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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 16-02-11

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

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

Thursday, 11 February 2016 Issue No: 5109

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM Tsipras: Program review will be completed on time
  • [02] Commission welcomes Greece's progress in managing refugee flows
  • [03] COREPER adopts Commission's recommendation to Greece over refugee flows
  • [04] Greece's asylum service to receive 37 mln euros in 2016-17 to manage refugee crisis
  • [05] Greece's management of refugee flows will be improved by next month, Avramopoulos predicts
  • [06] Greece has been out of Dublin since 2011; it's time to change it, EU Commissioner Avramopoulos says
  • [07] Greece agrees with involving NATO to reduce migrant flows, Greek source in Brussels says
  • [08] German foreign ministry says proposal for NATO patrols in Aegean should be discussed in Brussels
  • [09] We must be prepared for the possibility of closed borders, Alternate Migration Min Mouzalas says
  • [10] Greece will guard its borders but will not resort to pushbacks, says minister during Slovakia visit
  • [11] Austria to send army, police at FYROM-Serbia border to halt refugee flow
  • [12] Defence Min Kammenos meets European Defence Agency exec.director
  • [13] EESC members will back resolution to keep Schengen intact, EESC President Dassis tells ANA-MPA
  • [14] Czech FM arrives in Athens for talks with FM Kotzias on Thursday
  • [15] South Aegean Regional Council opposes referendum, urges withdrawal of riot police from Kos
  • [16] Tender for TV licences on fast track procedure
  • [17] Labour Minister Katrougalos asks Economic and Social Committee to weigh in on draft legislation for farmers
  • [18] Macedonia farmers open border posts for a few hours to facilitate traffic
  • [19] Farmers to give press conference; Tempi Valley closed for second consecutive day
  • [20] ND: 'Tsipras is building system of vested interests tailor-made for him'
  • [21] ND leader discusses refugee crisis with local government officials
  • [22] New Democracy leader announces HQ's move to low-rent area
  • [23] PASOK says PM reiterated 'same old things' in his cabinet speech
  • [24] Former FinMin Varoufakis presents DiEM25 movement
  • [25] Greece gives green light for Paxi waterway
  • [26] State gains ownership of Athens Concert Hall after picking up debt bill
  • [27] Supreme Court asks parliament to waive immunity of 3 Golden Dawn MPs
  • [28] Greek gov't, banks agree on management of non-performing loans
  • [29] Bank of Greece governor optimistic over Greek economic prospects
  • [30] Crisis has affected both quantity and quality of jobs, especially in Greece, OECD report says
  • [31] Spending cuts better than tax increases, BoG governor says
  • [32] Israeli Ambassador in Athens Ben Abba visits Intracom facilities
  • [33] Four Greek companies in the finals of European Business Awards
  • [34] Greece ranks second globally in photovoltaic energy production
  • [35] Aegean Airlines increases its daily flights to the island of Skiathos
  • [36] Tourists turn to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy for their holidays, shun Turkey, TUI reports
  • [37] Greek stocks extend fall for seventh successive session
  • [38] Greek bond market closing report
  • [39] ADEX closing report
  • [40] Belgian artist Jan Fabre selected to head Athens & Epidaurus Festival
  • [41] Two ferries with 1,295 aboard dock at Piraeus port
  • [42] Police on the trail of two drug trafficking rings
  • [43] Acropolis to shut down at noon on Feb. 12 due to employees' work stoppage
  • [44] Cloudy on Thursday
  • [45] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance Politics

  • [01] PM Tsipras: Program review will be completed on time

    "We have paved the way in order for the program review to be completed on time," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday said during a cabinet meeting.

    He underlined that the agreement is met in full with priority given on the protection of the weakest citizens. "We are waiting for the institutions to recognise it," he said.

    Tsipras also said that Greek islands are plagued by the refugee crisis adding that "the majority of the Greeks give an example of humanity worldwide. And this is happening in a Europe which seems to be in an awkward and bewildered position."

    "Europe is in a vortex of multiple and parallel crises," the Greek prime minister noted stressing the importance of constant vigilance, perseverance and patience in order for Greece to cope with this.

    He also confirmed that Greece will meet its commitments for the creation of refugees reception centres by next week. We are waiting from the creditors to do the same, because agreements cannot be "a la carte," he underlined.

    "Despite its economic difficulties, Greece turns into what it ought to be thanks to its geographical position, a country-bridge between West and East," he added referring to the relations with Palestine, his visit to Iran during which important steps were taken towards the deepening of the two countries' relations.

    On the Cyprus issue, he said that the strategic aim is to find a solution on the basis of UN resolutions and stressed that the government is fighting for a just solution that starts from the withdrawal of the occupation troops from the island.

    [02] Commission welcomes Greece's progress in managing refugee flows

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Aroni, C. Vasilaki, M. Spinthourakis)

    Greece has achieved progress in implementing measures to tackle the refugee and migration crisis, the European Commission said in its report that published on Wednesday, which also includes Italy and the so-called Western Balkans Route.

    According to the report, the rollout of the five hotspots identified in in the Aegean islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos) has been slow, due in part to the need to build them from scratch and with shortcomings in infrastructure, staffing and coordination.

    Only one hotspot is currently fully operational - in Lesvos, but work is ongoing in other facilities. The Greek government has called on the support of the Greek army to reach the target date of mid-February. In the meantime, identification and registration are already taking place where possible in temporary structures.

    The Greek authorities are making improvements to the functioning of the hotspots and have finalised Standard Operating Procedures and new disembarkation procedures, connecting the hotspot facilities directly with people disembarking on the islands. Frontex has started coastal patrols in Lesvos, Chios and Samos that are bearing results.

    The proportion of migrants fingerprinted has risen markedly from 8 pct in September 2015 to 78 pct in January 2016. Once fully operational and equipped, the hotspots in Greece should reach a total fingerprinting capacity of around 11,000 persons per day, which is well above the average arrival numbers for January. Advanced Level Document experts are deployed by Frontex in the islands in order to identify fraudulent documents.

    The relocation of 66,400 people in need of international protection from Greece, as agreed by the member-states, has started very slowly with only 218 relocations so far. Only 15 member-states have offered places to Greece for relocations, providing for 1,081 places, while 16 have appointed Liaison Officers to support the process on the ground. The Greek authorities are improving their registration capacity and have opened a second office in Samos where infrastructure for accommodation and transfers are now in place, with the support of the IOM and the UNHCR.

    In December 2015, the Commission approved an 80-million-euro programme to support reception capacity in Greece, including a network of 20,000 places for asylum seekers run by UNHCR, as well as supporting the establishment of 7,000 places in the hotspots areas. Under this scheme, there are now 14,950 places available. In addition to the 7,181 places that are currently available in temporary and longer-term facilities at the Eastern Aegean islands, Greece has 10,447 places on the mainland. Therefore, the total number of existing reception places in Greece at the moment is 17,628. However, there is still a shortfall of 12,342 places compared to the 50,000 places to which Greece committed in October 2015.

    Since the beginning of 2015, Greece has carried out 16,131 forced returns and 3,460 assisted voluntary returns of economic migrants who had no right to asylum in Europe. This remains insufficient in the context of over 800,000 arrivals in 2015.

    Following the report by the Commission, the permanent representatives of the 28 member-states adopted its proposal, according to which Greece has one month to show it can take radical measures to decrease refugee flows to Europe.

    Diplomatic sources said that Greece must now create an action plan which must be implemented by May. On April a new review will take place by the Commission to assess the measures taken.

    Concerning Turkey, the Commission said in a separate report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan that it needs "as a matter of urgency" to make significant progress in preventing irregular departures of migrants and refugees from its territory to the EU, notably by stepping up land based operations.

    The number of people arriving irregularly in the EU from Turkey has decreased steadily since October, but the total number of arrivals remains high for winter. The average daily arrivals from Turkey to Greece stood at 2,186 in January, compared to 6,929 for October and 3,575 in December.

    The report also acknowledges several concrete measures that Turkey has already taken, such as the introduction on 8 January of visa obligations for arrivals of Syrians to Turkey from third countries which has sharply reduced arrivals of Syrians from Lebanon and Jordan into Turkey. The measures adopted on 15 January to give access to the labour market to Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey are another important step forward.

    The Commission also urged Turkey to follow up on its readmission agreement with Greece. "Turkey is urged to continue its efforts towards the full and effective implementation of the Plan. Turkey should improve the implementation of its bilateral Readmission Agreement with Greece, and should be ready to implement the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement for third country nationals from 1 June 2016."

    In this regard, the European Commission said it has today adopted a proposal for a Council decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union within the Joint Readmission Committee on the application of the provisions on readmission of third-country nationals and stateless persons in order to advance the applicability of these obligations to June 2016.

    Turkey should also reinforce the interception capacity of the Turkish Coast Guard and strengthen legislation, action and cooperation with EU Member States in the fight against smuggling and smugglers.

    [03] COREPER adopts Commission's recommendation to Greece over refugee flows

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Spinthourakis)

    The Committee of Permanent Representatives of the 28 EU member-states on Wednesday adopted the European Commis-sion's recommendation that Greece take drastic measures to restrict refugee flows in the coming period.

    Diplomatic sources said that Greece, taking into account the Commission's recommendations, is obliged to present an action plan within a month. This plan must then be implemented by May, while there will be an assessment by European agencies of the measures taken in April.

    [04] Greece's asylum service to receive 37 mln euros in 2016-17 to manage refugee crisis

    Greece's Asylum Agency signed on Wednesday the three first decisions which will allow it to claim 37,1 million euros in the period 2016-2017 and kick start several operations relating to the management of the refugee and migrant crisis.

    The operations which will be financed include the relocation program, the interpreting and translation services, the counseling services, the transfers to other member-states using the Dublin III regulation, the DNA tests to verify family links, information operations, acquiring equipment and supplies and creating a mobile app for applicants of international protection.

    The funds will be received through the Asylum Fund's National Programme for Migration and Integration 2014-2020.

    With these operations, the Agency aims at facilitating the access of refugees to the country's asylum process.

    [05] Greece's management of refugee flows will be improved by next month, Avramopoulos predicts

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Aroni)

    European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday said he was confident that the situation in Greece regarding the management of the refugee crisis will have improved in a month's time.

    Presenting a report on the progress in implementing the European Agenda on Migration in Greece, Italy and countries along the Western Balkans route, Avramopoulos noted that matters in Greece were now progressing more quickly and that the hotspots on Greek islands and the relocation centres will soon be operational. He said that the proportion of migrants fingerprinted had risen significantly from 8 pct in September to 78 pct in January and noted that the system was "starting to work".

    Avramopoulos said it was necessary for Greece to boost control along the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and that there must be implementation of the Greece-Turkey readmission agreement.

    He said the College of Commissioners on Wednesday discussed the possibility of activating article 19 of the Schengen Treaty for Greece, which concerns a series of recommendations on remedying the situation along the external borders and points where there are shortcomings. He repeated that there was no question of removing any country from the Schengen zone, while repeating that all member-states must fulfill their obligations since the Schengen zone was at risk only from poor implementation of its rules.

    Avramopoulos also noted that the relocation agreement was unfolding extremely slowly, with only 497 migrants relocated so far, and urged all member-states to immediately honour the commitments they have undertaken, based on recent agreements.

    For the economic migrants arriving in Europe, Avramopoulos said that these must not be allowed to "disappear" and that sufficient positions in closed centres must be made available for those that do not have the right to seek asylum in the EU. He also stressed that these must then be returned to their countries, otherwise the EU's credibility will be undermined.

    He announced that the Commission will present its proposals for revising the Dublin treaty in March, since it was no longer suitable for dealing with the problems. Until the time of its revision, however, it would remain in force and must be respected, though the Commission did not intend to further burden Greece, which was already under pressure, he said.

    [06] Greece has been out of Dublin since 2011; it's time to change it, EU Commissioner Avramopoulos says

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/Chr.Vassilaki)

    "Greece has been out of Dublin since 2011. It's time to change that," EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Wednesday adding that this does not mean transfer of people back to Greece.

    As he said, the aim is to meet the terms which were not met for years.

    Avramopoulos stated that the European Commision will make a proposal for the revision of Dublin in March, as this framework is no longer "appropriate" to address the problem.

    "Dublin exists and we need to respect it until we revise it," he concluded.

    [07] Greece agrees with involving NATO to reduce migrant flows, Greek source in Brussels says

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ C. Vasilaki)

    Greece agrees with NATO's involvement in efforts to reduce refugee and migrant flows, provided there is respect for national sovereignty, a Greek government source attending the NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels said here on Wednesday.

    "The initiative is on the side of what we want," the source noted. "It finds us in agreement provided there is respect for the country's territorial waters and no violations of the country's sovereign rights."

    Clarifying further, the source explained that the German proposal concerned a specific naval force in the Mediterranean called the SSNG that will undertake this task under the auspices of NATO, in order to stop the flow on the Turkish side.

    In addition, those rescued at sea will be sent to Turkey, while NATO will protect international rules and agreements, the source added. Greece's ships will operate in Greece, Turkey's ships in Turkey and those of third countries on both sides, the source added, noting that Greece took a positive view of reinforcing the Navy with eight ships.

    At the same time, the Greek side made clear to the German defence minister and the NATO secretary general that there must be "absolute respect for national sovereignty" and the obligations arising from this. The source also noted a Greek proposal that Frontex also patrol along the Turkish coast, after its conversion into a European coast guard.

    The main issue concerning Greece, the specific source revealed, was that the command of this force - currently held by Germany - was next scheduled to pass to Turkey. Consequently, Greece had asked NATO to exempt both Turkey and Greece from the command of this operation and to maintain Germany in this position at present.

    The source noted that an initial political decision was expected on Thursday, during the second day of the meeting, while the details will be decided by the permanent representations.

    [08] German foreign ministry says proposal for NATO patrols in Aegean should be discussed in Brussels

    BERLIN (ANA-MPA/ F. Karaviti)

    German foreign ministry Martin Schaeffer on Wednesday said he was "unable to share" the Greek government's concerns about the possibility of NATO participation in efforts to guard the European Union's external borders, in response to questions.

    He noted, however, that "we are very from specific thoughts" on the proposal floated during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Turkey, which was discussed by defence ministers in Brussels 48 hours later. There was no reason, at present for concern but the issue now was to discuss the proposal in Brussels, he said, adding that the representatives of Greece and Turkey were at the table as "tried partners".

    Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier earlier noted that NATO could not have a role in controlling refugee migration, while Schaefer said that NATO could provide a "picture of the situation" that would make the effort to fight trafficking more effective and that this could be done "regardless of the territorial waters" involved.

    Commenting on the same proposal, the chancellor's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that fighting crime by traffickers was primarly a police issue. The question was now, he added, whether in addition to the police responsibility there could be support in controlling the sea region using NATO capabilities and this would now be discussed calmly.

    Seibert referred to a "possible supportive role" for NATO in efforts to better guard Greece's external borders, clarifying that the Alliance would not have an independent role.

    [09] We must be prepared for the possibility of closed borders, Alternate Migration Min Mouzalas says

    We must be prepared for the possibility of closed borders, Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said on Wednesday in an interview with Mega TV, describing this as "a unilateral action by other countries."

    ??As a government we are preparing for that possibility, he said, but he considered that it would be a manageable problem because refugees and migrants that will be trapped in Greece, if borders close, will amount to around 50,000.

    "Those that build up fences are wrong; closing the borders at Idomeni, we lose the only way to control refugees flows in Europe," he estimated.

    Asked on a possible involvement of NATO, Mouzalas said that it is a positive development provided that Frontex and NATO patrol Turkey's territorial waters, rescue refugees and push them back to Turkey. "If this is the plan, it is a good one," he stated.

    He underlined that the key to addressing the refugee issue is controlling refugee flows in the Turkish coasts and expressed the hope that the European efforts towards that end will succeed. He added that Greece is putting pressure so that refugees are pushed back to Turkey via Frontex.

    ?Referring to the reactions for the construction of hotspots on the island of Kos, he stated: "At a time when our country needs to meet its commitment for the construction of hotspots, the mayor raises obstacles."

    [10] Greece will guard its borders but will not resort to pushbacks, says minister during Slovakia visit

    VIENNA (ANA-MPA/ D. Dimitrakoudis)

    Greece is guarding its maritime borders with the help of Frontex, but that it cannot resort to violent pushbacks, which in any case is contrary to the rules of international law, Nikos Xydakis said during a meeting with Slovakia' s Foreign Minister Miroslav La?k in Bratislava on Tuesday.

    Xydakis also told Laj?k that the European Union was absent for five years - for as long as the Syrian crisis was going on - and that the time has come for immediate peace-making initiatives.

    The Slovakian Foreign Minister offered to assist by undertaking the construction of a hotspot or in any other way Greece would accept and Xydakis thanked Laj?k for this initiative.

    The Greek minister will complete his tour Central European countries on Wednesday, in Budapest, where he will meet with Hungary' s Interior Minister, S?ndor Pint?r; Deputy Minister of State for European Affairs, Tak?cs Szabolcs Ferenc; and Deputy Foreign Minister for security and international cooperation affairs, Dr. Istv?n Mikola.

    Earlier, Xydakis had a working luncheon with Deputy Minister for European Affairs, Ivan Korok, during which they discussed the refugee crisis the European Union is being called upon to manage, as well as on Slovakia' s upcoming Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

    Korok noted that Europe went through difficulties handling the economic crisis, but managed. He briefed Xydakis on Slovakia's preparations ahead of its first European presidency and showed strong interest in the management of the refugee crisis by Greece, as well as in the course of the Greek Economic Programme.

    With regard to the implementation of the programme, Xydakis stressed that the quick and positive completion of the assessment that Greece is pursuing will provide the optimistic messages necessary for jumpstarting the Greek economy.

    [11] Austria to send army, police at FYROM-Serbia border to halt refugee flow

    BELGRADE (ANA-MPA/ N. Pelpas)

    Austria will likely send army and police to the border between FYROM and Serbia to halt the flow of refugees towards Europe, Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday, during a joint press conference with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic in Belgrade.

    Kurz said that the restriction imposed by the Austrian government on the number of refugees the country will accept in 2016, which will not be greater than 37,500, will create new standards in the Western Balkans and requires the assistance of all countries to halt the influx.

    He also said the aim is to halt the arrivals at the Greece-FRYROM borders and for this reason there needs to be coordination with Belgrade and Skopje.

    On his side, Serbia's Dacic said at the same press conference that if Austria or any other country in the so-called Balkan route closes its borders to the refugees, Serbia will follow suit.

    [12] Defence Min Kammenos meets European Defence Agency exec.director

    Defence Minister Panos Kammenos on Wednesday briefed the executive director of the European Defence Agency (EDA) Jorge Domecq on the programmes Greece would be interested in participating thanks to its well educated personnel, great experience and proper infrastructure.

    Kammenos, who is paying a visit to Brussels, called on the organisation to send officials in Greece over the next few days to promote cooperation in projects of common interest.

    They also discussed issues on the strengthening of defence industry for small and medium sized enterprises and their access to supply chains.

    Domecq highlighted the participation and the active role of Greece in several programs of the organization, particularly in naval initiatives, energy-environment and education in aviation.

    Representatives of the Hellenic Defence Industry participated in the meeting.

    [13] EESC members will back resolution to keep Schengen intact, EESC President Dassis tells ANA-MPA

    In an exclusive interview to the ANA-MPA on Wednesday, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Georges Dassis said he was confident that the 350 European trade unions, employer associations and other social agencies comprising the EESC will be unanimous in their backing of a resolution urging all sides "to keep their hands off the Schengen treaty."

    "At the next plenum, which will take place next Wednesday, I am optimistic that we will come away with a resolution that could be entitled 'Hands off Schengen'. Because to abolish the Schengen zone in whole or in part means the start of dismantling European integration, to say nothing worse," Dassis said.

    Talking about the refugee and migrant crisis, he also referred to what he called "ungrateful countries" that had been the recipients of solidarity and now asked that the European Union deny the same solidarity to others, while criticising countries that accepted far fewer refugees than they initially agreed to take.

    "Some of these countries in the past found themselves in a difficult position and asked for the solidarity of other countries, which they are now denying to people trying to flee war," he said, adding that there were political and economic means to make those not respecting the decisions to be "returned to order".

    "The refugee issue is the affair of all the EU, not just the countries under pressure," he added.

    On the EESC's role in the EU, Dassis said it had recommended specific measures to the European Council and the European Commission for adoption. Among them were the mutualisation of debt and solidarity in terms of interest rates, or the tax of financial transactions that was proposed by the Commission and adopted by Germany.

    Another EESC initiative, he added, was the proposal for a universal minimum guaranteed income for all EU citizens, financed by a European fund.

    Dassis, a Greek national and trade unionist, was elected president of the EESC in October 2015. The EESC is a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe's socio-occupational interest groups and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. It thus has a key role to play in the Union's decision-making process.

    [14] Czech FM arrives in Athens for talks with FM Kotzias on Thursday

    The Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Lubomir Zaor?lek, will be visiting Athens on Thursday for a meeting with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, in an effort to improve relations between the two countries which turned sour after the negative statements made by the Czech President against Greece last year.

    Zaor?lek will meet Kotzias at 10.00 (local) at the foreign ministry.

    Greece recalled its ambassador to the Czech Republic for consultations last December after remarks by the Czech president Milos Zeman that his country should not adopt the euro unless Greece left the single currency. Following the incident, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka criticized Zeman while Zaor?lek told Kotzias saying his comments do not reflect the government's position.

    [15] South Aegean Regional Council opposes referendum, urges withdrawal of riot police from Kos

    In a resolution after a meeting to discuss the situation on the island of Kos on Wednesday, the South Aegean Regional Council urged against holding a referendum over the hotspots and called for the withdrawal of MAT riot police from the island.

    It noted the need to create management structures for the problem, while providing guarantees that the migrants and refugees will stay for the minimum time possible, while noting that holding a referendum on Kos over the issue will divide the island's community.

    [16] Tender for TV licences on fast track procedure

    The amendment on the TV licences will be tabled in parliament on Thursday in order to be voted within the day, according to a government source.

    The amendment is expected to be included in an agreement plan that will be ratified by the parliament plenum on Thursday evening.

    The tender for the TV licences will proceed on fast track procedures.

    [17] Labour Minister Katrougalos asks Economic and Social Committee to weigh in on draft legislation for farmers

    Labour and Social Insurance Minister George Katrougalos on Wednesday had a meeting with Economic and Social Committee (ESC) President Giorgos Vernikos, one day after sending a copy of the draft law on pension reforms for farmers to the ESC and asking for its opinion on the measures.

    After the meeting, Katrougalos noted that an elected government's fundamental obligation was to be in constant dialogue with society and that "we are attempting this dialogue on all levels."

    He pointed out that the prime minister had recently invited farmers to a meeting to discuss their demands and how to make the government's proposals "even fairer".

    "We consider that [our proposals] serve equality before the law and social justice...but we want to hear the farmers' counter-proposals for any possible improvement that can be made," he said.

    The ESC was an institution that was the legal forum for social dialogue between the social partners and the state, under the Constitution, and for this reason the government had seen fit to activate the ESC on this level of the dialogue also, to ensure the broadest possible social but also expert discussion, the minister added.

    Regarding the farmers, Katrougalos said the government had its own ideas for improvements, as it had for the self-employed, but was waiting to hear the farmers' proposals as well, which meant that they must respond to the invitation to come and talk.

    [18] Macedonia farmers open border posts for a few hours to facilitate traffic

    Promachonas checkpoint on the Greek-Bulgarian border is currently open. Protesting farmers will block it again at 15:00 on Wednesday and they will open it again at 10:00 on Thursday.

    The farmers' block at Exochi on the Greek-Bulgarian borders opened late Tuesday and closed again at 11:00 on Wednesday.

    Two blockades have been set at Kilkis region at Evzoni border post (Greek-Fyrom border) and at Doirani (Greek-Fyrom). Farmers will close on Wednesday Evzoni post from 13:00-15:00 and 20:00-22:00 and Doirani checkpoint from 18:00-22:00.

    Meanwhile, farmers continue to keep Niselio interchange and Malgara toll station on Egnatia motorway closed.

    Finally, Western Macedonia farmers have set nine blockades and according to the blocks' coordinator Dimitris Moschos the border post at Krystallopigi (Greek-Albanian borders) and Niki (Greek-Fyrom borders) will be closed from 11:00-23:00 on Wednesday.

    [19] Farmers to give press conference; Tempi Valley closed for second consecutive day

    The Farmers' Panhellenic Cordination Committee of the blockades will present their demands at a press conference on Wednesday.

    The farmers call on the the government to withdraw its plan for the reforms in the pension system, the abolition of the tax from the first euro, non-taxed oil and the abolition of the special tax on wine.

    Meanwhile, Thessaly farmers keep the Athens-Thessaloniki motorway at Tempi Valley closed for a second consecutive day. Thessaly farmers said they are open to dialogue based on their proposals and are waiting for the prime minister to call them in order a solution to be found.

    The farmers coordination committee has called on all farmers to participate in a rally in Athens on Friday.

    [20] ND: 'Tsipras is building system of vested interests tailor-made for him'

    Main opposition New Democracy accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of building a system of vested interests tailor-made for him, following a live speech by the premier at the start of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

    "It's a lie he's fighting vested interests. He removes unconstitutionally the responsibility for TV licensing from the independent ESR, to award it to his government majority," the party said in a press release. "You do not fight vested interests with unconstitutional decisions made under the table ... Tsipras is building a system of vested interests tailor-made for him," it added.

    ND also said that the prime minister said today "one truth and many lies".

    "It's true tougher days are coming; mainly due to his irresponsible and eventually dangerous policies. It's a lie what he said about foreign policy. He says he's satisfied, but he's being ignored. He stays 'outside the room' while at the same time, 'inside', others discuss issues of the highest importance for our country," the party said.

    [21] ND leader discusses refugee crisis with local government officials

    Main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday had meetings with Athens Mayor George Kaminis and the head of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) and Maroussi Mayor Giorgos Patoulis for talks focusing primarily on the refugee and migrant crisis.

    The meeting with Patoulis also touched on the issue of pension reform and the upcoming ND party conference.

    Patoulis briefed Mitsotakis in detail on KEDE initiatives and positions on both a local and international level, noting the need for a comprehensive national action plan with the cooperation of local government and all political forces in the country.

    He also outlined KEDE's positions on issues affecting municipal authorities and expressed his support for the ND leader's position in favour of starting talks on pension reform from scratch.

    The meeting with Kaminis similarly focused on the refugee crisis, the city's welfare initiatives and growth prospects. In statements afterward, Kaminis said he briefed ND's president on the municipality's actions to deal with the refugees and migrants, noting that the issue "does not lend itself to populism".

    Mitsotakis stressed that there must be a "clear and indisputable distinction between refugees and irregular migrants and a different treatment between these two categories."

    [22] New Democracy leader announces HQ's move to low-rent area

    Main opposition New Democracy is moving its headquarters to the cheaper area of Metaxourgeio from the current location on busy Sygrou Avenue in an effort to save money on rent, party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

    "We are putting our house in order. I have a mandate for the financial consolidation of New Democracy with transparency and respect for the taxpayer. ND is moving and will now pay 9,800 euros in rent from 95,000 euros it pays now," he wrote.

    Party sources said the new headquarters will be housed in a former industrial building, thus fulfilling Mitsotakis' pledge to move to a cheaper location in a rundown area. The new address is at 62 Piraeus Street and the actual move is scheduled to take place after the Greek Orthodox Easter when refurbishing work will be completed.

    [23] PASOK says PM reiterated 'same old things' in his cabinet speech

    Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reiterated the same things he's said before, PASOK party said on Wednesday commenting on the premier's live speech at the start of a cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

    "Not a word from Alexis about the real problems of society," the party said in a press release. "We heard the same old things from the prime minister."

    PASOK also said Tsipras' speech reflected his "obsession" for practices that lead nowhere and destroy social security, while it also criticized his "well known construction of enemies" without which "he wouldn't have any arguments left even for SYRIZA MPs".

    [24] Former FinMin Varoufakis presents DiEM25 movement

    BERLIN (ANA-MPA/F. Karaviti)

    The troika is responsible for the closure of the banks and the imposition of capital controls, former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Tuesday during the presentation of his movement DiEM25.

    "There is no doubt that I failed. And our government surrendered to a programme that was designed to fail and nobody believed in it; neither Schaeuble, nor the IMF, not Draghi, nor Tsipras. It was obviously a spectacular failure," Varoufakis said.

    The former Finance Minister referred to the movement's short-term goals, in particular as regards the transparency of the European institutions and processes, with the demand for live broadcast of the Eurogroup, Ecofin, ECB and other institutions' meetings.

    Among the medium-term objectives, he said, is the presentation of a detailed policy proposal for the stabilization of the economy, the banking system, investment, etc., while the long-term goals include a dialogue for a genuine European democracy and the form of institutions.

    ?"We consider the national parties obsolete," he said. Varoufakis stressed that the main aim of DiEM25 is transparency. The movement is open to all European democrats, even the liberals, he underlined.

    [25] Greece gives green light for Paxi waterway

    The government approved on Wednesday the environmental terms for the operation of the second Greek waterway in the Ionian Sea and in particular on the island of Paxi.

    This waterway will operate within the zone of Port Gaius, which is a Natura 2000 area, designated as Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the provisions on Biodiversity.

    "The aim of the ministry is to have created a waterways network by next summer that will bring substantial benefits to the economy, create jobs and contribute to the interconnection of small and isolated islands as well as the development of local communities," Energy Minister Panos Skourletis said.

    On his part, the president of the Hellenic Waterways, Anastasios Govas, said: "The fact that the waterway in Paxi was approved to operate within a Natura 2000 area proves that seaplanes are among the most friendly environmental ways of transport. This is a benchmark decision that will help remove any doubts and accelerate environmental licenses for waterways."

    [26] State gains ownership of Athens Concert Hall after picking up debt bill

    Athens Concert Hall "Megaron", the city's first major arts center, has come under state ownership, after the government agreed to pay out its debts to ensure its survival, it was announced on Wednesday.

    The move was agreed through an amendment signed by Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Culture Minister Aristidis Baltas. According to the amendment, the State will own the entire building complex (170,000 sqm) and assume its debts, excluding those already collected or netted with other obligations.

    In return, the State will be allowed to choose eight out of the eleven BoD members (6 by the culture minister, two by the finance minister) while the remaining three will be proposed by the Friends of Music Society. The Society will also be granted the free use of the large halls for up to five events and of the small halls for another five.

    [27] Supreme Court asks parliament to waive immunity of 3 Golden Dawn MPs

    The Supreme Court's prosecution asked Greece's parliament on Wednesday to decide whether to waive or not the immunity of three Golden Dawn lawmakers for violating hate-speech laws.

    The request comes after Attica region's State Security found evidence suggesting MPs Kostas Barbarousis, Giannis Lagos and Ilias Panagiotaros may have been involved in actions that incited violence and hatred "based on race, national or ethnic origin in a way that compromises public order".

    According to the State Security, on 19-20 March 2015 members of Golden Dawn threw flyers in the streets which read: "Out with illegal migrants", while the next day the party threw flyers which read "Greece belongs to Greeks" at a gathering. Golden Dawn denied printing the flyers.

    Authorities also found a video transcript obtained from public broadcaster ERT, in which party members chanted slogans which incited violence and hatred.

    Financial News

    [28] Greek gov't, banks agree on management of non-performing loans

    The government's economic team on Wednesday met with representatives of the banking sector and discussed the course of the economy and the condition in the banking sector.

    The two sides agreed, as stated in an announcement issued by the vice-presidency of the government, that banks -following a timely and successful recapitalization exercise- were in a position to successfully deal with any turbulence in international markets. The meeting also noted that banks have no interest at all to sell their loan portfolios and agreed that banks must accelerate procedures to deal with non-performing loans based on an existing new legislation.

    The two sides also agreed on the negotiating line on the issue of managing non-performing loans and particularly exempting specific loan categories from being sold to third parties. The government's economic team agreed with bank officials to set up of joint commission to examine issues such as cutting charges on e-transactions, contributing in a combat against tax evasion and exchanging information.

    The meeting was chaired by government vice-president Yiannis Dragasakis, Economy Minister George Stathakis, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, the presidency of Hellenic Bank Union and the managements of domestic banks.

    [29] Bank of Greece governor optimistic over Greek economic prospects

    Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras on Wednesday expressed his optimism over the ability of the Greek economy to return to growth this year. Presenting the bank's interim report on Monetary Policy for 2015 to the Parliament's Economic Affairs Commission, the central banker said that a first review of the Greek economic programme -"which already has been delayed"- must be completed rapidly and noted that a swift completion of the review will contribute to improve a climate of confidence, resulting to a gradual return of deposits, cheaper funding of financial institutions and accelerating procedures for loosening capital controls in the country.

    "All these will bring the Greek economy back to normality, offering more favorable conditions of funding the economy and strengthening its course towards growth," Stournaras said, and stressed the need for political stability and social consensus.

    The central banker said that the distance needed to be covered to exit the crisis was relatively small. "We musts avoid at any cost a new setback, a new vicious cycle," Stournaras said, while he underlined the dangers to the economy from any possible negative developments in the migration issue.

    "To cover this distance, it is imperative to deal with various issues, such as non-performing loans, to promote reforms in the public sector, privatizations and exploiting state assets," the central banker said while he urged the Greek government to follow the example of Ireland "which entered the memorandum after Greece and exited earlier".

    [30] Crisis has affected both quantity and quality of jobs, especially in Greece, OECD report says

    The economic crisis in recent years has led to a decline in both the quantity but also the quality of jobs available, an Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report in 45 countries noted on Wednesday, with Greece among the worst affected.

    It noted that earnings had fallen in two thirds of OECD countries, especially in Greece and Britain, while job security had decreased, particularly in Spain and, again, in Greece.

    Conversely, employees in some countries had seen their working conditions improve, such as in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland.

    The countries with the worst performance in terms of job quality were Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey.

    The OECD report was based on three indicators: earnings quality, security in the labour market and the cost that unemployment entails and lastly, the quality of the work environment, such as nature of the work, working hours, workplace relationships and work-life balance.

    Greece experienced both a sharp rise in unemployment and a fall in earnings quality and labour market security, while the incidence of job strain remained stable, the report said.

    [31] Spending cuts better than tax increases, BoG governor says

    Fiscal results are better when achieved through spending cuts and not through tax increases, Bank of Greece governor Yiannis Stournaras said on Wednesday.

    Speaking in Parliament, during a discussion on the bank's interim report on monetary policy for 2015 at the Economic Affairs Commission, Stournaras noted that both options lowered available income but the long-term result was worse when a tax increase policy was chosen compared with the implementation of spending cuts policy.

    "No one wants pensions to be cut, but we must chose the size with the lowest cost for the society," the central banker said, adding that there was room to "look at the first pension, the second pension, supplementaries and lump sum payments," because as a society "we overprotect third age at the expense of younger generations".

    Referring to privatisations, Stournaras said "we would be better off if the current and previous governments had implemented a privatisation programme faster" and stressed that it was feasible to raise their percentage as long as there was political will and noted that this would be a stronger tool than any development law. He added that according to existing surveys, tax cuts had a more positive impact on lowering unemployment compared with subsidies.

    Stournaras made special mention of the necessity of exploiting state and church assets, while commenting on the financial impact of the migration issue, he said that countries such as Germany would benefit from the increase of an educated workforce, such as Syrian refugees, while transit countries like Greece would suffer the cost of rescue and creating infrastructure - in the case of Greece it was estimated at around 600 million euros annually. Commenting on a scenario of Greece leaving the Schengen Area, Stournaras said the cost of human and cargo transport for a country labeled as an international tourist destination, would be very big.

    The Greek central banker said concluding the first review of the Greek economic programme, restoring confidence in the economy and the banking system and the return of deposits were preconditions for lifting capital controls in the country. He said that the cost from the imposition of capital controls was not necessary, but added "having the experience of Cyprus we took measures which limited the impact, which in the end were smaller than initial estimates".

    Referring to non-performing loans, Stournaras said that the first home protection status in Greece was adequate and that fair use of non-performing loans was an opportunity for banks. Commenting on a recent plunge of prices in the Athens Stock Exchange, he said that this development has not yet affected the capital adequacy of Greek banks, "but this depends on the length of time that the share price decline will last".

    He reiterated that political stability and social consensus were preconditions for economic recovery and sent a message to opposition political parties saying: "an agreement with partners has been voted, I do not accept that an agreement is voted in principle but prior actions are not voted".

    [32] Israeli Ambassador in Athens Ben Abba visits Intracom facilities

    The Israeli Ambassador in Athens Irit Ben Abba on Tuesday visited the facilities of Intracom and met with Intracom Holdings' managing director Konstantinos Kokkalis.

    According to an announcement, Kokkalis and Ben Abba discussed the possibility of cooperation between Intracom and Israeli companies as well as the participation in initiatives focusing on innovation within the framework of a developing cooperation network in technology and other entrepreneurial sectors.

    The Israeli Ambassador in Athens, according to the same announcement, had the opportunity to be briefed on Intracom's activities regarding IT services, projects of high-tech infrastructure, energy, environment and real estate as well as the production of electronic defense systems and the importance of the use of innovative technology.

    [33] Four Greek companies in the finals of European Business Awards

    Four Greek enterprises are included in the top 110 enterprises in Europe which made it to the second phase of a European Business Awards 2015/2016, sponsored by RSM with the honorary title "Ruban d' Honneur".

    The Greek companies will participate in the final competing to win the best European company prize in their category. The Greek enterprises are: Coffee Island (The ELITE Award for Growth Strategy of the Year), Megas Yeeros (The Import/Export Award), Pharma-Data (The Award for Customer Focus) ??? VIKOS - Epirus Bottling Company (The Business of the Year Award with Turnover of ? 26-150m)

    [34] Greece ranks second globally in photovoltaic energy production

    Photovoltaic energy covered 7.0 pct of electricity energy demand in Greece last year, ranking the country second globally in photovoltaic energy production for the third successive year, the Federation of Photovoltaic Companies said in a report released on Wednesday.

    However, changes in the institutional framework (price cuts in energy purchases from the system) and the introduction of capital controls led to a drastic reduction of new installations during 2015, falling to 10.3 MW, from 912 MW in 2012, 1,043 MW in 2013 and 17 MW in 2014. Power capacity of photovoltaic units in Greece surpassed 2,600 MW in 2015, of which half came from low-power units (up to 100 kW), mostly photovoltaic units installed on rooftops.

    [35] Aegean Airlines increases its daily flights to the island of Skiathos

    Aegean Airlines on Wednesday said it is planning four daily flights to the island of Skiathos for 2016 tourist season after the increased number of arrivals in 2015.

    The company outlined its plans on Wednesday at a meeting between the mayor of Skiathos Dimitrios Prevezanos and Aegean Airlines president Theodoros Vassilakis.

    According to the company, passenger traffic posted a 157 percent hike last year in comparison with 2011.

    Aegean Airlines extends its network for a third consecutive year offering travellers the opportunity to fly directly to 45 countries and 111 destinations.

    [36] Tourists turn to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy for their holidays, shun Turkey, TUI reports

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Spinthourakis)

    Tourists are turning to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy for their upcoming spring and summer holidays this year, while bookings to Turkey are down 40 pct due to security problems, according to figures on current trends reported by the travel agency TUI on Wednesday.

    [37] Greek stocks extend fall for seventh successive session

    Greek stocks ended slightly lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, extending their fall for the seventh successive session, unable to hold on to their initial gains on lack of follow-through buying. The composite index eased 0.32 pct to end at 449.37 points, after rising as much as 2.96 pct during the session. The bank index ended higher, after losing 46.27 pct in the previous six sessions, although off the day's highs (+10.57 pct). The Large Cap index rose 0.19 pct and the Mid Cap index eased 0.35 pct.

    Turnover fell to 64.852 million euros in volume of 187,003,566. Coca Cola HBC (4.25 pct), Alpha Bank (3.57 pct), Piraeus Port (2.55 pct) and Mytilineos (2.10 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day among blue chip stocks, while PPC (8.65pct), Viohalco (8.13 pct), Ellaktor (6.13 pct) and Lamda Development (5.43 pct) suffered heavy losses. National Bank and Piraeus Bank were the most heavily traded securities.

    Among market sectors, Food (4.25 pct), Raw Materials (1.95 pct) scored gains, while Utilities (5.71 pct), Telecoms (2.68 pct) and Oil (2.63 pct) suffered losses. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 60 to 45 with another 24 issues unchanged. VIS (28.97 pct), Athina (20 pct) and Pasal (18.99 pct) were top gainers, while Nafpaktos Spin Mills (29.29 pct), Ekter (28.86 pct) and Hatzikraniotis (19.81 pct) were top losers.

    [38] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened further to 10.88 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 10.45 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 11.12 pct and the German Bund yielding 0.24 pct. There was no turnover in the market.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed. The 12-month rate rose to -0.001 pct from -0.004 pct, the nine-month rate was -0.058 pct, the six-month rate fell to -0.111 pct from -0.109 pct, the three-month rate fell to -0.175 pct from -0.171 pct and the one-month rate was -0.238 pct.

    [39] ADEX closing report

    The February contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a discount of 0.49 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,867 contracts with 25,895 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 54,401 contracts with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (14,171), followed by Alpha Bank (11,017), Piraeus Bank (14,123), Eurobank (10,739), MIG (265), OTE (991), PPC (929), OPAP (876), Hellenic Exchanges (155), Mytilineos (360), Hellenic Petroleum (230), Motor Oil (157) and GEK (60).

    General News

    [40] Belgian artist Jan Fabre selected to head Athens & Epidaurus Festival

    Acclaimed Belgian multidisciplinary artist, stage director and choreographer Jan Fabre has been chosen as artistic director of the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival, Culture Minister Aristidis Baltas announced on Wednesday.

    Fabre's proposals for the festival, as they were discussed with the minister, will be announced at a joint press conference during his forthcoming visit to Athens.

    [41] Two ferries with 1,295 aboard dock at Piraeus port

    Two ferries with 1,295 refugees and migrants docked at Piraeus port on Wednesday.

    More specifically, "Nisos Rhodos" carried 635 refugees from Chios and 575 refugees from Mytilene. "Blue Star 2" carried 85 refugees and migrants from the island of Kos.

    [42] Police on the trail of two drug trafficking rings

    A huge police operation is currently underway in the wider region of Athens to locate and dismantle two criminal groups activating in drug dealing.

    Nine persons have been arrested so far while substantial quantities of cannabis, cocaine and other drugs have been confiscated.

    According to initial information, over 50 persons are involved in the activity of the two criminal groups.

    Police will make announcements after the end of the operation.

    [43] Acropolis to shut down at noon on Feb. 12 due to employees' work stoppage

    Greece's most famous monument will remain closed as of noon on February 12 (Friday) due to a work stoppage of the Culture ministry's employees which will last until the end of their shift, their union announced on Wednesday.

    The union said it stands by "the just struggle of temporary colleagues who have for many years been working under a regime of interim judgments (injunctions) in order to stay at work."

    It also called on the Culture ministry to employ them all as staff and stop their judicial struggles.

    Weather forecast

    [44] Cloudy on Thursday

    Clouds, light rain and westerly winds are forecast for Thursday. Wind velocity will reach 6 on the Beaufort scale. Light rain in the northern and western parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 04C-16C. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the eastern parts, 08C-17C. Possibility of rain over the Aegean islands and Crete in the morning, 09C-17C. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the morning in Athens, 08C-16C. Light rain in Thessaloniki, 08C-12C.

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

    DIMOKRATIA: A blackmail of billion of euros

    EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: The game of maneuvering

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Triple impasse for the government

    ESTIA: Political leaders' meeting on the refugee issue

    ETHNOS: 20 SOS for the final exams

    IMERISSIA: Time of decisions

    KATHIMERINI: Alarm over NATO and Schengen

    KONTRA NEWS: Tractors pull down the stock market

    NAFTEMPORIKI: Four objections

    RIZOSPASTIS: Solidarity to the struggle of farmers

    TA NEA: Lagging behind on pension reforms

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