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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-03-08

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

Friday, 8 March 2013 Issue No: 4305


  • [01] PM: Foundations of a success story for the first time since crisis began
  • [02] KKE comments on PM's address at the EPP conference
  • [03] Parliament President Meimarakis received visiting EPP and European Parliament Vice-President Karas
  • [04] Foreign minister contacts U.S. Secretary of State on the phone
  • [05] No 'stumbling block' in talks with troika, Admin Reform ministry sources say
  • [06] Troika meets Health minister
  • [07] Greek society cannot bear more fiscal measures, PASOK leader tells Troika
  • [08] Troika to stay in Athens until end of next week
  • [09] French Finance Minister Moscovici acknowledges the progress made by Greece
  • [10] Public Order minister signs EU plan for asylum support groups
  • [11] New leadership for Greek army, air force and navy
  • [12] Greece, Israel, US hold joint Naval exercise
  • [13] Court acquits Golden Dawn MP of assault charge due to 'reasonable doubts'
  • [14] Parliament ratifies amendments to UN 'Water Convention'
  • [15] PASOK MP Skandalidis say post-election cooperation with the Left should not be ruled out
  • [16] EIB to offer more than 1.0 bln euros in new funds to Greece
  • [17] Development minister meets EIB officials Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis
  • [18] Finance Minister Stournaras meets EIB vice-presidents
  • [19] FinMin Stournaras meets HFSF president Koster
  • [20] Deputy FM urges Greek-Azeri investments, joint ventures, at Business Forum in Baku
  • [21] Privatisation process for local airports to be launched within month, minister says
  • [22] Greek unemployment eased slightly in Dec
  • [23] Fitch says NBG-Eurobak merge beneficial to the group's credit profile
  • [24] Preselected investors alone will have access to information on companies under privatisation
  • [25] Foreign investors raise participation in Greek market cap
  • [26] Greece, Norway seek cooperation innovation
  • [27] Greece raises 1.4 bln euros from T-bill auction
  • [28] OLP takes part in Cruise Shipping Miami exhibition
  • [29] Car sales up 6.7 pct in Feb
  • [30] Business Briefs
  • [31] Greek stocks end 2.79 pct lower
  • [32] Greek bond market closing report
  • [33] ADEX closing report
  • [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Friday
  • [35] Corruption survey shows that bribery also affected by austerity
  • [36] 'Oedipus Tyrannus' at Beijing's National Centre for Performing Arts
  • [37] Battery Dance Co. in Athens
  • [38] Museums, archaeological sites closed on Friday due to strike
  • [39] Turkish authorities arrest smuggler, would-be illegal migrants
  • [40] Residents scuffle with riot police in Halkidiki
  • [41] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] PM: Foundations of a success story for the first time since crisis began

    Greece now has the foundations of a success story, for the first time since the financial crisis began, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told the opening session on Thursday of a two-day conference of the Presidium of the European People's Party (EPP) Group of the European Parliament, taking place in Athens' coastal suburb of Vouliagmeni, while he also put a European dimension on crucial national issues, such as delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), citing this example to impress the need for a common foreign policy in Europe.

    Replying to a question, Samaras said that there is no common European policy on the issue of EEZs at this time, resulting in each member state dealing with these matters by itself.

    The Greek efforts to combat the financial crisis were the main topic of the first session of the meeting of the EPP Group Presidency with the Heads of National Delegations in Athens. Opening the meeting, the Chairman of the EPP Group, Joseph Daul, welcomed the participants and especially Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

    "Your government belongs to the team of EPP government leaders who are fighting the crisis with courage and determination, like Ireland, Latvia and Poland, just to mention a few", Daul told Samaras, and praised the hard work of the Greek government and the Greek people in putting the country back on the track of economic development.

    Daul underlined that Greece is making concrete progress: its economy is more and more competitive, exports are increasing, budgetary deficits are decreasing with short and medium-term debt which is more and more limited.

    "These are positive and encouraging signals but it is crucial that you continue your efforts and keep going on the path to reform", he concluded.

    Samaras anticipated that "recovery will come by the end of 2013", noting that "it had a tough year, but Greece succeeded in fulfilling the 'prior actions' and attaining its fiscal targets for the first time in decades".

    "The Greek people have suffered greatly and continue to suffer," the premier said, stressing, however, that the initial data for this year indicate that "we will meet the targets for a primary surplus", noting also that the execution of last year's (2012) budget "is more than satisfactory, despite the larger-thanexpected recession".

    Clearly aiming to keep low tones, Samaras nevertheless warned that these achievements are fragile, but added that this time the appropriate early warning mechanisms are in place for correction of the course in the event of deviations.

    "We cannot allow a destroyed middle class and a desperate youth," he stressed, making several references in his address to the rampant unemployment among the young which, Samaras said, is an immense problem given that "the unemployment trends are unbearable and worrisome and we must reverse them immediately".

    "Our duty is to maintain social cohesion and public order so that the economy can operate and recovery can take place as soon as possible," the premier said,

    He also spoke of "populist voices that are being heard from right and left" which, however, "are incapable of derailing the effort". Samaras urged that special weight be placed also on the reforms being advanced by the Greek government, with the impetus on the deregulation of the markets, the 'opening' of the so-called 'closed professions', the reduction of bureaucracy, the denationalisations and attracting foreign investments. "What we offer is a 'red carpet', not 'red tape'," the Greek prime minister said, pledging to clamp down on bureaucracy.

    On the privatisations, Samaras said that binding tenders for the State Natural Gas Company (DEPA) and its subsidiary distributor Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) and the Greek football prognostics, numerical lottery and sports betting games operator OPAP are expected by end- March, while three other major progammes will be completed by the end of the year, and predicted that the targets in this area will be exceeded.

    Referring to the performance of the Greek economy in eliminating public deficits, achieving a primary surplus and improving its international competitiveness, Samaras voiced his determination to continue with the reforms and to speed up privatisation projects. "Our tri-party government - politically-speaking the first such coalition in decades - has managed in just eight months to make more structural changes than any government dared to consider in past decades. A Greek success story will be a relief for Greece and solid proof that the Eurozone has the strength, depth and capacity to surpass its worse problems. It will be a Greek success, a European success and an EPP success," he said.

    Marietta Giannakou, Head of the Greek Delegation of the EPP Group, focused on the impact of the crisis on Greek society and especially on Greek youth who are suffering high unemployment. "We have to give hope to the new generation. The experience of the high living standards we have enjoyed over the last 50 years is not sufficient to satisfactorily combat youth unemployment. We have to start a long discussion on finding new ways and tools to tackle the crisis," she said.

    [02] KKE comments on PM's address at the EPP conference

    "The red carpet laid by the coalition government to the monopolies has always been there. What the government now does with the troika, is to cast on the carpet even greater tax exemptions, privatisation of infrastructure, natural resources and especially starvation wages and a slavery-like working status', the Greek Communist Party (KKE) said in a statement on Thursday commenting on the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' speech at the opening session of a two-day conference of the Presidium of the European People's Party (EPP) Group of the European Parliament, held in Athens.

    "The common EU external policy and a 'European' exclusive economic zone (AOZ) that the premier wants mean joint-exploitation [of the country's natural resources] and ceding sovereign rights," KKE noted.

    It added that "growth can be achieved for the people only when big businesses and natural resources belong to the people themselves and serve their own needs," the statement concluded.

    [03] Parliament President Meimarakis received visiting EPP and European Parliament Vice-President Karas

    Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis on Thursday met with visiting European People's Party (EPP) and European Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas, who was accompanied by Leonidas Antonakopoulos, head of European Parliament Information Office in Greece.

    Meimarakis warmly received the European official at the Greek Parliament, underlining that his presence in the European Parliament and his country's political scene has set an example of a spirit of European integration. He also thanked him for being among the first to support Greece in its effort to remain in the eurozone. "You have shown your love for Europe and Greece in a tangible way during the tough times we were going through," Meimarakis noted.

    On his part, Karas congratulated "Greece and the Greek Parliament for the results achieved, the successes and the reforms that have gotten underway in the past few years," adding that some of them have already been completed.

    He underlined that "national parliaments play a very important role in shaping the future," noting that "the power of parliaments reflects the influence citizens have".

    "The authority of the European Parliament should expand to reflect how much we want to develop and expand European Democracy," he said, adding that "this is the topic I wish to discuss with you today, namely, how we can strengthen relations between national parliaments and the European Parliament and also, ways to reinforce activities celebrated this year on the occasion of the European Year of Citizens."

    Karas underlined that he was in Greece roughly two years ago, when he was not the European Parliament vice-president, and that since then "something has changed notably. Political stability has improved visibly, a fact that has led to increased confidence and increased confidence between people is a precondition for much-needed solidarity. I am looking forward to our future meetings and to a close cooperation."

    [04] Foreign minister contacts U.S. Secretary of State on the phone

    Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday held talks over the telephone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, discussing Greek-U.S. relations and reaffirming the mutual desire of both countries to expand and strengthen their bilateral cooperation.

    The two ministers also discussed the prospects of processes underway at the UN for solving the Cyprus issue and Avramopoulos briefed him on the results of a recent meeting of the Greece-Turkey High-level Cooperation Council.

    The talks also covered issues concerning developments in the Middle East, with emphasis on Syria and its neighbours, and the major challenges for regional stability.

    Avramopoulos and Kerry agreed on the need for a meeting between them in the near future, which is to be arranged via diplomatic channels.

    [05] No 'stumbling block' in talks with troika, Admin Reform ministry sources say

    There was no "stumbling block" in talks between Greece's administrative reform ministry and members of the EC-ECBIMF troika representing Greece's creditors, aides of Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis said on Thursday.

    The same sources stressed that the ministry's leadership remain dedicated to carrying out the huge and complex task of publicsector reform, in accordance with the country's commitments to its creditors. At the same time, they did not deny that some troika officials had raised objections regarding the planning of the ministry's next moves, especially in connection with staff suspension and the treatment of those found guilty of misconduct.

    In a written statement, Manitakis broke with his usual practice of avoiding comment on media reports when negotiations with the troika were underway and stressed that his ministry, "in close and harmonious cooperation with the finance ministry, is planning to speed up and extend the structural changes in public administration that are already underway".

    According to the minister, it was natural for planning at this point in time to focus on the form of mobility of 25,000 employees and he stressed that the ministry's "unwavering goal" was the fastest possible efficient redistribution and renewal of the public sector's human resources, combined with the necessary reduction of surplus permanent positions in the public sector.

    "The quantitative target for reducing the number of public sector employees must be combined with a qualitative improvement of public administration and the administrative reform and electronic government ministry is ensuring this," he added.

    Regarding those civil servants found guilty of misconduct and their removal, ministry officials said that the appointment of the new disciplinary councils, which now include members of the judiciary, will help speed up the process and soon bring results. The same sources dismissed reports that there were 7,000 such employees whose immediate dismissal was pending as groundless, saying that the legal procedures had to be observed in firing them.

    [06] Troika meets Health minister

    The heads of the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - the troika of Greece's international lenders - concluded their meeting with the Health ministry's political leadership on Thursday afternoon. Health Minister Andreas Lykourentzos told reporters after the talks, which lasted nearly three hours, that the consequences of the crisis were putting to test the National Health System (ESY), adding however that "we are responding to the great demand and we are on the right path."

    He said that the reforms reinforced the country's credibility. Responding to a relevant question he said that withdrawing pharmaceuticals from the market by any company was not "a good practice."

    Meanwhile, according to reports, European Commission representative in the troika, Mathias Morse, acknowledged that the proper implementation of the loan contract programme will result in the next troika meeting with the Health minister being "without subject."

    The troika demands that non-prescribed drugs be readily available in supermarket shelves and all outstanding debt to the National Organisation for the Provision of Healthcare Services (EOPYY) be settled as soon as possible, as this would enable the Organisation to regain liquidity within 2013.

    Another demand by the troika has been that health contributions be paid directly to EOPYY, and not through the social security funds.

    Lykourentzos is reported to have said that economic indices for the health sector have been considerably improving since last summer.

    [07] Greek society cannot bear more fiscal measures, PASOK leader tells Troika

    The Greek society and economy cannot bear more fiscal measures, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose party is a junior partner in the three-party government coalition, told the heads of the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Troika of Greece's international lenders during a meeting on Thursday. Party sources told AMNA that Venizelos told the Troika representatives that there can be no new fiscal measures because the Greek society and economy cannot bear them and that, if divergences from the targets arise, they need to be dealt with by interventions of a developmental type.

    The same sources said that during the 90-minute meeting, the Troika representatives assessed that Greece's picture is improved over that of the past and that a more attractive environment for investments has developed.

    The PASOK leader also pointed out the need for the European Commission to extend assistance on stamping out bureaucracy in the privatisations process, adding that the European Investment Bank (EIB) should play a more active role, especially regarding the Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs).

    Venizelos also outlined the programme proposed by PASOK to deal with unemployment, which concerns 700,000 new jobs and provides for the participation of the local governments and the private sector, which the sources said impressed the Troika, which considered the plan "reasonable" and doable.

    PASOK officials saw the meeting as being the first time that the Troika is holding a discussion of substance on growth issues, because it sees a better picture of Greece, the sources said. The issue of the over-indebted households was also discussed, with Venizelos maintaining that it would be to the banks' benefit as well to facilitate the repayment of those debts, adding that liquidity is needed, the sources continued.

    On the real estate market, Venizelos said a new type of study is needed to see how that market can be reopened and now to generate construction activity.

    The sources added that the issue of the civil servants was not discussed, noting that PASOK supports the structural changes in public administration in the direction of evaluation of the civil servants' mobility.

    Venizelos further briefed the Troika on the decisions taken at PASOK's recent Constitutional Congress, which indicate that PASOK is a factor of stability, supports the coalition government and is advancing the National Reconstruction Plan, the sources said.

    [08] Troika to stay in Athens until end of next week

    The representatives of Greece's international lenders - European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - are expected to stay in Athens until the end of next week to continue negotiations with Greek ministers over the evaluation of the country's loan agreement programme.

    According to a top official of the Ministry of Finance, the troika must be first satisfied that the prerequisites are met for the March loan disbursement, amounting to 2.8 billion euros. The same source said that Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is expected to have a third meeting with the troika on Sunday, but there may be more meetings with the government's financial staff.

    Stournaras had a meeting at the ministry on late Thursday afternoon with the vice-president of the European Parliament Othmar Karas, whom he told that Greece is currently in its sixth year of recession and has paid dearly for the economic crisis by tough fiscal stability measures, as well as large wage and pension reductions and tax increases. Stournaras also placed emphasis on European assistance in investments to exit the crisis.

    Karas spoke of a needed balance between public debt and growth, as well as between employment and social cohesion. He said he believed that Europe is still facing problems, but there are enough funds to deal with youth unemployment and boost competitiveness in Europe.

    [09] French Finance Minister Moscovici acknowledges the progress made by Greece

    BRUSSELS (AMNA / M.Spinthourakis)

    French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici on Thursday acknowledged the progress achieved by the Greek economy as regards its fiscal stabilization, pointing out the need for the European Union to focus its attention on the reinforcement of economic growth on European level.

    Addressing a meeting of the European Socialists Group at the European Parliament, he said that the countries that meet their fiscal targets should be 'rewarded'. He also insinuated that France will not meet the goal to reduce its deficit to 3 pct of its GDP in 2013 as a result of the anemic economic growth. Parliament ratifies agreement for energy cooperation with Turkey

    A Memorandum of Understanding agreement between Greece and Turkey for cooperation in the energy sector was ratified by majority vote in the Hellenic Parliament on Thursday, with the support of coalition government MPs.

    The agreement was not supported by main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' (SYRIZA) since, as SYRIZA MP Athanassios Petrakos said, the specific memorandum did not promote energy cooperation between the two sides and was simply a "wish list" signed for 'communications purposes' under former PASOK environment minister Tina Birbili.

    Petrakos pointed out that the agreement states that the two sides agree on the prompt implementation of the ITGI pipeline, even though the specific project was agreed five years earlier and now seemed to be "on hold".

    Independent Greeks MP Rachel Makri noted that the consortium that has undertaken the development of the natural gas project off Azerbaijan has excepted the ITGI pipeline that would have carried the gas to Europe, as did GD MP Efstathios Boukouras. Deputy Environment Minister Asimakis Papageorgiou stressed that the ITGI has not been cancelled either by Greece or the European Union and remains among the projects of joint interest.

    "It would consequently be a mistake, on our part, to cancel a project that has already been planned and for which the studies had progressed," he pointed out. He also noted that the TAP pipeline was that competing with the Nabucco pipeline for the southern corridor.

    "The selection will be made in the summer by the consortium. There must be an alternative pipelines for the southern corridor," he added.

    Answering concerns about the possibility that eastern Aegean islands might be connected and become dependent on Turkey for their energy needs, the minister pointed out that the agreement made no reference to islands, especially for any electrical connection.

    Papageorgiou stressed that what the government was promoting was bilateral dialogue with Greece's neighbour for good cooperation on energy issues, especially natural gas. He also highlighted Greece's strategic goal and its hopes of emerging as an energy hub for natural gas, which would require a good level of cooperation with Turkey.

    [10] Public Order minister signs EU plan for asylum support groups

    BRUSSELS (AMNA - V. Demiris)

    Public Order and Citizen Protection Minister Nikolaos Dendias and European Asylum Support Office Executive Director Dr. Robert Visser on Thursday signed the Greece-EASO Operating Plan Phase II, which extends EASO emergency support for Greek asylum services until December 2014.

    Under the agreement, EASO will continue to provide support to Greece in a number of "prioritised areas" that include training staff of the new services, support to backlog committees, support for improvemtn of reception procedures and the management of EU funds related to asylum and reception.

    Following the signature of the plan in Brussels, Dendias said it was very important for Greece, in the midst of its huge effort to handle migration flows, that it should not feel alone and be conscious of Europe's support. Visser, on his part, said the agreement was an expression of European solidarity that was initially targeted at Greece.

    The new plan was drawn up following a request made by Dendias on January 28 and Visser's decision to deploy Asylum Support Teams (ASTs) and technical operational assistance to Greece in order to increase its capacity to deal with the institutional reform in the area of asylum, screening and reception in Greece. Via the Phase II agreement, EASO will continue to help Greece via the deployment of more than 70 experts from member-states in about 55 ASTs.

    While in Brussels, Dendias will also participate in an EU justice and internal affairs ministers' council and brief them on the results of his recent visits to Bangladesh and Turkey. He is also scheduled to meet European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom to discuss progess in implementing and funding the revised action plan for asylum and migration management.

    Parliament passes draft bill on illegal logging A draft bill tabled in parliament by the Environment ministry was approved by majority on Thursday evening. Arrangements in the new bill provide for stricter measures on illegal logging. Alternate Environment minister Stavros Kalafatis described the bill's provisions as a message that the state will be stern against illegal activities involving the country's forests.

    [11] New leadership for Greek army, air force and navy

    The Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA), in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday, decided to appoint new leaders for the three branches of the Greek armed forces, the Hellenic Army, Hellenic Navy and Hellenic Air Force.

    Defence Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos announced that Lieut. General Athanassios Tselios will take over as the new chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff, Vice Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis will take over as chief of the Hellenic Navy General Staff and Lieutenant General Evangelos Tournas as head of the Hellenic Air Force.

    Lieut. Gen. Tselios was until today commander of the 4th Army Corps, Vice-Admiral Apostolakis was previously deputy chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces General Staff and Lieut. Gen. Tournas was head of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force.

    In statement, Panagiotopoulos thanked the military commanders now entering retirement for all that they have offered the armed forces and the country.

    [12] Greece, Israel, US hold joint Naval exercise

    The annual joint Naval exercise of Greece, Israel and the United States, code-named 'Noble Dina', was launched on Thursday in the region of the south Aegean island of Crete and the eastern Mediterranean. The goal of the exercise, to be completed on March 21, is to evaluate the level of operational cooperation in cases of search and rescue, immediate response to emergencies, evacuations and fire-fighting on ships.

    The Naval exercise 'Noble Dina' is part of the cooperation of the Greek Navy with other naval forces to promote cooperative relations, a Hellenic Navy General Staff statement mentioned.

    [13] Court acquits Golden Dawn MP of assault charge due to 'reasonable doubts'

    An Athens Criminal Appeals Court on Thursday acquitted Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) MP Ilias Kasidiaris of charges relating to the assault of a student on the Athens university's campus in 2007, citing reasonable doubts.

    The charges against the MP were that he had lent his company car to a gang of about four individuals that used it to drive to the campus, assault and rob the student, and then drive away.

    The court adopted the public prosecutor's position concerning the case, finding that the only evidence of the MPs involvement came from the testimony of the female eye-witness who had given police the licence plate number of the car. The number matched that of Kasidiaris' car but the woman's testimony was then weakened by contradictions and inaccuracies in other areas.

    In a courtroom packed by Kasidiaris' supporters and GD members, the public prosecutor recommended that the MP be acquitted and accepted his claims that he had absolutely no connection with the attack on the student.

    Among others, the woman had claimed that the group that attacked the student were armed with sticks but this was not confirmed by the coroner's report.

    The eye-witness Maria Vavagianni told the court that she had been sitting in her car outside the physics department with her husband, now deceased, when she saw four or five people get out of the car in question and mount the stairs of the physics department, armed with sticks that they used to beat someone up. She told the court she had been unable to see the victim because the incident was taking place at the top of the stairs, above her line of sight. She noted down the number of the car, however, and her husband had written it down.

    Equally convinced of the defendant's guilty was the then postgraduate student Costas Dialynas, who expressed certainty that the attack on him was carried out by members of GD.

    Kasidiaris, on his part, denied all connection with the affair and said that on the day and time of the attack he had been visiting a private clinic as a pharmaceuticals salesman, parking his car in the nearby Peace and Friendship Stadium parking lot. His story was backed up by a retired military general, who told the court that he later met Kasidiaris in the stadium's parking lot.

    [14] Parliament ratifies amendments to UN 'Water Convention'

    Parliament on Thursday ratified amendments to articles 25 and 26 of the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water Courses and International Lakes, known as the 'Water Convention'.

    Alternate Environment Minister Stavros Kalafatis, addressing Parliament, said that the convention would help strengthen the principles of international law and that protection of transboundary water courses was of primary concern for the government.

    [15] PASOK MP Skandalidis say post-election cooperation with the Left should not be ruled out

    PASOK MP and former minister Costas Skandalidis on Thursday noted that his party should not rule out the likelihood of a post-election cooperation with leftist forces.

    Speaking on AMNA Web TV, he said that PASOK (one of the junior partners in the coalition government) "extends an open invitation to all progressive and democratic forces".

    Skandalidis noted that "we should be open. PASOK is a key player in the center-left. It has an independent strategy, unites the people and does not divide them. Therefore, it appeals to everyone and calls for national understanding and the implementation of a national reconstruction plan for the country."

    Financial News

    [16] EIB to offer more than 1.0 bln euros in new funds to Greece

    The European Investment Bank (EIB) will support the Greek economy in its effort to exit the crisis by offering more than 1.0 billion euros in new funds, the bank's officials said on Thursday.

    Speaking to reporters, during a news conference, EIB officials said that the bank will offer technical assistance in the preparation of business plans which will apply for funding. "We are here to support the Greek economy, channeling funds which will surpass 2012 levels and rise much more above 1.0 billion euros, with the prospect of rising even further if credible plans were to be presented," the officials said.

    EIB's funding will be channeled, among others, to infrastructure projects focusing on highways, supporting small- and mediumsized enterprises (through commercial banks and through a special fund set up to support Greek SMEs. EIB also plans to offer funds to support the country's external trade, a new product designed to support international trade which will be implemented in Greece for the first time. EIB has already approved funds worth 500 million euros for the programme which is expected to begin by the end of April.

    [17] Development minister meets EIB officials Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and Deputy Minister

    Kyriakos Virvidakis met on Thursday with European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-presidents Dario Scannapieco and Mihai Tanasescu.

    The meeting examined the programme of guarantees offered by EIB to Greek banks for financing Greece's external trade, the flow of funding for the small and medium businesses and the loan regarding the construction of four highways in the country.

    The programme supporting the external trade is scheduled to run by the end of April and is destined for small, medium and larger businesses. Guarantees are expected to reach the amount of 1.5 billion euros annually.

    Around 230 million euros have already been given through commercial banks for the financing of small and medium businesses.

    [18] Finance Minister Stournaras meets EIB vice-presidents

    Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Thursday met with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-Presidents Dario Scannapieco and Mihai Tanasescu.

    The new EIB Vice-President Tanasescu will include Greece in his portfolio; it is currently under that of Italian EIB Vice- President Scannapieco, whose term ends this year.

    The EIB's 2013 funding programme is estimated at around 1 billion euros, while an equal amount will be earmarked for new projects about to be signed.

    [19] FinMin Stournaras meets HFSF president Koster

    Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras met on Thursday with the new president of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund Paul Koster.

    Reports said that talks focused on the recapitalisation of the Greek banks.

    [20] Deputy FM urges Greek-Azeri investments, joint ventures, at Business Forum in Baku

    Greece's deputy foreign minister Dimitris Kourkoulas urged Greek and Azeri businessmen to collaborate in exports, investments and joint ventures so as to "spread their wings" to third countries, in a policy of extroversion, addressing the opening session of a joint Business Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Wednesday evening.

    Kourkoulas is on a three-day visit to Azerbaijan, accompanied by the Foreign Ministry's Secretary General for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation, Peter Mihalos, during which he is scheduled to meet with Azeri Industry and Energy Minister Natig Aliyev, Economic Development Minister Shahin Mustafayev, Culture and Tourism Minister Abulfas Garayev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad Guliyev.

    Addressing the Business Forum, hosted by the Greek- Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce, Kourkoulas stressed that "The Caspian region is of strategic importance to Greece, and we see Azerbaijan as playing a very important role in the wider region".

    Greece, he said, firmly supports the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy and, in that context, the development of the Eastern Partnership, which is yet another field of cooperation.

    "As you know, Greece will assume the Presidency of the EU Council for the first half of 2014. During that time, the decisions of the November 2013 Summit Meeting - in Vilnius, Lithuania - on the Eastern Partnership will start going into implementation, and the Greek government will take that opportunity to contribute to continued capitalization on the dynamic in our relations with Azerbaijan."

    "The Greek government is putting particular emphasis on growth so that the country can emerge from the crisis. Growth is being supported by a number of measures contained in the new investment law, including sustainable programmes - in the tourism sector, for instance - infrastructure projects, green development, renewable energy sources, and exploitation of our country's natural resources. This effort to emerge from the crisis is bolstered by the fact that Greece is a vital link between the countries of the European Union, Southeast Europe, the Mediterranean, and the countries of the Black Sea. In this large geographical space, our country is an important factor in the promotion of business synergies with other countries and a significant partner in supporting and enhancing our neighbours' efforts to upgrade their infrastructures and create trusted institutions on the economic level," he continued Kourkoulas noted that "among the sectors in which we are cooperating, the energy sector is - as you know - an important chapter in our bilateral economic relations, and we want to deepen the already very good cooperation we have with your country".

    "It is a fact that Greece's position in the Eastern Mediterranean basin and Southeast Europe renders us an active participant in international energy developments. Greece can become an energy supply hub through the linking of natural gas networks that upgrade the importance of its contribution to the broader goal of European energy security and bolster the national development effort, attracting investments," he said, adding that "Greece has know-how in the sectors of oil refineries and renewable energy sources. So beyond distribution of gas and oil from Azerbaijan, we could collaborate in the sector of renewable energy sources and green development".

    In the construction sector, he continued, "our cooperation could prove exceptionally beneficial to both sides. Greek construction groups, with their know-how and experience, can participate - together with Azerbaijani companies - in large-scale construction projects, such as motorways, hotels, hydroelectric plants and energy facilities, whether in the territory of the two countries or in third countries".

    Regarding cooperation in the agriculture sector, "we believe there is much room for improvement. As you know, Greek agricultural products (fruit, vegetables, olive oil, wine) are part of the Mediterranean diet, which is well known for its benefits and could well find a place in Azerbaijan's market," the deputy minister said.

    He said that "here are also prospects for cooperation in the health sector, mainly through sharing experience, cooperation in the pharmaceutical industry, and the opening of diagnostic centres", while, regarding the maritime transport sector, "I hope that the Agreement we signed in 2011 on commercial shipping serves as a springboard for closer cooperation".

    "In the telecommunications and IT sectors, the entry into effect on 13 May 2011 of the relevant agreement signed on 16 February 2009 will spark a constructive and long-term cooperation between our countries, potentially bringing multiple benefits to both states and growth to the wider region," Kourkoulas continued, adding that "we also want to expand our cooperation on the implementation of 'twinning projects'.

    Greece has wide experience gained from implementing many such programmes with various countries and can transfer knowhow in many sectors".

    "Greece is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, welcoming over 17 million visitors a year. With long and vital experience in this sector, we can transfer our know-how to Azerbaijan, should such a transfer be requested. Furthermore, I want to assure you that the Azerbaijan tourism market is also of interest to our country. The commencing of direct flights between Athens and Baku on 28 May 2013 - on Aegean Airlines - will contribute to increasing tourist flows between the two countries and facilitate business trips between Athens and Baku," Kourkoulas concluded.

    According to diplomatic sources, the event was held in a warm climate, attended by 40 Greek and 100 Azeri enterprises, as well as several Azeri ministers and export and investment agencies.

    [21] Privatisation process for local airports to be launched within month, minister says

    International tenders for the privatisation of the country's local airports will be launched before the end of March, Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis announced on Thursday. He said tenders will be for long-term concessions to exploit the commercial operation and management of the airports, which will remain the property of the state. He specified, however, that the new airport of Kasteli on Crete will be exempted from the above procedure since it was "targeted at a different class of investors".

    The minister stressed that the aim of the privatisations and concessions was not only to raise cash but was primarily a way to boost economic growth.

    During joint statements to the press with the head of the Hellenic Republic Assets Development Fund (HRADF) Yiannis Emiris, the minister also announced a reorganisation of Greece's civil aviation authority (YPA). He said that this would become a new regulatory authority with supervisory powers, charged with monitoring the execution of concession contracts and pricing policies, as well as ensuring flight safety and quality control. To this end, he announced plans to streamline the running of YPA through the abolition or merger of at least 10 departments and 14 sections, while stressing that no YPA staff will be fired or transferred to other services.

    The minister clarified that, under the terms of the concessions, the Greek state will retain ownership, supervisory powers and control of the airports and will also preserve existing airports on all islands, regardless of size. The concessions will be offered for a minimum period of 30-35 years, in order for charges to remain on a competitive level, while an option for extension will be given.

    The airports on offer will be split into two main groups, while steps will be taken to ensure that both the "high interest" airports and the rest continue to run smoothly.

    The first group will include airports in the Ionian islands, in Hania and mainland Greece and the second group will be made up mainly of Aegean islands airports. Investors will have the option of adding selected additional airports to the core seven in each group, while the airport of Aghialos can be chosen by the investor of either of the two groups.

    Emiris explained that under the deal, the Greek state will receive a contractual one-off lump sum payment but also a percentage of revenues paid yearly. Airport fees will initially be fixed but contractors will have the right to raise them if they invest in improving airport infrastructure, provided the new fees are within the average price range for competitive airports.

    HRADF's CEO said that the airport privatisation process begin in March and will take place alongside that for marinas, ports and other infrastructure relating to tourism. He noted that this was infrastructure that "worked together" and would greatly improve the country's tourism product. For the airports where no concessionaire is found, their management will be taken over by a new company that will be under state control. This will start operating three months after the tender process has ended, with staff transferred from YPA, and is envisaged to remain in operation for 20 years initially.

    [22] Greek unemployment eased slightly in Dec

    The Greek unemployment rate eased slightly to 26.4 pct in December 2012, from 26.6 pct in November, but remained five percentage points up compared with December 2011 (21.4 pct), the independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ESTAT) said on Thursday.

    The statistics service, in a report, said that the number of unemployed people rose by 263,596 in one year, to a total of 1,321,236, an increase of 898,368 from 2008 when the crisis began. Unemployment among young people (aged 15-24) remained at very high levels, 57.5 pct), while Attica -home of around 2/4 of the Greek population- remained at the top among the country's regions with an unemployment rate of 28.4 pct.

    Employment fell by 208,953 in December, compared with December 2011, to 3,679,074 workers, but was up by 40,316 compared with November 2012. Unemployment mostly hit women (29.3 pct in December 2012 from 25.4 pct in December 2011), while among men it rose to 24.3 pct from 18.4 pct over the same periods, respectively.

    The 25-34 age group recorded an unemployment rate of 34 pct, the 35-44 a 23.4 pct, the 45-54 a 19.5 pct and the 55-64 a 16.3 pct rate.

    The unemployment rate among the country's regions was: Attica (28.4 pct), Epirus-Western Macedonia (28.1 pct), Macedonia/ Thrace (26.9 pct), Thessaly (25.9 pct), Crete (23.9 pct), Peloponnese-Western Greece-Ionian islands (23.7 pct) and Aegean (22.6 pct).

    [23] Fitch says NBG-Eurobak merge beneficial to the group's credit profile

    Fitch Ratings agency on Thursday said it expects that the latest consolidation move in the Greek banking sector, involving the two largest banks, National Bank of Greece SA and Eurobank Ergasias SA, will prove beneficial to the new group's credit profile in the medium term, assuming achievement of synergies. However, in the near term, the risks may outweigh benefits, the rating agency said in a report. Fitch expects Eurobank to merge into NBG following the acquisition of Eurobank by NBG, clearing the way to form Greece's biggest lender with pro-forma assets of 178 billion euros. The creation of the NBG-Eurobank group should facilitate a more efficient structure to cope with Greece's weak macro-economic prospects. With this transaction, NBG will enlarge its already leading franchise in Greece, widening the gap with its direct peers which have also been involved in consolidation moves, albeit on a lower scale.

    According to NBG, the new group's pro-forma market shares will be about 32% for loans and 36% for deposits. Fitch expects the group's strong domestic franchise to eventually lead to an enhanced deposit base and to enable a lowering of retail funding cost over time. The new group will also benefit from a strengthened international footprint, particularly in South-East Europe, where both NBG and Eurobank have had a presence for some time. However, Fitch notes that challenges related to the NBG-Eurobank merger are greater than those faced by other Greek banks that have played a role in the Greek banking sector consolidation process. This is due to the two banks' relatively large size and significant overlap in resources and risks, which results in larger integration and execution risks. Added to these concerns, Fitch anticipates that both banks' funding pressures will persist, at least in the near term, and notes that the merger comes at a time when the two banks also need to meet restructuring requirements under the recapitalisation processes. Both NBG and Eurobank have been provided with sizeable capital support (EUR 9.8bn and EUR 5.8bn, respectively) by the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) following the capital needs assessment conducted by the Bank of Greece (BOGr.) in 2012. However, the ultimate capital needs will have to be reassessed by the national and international authorities. Fitch does not expect the capital needs of the new group to be higher than the sum of those specified for each individual bank in view of cost-restructuring efforts and potential synergies.

    [24] Preselected investors alone will have access to information on companies under privatisation

    Only 'preselected' and not 'candidate' investors will be able to take advantage of a government-sponsored clause allowing access to information, even confidential in nature, concerning companies up for privatisation, it was announced on Thursday.

    The relevant clause, submitted by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Alternate Environment Minister Stavros Kalafatis, is included in an environment ministry draft bill currently being discussed in parliament.

    Ahead of the discussion, Kalafatis announced changes in the specific clause enabling Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) to request information from the managements of companies up for privatisation about their distinct characteristics, allowing preselected investors to evaluate them. The initial wording of the clause allowed access to such information to all 'candidate' investors.

    The rewording of the clause also guarantees that access to confidential information will not include information or facts that concern or are related with the country's national security and defence. Such information will be made available by the Hellenic Defence Systems S.A. and the Hellenic Arms Industry S.A. (EBO) only with the written permission of the minister of defence.

    [25] Foreign investors raise participation in Greek market cap

    Foreign investors slightly raised their participation in the capitalization of the Athens Stock Exchange in February to 51.5 pct, from 50.8 pct in January.

    Greek investors cut their share in the market to 47.1 pct from 47.7 pct over the same period, respectively. Foreign investors were net buyers in February, with capital inflows totaling 42.08 million euros. On the other hand, Greek investors were net sellers with capital outflows of 43.55 million euros.

    The value of transactions totaled 1.180 billion euros in February, down 24.4 pct from January, and down 29.9 pct from February 2012. Average daily turnover was 59.02 million euros in February, down from 70.95 million in January and significant lower compared with 84.17 million euros in February last year. The market's capitalization was 38.18 billion euros at the end of February, up 2.5 pct from January and 30.1 pct higher from February 2012.

    [26] Greece, Norway seek cooperation innovation

    Greece and Norway are seeking to create the prospects of launching new actions to boost business activity and innovation in fields of mutual interest. The issue was discussed during a meeting between Norway's ambassador to Greece Sjour Larsen and the embassy's commercial attache Xeni Anastasiou with Corallia officials in a visit to the Athens InnoCenter.

    The meeting focused on prospects of cooperation and creating new channels of exchanging practices and ideas between Corallia and the Norwegian embassy.

    Speaking after the meeting, the Norwegian ambassador said: "I would like to thank Corallia's group for their warm welcome to Athens InnoCenter and to congratulate them for their work. We had a very constructive discussion during which we sought common ground of cooperation and I look forward to completing the ideas offered by both sides".

    Professor Vasilios Makios, Corallia's managing director said:

    "We were very pleased to be given the opportunity to discuss sectors and issues of interest and to examine how we could establish a permanent platform of communication and cooperation with the Norwegian embassy and other Norwegian agencies that could contribute to the development of Greece at this difficult time for the country".

    [27] Greece raises 1.4 bln euros from T-bill auction

    Greece raised 1.4 billion euros from a six-month Treasury bills auction, held on Tuesday, 5 March, after the Public Debt Management Organization accepted additional non-competitive bids worth 262.5 million euros. The interest rate of the issue eased to 4.25 pct from 4.27 pct in the previous auction of same T-bills in February 5.

    [28] OLP takes part in Cruise Shipping Miami exhibition

    The Piraeus Port Organisation (OLP) is to participate in Miami's international cruise exhibition, Cruise Shipping Miami, 11-14 March, 2013.

    OLP and other cruise ports around Greece will share the same pavilion put together by Greece's National Tourism Organisation (EOT).

    The extension of Piraeus' cruise port for new generation boats is currently at the final stage of inclusion under Attica Regional Operational Programme, and works are expected to commence within 2013.

    In addition, the construction of the Piraeus Cultural Coast, including museums, thematic parks and open recreational spaces, is expected to conclude by 2017.

    [29] Car sales up 6.7 pct in Feb

    Car sales grew 6.7 pct in February this year, helped by a 7.0 pct increase in passenger cars in the month and by a very low comparison basis of February 2012 when car sales plunged 43.8 pct, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.

    The statistics service, in a report, said car registrations (new and used ones) totaled 5,699 in February, up 6.7 pct from the same month last year, for a decline of 19.8 pct in the first two months of 2013, after a 27.4 pct drop in the January-February period in 2012.

    Motorcycle registrations totaled 1,631 units in February, up 30.2 pct from the same month last year, for an increase of 4.9 pct in the first two months of 2013.

    [30] Business Briefs

    -- Demand for technology products fell in the last two years hit by an economic crisis and a shrinking consumers' income, a report by Hellastat said on Thursday.

    -- Greek hotel prices fell to their lowest levels in four years in March, with the average room price falling to 71 euros, said on Thursday.

    -- Viohalco Group on Thursday announced losses of 50.1 million euros -or 0.2512 euros per share- for the year 2012, up from losses of 42.6 million euros -or 0.2139 euros per shares- in 2011.

    -- OPAP SA, Greece's lottery operator, on Thursdsay said its net profits totaled 505.5 million euros in 2012, from 537.5 million euros in 2011, for a decline of 6.0 pct,

    [31] Greek stocks end 2.79 pct lower

    Greek stocks came under strong selling pressure in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, following news that major blue chip stocks will leave the FTSE group of indexes. More analytically, the FTSE All World index will strike off the shares of OPAP, PPC, National Bank, Alpha Bank and Eurobank, while the FTSE AllCap index will add Folli Follie and will strike off the shares of Cyprus Bank and Cyprus Popular Bank. The Developed Europe Mid-Caps index will strike off the shares of OPAP, PPC, National Bank, Alpha Bank and Eurobank.

    The composite index of the market dropped 2.79 pct to end at 936.57 points, extending its decline for the fifth consecutive session. The index now stands 3.16 pct higher from the start of the year. Turnover was an improved 67.821 million euros.

    The Big Cap index dropped 3.31 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 3.65 pct lower. The Personal Products index was the only one to end higher (1.09 pct), while Banks (6.73 pct), Utilities (6.11 pct) and Raw Materials (4.74 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.

    Eurobank Properties (1.71 pct), Jumbo (1.42 pct) and Titan (0.56 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Cyprus Bank (10.89 pct), Piraeus Bank (9.91 pct) and Alpha Bank (7.48 pct) were top losers.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 120 to 35 with another 18 issues unchanged. Boutaris (19.70 pct), Audiovisual (18.54 pct) and G.E. Demetriou (16.92 pct) were top gainers, while Technical Publications (18.99 pct), Attica Publications (13.04 pct) and Cyprus Bank (10.89 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Industrials: -2.66%

    Commercial: +0.12%

    Construction: -1.10%

    Oil & Gas: -2.91%

    Personal & Household: +0.91%

    Raw Materials: -4.74%

    Travel & Leisure: -4.58%

    Technology: -4.05%

    Telecoms: -4.05%

    Banks: -7.12%

    Food & Beverages: -1.23%

    Health: -4.86%

    Utilities: -6.11%

    Financial Services: -2.10%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were OPAP, OTE, PPC and National Bank.

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

    Alpha Bank: 0.83

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 6.34

    HBC Coca Cola: 20.15

    Hellenic Petroleum: 7.91

    National Bank of Greece: 0.79

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.31

    OPAP: 6.62

    OTE: 5.68

    Bank of Piraeus: 0.20

    Titan: 14.48

    [32] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds eased slightly in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, with the Greek bond yielding 10.89 pct and the German Bund 1.49 pct. Turnover was a thin 1.0 million euros, one buy order.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.54 pct, the nine-month rate eased to 0.43 pct, the six-month rate was 0.32 pct, the three-month rate was 0.20 pct and the one-month rate was 0.12 pct.

    [33] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading around its fair value in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover rising to 32.246 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 12,725 contracts worth 19.804 million euros, with 32,446 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 63,215 contracts worth 12.442 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (14,611), followed by Alpha Bank (13,220), Piraeus Bank (7,450), Cyprus Bank (10,646), MIG (801), OTE (6,785), PPC (2,991), OPAP (2,189), Mytilineos (805), Eurobank (472), GEK (204), Ellaktor (255), Intralot (732), Folli Follie (589), Sidenor (272) and Viohalco (216).

    [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Friday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.320

    Pound sterling 0.877

    Danish kroner 7.566

    Swedish kroner 8.418

    Japanese yen 124.64

    Swiss franc 1.250

    Norwegian kroner 7.527

    Canadian dollar 1.362

    Australian dollar 1.287

    General News

    [35] Corruption survey shows that bribery also affected by austerity

    Petty corruption in Greece was significantly reduced but is still present - remaining strongest in the greater Athens region and the Peloponnese in southern Greece - according to the 2012 National Survey on Corruption in Greece made public on Thursday. The annual survey is conducted by Transparency International Greece with the help of the polling company Public Issue.

    The amount of bribes in 'fakelaki' (little bribery envelopes) was smaller for the first time since the beginning of the survey in 2007, with the estimated total cost of petty corruption not exceeding half a billion euro (estimated at 420 million euros versus 554 million euros for 2011) based on the responses given to a questionnaire addressed to a sample of 12,104 people.

    The public sector still remains at the top of the petty corruption list, as it continues to receive the most 'fakelaki' compared to the private sector, with the hospitals (45 pct), the tax offices (13.3 pct) and the town planning permission bodies (3.7 pct) still occupying the top places in the public services corruption ranking index. However, the bribes paid to public services have also been affected by austerity, as there is substantial reduction in their average amount (1,228 euros in 2012 versus 1,399 euros in 2011).

    On the other hand, the private sector seems to gain more as the 'fakelaki' have become 'fatter' by 2.6 pct (average amount of 1,442 euros in 2012 versus 1,406 euros in 2011), even though there was a decline in the number of reported corruption transactions (2.6 pct in 2012 versus 3.6 pct for 2011).

    TI-Greece Chairman Costas Bakouris and Public Issue President & CEO Yiannis Mavris said during the presentation of the survey results that the signs are hopeful and encouraging, considering that for the first time the size of petty corruption is smaller and social resistance to the phenomenon increases, while more people perceive the non issuance of receipts during transactions as a corruption incident.

    Additionally, more people (27.3 pct for the public sector for 2012 versus 25.3 pct for 2011 and 31 pct for the private sector for 2012 versus 21.6 pct for 2011) stated that they refused to pay the requested bribes.

    The 2012 survey illustrates the social profile of petty corruption victims (based on 21.5 pct of the respondents, who have been corruption victims in the past); they are mostly male in the 45-54 age group, higher education graduates, with self-employed or employer status.

    Bakouris stressed that e-government tools and Information and Communication Technology applications (ICTs) provide solutions to tackle petty corruption, as they contribute to public administration reform, facilitate citizens' detachment from public services and consequently reduce opportunities for bribe transactions.

    Moreover, the adaptation and implementation of an effective legal framework for whistleblower protection and encouragement, can in the long run change mentalities, breaking longtime vicious circles that 'tolerate' corrupt practices.

    [36] 'Oedipus Tyrannus' at Beijing's National Centre for Performing Arts


    The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing will stage performances of ancient playwright Sophocles' "Oedipus Tyrannus" beginning on April 11, within the framework of the "Made in China" programme at the centre -- the second of three ancient Greek tragedies to be staged in successive years in the Chinese capital, in tandem with the Tibetan epic "King Gesar" (in three parts).

    The "Oedipus" production will include participation of noted Chinese actress Jiang Shan, under the direction of Li Liuyi, who also directed "Antigone" in June 2012 and is set to stage "Prometheus Bound" in early 2014.

    Li spoke at a press conference in Beijing this week on the significance of staging "Oedipus Tyrannus", while he also thanked the Greek embassy in the Chinese capital for its assistance.

    On his part, Greek ambassador to China Theodoros Georgakelos hailed the very ambitious, as he said, presentation of the three ancient Greek tragedies to Chinese threatre goers. He also praised the cooperation between the Greek side and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, an internationally known cultural organisation designed by French architect Paul Andreu.

    Related press reports were hosted, amongst others, in the Chinese government's information bureau website -- -- in the China Daily newspaper, Chinese public radio ( and the popular news site

    [37] Battery Dance Co. in Athens

    The US embassy in Athens, in collaboration with the Onassis Cultural Center and with the support of the City of Athens, has begun a 10-day educational programme with the noted Battery Dance Co., a renowned New York City-based dance group that is currently on a six-country European tour. The troupe recently arrived in Athens to begin conducting its signature arts education programme, entitled 'Dancing to Connect.'

    The programme, which officially began this week with workshops for local dancers and high school students, will culminate with a final performance on Wednesday on the Main Stage of the Onassis Cultural Center, with more than 100 students and professionals dancers.

    [38] Museums, archaeological sites closed on Friday due to strike

    Museums and archeological sites will be closed on Friday due a 24-hour strike by culture ministry employees, who reject the ministry's proposed organizational chart, it was announced on Thursday.

    The strike action is called by the federation of culture ministry employees. The union of archaeological site guards will also participate in the mobilisation.

    Alternate Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras ruled out any intervention in the ministry's organisational chart in a meeting he had with union representatives earlier in the day, according to a statement by the union of culture ministry employees.

    [39] Turkish authorities arrest smuggler, would-be illegal migrants

    ISTANBUL (AMNA / A. Kourkoulas)

    Illegal migrants that boarded a speedboat from the region of Bidez on the Turkish coast, seeking to cross over to the SE Aegean island of Kos illegally, had their Turkish smuggler arrested when they realized that he had taken them to the Turkish island of Celebi, just 2 nautical miles away, instead.

    According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, as soon as the illegal migrants realized that the island was not Greek, they got on the speedboat, which was about to leave, and confronted the smuggler, before calling the police on their mobile phones. The Turkish Coastguard was called in by the police and arrested the smuggler and the 11 illegal migrants, an Iraqi, 3 Palestinians and 7 Syrians.

    The illegal migrants told authorities that each of them had paid the smuggler 1,000 euros.

    [40] Residents scuffle with riot police in Halkidiki

    Scuffles broke out early Thursday between local residents and police in the town of Ierissos, Halkidiki peninsula, as authorities conducted an investigation to find the perpetrators of a recent arson attack on the installations of a gold-mining company in the village of Skouries.

    Police said the unrest broke out when tens of locals blocked the entrance to the village in an effort to obstruct MAT riot police from entering the village to assist the police already on the spot for the investigation of the attack.

    The incident immediately prompted calls by the PASOK and main opposition SYRIZA parliamentary spokespersons to call for the immediate withdrawal of the MAT forces from Ierissos, while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) charged an "orgy of authoritarianism against the people and youth of Ierissos on the pretext of the arson attack at Skouries", adding that the government's target is a blatant and mass terrorization of the locals to daunt their struggle.

    The SYRIZA parliamentary spokesman said the riot police forces were attempting to terrorize the local society, which is reacting against the installation of a gold-mining unit, while the PASOK parliamentary spokesman charged that the MAT forces were patrolling the town and intimidating the locals with authoritarian methods, including the use of chemicals in schools. Saying he feared the worst, the spokesman called on the relevant ministers to take the initiative so that "no more fuel will be added to the fire, and for things to settle down".

    Briefing parliament later on the incident, environment alternate minister Stavros Kalafatis said he has been informed by police officials that a police contingent had gone to Ierissos, accompanied by two judicial functionaries, to investigate the attack. He said some residents blocked access to the police and burned rubber tires, creating a stifling atmosphere. Police, Kalafatis said, made limited use of chemicals at the sport where the police were blocked access to the town to carry out their duty.

    Reports said that three residents were injured in the scuffles and taken to the Ierissos regional medical center, including a 15-yearold pupil who got hit in the head by a tear gas shell at the local high school, while several incidents of fainting were also reported at the school.

    Searches of homes and several detentions were also charged by locals.

    [41] The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    AVGHI: "Tsipras (main opposition SYRIZA leader) clash with Samaras (prime minister) over country's course)"

    DIMOKRATIA: "The Reich's party in Kolonaki - Frau Merkel's (German Chancellor) and the lenders' 'attache' Herr Reichenbach (European Commission Task Force for Greece chief ) celebrated his 68th birthday as a 'bon viveur' at bistro in 'cosmopolitan' Kolonaki".

    EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: "Let's open up the ovens - Shock over Golden Dawn (ultra-right Chryssi Avghi party) candidate MP in documentary: The migrants could become soap and their skin could be used for lamp shades...".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Package arrangement for taxes, (social security) contributions".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Massacre of ministers at the feet of the civil servants in breach of their duty".

    ELLADA: "The secret charm of Karamanliism".

    ESTIA: "Myths and truths about the taxation".

    ETHNOS: "Retirement with 25 years of work for 250,000 public sector workers".

    IMERISSIA: "Disagreement with the Troika".

    KATHIMERINI: "Three 'no', one 'yes' and one 'perhaps'."

    KERDOS: "The 2.8 billion euro tranche stumbles on layoffs".

    LOGOS: "Troika: everything here and now".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Proceed with the layoffs immediately in order to get the tranche".

    NIKI: "Loans: 7 options that take you out of the tunnel".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Troika insists on salary reductions, layoffs and abolition of tenure in public sector".

    TA NEA: They (Troika) say 'no' to tax reductions and insist on layoffs".

    VRADYNI: "Loans: The arrangement (for settlement in installments) up in the air".

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