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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-03-28

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

Thursday, 28 March 2013 Issue No: 4320

CONTENTS

  • [01] Greece's progress 'impressive', Swedish foreign minister says after meeting Avramopoulos
  • [02] Greek situation has 'clear and significant' differences from Cyprus, EU Commission spokesman
  • [03] PASOK leader blasts all sides over handling of events on Cyprus
  • [04] DIMAR on haircut in Cyprus
  • [05] European Left Party directorate supports referendum in Cyprus
  • [06] Gov't spokesman replies to SYRIZA-EKM leader's statements on Cyprus
  • [07] AN.EL leader briefed by FinMin
  • [08] KKE on developments in Cyprus
  • [09] ND, SYRIZA lash out at each other
  • [10] Gov't unveils draft bill allowing 50% advance on civil service pensions
  • [11] Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas visits Budapest
  • [12] European Commission unveils the EU Justice Scoreboard
  • [13] Greek, German local government officials discuss potential cooperation
  • [14] Turkish Health minister to visit Greece
  • [15] Central Macedonia Region Governor Tzitzikostas meets with Regional Development Committee Chairwoman Hubner
  • [16] Former EYP boss Bikas testifying to Lagarde list Investigation Committee on Thursday
  • [17] Interior ministry scraps 926 vacant positions in local authorities
  • [18] Explanations likely to be requested by Golden Dawn deputy for Mega channel incident
  • [19] Piraeus Bank becomes top banking group in Greece in branch network size
  • [20] Development Minister appeals for halt to 'ungrounded concerns' for Greek economy, banks
  • [21] Greece stands to get 18-plus billion euros from new CAP, minister says
  • [22] Foreign, development ministers stress key role of tourism at HATTA assembly
  • [23] Agreement between Tourism minister and World Tourism Organisation
  • [24] TAIPED approves procedures for concession of regional airport and tourist port rights
  • [25] Greek medium-term GDP trend negative in 2011-2015, survey
  • [26] Offshore companies sustain corruption, according to justice ministry general secretary
  • [27] Cooperation between Greek-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and corresponding Greek-Canadian business agencies
  • [28] Michelin's subsidiary to depart from Greece, 'Ethnos' reports
  • [29] National Bank reports 2.1 bln euros loss in 2012
  • [30] Alpha Bank reports 1.086 bln euros loss in 2012
  • [31] Eurobank says losses totaled 1.5 bln euros in 2012
  • [32] DEH secures finance for Ptolemaida lignite power plant
  • [33] Online purchases jumped 61 pct to 2.9 bln euros in 2012
  • [34] Business briefs
  • [35] Greek stocks suffered heavy losses on Cyprus worries
  • [36] Greek bond market closing report
  • [37] ADEX closing report
  • [38] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [39] Authorities raid prison facility in Grevena
  • [40] Publisher and son remanded in custody over Alter TV debts
  • [41] Explosion at entrance to shipowner's residence in downtown Athens
  • [42] Chinese delegation visits 'Demokritos' research centre
  • [43] Rainy on Thursday
  • [44] The Wednesday edition of Athens'dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] Greece's progress 'impressive', Swedish foreign minister says after meeting Avramopoulos

    Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on Wednesday praised Greece's progress in tackling the crisis, during joint statements with Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens.

    "I am impressed by Greece's progress in handling the crisis, from its fiscal performance to its efforts for economic recovery," Bildt said, noting that his own country had some experience of how painful structural changes can be from its own crisis in the '90s.

    Questioned about a past prediction by a Swedish finance minister that Greece will have left the eurozone in six months, Bildt said that he had disagreed with his colleague at the time, while the outcome only illustrated that "ministers can also make mistakes."

    Reporting on his meeting with his Swedish counterpart, Avramopoulos said their discussion had focused on the preparations for Greece's EU presidency in the first half of 2014, the economic crisis in the Eurozone, Greece's positive course and the "extremely painful" decision taken in Cyprus, which nevertheless "saved the country from the disaster of uncontrolled default".

    The two ministers also took questions concerning rising nationalism in the Balkans, with Bildt stressing that "patriotism and nationalism are two very different things" since nationalism cultivated hate for the other. "Unfortunately, it is not a trait of the Balkans only but is spreading throughout Europe, where it comes face to face with the ghosts of its past," he added.

    According to the Swedish minister, European integration of the Balkans was expected to stem this rising tide of nationalism, since such problems "cannot be solved without Europe".

    Avramopoulos, on his part, said that populism and nationalism were undermining efforts to stabilise the region, while the region's progress was a way of establishing security and dealing with the nationalist threat.

    Bildt also referred to the economic crisis on Cyprus, where he is due to visit on Wednesday night, expressing the opinion that the 10-billion-euro bailout will prove inadequate to solve the problems on its own. He said that Sweden, which is not in the Eurozone, "will be supportive and show solidarity with Cyprus' effort".

    The Greek minister stressed that "Cyprus must not feel alone, since Greece is at its side," and emphasised the value of European solidarity. He also predicted that the small and flexible Cypriot economy will soon be able to recover and bring good results, saying support for Cyprus must take the form of investments, tourism and bilateral cooperation.

    [02] Greek situation has 'clear and significant' differences from Cyprus, EU Commission spokesman

    BRUSSELS (AMNA/V.Demiris)

    The situation in Greece has "clear and significant" differences from that in Cyprus, as the Greek crisis did not start from the banking sector which is very smaller in relation with the country's GDP compared with the size of the Cypriot banking system, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

    Simon O'Connor, a spokesman for European Commissioner Olli Rehn, speaking to reporters, underlined that Greece has improved considerably the supervision of its banks in order to safeguard a more cautious management of the sector. The spokesman noted that a Financial Stability Fund was set up in Greece, with a capital of 50 billion euros, with the aim to guarantee a recapitalization and stabilization of the banking sector in the country and stressed that the fund successfully ensured that Greek banks have a high capital adequacy rates and stable activities. He noted that a full recapitalization of Greek banks will be completed in the next two months.

    O'Connor said that during a consolidation process of the sector all deposits were constantly available to clients and made it clear that this principle will continue to be implemented in the future.

    The Commission spokesman referred to data released by the Bank of Greece showing that banks' assets totaled 442.2 billion euros in December 2012, when the Greek GDP was 208.5 billion euros in 2011, a 212 pct rate, while in Cyprus, banks' assets totaled 126.3 billion euros in December 2012 and the country's GDP was 17.9 billion euros in 2011, a rate of 703 pct.

    [03] PASOK leader blasts all sides over handling of events on Cyprus

    PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, head of a junior party in Greece's coalition government, on Wednesday heaped strong criticism on all sides over their handling of developments on Cyprus, during a meeting of his PASOK's Political Council.

    The PASOK leader's barrage of broadsides spared neither the 'inner core' of Eurozone countries, nor European socialists, nor the French government for supporting Germany's proposals, nor the Cypriots themselves, who had failed to forestall the crisis. He also had hard words for those in Greece and Cyprus that blamed the Greek PSI for Cyprus' problems, namely the main opposition SYRIZA-EKM party and opposition Independent Greeks.

    According to Venizelos, the statement by Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem about applying Cyprus-style haircuts in other countries was "dangerous" and he underlined that lingering uncertainty within Europe's banking system must be not be permitted. He also stressed that Europe, instead of overcoming the crisis, was recycling and reproducing it, while completely overlooking the geopolitical aspects of the Cyprus problem and the island republic's role as "Europe's forward outpost in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean".

    He warned of the dangers for the Eurozone if the theory of "safe and unsafe banks" were allow to predominate, or of countries borrowing at low rates and countries borrowing at high rates.

    In his attacks on SYRIZA and Ind. Greeks, Venizelos said they had suffered a "strategic defeat" and accused them of investing in Greece's destruction, since their arguments were providing an escape route for specific interests and person that should be apologising.

    [04] DIMAR on haircut in Cyprus

    The model of the violent streamlining of the banking system in Cyprus, the generalisation of which appears to be the aim of the major European centers, must be averted, Democratic Left (DIMAR) said in an announcement on Wednesday.

    "The danger of the European banking system being blown up in the air is real, as is the huge danger of a transfer of capital from the deficit-generating European south to the surplus-generating North," underlined DIMAR, adding that "what is mandatory is recapitalisation via the European Support Mechanism (ESM) without burdening the countries' debts...only in this will an increase in the divergences be averted, the 'centrifugal' tendencies will be dealt with and the unity and prospect of the European Union be advanced."

    [05] European Left Party directorate supports referendum in Cyprus

    The European Left Party's (ELP) directorate expressed its solidarity for the people of Cyprus, immediately after the meeting it held in Athens on Wednesday afternoon, and its support for the request by some political forces of Cyprus for the holding of a referendum.

    Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA-EKM) president and ELP vice president Alexis Tsipras said "we assessed at the meeting of the directorate of the European Left Party that last Sunday's decision by Eurogroup constitutes a breakthrough and a change in strategy of the European Union's leadership. A change in strategy that expresses the strategic deadlock of the European leadership which is being led to self-destructive decisions not only for the countries of the European South, but for the entire eurozone".

    The assessment of the ELP's directorate, according to Tsipras, is that "the neoliberal strategy that the governments of the eurozone are building day by day no longer has anything to do with the Europe of peoples, of solidarity and democracy for which we parties and forces supporting the European Left are struggling for".

    The national secretary of the French Communist Party and president of the ELP, Pierre Laurent, said that this plan will worsen the social situation of the people of Cyprus, will downgrade their economy and will be imposed in an autrocratic and absolutely undemocratic way. He added that "this plan reflects an additional threat against all the European peoples who are already being subjected to very strict austerity plans".

    "We would like to confirm our solidarity for the people of Cyprus, our opposition to this plan, our support for the request for democratic procedures in Cyprus, so that no decision will be taken without them consulting the Cypriots through a referendum," Laurent added.

    [06] Gov't spokesman replies to SYRIZA-EKM leader's statements on Cyprus

    Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou on Wednesday replied to statements made by main opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA-EKM) leader Alexis Tsipras regarding events on Cyprus.

    "Does Tsipras with his irresponsible policies believe that he can tell the Cypriot people what they should do?" Kedikoglou said.

    [07] AN.EL leader briefed by FinMin

    Independent Greeks (AN.EL) party leader Panos Kammenos said on Wednesday that he had the "commitment" of Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras regarding the safety of bank deposits in Greece, "contrary to statements by the eurogroup president".

    Emerging from a meeting with Stournaras, during which he was briefed on the eurogroup's decision on Cyprus, Kammenos said that the finance minister "decided to brief Greek party leaders in retrospect, because until today we have received none of the information that we, as opposition parties, had asked for."

    [08] KKE on developments in Cyprus

    The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), in an announcement on Wednesday, condemned the Eurogroup's agreement on Cyprus and expressed its solidarity with the Cypriots in facing the anti-popular measures against it.

    "The Cypriot parliament's initial 'no' (to the 'haircut of bank accounts in Cyprus) referred to the preservation of Cyprus as a tax haven for the monopolies and to safeguard the interests of the bourgeois classes and not to protect the working peoples' interests. The latest developments point out the need for the peoples to rise up against the 'euro one-way street' and the anti-social measures," the KKE said.

    The announcement also refers to an "endogenous crisis of Cyprus as product of the capitalistic road of development and its incorporation into the EU" and rejects any reference to an "imported or exported crisis".

    [09] ND, SYRIZA lash out at each other

    The New Democracy (ND) press office on Wednesday compared main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA-EKM) with a "Tower of Babel," noting that statements made by its cadres "show exactly what the Greek people would have undergone if their 'programme' was implemented for even one day".

    "In an effort to tidy up loose ends, Babel's spokesman Skourletis (SYRIZA press spokesman Panos Skourletis) stated that he will not reveal SYRIZA's 'programme' in order to keep it a secret from (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel ... SYRIZA believes that the Greek people can't see or hear...," the ND statement stressed.

    According to ND, SYRIZA's cadres do not have a common line stressing characteristically that "Yiannis Milios advocates a solution in the eurozone but not in the EU... Panagiotis Lafazanis calls for reexamination (?) of SYRIZA's positions as regards the eurozone... Yiannis Tolios wants the European countries to return to their national currencies... Christos Katsoulas, a SYRIZA candidate, lashed out at the Cypriots for not leaving the eurozone. At the same time, 19 SYRIZA cadres remind Milios of their party's position that 'obviously, the currency is not the quintessence of politics'..".

    In response to the ND statement, SYRIZA noted "ND statements are laughable and its policy is pitiful."

    [10] Gov't unveils draft bill allowing 50% advance on civil service pensions

    Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras on Wednesday presented a draft bill that will allow civil service pensioners to be paid a monthly advance amounting to 50 percent of their basic wage as soon as they go into retirement. The measure is designed to address the long 'gap' between retiring and actually receiving a pension, with pensioners obliged to wait months, until their full pension was calculated, before they received any money.

    For parents with three dependent children, or those caring for a handicapped family member, the advance is raised to 60 percent.

    The draft bill also establishes deadlines for state services processing pension applications, introducing fines for employees that delay, and a regular census of civil service pensioners every five years.

    Finally, it gives the public sector powers to appropriate funds in deposit accounts that have remained inactive for more than 20 years, to use in support of vulnerable social groups, after the account holder has received three written warnings at five, 10 and 15 years since the last real transaction using the account.

    [11] Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas visits Budapest

    VIENNA (AMNA / D. Dimitrakoudis)

    Bilateral cooperation issues dominated in the talks Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas had with the Hungarian government in Budapest on Wednesday.

    Within the framework of his two-day visit launched on Tuesday, Kourkoulas met with State Secretary for international economic relations Peter Szijjarto and agreed on joint efforts to boost bilateral trade and reinforce cooperation in the sectors of economy and commerce.

    They also agreed to further expand bilateral cooperation in the sector of tourism and consider adopting a common stance within the framework of the European Union as regards EU funding for projects aimed at improving the road and railway networks linking Budapest and Athens.

    Kourkoulas met with Peter Gottfried, adviser to the Hungarian prime minister on European affairs and his counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Eniko Gyori.

    [12] European Commission unveils the EU Justice Scoreboard

    BRUSSELS (AMNA / M. Aroni)

    The EU Justice Scoreboard for 2013 concerning the EU member-states' national justice systems was made public by the European Commission on Wednesday.

    Taking under consideration World Economic Forum data, the European Commission noted that Greece ranks 98 among 144 countries worldwide based on how independent a national justice system is according to its citizens' opinion. In the EU, Greece ranks 24 followed by Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. Finland Holland, Ireland, Germany and Sweden are among the top ten countries with the most independent justice systems worldwide.

    According to the key findings of the first scoreboard, the length of judicial proceedings varies considerably between EU member states, with one third of member states having a length of proceedings at least two times greater than the majority of member states. Problems can be compounded where low rates of resolving cases lead to an increasing number of pending cases.

    Also, monitoring and evaluation help to improve the speed and quality of justice. While most member states have a comprehensive monitoring system, several lag behind.

    The key findings show that alternative methods for resolving disputes, such as mediation reduce the workload of courts and that they should be used more widely.

    In addition, perceptions of the independence of national justice systems also vary widely. Even though several member states are among the top 10 worldwide leaders in terms of the perception of judicial independence, there is a rather low level of perception of judicial independence by business end-users of the justice system in certain member states.

    In conclusion the Commission noted that "improving the quality, independence and efficiency of judicial systems already forms part of the EU's economic policy coordination process under the European Semester, that seeks to lay the foundations to boost growth and job creation."

    Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner stressed that "the new European Justice Scoreboard will act as an early warning system and will help the EU and the member states in our efforts to achieve more effective justice at the service of our citizens and businesses."

    On his part, European Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn noted that "high quality, independent and efficient justice is essential to a growth-friendly business environment. This new Scoreboard will help EU Member States to strengthen their legal systems, boosting their efforts to stimulate investment and job creation".

    [13] Greek, German local government officials discuss potential cooperation

    A delegation of local government officials from the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg had a meeting with members of the Central Union of Greek Municipalities (KEDE) in Athens on Wednesday, in order to explore the possibility of cooperation for the transfer of German local government know-how to Greece.

    The two sides noted the advantages of Germany's strongly decentralised system of local government but also the contrast with the centrally-controlled model imposed in Greece by the EU-IMF troika representing the country's creditors.

    Another topic that occupied the meeting were efforts to cultivate a climate of trust on a municipal level, in order to reduce currently intense anti-German feelings in Greek society.

    The two sides announced that German 'Mayors' Offices' will be set up from May, which for three months will consult with members of Greek local government in order to prepare the arguments that, according to the German delegation, will then be discussed with central government in order to give more powers to local authorities.

    Baden-Wurttemberg State Parliament President Guido Wolf appeared confident that the transfer of know-how would work, provided the work was done in complete confidentiality and the discussions not made publicly known, and that KEDE was capable of persuading Greek mayors to enter into the dialogue.

    [14] Turkish Health minister to visit Greece

    ISTANBUL (AMNA/A. Kourkoulas)

    Turkish Health Minister Mehmet M?ezzinolu will be making an official visit to Greece on Thursday and Friday.

    The ANADOLU agency reports that M?ezzinolu will be visiting Athens on Thursday where he will be meeting with his Greek counterpart Andreas Lykourentzos and will then travel to Komotini, his birthplace, for meetings with the regional governor of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Aris Yiannakidis, Komotini mayor George Petridis and the muftis of Komotini and Xanthi.

    [15] Central Macedonia Region Governor Tzitzikostas meets with Regional Development Committee Chairwoman Hubner

    Central Macedonia Region Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas met on Wednesday in Brussels with European Parliament Committee on Regional Development Chairwoman Danuta Maria Hubner and discussed European regions' issues.

    Tzitzikostas briefed Hubner on the absorption of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funds and suggested that the role of the regions should be boosted to undertake the implementation of programmes currently handled by government ministries. They also discussed the participation of the Central Macedonia Region in EU horizontal programmes to ensure direct funding.

    Tzitzikostas had meetings with Greek MEPs and European Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas.

    The exhibition entitled "Mount Athos - A European Project for Peace" with works by world-renowned architect and artist Efthimios Warlamis was inaugurated by Tzitzikostas at the European Parliament. The exhibition will run until April 4.

    [16] Former EYP boss Bikas testifying to Lagarde list Investigation Committee on Thursday

    Former National Intelligence Service (EYP) head Constantinos Bikas has been called on to testify on Thursday by the Investigating Committee probing the "Lagarde list" case, since it considers necessary to clarify new evidence emerging from the testimony by former Economic Crime Squad (SDOE) head Ioannis Diotis, which was continuing on Wednesday evening.

    In addition, chairman of the committee Christos Markoyiannakis said in a statement that former prime minister George Papandreou should also be called to testify, following the latest developments.

    On Tuesday, Diotis submitted 8 e-mail messages to the Investigating Committee, containing his conversation on July 7, 2011, with the former finance minister George Papacon-stantinou, who at the time had been moved to the environment portfolio.

    According to the evidence, it appears that Diotis cooperated with the then EYP head Constantinos Bikas, who had an active role in investigating the case, and had briefed the then prime minister George Papandreou.

    [17] Interior ministry scraps 926 vacant positions in local authorities

    The interior ministry on Wednesday announced the abolition of an additional 926 vacant positions in local authority bodies and organisations, through draft ministerial orders signed by Interior Minister Evripidis Stylianidis.

    The interior ministry said the positions being abolished represent 59 percent of the total, with 41 percent or 640 jobs preserved based on "special and substantiated justification".

    The draft ministerial decision completes implementation of a law on the abolition of vacant positions in local government, pending its signature by the administrative reform ministry and its publication by the National Printing Office.

    [18] Explanations likely to be requested by Golden Dawn deputy for Mega channel incident

    Chairman of the parliament's ethics committee Christos Markogiannakis on Wednesday notified of his intention to call Christos Pappas, far-right Golden Dawn party parliamentary spokesman, to provide explanations regarding his choice to urinate outside the private TV station Mega Channel, during a protest staged by his party last Monday, Greece's Independence Day of March 25.

    Replying to the parliament's plenum, Pappas said he was not going to respond to the ethics committee's call, and that he was accountable only before "the resisting people and before justice, a part of which seems to resist."

    Financial News

    [19] Piraeus Bank becomes top banking group in Greece in branch network size

    Piraeus Bank became the top banking group in Greece, based on the number of its network units, which surpass 1,660 branches following the acquisition of Bank of Cyprus and CPB branches in Greece, far ahead from National Bank Group which includes Eurobank.

    Piraeus Bank ranks second following National Bank based on its financial figures, with total assets of 95 billion euros, a loan portfolio of 70 billion euros, deposits of 52 billion euros and a workforce of more than 24,000. Piraeus Bank Group has a set a record of 15 takeovers, mergers and absorptions made under the leadership of its chairman Mihalis Sallas. These are the acquisitions of ETBA -Hellenic Industrial Development Bank- ATEbank (its healthy arm) and a number of smaller but dynamic banks such as Chios Bank, Macedonia-Thrace Bank and Geniki Bank (recently acquired from Societe Generale). Piraeus Bank has already agreed with Portugal's Millennium Bank Group to acquire its subsidiary in Greece -a pending deal which would raise the group's branch network to 1,900 in Greece, double the figure of National Bank's network.

    Greece will feel only a small impact from a crisis in Cyprus, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras assured on Tuesday.

    [20] Development Minister appeals for halt to 'ungrounded concerns' for Greek economy, banks

    Greek development minister Costis Hatzidakis appealed for a halt to "ungrounded concerns" over the condition of the Greek economy and banks, speaking on Wednesday at the annual general assembly of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA), noting that "it is in our hands to make 2013 the last difficult year for Greece".

    Prompted by the latest events in Cyprus, Hatzidakis stressed that the economic crisis was not limited inside Greece's borders but has extended to Cyprus as well.

    He assured that "we are shielded", the Greek banks "are strong, and we are moving only forward".

    "We have traversed the biggest part of the journey and now we must travel the final mile," he stressed, adding that "it is in our hands to make 2013 the last difficult year for Greece".

    [21] Greece stands to get 18-plus billion euros from new CAP, minister says

    Greece is expected to receive more than 18 billion euros by 2020, in the framework of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Rural Development and Foods Minister Athanassios Tsaftaris announced in a press conference on Wednesday.

    "From the way the talks are unfolding until now, the money that will be given to our country will be equally high as in the present period," Tsaftaris said in comments on the negotiations on CAP now underway, which are expected to be completed by June.

    The minister stressed that emphasis must now be placed on using this money correctly, in order to build an agricultural sector with "sustainable formations, which does not depend on subsidies".

    Tsaftaris said that, based on developments until now, Greece is expected to receive the sum of 18.74 billion euros in the next period, of which 15 billion euros will be for the so-called 1st pillar (direct subsidies and Common Market Organisation) and 3.74 billion euros will be for the 2nd Pillar (rural development). In the period 2007-2013, Greece had received 19.8 billion euros in total, of which 16 billion euros were for the first pillar and 3.8 billion euros for the second.

    The minister noted that countries have considerable move to transfer funds between the two pillars, by up to 15 percent, while the total sum might be increased. He also stressed the EU's decision to devote 2 percent of the CAP budget to action supporting younger farmers and the new environmental criteria for subsidies.

    [22] Foreign, development ministers stress key role of tourism at HATTA assembly

    The Greek foreign ministry is working feverishly to support Greece's tourism industry, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos stressed on Wednesday at the annual general assembly of the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA). He emphasised initiatives taken by the ministry to facilitate the issue of visas, saying he had issued instructions to visa offices asking them to speed up their issue to within 48 hours.

    Avramopoulos said that the visa issue programme on five large Greek islands near the Turkish coast (Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos) will continue during the current year, from April until the end of October, in order to boost the flow of tourism to Greece.

    The minister noted that the programme aimed to increase tourism on both shores of the Aegean, with the number of visas issued in 2012 rising 30 percent relative to 2011 to reach nearly a million. The same growth trend was already being observed in the current year, Avramopoulos added.

    Harking back to his own days at the tourism ministry, Avramopoulos stressed that Greek tourism needed a national plan and called on all political forces to agree on this direction.

    The assembly was also addressed by Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Costis Hatzidakis, who stressed the importance of tourism for economic growth.

    "Tourism is Greece's main comparative advantage, since it represents 20 percent of GDP - based on the McKinsey study of 2020 - and can offer 220,000 new jobs," Hatzidakis said. He said the government is proceeding with tenders to exploit regional airports, with strong interest expressed by investors, while a draft bill to modernise the civil aviation service is soon to be tabled in Parliament. The minister clarified that among the terms of the concessions offered will be a clause requiring competitive airport fees.

    Hatzidakis revealed that a special programme worth 80 million euros and targeting small tourism businesses on Greek islands will soon be announced, using the National Enterprise and Development Fund (ETEAN), while a draft bill for deregulating road transport was nearly ready, so that consultations will soon begin.

    According to HATTA President Giorgos Telonis, the outlook for the tourism sector in 2013 is positive, with signs that the country was rapidly approaching 17 million arrivals, from 16 million throughout 2012.

    [23] Agreement between Tourism minister and World Tourism Organisation

    Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni signed a cooperation memorandum for the creation of a national observatory concerning the sustainable growth of tourism, with the secretary general of the UN's World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Taleb Rifai, in Izmir on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the 55th session of the Organisation's Committee in Europe.

    During the Committee's session, whose presidency is being exercised by Greece, representatives of the Turkish tourist sector signed a commitment regarding international moral values in the sector of tourism.

    The "Observatory", that constitutes a scientific tool, is the first that the World Tourist Organisation is concluding with a member-state, at national level.

    The Tourism minister said after the meeting that "the National Observatory for sustainable growth in tourism constitutes an important pioneering tool, very useful for both the tourism ministry and the tourist agencies as well as for society. We believe that the appropriate utilisation of the 'National Observatory' will also have a positive impact on the competitiveness of the country's tourist products".

    [24] TAIPED approves procedures for concession of regional airport and tourist port rights

    Procedures regarding the concession of the country's regional airports are entering their final stage, and the highest bidders are expected to emerge in the next few days.

    In addition, the auction for the sale of six state real estate properties abroad is be completed soon, and the procedure for the concession of the first four tourist ports is being speeded up.

    The above moves were approved by the administrative council of the Hellenic Republic Assets Development Fund (TAIPED).

    [25] Greek medium-term GDP trend negative in 2011-2015, survey

    Greece's medium-term GDP trend will remain negative in the period 2011-2015, the Centre of Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) said on Wednesday.

    KEPE's analysis is based on a GDP identity measured on labor productivity, working hours per worker, employment rate, the population rate of participation in workforce and population. The final estimate over the labor productivity in the country is 0.22 pct, while the estimate over medium-term working hours per worker is 0.11 pct. The employment rate trend estimate is -2.21 pct, of the percentage rate of population on workforce is 0.57 pct and of the population is 0.03 pct. These rates conclude to an estimate of the GDP's medium-term rate of -1.28 pct.

    [26] Offshore companies sustain corruption, according to justice ministry general secretary

    Justice ministry general secretary for transparency and human rights George Sourlas on Wednesday noted that "corruption will be impossible to tackle and transparency in transactions will not prevail for as long as the international community maintains legislative frameworks that allow the establishment of offshore companies in various countries".

    Speaking after a conference on "Transparency and offshore companies" in the Parliaments' Senate Hall, he said that "offshore companies cast a long shadow, particularly in the specific period of the major crisis when certain ones get rich and the majority of the people are in need". He added that the existence of offshore companies brings indignation to Greek taxpayers, stressing that they violate every sense of social justice and transparency.

    [27] Cooperation between Greek-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and corresponding Greek-Canadian business agencies

    Cooperation has been made official between the Greek-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the corresponding Greek-Canadian business agencies in Toronto and Montreal and interest is turning to the sectors of energy, tourism, software and technology.

    The Greek-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, as the responsible institutional business agency for relations between Greece and Canada for Greece, and the Hellenic Canadian board of Trade in Toronto, as well as the Hellenic Board of Trade in Montreal as the corresponding responsible business agencies for Greek-Canadian cooperation in Canada, signed cooperation agreements with the Greek-Canadian Chamber of Commerce on strengthening Greek-Canadian business cooperation in the sectors of imports-exports, on cooperation between Canadian companies with Greek ones in the sectors of tourism, software, technology and energy, as well as on issues of joint investments in Greece.

    [28] Michelin's subsidiary to depart from Greece, 'Ethnos' reports

    Michelin's subsidiary is to depart from Greece on January 1, 2014 due to a restructuring of Michelin's subsidiaries, according to a report by the Greek daily "Ethnos".

    According to the newspaper, Michelin General Manager David Jean has sent a letter to dealers informing them of the upcoming commercial and administrative changes to be made by Michelin in central and south Europe, including Greece. From January 2014, Greece will be part of a new sales area whose administrative centre will be in Bucharest, Romania.

    [29] National Bank reports 2.1 bln euros loss in 2012

    National Bank Group on Wednesday reported a loss of 2.1 billion euros in 2012, reflecting a deterioration of the loan portfolio quality in Greece as a result of increased political uncertainty last year and a deepening economic recession, and noted that this climate led to a sharp rise in bad debts and to a drastic decline in market interest rates. A higher cost of lending from the emergency liquidity assistance mechanism and a decline in euribor interbank markets also had a negative effect on last year's results, the bank said.

    National Bank Group reported profits of 314.8 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2012, helped by a stabilization of operating earning sources and the sale of a 51 pct majority stake of its subsidiary Finans Pension. The bank said organic profitability remained positive in the first quarter of 2013.

    Finansbank reported profits of 668 million euros last year, up 82 pct measured on a fixed exchange rate. Organic earnings, pre-provisions, rose 51 pct.

    Deposits totaled 58.7 billion euros and loans 70.5 billion euros. The bank said deposits grew by 2.0 billion euros in the second half of the year, and rose steadily in the first quarter of 2013, while National Bank reduced its borrowing from the Eurosystem by 3.6 billion euros in the last three months. The bank said its bad debt rate slowed in the last quarter of 2012, a trend continuing so far this year.

    Alexandros Tourkolias, chief executive of the Group, commenting on the results said they reflected the consequences of a PSI, which affected the country's credit system generally but mostly National Bank, as the biggest holder of state bonds in absolute figures. The bank will be burdened from future losses because of the state bond buy back programe.

    "National Bank defended its leading role in bank developments, through a successful public offer tender to acquire Eurobank's shares and was rapidly moving towards completing a legal and operational integration of the two banks". Tourkolias reaffirmed foreign investors' interest in participating in National Bank's recapitalization plan and said the bank was working towards further strengthening its capital adequacy.

    [30] Alpha Bank reports 1.086 bln euros loss in 2012

    Alpha Bank Group on Wednesday reported losses totaling 1.086 billion euros in 2012, including extra charges and losses from new state bonds priced at their fair value during the exchange date.

    Yiannis Kostopoulos, the bank's chairman, commenting on the results said the first signs of economic recovery and regaining confidence were already visible in the country and noted that a bank recapitalization plan underway, Alpha Bank will become a driving force for restarting economic activity in Greece.

    Dimitris Mantzounis, the bank's chief executive said Alpha Bank was focused on a forthcoming share capital increase plan, noting that its success was enhanced by the acquisition of Emporiki Bank. "For 2013, we expect a flattening of funding costs and provisions and a further strengthening of our efficiency. Alpha Bank will be in a position to successfully respond to any conditions set in maintaining its private character," Mantzounis said.

    Alpha Bank said an integration process with Emporiki Bank was in full swing and was expected to be completed in the second quarter of the year. The merger is expected to offer synergies of 265 million euros annually.

    Group deposits totaled 28.5 billion euros at the end of December 2012, up 2.2 billion euros in the fourth quarter and rising 1.2 billion euros in the last two months of the year. Deposits totaled 41.3 billion euros if Emporiki Bank's deposits were taken into account. Alpha Bank said its borrowing from central bank mechanisms fell to 19.2 billion euros by the end of February 2013.

    [31] Eurobank says losses totaled 1.5 bln euros in 2012

    Eurobank Group on Wednesday reported losses totaling 1.5 billion euros in 2012 (of which 686 million euros were extra and non-repeated losses), hit by high cost of funding and a 26 pct decline in interest revenue.

    Nikolaos Nanopoulos, chief executive of the group, commenting on the result said a fortification of the Greek economy and its reconstruction passed not only through a painful process of necessary structural reforms and adherence to fiscal consolidation, but through adopting a package of measures and initiatives aimed to boost economic growth. The role of the banking sector is a critical parameter in efforts to restoring the economy and a window of opportunity that cannot be left unexploited. "The unification of forces between National Bank and Eurobank to create the biggest Greek bank will contribute in a national effort to support the economy and the country in general," Nanopoulos said.

    Eurobank said deposits grew by 2.739 billion euros in the second half of 2012, limiting annual outflows to only 823 million euros, while deposits abroad grew by 391 million euros in 2012, from 2011. Borrowing from the Eurosystem fell to 20.8 billion euros in mid-March 2013, from 34 billion euros in the first half of 2012. Loan portfolio totaled 47.8 billion euros, while non-servicing loans accounted for 18.3 pct of total loans.

    [32] DEH secures finance for Ptolemaida lignite power plant

    Germany's Export Credit Insurance Agency Euler-Hermes on Wednesday gave its initial approval for the required guarantees to a syndicated loan up to an approximate 700 million euros to Greece's Public Power Corporation (DEH), to finance the construction of a new lignite power plant in Ptolemaida, Northern Greece. The loan is being arranged by German KfW IPEX-Bank.

    Commenting on the development, deputy minister for the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Makis Papageorgiou, said "the funding and implementation of this huge investment is the result of the efforts of the Greek government to restore the country's credibility and growth. The government continues its efforts to facilitate similar major investments, giving hope again to millions of Greeks."

    Arthuros Zervos, PPC president and CEO note that the green light given to the loan's guarantee was "a very positive development, at a difficult time, as it implies confidence in both the large project and DEH itself."

    The new power plant, of a contractual value of nearly 1.4 billion euros, is one of the most productive investments ever made in the country in recent years and the largest of all energy investments, according to PPC. It will generate 660 MW of electricity and 140 MW of thermal energy for heating purposes in the town of Ptolemaida.

    Its construction will provide jobs for 3,000 people, while permanent personnel is estimated at over 250. The plant's operation and maintenance will require involvement of a large number of local suppliers.

    [33] Online purchases jumped 61 pct to 2.9 bln euros in 2012

    Online purchases have been rising significantly in the last few years in Greece helped by attractive prices and a gradual familiarization of consumers with new technologies, Hellastat said in a survey.

    Based on recent data by ELTRUN, online purchases totaled 2.9 billion euros in 2012, up 61 pct from 2011.

    Online consumers made an average 20 purchases last year, up from 15 in 2011, with a per capita value of 1,600 euros (up 33 pct from 2011). Recent data by Hellenic Statistical Authority said that the number of online consumers rose significantly in the 2008-2012 period, for an average annual growth rate of 18.5 pct. Pharmaceuticals (36 pct), sports (28 pct) e-learning (27.5 pct) recorded the biggest percentage increase in sales, while telecom services (-40 pct), PC equipment/hardware (-37.1 pct) and hotel bookings (-26 pct) recorded the biggest decline. Finally, a 13.7 pct of consumers made orders through a mobile device.

    The online retail sector has room for further growth, with spending in the sector estimated to reach 5.0 billion euros.

    Hellastat analyzed the financial reports of 10 enterprises in the sector. Turnover grew 38.4 pct to 22.49 million euros in 2011. The sample recorded losses of 8.62 million euros (up 7.3 pct from 2010) and average gross profit margin fell by around four percentage points to 17.5 pct.

    [34] Business briefs

    -- Marinopoulos Group is strengthening its presence in the Balkans with the acquisition of the Euromax supermarket chain in Albania.

    -- The Greek computer market showed signs of improvement in the fourth quarter of 2012, with sales falling by 7.4 pct in the October-December period, IDC said in a report published on Wednesday.

    -- Mytilineos Group on Wednesday said its 2012 turnover fell by 7.4 pct and its EBITDA dropped by 18.4 pct.

    [35] Greek stocks suffered heavy losses on Cyprus worries

    Greek stocks remained under heavy pressure for the second consecutive session in the Athens Stock Exchange on heightened worries that a deteriorating crisis in Cyprus will have a significant impact on the Greek economy. Traders said that Cyprus-based investors were top sellers in the Greek market. Cyprus-based investors' holding of Greek stocks totaled 1.864 billion euros in value, or 9.47 pct of the market's capitalization.

    The composite index of the market fell 3.99 pct to end at 849.62 points, its lowest level since December 18, 2012, after falling as much as 7.2 pct during the session. The index has suffered a loss of 8.70 pct in the last two sessions and was now 6.40 pct lower from the start of the year. The Greek market lost 2.8 billion euros worth of its capitalization in the last two sessions. Turnover was a heavy 90.850 million euros.

    The Big Cap index dropped 4.29 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 3.73 pct lower. All sectors ended lower, with Utilities (11.82 pct), Telecommunications (9.37 pct) and Personal Products (7.16 pct) recording the heaviest percentage losses. MIG (2.04 pct) and Titan (1.48 pct) were the only gainers among blue chip stocks, while PPC (13.08 pct), Ellaktor (10.43 pct), OTE (9.38 pct) and Intralot (8.63 pct) suffered the biggest losses.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 124 to 26 with another 14 issues unchanged. Progressive (29.52 pct), Ideal (25.29 pct), Bioter (13.75 pct) were top gainers, while Haidemenos (24.73 pct), Kathimerini (19.75 pct) and Geniki (19.44 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Industrials: -6.34%

    Commercial: -2.33%

    Construction: -2.12%

    Oil & Gas: -2.89%

    Personal & Household: -7.16%

    Raw Materials: -4.39%

    Travel & Leisure: -4.05%

    Technology: -2.20%

    Telecoms: -9.37%

    Banks: -2.31%

    Food & Beverages: -1.26%

    Health: -4.36%

    Utilities: -11.82%

    Financial Services: -2.40%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, OPAP, PPC and Coca Cola 3E.

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

    Alpha Bank: 0.70

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 5.25

    HBC Coca Cola: 20.35

    Hellenic Petroleum: 7.40

    National Bank of Greece: 0.68

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.25

    OPAP: 6.33

    OTE: 4.35

    Bank of Piraeus: 0.21

    Titan: 12.99

    [36] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened sharply to 11.28 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 10.56 pct on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 12.55 pct and the German Bund 1.27 pct. Turnover totaled 6.0 million euros, all sell orders.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed. The 12-month rate fell to 0.54 pct, the nine-month rate was 0.44 pct, the six-month rate was 0.33 pct, the three-month rate rose to 0.21 pct and the one-month rate was 0.12 pct.

    [37] ADEX closing report

    The June contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading at a discount of 2.72 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising to 22.297 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 6,657 contracts worth 8.935 million euros, with 26,836 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 38,131 contracts worth 13.362 million euros, with investment interest focusing on PPC's contracts (7,437), followed by National Bank (3,889), Alpha Bank (2,083), Piraeus Bank (3,247), MIG (1,711), OTE (6,978), OPAP (2,607), Mytilineos (1,586), Intralot (1,913), Ellaktor (1,605), Metka (444), GEK (1,704), Hellenic Exchanges (310), Viohalco (220), Folli Follie (409) and Jumbo (297).

    [38] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

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

    U.S. dollar 1.296

    Pound sterling 0.857

    Danish kroner 7.564

    Swedish kroner 8.426

    Japanese yen 122.1

    Swiss franc 1.235

    Norwegian kroner 7.584

    Canadian dollar 1.317

    Australian dollar 1.241

    General News

    [39] Authorities raid prison facility in Grevena

    Prison authorities at Felli correctional facility in Grevena, northwest Greece, raided inmates' cells assisted by local police, an EKAM swat team, bomb disposal experts and sniffer dogs trained to detect explosive materials, it was announced on Wednesday.

    A number of knives and mobile phones were found and seized during the surprise search conducted on Tuesday in the presence of a local prosecutor.

    Three foreign nationals from Albania, Syria and Iran and a local man are facing charges in relation to the findings.

    [40] Publisher and son remanded in custody over Alter TV debts

    Publisher and Alter TV channel owner Giorgos Kouris and his son Andreas were remanded in custody on Wednesday, after appearing before an examining magistrate to respond to charges relating to Alter's debts.

    Kouris, his son and two Alter board members have all been remanded in custody pending trial for a debt of 1.5 million euros owed in taxes from January to September 2011, for which seven people have been charged.

    [41] Explosion at entrance to shipowner's residence in downtown Athens

    A home-made explosive device went off at the entrance to the residence of ship-owner Nikolaos Tsakos just opposite the Herod Atticus Theatre, in the Acropolis region, central Athens at 20:31 on Wednesday evening.

    A little earlier, at 20:10, an unidentified person telephoned "Eleftherotypia" newspaper and said that an explosion was set to go off at 8:30 at the specific location.

    The region was sealed off and police turned people away and the explosion occurred at the time said by the caller.

    The explosive device had been placed in a bag left at the entrance to the residence. Bomb disposal experts are conducting investigations on site. No injuries were caused by the explosion.

    [42] Chinese delegation visits 'Demokritos' research centre

    The "Demokritos" research centre was visited on Wednesday by a Chinese delegation comprised of members of scientific and technological organisations, the academic society and the public administration of China. The delegation was headed by Chen Xi, executive vice president and executive secretary general of the Chinese Science and Technology Organisation (CAST).

    The visit included a meeting with the director and board president of "Demokritos" dr. Nikos Kanellopoulos and the board members, during which the activities and the main points of the scientific and operational programme of the Greek research centre were presented.

    Ten charged with illegal hiring at state-owned Agrogi

    An examining magistrate specialising in public corruption cases on Wednesday summoned seven former board members of the state-owned firm Agrogi to answer charges of breach of faith, while three members of a hiring committee were charged as their accomplices.

    The charges concern the alleged illegal hiring of 269 individuals at Agrogi in September 2009. The PASOK party had denounced the hirings as illegal, but the relevant contracts were not terminated until December 2010. Those contesting the hirings as illegal or unnecessary say that they cost the state seven million euros in payroll costs for the specific employees.

    The charges have been disputed by the then minister Kostis Hatzigakis, who said all the staff taken on by Agrogi were hired entirely legally.

    Weather forecast

    [43] Rainy on Thursday

    Rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday. Winds 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures between 4C and 22C. Slightly cloudy in Athens with possible local showers and northerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures between 10C and 20C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 9C and 14C.

    [44] The Wednesday edition of Athens'dailies at a glance

    AVGHI: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel burns the eurozone".

    EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: "The barber of Berlin".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The nightmare hits Greece".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Bank depositors on the verge of a nervous breakdown".

    ELLADA AVRIO: "Plan for looting of bank deposits".

    ESTIA: "Otto Rehhagel's (former coach of the Greek national football team, appointed honorary German ambassador to Greece) message".

    ETHNOS: "War of nerves over the bank deposits".

    IMERISSIA: "Dangerous games".

    KATHIMERINI: "The 'solution' for Cyprus frightens Europe".

    LOGOS: "Shock and awe".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "Reversal of the rules of the game for the European banks".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Agreement for Cyprus an escalation of the antipopular attack".

    TA NEA: "North and South in the trenches".

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