|Wednesday, 11 December 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 15-02-12
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 12 February 2015 Issue No: 4884
 Greece rejects extension of memorandum, statements expected, per gov't sourcesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/S. Sideris)
There was no agreement between the Greek government and its EU partners during an extraordinary Eurogroup meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, according to government sources, which added that Greece "established with facts the failure of (loan) memorandums" and raised the issue of a humanitarian crisis and the public debt.
According to the sources in the early morning of Thursday, the Greek government "rejects an extension of the memorandum" past its end-February date; the sources added that the negotiations will continue until a mutually beneficial agreement is reached between Greece and its creditors, which include the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Government Vice President Yiannis Dragasakis and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis are expected to issue statements from Brussels shortly.
 Eurogroup ends, statement awaited, per press reportsThe extraordinary meeting of the Eurogroup, the EU's finance ministers, ended in Brussels on Wednesday evening, according to press reports.
The meeting focused on negotiations with the new Greek government over the fiscal adjustment programme that expires at the end of February 2015.
According to media reports, the ministers are expected to issue a joint statement on Wednesday evening that will look forward to an agreement between Greece and its EU lenders at the upcoming Eurogroup meeting on Monday, February 16.
 EU finance ministers preparing statement on Greek proposals, Reuters saysFinance ministers of the eurozone are preparing a joint statement to be cosigned by Greece, as soon as their meeting in Brussels ends tonight, Reuters said on Wednesday.
Quoting EU sources, Reuters said that the ministers were planning to issue a statement following the meeting in which the new government of Greece presented its fiscal proposals. They are expected to express the hope of an agreement reached at the second Eurogroup meeting on Monday, February 16.
 Greece to dominate European deliberations in Brussels in the next two daysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
Greece will dominate the two-day European deliberations in Brussels to be launched with the Eurogroup meeting on Wednesday at 18.30 (Athens time).
ECB president Mario Draghi and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde will attend its meeting. A Eurogroup Working Group meeting is expected to be held before the Eurogroup, during which Professor George Chouliarakis representing Greece will present the country's positions.
According to EU Commission representatives, the prospects of an agreement being reached on Wednesday's Eurogroup are limited; however, reaching a mutually beneficial solution by February 16 Eurogroup cannot be ruled out. Commission sources noted that in order to have an agreement by February 16, all sides should move from their initial position.
During an informal European Council on February 12, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem is expected to brief European leaders on the result of the negotiations on Greece.
As European Council President Donald Tusk said in his letter to the heads of state and governments ahead of the meeting of the European Council, Greece will dominate the discussion on the coordination of economic policies within the Economic and Monetary Union. The issue of Greece will be discussed in the presence of Draghi and Dijsselbloem. "I have also asked the President of the Eurogroup to debrief us on the procedural aspects concerning discussions on Greece within the Eurogroup," Tusk said in his letter.
The informal European Council meeting will also discuss the situation in Ukraine, the relations with Russia and the fight against terrorism in the light of the recent attacks in Paris.
 Greek officials meeting with heads of IMF, Eurogroup, EuroWorking GroupBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/S. Sideris)
Government Vice-President Yiannis Dragasakis, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Giorgos Chouliarakis, who represents Greece in the EuroWorking Group, are currently presenting the government's proposals to the president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde, to Eurogroup's President Jeroen Dijsselbloem and to the President of the EuroWorking Group, Thomas Wieser.
 Dijsselbloem-Any changes to Greek deal must conform to the existing agreements with the lendersThe Eurogroup chairman said on Wednesday that any changes to Greece's bailout programme must be in line with existing agreements with the country's international lenders, Reuters news agency reported.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the group of Eurozone finance ministers, was speaking to the Dutch parliament, where a majority of lawmakers called for no new financial support for Greece.
"An agreement is an agreement," Dijsselbloem said. "That means that only within the programme, measures could be exchanged for other measures."
He said any changes would have to be approved by the troika of lenders comprising the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
"Then you can change the programme, you can fill the programme in differently. But support without a programme, support without further progress on reforms is unthinkable," he said.
Dijsselbloem was speaking before heading to Brussels for a Eurogroup meeting on Greece.
"We have the joint ambition to come to a solution, and I do think that it's possible," Dijsselbloem said. "The alternative measures will always have to be vetted, tested by the Troika, whether you call it the Troika or not."
 Talks with Greece must be based on existing programme, Dijsselbloem saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Aroni)
Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Wednesday said he was open to hearing the ideas and proposals that will be put forward by the new Greek government, in a doorstep statement as he arrived for the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels.
He clarified, however, that the talks must be based on the existing Greek programme and expressed hope that Greece will continue to remain dedicated to carrying out reforms.
Dijsselbloem pointed out that the country had returned to growth in the previous year and achieved a primary surplus. "It is important that it continues to achieve primary surpluses and remains on the right track," he said.
He also noted that the Eurogroup will first hear the Greek side's ideas and plans and then hold a discussion, while again stressing that the starting point of the talks must be the existing Greek programme.
Regarding the possibility of another emergency Eurogroup meeting on Friday, Dijsselbloem did not reply but pointed out that there will be a Eurogroup meeting the following Monday.
 EU Commissioner Moscovici hopes Eurogroup will achieve compromise by Feb. 16BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
The European Commission is coming to Wednesday's Eurogroup meeting with the aim to achieve a compromise until the next Eurogroup on February 16, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici told journalists shortly before the meeting in Brussels.
Moscovici said Greece's existing programme will the main topic in tonight's talks, noting that Eurozone finance ministers will have an opportunity to hear for the first time the ideas and solutions proposed by the new Greek government and exchange views with their Greek counterpart.
The EU Commissioner also said the Greek government must understand that the country's commitments must be respected. "We will work on the basis of these commitments," he said and added "the current Greek programme will be the framework, the reference, the basis of what will be discussed today."
Moscovici said today will be the first exchange of ideas to see how we'll move forward."
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will present Greece's proposals at the European Summit Meeting on Thursday and on February 16, a very important Eurogroup will be held, during which a compromise will have to be achieved, the Commissioner said.
Commenting on the Commission's role, Moscovici said it will act as a mediator in talks with Greece, to help find a compromise. "We want to have a good conversation today," he said, adding some more time will be needed.
"This is how Europe works," he said, with compromises and talks. "We all have the same aim. To keep Greece in the Eurozone," Moscovici said.
 French FinMin on two sides to Eurogroup discussion on GreeceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
The Greek people's verdict, calling for change, must be respected, but Greece must also on its side respect its obligations, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said before attending the Eurogroup currently meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
Sapin said he hoped for comprehensive and reliable talks, which for France should be based on those two principles of respect for a call for change by Greeks and respect by Greece of its commitments, as "rules that unite us."
 'Technically impossible' to find solution in Wednesday's Eurogroup, says German finance ministryBERLIN (ANA-MPA/F. Karaviti)
It is "technically impossible" to reach an agreement for Greece's programme in Wednesday's Eurogroup, said Martin Jager, spokesman for the German finance minister, adding that although time is of essence, it is not necessary to have a deal tonight.
Jager noted that whatever changes might be made in the agreements they would have to secure the consent of member-states and this for Germany means the consent of the Parliament.
He also said that "regardless of how a future deal will be called" it will have to comply with the principle "benefits for measures" and those measures should be inspected. "New labels don't abolish the existing principles of cooperation," the spokesman said adding: "No one is going to impose an aid programme."
The main issue though in today's meeting, Jager continued, is for Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to brief his European partners on the Greek government's exact plans.
He also said "the most prudent thing for the bridge-programme Athens is requesting is to base it on existing mechanisms."
 Greek Alternate Finance Minister confident Eurogroup will reach a "balance decision"Greek Alternate Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas on Wednesday expressed his confidence that a Eurogroup meeting later in the day will reach a "balanced decision". In an interview with ANA-MPA, Mardas said that both sides seemed willing not to clash but not to yield easily, so this trend could lead to a more balance decision. He noted that if someone in the negotiation seemed more vulnerable any decision would be against him.
Referring to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's comments that if Greece wanted money then it should need a program, the Greek minister said: "These are comments more of communication nature and not of essense. Mr Schaeuble did not say anything new."
Commenting on the country's cash reserves, Mardas said the government's policy was to have money at the right time so that the state can meet its obligations.
The Alternate Finance Minister said that a vote of confidence won by the government in Parliament was a formality, but the most important thing in the debate was that government ministries were able to present details of their policy programme. From now one we continue specializing on measures and to implement our programme, he stressed.
The full interview is available at ANA-MPA website.
The support to the government and Greece's European course is non-negotiable, Economic Chamber of Greece head says
"Our support to the government and the European course of our country within the euro zone is non-negotiable," the President of the Economic Chamber of Greece Konstantinos Kollias said on Wednesday.
"Wednesday's Eurogroup is one of the most critical for the future of Greece and we call on everyone to achieve the best possible result, in a spirit of absolute realism," he added.
 Majority of Europarliament political groups say "give Greee a chance"STRASBOURG, France (ANA-MPA/N.Roussis)
The majority of political groups in the European Parliament want to see the Greek reform plan and then talk about the country's debt.
With the exception of the head of the European Popular Party group, Manfred Weber, all other leaders of political groups in the European Parliament said that the new Greek government should be given an opportunity to present its new reform plan and then begin a discussion on debt repayment.
Weber was particularly aggressive in his criticism against Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, saying that the Greek PM promised in his pre-election campaign things he cannot do, and noted that "Tsipras is destroying the confidence built by Samaras within a week". He said that everyone underlined their respect to the choice made by Greek voters, but that does not mean that the new government can ignore existing deals. "Tsipras must accept that agreements are valid, nothing more, nothing less," Weber added.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialists-Democrats group, accepted the fact that following elections it seemed that Greece was saying no to austerity and the troika, adding that the troika was not the right agency, it did not implement the right treatment and has not the necessary democratic legitimacy. However, Pittella stressed that debt and loans must be repaid, "how and when we will see". He said that Greece must present an ambitious reform plan and asked for the creation of conditions to grant Greece a loan-bridge, reminding that Greece and Spain are the countries with the highest unemployment rates in the EU.
Guy Ferhofstadt, head of the Liberals group in European Parliament, said there was no need to be in haste. "Let's give Greece the chance to present a logical reform plan. First we must the proposed reforms and then discuss about the debt," he said, adding that the Greek government should avoid creating new divisions in the European Union with its demand for German war reparations.
Gabriele Zimmer, head of the Left Group in the European Parliament referred to a wide-spread questioning of the efficiency of the troika's actions and of the implementation of the German model of economic governance in Europe. The heads of Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, leader of the Non-attached group, also welcomed the decision of Greek voters.
 Italian parties, organisations express support for GreeceROME (ANA-MPA/Th. Andreadis-Syngelakis)
A 15-member delegation from the Italian Five-Star Movement (Cinque Stelle) party, founded by activist and comedian Beppe Grillo, paid a visit on Wednesday to the Greek embassy in Rome to express support to Greece.
The twelve deputies and three senators were received by Greek Ambassador Themistocles Demiris, asking him that a new front be set up of southern European countries to fight austerity policies. The delegation members also conveyed Grillo's request that a meeting be arranged between him and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Demiris said that Greece aims for a solution and new social dimension that would find acceptance by all European countries and benefit all, in order to avoid a break between North and South.
On Saturday (February 14), the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), volunteer organisations, the Italian Left and the centre-left Democratic Party will hold a rally and march under the motto "Greece has changed, let us now change Europe."
 Thousands gather in Syntagma for rally in support of Greek governmentA rally in support of the government was underway at Syntagma Square in central Athens on Wednesday evening. Thousands of people gathered to show their support for the government's efforts during the negotiations underway at the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, in spite of the bitter cold and snow throughout the Greek capital at this time.
Banners erected around the square bore messages such as "We will not give in, we will not be blackmailed", "A breath of dignity" and "Greece belongs to the Greeks" in yet another gathering organised through the social media.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed the initiative, posting a picture of the Syntagma rally on Facebook with the message "in the cities of Greece and Europe, the people are waging the battle of the negotiations. They are our strength."
Similar rallies have also been organised and are underway in other cities in Greece, as well as in Cyprus, France and Germany.
 PM Tsipras to meet several state leaders on Thursday in BrusselsBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/S. Sideris)
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will hold a series of meetings in Brussels on Thursday with the Belgian premier Charles Michel, the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, the Prime Minister of Latvia Laimdota Straujuma and the British premier David Cameron, on the sidelines of the summit meeting.
In his meetings with the leaders of the three EU countries, Tsipras is expected to discuss the Greek proposal for a bridge programme and present the government's proposals for a series of reforms to be implemented.
In his talks with Poroshenko, Tsipras will focus on the crisis in Ukraine's relations with Russia and will support the diplomatic efforts made by France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia to achieve a viable solution. The Greek premier is also expected to ask Poroshenko to take measures to protect ethnic Greeks living in the country.
 PM Tsipras departs for BrusselsPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras departed for Brussels on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of a Eurogroup meeting later the same day and the European leaders' summit on Thursday.
The prime minister is at the head of a government delegation that also includes government Vice-President Yiannis Dragasakis, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (who will represent Greece at the Eurogroup meeting at 18:30 Greek time), Alternate Foreign Minister Nikos Chountis, Minister of State Nikos Pappas and government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis.
Government sources said that Alternate Foreign Minister for International Economic Relations Euclid Tsakalotos may joint the delegation in Brussels on Thursday.
 No meeting scheduled so far between Greek PM Tsipras and German Chancellor Merkel, gov't saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/S. Sideris)
There has been no formal request for a meeting of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to Greek government sources on Wednesday.
The sources said that State Minister Nikos Pappas had spoken with the German ambassador in Athens on this but no such meeting had been arranged.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is currently visiting the permanent Greek delegation at the European Union to meet the staff and be briefed on its work. On Thursday morning, Tsipras will meet with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel.
 Gov't spokesman on Greek negotiations in Brussels, ralliesThe Greek government is "not negotiating alone" in Brussels, government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis said on Wednesday, but with all Greek citizens.
"At the Eurogroup and the summit meeting, the Greek government is not negotiating by itself, but does so along with 10,000,000 Greek citizens: Hope has chased away fear," Sakellaridis said of the European meetings.
Commenting on rallies in several cities of Greece and Europe - to support the Greek government's loan negotiations currently taking place in Brussels and to protest austerity measures - he said that "extreme cold and snow have not prevented the birth of a new 'squares movement' in order to support the Greek government's efforts against poverty and unemployment."
 European Council to hold informal meeting on ThursdayBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / V. Demiris)
Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Thursday at the informal European Council meeting, will brief the 28 European leaders on the results of Wednesday's Eurogroup.
According to EU sources, the discussion on Greece, which is the last item on the agenda of the EU Summit, will include the briefing by the Eurogroup head as well as a limited exchange of views, but there will be no negotiations.
The same sources said that the president of the European Council and the European leaders consider that negotiations on Greece should take place "on a suitable and tested level, which is the Eurogroup, where Greece's adjustment programmes have been decided."
The same sources added that in the discussion on the EMU, where emphasis will be given on structural reforms, all leaders will have the opportunity to express themselves. They even expressed the hope for a positive contribution to the debate by the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, as there are key issues for discussion, such as the fight against corruption and the creation of stable and efficient tax systems.
 German parliament less willing to help Greece, Fuchs saysDirect provocation by the new government in Athens is making politicians in Germany less willing to agree to further help for Greece, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party was quoted as saying on Wednesday, according to Reuters news agency.
"The new leadership in Athens is taking the liberty of directly provoking Germany. This decreases the willingness of the German parliament to agree to further help for Greece towards zero," Michael Fuchs, deputy parliamentary floor leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats, told Rheinische Post newspaper.
Fuchs also said in the interview that his trust in the new Greek government was already shaken.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Tuesday said that if Greece did not want a new aid programme "then, that's it".
 PM Tsipras meets OECD sec gen Gurria in AthensPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday morning met visiting OECD secretary general Angel Gurria.
In statements to the press after the meeting, Tsipras underlined that the government aims to make the reforms that the others did not dare to make, adding "we do not have dependencies." He added fighting tax evasion and tax theft is an act of solidarity to the citizens that paid for austerity.
Tsipras noted that the cooperation with the OECD will be on the reform agenda of the government, with a progressive sign, based on, as he said, "the popular mandate and the programme we announced in the Parliament."
Tsipras said that during the last few years the crisis in Greece has become deeper due to austerity while those defending austerity are trying to attribute the failure of the memorandum to the lack of reforms.
Tsipras expressed his optimism that today's meeting can be the start of a new relation between Greece and the OECD and described the organization's help as useful so as "to turn Greece again into a normal European country."
Moreover, he announced the setting up of a joint cooperation committee on a pact over development, employment and social cohesion in Greece and added he would soon visit Gurria in Paris in order to formalize this cooperation relation.
Asked on the so-called OECD toolkit, Tsipras said this was in fact the toolkit of the previous government, which named it as such. He noted that "the cooperation of the new government with the OECD will be constructive because we have common objectives."
Gurria stressed that he is not in Athens to indicate to Greece what to do, but because the OECD works in these fields (reforms) we can, as he said, inform the government about what other countries do on similar issues, in order to provide the best solutions for Greek citizens. He also noted that some reforms do not have immediate results (such as in education and innovation) but are means for mid- and long-term development.
 ND's Hatzidakis comments on government's cooperation with the OECD"I don't know if this turn to the OECD will be enough for an agreement in Brussels," New Democracy deputy Costis Hatzidakis said on Wednesday, referring to the meeting between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria.
He added, however, that the government's confusion is "glaringly obvious and a lie can only take you so far".
Despite SYRIZA's attempt to "separate" the OECD from the "toolkit" presented for Greece in order to justify the u-turn, there was clear evidence that the toolkit had been presented by the OECD in 2013 with Gurria's signature beneath it, Hatzidakis said.
He also wondered how it is possible for the government to ask for the cooperation of an organisation, which SYRIZA until recently accused of serving the interests of domestic "big business".
He further stressed that the OECD's 'Going for Growth' report on Greece had praised the reforms carried out from the same toolkit and asked for further reforms in the same direction.
 KKE criticises government's collaboration with OECD, following sec'y general's visitThe coalition government's collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) means "a new anti-popular attack is being prepared," the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said on Wednesday, warning the Greek people to "be on guard."
Commenting on joint statements by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, who was in Athens on Wednesday, KKE said, "When the government of SYRIZA and ANEL announces a close cooperation with OECD, the well-known economic organisation that is forever proposing antipopular measures and destruction of (labour) rights, the (Greek) people should be on guard and prepare for a new antipopular attack."
Growth and profits for the capital "cannot be reconciled with rights for the people," it added.
 FM Kotzias meets with Russian counterpart Lavrov and commit to reviving, expanding bilateral relationsMOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th. Avgerinos)
The talks between the foreign ministers of Greece and Russia Nikos Kotzias and Sergey Lavrov, respectively, were held here on Wednesday in a warm and positive atmosphere, with both underlining that their agenda was based on a recent discussion between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and augmented by their intention to revive and accelerate bilateral relations in all areas.
"Greece and Russia share an old, historic and cultural friendship and we seek to expand creatively this relation in the 21st century," the Greek foreign minister said after the meeting, underlining that the new Greek government promotes an active foreign policy.
The ministers agreed that the existing protocols of cooperation and action plans in bilateral relations should be renewed, while their talks also focused on the crisis in Ukraine, which is also affecting Greek-Russian relations.
"Greece is an EU member state and 15 days ago, when the new government took office, it was made clear that we are not a second-class country. We have an active foreign policy, with (specific) proposals and rational negotiations," Kotzias said. He added that he assured his Russian counterpart that "Greece is always willing, as much as it can and if requested, to contribute to the mediation between the EU and Russia and to the solution of the problems in the region."
"We are a European state as well, but we also have great and firm cultural relations, continuity and ties with a state like Russia," he said, reminding that he called on his counterparts in the EU "to stop the 'continuous talk on Ukraine' and draw up a positive agenda with prospects for the entire Europe and specific proposals toward Russia, hoping that soon there will be stabilisation and peace in the region."
"The Greek side's position of principle is the respect to the always peaceful and stabilising role of Russia in Europe and the need for a diplomatic solution to the case of Ukraine," he said, noting that in his opinion it would be preferable for the future of Ukraine to have a federal regime.
The Greek foreign minister said that there should be no thoughts or deceptions that in a conflict like in Ukraine military solutions are possible. "If anyone attempts to heighten the tension the results will be anything but those anticipated," he said, underlining that he briefed his Russian counterpart on the serious problems faced by the 100,000-member strong Greek Ukrainian community in eastern Ukraine. He noted that measures have been taken to guarantee that they will have enough food and medicine.
"The Greek government is greatly concerned about the tension hotbeds in the region surrounding Greece that can destabilise Europe as a whole," Kotzias said, describing a triangle formed by Ukraine, Libya and the Middle East. "We should all do what's necessary so that Greece's effort to send waves of stabilization to the outer sides of the triangle will overpower those who seek to destabilize the entire triangle of Eastern Mediterranean," he said.
Kotzias also recalled the Greek government's proposal to the EU for the protection of the Christian communities in the Middle East, "communities that expressed a common perception we have of life in Greece and Russia as regards coexistence and tolerance, multireligiousness and multiculturalism and respect to a culture that exists for more than 2,000 years in the region."
Referring to the issue of sanctions, Kotzias said that they never brought the results sought by those that introduced them, adding that "other tools of understanding and contribution to the efforts for peace in Ukraine should be found and, in any case, we say to all directions that war is not a solution."
The Greek foreign minister also thanked the Russia leadership for its firm support to Cyprus, "a fact that gives a sense of security to the Cypriot people."
On his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed that both sides want the further development of bilateral relations and announced the renewal of the inter-ministerial cooperation committee, noting that its proceedings will open "without postponements".
He also referred to bilateral cooperation in the sector of energy, saying that "prospects are very good" for Greece's participation and cooperation in the natural gas pipeline project that will be constructed by Russia and extend to the Greek-Turkish borders.
Lavrov welcomed the Greek prime minister's participation in the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the Victory over Fascism to take place in Moscow on May 9 and underlined that the rights of all ethnic minorities in Ukraine, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian among others should be respected. He also underlined the importance of the preparations for the Greece-Russia Friendship Year in 2016.
Referring to the issue of sanctions, he said that "we honour the constructive stance adopted by Greece which is in favour of a strategic Russia-EU cooperation," which "will not be sacrificed to certain geopolitical ambitions of third countries."
Responding to a question by ANA-MPA, the Russian foreign minister said that the Greek side fully understands the absolute ineffectiveness of the efforts made to talk with Russia by using sanctions.
Lavrov added that they discussed the economic situation in Greece, noting that any request on behalf of the Greek government for any aid (loans) will be considered.
As regards the Cyprus issue, the Russian side confirmed "the support to the efforts for the implementation of relevant UN resolutions and the agreements reached earlier between the communities on Cyprus," considering that the final decision, according to Moscow, belongs to the two communities and foreign players should help toward an agreement with consensus and mutual respect of interests.
The Russian foreign minister also said that there is room for further development of bilateral defence-technical cooperation, reminding the traditional relations the two countries share in this sector.
 Russian Foreign ministry's statement on Greek FM Kotzias' upcoming meeting with LavrovMOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th.Avgerinos)
The Greek-Russian cooperation is based on the community of cultures and traditions, on similar perceptions of how to strengthen the European and global security on the base of multipolarity, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a special statement ahead of the meeting of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday.
The aim of the upcoming talks of the heads of foreign ministries is to boost bilateral relations in all sectors and to those strategic directions, which were identified during the recent phone contact between the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras, the statement said. Athens shows interest in the "Turkish Stream" project, in regards to the creation of a natural gas "hub" at the Greek-Turkish borders, according to the statement adding that Kotzias' visit is taking place within the framework of the regular diplomatic dialogue with Athens, after the formation of the new Greek government based on the results of parliamentary elections.
The two ministers will focus, apart from energy, on the issues of cooperation in transport, education and finance sector. The ministers will consider the possibilities of launching efforts to organise the 'Year of Russia' in Greece and the 'Year of Greece' in Russia in 2016 as well as the cooperation in organizing events on the millennium of presence of Russian monasticism on Mount Athos.
Greece is very interested in hearing directly the Russian estimates of the settlement prospects of the Ukrainian crisis. In Greece, there is a clear understanding that ways out can be achieved only by political rather than military means, the statement said.
The two ministers will discuss the problems of dealing with the terrorist threat, which comes primarily from the 'Islamic state', and will pay particular attention to examining the prospects for unblocking the Cyprus issue settlement process, the resumption of intercommunal talks on the basis of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cyprus, the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the statements of the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus on February 11, 2014.
"Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, participates actively in the efforts for a long-term solution to the Cyprus problem", the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The two countries' common struggle against fascism during the World War II is an important element of unity. "Today Russia and Greece are firmly opposed to the attempts to revise history," the ministry statement noted.
 Chinese premier invites Greek PM Tsipras to visit ChinaChinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Wednesday telephoned Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to congratulate him on his election and extended Tsipras an invitation to visit China.
Government sources said that Li Keqiang promised Tsipras to work toward further extending and deepening the historic ties of Greece and China, while they also discussed a visit by a Greek government delegation to China to prepare for the Greek prime minister's visit.
The two leaders examined ways to further improve economic, trade and cultural cooperation, with the Chinese premier assuring Tsipras that Chinese companies are interested in making new investments in Greece. They also examined ways in which Chinese companies can expand their activity into other sectors.
Finally, emphasis was given to the need to upgrade working relations with Chinese companies already established in Greece and their cooperation with Greek companies.
 China 'knows nothing' about aid offer to Athens, Reuters news agency saysChina's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it had no knowledge of any offer by Beijing for aid to Greece after Greece's Alternate Minister for European Affairs Nikos Chountis said China had offered economic support even though Athens had not requested it, Reuters news agency reported.
Chountis, according to the report, told Greek radio that Russia had also offered Greece help, while Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said that if Athens failed to get a new debt agreement with the euro zone, it could always look elsewhere for help, including possibly China.
"There have been proposals, offers I would say, from Russia, recently after the election, for economic support as well as from China, regarding help, investment possibilities," Chountis was quoted as saying, adding: "We have not asked for it."
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had seen the reports but had "no knowledge" of the matter.
"We are willing to keep deepening cooperation and exchanges in all areas with the new Greek government on the basis of the principle of mutual respect and win-win to push the continued development of Sino-Greek ties," she told a daily news briefing.
"As for the detailed situation you mentioned, I know nothing about it."
Foreign ministry sources, clarifying Chountis recent statements on the cooperation between Greece and China, noted that the statement was exclusively about the investment relations between China and Greece on the base of cooperation, mutual respect and benefit of the two countries.
 PM Tsipras' speech during the parliamentary debate on the government's policy statementsPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the early hours of Wednesday morning, wrapping up a three-day parliamentary debate on the government's policy statements stressed SYRIZA's standing position that "we are negotiating the loan contract and not the memorandum."
The premier appeared confident on the success of the upcoming negotiation with the partners and assured that the government's announcements will be fully met.
"We are not negotiating the memorandum that was cancelled by its own failure and by the verdict of our people. We are negotiating the loan contract and not the memorandum, which is the legal expression of a programme of neoliberal austerity and internal devaluation. More than 450 enacting laws," Tsipras underlined, just before a vote of confidence in his government.
The prime minister repeated that Greece is seeking a bridge-programme between the memorandum and the post-memorandum era, which cannot be accompanied by more austerity measures.
In this context, the agreement the government is seeking from its partners "cannot be accompanied by austerity measures or a new loan as many of the foreign media have suggested. We are not asking for more money. We are asking for specific facilitations, such as the return of money that central banks made in profits that is owed to us, or to be able to use money that we have already borrowed and which is in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) in order to rid our banking system of bad loans, or an increase in the limit on treasury bills we can issue. We are seeking technical facilitations, not more money," he emphasised.
"This is what we are asking for. What does the other side ask for and which alternative does it propose? (US) President (Barack) Obama yesterday asked (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel the exact same thing and got no answer. To continue on an austerity course, borrow more money, accept the troika's review and ignore the Greek people and the common sense? This is what Mr. Samaras proposed to us. Since Merkel did not respond to the US President, maybe we should send Samaras' speech so that he can see for himself what the other side stands for," Tsipras noted.
Replying to main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, Tsipras told him that his arguments are already known. "You put them into practice and you failed. I am not sure if you realized it: this is why you are sitting on the opposition benches. How is it possible for you to present today the 'reheated meal' of Greece's success story?...You had better find something more original than that increasing the minimum wage will destroy the economy - as if its legislated reduction revived it," he said.
Tsipras claimed that the "political staff that served barbarism made a last and desperate attempt to undermine the government."
"The explanation given by New Democracy and PASOK as to why they decided to ask for a two-month extension to the programme and not the six-month one proposed by the partners was not convincing," PM said.
"You know very well that, if there was loan protection until June, there would be no technical excuse for the European Central Bank's stance, which wants the existence of a loan programme and not a memorandum programme. We would have carried out the popular mandate and legislated our programme without anyone blackmailing us that we will find ourselves without the support of the banks. You planned Greece's blackmail down to the last detail. It was your last choice, in hope that you would personally be saved. You rolled for Greece in a crapshoot, simply so that history does not swallow you up. Understand this: history has already swallowed you," he said.
Addressing the main opposition deputies, Tsipras said "an alternative way, an alternative proposal does exist. Don't be in hurry. You will soon find that out."
Tsipras admitted that the negotiation will be tough but appeared confident that the partners will respond to the government's proposal for a mutual compromise. "I wouldn't think there are forces in Europe that want to avenge and punish when they know that this choice can only hurt us all. And Europe left all those impasses behind, once and for all in 1953, for the sake of Germany and the European idea," he said.
The agreement will be within the European framework. The government will start the implementation of its programme by submitting next week the first two bills on the protection of primary residence and the facilitation of the process on bad loans "which are not related to any sort of need for new loans. Then, there will be measures for the sweeping reform of the state, the protection of the workers, the combating of unemployment, the redistribution of wealth to the benefit of pensioners and small and medium-sized businesses."
 PASOK on PM Tsipras' speechPASOK accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of not saying anything more specific and clear during the debate on the government's policy statements in Parliament, underlining that the "the main issue is that he appeared 'intoxicated' with a big misunderstanding."
"With the misunderstanding that the Greek society supports him in a rupture with Europe. But the Greek society supports him - along with us - in an essential negotiation that will bring something better for Greece and the Greeks," it underlined.
PASOK accused Tsipras of an unprecedented arrogance and a sense that he has a leading role in irreversible pan-European developments. "The great institutional issue was that he expressed a deeply anti-democratic perception that the January 25 vote was a vote for a change of regime," it said and added: These perceptions "make harder for him and eventually the country to carry out a meaningful and effective negotiation."
 Defence Minister Kammenos underlines Athens' support for Cyprus during visit to the islandNICOSIA (ANA-MPA/ A. Viketos)
Greece "is here" for Cyprus, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said on Wednesday during joint statements with his Cypriot counterpart Christoforos Fokaides in Nicosia. Kammenos arrived on the island for a two-day official visit earlier the same day.
Kammenos stressed that the Cyprus issue remains one of invasion and occupation for the Greek government, while he denounced the presence of the Turkish survey vessel "Barbaros" in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as "blatant provocation".
The two ministers held a brief press conference after their meeting at the Cyprus National Guard General Staff headquarters, where an official welcoming ceremony was held.
Kammenos announced that Greece is planning to hold joint military exercises over the coming months with Cyprus, Israel and possibly Egypt.
Asked whether he intended to reinstate the Greece-Cyprus Single Defence Area doctrine, Kammenos said that planning will be carried out over the coming months.
Fokaides, welcoming the Greek minister, thanking him for Athens' unceasing support for Nicosia and stressed that Greece and Cyprus were key pillars of stability, security and democracy in the region.
With respect to Turkish provocations, he noted that Cyprus is determined to defend its sovereign rights against all threats. He also announced a decision to detach an officer of the Cyprus National Guard to the Hellenic National Defence General Staff in Athens for the first time, in order to act as a liaison between the two sides.
 Greek Nat'l Defence minister meets with Cyprus acting president on Wed.NICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)
Greek National Defence Minister Panos Kammenos met with Cyprus Republic Parliament President Yiannakis Omirou in Nicosia on Wednesday, the first day of an official two-day visit.
Omirou - who is acting President of the Republic as Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is in Brussels - noted the importance of drawing a joint strategy between the two countries as geostrategic factors have changed in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially following recent developments in the CYprus issue and the increase of Turkish confrontations in the Exclusive Economic ZOne of Cyprus.
Kammenos referred to the rise of geopolitical significance in the area and Turkey's "provocative stance which meets with increasingly fewer supporters internationally" and to Greece's battle against austerity, which if won will benefit Cyprus and Europe as well.
The meeting was also attended by the Cyprus defence minister, the national guard chief and other officials.
Kammenos is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos.
 ND leader Samaras to Brussels for tomorrow's EPP summitMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras is due in Brussels on Wednesday to attend the European People's Party (EPP) summit on Thursday.
He will meet with European leaders, members of the EPP, and according to sources, he will back the national effort, underlining that the huge sacrifices made by the Greek people during the past few years should not go to waste.
The ND leader will underline the achievements of his government and the fact that Greece has met its commitments so far by achieving primary surpluses and putting the country on the track of economic growth.
Samaras had announced that he will back the national effort when he addressed Parliament during the debate on the government's policy statements by saying that "those who love their country want the government to succeed." He added, however, that "because we love Greece we will not put [its] European future at risk," characterizing the support offered as his party's virtue, so long as the government does not hurt the country.
 Former Cypriot minister Dinos Michaelides is sentenced to 15 years in armaments kickbacks caseAn Athens Criminal Court of Appeals on Wednesday handed down heavy sentences on the five defendants in a bribery and money laundering case related to the purchase of TOR-M1 Russian anti-aircraft missiles by Greece when Akis Tsohatzopoulos, who is serving a prison sentence, was minister of defence. All were found guilty by the court, which rejected the defence's requests for leniency.
The court found Cypriot former interior minister Dinos Michaelides and his son Michalis guilty and sentenced each to 15 years in prison, while fugitive businessman Fouad al-Zhiyad, who was represented in court, received a life sentence plus 17 years in prison. The three defendants' requests for suspended sentences were rejected by the court and Michaelides and his son were led to prison.
The court accepted the request for suspended sentences filed by former State Legal Council adviser Anastassios Sofos, who was sentenced to life in prison plus 12 years, and his wife Maria Sofos sentenced to 12 years for being an accomplice to money laundering.
The couple was released with the condition that they will appear in a police station twice a month and were banned from leaving the country. They also posted a 100,000-euro bail each.
The five defendants were found guilty of money laundering involving millions of euros in kickbacks for the purchase of the armaments in question. The money came through Fouad al-Zhiyad and ended up in Tsohatzopoulos' hands via three offshore companies and bank accounts.
 Former ERT's staff stage rally outside broadcasting building in AthensLaid off employees of the former state broadcaster ERT gathered outside the broadcasting building on Messogion Avenue on Wednesday evening for a protest rally, undeterred by the snow and low temperatures. The rally marked the 20th month since ERT was abruptly closed by the previous government.
The protestors said their rally was also targeted against "the blackmail of Greece's creditors" and in support of the "spontaneous popular rallies taking place in Syntagma and other places" on the same day.
Regarding their demand to reopen ERT, they noted that "the latest developments highlight in the most urgent way the need that there should soon be a real public news pillar that will reliably inform the people, contrary to the propaganda of the private, pro-memorandum media."
The police presence at the rally was discreet, with only patrol cars on the scene, while Messogion Avenue was open in the lanes coming out of Athens but closed in the opposite direction.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Minister of State Nikos Pappas had announced that a draft bill refounding ERT will be brought to Parliament within the month, taking back the former employees that want to return, while ruling out the "excesses and inequalities" that had marred its operation in the past.
 Greece's debt reached 185 pct of GDP in 2014, Alt. Finance Minister Mardas saysGreece's public debt increased to 185 pct of GDP in 2014, Alternate Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas said in a press briefing on Wednesday, presenting figures from the state General Accounting Office.
He expressed his concern over the debt's upward trend, stressing that it was unsustainable and that "we must relieve it". The minister also cited a Levy Institute study forecasting that Greek sovereign debt will rise to 205 pct of GDP in 2015. While clarifying that he does not adopt its findings, Mardas said that he was "carefully monitoring" its predictions to see if the conclusions are true or false."
In terms of public finances, Mardas referred to special wage scales in the public sector that he said created distortions and had to be tackled. He announced, however, that a productivity bonus will be given to tax office employees based on criteria that are to be decided and will be linked to the number of cases they process and the amount of revenue they certify as due.
The minister also repeated his estimate that arresting those engaged in illegal fuel trading, which he said was a government priority, could generate 1.5 billion euros in revenues on an annual basis, while a further 800 million euros might be raised by cracking down on contraband cigarette sales.
He announced that he is currently proceeding to draw up cost estimates for the measures announced by ministers.
A finance ministry announcement issued later on Wednesday clarified that the proposed bonuses on fines will only be given to tax office staff for uncovering cases of illegal fuel sales and smuggling. The announcement said that this proposal had been put forward in a 2011 report on fuel adulteration and illegal sales and concerned only fines for illegal fuel, not the sum of tax office staff.
 Greece to launch new cooperation with OECDEconomy, Infrastructure, Tourism and Shipping Minister George Stathakis on Wednesday announced the launch of new cooperation between the Greek government and the OECD with a focus on improving the business climate.
This is envisaged to take place over the next few months and will focus on infrastructure, public procurements, competition, simplifying licensing procedures and an upgrade of the Competition Commission, Stathakis said after a meeting with OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria.
Regarding other ministry issues, Stathakis said that the draft law for "freezing" home foreclosures will be ready to be unveiled next week, while in the next two months the draft bill for a comprehensive settlement of bad loans will be voted on in Parliament.
Referring to the negotiations between the Greek govenrnment and its European partners, Stathakis was optimistic that there will be an agreement in the end, while he welcomed the latest proposals made by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, which he described very good. He also predicted that the IMF and the ECB will not "take things to extremes."
 Alt. Min. for Rural Development Apostolou says 'the commitments undertaken will be met'The commitments undertaken will be met in the best possible way, Alternate Minister for Rural Development Vangelis Apostolou on Wednesday said in a meeting with farmers' representatives, underlining the importance of dialogue and cooperation.
Apostolou noted that "the primary production sector is the weakest link of the Greek economy and, at the same time, it is the sector on which the country's economic growth can count."
The meeting was attended by representatives of farmers throughout the country and the issues laid on the table were the increased production cost, taxation, the need to upgrade the farming cooperatives' movement, lack of liquidity, the new CAP and the need to draw up a national strategy for the development of the primary sector.
Apostolou said that the ministry will adopt a number of measures aiming at immediate support of farmers' incomes, including the abolition of the Uniform Real Estate Ownership Tax (ENFIA) on farmland and warehouses, and announced that annual income of up to 12,000 euros will be tax free.
He also announced lower electricity tariffs for farmers and the gradual abolition of the special tax on diesel consumption. He said that low pension earners, who are the majority of farmers, will be eligible for the 13th pension and farmer debts will be settled, and announced the establishment of an agricultural bank and a genetic material bank to be based in Thessaloniki.
Among the first legislative initiatives to be undertaken by the ministry will be the adoption of a new institutional framework for farmer cooperatives that will be the result of extensive dialogue.
As regards the compensation of farmers for flood losses, he said that funds from the current Rural Development Programme will be used to compensate farmers for damaged facilities and equipment, noting that the programme's absorption rate is under 60 pct and a large part of the 700 million euros that are still unused will be allocated for compensations not covered by the Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organisation (ELGA), like damaged equipment and facilities.
On his part, Deputy Minister for Rural Development Panagiotis Sgouridis noted that the farmers will have the protection they deserve, adding that the country can utilize the European programmes in the best possible way for the benefit of the primary production sector, and limit red tape. He also underlined that subsidies will be aimed at boosting production and the extroversion of products, noting that farmer mentality needs to change.
 Greek stocks end significantly lowerGreek stocks ended significantly lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday as sellers took the upper hand in the market - after Tuesday's rally - on market concern over the outcome of a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels. The composite index fell 4.02 pct to end at 793.09 points, off the day's lows of 786.48 points. The Large Cap index fell 3.93 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 3.61 pct lower. Turnover shrank to 83.68 million euros.
Eurobank (2.05 pct) and Coca Cola HBC (0.33 pct) were the only blue chip stocks to end higher, while Jumbo (11.19 pct), National Bank (9.09 pct), Alpha Bank (8.13 pct) and PPC (6.91 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
The Chemicals (2.67 pct) and Food (0.34 pct) sectors moved higher, while Personal Products (10.91 pct), Banks (5.03 pct) and Utilities (4.89 pct) suffered heavy losses.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 82 to 29 with another 13 issues unchanged. Bioter (19.62 pct), NEL (18.18 pct) and AEGEK (17.54 pct) were top gainers, while Selonda (18.75 pct), Dionic (17.74 pct) and Dromeas (13.13 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Financial Services: -2.04%
Industrial Products: -2.38%
Real Estate: -2.61%
Personal & Household: -10.91%
Food & Beverages: +0.34%
Raw Materials: -3.37%
Mass Media: unchanged
Travel & Leisure: -3.93%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OTE and EuroBank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE
Large Cap index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.305
Public Power Corp (PPC): 5.25
Coca Cola HBC: 15.00
Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE): 4.05
National Bank of Greece: 1.00
Piraeus Bank: 0.582
Grivalia Properties: 7.80
Aegean Airlines: 7.40
 Greek bond market closing reportGreek state bond prices came under renewed pressure in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday on market concern ahead of a crucial Eurogroup meeting in Brussels to discuss the Greek issue. The three-year bond yield rose to 20.8 pct from 18.9 pct on Tuesday, while the five-year bond yield rose to 16.38 pct from 15.05. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds eased slightly to 9.69 pct with the Greek bond yielding 10.04 pct and the German Bund yielding 0.35 pct. Turnover was a thin 1.0 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving lower. The 12-month rate eased to 0.260 pct from 0.261 pct, the nine-month rate fell to 0.191 pct from 0.193 pct, the six-month rate fell to 0.129 pct from 0.130 pct, the three-month rate fell to 0.049 pct from 0.050 pct and the one-month rate was unchanged at 0.001 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe February contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.48 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday.
Volume on the Big Cap index totalled 8,093 contracts with 46,804 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totalled 48,175 contracts with investment interest focusing on Eurobank's contracts (16,773), followed by Alpha Bank (9,675), National Bank (10,687), Piraeus Bank (6,650), MIG (350), OTE (1,193), PPC (586), OPAP (698), Hellenic Exchanges (152), Titan (196), Mytilineos (187), GEK (219), Ellaktor (141) and Intralot (77).
 Foreign exchange rates - WednesdayReference rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.1314
Pound sterling 0.7396
Danish kroner 7.444
Swedish kroner 9.4585
Japanese yen 135.5
Swiss franc 1.0465
Norwegian kroner 8.602
Canadian dollar 1.4268
Australian dollar 1.4606
 Circulation problems continue in several ares of Greece following snow, gale-force windsSnowfall on the last two days followed by low temperatures and winds made circulation difficult in many northern Greek areas and isolated mountain villages in areas as far south as the Aegean island of Crete, on Wednesday.
Several schools shut down in northern Greece's prefectures of Florina, while other areas in western Macedonia including the main city of Thessaloniki, and Edessa, Kastoria and Florina faced below-zero conditions and car chains were required for travel on several roads, including those leading to the monastic community of Mt. Athos, in the peninsula of Halkidiki. In addition, the Kaimaktsalan ski resort was shut down because of powerful winds.
The northern area of Serres prefecture, its basin in particular, were dealing with the overflow of the artificial Kerkini lake that began on Tuesday following heavy rainfall and the flow of excess water coming from Bulgaria, which also faced extreme weather conditions these past weeks, while waters also rose in another significant biodiversity region, the Prespes Lakes.
In the northern Aegean, coastal areas on the island of Samos was pummelled by gale-force winds on Tuesday and its schools remained shut down on Wednesday in mountain areas, where the snow reached 10 cm deep.
Meanwhile, on Crete mountain villages in the prefectures of Iraklio and the Lassithi plain, which bore the brunt of snowfall a few weeks ago, faced 40-cm-deep snow, strong winds and early on Wednesday morning hail, which also fell on the island's main city of Iraklio. The region of Chania faced most of the weather's repercussions with the additional danger of landslides.
Southern Greece and the Peloponnese in particular had low temperatures but major roads were for the most part cleared of snow and circulation of trucks allowed on the Tripolis-Sparti national road after a ban was lifted. Sections of the national road, like Kalamata-Sparti and Levidi-Nemea, as well as of the old national road, such as the Argos-Tripolis section, required snow tyres.
 Problems throughout the country due to adverse weather conditionsThe adverse weather conditions with snowfall and strong winds have caused a series of problems throughout the country. The northern Greek Egnatia motorway was closed for trucks between West Komotini interchange and Iasmos interchange on both directions. Snow chains are necessary in regional roads in Northern Greece as well as parts of Attica, Evia and Viotia.
A ban on ferry departures has been imposed from the ports of Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio to the islands of Cyclades, northeastern Aegean, Dodecanese and Crete while the ferry link from Piraeus to the islands of Hydra, Spetses, Aegina and Poros are carried out with the so-called closed-type ferries.
The Coast Guard advises passengers to call the local tourist agencies before their departure.
Most schools in northern and eastern Attica and certain Northern Greek areas remained closed on Wednesday.
 Schools in northern, western suburbs to stay shut on Wed.Schools in the suburbs of Penteli, Kifissia, Vrilissia and Pallini north of Athens will remain closed on Thursday as well, authorities announced on Wednesday, following problems due to snow and low temperatures.
Also shutdown will be schools in Acharnon, Thrakomakedones and Varibombi, and certain schools in Panorama, Marathonas, Ano Liossia, Zefyri and Fyli. Other schools, like those of the Olympic Village, will open later at 10:00 a.m.
 Ferry services gradually being restored as winds weakenFerry services were gradually being restored on Wednesday evening, as the National Weather Service (EMY) forecast a gradual weakening of northerly winds that had reached regionally a velocity of 8 to 9 on the Beaufort scale.
In Piraeus port, the first ferry departed shortly after 18.30 and will be followed at 21.00 by three ferries bound for Crete and another for Chios and Mytilini.
A ferry for Syros and other nearby islands is scheduled to leave at 23.30 and two more heading for the Cyclades are scheduled to leave at 23.59. Ferry services to the islands of the Saronic Gulf are running normally.
In Rafina port, a ferry service for Marmari at 17.30 was cancelled due to strong winds and there are no other services scheduled for the evening. The same applies for the port of Lavrio.
Services linking Volos to Sporades islands, Kavala to Prinos, Keramoti to Thasos island, Igoumenitsa to Corfu and to Lefkimmi, Kyllini to Zakynthos or Kefallonia and Rio to Antirrio are running on schedule.
The ban on ferry services continues to apply in the line Agia Marina-Nea Styra.
 Cargo ship runs aground off Andros island, all rescuedThe total of the 22 crewmen on board the Cyprus-flagged cargo ship "GOODFAITH", which ran aground off the north coasts of Andros island early on Wednesday due to adverse weather conditions, have been rescued.
The first 18 people were rescued earlier with the assistance of two "Super Puma" helicopters and the remaining four with the help of Special Unit for disasters EMAK.
Eight of them were transferred to Elefsis and the rest of them to Andros.
The freighter, which was empty of cargo, was heading from the Greek port of Elefsis to Odessa, Ukraine.
 IOCC organisation announces programme to fight children's malnutrition in GreeceTwenty-five agriculture cooperatives in Greece will receive support in food production, standardisation of farming practices, warehousing facilities, sales and member training and in return commit a portion of their production to people in need in their communities, especially children, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) announced from Baltimore, Maryland on Tuesday (local time).
IOCC - the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America - said the programme will be funded by the Jaharis Family Foundation through a USD1 million challenge grant.
The organisation said the programme will help Greek families in search of work and opportunities in agriculture-related businesses, with an emphasis on preventing children's malnutrition as a result of the prolonged economic crisis. IOCC cited UNICEF figures according to which more than 300,000 children in Greece now live in families that cannot afford to provide a healthy diet including meat or fish; one in four live in poverty, and one-third are at risk of poverty.
"The numbers are shocking and the impact on hard-working people faced with such prolonged unemployment is having deeply-felt social, economic and psychological effects on families," said Constantine Triantafilou, IOCC executive director. For the past three years, Triantafilou has been coordinating relief efforts with Apostoli, the social service agency of the Church of Greece.
In addition to the assistance to farmers and the grocery card program, IOCC will continue to provide food aid through Apostoli and the Church of Greece, heating fuel to institutions serving the elderly, children and people with disabilities in northern Greece, and support to public hospitals to address huge shortages due to budget cuts in the public health sector. More than 700,000 Greeks are expected to benefit from medical supplies planned for delivery to Greece this year.
 Gruesome find on Corfu shore possibly linked to Norman Atlantic tragedyA mutilated body washed up on the southwest shore of the Ionian island of Corfu five days ago most likely belongs to a missing female passenger of the Norman Atlantic ferry, the medical examiner's office said on Wednesday.
The unidentified body was missing the lower limbs, possibly eaten by sharks, and according to evidence, the cause of death was drowning.
Corfu Medical Examiner Ioannis Aivatidis told ANA-MPA that the body's decomposition stage coincides with the Norman Atlantic tragedy and may possibly belong to one of its missing passengers.
According to forensic evidence, the body belongs to a woman of average height, between 40 and 50 years old and DNA testing will be required in order for the remains to be identified.
The case file will be delivered to the Corfu Port Authority to be forwarded to the Italian authorities in charge of the Norman Atlantic investigation.
The Norman Atlantic was carrying over 470 passengers and several crew when a fire broke out in the car parking area on December 28, 2014, after the ferry had left Igoumenitsa in northwestern Greece for Ancona, Italy. At least 11 people died and almost two dozen are considered missing. The Italian-flagged ship was leased by the Greek ferry company ANEK and has been towed to Italy for investigation.
 Council of State strikes down presidential decree for construction of mall in Akadimia PlatonosThe 5th section of the Council of State, Greece's supreme administrative court, on Wednesday rejected a draft presidential decree outlining modified planning permission terms in Athens' Akadimia Platonos (Plato's Academy) area as partially illegal. The court's opinion is expected to create serious obstacles to the planned construction of the 'Academy Gardens' shopping mall in the area.
The court objected to changes raising the maximum allowable height of constructions, which is central to the project.
The proposed investment is in a 615,000 square metre property that formerly housed the Mouzakis textile mill (Kifissos Avenue 60), where the company Artume SA Development of Real Estate and Movable Assets intends to invest 300 million euros for the construction of a 55,000 square metre shopping and recreational mall (Academy Gardens). The company owns 19.700 square metres in block 124 of this area.
The presidential decree submitted to the CoS called for a modification of current building restrictions for city blocks 124 through 128 and 75 in the Athens town plan, setting the building coverage coefficient to 2.1 and raising the maximum height of buildings to 24 metres, while retaining the remaining rules of the new building code. The court, however, found that the increased height was not legal.
 Flu outbreak death toll rises to 42, authorities reportThree more people died from flu in Greece this week, raising the total number to 42, authorities said on Wednesday.
Patients who have been hospitalized in intensive care units since the start of the flu season have reached 108. Of those, 35 continue to be monitored in those units.
 Public transport promotional campaign on Sunday includes several activities for childrenEvents promoting the benefits of public transport will take place at the Syntagma metro station in downtown Athens on Sunday, February 15.
The events, to take place from 11:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon, will include workshops for children, performances, interactive games, a photography competition and face painting among other things.
The events are being hosted by the Athens public transport organisation and "WWF-Better Life" programme, which is sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
 Tram employees call off Thursday's work stoppageNo disruptions are expected on tramway services on Thursday as employees suspended a three-hour work stoppage they had called so as to participate in a general meeting of their union.
 Clouds and possibly sleet on ThursdayOvercast with a possibility for sleet or snow and mainly northerly winds are forecast for Thursday. Wind velocity will reach 8 on the Beaufort scale. Partly cloudy in the northern parts of the country and temperatures ranging between -9C and 8C. Mostly fair weather in the western parts with temperatures between -4C and 12C. Overcast and light snowfall in the eastern parts with temperatures between -3C and 8C. Clouds with rain or sleet over the islands, 3C-7C. Partly cloudy with possibility of snowfall in Athens, temperatures between -4C and 6C. Partly cloudy in Thessaloniki, temperatures between -1C and 6C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: The whole Greece at the Eurogroup
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: In a pit of lions
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: The key points at the Eurogroup struggle
ESTIA: High taxes will bring recession
ETHNOS: New taxes for real estate and income
IMERISSIA: "Battle" in Brussels. The Eurogroup will point either to agreement or rupture
KATHIMERINI: Athens and Berlin with hard line
NAFTEMPORIKI: The first critical test
RIZOSPASTIS: A new agreement with whatever name will have the old and anti-popular terms
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