|Saturday, 24 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-05-10
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 10 May 2013 Issue No: 4355
 Chinese ambassador to Athens gives details of PM Samaras' trip to China on May 15-19The Chinese government places great importance on the visit of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to China from May 15 to 19, Chinese Ambassador to Greece Du Qiwen said on Thursday.
At a press conference ahead of the visit, the ambassador noted that Samaras' visit is one of the first by a Western leader to China after the assumption of duties by the new Chinese government in March, and reflects the feeling of friendship between the Chinese and Greek peoples, as it is based on understanding and solidarity.
Samaras will be meeting with the president and prime minister of China and other officials.
Du Qiwen expressed the hope that the visit would give a renewed push to bilateral relations, and he said it would include the signing of several agreements in financial and trade collaboration. Samaras will be accompanied by a large group of business people who will meet with their Chinese counterparts.
The ambassador noted that despite the crisis bilateral trade exceeds 4 billion dollars and said the export of Greek products to China was promising, especially in in olive oil, Kastoria furs, marble and marble products while he also called on Greek tourism business owners to intensify their efforts and take advantage of the huge and developing market of Chinese tourists.
Stressing the importance of COSCO's investment at the Port of Piraeus, he called it a "win-win" agreement, and noted the company's social and philanthropic contributions to soup kitchens and heating of schools. The agreement between state-owned TrainOSE and US-based Hewlett Packard (which has improved facilities and resulted in the construction of a transport rail line to the port, cutting down on delivery time to European and Asian markets) will be joined by three more multinational agreements currently in progress, which he said, "will give Piraeus back its role of major transitional centre in the Mediterranean."
In China, the ambassador said, Samaras will inaugurate the screenings of a series of three episodes of "Renowned Greece", a documentary made by the Chinese state television (CCTV), which is hoped will contribute to overturning the negative image of Greece by international media, while he will also speak at the Global Cultural Forum, which aims at strengthening international cooperation in creating an ecological world.
According to Chinese sources, Beijing understands, feels sympathy for and supports the Greek people, who are experiencing what may be their greatest post-WWII crisis. It has made clear at the G20 leaders meeting and the EU the importance of retaining stability in Europe and of the role of help to Greece for global financial stability, and that has been received well. The mix of austerity and development must not lean exclusively on one side, the sources said. "We are trying as much as we can to help Greek imports through tourism," Chinese officials said, adding that Greece is one of the best friends of China in Europe.
Meeting at Maximos Mansion concluded
A large government meeting held at the Maximos Mansion by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, in light of the prime minister's trip to China, was concluded on Thursday evening.
The meeting focused on a discussion on the attraction of investments and the opening of markets and participating in it, apart from Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, Shipping Minister Kostis Mousouroulis and Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni, were the boards of the Hellenic Republic Assets Development Fund (TAIPED) and of Invest in Greece.
The Finance minister remained at the Maximos Mansion after the end of the meeting on the trip to China and is holding a meeting with the prime minister in light of Monday's Eurogroup where the issue of the disbursement of the rescue tranches will be concluded.
 Samaras-Stournaras meeting on implementation of loan commitmentsThe implementation of the Greece's commitments against its troika of lenders (EC-ECB-IMF), allowing for an 'unsurprising' Eurogroup session on Monday, has been the focus of a meeting on Thursday evening between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Finance minister Yannis Stournaras.
On Monday, Eurogroup is expected to approve the disbursement of the May tranche of a rescue loan to Greece.
Stournaras said that all the required administrative acts should be in place by Friday to ensure that there will no problems with the disbursement.
Replying to a question regarding the possibility of Eurogroup deciding to give the green light also to disbursement of the June tranche during Monday's meeting, the minister said the issue has been raised only on an unofficial level, and so nothing can be certain. But there have been no delays so far, he added.
 IMF board to convene on May 31 to ratify tranche for GreeceNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokesman Gerry Rice said during a regular briefing at the Fund's offices in Washington on Thursday that the board of the IMF is expected to convene on May 31 to ratify the rescue loan tranche amounting to 1.8 billion euros for Greece (it corresponds to the inspection completed in April). Rice added that the disbursement of the amount will be made a few days later.
Rice stressed progress had been achieved in solving the few remaining technical issues, in light of the board's session.
Replying to a question on whether Greece needs a new haircut of the official sector (OSI) to enable its debt to be at sustainable levels, he reiterated points in the IMF's recent report on Greece, underlining the need for the implementation of Eurogroup's November decision, but to a certain extent leaving the issue of a future haircut open.
Rice emphasised that "we cannot imagine new discussions for the OSI at the present conjuncture", underlining Europeans' "commitment" for the debt's sustainability to be secured.
"Greece's European partners have acknowledged that debt sustainability would need considerable additional aid, and have committed themselves to offering additional relief," he said.
 Cyprus defence minister in Athens; meets Greek counterpart, foreign ministerVisiting Cyprus Defence Minister Photis Photiou held meetings with his Greek counterpart Panos Panagiotopoulos and Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens on Thursday.
After his meeting with Avramopoulos, which was also attended by Panagiotopoulos, the Greek foreign minister said they had reaffirmed the excellent level of bilateral cooperation between Greece and Cyprus and the mutual desire to further enhance coordination and joint action by the two countries. Special reference was made to the emerging prospects for cooperation in energy, while Avramopoulos repeated Greece's full support and solidarity with Cyprus.
The foreign minister stressed the great courage and strength shown by the Cypriot people in the face of the difficult decisions taken to tackle the crisis, expressing his conviction that, with the right strategy and planning, Cyprus will soon be on the road to recovery.
He also underlined that the Cyprus issue remained a top priority for Greece and cooperation with Cyprus a 'foundation stone' of foreign policy.
"Our common goal is to end the Turkish occupation and settlement and to find a comprehensive, agreed solution to the Cyprus issue, based on the decisions of the UN Security Council and Cyprus' membership of the European Union," he said.
He repeated Greece's support for Cyprus' membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace programme.
Photiou also had a meeting with Panagiotopoulos to discuss defence and military cooperation, as well as coordination issues between the two ministries and matters of mutual interest for Greece and Cyprus concerning developments in the southeastern Mediterranean.
In statements afterward, Panagiotopoulos stressed that Greece, regardless of the conditions or difficulties that might exist, "will never cease to be the primary power, the primary factor that guarantees the security, that guarantees the sovereignty, independence and integrity of the Cyprus Republic."
Panagiotopoulos noted the close cooperation between the Greek and Cypriot defence ministries, saying the meeting had been a chance to review all issues relating to their cooperation, both operational and strategic, with an agreement to enhance this even further.
He said their talks had also focused on the issue of energy security in the region, and initiatives relating to the hydrocarbons' undertaken by both Cyprus and Greece, in a framework of cooperation with other, friendly countries in the region, such as Israel.
"This does not, of course, come into conflict with the traditionally close, friendly ties enjoyed by Greece and Cyprus with the Arab world, with countries such as Egypt, Lebanon and others in our region," he added.
Among others, Photiou referred to Turkey's "continued threats" and its dispute of Cyprus' sovereign rights, stressing that these did not help resolve the problems, nor demonstrate Turkey's European orientation.
"I want to say most forcefully that the exploitation of our natural wealth, the natural wealth of the Cyprus Republic, is our sovereign right and no one can question it," he stressed.
Concerning cooperation between the two ministries, Photiou noted that this was very close but needed to become deeper and redesigned in light of the "new strategic situation" in the region and the new developments.
 PM meets heads of Greek IT & Communications Firms' AssociationPrime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday received the leadership of Greece's Association of IT and Communications Firms for a meeting attended by Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Costis Hatzidakis and Deputy Administrative Reform Minister Manousos Voloudakis.
The head of the association Tasos Tsikas asked the prime minister to support the work of Greek IT and communications companies so that they might act as a key lever for growth, stressing that human resources were the main assets of such firms.
Hatzidakis noted that firms in the sector had weathered the crisis well and he appeared optimistic, noting that companies in the sector had started hiring. Voloudakis highlighted their potential role in helping to modernise the Greek state and fight bureaucracy.
 Foreign Minister Avramopoulos on the Europe Day; event marking 63rd anniversaryIn a message marking the 63rd anniversary of the Robert Schuman Declaration that launched the European integration process, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday noted that "we should reflect on our common European values which constitute fundamental and vital element of the European structure".
"Especially, now with rising Euro-skepticism, we should reflect on our common European values of democracy, freedom, mutual understanding and, above all, the value of solidarity," Avramopoulos said, speaking about tangible solidarity toward equal partners with whom the common European homeland is being built step-by-step through dialogue and cooperation.
Avramopoulos said that in the present conjuncture of the financial crisis, such values promoted in practice by visionary leaders like Monnet, Adenauer, Giscard d' Estaing, Mitterand and Delors remain relevant. He also observed that the explosive rise in unemployment, the acute social inequalities and the broadening gap between the countries of the North and the South resulted in pessimism about the future of Europe, particularly, among the young.
A "Europe Day" event held earlier on Thursday by the European Parliament Office and European Commission Representation in Greece focused on Euro-skepticism, the financial crisis, the rights of the European citizens and the Euro-parliament elections in 2014.
The keynote address "Without Europe: Dream or Nightmare?" was delivered by Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas, who referred to the tough conjuncture for the European Union and the prospects for the European structure.
Referring to the rise of Euro-skepticism, he said that despite the considerable conquests made possible through the European integration - conquests regarded as self-evident by many, the young in particular - the EU did not reinforce its democratic legitimacy as much as it should. Reflecting on the way the EU handled the recent crisis, Kourkoulas said that it was handled inadequately thus contributing to the increase of Euro-skeptic tendencies on European level.
Commenting on the case of Greece, he noted that the country does not reject its share of responsibility for the situation it is in and observed that public dialogue was unfortunately trapped in a demagogic distinction of "pro-memorandum" and "anti-memorandum" political powers.
 Gov't must redirect EU funds to help unemployed find jobs, DIM.ARThe opening of new jobs in the private sector must be supported by respective development policies, the Democratic Left (DIM.AR) said in a party announcement on Thursday.
The huge number of the unemployed also demands emergency and extensive measures of support by the state, the party added, while redirecting National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) funds from the EU is necessary.
Relevant ministries must become more active and table proposals with the European Commission, and through negotiations make possible the funding of public benefit labour, internships and practice and and upgrade in skills. "No delay is acceptable," the party said, "the unemployed need immediate support measures."
DIM.AR is one of the two junior members of the ruling coalition.
 PASOK leader addresses party's Political Council meetingPASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos referred to the issue that has arisen concerning the party's finances during his address to PASOK's Political Council on Thursday, which met to discuss a relevant report by PASOK General Director Nikos Salayiannis. PASOK is a junior partner in Greece's three-party coalition government.
Venizelos noted that "the issue has surfaced recently in a peculiar way, considering that it is not a new issue but, on the contrary, has been open for a long time and concerns all political parties".
According to Venizelos, the party finances showed a steady deficit, while he underlined that between 2003-2011 PASOK's debt increased by 10 million euros annually. He also said that the six audit firms appointed have not yet presented their findings and therefore, any information on alleged expenditures that came to light is unrelated.
He said that public figures, including former prime minister George Papandreou, should seek recourse through justice if they think that they are being insulted in any way, and announced that PASOK will present a proposal on the monitoring of political party finances and funding.
Referring to the anniversary of Europe Day, Venizelos said that present correlations should and can change noting that the abolition of the troika is the most crucial proposal tabled by the European Socialists and Democrats.
As regards the Progressive Alliance that is to be formally founded in Leipzig - with PASOK among the founding members since December - he noted that its purpose is to become a new space of cooperation and not serve as a substitute of any other international institution.
 PASOK: No 'black hole', just a debt of 100 mln eurosDuring a meeting on Thursday of the PASOK party Political Council it was ascertained that the party's massive debt of 110 million euros should not be viewed or described as a "black hole," since most of the expenses are properly invoiced.
According to sources from the PASOK headquarters on Ippokratous Str., the party acknowledges that it does have a large debt, "as all other political parties in the country," but it is determined to deal effectively with it.
 KKE general secretary Koutsoumbas meets with ADEDY board; KKE statement on rising unemploymentOpposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas on Thursday met members of the civil servants' union federation ADEDY board at the party offices in Perissos, Athens. After the meeting, he underlined that "the new measures adopted by the government are aimed at serving the profitability of the powerful monopoly groups and are definitely not intended to defend the workers' and the peoples' rights".
"The workers in the public sector are faced with layoffs, abolition of the permanent worker status, wage and pension cuts, as well as new changes in the operation of the trade union movement with a new law that will limit the right to strike action," Koutsoumbas underlined. He also referred to the sector of education, noting that "additional upsets in labour relations and increased working hours will mean more layoffs and more reductions in the number of substitute teachers".
On his part, ADEDY President Kostas Tsikrikas said that the tens of thousands of layoffs planned in the public sector will demolish the social state and public services, adding that the number of unemployed is increasing and the new measures lead more sections of society to poverty and destitution.
He said that ADEDY will continue to undertake initiatives aimed at forging an alliance against the measures, adding that its actions will spread beyond national borders to unite "with all trade unions in Europe, particularly those in southern European states".
A KKE statement earlier on Thursday referred to the "continuous rise in the number of unemployed, reaching 27 pct in the general population, 64.2 pct in the 15-24 age group and 36.2 pct in the 25-34 age group, which goes hand-in-hand with anti-popular measures like the abolition of collective labour contracts, the uninsured labour and the unregulated labour relations."
According to KKE, the high unemployment rate is used by the government and the employees to blackmail workers into accepting lower wages and limited rights.
 OPAD problem to be settled by mid June, labour ministry sources sayThe ministry of labour, social insurance & welfare on Thursday announced that it will soon bring legislation that will provide a permanent solution to the problem of long queues and delays in the registration of indirect beneficiaries of the civil servants' healthcare fund OPAD, a procedure that includes filing legal documents, such as certificates of enrolment for studies, birth certificates, etc.
Despite the slow-moving process, a total of 40,000 invalid healthcare cards have already been canceled, according to OPAD Governor Mihalis Koutras.
Labour ministry sources told ANA-MPA that the problem was brought to the attention of the ministry just recently, stressing that it can be solved through the healthcare fund's incorporation in IKA-ETAM social insurance fund for all employees, a measure already announced but has not been implemented yet pending a relevant legislation.
A permanent solution is expected to be given to the problem by mid June at the latest, when the clause in question will be passed in parliament.
 Prosecutors turn down objections by defence lawyers at Tsohatzopoulos trialProsecutors at the trial of former PASOK defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos and 18 others implicated in money laundering and kickbacks schemes rejected seven of the objections introduced by defence lawyers, during the resumption of the case on Thursday morning.
The defending lawyers for the former minister had filed the objections - one of which included the claim that the basic charge against him of kickbacks has lapsed - with the court on Wednesday; the claim also included his former wife and their daughter.
Tsohatzopoulos, who is the main defendant in the case, is accused of money laundering via offshore companies that he owned for real estate and other transactions to legalize the money he received as kickbacks from military procurement deals signed when he was defence minister. In his actions, the court says, he was assisted by businessmen, lawyers, his former and present wives and his daughter. Most of them are in jail pending trial.
During Thursday's session the former minister said he intended to tell all: "The Parliament must conduct a full in-depth investigation into the issue of the submarines, mostly for the non-fulfillment of the agreements and what the state lost from this. The agreement was being carried out normally during my ministry. Isn't this a scandal? Is 'scandal' only what they say about me, about kickbacks and money laundering? I will speak out about everything. Everything will come out. All files will be opened. Only the truth helps."
 Tsohatzopoulos trial to resume May 14The trial of former PASOK defence minister Akis Tsoha-tzopoulos and 18 others implicated in money laundering and kickback schemes was adjourned on Thursday and will resume on Tuesday, May 14.
 Foreign ministry spokesman rejects Turkish newspaper reportGreek Foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras on Thursday categorically denied a Turkish newspaper report reiterating allegations on the operation of a camp in Greece for the training of terrorists.
"It has become tedious for us to deny, again and again, a completely fabricated story. Let them make up their mind that Greece is a state of law. Our condemnation of terrorism is absolute and explicit. We reiterate once again: In Greece camps for training terrorists neither operated nor are operating," Delavekouras said.
 S&D group president Swoboda addresses letter to Athens Mayor Kaminis; support by KEDEThe president of the European Parliament's Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, Hannes Swoboda, has sent a letter to Athens Mayor George Kaminis to thank him for the firm stance he adopted toward "the attempted division of society into Greeks and non-Greeks by the ultra-right extremist political party," it was announced on Thursday.
The letter was addressed in response to Kaminis' stance toward initiatives undertaken by the ultra-right opposition party Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn).
The Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) board on Thursday condemned the unprovoked attack on the Athens mayor by a GD MP, noting that the state should take measures to prevent similar incidents and protect local administration officials.
 Greece to enter markets again at end 2014, FinMinThe economy will recover and unemployment will drop starting in 2014, according to Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, in comments made Thursday morning on NET public television.
"Internationally, it is believed that Greece will be saved and will remain in the euro. Conditions are improving," Stournaras said.
This year's target, he added, is creating a primary surplus, in order to have negotiating power to request of lenders to Greece to lighten the loan burden.
"I hope that Greece will enter markets by the end of 2014, after achieving a primary surplus and development. I hope we have the same good fate as Portugal and Ireland, who are starting to enter markets with interest rates lower than 6 percent. I see that happening towards the end of 2014...In 2014 we will be forced out of the [loan-related] memorandum... therefore we will have to enter the markets," he explained.
Asked about possible new measures, he said there will be none introduced if memorandum obligations are met: "As long as Greece honors its obligations, there is no need to take new measures. Otherwise, we will need new measures."
Stournaras acknowledged that the fight against tax evasion had not met with success, but said that the ministry had blocked tax-owning individuals' accounts worth over 2 billion euros, of which 400 million euros had already been liquified.
The factors contributing to such wide-spread tax evasion, he said, was attributed to the number of self-employed, much higher in Greece than the average in Europe, and to penalties that were not the right ones in helping to reducing tax evasion.
Asked about reductions in pensions of the self-employed, Stournars said the government had succeeded in avoiding this measure by using other alternatives. "We hope to succeed in continuing to cover the gap next year as well," he said.
 SYRIZA spokesperson criticises FinMin statements on economy numbers and futureCriticising statements made by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras during a NET public television interview, Radical Coalition of the Left (SYRIZA-EKM) spokesperson Panos Skourletis said on Thursday the possibility of new austerity measures being imposed has not been ruled out.
In a party press release, Skourletis said the minister had not clarified whether unemployment would continue to grow up to 2014, when he claimed it would start dropping, nor had the government taken any effective steps in fighting tax evasion. The real reason for tax evasion, Skourletis said, was "the lack of political will and the government's demolishing of tax collection mechanisms."
The minister, he charged, had spoken of a primary surplus, "hiding the fact that the present numbers were a result of creative accounting and a domestic suspension of payments, imposed by the government, as well as of cuts in development costs."
The humanitarian crisis in Greece and the deepest recession, entering its sixth year, "can neither be covered up or beautified," Skourletis said. "The path was the wrong one from the start and there will be no 'happy end' if we stay on it to the end," he warned.
 VAT, fuel tax reductions 'on ice', Finmin saysFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Thursday ruled out all prospect of an imminent reduction in either fuel tax or the VAT on restaurant and catering services, at least not in the near future.
"A reduction in taxes is desirable but not feasible in the present phase," the minister told reporters at a press conference following a meeting of development- and finance-related ministers. According to Stournaras, the main obstacle to such a measure were low revenues, which remained "a little below targets".
He said the reduction of the VAT rate for restaurants and catering, currently at 23 percent, will be discussed with the EU-IMF troika officials in June, provided Greece had met targets for revenues. Reducing the special consumption tax on fuel was virtually impossible, he added, "since the course of revenues does not allow this".
"Every deviation has a cost, for every measure reducing taxes we must take some other equal measure. We have a long way to go because there must be a primary (surplus) on an annual basis," he stressed.
Earlier, Stournaras also pointed to Greece's record in opening 'closed' professions, noting that 72 pct of the 343 closed professions have completely opened.
"The greatest part of the target freeing of closed professions has been accomplished," Stournaras said, referring to loan conditions set by Greece's lenders, and ahead of Monday's Eurogroup meeting in Brussels.
Asked about the likely results of the Eurogroup and whether this might approve a "double-dose" of bailout loans to Greece amounting to 7.4 billion euros, Stournaras did not rate the chance of such an outcome highly.
"It has been examined on a technocratic level, there is no resolution yet and there is no such issue on an official [level]," he said, though admitting that such a decision would be ideal.
"The Eurogroup never stops surprising us but we do not know what the reactions of other member-states will be," he added.
Stournaras clarified, also, that even if such a 'double dose' were approved it would most likely be disbursed gradually, based on Greece's implementation of its commitments.
Replying to questions about the payment of Greek bonds held by the European Central Bank that expire on May 20, amounting to 5.6 billion euros, Stournaras stated only that "there are ways to cover this".
He also pointed out that, whether or not the double dose was approved, the heads of the troika mission will returning for a review of the Greek economy in June.
 New programme to place 10,000 in tourism sector to openA new programme offering 10,000 positions for young people in tourism, with training and placement at businesses, was presented jointly on Thursday by Labour, Social Insurance and
Welfare Minister Yiannis Vroutsis, Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni, and president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis.
The programme is part of a larger project targeting a total of 62,000 young people, from 18 to 29 years of age, a part of which - for 42,000 positions - is already open to applications by interested parties.
Of the 10,000 positions, 2,000 are for graduates of universities and technical schools while the rest are open to all who have completed at least gradeschool-level studies.
During training, all accepted candidates will be given a 400-euro stipend (gross), while during their placement at businesses related directly or indirectly to tourism they will be paid a total of 2,000-2,300 euros (gross), depending on their educational level.
The programme will run to October 30, 2014 and will cost 39 million euros. It is jointly funded by Greece and the EU's European Social Fund.
Vroutsis said additional programmes totalling about 1 billion euros are offering job opportunities to over 250,000 unemployed of all ages. The Ministry's goal is to use every possible source "to bring unemployed youth, women and older adults closer to the labour market," he said.
"Tourism is a national interest and a motivating force to exit the crisis," Kefalogianni said, while Andreadis thanked the ministries "for their initiative to help the effort of the [tourism] sector with 10,000 trained young men and women."
 Finmin, Development minister outline planned action to lower pricesFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Costis Hatzidakis on Thursday unveiled plans for lowering prices through legislation to open up the remaining 'closed' professions and markets, in a joint press conference after their meeting on the issue.
Stournaras said that 72 percent of Greece's 343 closed professions had already been fully liberalised and the remainder will be liberalised through legislative action soon.
He cited several examples where the opening of professions had helped reduce prices and made it easier for young professionals to enter the market - an issue to be monitored by an observatory website to be set up by the finance and development ministries.
Hatzidakis said the development ministry's emphasis will also be on opening up markets, pointing to 148 measures already taken that increase freedom to trade in products and services, such as removing caps on tuition fees, lifting restrictions on sales of tobacco products and baby formula, or the lifting of restrictions for various kinds of jobs and services.
The minister announced that a new draft bill will be tabled in Parliament within the next few days governing various aspects of market operation, including a measure allowing shops to stay open seven Sundays a year. Other measures due to be tabled include a bill opening up the intercity transport market and an amendment with measures facilitating start-ups and other economic activity that will to upgrade Greece's position in the World Bank's annual report.
Among others, the ministry has set up teams to examine the process of issuing business licences, based on a report by the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEV), which will decide the measures to be taken by September to make the process more flexible.
Hatzidakis also noted that the government has been working with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since January to pinpoint the issues that prevent prices falling but was "not close to final measures".
Indicatively, he said that hundreds of potential areas of intervention had been identified in a number of sectors, while the first batch of proposed measures was expected to be ready by September.
 Most closed professions have opened, FinMinOf 343 professions that were closed, 72 pct have completely opened, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Thursday.
At an ongoing press conference following a meeting with development- and finance-related ministers, Stournaras said that "the greatest part of the target freeing of closed professions has been accomplished," referring to loan conditions set by Greece's lenders, and ahead of Monday's Eurogroup meeting in Brussels.
 KKE party says deregulation of professions neither reduces prices nor boosts employmentThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE), commenting on Thursday on the interview by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis regarding the deregulation of professions, said that "the so-called deregulation of professions, that the government is promoting and dozens of sectors of self-employed are already experiencing (taxis, trucks, bakers, etc), neither boosted employment nor reduced prices, as the government is claiming".
KKE further says that the deregulation of professions "is taking place with the accord of the government-EU and is aimed at the further displacement and the bankruptcy of thousands of self-employed, to enable the business groups to take over an even bigger share".
Lastly, KKE stresses that "the effort to abolish the Sunday holiday is also moving in the same direction, that will lead to the even greater exploitation of working people and the closure of thousands of small commercial stores".
 Greek unemployment rose to 27 pct in FebThe Greek unemployment rate rose to 27 pct of the workforce in February, with the number of unemployed people totaling 1,320,189, up by 245,021 or 22.8 pct in 12 months, the Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that unemployment among young people aged 15-24, jumped to 64.2 pct in February, compared with the same month last year, or by 33.5 percentage points compared with 2010 when the first loan memorandum was implemented.
The unemployment rate was 27 pct in February, from 21.9 pct in February 2012 and 26.7 pct in January 2013. The number of employed people totaled 3,568,186 in February, down by 270,766 compared with February last year, or by 28,650 compared with January 2013. The financially non-active population totaled 3,358,649 in February, up 2,287 from February 2012 and by 5,300 compared with January this year. The unemployment rate among women rose to 31 pct in February, from 25.7 pct in February 2012, while the unemployment rate among men rose to 24.1 pct from 19 pct respectively.
The unemployment rate in the most productive age group (25-34) was 36.2 pct in February, while in the 35-44 age group the rate was 23.7 pct, in the 45-54 age group the rate was 20.2 pct and in the 55-64 age group it was 16.7 pct.
Attica recorded the biggest unemployment rate among the country's regions (28.7 pct in February from 23.1 pct in 2012), followed by Epirus-Western Macedonia (23.7 pct), Thessaly-Central Greece (21.5 pct), Macedonia-Thrace (27.8 pct), the Peloponnese-Western Greece-Ionian Islands (23.6 pct), Crete (23.3 pct) and the Aegean Islands (19.8 pct).
 Labor agreement negotiations still in deadlockRepresentatives of Greek employers and workers' unions continued their intensive round of negotiations on Thursday with the aim to reach an agreement over a new National General Collective Labor Contract.
The meeting was held without the presence of the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEB) -the country's largest employers' union- which had requested a postponement of the meeting until SEB concluded its annual assembly on Monday 13 May.
Representatives of social partners have agreed -on the sidelines of negotiations- of the necessity of signing a new national labor contract which will maintain all institutional benefits to workers, although differences still remained over wage negotiations.
 National Bank unveils buy-back of hybrid securitiesNational Bank on Wednesday announced an optional plan for the repurchase of older hybrid securities at a discount. The offer is addressed to the bank's institutional investors. The buy-back scheme covers five series of securities - one in US dollars, three in euros and one in British pounds - all worth 170 million euros.
National Bank will repay these securities at 40 pct of their nominal value, for a discount of 60 pct. The bank said it will accept investors' response to the offer until May 22. In the case all investors accept National Bank's offer, the bank would pay 68 million euros for the repayment of these securities, saving 102 million euros.
The plan is part of a strategy to boost the bank's Core Tier I capital and is not related to a forthcoming share capital increase plan.
 Tourism, interior ministers hold meeting on tourism with regional authority headsRegional authority heads on Thursday had a meeting with Interior Minister Evripidis Stylianidis and Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni to discuss ways to better coordinate action on a regional level to promote tourism, ahead of the summer season.
Responding to an invitation from the two ministries, regional authority chiefs confirmed their desire for closer cooperation with the ministries on this issue and raised a series of issues faced by tourist resorts, which are likely to affect the impression made on tourists during the summer.
The ministers underlined the need for coordination among all the bodies involved, so as to make tourists the best advertisement for the country abroad.
 Canadian tour operators visit Crete islandBoosting Canadian tourism on the island of Crete has been the focus of a meeting on Thursday, between the head of Crete Region, Stavros Arnaoutakis and as many as 48 Canadian tour operators, headed by Nicole Bursey, ?Transat? sales promotion manager.
Welcoming the Canadian tour operators at the port of Heraklion, Arnaoutakis referred to the island's history, culture and comparative advantages. He noted Crete was a safe and quality tourist destination.
He spoke warmly of Canada and the important contacts he had during his recent visit there, stressing that such contacts have paid off, both with regard to the promotion of Cretan products to Canada, as well as with regard to the enhanced numbers of Canadian tourists visiting Crete.
The tour operators said they were thrilled with the island, also expressing interest in striking deals with local tourism businesses.
Another group of some 58 tour operators, also from Canada, is scheduled to visit Crete next week.
 Piraeus port to launch new sea cruise terminal on MondayPiraeus Port Organization will formally begin operations of its new international sea cruise passenger terminal - the second such terminal at the port - on Monday, 13 May. The new terminal, covering a space of 5,600 square metres, will be able to service up to 25,000 passengers daily, will have large entrance-exit areas, modern control systems, parking facilities for taxis, tourist buses and other vehicles. The new terminal will be called Themistocles to celebrate the great ancient Greek whose grave is said to be nearby. George Anomeritis, chairman and chief executive of Piraeus Port Organization said the new terminal will be able to service sea cruise passengers from different entry and exit gate points. The port of Piraeus is expected to unveil its third sea cruise passenger terminal by the end of the year.
The inauguration of the new terminal will be made by Shipping and Aegean Minister Costis Mousouroulis.
 Greek economic sentiment index up in AprilGreece's economic sentiment index rose to 89.2 points in April from 88.1 in March, to its highest level in the last three and a half year, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Relations (IOBE) said on Thursday.
In a monthly report, IOBE said that the April data confirmed a gradual stabilization of the forces which pushed the index lower in the past. This new improvement is based on expectations related with a restart of major road works in the country and a liquidation of inventories in the industrial sector. In the retail sector, pessimism eased slightly ahead of the Easter holidays, while the Cyprus crisis did not seem to have had any significant effect on the Greek economy, although IOBE said it was rather soon to extract safe conclusions for Greek enterprises. On other hand, Greek households remained pessimistic in their expectations over their finances in April, pressured by rising unemployment.
In the manufacturing sector, business expectations over short-term production remained unchanged in April, while expectations over the current level of orders and demand improving.
In the services sector, expectations over current activity remained unchanged, along with forecasts over short-term development in sales.
In the construction sector, expectations employment prospects in the sector showed a significant increase.
The consumer confidence index remained negative in April over households' prospects, unchanged from March, while consumers confidence over the country's economic situation deteriorated further.
Economic sentiment deteriorated in the Eurozone and in the EU-27 in April, remaining far behind the long-term average levels.
 Greek consumer confidence up in Q1, Nielsen reportConsumer confidence in Greece grew in the first quarter of 2013, a report by Nielsen showed on Thursday.
The report, based on a survey on 29,000 consumers in 58 countries using the Internet for their purchases, showed that the Greek consumer confidence grew by 5 points in the first three months of 2013, compared with the fourth quarter of 2012, ending at 40 points. This increase is one of the biggest recorded among the EU's 29 countries.
The consumer confidence index rose in Finland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland. On the other hand, Portuguese consumers were the most pessimistic. The report said that consumer confidence in Southern Europe was lower compared with that of Northern Europe.
As a comparison, the index was at 44 points in Italy and 47 in Spain, at 106 in Norway, 100 in Switzerland, 91 in Germany, 90 in Austria and 80 in Holland.
 Greek apartment prices down 11.5 pct in Q1Apartment prices fell by 11.5 pct year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday. The central bank, in a report, said that according to data collected from credit institutions, nominal apartment prices were estimated to have declined on average by 11.5% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013. According to revised data, the average annual rate of change was -11.7% in 2012 (Q1: -10.6%, Q2: -10.7%, Q3: -12.5% and Q4: -13.1%), compared with -5.5% in 2011.
More specifically, the central bank said that the year-on-year rate of decline in prices was 10.8% for "new" apartments and 11.9% for "old" apartments in the first three months of 2013. In 2012 as a whole the average rate of decline in prices for "new" apartments was 12.0% (2011: -5,0%), whereas for "old" apartments the respective rate was 11.5% (2011: -5.8%).
According to geographical data, apartment prices are estimated to have declined year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013 by 12.6% in Athens, 8.2% in Thessaloniki, 11.0% in other cities and 10.9% in other areas of Greece. According to revised data, 2012 prices dropped on average year-on-year by 11.8%, 13.4%, 10.9% and 11.7% respectively in the above-mentioned areas. These figures show that during the last two years the prices of apartments registered stronger declines in the two major urban centres, Athens and Thessaloniki, compared with other regions.
Residential property appraisals-transactions conducted with Monetary Financial Institutions totalled 4,976 in the first quarter of 2013, down from 10,506 in the previous quarter. Year-on-year, residential property appraisals fell by 24.5% in the first quarter of 2013. The number of appraisals in 2012 reached 29,584 (revised data), following a significant drop of 30.9% year-on-year (2011: 42,814). Finally, the value of residential property appraisals-transactions conducted with Monetary Financial Institutions dropped by 34.6% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013. In 2012, the average annual rate of change was -38.6%).
 Alpha Astika Akinita reports higher Q1 resultsAlpha Astika Akinita SA, a member of Alpha Bank Group, on Thursday reported net after tax profits of 1.3 million euros in the first quarter of 2013, up from 800,000 euros in the corresponding period in 2012. The company said its turnover totaled 3.3 million euros in the January-March period, up from 2.3 million euros in the same period in 2012.
 Car sales up 21.8 pct in AprilCar sales grew 21.8 pct in April this year but remained negative in the first four months of the year, recording an 8.8 pct decline, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that car registrations totaled 7,248 units in April, up 21.8 pct from the same month last year, with registrations of passenger cars rising 19.8 pct in the month. Car registrations were down 52.7 pct in April 2012.
In the January-April period, car registrations totaled 26,685 units, down 8.8 pct from the same period last year, after a 37.4 pct decline recorded in the four-month period in 2012.
Motorcycle registrations totaled 3,279 in April, up 1.2 pct from the same month in 2012, while registrations of motorcycles in the January-April period totaled 8,699, down 2.8 pct from 2012.
 Greek stocks end at highest levels since Aug 2011Greek stocks ended at their highest levels since early August 2011 in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, as buyers retained the upper hand in the market, with investment interest focusing on bank shares. The composite index of the market jumped 2.21 pct to end at 1,066.29 points, its highest close since August 5, 2011. Positive macro-economic data, a positive report by the IMF on the Greek economy, favourable comments made by Morgan Stanley over Greek bonds, a continuing rally in international markets and optimism over a successful completion of a bank recapitalization plan, encouraged sentiment in the market.
Turnover remained a strong 104.114 million euros. The Big Cap index jumped 2.38 pct and the Mid Cap index rose 2.42 pct. National Bank (12.14 pct), Eurobank (10.16 pct) and Hellenic Exchanges (8.51 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while MIG (4.19 pct), Ellaktor (3.36 pct) and Eurobank Properties (2.58 pct) were top losers.
Banks (9.22 pct), Food (6.17 pct) and Health (5.20 pct) were top gainers among the market's sectors, while Constructions (0.58 pct), Telecoms (0.51 pct) and Utilities (0.37 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 106 to 58 with another 22 issues unchanged. Attica Bank (23.08 pct), Intertek (21.01 pct) and Pegasus (20 pct) were top gainers, while Demetriou (30 pct), PC Systems (20 pct) and Yalco (18.58 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.29%
Personal & Household: +2.76%
Raw Materials: -0.17%
Travel & Leisure: -0.06%
Food & Beverages: +6.17%
Financial Services: +3.03%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Alpha Bank, National Bank, Bank of Piraeus, OTE and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.54
Public Power Corp (PPC): 7.82
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.78
National Bank of Greece: 0.96
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.28
Bank of Piraeus: 0.30
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank further to 8.14 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 8.46 pct on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 9.40 pct and the German Bund 1.25 pct).
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.49 pct, the nine-month rate was 0.40 pct, the six-month rate was 0.30 pct, the three-month rate was 0.20 pct and the one-month rate was 0.11 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 1.78 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover at 15.998 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 4,380 contracts worth 7.910 million euros, with 40,030 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 37,082 contracts worth 8.088 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (25,731), followed by Eurobank (1,192), MIG (548), OTE (3,469), PPC (1,467), OPAP (594), Hellenic Exchanges (370), Sidenor (184), GEK (970), Mytilineos (1,002) and Terna Energy (79).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.333
Pound sterling 0.857
Danish kroner 7.565
Swedish kroner 8.667
Japanese yen 131.75
Swiss franc 1.247
Norwegian kroner 7.661
Canadian dollar 1.338
Australian dollar 1.305
 Publisher Dellatolas returns cash, closes money-laundering caseNewspaper publisher Antonis Dellatolas on Thursday returned the sum of 500,000 euros, for which he had faced money laundering charges in connection with the case against jailed former tycoon Lavrentis Lavrentiadis and his dealings at Proton Bank. On the return of the cash, the case against Dellatolas is expected to be automatically closed.
The amount concerned a wire transfer that Dellatolas received in January 2012 for the sale to Petros Kyriakidis of a share in the newspaper "To Pontiki", which came from a Cyprus bank account belonging to the now wanted business man.
Arriving at the office of the 2nd special examining magistrate in response to a summons to testify, Dellatolas presented a copy of a cheque made out for the entire sum, with Proton Bank as its only beneficiary. According to the law, once the money is returned the publisher can no longer be prosecuted in connection with it.
Arrest warrants for the death of three Afghan immigrants
An arrest warrant for two Greeks (for the driver and co-driver of a truck) was issued on Thursday morning in relation to the case of three Afghan immigrants who were found dead in February 2012 on the Preveza-Igoumenitsa national motorway.
A medical examiner had ascertained at the time that their death resulted from suffocation and police investigations focused from the very start in the direction of the immigrants dying in the cabin of a truck that was carrying them illegally.
 Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos Piraeus named Euroleague MVPLONDON (ANA-MPA / A. Velonaki)
Vassilis Spanoulis, a professional basketball player for Olympiacos Piraeus, has been named 2012-13 Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Euroleague.
Spanoulis, a 1.93-metre-tall guard, received the award in a special event held here on Thursday, a day ahead of the Final Four.
He was the fourth best scorer (average 14.7 points), third in assists (5.59) and first in fouls won (5.41), leading his team to the final phase, where they will defend the title they won last year in Istanbul.
Distinctions were also received by the members of the Euroleague First All-Team, Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos Athens, Rudy Fernandez of Real Madrid, Nenad Krstic of CSKA Moscow and Ante Tomic of FC Barcelona.
Kostas Papanikolaou of Olympiacos received the Rising Star award and Bobby Brown of Montepaschi Siena picked up the Alphonso Ford Top Scoring trophy.
 Rainy on FridayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday. Winds 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures between 12C and 27C. Local showers in Athens with northerly 4-5 beaufort winds and temperatures between 16C and 25C. Fair in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 14C and 26C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: "European social democracy turning further right," after the German SPD party left the Socialist International.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "A new 'Annan' [comes in] through the window," referring to the revival of the former UN secretary general's proposal on Cyprus.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Brussels gives the go-ahead to the double tranche of 7.4 billion euros," the daily says ahead of the Eurogroup's meeting on Monday.
ESTIA: "The bar must be raised higher," in terms of expected tourist arrivals this summer, as figures show the government's estimates are not accounting for a major drop last year.
ETHNOS: "New tax proof factors for the self-employed," it says, referring to a possible change in exemptions allowed at annual tax returns.
IMERISSIA: "Greek Bourse sends strong signal," in stock prices, which rose strongly after the positive IMF report on the Greek economy.
KATHIMERINI: "Agony over national exams" that lead to university entrance, as teachers' demands were not met by the education minister on Wednesday.
LOGOS: "A Euro-alliance against tax evasion" will top the agenda at Monday's meeting of Eurogroup finance ministers in Brussels.
NAFTEMPORIKI: "A double dose of loan funds will be approved by the Eurogroup," it says, referring to the same as above.
RIZOSPASTIS: "We are inspired by and learn from the great antifascist victory of the peoples" the daily says on the 68th anniversary of raising the Communism flat on the Reichstag at the end of World War II.
TA NEA: "Don't play with our future, students cry in anguish" over the possible mobilisations of their teachers as national entrance exams to the university loom ahead.
VRADYNI: "Work opportunities for 10,000 unemployed" the daily heralds, as it expects a formal announcement today of a programme to create jobs in tourism.
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