|Thursday, 21 June 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-07-25
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 25 July 2013 Issue No: 4416
 Sunday opening for shops passed by ParliamentThe Greek Parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of an article allowing shops to open on Sunday, passing the measure by 52 votes in favour and 44 votes against in its summer session. The 'yes' vote was extended to a last-minute amendment tabled by ruling coalition and DIMAR MPs, which extended the Sunday opening measure to franchises.
The legislation was included in article 16 of a development ministry bill on market regulations, which was passed in a roll-call vote with the support of MPs of the two ruling coalition parties, New Democracy and its junior coalition partner PASOK.
Arguing in favour of the draft legislation, Deputy Development Minister Thanassis Skordas challenged those claiming that extra shopping hours would not help cash-strapped consumers or shops in crisis-stricken Greece. The minister caused a stir when he pointed to the rise in sales of smart phones and the "right of consumers to decide what they will shop with their 500 euros monthly salary".
Skordas, stressing that shop opening hours must suit consumers, complained that the country seemed to be governed by notions of unfreedom, where only whining and misery were allowed.
"Every merchant will calcuate the sum of the fixed and mutable cost and if the numbers work...[he/she will open on Sunday]," the minister said. On the possibility that the measures will be challenged in court by big retail outfits barred from Sunday opening by the new bill, Skordas said the government retained the right to revise the legislation if there was such a court ruling and predicted that prices would fall as a result.
Earlier, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis stressed that the government's position was not 'dogmatic' and that regional authorities had three months in which to consult with local merchants and all the bodies involved.
Skordas was strongly criticised by main opposition SYRIZA Parliamentary spokesman Panagiotis Lafazanis, who accused the government of "legislating for the big chains" and challenged the minister to explain why small and middle-size shop keepers were reacting to the proposed measures.
"Don't they want the extra work? Are they lazy? Is that it? Why do they claim that those benefiting will be the big stores and the chains?" Lafazanis asked, slamming the franchise amendment especially as a "last-minute gift" that ushered the way for the opening of multinationals on Sundays.
Criticism of the government and the bill were also voiced by opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Independent Greeks, the Democratic Left (DIMAR) and the ultra-right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) party.
 Minister accepts amendment on Sunday opening for franchisesDevelopment Minister Costis Hatzidakis on Wednesday agreed to an amendment proposed by MPs from the ruling coalition parties New Democracy and PASOK, as well as the Democratic Left (DIMAR), to allow Sunday opening for shops that are part of a franchise.
The minister said he would accept the proposed amendment, even though tardy, and it will be voted together with article 16 of the draft bill that allows shops to stay open on Sundays provided they meet certain size and location criteria.
The move was criticised by main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' (SYRIZA) and the opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Independent Greeks, who accused the government of taking Parliament by surprise and opening the way for multinationals to stay open on Sundays before the issue was judged in court.
 Greece has successfully implemented prior actions, Dijsselbloem saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M.Aroni)
Greece has one more condition to meet to get the next 2.5 billion euro tranche of bailout money from the European Financial Stability Fund on July 29, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Eurogroup's chairman said on Wednesday.
"Greece has satisfactorily implemented the prior actions required for the release of the next disbursement under the financial assistance programme, expect for one action whose adoption by the Greek Parliament needs to be completed by Thursday, 25 July," Dijsselbloem said in a statement.
"Subject to confirmation of compliance with the last outstanding prior action, national procedures may thereafter be finalized and are expected to be completed by 29 July," the statement said. "Once this process has been satisfactorily concluded, the EFSF will be authorized to release the first sub-tranche of the next instalment, amounting to 2.5 billion euros," it said.
In Athens meanwhile, Greek Finance ministry officials said on Wednesday that the last prior action required is the process of mobility of teachers and professors which was expected to be concluded with an amendment to be tabled by Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos to Parliament on Thursday. The amendment will clearly state the exact number of workers to be included in a mobility plan in the Education ministry.
Greece expects to receive 2.5 billion euros from the EFSF and 1.5 billion euros from European central banks' profits from their holdings in Greek state bonds. The IMF is expected to approve the release of its part of the loan, 1.8 billion euros, in July 29.
 Quick return to growth of outmost importance, Greek FinMin saysA quick return to economic growth -after six years of recession- creating new job positions and improving liquidity conditions in the market, are issues of the outmost importance both for economic and social reasons, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Wednesday.
Addressing a working lunch organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, Stournaras said despite the fact that economic climate has improved significantly in the last few months, all achievements in the economy have been made at an extremely high social and economic cost. This cost focused on the fact that 2013 will be the sixth consecutive year of recession, with the country's GDP shrinking by an accumulated 27 pct since 2008 and unemployment rising to 27 pct, with very negative figures for youth unemployment.
However, Stournaras said, there were optimistic signs, such as a balance between new hirings and dismissals which turned positive for the first time since 2008 in the first half of the year. Stournaras said the basic reforms made by the Finance ministry included fiscal adjustment, improving competitiveness, structural reforms and stabilizing economic conditions.
 SYRIZA leader visits Hellenic Defence Systems S.A. industry plantThe existence of Hellenic Defence Systems S.A. (EBO-PYRKAL) and their restructuring is a precondition for the country's economic reorganization, main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras underlined on Wednesday during a meeting with employees at the HDS plant in Hymettus, near Athens.
He noted that the defence industry is not just any production sector, because it is associated with the combat readiness of the armed forces and the country's sovereign rights, underlining that before the last general elections SYRIZA had strongly criticized plans to downgrade the country's defence industry.
Tsipras said that SYRIZA plans to proceed with the restructuring of the Hellenic Defence Systems through the establishment of a defence sector organization, the introduction of a defence industry strategy and international cooperation.
He underlined that the company should receive funding to pay its employees (who, according to their representatives, haven't received a paycheck for the past six months) and all job positions should be preserved.
Addressing the company employees, Tsipras referred to the 39th anniversary of the restoration of Democracy, noting that "we live in a handicapped democracy" as a result of the memorandum policy implemented. He also underlined that cruel memorandums cannot coexist with democracy, social cohesion and economic growth.
 President Papoulias' message for the 39th anniversary of the restoration of DemocracyPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, commemorating the 39th anniversary of the restoration of Democracy and the fall of the junta, on Wednesday laid a wreath at Eleftheria (Freedom) Park, the site of the former military police EAT-ESA headquarters where hundreds of people were being tortured during the seven-year dictatorship in Greece.
In a message for the anniversary, President Papoulias underlined that "the crisis makes the recognition of the value of Democracy an imperative," adding that Democracy "is a conquest that needs to be constantly defended".
The country's development was violently interrupted mainly because it was based on unstable foundations and now the crisis has taken up political, institutional and cultural characteristics, a "tornado that has swept up everything in its path", he underlined.
"A battle is fought to ensure financial self sufficiency, which is a precondition for national dignity and social justice but, at the same time, it is also a battle to defend Democracy," President Papoulias said, noting that "hatred and violence are not a solution or a response, they are the darkest part of the problem".
President Papoulias concluded that everybody's thoughts should be with Cyprus which remains divided 39 years after the invasion and now it is tested by another crisis which, under no circumstances, will affect the protection of national interests.
 ND on the 39th anniversary from the restoration of Democracy in Greece"We honour the restoration of Democracy in the land of its birth. We honour the pioneers of the post-dictatorship and those who fought against the seven-year junta. We treasure the huge democratic achievements of that period, the period that has the seal of our party's founder Constantine Karamanlis" said New Democracy's message for the 39th anniversary from the restoration of Democracy in Greece on Wednesday 24 July 2013 and noted "We are leaving behind us the pathogenies developed in the following years and have led the country into the economic and social crisis we are now experiencing".
In its message ND party said that it will continue with consistency and determination to the reforms that needs our country in order to stand on its feet and to forge ahead. "We continue with trust in Greece and confidence in the Greeks, our struggle for our country's salvation. Our sole aim in these difficult hours is the collective and the national interest. It is the common struggle of all the people of this land to rejuvenate the lost expectations. For the recovery of our economy and the revival of our society. For a new Greece. The Greece we want and can have" concluded ND's announcement.
 PASOK on anniversary of restoration of democracy"The crisis appears to be insurmountable for the citizens that are making huge sacrifices, but it is not. We should not leave the economic crisis to become a crisis of principles and institutions" noted PASOK's announcement on Wednesday on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece.
"Today, more than ever, we must believe again in our collective self and not to allow bigotry, devastation and populism to poison the common national effort" said PASOK noting that the lesson is that "united and with cooperation we can succeed and leave behind the forces of hatred and regression. We can have the country that we want".
PASOK's announcement also underlined "Thirty nine years ago the seven-year nightmare that our country experienced ended and a new chapter for Greece's modern history opened. The post-dictatorship with all its weakness and pathogenies was identified with the most important and progressive social changes and the people's achievements with rapid development, prosperity and the establishment of Democracy and of the social state in our country. Greece became part of the great European family. PASOK has left its mark in the post-dictatorship years and it is proud for its contribution and its role to this huge effort for the establishment of democracy and of the social state in Greece. Institutions and precious guarantees that the crisis called into question, exist in our country, not incidentally or automatically, but because some people fought for those with always as pioneer the democratic party (PASOK)".
 DIMAR on restoration of democracy in GreeceDemocratic Left (DIMAR) in an announcement on Wednesday on the occasion the 39th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece stated "The struggle for social justice, freedom and social equity remains timely. Today, in these difficult days our country is going through, with the economic crisis, the rise of the ultra right and the ongoing racist attacks, the struggle for social justice, freedom and equity remains contemporary. All together we must struggle to safeguard democracy" noted DIMAR and paid tribute to all those who "fought and were sacrificed".
 Admin. Reform minister asks ASEP to take on greater role in mobility scheme processMeeting the head of the Supreme Council for Staff Selection (ASEP) Giorgos Beis - who runs the body responsible for conducting examinations to select public-sector staff - Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday asked that ASEP have a greater role in the process of public sector reform via a mobility scheme.
Mitsotakis stressed that he considered ASEP to be of paramount importance in the process, since it would "imbue the necessary transparency, objectivity and meritocracy, not just to the process of evaluating those included in the mobility programme but also to the process of placing human resources in the public sector."
During the meeting, Beis and Mitsotakis discussed the possibility that ASEP might provide additional support during the evaluation of employees by participating in three-member committees and in setting the point-system criteria for employees in the mobility pool and those joining public administration.
 Union to appeal to Council of State, EU over school guards, municipal policeThe Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) will appeal to the Council of State and European Union courts against the government's decision to strip them of the jurisdiction of school guards and municipal police, it said on Wednesday.
Following a meeting, KEDE said it would also file an appeal against the local government organisation (OTA) observatory for being anti-constitutional.
In addition, the union said it would not send requested draft budget plans to the observatory, putting them instead to the vote by municipal councils and then sending them to their supervisory authority.
KEDE demanded that the instititutional framework for evaluating personnel be tabled in Parliament immediately, otherwise municipalities would move to their own evaluations, which they plan to have completed by end October.
Taking a stance against layoffs, KEDE said it was in support of staff transfers and evaluation of all public servants without exeption, and said it would begin an information campaign for the Greek public and European agencies, whose intervention it would invite. It would also take initiatives to reduce bureaucracy and corruption and to improve decentralisation of services in order to create a more flexible state, it said.
In a related development, 25 of 38 mayors of Central Macedonia tendered their resignation on Wednesday over what their union called "anticonstitutional, anti-self-government and anti-European regulations of continual draft laws" that were "leading local government to its extinction."
 Mayors in northern Greece cosign letter of resignationTwenty five of the 38 mayors in the Central Macedonia Region in northern Greece cosigned a letter of resignation heeding a relevant decision adopted by the local Regional Union of Municipalities (PED) board, it was announced on Wednesday.
The resignation from their office was tendered in an effort to protect the dignity of local administration which is the recipient of exhausting and humiliating blows delivered through unconstitutional, anti-local administration and anti-European legislation, according to the local PED chairman.
The letter, submitted to the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) during its extraordinary board meeting, is addressed to the prime minister, the government vice-president, the competent ministers and KEDE.
 Striking hospital staff rally outside health ministry; minister denies that reforms equal layoffsStriking doctors and hospital employees on Wednesday demonstrated outside the health ministry, expressing their opposition to the implementation of a public-sector mobility scheme to the health sector. Doctors and hospital staff are on a 24-hour strike declared by their unions against the measures, which they claim are tantamount to layoffs. They also oppose planned mergers and changes of use for hospitals planned by the ministry, stressing their intention to escalate action.
In statements to reporters, meanwhile, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis stressed that the government scheme was not the same as layoffs.
"Anyone genuinely worried about what the plan is and whether or not there will be layoffs in the health sector can come and be briefed by myself personally or by officials. I make it clear, however, that there will be no layoffs. I will explain the mechanism and the time scale," he said.
The minister said that he had asked to meet with a delegation from the protestors but they refused, saying that they did not intend to "talk with a minister of the memorandum government". Georgiadis suggested that the protestors also intended to occupy hospitals, judging by things they said, and stressed that sit-ins in hospitals would not be allowed. According to the minister, turnout for the strike declared on Wednesday in hospitals was very low.
The head of the Hospital Doctors Union Federation (OENGE) Dimitris Varnavas, on his part, accused the government of "blindly following the instructions of the EU-IMF troika and laying off 2,500 employees that are absolutely vital to the daily functioning of the National Health System (ESY)". He claimed that the system was already short-staffed and actually needed an additional 20,000 nurses and support staff and an extra 6,000 doctors. He disputed the minister's claim that strike turnout was poor, noting that this was the first-ever health sector strike during the summer holiday period and that turnout was good given that many staff and doctors were away.
 Deputy Minister Kapsis says new public broadcaster to be more cost-effective, independentBERLIN (ANA-MPA / F. Karaviti)
The new public broadcaster will be less costly and have fewer employees, while it will be free of political patronage, Deputy Minister for Public Broadcasting Pantelis Kapsis told the German magazine "Der Spiegel" in an interview appearing on Wednesday.
"The association between government and journalists will cease," Kapsis said, while admitting that the new television programme is transmitted from the ministry's headquarters. He clarified that the secrecy was necessary "because certain trade unionists want to take us off the air".
Asked how conservatives and socialists can put an end to the decades-long practice of receiving bribes, Kapsis replied: "That's why they chose me for the post". He pledged that he will not tolerate any intervention and will guarantee the independence of the new public broadcaster with the introduction of a supervisory board modeled after the BBC.
Referring to the private television channels currently in operation, he said that most of them should have their licenses revoked but noted that most of them have the support of local deputies.
 A revised constitution should condemn antidemocratic parties, gov't VP saysA revised Greek constitution must include provisions facilitating coalition governments, guaranteeing the country's European orientation, and requiring the balance of the state budget, government Vice-President, Foreign Minister and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said on Wednesday.
He was speaking at a two-day conference on the revision of the constitution organized by the Andreas Papandreou Institute of Strategic and Development Studies (ISTAME), a think-tank event commemorating the annniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece.
In a speech calling for the revision of the constitution, Venizelos said that the revision of 2001 was one of Greece's best historical moments. That spirit of cooperation could be termed "cooperative parliamentarianism," he said, where parties could cooperate in forming a government. Greece will be ruled by coalition parties for a long time to come, he said, the formation of which should be facilitated by an updated electoral system and constitution.
Greece's problem is historic, not constitutional, he stressed, and exists since the founding of the Greek state. Combined with a European crisis, it acquired the features of a "sovereignty crisis", although Greece has one of the most modern constitutions, the PASOK leader said.
Among other suggestions for a possible revision, Venizelos said that the constitution should include provisions for oversight of party funds, protection of fundamental rights and the unemployed, and should condemn antidemocratic and neo-Nazi parties. Speaking of extreme right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi), he said that Europe was no longer discussing Greece's financial crisis but the phenomenon of Golden Dawn, which he termed the most antidemocratic and provocative neo-Nazi party in Europe.
 Venizelos: 'we need broad national constitutional and institutional consensus'Greece needs "a broad national constitutional and institutional consensus," Government Vice-President, Foreign Minister and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos stressed on Wednesday, in statements to ANA-MPA webTV on the sidelines of an event organised by the Andreas Papandreou Institute of Strategic and Development Studies (ISTAME) on revising the Constitution.
"We can truly pay homage to the return of democracy if we create the conditions for a broad national constitutional and institutional consensus, so that we arrive at a new state, a proper state, that is at the service of citizens, in the public interest and of growth," Venizelos stressed.
 Greek Parliament ratifies International Tracing Service ProtocolAll parties in the Greek Parliament, with the exception of ultra-right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) which was absent, on Wednesday voted in favour of ratifying the new International Tracing Service Protocol for the opening of the archives relating to Holocaust victims. The service gives access to files and documents to researchers seeking information on persecution during the National Socialist regime in Germany.
Commenting on the unanimous decision, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas expressed the government's satisfaction that all the parties that accept the historic truth of the Holocaust were in favour of ratifying the agreement.
The protocol stipulates that the International Tracing Service will give access to all information contained in its archives that can help and are of direct interest to researchers and that copies will also be made available to representatives of the International Commission and any governmental and non-governmantal organisations that ask for it.
 Ban on assembly and demonstrations around Attiki SquareThe Attica police general director on Wednesday issued a ban on assembly and demonstrations from 12 noon until midnight in the district around Attiki Square in downtown Athens, where the ultra-right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) party had planned to organise a handout of food and clothing.
Police said the ban was decided for reasons of public safety, with the backing of the Supreme Court prosecutor, and due to a ban on the event imposed by Athens Mayor George Kaminis on Tuesday. The mayor said that Golden Dawn's was unlawful because it failed to obtain the necessary permission from municipal authorities and also because the the party's policy of excluding non-Greeks from its handouts "will create social contrasts and divisions".
The Golden Dawn handouts had been scheduled to take place in Attiki Square at 6:00 p.m.
 British ambassador visits ZakynthosBritish Ambassador to Athens John Kittmer paid a visit to the Ionian island of Zakynthos on Wednesday, accompanied by the British Consul Beverley Lewis and the British Vice Consul Matthew Delapp.
The ambassador, who was visiting the island for the first time, was given a tour of the tourist resort of Laganas that attracts large numbers of young British tourists.
He also met the Zakynthos municipality mayor Stelios Bozikis, expressing his satisfaction with the good level of cooperation with the municipality.
The ambassador was then given a tour by boat of the Zakynthos National Marine Park in Laganas bay and was interviewed by the local radio station.
 OTE signs 225-mln-euro loan agreement with EBRDHellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) on Wednesday announced the signing of a loan agreement worth 225 million euros with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to finance its investment programe for a 4G network of Cosmote Romania.
The company will receive 75 million euros directly from EBRD and 150 million euros through a syndicated loan. The loan ends in April 2018.
OTE said that a series of moves, such as the issuance of a 700-mln-euro bond loan in early 2013, has contributed to a restructuring of its borrowing profile, while completion of the sale of Globul is expected to reduce its loan portfolio to less than 2.0 billion euros. The agreement with EBRD confirmed that OTE can secure funding from different sources while it is also a vote of confidence by international markets to the group and to Greece in general.
"In a particularly competitive market, Cosmote Romania invests in infrastructure to offer its customers faster broadband communications, even better quality and innovative applications and services," Mihalis Tsamaz, OTE's chairman and chief executive said.
 Greek banks must disburse funds to businesses, Commissioner saysThe Greek banks should disburse the amounts destined for small and medium-sized enterprises, European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn advised in Athens on Wednesday, following a meeting with Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis.
At a press conference, Hahn said the EU had "allocated significant funds for the enterprises that have not reached their payees in full yet." He added, "I am aware of the needs to recapitalise banks, but the funds must go to their final payees," and expressed his satisfaction of the government's initiative in this direction.
Hatzidakis called on banks to utilize the liquidity instruments they had and make use of the structural funds also, as this was a critical year to do so.
The two also discussed the state of negotiations for major road projects, the absorption of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funds and the setup of the next phase, and the creation of the Greek Investment Fund.
Hahn said that the 800 million euros approved recently by the European Commission for road projects in Greece proved that the EU was convinced the projects were viable. Negotiations with the government were expected to be completed by early September, so that the definite budgeting sources of the projects could be ready by the end of the year.
Although Hahn expressed satisfaction at Greece's improved absorption rate of EU funding from the 18th place in Europe to the 4th and for exceeding the memorandum targets for the first half of the year, Greece had to identify which sectors it wanted to fund in the next NSRF programme.
These should be sectors in which Greece has an advantage, he said, warning that each ministry cannot submit is own programme. "The infrastructural funds are not a Christmas tree," he said. Hatzidakis said the Greek proposals for the next funding period would be submitted to the EU by end August.
Commenting on the recent memorandum of cooperation between Greece and the German government-owned development bank KfW on an investment fund for small and medium-sized enterprises, Hahn said that the attraction of capital from countries of Europe and beyond would give another positive indication about Greece's prospects.
Prior to meeting with Hatzidakis, the European Commissioner met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at government headquarters, Maximos Mansion. There were no statements following the meeting.
 Labour Minister Vroutsis rules out new settlement programme for debts to social insurance fundsLabour, Social Insurance & Welfare Minister Yiannis Vroutsis on Wednesday announced that there will be no new settlement programme for debts owed to social insurance funds.
Speaking in a private television channel, he also announced the implementation of reforms in the social insurance system, characterizing it as "non sustainable" in its present form.
Uniform rules regulating the social insurance system operation and debt payment collection have already been introduced through the finance ministry-sponsored omnibus bill.
 Labour Minister Vroutsis says supplementary pensions are guaranteed"Today, we have managed to guarantee that the next generations will be receiving supplementary pensions," Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis said on Wednesday in Parliament, noting that this had been absolutely impossible before the 21 social insurance funds were merged into one - the Uniform Supplementary Insurance Fund (ETEA) - and the conversion of four social insurance funds into private law entities.
Following the approval of the appointment of Anastassios Papanikolaou as ETEA chairman by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Vroutsis said that a system of dysfunctions had created a fragmented social insurance system comprising no less than 91 social insurance systems. He noted that the funds' unification is a major cost-saving reform that ensures transparency and sustainability.
Referring to the housing of services and social insurance funds and to the utilization of the labour ministry real estate property, he noted that the savings, as a result of the policy followed, have reached 8 million euros.
 Income tax statement submission progressing smoothlyGreek authorities are not examining plans for extending an existing deadline in the submission of income tax statements, Haris Theoharis, General Secretary of Public Revenue said on Wednesday.
In an interview with ANA-MPA, Theoharis said that authorities were examining the situation on a daily basis to resolve any problems in the system, "but for the time being we see that the flow of submission is satisfactory and the system is working, so we do not consider offering an extension. In any case, this year we will be more strict with extensions".
He said that Greek authorities were discussing "all issues related with the country's public finances with our partners, but the final decisions, if there were any real, objective difficulties will be ours".
Theoharis said that income tax statement submissions totaled 130,000 on Tuesday and 160,000 on Monday. Submission is progressing rapidly. "We believe that last days' problems are related more with taxpayers who had to collect more documents and data needed for their tax statements and we believe that this will be overcome," he noted.
 Visas to Russian tourists up 60.68 in JuneRussian citizens are significantly interested in visiting Greece, with the number of visa applications in Greece's Consulate in Moscow rising by 60.68 pct in June, Ioannis Plotas, head of the Greek Consulate said in an interview with the Russian magazine.
Consulate figures showed that visas issued totaled 184,135 in June, up from 114,595 in the same month last year, an increase of 60.68 pct, while the number of visas issued in the first half of the year totaled 398,066, up 64.49 pct from 2012. The Greek official said that multiple entry visas, with a duration between six months and five years offered to Russian citizens with a history of repeated travels to Greece and other Shengen countries, jumped 118 pct to 142,221 in the first half of the year, implementing a measure announced by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras for easier travel access to wealthy Russian tourists.
 First Greek private island to be sold via an auctionThe first auction to sell a private Greek island will begin in September and is already attracting great interest from Greek and foreign investors. The island to be sold is Spalathronisi, in Halkidiki, with a starting price of 10 million euros. This method ensures full transparency, in tax payment, ownership earnings and minimized bureaucracy said Stavros Myronidis, owner of "Myro Antiques House".
Myronidis said that Greek and foreign investors have already expressed interest in the auction, while other Greek island owners have approached his company to discuss selling their land in this way.
Myronidis said that a "Buy it now option" process is currently underway - ending on August 20 - for the sale of Spalathronisi, meaning that discussions are taking place right now and if an investor satisfied the owners' demand on price, then the job could be sealed without the auction.
The island is a Natura region and exploitation for tourism purposes will be limited to around 8 stremmata (one stremma=1,000 sq.m.) or a real estate property of up to 380 sq.m.
 Greek stocks end flat for one more sessionIt was another dull day in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as investors found little new reasons to open new positions in the market. Share prices fluctuated within tight ranges, while turnover shrank to a new 2013 low. The composite index eased 0.13 pct to end at 841.24 points, off the day's lows of 835.97 points. Turnover fell to a 2013 record low 16.42 million euros. The Large Cap index eased 0.02 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 1.04 pct lower.
National Bank (1.96 pct), Hellenic Petroleum (1.66 pct) and Intralot (1.30 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while MIG (4.17 pct), METKA (3.54 pct) and Athens Water (3.10 pct) suffered losses. The Commerce (1.11 pct), Oil (0.51 pct) and Food (0.42 pct) sectors scored gains, while Health (1.93 pct), Raw Materials (1.84 pct) and Industrial Products (1.41 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers narrowly outnumbered decliners by 56 to 54 with another 27 issues unchanged. SIDMA (19.87 pct), Hellenic Fish Farms (19.09 pct) and NEL (16.22 pct) were top gainers, while Compucon (14.89 pct), Dionic (14.77 pct) and AEGEK (11.40 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.51%
Personal & Household: -0.22%
Raw Materials: -1.84%
Travel & Leisure: +0.16%
Food & Beverages: +0.42%
Financial Services: -0.98%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, Alpha Bank, National Bank and Piraeus Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.430
Public Power Corp (PPC): 6.67
HBC Coca Cola: 18.90
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.72
National Bank of Greece: 2.60
Eurobank Properties : 6.95
Piraeus Bank: 0.89
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to 8.63 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 8.51 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 10.24 pct and the German Bund 1.61 pct. Turnover was a thin 1.0 million euros, one buy order.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving higher. The 12-month rate was 0.53 pct, the nine-month rate rose to 0.44 pct, the six-month rate rose to 0.34 pct, the three-month rate was 0.22 pct and the one-month rate rose to 0.13 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe July contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 1.15 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover at 4.017 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 1,560 contracts worth 2.262 million euros with 49,181 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 5,643 contracts worth 1.755 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (1,237), followed by Alpha Bank (1,033), Piraeus Bank (943), MIG (117), OTE (814), PPC (500), GEK (287), Intralot (114), Mytilineos (81), Hellenic Petroleum (80) and OPAP (100).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.344
Pound sterling 0.875
Danish kroner 7.570
Swedish kroner 8.680
Japanese yen 134.59
Swiss franc 1.257
Norwegian kroner 7.901
Canadian dollar 1.380
Australian dollar 1.457
 Music composer Nikos Mamangakis passes awayNikos Mamangakis, one of the great music composers in Greece, died of cancer at dawn on Wednesday in Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens at the age of 84.
He wrote music for the theater, cinema and television, as well as, operas, electronic music and orchestral music, among others.
He was born in Rethymno, Crete in 1929. He studied music in Munich, Germany.
 Air Force officer dies of self-inflicted woundA Greek Air Force officer died on Wednesday at his unit on Myconos island of a self-inflicted wound, the Defence Ministry said.
The 40-year-old officer was from Kilkis in northern Greece, and died at 7:30 p.m., its announcement said, adding that authorities have ordered an investigation.
 Suspect charged for stabbing death of young British tourist on CreteAn Iraklio public prosecutor on Wednesday pressed murder charges against a 19-year-old Briton accused of fatally stabbing a fellow British teen on Tuesday, during bar brawl in a popular holiday resort on the island of Crete. A second suspect that also admitted to the stabbing on Wednesday has been referred to an examining magistrate for further questioning.
Judicial authorities earlier announced that a second individual, in addition to the youth originally arrested as the main suspect in the case, had admitted to stabbing the 19-year-old Briton killed during a brawl between some 30 British holidaymakers in Malia, on the island of Crete.
A total of 19 young tourists, all Britons, were being questioned by a prosecutor in connection with the violent clash involving some 30 individuals outside a nightclub in the popular seaside resort. The incident took place in the early hours of Tuesday morning and led to the fatal injury of the teenager, who died in an ambulance on the way to a local hospital within minutes of being stabbed in the chest.
According to sources, one of the two suspects in the case has admitted to stabbing the victim with a knife but not his fellow Briton, who was originally regarded as the main suspect in the attack, even though he denied any involvement.
In spite of the admission of the second suspect, the public prosecutor decided to press charges against the first suspect arrested by police after bloody clothing and a knife hidden in a pair of shoes were found in his room.
Another of the suspects in the case has testified that he was the one holding and stabbing the knife found by police during the fray, while he did not rule out the possibility that he injured someone as he tried to get away.
The prosecutor has pressed misdemeanour charges against the majority of the suspects for their part in the brawl, while one has been charged with causing bodily harm.
The individual police consider their main suspect has denied stabbing the victim and claimed that his clothes and shoes were bloodied when someone pushed the victim onto him.
Police have not ruled out the possibility that the victim was stabbed by two culprits, however, as the coroner's examination has not ruled out that he was stabbed with two knives.
 Upward of a half-tonne cocaine found in banana shipmentGreek Police on Wednesday announced that an extensive police operation was launched in collaboration with regional police stations, after the discovery of more than 500 kilos of cocaine in a shipment of bananas from Latin America.
Sources within the police force said the investigation began on Tuesday when a Rhodes merchant found roughly 280 kilos of cocaine in a shipment of bananas that he had ordered and reported the find to the police.
In a search of the banana importer's warehouses in Athens on Wednesday, Attica drugs squad officers found another 240 kilos of cocaine stashed among the palettes of produce, bringing the total found so far to roughly 520 kilos.
Police are continuing their investigation to locate other possible recipients in Greece and the European Union, examining manifests of shops that have taken deliveries of the same banana shipment in case more drugs are found. Executives and employees of the import company are also being cross-examined but have so far denied all knowledge of the illegal drugs and there is no evidence to connect them to the cocaine haul.
The investigation indicates that the drugs were loaded onto containers of bananas in Colombia, with the cargo going through Italian customs and then loaded onto trucks headed for Greece. Investigating officers are examining the possibility that the drugs were meant to go to Italy and ended up in Greece by mistake, though they have not ruled out the possibility that some members of the gang are based in Greece.
The Greek Police (ELAS) said an announcement will be made once the investigation is completed.
 Second suspect remanded in custody over Larissa bomb attackA 44 year-old was remanded in custody pending trial on Wednesday over charges of being involved in a bomb attack targeting an apartment building in the central Greek city of Larissa on Saturday. Police believe the intended victim, who was not at home at the time of the explosion, was a Larissa public prosecutor resident in the building.
The suspect was arrested in Sunday afternoon in Athens. His accomplice, a 39-year-old man, was also remanded in custody on Tuesday on the same charges after his arrest near the site of the explosion on Saturday.
The explosion shook the apartment building, which included the apartment of a local public prosecutor who had handled the case of a well-known criminal.
The blast caused extensive damage for an 150-metre radius around the building, bringing down shop fronts, causing damage to parked cars and to surrounding homes. No injuries were reported.
 Restis to face charges for false source of wealth statementsShipowner Victor Restis, arrested on Tuesday for embezzlement at the expense of First Business Bank (FBB), could also face felony charges for submitting inaccurate 'source of wealth' statements, based on a recommendation by the prosecutor investigating the case, it was announced on Wednesday.
According to the prosecutor, Restis should be put on trial for failing to declare his participation in tens of companies in source of wealth statements he submitted in the period from 2008 until 2012.
In the statements for the years 2008-2011, Restis had declared his participation in a total of six companies, based in different parts of the world, while in 2012 he included 8 companies in his statement. However, according to evidence investigated by the prosecutor, Restis had stakes in roughly 251 companies, some of them offshore companies based in Liberia and the Marshall Islands.
A judicial council will rule in the next few days on whether the shipowner will be tried in court for submitting false source of wealth statements.
Restis has been in custody since Tuesday in connection with a 5.8-million-euro loan issued by FBB, allegedly for an elusive former associate of the defendant when the latter was one of the bank's major shareholders. He will testify before a magistrate on Friday for the charges of misappropriation of funds and money laundering.
 Quality of life projects to start soon in four Athens suburbsFour major projects improving quality of life in the greater Athens suburbs of Ilion, Peristeri, Kamatero and Glyfada will begin immediately, Attica Regional Governor Yiannis Sgouros said on Wednesday.
The projects will cost around 14 million euros.
In Ilion (west-northwest Athens), a bioclimatic centre will provide daycare services to older adults and will be completed in two years, at a cost of 9.95 million euros.
A bioclimatic remodelling of Playground 1 will take place in Peristeri (northwest from central Athens), along with improvements in the course between two metro stations that will provide park facilities; they will cost 1.2 million euros.
Glyfada (south of Athens) will see an upgrade of its Chariton Square and nearby spaces - a popular recreation and meeting space for residents of other communities as well - at a cost of 1.7 million euros, a project expected to be completed in seven months.
Finally, the Aghii Anargyri-Kamatero suburb (western Athens) will get a new, multi-cultural activity center that will take a year to complete and cost 700,000 euros.
 Four fires break out in the Peloponnese, mostly controlled by late eveningFour separate fires broke out in the Peloponnese starting at midday Wednesday, with three coming under conrol and one under partial control by evening.
The first one was at a garbage dump of Karathonas in the Argolid (southeast Peloponnese), which began at 2:40 p.m. and had abated by evening, with the help of 11 firefighters and water dousing by pezetel airplanes. Another fire, at Karnezeika in the Argolid, broke out at 6:45 p.m. and had been brought under partial control late in the day.
A fire that broke out at 4:20 p.m. at Xerovouna on Mt. Taygetos in Messinia (southwest) was possibly caused by a thunderbolt. It has abated and firefighting airplanes were also used.
The most serious of all four fires broke out at 4:27 p.m. between the villages of Petri and Aidonia, in Nemea of Corinthia prefecture (northeast). The fire spread rapidly and has approached Aidonia, but is not threatening the village as of this writing. Thirty-eight firefighters with 14 trucks from other areas are trying to control the fire, along with 14 firefighters of foot, 5 water trucks and 7 aircraft.
 Contraband cigarettes confiscatedFifty thousand packets of contraband cigarettes were confiscated and four men were arrested alleged to be involved in the case by Promachonas border police.
According to and announcement, on Monday police officers spotted a suspicious van parked in a forest area at Karydohori. Police arrested a 26 year-old and a 49 year-old that arrived at the spot to check the illegal cargo along with a 27 year-old and a 54 year-old that appeared later. A 40 year-old man alleged to be the buyer of the contraband cigarettes is wanted.
The loss of taxes to the state is estimated at 161,294 euros.
 Hot and sunny on ThursdayHot and sunny weather is forecast on Thursday, with mainly light winds except over the Aegean, where they will reach a maximum of 7 Beaufort. Temperatures will be between 18C and 37C. Sunny in Athens, with temperatures from 23C to 36C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures from 20C to 34C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: Fast track auctions of properties and bank deposits.
DIMOKRATIA: 9 billion euros profits for our lenders!
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: The tale and...the dragon.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Massacre in all ministries.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: 10,200 University and Technological Schools employees targeted.
ESTIA: TAXISNET an electronic monster.
ETHNOS: The new suspension (mobility) wave in ministries.
IMERISSIA: New tax-penalty list
KATHIMERINI: Haircut in tax evasion fines.
NAFTEMPORIKI: The map of tax penalties changes completely.
RIZOSPASTIS: Defending Sunday's holiday.
TA NEA: In Tax Bureau's jaws - Strict measures against tax evasion.
VRADYNI: They (Troika) are pressing for home auctions.
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