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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 15-02-26

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

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

Thursday, 26 February 2015 Issue No: 4895

CONTENTS

  • [01] Gov't economy officials meet to discuss four-month funding gap
  • [02] PM Tsipras briefs SYRIZA MPs on the negotiation with the partners
  • [03] SYRIZA's MPs support the Eurogroup agreement
  • [04] Gov't spokesman: Approved list is vague and without commitments
  • [05] FinMin Varoufakis: Tax evasion crackdown is government's top priority
  • [06] ND spokesman on FinMin Varoufakis' statements
  • [07] KKE on FinMin Varoufakis' statements
  • [08] The next four months will be a period of daily negotiations, Labour Minister Skourletis says
  • [09] EU's Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker comment on Greek agreement, at Europarliament
  • [10] There are still doubts on the credibility of the Greek government's commitments, Schaeuble says
  • [11] ANEL leader Kammenos says his party will ask for examining committee on the memorandum
  • [12] Greece's reform list to the Eurogroup
  • [13] Greece cannot decide on privatisations alone, German finance min spokesman says
  • [14] Potami leader Theodorakis in Brussels meets with Europarliament group
  • [15] Former FinMin Papaconstantinou trial by special court opens on Wednesday
  • [16] Former FinMin Papaconstantinou appears before Special Court, denies all charges
  • [17] Former finance minister Papaconstantinou's office director testifies in opening trial
  • [18] Parliament votes against lifting of immunity of ND MP Georgiadis after heated debate
  • [19] European Commission Representation in Greece and European Parliament Office in Greece to hold conferences in Ioannina, Arta
  • [20] Alt. FM Chountis meets in Athens with French Sec'y of State for European Affairs Desir
  • [21] Alternate FM Tsakalotos meets with Tunisian Ambassador Tarek Saadi
  • [22] New Democracy spokesman on irregular migrants and detention centers
  • [23] Potami party leader meets with Europarliament president in Brussels
  • [24] KKE tables draft bill on the abolition of memorandums
  • [25] Education and Religion Minister meets with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos
  • [26] Greek gov't unveils plan to deal with NPLs
  • [27] Primary surplus target of 3.0 pct would be catastrophic for the economy, Varoufakis says
  • [28] Greek budget surplus down in Jan
  • [29] Alt. Min. for the Environment Tsironis says healthy entrepreneurship has nothing to fear
  • [30] Greek-Eurasian Business Council to start works on Thursday
  • [31] Greek stocks end lower on profit-taking
  • [32] Greek bond market closing report
  • [33] ADEX closing report
  • [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Wednesday
  • [35] Three hostages abducted from Greek oil tanker released in Nigeria
  • [36] Charred remains on board "Norman Atlantic" allegedly belong to Greek truck driver
  • [37] Large quantity of contraband cigarettes confiscated
  • [38] Man to be tried for insulting hospital doctor of Nigerian descent in Kozani, NGreece
  • [39] "Carioca" sweet of Xanthi travels abroad
  • [40] Lawyer convicted of extortion in land swaps case involving Vatopedi Monastery
  • [41] Cooperation between civil protection ministry and Attiki regional authority
  • [42] Flu outbreak death toll rises to 63, authorities report
  • [43] One arrest near Ioannina for overdue debts to the state
  • [44] Super League games suspended for a week after match violence
  • [45] Clouds and rain on Thursday
  • [46] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] Gov't economy officials meet to discuss four-month funding gap

    The funding gap of Greece's four-month grace period granted by its lenders to end-April before its finances being reviewed was the main focus of a meeting held by government finance officials on Wednesday.

    Greece's funding gap has skyrocketed to around 5-7 billion euros (instead of the 2.5 million foreseen before elections), according to a finance ministry source.

    Meanwhile, in separate statements, Finance Minister George Stathakis told the press after the meeting that in the immediate future Greece will discuss with its lenders how to cover smoothly and securely the funding for the four-month interim period. He insisted there would be no lack of funding and said it was important to be patient for two or three more months.

    The government is considering issuing treasury bills and using the European Central Bank's profits from Greek bonds it already holds.

    The meeting included Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, Alternate Finance Ministers Nadia Valavani and Dimitris Mardas, and Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism Minister George Stathakis.

    [02] PM Tsipras briefs SYRIZA MPs on the negotiation with the partners

    Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday during a meeting of SYRIZA's parliamentary group briefed his deputies in detail over what has taken place since the new government took over with the focus being mainly on the negotiation issues, government sources said.

    Tsipras referred to the difficulties and the climate the new government had to face, the alliances that were formed and the conflicts that took place, how things progressed from one Eurogroup meeting to the other and how the government managed to secure a strong negotiation position.

    According to the same sources, the premier referred to the government's achievements during that period of time, which are:

  • the distinction of the loan agreement from the memorandum

  • the disengagement from the memoranda, as an austerity policy framework

  • the interim agreement, which gives a breather to the Greek people

  • the avoidance of a plan aimed at economic and fiscal asphyxiation and essentially aimed at the government being considered a "left parenthesis"

  • the end of unrealistic primary surpluses

  • the normality in the financial system by reaching an agreement at the Eurogroup

    Regarding the list of the reforms sent to the partners, Tsipras noted that the government managed to replace the measures of the previous government with a series of targets by the new government based on the Thessaloniki programme. He stressed that a step has been taken, that things are tough and that the government is judged by its ability to negotiate and govern.

    He also said the government should quickly put forward the government's work, specify reforms and "build" credibility on the basis of implementing those reforms along with credibility to the partners about "being willing to make the necessary changes in thorny issues that persist for decades."

    [03] SYRIZA's MPs support the Eurogroup agreement

    The marathon meeting of SYRIZA's parliamentary group ended on Wednesday evening, having started at 10.45 am, during which lawmakers were briefed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Greece's negotiations with its partners.

    According to government sources, Tsipras asked his MPs to reveal by show of hands whether they support the Eurogroup agreement, with the majority voting in favour.

    "The result of the agreement will depend and will be judged from the way we will work as a government. We promote the work of the government swiftly and we govern based on the popular mandate," Tsipras said at the end of the meeting.

    "We will wait to see the process in foreign parliaments and then we will frame a political proposal in the next two to three days," he added.

    [04] Gov't spokesman: Approved list is vague and without commitments

    The fact that the list approved by the Eurogroup is vague and without commitments is good for the Greek citizens, government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis said on Wednesday.

    Speaking to private ANT1 TV, he said that in this way there is room for interventions by the government and underlined that (Finance Minister Yanis) Varoufakis' list includes specific positive points that did not exist in the past.

    He underlined that many of those that are included in the Thessaloniki programme are also included in the reforms list and noted that this indicates that "when there is negotiation many things can be gained."

    Sakellaridis also said that "deliberation with the institutions on the draft law will take place before their voting" while referring to the measures for which there will be fiscal cost, he clarified that they will be discussed with the institutions.

    [05] FinMin Varoufakis: Tax evasion crackdown is government's top priority

    NEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)

    Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis referred to the government's priority for tax evasion crackdown, in statements to the US broadcaster CNBC, after Eurogroup's approval of the list with the Greek government's proposals on Tuesday.

    "How much money do we expect? We do not know, it is like an archaeological dig" he noted adding "You never know what exactly you will find. Hopefully you might find a great treasure. I am sure that we will find a treasure. The question is if we have the means to do so."

    On liquidity, Varoufakis noted that "when a cash flow problem exists but the long-term data is good, we are certain that Europe will deal with this problem. Can you imagine Europe to face the risk of dissolution for a couple of billion euros?" he said.

    CNBC said on its website that the four-month extension will allow Greece's "restoration of confidence relations" with its European partners.

    [06] ND spokesman on FinMin Varoufakis' statements

    New Democracy spokesman Costas Karagounis on Wednesday issued a statement on Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis' comments to a radio station earlier in the day.

    "He continues questioning the recovery of the Greek economy. We remind him that all international organizations confirm it; European and non-European ones. And, of course, the recovery is estimated in real GDP terms, not in nominal ones... And now Varoufakis decided to change the basis of the estimate ... He is hiding that in his own non-papers that he submitted a few days ago to the two Eurogroup meetings and that he published, he praises the fiscal achievements of the previous government and admits to the "fragile recovery" that has begun. He says one thing to the Greek radio stations and quite another to his Europeans counterparts. He forgets, however, that the Samaras government was handed over 7 percent recession in 2012. And two and a half years later it handed over a 0.82 percent growth. And a 2.5 -2.9 percent growth was expected for this year. Always in real GDP terms.

    And with the improvisations by Mr. Varoufakis, these growth forecasts have been now halved, while some even fear that Greece would return to recession. This was his main "achievement" so far ... He also says a number of inaccurate things; with the most extreme one being the statement that the so-called Hardouvelis e-mail reportedly provided for a VAT increase on the islands. This is a lie. On the contrary, it is his "list of measures" that leaves this possibility open. But he probably does not understand what he has signed. He does not understand that the decision of the Eurogroup which he also signed on behalf of the new Greek government welcomes the great progress made in recent years in Greece," Karagounis said in his statement.

    "Someone simply needs to read his own list and the Hardouvelis e-mail to understand that he signed the same things; and sometimes worse...He took upon a country that was about to exit the memoranda once and for good and now he celebrates for leading it...to a new memorandum. He admits that the "nominal debt haircut" which his party promised, has already been cancelled and that the privatizations, which his party promised to cancel, will proceed normally. He also pledged to continue the reforms that he had promised to annul. And he is trying to make the full breach of his pre-election pledges appear as "success" and his full adaptation to the current Memorandum as a "successful negotiation," he added.

    [07] KKE on FinMin Varoufakis' statements

    "Even the crumbs that the Thessaloniki programme provided for, especially for extreme poverty, which supposedly would be implemented regardless of the negotiations, are now turned into the maintaining of the tax raid and the postponement of their implementation to the unknown future, always in relation to the fiscal discipline and the agreement with their partners," communist KKE party said in a announcement regarding Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis' statements on taxation.

    [08] The next four months will be a period of daily negotiations, Labour Minister Skourletis says

    The next four months will be a period of daily negotiations, Labour Minister Panos Skourletis told Mega TV on Wednesday, adding that things are not easy.

    "We have entered on a different track," he said and added that Greece's funding needs until August are very big.

    "Based on the country's obligations from now until August, we know that there are huge funding needs. Secondly, there is need to quantify some of our measures and some of our targets in relation with the State revenues. And all these will soon be specified," Skourletis underlined.

    "The issue of any funding during this four month period has not opened. This issue is in air. So the negotiation on this issue and its correlation with the big issue of the debt sustainability is something that runs in parallel to the government work these four months," he noted.

    Regarding the Eurogroup's decision, he focused on the fact that there is no troika, which had nothing to do with democratic legitimacy. "It was a hybrid structure, related to the Greek case; this is past," he said.

    Skourletis stressed the need of understanding that Greece's relations with its EU partners and the IMF have changed. "We know that we are in a very difficult position, we know that the problems are ahead, the road is long and difficult, but we are in a new quality situation," he stated.

    According to Skourletis, the labour issues included in the list are necessary because the abolition of the collective negotiations and the reduction of minimum wage have not helped the country's competitiveness and productivity. On the contrary, the purchasing power and incomes have decreased by 25 percent along with a 1.0 percent fall in productivity.

    On the restoration of the minimum wage in 2016, he said: "We want it to be made in such a way in order to benefit everyone."

    [09] EU's Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker comment on Greek agreement, at Europarliament

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)

    Greece's agreement with its EU and IMF lenders was one of the issues raised in a debate at a European Parliament's plenary session with European Council and Commission Presidents Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

    Tusk expressed satisfaction over the agreement and said that in the February 12 EU Summit state leaders were briefed by the Eurogroup president on the progress of negotiations, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras presented his proposals.

    Juncker defended the Commission's active role in negotiations which he said focused on unity and on condemning any possible rift in the EU. If the EU had not done what had to be done, he said, there would have been no agreement on Greece.

    He added that the Commission respects the election results in Greece but election outcomes cannot change the pacts and agreements already signed. If every election threw procedures and rules in doubt, we would have killed Europe, he said.

    Austrian MEP Othmar Karas criticised Tsipras' statements that "Greece won a battle but not the war" as detrimental to building trust between all sides. The first thing he heard Tsipras say after winning national elections was that Greece wants to remain in the eurozone and needs Europe's help, Karas noted. He had not heard any specific proposal to help Greece from either Russia or China, therefore its was up to EU members to help, he said, calling for collaboration and respect among them.

    [10] There are still doubts on the credibility of the Greek government's commitments, Schaeuble says

    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Wednesday it had not been an easy decision for euro zone finance ministers to extend Greece's loan agreement by four months and much doubt remained about how credible Athens' latest reform commitments really were, Reuters news agency reported.

    "It wasn't an easy decision for us but neither was it easy for the Greek government because (they) had told the people something completely different in the campaign and afterwards," the German finance minister told SWR2 radio according to Reuters.

    "The question now is whether one can believe the Greek government's assurances or not. There's a lot of doubt in Germany, that has to be understood," said Schaeuble. Despite his misgivings, he has urged German lawmakers to approve the Greek extension in a vote in parliament expected on Friday.

    [11] ANEL leader Kammenos says his party will ask for examining committee on the memorandum

    Independent Greeks (ANEL) decided that they will seek the setting up of an examinining committee on how Greece got into the memorandum, according to ANEL leader Panos Kammenos' statement at its party's parliamentary group meeting that was concluded earlier on Wednesday.

    Kammenos said that "ANEL's parliamentary group unanimously decided the drawing up of a text on the establishment of an examining committee."

    According to ANA-MPA sources, Kammenos briefed his deputies on the developments related to the Eurogroup and said that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis negotiated under very harsh and difficult conditions adding that it was the first time that Germany was set aside.

    [12] Greece's reform list to the Eurogroup

    The Finance ministry released Greece's reform list that was sent to the European institutions after the Eurogroup of February 20, 2015. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis' letter to the president of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem is attached to the list. The English version follows:

    Dear President of the Eurogroup,

    In the Eurogroup of 20 February 2015 the Greek government was invited to present to the institutions, by Monday 23rd February 2015, a first comprehensive list of reform measures it is envisaging, to be further specified and agreed by the end of April 2015.

    In addition to codifying its reform agenda, in accordance with PM Tsipras' programmatic statement to Greece's Parliament, the Greek government also committed to working in close agreement with European partners and institutions, as well as with the International Monetary Fund, and take actions that strengthen fiscal sustainability, guarantee financial stability and promote economic recovery.

    The first comprehensive list of reform measures follows below, as envisaged by the Greek government. It is our intention to implement them while drawing upon available technical assistance and financing from the European Structural and Investment Funds.

    Truly

    Yanis Varoufakis

    Minister of Finance

    Hellenic Republic

    I. Fiscal structural policies

    Tax policies - Greece commits to:

  • Reform VAT policy, administration and enforcement. Robust efforts will be made to improve collection and fight evasion making full use of electronic means and other technological innovations. VAT policy will be rationalised in relation to rates that will be streamlined in a manner that maximises actual revenues without a negative impact on social justice, and with a view to limiting exemptions while eliminating unreasonable discounts.

  • Modify the taxation of collective investment and income tax expenditures which will be integrated in the income tax code.

  • Broaden definition of tax fraud and evasion while disbanding tax immunity.

  • Modernising the income tax code and eliminating from it tax code exemptions and replacing them, when necessary, with social justice enhancing measures.

  • Resolutely enforce and improve legislation on transfer pricing.

  • Work toward creating a new culture of tax compliance to ensure that all sections of society, and especially the well-off, contribute fairly to the financing of public policies. In this context, establish with the assistance of European and international partners, a wealth database that assists the tax authorities in gauging the veracity of previous income tax returns.

    Public Finance Management - Greece will:

  • Adopt amendments to the Organic Budget Law and take steps to improve public finance management. Budget implementation will be improved and clarified as will control and reporting responsibilities. Payment procedures will be modernised and accelerated while providing a higher degree of financial and budgetary flexibility and accountability for independent and/or regulatory entities.

  • Devise and implement a strategy on the clearance of arrears, tax refunds and pension claims.

  • Turn the already established (though hitherto dormant) Fiscal Council into a fully operational entity.

    Revenue administration - Greece will modernise the tax and custom administrations benefiting from available technical assistance. To this end Greece will:

  • Enhance the openness, transparency and international reach of the process by which the General Secretary of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues is appointed, monitored in terms of performance, and replaced.

  • Strengthen the independence of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues (GSPR), if necessary through further legislation, from all sorts of interference

    (political or otherwise) while guaranteeing full accountability and transparency of its operations. To this end, the government and the GSPR will make full use of available technical assistance.

  • Staff adequately, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the GSPR and in particular the high wealth and large debtors units of the revenue administration and ensure that it has strong investigative/prosecution powers, and resources building on SDOE's capacities, so as to target effectively tax fraud by, and tax arrears of, high income social groups. Consider the merits of integrating SDOE into GSPR.

  • Augment inspections, risk-based audits, and collection capacities while seeking to integrate the functions of revenue and social security collection across the general government.

    Public spending - The Greek authorities will:

  • Review and control spending in every area of government spending (e.g. education, defence, transport, local government, social benefits)

  • Work toward drastically improving the efficiency of central and local government administered departments and units by targeting budgetary processes, management restructuring, and reallocation of poorly deployed resources.

  • Identify cost saving measures through a thorough spending review of every

    Ministry and rationalisation of non-salary and non-pension expenditures which, at present, account for an astounding 56% of total public expenditure.

  • Implement legislation (currently in draft form at the General Accounts Office - GAO) to review non-wage benefits expenditure across the public sector.

  • Validate benefits through cross checks within the relevant authorities and registries (e.g. Tax Number Registry, AMKA registry) that will help identify non-eligible beneficiaries.

  • Control health expenditure and improve the provision and quality of medical services, while granting universal access. In this context, the government intends to table specific proposals in collaboration with European and international institutions, including the OECD.

    Social security reform - Greece is committed to continue modernising the pension system. The authorities will:

  • Continue to work on administrative measures to unify and streamline pension policies and eliminate loopholes and incentives that give rise to an excessive rate of early retirements throughout the economy and, more specifically, in the banking and public sectors.

  • Consolidate pension funds to achieve savings.

  • Phase out charges on behalf of 'third parties' (nuisance charges) in a fiscally neutral manner.

  • Establish a closer link between pension contributions and income, streamline benefits, strengthen incentives to declare paid work, and provide targeted assistance to employees between 50 and 65, including through a Guaranteed

    Basic Income scheme, so as to eliminate the social and political pressure for early retirement which over-burdens the pension funds.

    Public administration & corruption - Greece wants a modern public administration. It will:

  • Turn the fight against corruption into a national priority and operationalize fully the National Plan Against Corruption.

  • Target fuel and tobacco products' smuggling, monitor prices of imported goods (to prevent revenue losses during the importation process), and tackle money laundering. The government intends immediately to set itself ambitious revenue targets, in these areas, to be pursued under the coordination of the newly established position of Minister of State.

  • Reduce (a) the number of Ministries (from 16 to 10), (b) the number of

    'special advisors' in general government; and (c) fringe benefits of ministers, Members of Parliament and top officials (e.g. cars, travel expenses, allowances)

  • Tighten the legislation concerning the funding of political parties and include maximum levels of borrowing from financial and other institutions.

  • Activate immediately the current (though dormant) legislation that regulates the revenues of media (press and electronic), ensuring (through appropriately designed auctions) that they pay the state market prices for frequencies used, and prohibits the continued operation of permanently loss-making media outlets (without a transparent process of recapitalisation)

  • Establish a transparent, electronic, real time institutional framework for public tenders/procurement - re-establishing DIAVGEIA (a side-lined online public registry of activities relating to public procurement)

  • Reform the public sector wage grid with a view to decompressing the wage distribution through productivity gains and appropriate recruitment policies without reducing the current wage floors but safeguarding that the public sector's wage bill will not increase

  • Rationalise non-wage benefits, to reduce overall expenditure, without imperilling the functioning of the public sector and in accordance with EU good practices

  • Promote measures to: improve recruitment mechanisms, encourage merit-based managerial appointments, base staff appraisals on genuine evaluation, and establish fair processes for maximising mobility of human and other resources within the public sector

    II. Financial stability

    Instalment schemes - Greece commits to

  • Improve swiftly, in agreement with the institutions, the legislation for repayments of tax and social security arrears

  • Calibrate instalment schemes in a manner that helps discriminate efficiently between: (a) strategic default/non-payment and (b) inability to pay; targeting case (a) individuals/firms by means of civil and criminal procedures (especially amongst high income groups) while offering case (b) individuals/firms repayment terms in a manner that enables potentially solvent enterprises to survive, averts free-riding, annuls moral hazard, and reinforces social responsibility as well as a proper re-payment culture.

  • De-criminalise lower income debtors with small liabilities

  • Step up enforcement methods and procedures, including the legal framework for collecting unpaid taxes and effectively implement collection tools

    Banking and Non-Performing loans. Greece is committed to:

  • Banks that are run on sound commercial/banking principles

  • Utilise fully the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund and ensure, in collaboration with the SSM, the ECB and the European Commission, that it plays well its key role of securing the banking sector's stability and its lending on commercial basis while complying with EU competition rules.

  • Dealing with non-performing loans in a manner that considers fully the banks' capitalisation (taking into account the adopted Code of Conduct for Banks), the functioning of the judiciary system, the state of the real estate market, social justice issues, and any adverse impact on the government's fiscal position.

  • Collaborating with the banks' management and the institutions to avoid, in the forthcoming period, auctions of the main residence of households below a certain income threshold, while punishing strategic defaulters, with a view to:

    (a) maintaining society's support for the government's broad reform program,

    (b) preventing a further fall in real estate asset prices (that would have an adverse effect on the banks' own portfolio), (c) minimising the fiscal impact of greater homelessness, and (d) promoting a strong payment culture. Measures will be taken to support the most vulnerable households who are unable to service their loans

  • Align the out-of-court workout law with the instalment schemes after their amendment, to limit risks to public finances and the payment culture, while facilitating private debt restructuring.

  • Modernise bankruptcy law and address the backlog of cases

    III. Policies to promote growth

    Privatisation and public asset management - To attract investment in key sectors and utilise the state's assets efficiently, the Greek authorities will:

  • Commit not to roll back privatisations that have been completed. Where the tender process has been launched the government will respect the process, according to the law.

  • Safeguard the provision of basic public goods and services by privatised firms/industries in line with national policy goals and in compliance with EU legislation.

  • Review privatisations that have not yet been launched, with a view to improving the terms so as to maximise the state's long term benefits, generate revenues, enhance competition in the local economies, promote national economic recovery, and stimulate long term growth prospects.

  • Adopt, henceforth, an approach whereby each new case will be examined separately and on its merits, with an emphasis on long leases, joint ventures (private-public collaboration) and contracts that maximise not only government revenues but also prospective levels of private investment.

  • Unify (HRDAF) with various public asset management agencies (which are currently scattered across the public sector) with a view to developing state assets and enhancing their value through microeconomic and property rights' reforms.

    Labor market reforms - Greece commits to:

  • Achieve EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation through a process of consultation with the social partners while benefitting from the expertise and existing input of the ILO, the OECD and the available technical assistance.

  • Expand and develop the existing scheme that provides temporary employment for the unemployed, in agreement with partners and when fiscal space permits and improve the active labour market policy programmes with the aim to updating the skills of the long term unemployed.

  • Phasing in a new 'smart' approach to collective wage bargaining that balances the needs for flexibility with fairness. This includes the ambition to streamline and over time raise minimum wages in a manner that safeguards competiveness and employment prospects. The scope and timing of changes to the minimum wage will be made in consultation with social partners and the European and international institutions, including the ILO, and take full account of advice from a new independent body on whether changes in wages are in line with productivity developments and competitiveness.

    Product market reforms and a better business environment - As part of a new reform agenda, Greece remains committed to:

  • Removing barriers to competition based on input from the OECD.

  • Strengthen the Hellenic Competition Commission.

  • Introduce actions to reduce the burdens of administrative burden of bureaucracy in line with the OECD's input, including legislation that bans public sector units from requesting (from citizens and business) documents certifying information that the state already possesses (within the same or some other unit).

  • Better land use management, including policies related to spatial planning, land use, and the finalisation of a proper Land Registry

  • Pursue efforts to lift disproportionate and unjustified restrictions in regulated professions as part of the overall strategy to tackle vested interests.

  • Align gas and electricity market regulation with EU good practices and legislation

    Reform of the judicial system - The Greek government will:

  • Improve the organisation of courts through greater specialisation and, in this context, adopt a new Code of Civil Procedure.

  • Promote the digitisation of legal codes and the electronic submission system, and governance, of the judicial system.

    Statistics - The Greek government reaffirms its readiness to:

  • Honour fully the Commitment on Confidence in Statistics, and in particular the institutional independence of ELSTAT, ensuring that ELSTAT has the necessary resources to implement its work programme.

  • Guarantee the transparency and propriety of the process of appointment of the ELSTAT President in September 2015, in cooperation with EUROSTAT.

    IV. Humanitarian Crisis - The Greek government affirms its plan to:

  • Address needs arising from the recent rise in absolute poverty (inadequate access to nourishment, shelter, health services and basic energy provision) by means of highly targeted non-pecuniary measures (e.g. food stamps).

  • Do so in a manner that is helpful to the reforming of public administration and the fight against bureaucracy/corruption (e.g. the issuance of a Citizen Smart Card that can be used as an ID card, in the Health System, as well as for gaining access to the food stamp program etc.).

  • Evaluate the pilot Minimum Guaranteed Income scheme with a view to extending it nationwide.

  • Ensure that its fight against the humanitarian crisis has no negative fiscal effect.

    [13] Greece cannot decide on privatisations alone, German finance min spokesman says

    German finance ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger on Wednesday said that the Greek government alone could not decide to delay or stop Greek privatisations and that it was far too early to talk about a third bailout programme, Reuters news agency reported.

    Asked about possible delays in Greece's privatisation plans, he told reporters:

    "If the Greek government were to cherish such an intention, it would have to be closely agreed with the troika."

    "It is far too early to talk about a third bailout programme," he said at a regular government news conference, adding raising the question of a debt haircut for Greece was "misguided and incomprehensible".

    [14] Potami leader Theodorakis in Brussels meets with Europarliament group

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Spinthourakis)

    To Potami party leader Stavros Theodorakis had a one-hour discussion with deputies of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group at the European Parliament's plenary session in Brussels on Wednesday.

    In a question and answer period, Theodorakis said that his party would support the Greek government "in its true reforms" but criticised the first changes, in education, as being "backward". His party would vote for measures to fight tax evasion and limit corruption, he said.

    In reference to (EU) institutions, he said that "if I were an institution, I would press the Greeks more for reforms, not cutbacks," because there is no economic revival with constant austerity.

    The political system wasted the money given, Theodorakis said, "and I do not mean just the politician, who stole; corruption in Greece had a lot of intersecting circles. It would start from friends of ministers and interests and end up at friends of the political parties, who always pressed to keep things as they were in the public sector, social insurance, education, health and their farm fields - that's the way the Greek problem was created."

    Talking about the economic crisis' social repercussions, the party leader said that what happened in Greece "was something beyond a crisis - it was the collapse of a whole society, a collapse following an irrational rise based on decayed foundations of a loan-based feast."

    [15] Former FinMin Papaconstantinou trial by special court opens on Wednesday

    The trial of former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou by a special court over his handling of the so-called Lagarde list of Greece's large-scale depositors in a Swiss bank starts on Wednesday.

    The special court meets in the plenary court room of the Supreme Court (Areios Pagos). Sessions - apart from the one on Wednesday - will be held in the late afternoon and conclude at night.

    Papaconstantinou is facing the criminal charges of tampering with a public document and attempted breach of trust.?

    The documents that were erased from the so-called "Lagarde list" concerned three relatives of Papaconstantinou. According to the indictment decree, Papaconstantinou tampered with the list since he erased the names of his three relatives in order to conceal the fact that the names of his relatives were contained in the CD of the list and, thus, to avoid damaging his political image as a Finance Minister as well as to illegaly benefit his three relatives, since they would avoid the tax audit."

    Nevertheless, the audit conducted found "that between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2011, his relatives had concealed taxable income."

    The special court will be presided over by Supreme Court judge Nikolaos Passos, with Xeni Dimitriou-Vassilopoulou as prosecutor.

    [16] Former FinMin Papaconstantinou appears before Special Court, denies all charges

    Former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Wednesday appeared before the Special Court in the first day of his trial over his handling of the so-called Lagarde list of Greece's large-scale depositors in a Swiss bank.

    Papaconstantinou, who is facing the criminal charges of tampering with a public document and attempted breach of trust, told the court: "I am innocent, I categorically deny all charges."

    Papaconstantinou said he did not wish to have photos of him taken, but the presiding judge Nikolaos Passos replied he was a public figure that attracts media attention.

    [17] Former finance minister Papaconstantinou's office director testifies in opening trial

    The former finance minister George Papaconstantinou's office director Chryssa Chadzi on Wednesday testified before a special court trying the former official for allegedly removing as a minister relatives' names from the so-called Lagarde list, an electronic file with the names of roughly 2,000 Greeks with sizeable accounts in HSBC who were being audited for income tax liabilities.

    Papaconstantinou is facing criminal charges of tampering with a public document and attempted breach of trust in a trial that opened earlier today.

    Hatzi testified that the former minister had told her that he was expecting a confidential envelope from the Greek embassy in France and that he wanted her to receive it. Later in the afternoon of that day, she received the envelope delivered by an employee at the Greek embassy in Paris.

    The witness told the court that the envelope was not registered because she had orders to hand-deliver it to the former minister, noting that she was not aware of its contents.

    According to her testimony, in a meeting held afterward Papaconstantinou had said that he had received information about deposits in a Swiss bank amounting roughly to 2 billion euros. In the meeting it was decided that the list would be crosschecked and if necessary a special financial crimes squad (SDOE) unit would be established to carry out the investigation.

    She also said that she was not aware if the former minister handed the contents of the envelope to one of his associates and underlined that his office had security and nothing could be stolen from it.

    The court adjourned until tomorrow Thursday when more witnesses will be called to testify.

    [18] Parliament votes against lifting of immunity of ND MP Georgiadis after heated debate

    The Parliament late on Tuesday rejected a request for the lifting of the immunity status of New Democracy deputy Adonis Georgiadis, with 216 deputies voting against the motion and 7 MPs voting "present."

    The parliamentary process was concluded following four hours of heated debate and after parliamentarians decided the whole procedure should be wrapped up on Tuesday night.

    Tension ran high when Parliament President Zoi Konstantopoulou recommended that the parliamentary process should be postponed for Wednesday, having the unanimous decision of the parliament's presidium. Konstantopoulou claimed that a decision by the relevant prosecutor not to allow the six Golden Dawn detained deputies to attend the parliamentary session was not adequately justified.

    ND and PASOK parliamentary spokespeople Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Yiannis Koutsoukos reacted and expressed doubts as to whether the decision was taken unanimously by the presidium.

    Georgiadis himself also reacted, asking for the continuation of the debate, while former Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis spoke of a faux pas on the part of Konstantopoulou.

    "I will not speak of 'somersaults' or say that you accepted the memoranda back and that you want to impose this kind of debate on the parliament. You either allow us to speak up and express our opinion in the parliament or you close it down," Meimarakis said.

    PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos also criticized Konstantopoulou saying she is using her institutional office to express her partisan political views. He also spoke of an unprecedented insult of the constitutional order and a counter-institutional effort on the part of Konstantopoulou so as to push and affect justice by violating the distinction of powers.

    "When will the government table the extension of the memorandum in parliament for voting?" Venizelos asked.

    "This parliament will not vote for an extension of the memorandum; so don't worry," Konstantopoulou replied.

    "You will not run away from the truth. You will hold a voting. The true issue is the violation of the Constitution. You are afraid of your deputies and the truth," Venizelos said.

    "The sensitivity shown by the presidium to bring this matter to the House is noted as an effort to restore the quality that this Parliament needs. The government does not even consider intervening or dictating its opinion to the prosecutor. This discussion gives the opportunity to the legislative, the executive and the judicial power to contemplate and behave on the basis of common sense and reason," Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis commented.

    "Essence and not impressions is what matters in Democracy. The Parliament can take decisions without depending on the judges' ones," ND deputy Dora Bakoyannis said.

    "The President of the Parliament did not express her own view and wish, but the unanimous decision of those participating in the presidium. There was a debate, just as Democracy calls for," Konstantopoulou insisted.

    Those who had coloured candidates in their ballot tickets cannot pretend to honour the institutions and speak of the distinction of powers, Golden Dawn parliamentary spokesman Ilias Papagiotaros said. Potami parliamentary spokesman Haris Theoharis as well as Thanassis Pafilis from KKE and Nikos Nikolopoulos from Independent Greeks also favoured the continuation of the process.

    [19] European Commission Representation in Greece and European Parliament Office in Greece to hold conferences in Ioannina, Arta

    Members of the European Parliament and EU officials will meet on February 27-28 in Ioannina and Arta within the framework of the Expanded Regional Conference organized by the European Parliament Office in Greece and the European Commission Representation in Greece, in collaboration with the Region of Epirus as well as Ioannina and Arta municipalities.

    Issues of regional development with emphasis on media, start-ups and social cohesion will dominate the meetings.

    On February 27, a seminar on regional press and the media will take place in Ioannina. The member of the European Parliament and head of New Democracy's Parliamentary Delegation Manolis Kefalogiannis will be the keynote speaker. The spokesman of the European Parliament Office in Athens Constantinos Tsoutsoplidis and the press officer of the European Commission Representation in Greece Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela will deliver speeches.

    A conference on "Regional Development: New cohesion policy and regional specialization" will also take place on the same day. Leonidas Antonakopoulos, head of the European Parliament Office in Greece, will coordinate the meeting.

    Antonakopoulos will also coordinate another conference-debate that will be held on Saturday, February 28, in Arta.

    On Monday, March 2, EU executives will meet the mayor of Metsovo Konstantinos Tzafeas along with members of the City Council and institutions on regional development issues.

    [20] Alt. FM Chountis meets in Athens with French Sec'y of State for European Affairs Desir

    The government is determined to implement its campaign programme and deal with the humanitarian crisis, Alternate Foreign Minister Nikos Chountil said on Wednesday, after meeting with visiting French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir at the ministry.

    In statements to the press, Chountis also thanked France for its political support and understanding during the first phase of the government's negotiations with its loan partners. He added that Greece is bound by EU rules and does not want to burden European taxpayers and workers with additional burdens, but austerity policies do not help the continent's economy to grow.

    Desir said that Greece will remain a close ally of Greece, adding that his country wanted to strengthen collaboration in the cultural and scientific sectors and work with it on larger European issues like energy and climate change. Greece has a great role to play in international crises, especially in the Mediterranean area, and in differentiating the energy corridors.

    [21] Alternate FM Tsakalotos meets with Tunisian Ambassador Tarek Saadi

    Tunisian Ambassador Tarek Saadi paid a formal visit to Alternate Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos at the foreign ministry on Wednesday and discussed issues of bilateral interest, with emphasis on enhancing bilateral trade relations, in which Greece has positive balance of trade.

    Saadi referred to the issue of cooperation in tourism and to the preparations for the 10th Meeting of the Greek-Tunisian Joint Interministerial Committee, which will take place this year in Tunis.

    In view of the convening of the Joint Interministerial Committee, a delegation of Greek entrepreneurs to Tunis is being organised, and efforts are being made towards the signing of two bilateral agreements in the sectors of shipping and health.

    [22] New Democracy spokesman on irregular migrants and detention centers

    New Democracy called on the government to guarantee the Greek citizens' safety while harshly criticising the decisions on irregular migrants and detention centres.

    "The government suspended the deportation of dozens of irregular migrants and opened wide the gates of the detention centres, casting them adrift wandering the streets," New Democracy spokesman Costas Karagounis said adding that at the same time the SYRIZA government will grant Greek citizenship to 300,000 irregular migrants.

    "Unfortunately, they demolish what was built with strain. Unfortunately, they put their obsolete ideas above the public interest," Karagounis noted. Moreover, he called on the government to "stop the demolition, to restore the operation of detention centres and proceed with their push back to their origin country, with European coverage, which we have already secured."

    [23] Potami party leader meets with Europarliament president in Brussels

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Spinthourakis)

    To Potami party leader Stavros Theodorakis met with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels on Wednesday in a very cordial climate.

    According to a party statement, Schulz said that the proposals Theodorakis planned to present soon could help create growth and jobs in Greece.

    "Greece needs the help of Europe and of important people like Martin Schulz, so that it reformulates its forces and gets ahead," Theodorakis said, adding that it is important to "continue to talk with the Europeans, the people who see Greece as belonging in the heart of Europe."

    [24] KKE tables draft bill on the abolition of memorandums

    Opposition Communist Party (KKE) on Wednesday tabled a draft bill on "the abolition of memorandums, the medium-term frameworks of fiscal strategy and their enabling laws and the termination of the loan contracts that have as a prerequisite the implementation of the memorandums."

    KKE underlined that "meeting its election campaign pledges tables a draft bill on the cancellation of the memorandums and loan agreements voted in parliament by the PASOK-led government and subsequently by the ND-PASOK coalition government." The draft bill prepared by KKE also calls for "the abolition of anti-popular legislation, the so-called enabling laws, which are based on the loan agreements and memorandums."

    KKE noted that all these measures "stem from the EU strategy - the strategy of the capital holders - which is aimed at putting the burden of the capitalist crisis on the workers and the low income earners." It is underlined that "these measures are being promoted in all EU member-states regardless of debt and deficits. Therefore, the SYRIZA-ANEL government and the rest political parties that declare their commitment to the obligations stemming from our country's participation in the EU and the capitalist path of development, in essence, leave the anti-labour, anti-popular arsenal intact."

    [25] Education and Religion Minister meets with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos

    Education, Religion and Culture Minister Aristidis Baltas visited on Wednesday Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos at the Arcdiocese in Athens.

    In their first meeting that lasted over an hour the two officials discussed issues relating to the State and the Church.

    Baltas called the Archbishop a wise man and noted that a high level committee has already been created that will discuss on a regular basis the Church of Greece's problems in relation with the State.

    "The dialogue will start as soon as possible and we will tidy up the many and very interesting issues that the Archbishop has expressed and I believe that can be discussed and solved taking into account the economic and other conditions prevailing in the country," said Baltas.

    Referring to the Education Minister, Ieronymos noted "we all are aware of his experience, his knowledge and interest for the best of our country" adding that "we were given an opportunity to make an overall review on the Church-State relations and we decided that after this first meeting we will meet again to further discuss the issues. I want to point out that the climate was excellent and the signs are positive."

    According to sources from the Arcdiocese, Ieronymos asked the Education Minister to keep the lesson of Religion in the schools as well as the issue of ecclesiastical education.

    Financial News

    [26] Greek gov't unveils plan to deal with NPLs

    The Greek government on Wednesday unveiled a five-step plan to deal with the problem of non-performing loans (NPLs) by individuals and enterprises.

    Under the plan, the government will legislate to freeze foreclosures of first homes for owners who cannot afford to repay their loans, although the criteria will expand compared with the previous year to cover properties valued at up to 300,000 euros. This freeze will cover the remaining of the current year. The government will also set new limits on income and deposits for home owners. Currently, around 40,000 borrowers have received foreclosure notifications.

    The second step covers 100,000 borrowers, currently at the brink or below poverty levels, with non-performing loans worth 3.0 billion euros.

    Economy Minister George Stathakis, speaking to reporters, said the government will set up an intermediate body to manage banks' NPLs and said that the body will purchase NPLs from banks at a price of 50 pct of their nominal value, with borrowers repaying part of its debt and the state covering one-third of the value.

    Stathakis said this legislation will need a period of more than six months to come in effect.

    Referring to corporate loans, the plan envisages two steps: the first will cover small and medium-sized enterprises based on the model of housing loans and the second will cover large corporate loans. Stathakis said the ministry's aim was to find a compromise deal on corporate loans so that banks would not be hit by a restructuring of the corporate sector, allowing enterprises to repay their loans.

    [27] Primary surplus target of 3.0 pct would be catastrophic for the economy, Varoufakis says

    Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis on Wednesday said that a target for a 3.0 pct primary surplus would be catastrophic for the economy and that it was no longer under discussion. "A primary surplus could not be higher than 1.5 pct," Varoufakis told a radio interview, adding that negotiations over a debt restructuring will begin immediately.

    The Greek FinMin said that the government will adhere to an 100-installment offer to taxpayers with overdue tax debt although he added that organization such as OECD had some very good ideas over how to make this legislation more clever. He noted that the government would not raise VAT in Greek islands although he said that small changes in the VAT will be done. Varoufakis made it clear that there would be no dismissals in the public sector and that the government would not cut pensions and wages. The government will also change an existing property tax later this year, while a tax-exempt ceiling of 12,000 euros would be discussed in the framework of the government's general policy after June.

    [28] Greek budget surplus down in Jan

    The Greek state budget recorded a surplus of 367 million euros in January, with a primary surplus of 443 million euros, while revenues fell short by 935 million euros, or 20.3 pct from targets, a Finance ministry report showed on Wednesday.

    The state budget recorded an revised cash surplus of 367 million euros in January, from a surplus of 619 million euros in January 2014 and a budget target for a surplus of 1.286 billion euros. The primary surplus was 443 million euros, down from 835 million euros last year and a budget target for a surplus of 1.366 million euros.

    State budget net revenue totaled 3.682 billion euros in January, down 20.3 pct from targets, while regular budget net revenue totaled 3.489 billion euros, down 23.1 pct from targets. Tax revenues totaled 3.381 billion euros, down 23.8 pct, reflecting a 36.3 pct decline in direct tax revenues, a 49 pct fall in income tax, a 43.6 pct decline in special category tax revenues, a 41.4 fall in direct taxes, a 13.8 pct decline in indirect taxes, a 20.4 pct shortfall in VAT and a 2.2 pct increase in special consumption energy taxes.

    Tax returns totaled 356 million euros, up 80 million euros from targets while Public Investment Program revenue totaled 193 million euros, up 113 million euros from targets.

    State budget spending totaled 3.315 billion euros in January, down 16 million euros from targets, while regular budget spending were down 98 million euros from targets at 3.173 billion euros. Spending was down 9.9 pct compared with January 2014. Public Investment Program spending totaled 141 million euros, up 81 million from targets but down 166 million euros compared with January 2014.

    [29] Alt. Min. for the Environment Tsironis says healthy entrepreneurship has nothing to fear

    Alternate Minister for the Environment Yiannis Tsironis on Wednesday said a healthy framework that will benefit all and ensure healthy entrepreneurship is among the plans of the productive reconstruction, environment & energy ministry, noting that Greece needs major strategic public investments.

    As regards waste management, ministry sources underlined that relevant activities should move within a healthy framework and follow a new direction in order to ensure added value, noting that many Public-Private Partnerships (SDIT) are in violation of European directives.

    On the role of local administration, Tsironis appealed to the responsible municipalities to temporarily share the burden of waste management until the licenses for the operation of sanitary landfills are finalized with the consensus of local communities. All uncontrolled waste disposal sites that are still in operation are expected to be shut down by the end of June. Municipalities that will not comply will have to pay the relevant fines imposed by the EU.

    On the privatization of former airport in Elliniko, ministry sources said that it will be reexamined considering that the price paid by the sole bidder was very low.

    As regards the goldmine in Skouries, Halkidiki, in northern Greece, it was clarified that mining operations will continue.

    On the issue of illegally built constructions, the ministry intends to introduce strict reforms guaranteeing the implementation of town planning regulations and the protection of the environment.

    Also, the ministry will claim 114 million euros in EU funds to complete the national cadastre, while as regards the forest maps the goal is to codify and tackle arbitrary actions.

    [30] Greek-Eurasian Business Council to start works on Thursday

    The newly established Greek-Eurasian Business Council (GEBC) starts its works on Thursday morning. GEBC intends to promote trade and business relations between Greece and the countries participating in the Eurasian Economic Union, namely Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia.

    "This is a step of extroversion, at a critical time for the country, as this dynamic and emerging market of 176 million people, can be a privileged field of action for the Greek enterprises," Spyros Kouvelis, president of the board of directors of GEBC, told ANA-MPA.

    The event will take place with the participation of the Eurasian Economic Commission (the executive body of the Eurasian Economic Union) and the Trade and Industry Associations of member-states along with Greek business entities while representatives of the political leaderships of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Tourism and Rural Development have also been invited.

    [31] Greek stocks end lower on profit-taking

    Greek stocks came under mild selling pressure on Wednesday, to end lower in the Athens Stock Exchange as investors took profits after Tuesday's rally. The composite index of the market fell 1.59 pct to end at 923.03 points, off the day's lows of 913.96 points.

    The Large Cap index dropped 2.97 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 1.03 pct higher. Turnover was a heavy 164.58 million euros.

    PPC (9.01 pct), MIG (4.65 pct) and Motor Oil (4.19 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Piraeus Bank (13.13 pct), National Bank (11.31 pct) and Eurobank (8.62 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.

    Among market sectors, Health (5.24 pct), Utilities (5.13 pct) and Oil (2.12 pct) scored big gains and Banks (9.45 pct), Raw Materials (2.83 pct) and Industrial Products (1.95 pct) suffered losses.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 84 to 49 with another 24 issues unchanged. Boutaris (20 pct), MIG Real Estate (19.71 pct) and AEGEK (18 pct) were top gainers, while Altec (20 pct), Sato (20 pct) and Kreka (19.76 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Banks: -9.45%

    Insurance: Unchanged

    Financial Services: +0.36%

    Industrial Products: -1.95%

    Commerce: +0.12%

    Real Estate: +1.45%

    Personal & Household: Unchanged

    Food & Beverages: -1.08%

    Raw Materials: -2.83%

    Construction: -0.07%

    Oil: +2.12%

    Chemicals: Unchanged

    Mass Media: Unchanged

    Travel & Leisure: +0.07%

    Technology: -1.04%

    Telecoms: +0.33%

    Utilities: +5.13%

    Health: +5.24%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were Piraeus Bank, National Bank, OTE, Eurobank and Alpha Bank.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE

    Large Cap index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 0.415

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 7.50

    Coca Cola HBC: 15.54

    Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE): 4.60

    National Bank of Greece: 1.49

    OPAP: 9.11

    OTE: 9.03

    Piraeus Bank: 0.64

    Titan: 23.56

    Grivalia Properties: 8.80

    Aegean Airlines: 7.83

    [32] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds fell to 8.31 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 8.64 pct and the German Bund yielding 0.33 pct. Turnover was a low 13 million euros, of which 7.0 million were buy orders and the remaining 6.0 million euros were sell orders.

    In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving lower. The 12-month rate fell to 0.241 pct from 0.245 pct, the nine-month rate eased to 0.169 pct from 0.1745 pct, the six-month rate fell to 0.18 pct from 0.19 pct, the three-month rate eased to 0.042 pct from 0.044 pct and the one-month rate was unchanged at 0.001 pct.

    [33] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.18 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday. Volume on the Big Cap index totalled 7,586 contracts with 39,802 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totalled 83,649 contracts with investment interest focusing on Piraeus Bank's contracts (26,140), followed by Alpha Bank (10,183), National Bank (19,404), Eurobank (18,474), MIG (1,895), OTE (2,893), PPC (2004), OPAP (991), Hellenic Exchange (278), Mytilineos (200), Hellenic Petroleum (212), GEK (256), Titan (110) and Folli Follie (85).

    [34] Foreign Exchange rates - Wednesday

    Reference rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.134

    Pound sterling 0.732

    Danish kroner 7.465

    Swedish kroner 9.491

    Japanese yen 134.92

    Swiss franc 1.077

    Norwegian kroner 8.632

    Canadian dollar 1.411

    Australian dollar 1.438

    General News

    [35] Three hostages abducted from Greek oil tanker released in Nigeria

    Two Greeks and one Pakistani who had been taken hostage three weeks ago off the coast of Nigeria in an attack on a Greek-owned oil tanker have been freed, the ship's owner said on Wednesday.

    Aeolos Management, owner of the Maltese-flagged VLCC Kalamos, said in a statement that "the three seamen who had been abducted by a criminal gang in Nigeria on February 3" have been released. It also said that pending medical examinations the three men would be flown home to recover from their "traumatic experience."

    The father of one of the three Greek hostages confirmed his son has been released.

    The ship was anchored and awaiting cargo from Qua Iboe, an oil terminal in Nigeria's southeastern region, for shipment to China when it was boarded by the pirates. Kalamos had sailed from China and its 23-member crew included 10 Greeks.

    Pirates killed the vessel's Greek chief officer and escaped taking three hostages with them.

    The firm said that no details would be released on how the three men were freed, since "this might encourage further attacks and hostage taking" off the coast of the oil-rich West African country. It also said that to "protect the families" Aeolos will not reveal information on how and when the seamen will return home.

    The company also thanked all the "experts" and the "organisations which provided support" who participated in the operation to free the hostages, as well as government agencies, Coast Guard and security services for the "sensitivity" with which they handled the case.

    [36] Charred remains on board "Norman Atlantic" allegedly belong to Greek truck driver

    ROME (ANA-MPA / Th. Andreadis-Syggelakis)

    Italian authorities will open the "Norman Atlantic" ferry stern door next week to move all cars out of its garage and continue the search for more victims, it was announced on Wednesday.

    According to sources at the prosecutor's office in Bari, one of the two charred bodies found on the ship allegedly belongs to a 60-year-old Greek truck driver. The second body most likely belongs to an undocumented migrant who was traveling illegally and his name was not on the ferry's passenger list. Official autopsy results are yet to be released.

    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 was towed to Italy for investigation.

    [37] Large quantity of contraband cigarettes confiscated

    Two thousand six hundred and thirty packets of contraband cigarettes were found on Monday by Igoumenitsa port authorities hidden in a truck that was on board a ferry for Italy.

    The 37-year-old truck driver was arrested and the contraband cigarettes have been confiscated.

    Losses from taxes and state revenues reach 734,236,78 euros.

    [38] Man to be tried for insulting hospital doctor of Nigerian descent in Kozani, NGreece

    A 57-year-old man was arrested on charges of racist insults against a female doctor of Nigerian descent at the Hospital of Kozani, northern Greece, on Wednesday.

    The doctor, 29, notified police of the incident and filed a suit. The man was led before a prosecutor and got a postponement to be tried on Thursday.

    [39] "Carioca" sweet of Xanthi travels abroad

    The traditional sweet of the northeastern Greek city of Xanthi 'the carioca' is travelling throughout the world as part of Xanthi Chamber's campaign to promote it as the city's brand name.

    The Chamber's effort to receive the certification of protected geographical indication is underway, the president of the Chamber Stelios Moraitis told ANA-MPA.

    This chocolate sweet, that will also be promoted in the next 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, will also travel in Munich, New York and Melbourne and wherever exists a Greek minority.

    "Carioca" dominates the Xanthi market for the last 84 years and may become a symbol for the city as well as a brand name for the European and international market.

    "The businessmen that decided to participate in this effort are making the product under specific and strict standards leaving no margins for a product of lower quality," Moraitis noted.

    [40] Lawyer convicted of extortion in land swaps case involving Vatopedi Monastery

    A Greek Appeals Court convicted a lawyer to 36 months in prison with a 3-year suspension for extortion related to property transferred to the Vatopedi Monastery.

    The case is related to property claims of farmers renting land in Nea Redestos, which had been transferred to the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos and was then sold to the company "Anthemias".

    The case was formed after viewing a video in which the lawyer, Mihalis Koukouvinos, was seen asking money from a businessman to block the legal actions of the farmers.

    Apart from extortion, Koukouvinos was also found guilty of fraud at misdemeanor level for a transaction involving one of his clients.

    [41] Cooperation between civil protection ministry and Attiki regional authority

    The close cooperation between the civil protection ministry and Attiki regional authority, focusing on the prevention of traffic accidents and the guarding of Fyli sanitary landfill to keep scavengers away, dominated in a meeting on Wednesday between Alternate Minister for Civil Protection Yiannis Panoussis and Attiki Regional Governor Rena Dourou.

    They also discussed the problem of undocumented migrants agreeing that the existing European legislation on migrant flows should be improved.

    [42] Flu outbreak death toll rises to 63, authorities report

    The total number of people who have died from flu in Greece has come to 63, authorities said on Wednesday.

    Patients who have been hospitalized in intensive care units since the start of the flu season have reached 134. Of those, 21 continue to be monitored in those units.

    [43] One arrest near Ioannina for overdue debts to the state

    A 63-year-old man was arrested in Katsikas, near Ioannina in northwest Greece, for overdue debts to the state amounting to millions of euros, it was announced on Wednesday.

    The arrest was made for debts amounting to 20,623,924.26 euros. According to sources, he is a dealer in precious stones.

    Soccer

    [44] Super League games suspended for a week after match violence

    Greek Super League soccer games were suspended for a week on Wednesday following the latest turmoil in the sport, Alternate Minister for Sports Stavros Kontonis announced on Wednesday.

    "Under the current circumstances it's impossible to hold games on Sunday," Kontonis said following a meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, adding the decision shows the government's determination to stop violence in sports.

    The minister will have a new meeting with the Super League next Wednesday to see if steps have been taken towards resolving the issue and will also take into account updated reports prepared by the police and the Standing Committee for Handling Violence.

    "The government's decision to stamp out violence in stadia is final and irreversible...We appeal to everyone and say that we won't tolerate the business interests that are developed in the unacceptable way we've been seeing in recent years because they turn against the sport, the fans and those who work in the sector," Kontonis added.

    Greece's police union said they submitted their proposals for dealing with sports violence to Alternate Civil Protection Minister Yiannis Panousis and Kontonis.

    Weather forecast

    [45] Clouds and rain on Thursday

    Clouds and rain and southerly winds are forecast for Thursday. Wind velocity will reach 6 on the Beaufort scale. Scattered clouds and rain in the afternoon in the northern parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 06C-13C. Rain in the western parts and temperatures between 09C-15C. Rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon in the eastern parts of the country with temperatures between 05C-16C. Clouds and rain over the islands, 10C-18C. Partly cloudy in the morning and storms in the afternoon in Athens, 09C-16C. Rain in the afternoon in Thessaloniki, 06C-15C.

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

    AVGHI: Change of course.

    EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Everything on the table.

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Memorandum storm on taxes and early pensions.

    ESTIA: Taxes became a national vision!

    ETHNOS: What hides Varoufakis' (Yanis, Finance Minister) list.

    KATHIMERINI: Agreement- framework for negotiation.

    LOGOS: Varoufakis' commitments.

    NAFTEMPORIKI: Series of reversals.

    RIZOSPASTIS: No tolerance to government's and EU new agreeement over the extension of the memorandum.

    TA NEA: The text, the commitments and the coming measures.

    36, TSOCHA ST. ATHENS 115 21 GREECE * TEL: 64.00.560-63 * FAX: 64.00.581-2 INTERNET ADDRESS: http://www.ana.gr * e-mail: anabul@ana gr * GENERAL DIRECTOR: ANTONIS SKYLLAKOS


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