|Wednesday, 16 October 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 14-03-31
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Monday, 31 March 2014 Issue No: 4622
 Finance ministry's omnibus bill passed by ParliamentThe finance ministry's omnibus bill was passed by Parliament in a roll-call vote shortly after midnight on Sunday, with slim margins of just two votes for article 2 and by one single vote for article 1.
The first article, containing the so-called Organisation for Econo-mic Cooperation and Development (OECD) toolkit and the contro-versial measures for milk was passed with 152 votes in favour, 135 against and one abstention (with ND MP Nikitas Kaklamanis voting 'present').
The second article, containing measures relating to banks and the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) strongly criticised by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), was passed with 151 votes in favour, 136 votes against and one abstention. Among those voting against were former prime minister and PASOK MP George Papandreou, while PASOK MP and former Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis abstained by voting 'present'.
 PM Samaras: 'A huge step toward tomorrow's Greece"We have taken a huge step toward tomorrow's Greece," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras just said after the finance ministry's omnibus bill was passed by Parliament, in a vote held after midnight on Sunday.
"We are pressing ahead with great optimism and great strength," the prime minister said, after the discussion and vote on the reforms agreed between the government and Greece's troika of international creditors.
He noted that the "permanent disaster-mongers", surprised by "all the good things that came and are coming for the Greek economy", had sought to cast Greece into a state where it was ungoverned, adding that "we will never allow them to do this".
 Nikitas Kaklamanis expelled from New Democracy's Parliamentary groupIn an letter to the Parliament presidium in the early hours of Monday morning, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced that New Democracy MP Nikitas Kaklamanis, a former minister and candidate for Athens mayor, was expelled from the party's Parliamentary group.
The letter was given immediately after the result was announced of a vote on the finance ministry's omnibus bill, in which Kaklamanis had abstained during the vote on article 1.
The prime minister walked over the presidium, wrote the announcement expelling the MP on the spot and handed it to a Parliament official, who gave it to the presiding speaker Ioannis Tragakis to read to the plenum.
 No-confidence motion thrown out; SYRIZA 'undermining the country', PM saysThe Greek Parliament on Sunday voted against interrupting the debate on reforms agreed with the troika of Greece's creditors in order to begin a three-day debate on a motion of no-confidence tabled by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
"This is the first time in history that the main opposition is directly undermining the country's credibility, its standing and the sacred institution of Parliament," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said after the decision was announced.
"They did not get away with it," he added, "but it leaves a bitter taste when a Greek party is so fanatically opposed to the interests of Greece and the Greek people," he stressed.
Replying to the prime minister in an announcement, SYRIZA's press office accused Samaras of consistently "hiding" from Parliament.
"It is the first time in history that a prime minister so systematically refuses to appear in Parliament," the party said. "Not only did he refuse to cover his now discredited finance minister but he also resoundingly undermined the minister of state, Mr. Stamatis," the announcement added.
"The truly bitter taste for Mr. Samaras will concern the next elections and not the Parliamentary procedures that he dislikes and tries to circumvent," SYRIZA said.
 Omnibus bill ratified by Parliamentary CommitteesThe draft law on support and growth measures for the Greek economy was ratified with a majority vote (ND, PASOK) at the Economy, Production and Trade Committees on Saturday night. The opposition parties (SYRIZA, Independent Greeks, Democratic Left and Golden Dawn) voted against, as the Democratic Independent deputies did, while the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) withdrew from the discussion at the Committees.
The omnibus bill will be presented to the Parliament Plenum for ratification on Sunday and the process is expected to be concluded at midnight, following a 10-hour discussion.
 Discussion on omnibus bill begins at Parliamentary committeeThe draft law on Support and Development Measures for the Greek Economy was raised for processing at the Economic Affairs and Production and Trade Committees with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras telling Parliament that the omnibus bill, in which the government's agreed arrangements with the troika are included, is a prerequisite for funding to be disbursed to the country and proposing that the process of very urgent be approved and with opposition parties reacting strongly.
Stournaras stressed that the plan is a prerequisite for the funding of the country to be disbursed by the EU's Council of Finance Ministers, starting from April 1 when the evaluation will be adopted.
This decision is expected to be finalised at the Eurogroup's next session on April 15, with the ultimate aim of the amounts being disbursed on the 17th of the same month.
On the part of the PASOK party, rapporteur Odysseas Konstantinopoulos said that he agreed with the very urgent process but called for the withdrawal of arrangements that do not constitute prerequisites, while Parliamentary representative Paris Koukoulopoulos said that tomorrow's agreement is historic for the country since the country will be exiting from the memorandums.
Government spokesman says government deputies will show high feeling of responsibility, regarding omnibus bill vote
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, speaking to the ANA-MPA on the sidelines of sessions of the conference "on the upgrading of the regional, local Press", expressed certainty that the omnibus bill will be voted without problems and that the government deputies will show a high feeling of responsibility.
"I am certain that the government deputies will show a high feeling of responsibility", Kedikoglou said, adding that "we are at a crucial turning point, since the negotiation with our lenders has been completed. Greece is coming out of the crisis".
Also speaking to the ANA-MPA, Deputy Public Television Minister Pantelis Kapsis said that "NERIT is ready to broadcast normally by April 27, as is defined in the agreement with EBU".
 FinMin addresses Parliamentary committee on omnibus billFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras, addressing the Parliamentary committee on Saturday during the discussion on the omnibus bill, said that the government proved to be consistent with all that the prime minister had committed himself to and those investing in disaster and fear were disappointed.
He added that the omnibus bill and the target of combatting unemployment in particular raise the imperative need for convergences and cooperation.
Stournaras also said that the seven-month negotiation with the troika, as is reflected in the omnibus bill, confirms the truth of government announcements, while noting that what remains to be secured is the speeding up of the growth impetus that the Greek economy is appearing to obtain.
 Stournaras: SYRIZA aimed to stall Eurogroup talks on next tranche to GreeceFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras attacked main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) and its leader Alexis Tsipras in Parliament on Sunday, saying the no-confidence vote against him was actually a failed attempt to stall a discussion on disbursing loans to Greece at the Eurogroup in two days time.
He accused the main opposition of fighting a "now lost rearguard action" and attempting a Parliamentary coup designed to prevent the disbursement of the last tranche of bailout loans in May, when the European elections will be held.
Noting that the government had an appropriate reply to those who chose populism, the minister emphasised "that we must not overlook the fact that the country's efforts are being recognised internationally."
He also rejected SYRIZA's argument that the reprivatisation of banks - via their sale to the Financial Stability Fund at prices lower than the acquisition price - was damaging to state interests, noting that "this is done all over the world".
"Mr. Tsipras invested in disaster. The new opinion polls have frightened him...With stability and responsibility, we have led the economy out of the crisis," Stournaras said.
Defending the reprivatisation measures, the minister claimed that it would be impossible to attract private investors at prices greater than 1.25 euros per share:
"Does he believe that it's [in the state's interests] for private investors to participate in share capital increases? Isn't it in the state's interests to keep the HFSF's 11 billion euros untouched for use in buying back debt? What does he want? For people to take their deposits and leave?" Stournaras said, though in the absence of the main opposition, which had walked out of the debate.
The minister pointed out that this would reduce the participation of tax-payers to a minimum and that the law allowed the sale of shares below the purchase prices, noting that the same had happened with Piraeus Bank and Alpha Bank and accusing Tsipras of "not knowing how to lose".
"He is trying to undermine the exit from the crisis with obvious lies and threats," he said.
 SYRIZA leader tables mistrust proposal against FinMin StournarasMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras on Sunday tabled a distrust proposal against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, terming him the main administrator of a death contract against Greek society.
Replying to Tsipras, Minister of State Dimitris Stamatis accused him of populism and stressed that the government will start the discussion process immediately because the country has no time to waste.
 SYRIZA tables censure motion against Parliament President MeimarakisMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) on Sunday tabled a censure motion against Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis, after the party's attempt to table a no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras was prevented.
The censure motion against Meimarakis will be discussed in one of the next two sessions of Parliament devoted to such procedures, either on Monday or next Friday.
In statements earlier, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras had warned of the party's intentions, saying that if its motion against Stournaras were refused, this would amount to "the imposition of a coup".
Tsipras rejected arguments that the tabling of the motion contravened a Constitutional limit which prevented the tabling of censure or no-confidence motions unless six months have elapsed, following SYRIZA's censure motion against the government as a whole in November. According to Tsipras, the law made no provision when the censure motions were not the same, as in this case, with one targeting the government as a whole and the second a specific minister. He also pointed out that the outcome did not threated the government's stability but only the continued presence of the minister within it.
Tsipras further noted that, based on Parliamentary rules, if the proposal is signed by the required number of MPs then a debate on the proposal begins and therefore the presidium has not right to either accept or reject the right to table and debate the motion.
Earlier, Government Vice-President, Foreign Minister and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos had urged Parliament to throw out the motion without debate, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and contravened the six-month rule, introduced to prevent "trivial" censure and no-confidence motions that were merely designed to obstruct the government's work.
He also noted that the planned vote on the omnibus bill was "had the same political characteristics as a vote of confidence in the government since it deals with the central direction of government policy".
According to SYRIZA sources, the decision to table the motion against Stournaras was mainly prompted by the main opposition's dissatisfaction with the decision to table the omnibus bill as urgent, but also what it perceived as a government attempt to downplay the banking sector issue during the Parliamentary debate, where it would like to see a more thorough public debate.
 SYRIZA walks out of Parliament debate, will return for roll-call voteMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) walked out of the final hours of the Parliamentary debate on the omnibus bill legislating for reforms agreed with the troika of Greece's lenders. Announcing his party's departure, SYRIZA leader said his deputies will be back for the roll-call vote scheduled to begin after midnight on Sunday.
Tsipras said SYRIZA's departure was prompted by the decision, made by Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis, to hold a vote in the plenum on whether his party's no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras should be discussed, leading to its rejection. Had it been passed, the motion would have interrupted the debate on the omnibus bill for three days, based on Parliamentary rules.
SYRIZA's proposal drew strong objections from the ruling coalition parties New Democracy and PASOK, who argued that it was unconstitutional since it came less than six months after an earlier censure motion tabled by SYRIZA against the government in November. Also against the proposal was Democratic Left (DIM.AR) leader Fotis Kouvelis, while opposition parties in favour included the Independent Greeks, the Communist Party of Greece, a group of independent MPs and the far-right party Golden Dawn.
Explaining his decision to table the no-confidence motion, Tsipras said it was intended to give voters a chance to be "informed on the essence of the triple crime that you wanted to ratify within four hours and which you hid until 2:00 in the morning yesterday". He said the government feared this possibility, but also the possibility that Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras would not have the support of the majority, since he had already lost this.
Adding to the main opposition's chagrin against the vote rejecting its proposal before this was debated was the fact that it had originally be accepted by the Minister of State Dimitris Stamatis when first tabled, while the presiding speaker Maria Kollia Tsaroucha had even announced the start of the three-day debate customary for such motions. The decision to reject followed a phone call placed by Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis citing procedural issues, since SYRIZA's last censure motion was less than six months earlier.
According to SYRIZA, however, the rule did not apply because its last censure motion had been directed against the government, whereas Sunday's motion was against Stournaras in person. Meimarakis countered by saying that, according to experts he had consulted, this distinction could only apply when the object of a no-confidence or censure motion was a personal issue of the minister involved, rather than his actions conducted with the support of the government and executing the will of the majority in Parliament.
After leaving Parliament, Tsipras joined protestors in Syntagma Square and said that a "crime is being committed once again in Parliament" and referred to a "Parliamentary coup".
"The government rejected the possibility of discussing a proposal of no-confidence against the finance minister Yannis Stournaras and this when the government had accepted it and a three-day debate was to follow. It then backtracked citing a series of legalistic arguments. It considers neither the Constitution, nor Parliamentary procedures nor democracy," Tsipras said, adding that the government was dismantling professional classes and labour relations while giving everything to the banks.
Speaking in Parliament to announce his motion of no-confidence, Tsipras had said his goal was to stall "the last and worst phase in the implementation of the memorandum: the destruction of entire business sectors and handover of Greek banks to speculators, while mortgaging the property of the Greek people via the omnibus bill".
"We have an obligation to prevent you from completing your work and from taking up positions of five-year duration," Tsipras had said, addressing Stournaras.
He strongly criticised omnibus bill measures concerning Greece's systemic banks, saying that these, along with the vast majority of Greek homes with overdue mortgages, were "given up essentially to a domestic oligarchy and foreign speculators".
 No change in three-year increments, Vroutsis tells ParliamentAddressing Parliament during Sunday's debate on the draft omnibus bill for the reforms agreed with the troika of Greece's creditors, Labour Minister Yannis Vroutsis stressed that the measures would not affect labour rights. The minister offered assurances that the three-year increments for wage increases will continue to apply and that the measures would not undermine the viability of Greece's social insurance funds.
"The only change we are making is to help the long-term unemployed have a competitive incentive the re-enter the labour market," Vroutsis said.
On the losses of social insurance fund through a reduction in labour contributions, he said the measures would simply put Greece on the same level as other developed countries instead of being a "champion in the taxation burden on labour".
"Our intervention will create 30,000 new jobs," he said, adding that the aim was to ensure employers' compliance with employees and social insurance funds, since after the measure was passed there would be no excuse for any employer to retain uninsured workers.
He also offered assurances about the viability of supplementary pension funds, saying there was no cause for concern.
"With this bill, we are intervening positively and creatively in our national economy and continuing to build the new Greece on firm foundations. It is a bill in favour of reforming the economy and in support of workers and the unemployed," he stressed.
 Labour minister says three-year institutions not harmed by omnibus billLabour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis, speaking in Parliament on Saturday, and replying to a question by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) deputy Alexis Mitropoulos on a provision contained in the omnibus bill, said that "the three-year institutions are being preserved. I shall analyse tomorrow how the payment of wages in April, of all employees in the private sector, not only will not decrease but on the contrary will increase".
The SYRIZA deputy, referring to a provision concerning the facilitation of the return to the labour force of the longtime unemployed, had called on the Labour minister to clarify provisions on the handling of the three-year payments.
 Health minister accepts amendment from ND MPsHealth Minister Adonis Georgiades sparked a new round of controversy in Parliament on Sunday when he adopted a last-minute amendment tabled by two New Democracy MPs, Makis Voridis and Makis Karabelas.
The amendment launched the entry into the public-sector 'availability' scheme for National Health System (ESY) security guards and night watchmen, suspending them from work pending either transfer or dismissal, while abolishing the Agios Loukas chest ailments hospital as an autonomous unit and converting the Krestena hospital in Ilia to a health centre only.
Both opposition and ruling coalition MPs protested against the last-minute changes being made to the omnibus bill just before the session was due to end and the vote held, especially during a fast-track debate with minimal time for discussion and when the issue was not among the prior actions demanded by Greece's lenders.
Bowing to pressure from the Parliament president to withdraw any articles that were not truly urgent, the health minister agreed to remove the measures relating to the two hospitals but not those leading security guards and nightwatchmen to the availability scheme.
Addressing the debate earlier, Georgiadis had denied that the government was "obeying" the troika and the OECD.
"We are decided and making a political choice so that the country can go forward. We are tired of the same old, same old that led us to bankruptcy," he stressed, describing the omnibus bill as the greatest, most concentrated reform effort to take place in the country in the last 50 years.
Stressing that the measures in the bill were those that should have been carried out years ago, he said the day would go down in history as the "day when the country exited the nightmare of default begun in May 2010".
 Parliamentary representatives argue during omnibus bill discussionParties argued in Parliament on Sunday during the discussion on the omnibus bill on measures to support and develop the Greek economy with the parties' Parliamentary representatives stating their positions.
Makis Voridis of the New Democracy party said that our deputies held the country and we are defining a different course today.
Paris Koukoulopoulos of PASOK said that "tonight the country, with the vote of the national Parliament is making a big turn to exit in essence from the crisis".
Panayiotis Lafazanis of the main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) said that "you have imposed a peculiar dictatorship of the troika of a new form and a surrendered government that is managed by petty employees of the troika".
Ilias Kasidiaris of the Golden Dawn party said "there is no exit from the crisis. The only exit that the deputies of the coalition government will see is their exit from political life".
Thanassis Pafilis of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said that "the confrontation between the parties of the euro-oneway path is who will manage capitalism better".
Notis Marias (Independent Greeks) said "you are bringing the fourth memorandum extortionately without bringing the agreement with the troika here".
Lastly, Nikos Tsoukalis of the Democratic Left (DIMAR) said "the pre-election polarisation, that has been aggravated over this period, is ruining a discussion of vital importance on which Greece we want and what must be done".
 Opposition parties criticise government over omnibus bill discussion processOpposition parties criticised the omnibus bill during the discussion opening at the relevant Parliamentary committee on Saturday.
Main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) rapporteur Efklidis Tsakalotos said that the government, after seven months without consultation, is bringing a bill that constitutes the downgrading of politics.
On the part of the Independent Greeks, Notis Marias stressed that such bills that arrive at midnight cannot be studied by the deputies, while calling for the very urgent processs not to go ahead.
Ilias Panayiotaros of the Golden Dawn party said that the government humiliated all the procedures with the way that it is attempting to "pass" the bill.
Asimina Xyrotyri-Ekaterinari of the Democratic Left (DIMAR) appealed to the government not to go ahead with this process, saying that a bill submitted after midnight cannot be examined by the deputies.
Nikos Karathanasopoulos of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) spoke of a "repeated unacceptable process" that does not result from any extraordinary event.
 Main opposition SYRIZA walks out of Parliament debateMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras on Sunday announced that his party was walking out of a Parliamentary debate.
Tsipras accused the government of "trembling before the possibility that the Greek people will informed about the essence of the triple national, social and economic crime" being committed via the omnibus bill for the reforms agreed with the EU-IMF troika representing Greece's lenders, and that Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras did not have the support and confidence of the MPs.
Tsipras had earlier proposed a motion of no-confidence targeted against the minister for bringing the omnibus bill, interrupting the debate on the reforms so that Parliament might discuss whether to accept the tabling of the motion.
 Ind. Greeks leader slams omnibus bill as 'illegal, unconstitutional'Opposition Independent Greeks party leader Panos Kammenos was scathing in his criticism of the draft omnibus bill legislating for reforms agreed by the Greek government and the troika representing Greece's international creditors, while addressing the Parliament plenum during the debate on the measures on Sunday.
Calling the proposals "illegal, unconstitutional and invalid," he asked people to form a "constitutional national assembly to overturn the legislation brought by the creditors" and promised to abolish all the memorandums on the first night that he is in Parliament with the Greek people's mandate.
According to Kammenos, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) may have put its name to the 'toolkit' included in the bill, but this was actually the work of the Greece-based Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) once led by Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
 KKE party withdraws from omnibus bill discussion at Parliamentary committeeCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) rapporteur Nikos Karathanasopoulos on Saturday announced the party's withdrawal from the discussion on the omnibus bill on prerequisites for the new tranche of 10 billion euros, at the joint session of the Economy and Trade Committees, showing KKE's disagreement with the omnibus bill.
Karathanasopoulos clarified that the party will be present at rallies to be held outside Parliament, while it will be participating in Sunday's Parliament Plenum session, also proposing a rollcall vote on all three of the omnibus bill's articles.
 Venizelos says PASOK Parliamentary Group united and responsible on Parliament voteGovernment Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos stressed that PASOK's Parliamentary Group is united and responsible on Sunday's vote on the omnibus bill. He added that the country is entering the final turn towards the exit from the crisis and the memorandum, Greek society is becoming more optimistic and the real economy is responding positively.
Venizelos further said that Greece is entering the markets again in a protected and gradual way and after the primary surplus the remedying of injustices and the protection of vulnerable groups is starting.
Replying to a question from the press on Sunday's vote in Parliament and what it is signalling, Venizelos said that "this bill is in reality the agreement that took place with our creditors and partners following a difficult negotiation that lasted for many months, meaning with countries and organisations that the Troika represents".
 Protest rallies against omnibus bill underway in Syntagma, Omonia squares in AthensProtest rallies organised by Greece's largest trade union bodies, the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) representing the private-sector and the civil servants' union federation ADEDY, were underway in Syntagma Square opposite Parliament on Sunday, while MPs within were discussing the omnibus bill on the reforms agreed with the troika. Another rally, this one organised by the Communist Party-affiliated trade union faction PAME, was taking place in Omonia Square.
Roads around Syntagma Square and Omonia Square were closed due to the demonstrations.
 PM Samaras says we drove nightmare away, we are building new Greece of hopePrime Minister Antonis Samaras, speaking in an interview with Real news, calls for an immediate arrangement for the debt with the positions of the IMF on a new "haircut" also being taken into consideration.
"The agreement on the sustainability of the debt can be achieved in many ways. What is of interest to us is for it to take place immediately, in the most realistic way, taking into consideration, evidently, and the particularities of all the lenders. Our main concern is that it takes place soon," he said.
He further believes that the discussion for the debt will begin soon and the issue will be ultimately settled by autumn, something that will give a great impetus to investments and growth.
"We are leaving misery for all who are nostalgic of yesterday. That almost led the country to a nightmare...We drove away the nightmare. And we are building the new Greece of hope", he added.
 Deputy FM Gerontopoulos thanks expatriates for support for GreeceNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Deputy Foreign Minister for Overseas Hellenism Kyriakos Gerontopoulos, addressing hundreds of expatriates who celebrated the March 25 1821 anniversary together, said "you helped us to rebuild our country's image".
Addressing the traditional annual event, including a dinner, held at a hotel in New York, to honour the sponsors and masters of ceremonies of Sunday's parade by Hellenism in Manhattan's 5th avenue, Gerontopoulos underlined the longstanding messages of the national anniversary and the historic need for unity.
The new U.S. ambassador to Norway, expatriate George Tsounis, who will also be a master of ceremonies at the parade, referred to America's support for Greece's struggle for freedom, stressing the "longstanding values" of March 25.
Addresses were made at the event, among others, by Archbishop of America Dimitrios, the Commissioner for Expatriate and Humanitarian Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus Kaiti Kliridi and the president of the Federation of Greek Societies of New York Ilias Tsekeridis.
 Deputy FM Gerontopoulos attends March 25 parade in ManhattanNEW YORK (ANA-MPA / P. Panagiotou)
Deputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos on Sunday attended a mass held at the Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, in the framework of the Greek-American community's celebrations for the March 25 Greek Independence Day holiday.
In a brief address, Gerontopoulos expressed conviction that Greece was "near the end of the crisis" and noted that the holiday marked a "peak moment" of Greece's recent history, in which the country regained its freedom.
After the mass carried out by Archbishop of American Dimitrios, Gerontopoulos will attend the customary reception in Manhattan and watch the parade along 5th Avenue, in which tens of thousands of Greek-Americans and organisations are expected to take part.
In statements to the ANA-MPA, Gerontopoulos stressed that Greece's diaspora was "the most dynamic part of Hellenism" and could be depended upon. "We have need of it from here on," he added.
The minister was representing the Greek government at the March 25 celebrations, following his visit to Australia. His first stop on a four-day tour of the United States was in Chicago, where he arrived on Friday.
While in Chicago, he visited the Hellenic American Academy, attended a Greek flag-raising ceremony at Daley Plaza and laid a wreath, in the presence of Greek Olympians who travelled from Greece, at the invitation of the Greek community of Chicago, for the events marking Greek Independence Day.
Gerontopoulos also met with Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago nd discussed issues concerning Orthodoxy and Hellenism, sited the Hellenic Museum in Greek Town and met with representatives of the Greek American community of Chicago in the consular residence.
 Deputy FM Gerontopoulos on visit to the U.S.Deputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos was due to leave for New York on Saturday, following his contacts and meetings with the Greek expatriates of Chicago. Gerontopoulos arrived in Chicago from Sydney, following his four-day tour of Australia, starting his four-day visit to the U.S. from there.
His first contact was at the Greek American Academy with the professors and heads of the Greek school and then he attended the event on the hoisting of the Greek flag that took place at the Daley Plaza.
Gerontopoulos also met Chicago Metropolitan Iakovos and visited the ultramodern National Greek Museum in the Greek Town region that was inaugurated in December 2011.
Lastly, the deputy Foreign minister held a meeting at the consular residence with representatives of Chicago Greek expatriates with whom he discussed at length issues concerning them.
 Milk shelf life at seven days, Hatzidakis announces in ParliamentDevelopment and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis, whose ministry was a key player in negotiating reforms with the troika representing Greece's lenders, announced "improvements" to the final version of the draft omnibus bill, while addressing the Parliament plenum debating the bill on Sunday night.
The revised articles announced by Hatzidakis stipulate that pasteurised milk will henceforth expire seven days after its date of production. Other changes refer to the uniform price for books and further clarify the term 'works of literature' that will retain a uniform price.
An article allowing work on Sunday on 52 Sundays a year as a pilot phase in tourist areas was reworded to restrict the pilot operation to 'three' areas, rather than 'at least three'.
There were also a number of changes to sundry issues, such as the abolition of a ban on companies raising prices ahead of the issue of a code of conduct for consumer protection issues, abolition of electronic records of detergents and others.
Addressing the Parliament plenum during Sunday's debate, Hatzidakis accused main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) of being the "movement of high prices," fighting for causes such as "preventing the abolition of a guaranteed profit margin for 34 pct for pharmacists" and devastated "because books will not be sold 50-100pct above the prices in other European countries".
"We have an opposition and main opposition that believes in the dogma that we can invest without investors and that we serve consumers by keeping prices high," he said, accusing SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras of "moving in the sphere of political surrealism" with his no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
Government sources say Administrative Reform ministry's agreement with troika signals transition to qualitative targets
The Administrative Reform ministry's agreement with the lenders' representatives , during the latest long and difficult negotiation, also signals the turning of a page, on developments in the public sector, since from the quantitative targets (layoffs, suspension) it is passing to qualitative targets and to its upgrading, government sources said.
According to the same sources, during the negotiations with the Administrative Reform ministry the troika was persuaded to abandon its demand for an additional 3,500 suspensions in 2014 and 8,000 layoffs in 2015.
According to a government source, the target now is the creation of a permanent mobility apparatus that will not include, however, neither the temporary reduction of the employee's salary nor his potential removal.
 Health minister says citizens hostages of pharmacists' trade union pursuitsHealth Minister Adonis Georgiadis, speaking in an interview with SKAI, said that the citizens are hostages of the trade union pursuits of the pharmacists who are on strike.
"The practice of pharmacists is unacceptable...instead of opening 200 pharmacies, they opened 50 pharmacies resulting in the inconvenience of the people. They are indifferent about the people's inconvenience..they are using the people as hostages of their trade union pursuits", he said.
He also spoke of a war by pharmacists against society. He explained that with the provisions "the super markets cannot open pharmacies. However, a pharmacy can be under the same roof with a pharmacist as a separate business, with a separate AFM (serial tax number) and a separate cash register".
 Alternate Agricultural Development and Food minister announces resignationMaximos Harakopoulos on Saturday announced his resignation from the post of Alternate Agricultural Development and Food Minister, following the "backing out of Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis on the issue of milk", as he stressed in a statement.
Harakopoulos said that "I am clarifying, therefore, as I told the prime minister in any case, since the provision on milk is not a separate article, my political ethics do not permit me, where things have reached now, to put stress on the country's unimpeded funding. I hope that I am proved wrong on the issue of milk".
 Government spokesman says regional Press important cell of DemocracyDeputy Minister to the Prime Minister and government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, addressing the opening of the conference "on the upgrading of the regional, local Press", stressed among other things that "the crisis dealt a blow at the mass media in particular, since it led almost immediately to the reduction of the advertising expenditure of both the state-run and the private".
Kedikoglou added that losses of privileges were also added to these unfavourable consequences that were the result of the necessary economic measures that have been taken.
He termed the regional Press an "important cell of Democracy" and expressed support for the changing of the present legislative framework.
 ND slightly ahead of SYRIZA, poll showsA poll caried out by the ALCO company and published in the newspaper Proto Thema shows the New Democracy party slightly ahead of the main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).
ND garners 21.7 percent, SYRIZA 21.2, Potami 9.4, Golden Dawn 8.2, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) 7.8, Elia 5.5, Independent Greeks 4.5, Democratic Left (DIMAR) 2.8 and a different party 5.3. The undecided amount to 13.6 percent.
 SYRIZA leader holds meeting with Alexandria PatriarchMain opposition Radical Left Colition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros II discussed church issues as well as Mediterranean and African policy issues during their meeting on Saturday, held at the latter's request, according to a party announcement.
The announcement said that the recognition of the Patriarchate's special religious, historic and cultural importance was stressed during the meeting, as well as its contribution to the peaceful coexistence of people of different races-cultures-religious beliefs and humanitarian aid to subsaharan populations.
 KKE leader addresses rally in OmoniaCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas on Sunday addressed a protest rally organised by the KKE-affiliated trade union faction PAME held in Omonia, against the reforms in the draft omnibus bill to be voted on after midnight on Sunday.
Referring to a "growing convergence" between the government and main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), he said that the more this grew on key and strategic issues concerning the European Union and big capital, so would the number of "rigged controversies over various procedural issues in Parliament".
He urged the Greek people, the working class, small business owners, poor farmers, young people and women to turn their back to these, organise their own, real working-class struggle in their work places, their own popular alliance with unity, militancy and by strengthening KKE in the next elections as the only guarantee for a better path "for our people, our children, our country".
Protestors at the PAME rally in Syntagma also held a march to Parliament.
 KKE party leader addresses event on Nikos Beloyiannis execution anniversaryCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Central Committee Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoumbas, addressing an event in Nikea on Saturday evening, on the anniversary of the execution of Nikos Beloyiannis, Dimitris Batsis, Ilias Argyriadis and Nikos Kaloumenos, on March 30, 1952, said that in their figures all the generations of well-known and anonymous fighters of the popular movement and of KKE are being honoured.
Koutsoumbas said that in the present great deadlocks of the capitalist system, it can no longer follow a policy of management and incorporation through benefits and prefers the form of state suppression and employer force, the form of anti-communism.
He also said that the New Democracy party and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) even converge at the level of arguments on who will be liked the most by the EU and big capital.
 Public Order minister visiting ThessalonikiPublic Order Minister Nikos Dendias will be making a visit to the northern city of Thessaloniki on Saturday. He is due to arrive in the city at noon, accompanied by Greek Police chief Nikos Papayiannopoulos and will be participating in a meeting including the participation of officers, during which he will be presenting the bill on the restructuring of the Security Forces.
 FinMin promises taxation reduction if higher primary surplus achieved this yearFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras, speaking in an interview with the newspaper "Ethnos tis Kyriakis", said that "provided that the omnibus bill is ratified, then Greece will have fulfilled to a satisfactory level the provisions of the economic programme. Consequently, after Eurogroup's approval our partners will be in a position to request from their Parliaments the disbursement of the tranches by the end of April".
He further said that "at one of the next Eurogroups the discussion will begin on the implementation of the decision concerning the reduction of the public debt and at the same time Greece's exit to the markets will be pursued".
He promises a decrease in taxation if a higher primary surplus is achieved this year and stresses that "indeed, our desire is, surpassing the fiscal targets and to the degree that the primary surplus is higher than what was budgeted, the discussion to open on the reduction of the general level of taxation in our country".
 Alternate FinMin Staikouras says 2014 fiscal targets have been surpassedAlternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, addressing the Parliament Plenum on the omnibus bill on Sunday, expressed certainty that the country's fiscal targets for 2014 will not only be achieved but they shall also be surpassed by 525 million euros, as much as the amount of the social dividend.
The minister also criticised those who supported disaster scenarios in the past, and the main opposition party in particular, stressing that the positive results denied them that are now being recognised internationally for the country.
Staikouras spoke of the government's time-consuming and tough negotiations that resulted in our partners living up to their commitments.
Lastly, he spoke of a bill that includes structural reforms to boost growth, support enterprises and increase employment, stressing that "the process of change is tough and slow but will have a positive outcome".
 Dead inmate's injuries inflicted at different times, investigation showsThe injuries found on dead prison inmate Ili Kareli were inflicted at different times, prosecution sources said on Sunday, citing evidence from the preliminary investigation into his death. The urgent inquiry was ordered by the head of Amfissa's public prosecutors Nikos Antonakos on Saturday.
Roughly a day earlier, Kareli had been found dead in his cell at Nigrita Prison, where he had been transferred after stabbing a prison guard to death in the prison at Malandrinos. A coroner's report showed that he had suffered numerous injuries, including a broken sternum, prior to his death.
"We will not cover for anyone or anything, ample light will be shed on the case," sources with access to the ongoing investigation said. Regarding the injuries on the body, they said the burn on his right palm occurred at a different time from the broken sternum revealed in the autopsy.
Correctional officers at Malandrinos, who have already been interrogated and given statements to police, have supplied documents and evidence, according to which the burn on Kareli's hand did not occur while he was in Malandrinos prison.
The same sources said that the mark on his hand was not present during his transfer before a judge, while when he was taken to Itea police station, a report said that during his transfer the prisoner had bruising and a black eye.
The prisoner, an Albanian national serving a lengthy sentence in Malandrinos prison, had fatally injured 46-year-old prison guard Giorgios Tsironis with a makeshift knife on March 25. He had been transferred to Nigrita Prison for safety and was found dead in his cell shortly after his arrival.
 Four arrests in Komotini for contraband cigarettesFour people were arrested in the northern city of Komotini after more than 4,000 packets of contraband cigarettes were found in their possession.
A search of their car by police led to the discovery of a 19cm knife, a wooden rod and two cartridges of a 9mm calibre that were confiscated.
Apart from the total of 4,400 packets of cigarettes found by police in the store of one of the arrested people, 17 bottles of alcoholic drinks were also confiscated for which the state had not been paid the corresponding taxes and tariffs.
 Super League resultsLeague champion Olympiakos beat Aris 1-0 at home in a game played over the weekend for the 32nd round of the Greek soccer Super League, reaching 83 points.
In other action:
Panionios-Asteras Tripolis 3-0
Ergotelis-Pas Giannena 1-0
Panthrakikos-Apollon Smyrnis 2-3
Standings after 32 weeks of play:
1. Olympiakos 83 - CHAMPION
2. PAOK 66 - PLAY-OFFS
3. Atromitos 63 - PLAY-OFFS
4.Panathinaikos Athens 63 - PLAY OFFS
5. Asteras Tripoli 57 - PLAY OFFS
6. OFI Crete 41
7. Panthrakikos 41
8. Ergotelis 41
9. Panetolikos 39
10. Levadiakos 39
11. Panionios 38
12. PAS Yiannena 37
13. Kalloni Mytilini 36
14. Xanthi 35 (31 games)
15. Apollon Smyrnis 33
16. Veria 32
17. Platanias Chania 31 (31 games)
18. Aris Thessaloniki 20 - demoted
 Cloudy on MondayCloudy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Monday. Winds 2-6 beaufort. Temperatures between 2C and 20C. Slightly cloudy in Athens with northerly 3-5 beaufort winds and temperatures between 5C and 19C. Fair in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 6C and 17C.
 The Sunday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceETHNOS: Signs of change-The parties, the ballot boxes, the balances.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Green light for exit to markets.
VRADYNI: Pensions: All the keys for wages and age limits.
KATHIMERINI: Landmark-vote and then to the markets.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Little politicians big lies.
TO ARTHRO: Trade unions against Samaras.
TO VIMA: The last battle of the memorandum.
TO PARON: They are voting a third memorandum tonight.
REAL NEWS: The agreement on the debt to take place immediately Prime Minister opens his cards to "R".
FREE SUNDAY: Political clash for recovery.
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