.
 PASOK leader in Berlin on ThursdayPASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos flies to Berlin for a series of meetings on Thursday with leading members of the German social-democrat SPD party, a PASOK announcement said on Wednesday.
Venizelos will meet with SPD candidate for the Chancellery Peer Steinbruck and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, while he will also have a working brunch with SPD parliamentary group chairman Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Other meetings include SPD international relations secretary and PES secretary general Achim Post, parliamentary group deputy chairperson and parliamentary committee on Greek-German relations member Elke Ferner, parliamentary group deputy chairman and member of the parliamentary committee on economic relations Joachim Poss, and SPD special rapporteur for Greece Achim Barchman.
The key event of Venizelos' visit will be a roundtable discussion organized by the SPD think-tank, the FES (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung) on Greece, the economic and political developments, Europe and the euro.
He will further meet with Greens party parliamentary group chairman Juergen Trittin.
 Agriculture ministry promises solutions to farmers' problems, urges dialogue over road blocksIn separate statements on Wednesday, the leadership of Greece's agriculture ministry stressed that efforts were underway to address farmers' real problems and urged them not to resort to road blocks and "the practices of the past" in order to press their demands.
Speaking to 'Vima' radio station, Rural Development and Foods Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris admitted that farmers' faced prohibitively high fuel costs and said the government could take steps to refund the portion of the cost relating to the special consumption tax, as it had done in 2011, split into two installments paid now and at the September harvest.
He also pointed to the approval by the EU-IMF troika on Tuesday of a loan to peach canneries, to be given by the newly merged ATE-Piraeus bank, which would enable them to pay farmers on time.
Tsaftaris stressed that farmers will not be left unpaid for months, saying that he had promised to join farmers in their mobilisations on roadways if that proved to be the case.
In a similar vein, Alternate Rural Development Minister Maximos Harakopoulos said that farmers "unquestionably have a case" while stressing his satisfaction that they had contacted the political leaders of all the parties, especially those supporting the government, to present their problems.
"In this way, we can now see if the policy in the areas concerning the problems of the farming sector, can be updated," he added, emphasising that the doors of the ministry were "always open".
At the same time, he underlined that the problems could not be dealt with using the practices of the past and that roads must remain open.
 Farmers poised to escalate protest action along roadways throughout GreeceA meeting of Greek farmers' unions and associations called by the sector's union confederation PASEGES on Wednesday ended with the adoption of a resolution outlining 15 separate demands. Meanwhile, protesting farmers throughout the country were poised to escalate protests against government policy.
Farmers' representatives pointed out that government measures will cost the sector an estimated 2.0 billion euros and virtually cancel out any direct subsidies they receive from the European Union, while slamming the government's performance in the farming sector as "negative and nonexistent".
They were particularly critical of changes to laws governing farming cooperatives, which they said had made problems worse, and expressed concern over low absorption of Greece's rural development programme for 2007-2013.
After the meeting, participants attempted to present the resolution to Rural Development Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris but were told that he was not in his office to receive them. They expressed support for farmer mobilisations but said these should not have a negative impact on society as a whole, so that society would support farmers' demands.
In the meantime, protesting farmers throughout the country were on standby to escalate their action, remaining by parked tractors along roadways in Thessaly, Imathia, Argolida and in several towns and villages of northern Greece.
Farmers from Thessaly remained at the Nikaia junction on the old Athens-Thessaloniki motorway after an early morning attempt to reach the Egnatia national highway with their tractors was foiled by police vehicles that blocked their path.
Those waiting at the Kouloura junction in Imathia held a meeting that decided to await the results of Thursday's meeting between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the heads of the political parties. Farmers were also occupying key spots in Serres, Drama, Kavala, Xanthi, Evros and Rodopi to await the signal to step up protest action.
The farmers in Thessaly received a visit from Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga, who warned the government from Larissa not to attempt to repress their action and expressed her support for their struggle.
She warned that worse days were coming, especially for small farms, since the aim was to concentrate production into ever fewer hands. Papariga also predicted that reactions by people would escalate, since the measures passed a few months earlier were only now going into effect.
Those in Argolida were joined by main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' SYRIZA MP Dimitris Kodelas, who stressed that the farmers' struggle "was the struggle of all society to survive".
 Alternate Rural Dev't minister has fruitful meeting with stock-farmers"Problems are resolved through dialogue and within the country's fiscal capabilities, not by road blockades," alternate Minister of Rural Development and Food, Maximos Charakopoulos told reporters on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives of the Panhellenic Federation of Stock-Farmers in Thessaloniki.
Charakopoulos spoke a "fruitful" cooperation with the representatives of the stock-farmers on a number of issues, including the way of equitably distributing state aid under the regulation ?de minimis? - activated for the first time this year, with the consent of the European Union. The regulation is aimed at addressing the high cost of feed for farmers in mountainous and disadvantaged areas.
He said that respective payments already began to be made since Tuesday to cattle breeders in flat regions.
Asked about farmers protests, Charakopoulos said that "old practices cannot solve today's problems", noting that 2013 is a "difficult" year, at the end of which "the first signs of economic recovery will become apparent."
 Hellenic Postbank to return to profitability in one yearHellenic Postbank will return to profitability in one year, while it will proceed with a voluntary retirement programe -covering 700 workers from a total of 3,000 currently employed-, the management of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund said on Wednesday.
Haralambos Kyrkos, vice-president of the Fund, speaking to reporters, during a press conference, said that the voluntary retirement programe will last for a period of one/two weeks and stressed that the management of the bank will consider any alternatives if the response to the programe was not satisfactory. Kyrkos said that a new Hellenic Postbank will re-evaluate loans worth 1.4 billion euros -mainly mortgage loans- and its time deposit policy in view of current developments in the banking market (falling deposit interest rates and rising loan interest rates). Generally, Greek banks opted to excessively raise deposit interest rates to halt a tide of capital outflows from the system, Kyrkos said.
The Fund's management said the troika has demanded that the Hellenic Postbank would be put for sale in the next six months, although the Fund's president Panagiotis Thomopoulos stressed that this timetable should be considered as a strict fact as no one can discount that an investor would emerge within this time. Large Greek banks -potentially interested in buying a new Hellenic Postbank- were currently in merger procedures which did not allow them to easily proceed with the absorption of the bank. Thomopoulos said the troika could accept such serious reasons for delaying the sell process.
He noted that the 50 billion euros earmarked for the recapitalization of Greek banks were adequate and said that banks have managed to cut their operating costs through cuts in wages and reduced workforce.
The Fund's vice-president said that timetable for a bank recapitalization plan was a bit tight. "All big banks must seek capital from the market at the same time," Kyrkos said.
The Fund said its work so far contributed in saving 29.5 billion euros in deposits and 10,000 job positions in the banking sector.
 Greece to hire independent valuators for DEPA, DESFAThe Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund on Wednesday announced an invitation to hire two independent valuators in relation with the privatization of DEPA Group and DESFA SA.
The Fund, in an announcement said that an independent evaluation of assets prior to their privatization must be concluded and made available to all interested parties in an international tender current underway. All proposals must be submitted by February 12, 2013, while maximum duration of the engagement will be four weeks. If needed the Fund could agree to an extension of the duration. The maximum available budget for each assignment is 150,000 euros, plus VAT and expenses.
Greek authorities have received five indicative offers in a tender to sell DEPA and DESFA. All offers were qualified to participate to the next and final stage, that of binding offers.
 Overdue government debt to private sector dropped sharply in December, minister reportsCentral government's overdue debts to the private sector dropped sharply in December 2012, from 900.2 million euros at the end of November to 524.2 million euros at the end of 2012, Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras announced on Wednesday.
The minister said that this was the result of the recent disbursement of a tranche of bailout loans to Greece, which allowed the Greek state to start paying off its debts to the private sector. On an annual basis, central government debt fell by 67.2 million euros, from 591.4 million euros at the end of December 2011.
Staikouras made the announcement after a finance ministry meeting held on Wednesday to examine state revenues and the progress in repaying the state's overdue debts to the private sector, chaired by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and with the participation of Staikouras, Deputy Finance Minister George Mavraganis and general secretary for revenues Haris Theoharis.
Sources said the finance ministry had adopted a strict policy of not paying off past debts unless it was certain that there would be no new overdue debts. They said the conclusion reached at the meeting was that budget spending was going down but overdue debts were also going down, which meant that the budget was being executed in accordance with the targets set.
 Private healthcare units to suspend credit to national health insurance body EOPYY from Feb. 1Private health service providers on Wednesday announced that they are suspending credit for Greece's National Organisation for the Provision of Healthcare Services (EOPYY), the unified state health insurance provider, as of February 1. This means that patients referred by EOPYY after that date will have to pay for the full cost of medical tests and treatments in advance and then claim the money back from EOPYY.
The Panhellenic Federation of Private Primary Health Unions, the Panhellenic Association of Medical Diagnostic Centres and the Panhellenic Union of Private Primary Healthcare Bodies said they were refusing services to EOPYY in protest against delays in settling overdue payments owed to them for past years.
Among others, they demanded equal treatment in terms of repayment times with other health service providers and immediate payment of overdue debts for 2012, as well as a time schedule for the settlement of overdue debts for the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and up to the end of February 2013.
 Greece fourth in Europe in 2012 in new established photovoltaic potentialGreece occupies the fourth position in Europe and the seventh internationally regarding the new established photovoltaic potential in 2012, according to statistical data publicised by the Federation of Photovoltaic Companies. More specifically, 912 new photovoltaic megawatt (MW) were established in 2012 or correspondingly 88 percent of all the new renewable energy sources potential added in the past year.
The photovoltaics covered over 3 percent of the country's needs in electric power, producing 1.7 billion kilowatts (1.7 TWh) or otherwise 30 percent of the entire green energy in 2012. Thanks to the photovoltaics, in 2012 the emission of 1.12 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was avoided.
 New administration at Financial Stability FundThe tenure of the General Council and Executive Committee members of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, appointed by a decision of Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, will last from February 1 this year to June 30, 2017.
The composition is as follows:
General Council members: Paul Koster, president, Andreas Beroutsos, member, Pierre Mariani, member, George Mergos, member as representative of the Finance ministry and Efthymios Gatzonas, member as representative of the Bank of Greece.
Executive Committee members: Anastasia Sakellariou, managing director, Marios Kolliopoulos, alternate managing director and Anastasios Gagalis, member.
 Greek insurance market lost 1.1 bln euros in 2010-2012The Greek insurance market has lost more than 1.1 billion euros in the three-year period from 2010 to 2012 as a result of a deep economic crisis hitting the country, while repeated insurance premium adjustments - to become more attractive to consumers - failed to halt a declining turnover which fell by 26 pct in the life insurance sector and by 19 pct in the general insurance sector over the same period.
The insurance market's turnover totaled 5.5 billion euros in 2009, falling to 4.293 billion euros in 2012, Ioannis Votsaridis, chairman and chief executive of Interlife said on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters, in Thessaloniki, Votsaridis said: "2012 was a very difficult year for the insurance market, with turnover down 14 pct. The life insurance sector was hit harder as consumers opted to prematurely liquidate their insurance contracts, while the general insurance sector suffered a 9.0 pct drop in turnover. This year could be even more difficult because of large pressure on insurance companies' invoices".
He noted that turnover in the vehicle insurance sector fell by 14 pct as several car owners opted not to insure their vehicles. Votsaridis said there more than 1,000,000 uninsured vehicles currently in the country.
He said that Interlife's premium revenues grew 2.96 pct in 2012 to 47.97 million euros, while profits are expected to be multiple its 2011 earnings. The company will pay a dividend to its shareholders.
 Seamen's union to launch 48-hour strike on ThursdayNo ships or ferries will sail from Greek ports for two days, starting at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, due to a 48-hour strike declared by the Greek seamen's union PNO in reaction to a draft bill to be tabled by the merchant marine ministry.
Seamen said their 48-hour strike was a "warning" and that they intend to escalate strike action if the government insists on going ahead with plans that change their labour rights.
The union intends to hold a meeting at Karaiskaki Square in Piraeus on Thursday morning and then hold a march to the port at 10:00 a.m. that will culminate in a demonstration.
Sources said that the seamen's industrial action may continue in the form of rolling 48-hour strikes but this will require a new vote by PNO's executive committee on Friday.
Seamen say that they have the support of farmers for their demands and warned that they will not back down.
The union wants the government to withdraw measures that reduce the number of crew positions on ships, end mandatory 10-month contracts for seamen and allow the hiring of lower crew members on ocean-going and leisure craft with individual contracts. PNO also demands the signature of collective labour agreements and the payment of backpay owed by ferry companies to Greek sailors.
The union warned that the government measures will result in skyrocketing unemployment among seamen and drive their social insurance funds into ever deeper financial difficulties, ultimately leading to their bankruptcy and collapse.
 Greek budget spending down in 2012Greek budget spending totaled 67.6 billion euros in the January-December 2012 period, down 1.1 billion euros from an revised budget target (68.7 billion) and 9.1 billion euros lower compared with 2011 (76.7 billion euros, the finance ministry said in a report published on Wednesday.
Primary spending, fell to 47.1 billion euros (down 449 million from a revised target of 47.6 billion euros) and down 4.5 billion euros from 2011 (51.6 billion euros).
The central government's unpaid debt obligations totaled 670.1 million euros at the end of 2012, down 266.9 million euros from a year earlier (937 million euros at the end of 2011).
 Athens hotels suffer from economic crisisA total of 41 hotels in Athens have closed down as a result of an economic crisis hitting the country, the Athens-Attica Hotel Association said on Wednesday.
Presenting a GBR Consulting report for 2012, the association said that its members' financial results for the year added further to a negative trend followed by the sector since 2007. The association said that average room occupancy rates fell by 31.9 pct in 2012, with revenue per available room dropping by 39.9 pct over the same period. Average room occupancy rate did not surpass 55 pct in Athens, the association said.
The report said that tourist arrivals in the Athens airport fell by 27 pct in 2012, compared with 2007, with Crete recording more arrivals than the country's capital. The report also noted that the average price per available room fell by 11.8 pct last year.
Yiannis Retsos, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers, speaking to AMNA said that the closing down of so many hotels was not mainly the result of an economic crisis but more of a depreciation of Athens as a travel destination in recent years because of a rise in criminality and other illegal behavior in the city centre.
 Greek stocks extend fall for third dayGreek stocks continued moving lower, for the third consecutive session, in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday pushing the composite index of the market below the 1,000 level. The index ended 0.84 pct down at 996.82 points, off the day's lows of 994.02 points. Turnover shrank to a low 49.853 million euros.
The Big Cap index eased 0.68 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 2.63 pct lower. The Travel (1.27 pct) and Food (0.61 pct) sectors scored gains, while Utilities (3.80 pct), Technology (3.81 pct) and Constructions (3.34 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
OPAP (1.56 pct), Eurobank (1.43 pct) and Eurobank Properties (1.12 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while PPC (3.96 pct), Mytilineos (3.55 pct) and Viohalco (3.50 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 100 to 62 with another 23 issues unchanged. AEGEK (19.86 pct), Perseus (19.58 pct) and Yalco (18.52 pct) were top gainers, while Varagis (19.78 pct), PC Systems (19.46 pct) and Olympic Catering (18.18 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.97%
Personal & Household: -0.66%
Raw Materials: -3.58%
Travel & Leisure: +1.27%
Food & Beverages: +0.61%
Financial Services: -1.09%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, OPAP, PPC and National Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.30
Public Power Corp (PPC): 7.27
HBC Coca Cola: 18.25
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.67
National Bank of Greece: 1.16
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.64
Bank of Piraeus: 0.29
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened slightly to 8.59 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 8.49 pct on Tuesday. The Greek bond yielded 10.20 pct and the German Bund 1.71 pct. Turnover was a strong 21 million euros, of which 9 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 12 million euros were sell orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.58 pct, the six-month rate was 0.35 pct, the three-month rate 0.21 pct and the one-month rate 0.11 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.42 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover shrinking to 13.257 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 4,055 contracts worth 6.880 million euros, with 34,291 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 24,118 contracts worth 6.377 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (7,663), followed by National Bank (3,541), Piraeus Bank (2,351), Cyprus Bank (917), OTE (1,158), PPC (2,335), GEK (830), Eurobank (671), Sidenor (414), OPAP (619), MIG (377), Ellaktor (420), Terna Energy (521) and Mytilineos (801).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.374
Pound sterling 0.871
Danish kroner 7.572
Swedish kroner 8.740
Japanese yen 125.4
Swiss franc 1.257
Norwegian kroner 7.546
Canadian dollar 1.377
Australian dollar 1.319
 Byzantine masterpieces from Greek collections to be exhibited at National Gallery of Art in Washington DCNEW YORK (AMNA/P. Panagiotou)
The National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington DC is to host a major exhibition on Byzantium in October, running through March 2014, after which the exhibition will travel to California, where it will go on display at the Villa in Malibu.
Greek Ambassador in Washington Christos Panagopoulos visited the NGA on Tuesday, where he discussed the exhibition as well as cooperation matters and projection of the Hellenic civilization through the Gallery's national network with NGA director Earl Powell and other senior Gallery officials.
The talks mainly focused on the major exhibition of Byzantine artifacts from mainland and island Greece that will go on display at the NGA in October, tentatively titled "Byzantium - Masterpieces from Greek Collections", which will be the first time that Byzantine exhibits will be shown at the NGA.
They also discussed the organization of side-events throughout the duration of the exhibition and its projection, while Powell expressed conviction that it will attract the interest of a large number of visitors from the metropolitan Washington area.
Panagopoulos noted that the exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to familiarize the American public with Greece's unique Byzantine cultural heritage and its decisive contribution to the Italian Renaissance that followed.
Greek Culture Ministry general director for antiquities Maria Vlazaki, who also attended the talks, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Powell on the presentation of the above exhibition.
The exhibition contains some 300 masterpieces from Greek museums, public and private collections and monasteries, as well as finds from recent excavations.
The traveling archaeological exhibition will be organized by the culture ministry's general directorate for Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum.
The exhibition will comprise five unities, tentatively titled "From the Ancient to the Byzantine World", "The Christian World", "The Intellectuals", "The Joys of Life" and "Byzantium at a Crossroads".
This event will be enhanced by a second, equally significant, exhibition being prepared in tandem by the ministry in collaboration with National Geographic magazine, which will pertain to the Ancient Greeks throughout the ages, from pre-historic times to the beginning of the Hellenistic Period.
The aim is for the second exhibition to coincide with the Masterpieces exhibition.
 Astrophotography exhibition at Eugenides FoundationAn exhibition of photography/astrophotography by Theofanis Matsopoulos, tiled "The Greece of Stars", opens at the Eugenides Foundation on Monday.
The exhibition will run through February 28.
The Eugenides Foundation was established in 1956 as a non-profit legal entity in private law. Its purpose was to implement the wishes expressed in the last testament of the late benefactor Eugenios Eugenides. Registered and based in Athens, its founding charter states that its objective is to contribute to the education of young Greeks in science and technology.
 Greece's music high school students take to streets in protestStudents at Greece's 42 music high schools and lyceums took to the streets to protest against the decline and underfunding of their schools on Wednesday, gathering in Athens, Thessaloniki, Iraklio and other Greek cities.
Singing and chanting and playing on their instruments, hundreds of students gathered in Athens' Klafthmonos Square, joined by parents, teachers and several Greek actors and musicians that turned out to support their cause. Their march ended in front of the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square. Similar marches and rallies, with the participation of music and arts schools, were held at Thessaloniki's Aristotelous Square, ending in front of the Macedonia-Thrace ministry, and in Iraklio, Crete.
Among their main complaints are a lack of teachers, especially for music classes, leading to the loss of thousands of class hours. Even though the ministry has approved the hiring of supply teachers, they are not enough to cover all the shortages. Students also face problems with school buses and no longer get free school lunches, in spite of the extended timetable.
 Buses, trolleys, trains, Proastiakos on 24-hour strike on ThursdayCommuters will face another day of difficult journeys on Thursday as a result of a 24-hour strike called by employees on public trolleys and buses in Athens. The transport sector employees demand the signing of new collective labour contracts.
Proastiakos suburban railway and Greek Railways Organization (OSE) trains will not be running as well, while there will be no metro service between Doukissis Plakentias Station and the Athens Airport.
The fixed line public transport (metro, electric railway, tram) will run normally because their personnel have received individual back-to-work orders forcing them to terminate industrial action that lasted more than a week.
 Rapist arrested in Athens' northern suburbsA 31-year-old man, married and a father of five, was arrested on Wednesday for raping, attempting to rape and robbing numerous women of different ages in the north Athens suburbs of Agios Stefanos, Erithrea and Dionyssos.
His arrest was made possible based on the testimony of the last of his victims, who managed to partially memorize his car's license plate numbers.
Police have linked him with the assaults on three women, aged 18, 65, and 42 years old, respectively, that occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2013. More cases are also being investigated using DNA evidence.
The suspect was familiar with the region where the attacks took place because he worked as a marble cutter and had visited the Dionyssos quarry repeatedly.
He used a different car each time (having changed 10 different cars since 2002) and found his victims at bus stations. He managed to persuade them to get into his car in order to drive them to their destination. Instead, he led them to remote areas and raped them, threatening them with a screwdriver or other sharp objects. He then abandoned his victims after removing their personal effects including mobile phones and cash.
The suspect, Nikolaos Koureas, lived in the district of Koropi and had been married since the age of 20. He told police that his actions were the result of the rejection he experienced from women in his immediate environment.
Citizens with information pertaining to the case can contact the police phone number 210 6875200.
 "Henry Dunant" hospital debts lead to the arrest of its president"Henry Dunant" hospital president Andreas Martinis was arrested on Wednesday for hospital debts to the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA-ETAM) amounting to 6,677,408.11 euro.
His arrest took place at the hospital and in the afternoon he will be led before a prosecutor.
 Cloudy on ThursdayCloudy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday. Winds 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures between -1C and 16C. Cloudy in Athens with possible local showers and northerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures between 5C and 15C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 2C and 12C.
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