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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 16-12-19
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Weekend Bulletin
Monday, December 19 2016
 Tsipras: We are determined to defend the rights of the Greek peopleThe Greek government is determined to defend the rights of its people and not bow to measures that perpetuate austerity, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers at the 5th conference of the Party of the European Left in Berlin on Saturday.
"We are determined to promote the rights of the Greek people. We're determined not to abandon our people to 'yes-men' who support continuing austerity for many years," he said on his second day of his visit to the German capital where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German officials and lawmakers.
Tsipras defended the government's decision to announce bonuses for low-income pensioners and a suspension of VAT increases for islands affected by the refugee crisis, saying they did not run counter to the country's commitments.
"We took the political decision to counter the sacrifices of the pensioners. We strengthened poor neighbourhoods with schools and reduced VAT on the islands which are bearing the brunt of migration without jeopardizing our European commitments," he said.
"Our creditors must keep in mind that the Greek people have made many sacrifices and now it is their turn to fulfill their obligations. They should implement the short-term measures for the debt and open talks about lower surpluses," he continued, saying that creditors and the International Monetary Fund cannot exclude Greece from the labour laws applied in the EU.
He then urged the European Left to take action and propose an alternative to nationalism and the extreme-right.
"European social democracy must see and assume the historical responsibility to put an end to the neoliberal consensus. We need cooperation of democratic and progressive forces. Greece is struggling to end with austerity and the injustice of memorandums and recession," he said.
"We have to cooperate to block the emergence of populist xenophobic forces. First step is to establish a forum. Europe is not only at a fundamental crossroads, but is ready to cross the Rubicon. The old forces of the past are claiming the present and are doing so in a ground that has been paved by the neoliberalism's failure to tackle the crisis. The absence of solidarity leads to a narrow nationalistic logic and this strengthens nationalism and euroscepticism," he added.
 Greece willing to compromise with creditors on program review provided it excludes IMF demandsThe Greek government is willing to accept mutual compromises on some issues with the country's creditors to reach an agreement that would allow the completion of the second program review on the condition that any deal would not include the prior legislation of measures, as demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a senior government source told journalists in Berlin on Saturday.
The statement came during Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' second day of his visit to the German capital where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German officials and lawmakers. Tsipras also spoke earlier at the 5th conference of the Party of the European Left.
According to the same official, the measures demanded by the IMF are "politically unthinkable, socially destructive and economically irrational".
"Beyond that, we can discuss about a compromise," the official continued, adding that all sides should understand that the Greek government "will not back down on this issue no matter how much pressure is exercised".
The source said that as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly extolled in the past the responsibility shown by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on European issue (ex. migration), the Greek government has reasons to believe that this time too, Berlin will rise to the occasion and not allow the blocking of the second program review.
Government sources also said that at a time when Europe is going through a phase of general destabilization and ahead of an election year (2017) for important countries in the region, the German government will not want to rekindle the Greek crisis.
 ND leader condemns terror attack in TurkeyNew Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis condemned the new terrorist attack in the Turkish city of Kayseri on Saturday in a Twitter post, saying the fight against terrorism concerns everyone.
The car bomb attack killed thirteen Turkish troops and 48 wounded others.
Mitsotakis stresses importance of equality before the law during Trace visit
New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed on Saturday his support on the principle of equality before the law during a visit to a village in Thrace with a predominantly Muslim population.
Mitsotakis spoke about the principle, introduced by his father and former prime minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis in 1991, at the village of Sminthi after which he attended a meeting of the local city council where he heard about the problems facing the community.
He then inaugurated ND's offices in the region and said that his priority would be to create an educational system for the minority that offers equal opportunities to all students and an equally good knowledge of Greek and Turkish.
Mitsotakis is touring the region with party officials and is expected to visit Komotini and meet with municipal officials.
 Dep. Economy minister: Biggest change needed in Greece is in mentalityThe biggest structural change that must take place in Greece is a change in culture, Deputy Economy and Development Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas said on Saturday during a one-day event titled "Development Partnership between State-Banks-Businesses", organized by newspaper "Macedonia" in Thessaloniki.
"I believe that the biggest structural change that must be made in our country is a change in culture and this concerns us all," Pitsiorlas told attendees, noting Greece has the potential to return to the path of growth. "If the public sector is not combined with the private sector everywhere, if private capital is not added to community resources and government resources we will not do much. This is something that should be clear and I repeat it does not only concern the government," he added.
He also noted that all political sides have more or less the same problems in terms of mentality stressing that the Greek economy "is deeply depended on state-aid", a reality which must change.
 Culture ministry approves restoration of Tatoi palaceThe Central Council of Contemporary Monuments approved on Saturday an architectural study and preliminary static report for the restoration of the former summer palace of Tatoi, located 27 km from the city centre of Athens, on the mountain of Parnitha.
The building and the 10,000 acre estate was the residence of the former Greek royal family until 1973, when a referendum abolished the monarchy and the building was expropriated.
The palace complex includes personnel quarters, outposts, storehouses, mews, apiaries, and stock farms which have fallen into disrepair.
The study focuses on the section of the building that includes the palace, the kitchen building and the gardens, noting that it requires "a constructional, functional and aesthetic restoration of the monument to the era of George I", that is to its first operational phase (1884-1913), without the subsequent interventions to modernize the structure in the 1930s.
Restoration crews will only work on facades and interiors for which there is documented evidence of their former state through photographs, contemporary texts or other sources, it adds.
Speaking about the project, the honorary director general of the Ministry of Culture, Iordanis Dimakopoulos, said the building must be preserved without removing "all signs of aging".
 Completion of 2nd review in early 2017 possible 'if all sides are constructive,' Dombrovskis tells 'Kathimerini'The second review of Greece's programme can be completed in early 2017 if all sides show "good will and cooperation", European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for the Euro and Social Dialogue Valdis Dombrovskis said in an interview with the Greek newspaper "Kathimerini" published on Sunday.
Dombrovskis said the welfare and tax measures announced by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras were "unnecessary and unhelpful" in that they did not follow the prescribed procedure for handling over-performance of budget targets under the MoU, "though we can understand the underlying concerns and aims which the Greek government wants to address with this."
He appeared confident, however, that the current situation was far from a "dead end" and that it was possible to bridge the current differences between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the other institutions regarding the Greek programme: "If all sides are constructive in their efforts we could still have the second review by early 2017," he said.
Asked when Greece could regain access to the markets, Dombrovskis noted that programme countries normally starting tapping markets before the programme ends.
"We couldn't say what the exact timing would be right now, as this is something for the Greek authorities to decide. Normally this should begin in the programme timeframe. As you may remember, Greece was tapping the markets in 2014 with the assumption that the program would end in late 2014 or the beginning of 2015. Political developments unfortunately led elsewhere. The completion of the second review will be an important step to show that the programme is on track," he said.
 EU-IMF disagreement 'an attempt to crush Greece between the elephants,' Voutsis tells ANACiting a phrase used by Greece's Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, Greek Parliament President Nikos Voutsis commented on the dispute between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union institutions over the Greek programme, saying it was an attempt, led by Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and the Dutch in Europe and Poul Thomsen in the IMF, to "crush Greece between the elephants."
"The fact that the IMF can't seem to agree with the EU appears to be an attempt on the part of the Schaeuble-Thomsen axis for an outcome that is against us. Instead of either one winning or backing down, they will reach an agreement between them with the aim of 'crushing Greece between the elephants,' as Euclid Tsakalotos said," Voutsis commented in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) published on Sunday.
Greece wanted to wrap up the second review as quickly as possible, he added, before the start of a series of national elections that are due to take place in Eurozone countries, including France and Germany.
According to Voutsis, nobody now considered that Greece's debt was sustainable, or that sustained primary surpluses of 3.5 pct over several years were realistic. They all understood, by contrast, the realism of the Greek finance minister's proposal that a part of the surplus go toward boosting competitiveness, growth and for the relief of socially disadvantaged groups.
All sides also understood that the country will not be able to reliably tap the markets after 2017 unless it enters the ECB's quantitative easing programme, he added.
"The point is not for the country to access the markets once, like Samaras did, but then was unable to continue and had to pull back," Voutsis said.
Asked about the one-off welfare benefit handed out to low-income pensioners, Voutsis said this distributed a surplus of 617 million euros generated by higher-than-expected VAT revenue and that the government had sped to vote it in before the end of the current year because, otherwise, half would have to go toward paying down the debt.
The Parliament president also blamed Greece's creditors for "stalling" legislation on extending the use of plastic money and for declaring hidden income that would have further increased tax revenues. The draft bill now tabled in Parliament had been ready for more than a year, he said, but was blocked by the creditors' refusal to accept an 'unseizable account' for SMEs and also their demand for an unrealistically high taxation rate of 80 pct for any revealed income, which Voutsis said essentially amounted to a "donation" and removed any incentives to declare concealed money.
Talking about the Cyprus issue, Voutsis said the international aspect of the problem "remains a serious issue" on which Greece must also have some say. As Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in Parliament a few days ago, he added, the dogma 'Cyprus decides and Greece supports' has its limits.
"Support is given but we need to discuss some things here; we were a guarantor power, Cyprus is an equal member-state of the EU and therefore there must be a field of understanding on the matter of guarantees and security issues, not pre-agreement with Turkey, with the full agreement of the Cyprus Republic, of course," he said.
The Greek side had a steadfast position that there could not be a solution with occupation forces and guarantor powers, he noted, while adding that a solution was clearly better than no solution, which only increased problems and made situations "permanent."
The interview with Voutsis was conducted in Moscow, where he was attending the official end of Greece-Russia Year 2016 that comes to a close after the final two exhibitions from Greece held in the Russian capital end in January. One is the exhibition "Gods and Heros in ancient Greece" at Moscow's State Historical Museum and a second an exhibition of work by the modern Greek artist Bokoros.
Commenting on relations with Russia, Voutsis said he had relayed Greece's support for Russia on issues such as sanctions and its participation in the Coucil of Europe, while noting the great success and the "excellent work" done for Greece-Russia Year 2016.
 Greece remains a pillar of stability in a troubled region, Mitsotakis saysGreece steadfastly seeks good and friendly relations with neighbouring Turkey, main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday, in statements from the bridge at the Kipi border crossing, between the Greek and Turkish borders in Evros.
"Good relations, of friendship and neighbourliness, but which are based on unswerving respect for international treaties, for international law and good neighbour relations," he added.
Mitsotakis, who on Sunday concludes a two-day tour of Thrace, also noted that Greece remains a pillar of stability in a troubled region.
ND's leader paid a visit to the Kipi military post, where he spoke with troops stationed there and wished them a happy Christmas, and then the Kipi customs post, where officers raised the issue of modernisation.
 Alternate FM Katrougalos in Iran on five-day visitAlternate Foreign Minister George Katrougalos will have a series of meetings with Iranian ministers in Tehran, where he is currently conducting a five-day visit that ends on Wednesday. He is scheduled to meet Iran's foreign minister, deputy European affairs minister, the minister for oil and deputy minister for urban development.
 Bill on 'plastic money' to usher in new system for tax-free allowanceThe draft bill tabled in Parliament last week will usher in a new way for tax-payers to "build up" their tax-free allowance as of January 1, 2017, exclusively through the use of debit and credit cards. Only transactions and purchases using "plastic money" will be taken into account in order to accumulate the necessary limits, while the final amount needed will vary according to declared income.
The amounts that must be spent in order to get a tax free allowance rise going up the income brackets, from 10 pct of total income for those earning up to 10,000 euros a year, to 15 pct for those earning between 10,001 and 30,000, and then 20 pct (up to a maximum of 30,000 euros) for higher income brackets.
This means that an employee earning 10,000 euros a year must spend 1,000 euros using credit and debit cards in order to get the full tax-free allowance and an employee earning 15,000 must spend 1,750 euros. For annual salaries of 20,000 euros, the amount rises to 2,500 euros, for 30,000 euros to 4,000 euros, while for 50,000 euros annual income, transactions of 8,000 euros are needed to get a full tax-free allowance.
If a tax-payer fails to meet the required spending limits using 'plastic money,' the difference will be taxed at a rate of 22 pct. For example, if a tax-payer with an annual declared income of 30,000 euros carries out transactions with credit and debit cards amounting to 3,000 euros in a year - instead of the required 4,000 euros - that tax-payer will be liable to pay 22 pct of the 1,000-euro difference, or an extra 220 euros in tax.
The finance ministry is expected to further specify the categories of spending that will not count toward the tax-free allowance, categories of tax-payers to be exempted for mandatory use of electronic means of payment, as well as additional incentives for tax-payers that exceed the minimum spending limits.
Initially, foreign ministry employees, members of the military serving abroad, those serving at the Permanent Greek Representation in the EU and those residing in homes for the elderly, psychiatric wards and in prison are exempted.
The bill also stipulates that medical costs will only be tax-deductible if payment is made electronically.
In addition, the bill is expected to increase electronic payments by introducing mandatory use of cards or other electronic payment methods for transactions exceeding 500 euros, instead of the present 1,500 euros, as well as lotteries with significant cash prizes using receipt numbers.
 Lidl to invest another 100 mln euros in Greece in 2017, Lidl Hellas chief tells ANADespite the economic crisis, Lidl Hellas managed to increase its turnover in Greece by 6.2 pct from March to the end of June 2016, the head of the discount supermarket chain Iakovos Andreanidis told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA), in an interview published on Sunday. He said this course appeared to be continuing and predicted that 2016 would end with a "pleasant surprise" regarding the company's performance.
Lidl Hellas is planning investments to expand and improve its branch network amounting to a further 100 million euros in 2017, matching the 100 million euros spent in 2016, he announced. Among these will be a new and more attractive type of Lidl store with "environmental branding", such as those recently opened in Diavata and Alikarnassos, he added.
Andreanidis noted that Lidl had created an additional 450 new jobs in 2016, bringing its total to 5,300, and also extended its network of Greek suppliers to 3,321, putting more Greek products on its shelves.
Lidl's chief said that the company welcomed greater competition in the retail market provided it was "fair" and that the company intended to continue lowering its overheads and its prices in the coming year, while its aim was to offer quality products at the lowest prices.
 Majority of Greeks say EU is 'moving in the wrong direction,' Palmos Analysis poll showsGreeks are conflicted about the benefits of European Union membership and a very substantial majority is unhappy with direction the EU is going, according to the results of a nationwide survey released by Palmos Analysis on Sunday. The survey was commissioned by ruling SYRIZA's group in the European Parliament.
A whopping 84 pct of Greeks consider that the EU is "moving in the wrong direction" but opinions are evenly split on whether the country's EU membership is positive (44 pct) or negative (45 pct). At the same time, six in 10 favour membership of the Eurozone.
Most Greeks cannot recall any reference to the European Parliament in the media they generally follow during the past month, while seven in 10 consider that they are not adequately informed about the activities of the EuroParliament. By contrast, four in 10 say they are not adequately informed about the activities of the Greek Parliament.
Greek citizens want the EU to have greater powers on a series of issues, with percentages ranging from 47 pct (for control of state budgets) up to 86 pct (on the refugee crisis). Asked about the measures for Greece's public debt decided at the last Eurogroup, one in three considers them 'positive but not adequate' and four in 10 considers them bad. Roughly half of
Greeks want the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the Greek programme, either as a creditor or as a technical advisor.
Only one in four Greeks considers that the country's MEPs adequately represent the country in the EuroParliament, while two in four disagree. At the same time, most individual MEPs have a net positive balance of positive versus negative opinions.
 Farmers prepare for road blockades on January 23Farmers who gathered from various regions of Greece to the city of Larisa on Saturday announced they are preparing to block main highways on January 23 as they escalate their response against the government's announced changes in their taxation and social insurance.
More than 100 representatives from associations and action committees met in town to discuss their sector's problems and plan further labour action.
"The consistent farmer movement will create a climate so that there will be labour action," the president of the United Federation of Agricultural Associations of Karditsa, Vangelis Boutas, said on Saturday's meeting, adding that everyone's attention is turned towards the roadblocks and the tractors going to Athens.
He said this action will not exclude anyone "who agrees with the framework of the struggle we have and which is in the direction of opposing the government, the EU and the capital," adding that the government's claims on social security and farmers' income are "lies".
 Lesvos police arrest Algerian migrants suspected of 19 robberies on the islandPolice on the east Aegean island of Lesvos on Sunday announced the arrests of a group of five Algerian migrants that escaped the Moria hotspot and are suspected of having formed a criminal gang operating in the island's main town of Mytilene. The group lived in a rented room in Mytilene and a police investigation has linked them to 19 robberies and break-ins over the past 20 days, targeting shops and businesses in the town centre.
The gang usually broke into the shops and businesses they robbed at day break, with their faces concealed, usually by forcing open a door or window. Once inside, they searched the premises thoroughly and stole money, electronic goods and valuable merchandise they found inside. Many of the stolen goods, with an estimated value exceeding 10,000 euros, were found in their possession. They also caused extensive damage during the break-ins.
Police are also examining their possible involvement in similar crimes and have drawn up criminal charges of theft and causing damages against them. The five will be led before a Mytilene prosecutor on Sunday.
 Ferry crashes into the pier in Kassos, due to rough seasThe passenger and car ferry "Vintsentzos Kornaros" on Sunday morning crashed into the pier while attempting to dock in the harbour of Kassos, due to bad weather and rough seas.
The impact caused minor damage to the ballast tanks.
The ship afterward set sail for the island of Karpathos as planned, with 232 passengers, 21 private cars and nine trucks on board. On reaching Karpathos it was temporarily forbidden to set sail again until the damage had been repaired. The shipping company will make alternative arrangements so that passengers bound for the island of Halki and Rhodes can reach their destinations.
 Bomb scare at Spata discount retail park a hoax, police sayA telephone call saying that a bomb was about to go off at a discount retail park in Spata at 12:20 proved to be a prank, Greek police said after conducting an investigation on Sunday. The call by an unidentified woman was placed at 10:45, to the newspaper "Efimerida ton Syntakton".
Police investigated the premises without first evacuating the retail park, where shops were open and full of people ahead of the Christmas holidays, but found nothing untoward.
 Financial crime squad closes two pizzerias in Crete for not issuing receiptsThe Financial Crime Squad (SDOE) ordered the temporary closure of two pizzerias in the city of Chania, Crete, on Saturday after a team of officers discovered during a spot check they had not issued any receipts to their customers, the agency said.
The violations were discovered on Friday night and on Saturday the agency sealed the two restaurants for 48 hours.
 'The Man from Nine Dimensions' for one night only at Athens Planetarium on Tuesday"The Man from the Nine Dimensions" - a dramatised documentary on the Theory of Everything that puts viewers on the trail of a shadowy and mysterious figure known only as
ToE - will be screened at Athens' Digital Planetarium for one night only this coming Tuesday, December 20.
The documentary is an impressive digital production developed by Miraikan, Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and has already won the prestigious "Best Educational Production" Award at the 2016 International Planetarium Society (IPS) Fulldome Festival held in Brno, Czech Republic, as well as the "Best Practice" award from Japan's Advanced Imaging Society.
The documentary draws audiences to explore some of the most complex and deepest questions that lie at the heart of physics, concerning the nature of the universe and reality, and its search to explain matter and fundamental forces in a single and comprehensive
"Theory of Everything". "The Man from the Nine Dimensions" combines live actions scenes and impressive graphics with the latest techniques for visually rendering scientific data in order to induct viewers into the world of theoretical physics, vibrating 'strings' and hidden dimensions in a lively and engaging way.
The visual imagery demonstrating the theories uses the most cutting-edge cosmological simulation of galaxy formation, the Illustris Project, developed by a team of scientists at Harvard, MIT and Cambridge.
There will be two projections on Tuesday, at 18:30 and 20:00, while entry is free of charge.
Entry tickets are required, however, and are available at the Planetarium ticket offices from 18:00 on Tuesday until available seats run out. Recommended for children aged 10 years of above, as well as adults.
 Athens News Headlines at a glanceAVGHI: Balancing act with the IMF
DOCUMENTO: Tsipras ultimatum to the Germans
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Caught between...a memorandum and elections
EPOCHI: New questions, answers due
ETHNOS: 'Angela, this is no time for adventures'
KATHIMERINI: Valdis Dombrovskis: Tsipras move was 'unnecessary and unhelpful'
KYRIAKATIKI DIMOKRATIA: The former ministers' kickbacks!
PARON: Plan to overthrow Tsipras
PROTO THEMA: Lagarde List: Slaughter for a write-off
REAL NEWS: Insurance fund property in the troika's sights
RIZOSPASTIS: We are making the KKE stronger
TO VIMA: Greece teetering on the brink again.
VRADYNI ON SUNDAY: Alone in the Maximos Mansion
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