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Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 98-10-17

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

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

NEWS IN ENGLISH

Athens, Greece, 17/10/1998 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Georgia-Abkhazia conference to secure CBMs begins in Athens
  • Greek equities surge on U.S. rate cut
  • One in four businesses evading payment of taxes
  • Gov't to include indirect tax cuts in 1999 budget
  • Greece gets 24 bln for health programmes
  • Police arrest 60 Kurdish illegal immigrants
  • Four arrested in drugs haul
  • Weather
  • Foreign Exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Georgia-Abkhazia conference to secure CBMs begins in Athens

A conference between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia opened in Athens yesterday, aimed at securing confidence-building measures (CBMs) between the two sides.

Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos expressed the hope that the conference, which is being held at the seaside resort of Vouliagmeni near Athens and under the aegis of the United Nations, will bring positive results at least regarding the adoption of measures which will facilitate communication between the two sides.

Abkhaz separatists drove Georgian troops and 150,000 civilians from the territory after Georgian irregulars entered Abkhazia when the local parliament took steps towards attaining greater sovereignty.

Clashes have continued for the past six years.

Abkhazia, which has not gained international recognition as an independent state, accounts for approximately one fifth of Georgian territory.

Mr. Pangalos spoke of building a framework which would allow a political solution to the problem, while observing that if a "positive example" emerges from the process, "then this could also apply in similar problems where one of the sides refuses to enter into negotiations".

Both the Georgian and Abkhazian delegations, led respectively by Premier Vazha Lordkipanidze and the head of the separatist government, Sergei Bagapsh, praised Athens' role in efforts aimed at a peaceful settlement to the problem. According to the UN secretary-general's special envoy, Ambassador Lydiou Bota, who is also attending the conference, the agenda includes discussion of specific proposals in various sectors and the formulation and adoption of CBMs. The conference ends on Sunday.

In order to facilitate the adoption of CBMs, a number of countries will be providing assistance. These include Russia, as a mediating country, and the members of the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General" group, namely, the USA, France, Russia, Britain a nd Germany.

Although the ultimate objective is to find an overall and lasting solution to the problem, priority is presently being given to secure the safe return of refugees to Abkhazia, the resolution of the sovereignty aspect, as well as a number of economic and humanitarian problems. Mr. Pangalos said Greece did not feel itself to be a third party in the problem between Georgia and Abkhazia but rather was directly interested in establishing peace, security and prosperity in the region.

Greek equities surge on U.S. rate cut

A surprise move by the Federal Reserve to ease short-term interest rates in the US brought euphoria to international markets and led the Athens Stock Exchange above the 2,000 level for the first time in 11 sessions. The general index surged 6.37 percent to end to 2,040.47 points in heavy turnover of 69.4 billion drachmas. Volume was 15,534,000 shares. Banks led the advance with a 7.92 percent rise followed by Leasing and Industrials, at 7.46 and 6.0 percent respectively. Insurance ended 3.96 percent up, Investments soared 6.51 percent, Miscellaneous ended 3.64 percent higher and Holding rose 4.76 percent. The parallel market index for small cap companies ended 4.37 percent higher, while the FTSE/ASE 20 index jumped 6.72 percent to 1,222.26.

One in four businesses evading payment of taxes

One in four Greek businesses audited by the finance ministry's economic crimes squad SDOE are involved in the national pastime of tax evasion, according to the SDOE's figures for September. SDOE said that of 12,545 audits on businesses and self-employed professionals, 3,680 were found to be evading payment of tax or duties. Self-employed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, civil enginneers, artists and public notaries had a 67.93 percent rate for infringements of the tax code. The SDOE's special task force investigating the tax records of high profile self-employed professionals found a 100 percent infringement rate. On companies with turnover of over two billion drachmas annually, the infringement rate was 41.9 percent. Businesses in tourist areas had an infringement rate of 40.54 percent.

Gov't to include indirect tax cuts in 1999 budget

National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday that the government would lower indirect taxes in the 1999 budget as part of its drive to bring consumer price inflation below 2.0 percent at the end of 1999.

"We will aim at bringing inflation to 2.0 percent by the end of 1999 with all the means at our disposal," Mr. Papantoniou told reporters.

He said the measures included cuts in indirect taxes, but declined to discuss how much the government would lower Value Added Tax on goods and services.

Mr. Papantoniou was speaking after a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Bank of Greece Governor Lucas Papademos at which he presented his final draft of the 1999 budget. The new budget, which is to be studied by gover nment departments next week, will be sent to parliament well before the November 30 constitutional deadline, the minister said.

A final decision on the budget will be taken by the inner cabinet on October 23, according to government sources.

Bringing down inflation is the focus of the government's economic policy, which aims to take Greece into European economic and monetary union by January 1, 2001. The government, which intends to battle inflation through a strict incomes and monetary pol icy by means of the budget, has already secured price cuts this year by agreement with retailers and a pledge to virtually freeze prices in a range of foodstuffs and household goods in 1999.

Mr. Papantoniou said the drive to lower prices led by the development ministry was so far very successful, and he called on businesses to comply with the promises they had made.

The minister also repeated that rates for public utilities would be frozen in 1999, further aiding the fight against inflation.

According to sources, the prime minister has given the green light to Mr. Papantoniou's proposals.

The same sources said the most probable scenario in the budget was to lower VAT on the Public Power Corporation's electricity bills from the current 18 percent, instead of easing VAT on pharmaceuticals and water utility bills from 8.0 percent to 5.0 per cent.

Mr. Papantoniou's proposals also include lowering a consumer tax on vehicles.

The sources said that the basic principles of the new budget were:

  • containing consumer spending in the public sector and eliminating wastefulness
  • pursuing the same direct tax policy
  • lowering indirect taxes to combat inflation
  • continuing the drive to stamp out tax evasion
  • increasing public investment spending to cover the needs of the 2nd Community Support Framework, which will enter its final year of implementation.

The general government deficit in 1999 will be less than 2.0 percent of gross domestic product, a projection meeting the 2.1 percent target endorsed by the EU in Greece's economic convergence plan.

Greece gets 24 bln for health programmes

Greece and the European Investment Bank (EIB) today signed an agreement under which the EIB will allocate a 24 billion dr. loan to the health sector for the first time. The accord, signed by national economy undersecretary Christos Pachtas and EIB vice-chairman Panagiotis Gennimatas, will be used for supplementary financing of the EU Community Support Framework's (CSF) "Health-Welfare" programme. The funds will be used for the completion and immediate opening of 15 new hospital units in the Greek provinces, the development of informatics systems in the health-welfare sector, the modernisation and establishment of new, modern intensive care units, and supplementary actions in the field of urgent medical services.

Police arrest 60 Kurdish illegal immigrants

Police in Thessaloniki reported they had arrested a group of 60 illegal immigrants of Kurdish origin on Friday. The group were found living on a construction site in the northern capital. Police say they were brought into the country by a gang of illegal immigrant smugglers and would probably have spread out throughout the country seeking work. The group are being detained pending deportation.

Four arrested in drugs haul

Police in Kastoria said on Friday that they had arrested three Albanians and a Greek who were found in possession of 10 kilos of hashish and are believed to have been smuggling the narcotic into the country from Albania. The arrested were identified as Petros Moumgiakmas, 36, a fruit merchant from Yiannitsa, northern Greece and Albanians Kourtsi Baldehu, 24, Dimitris Peronkas, 29 and Konstantin Tamousi, 19, who were also residing in Yiannitsa. All four were due to appear before a public prosecutor today.

WEATHER

Mostly fair throughout Greece on Saturday with some scattered cloud in the east of the country. Winds northerly, light to moderate, turning strong in the central and southern Aegean. Fair in Athens with temperatures between 12-23C. Mostly fair in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 10-22C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Friday's rates (buying) U.S. dollar 280.111 British pound 476.120 Japanese yen (100) 235.471 French franc 51.021 German mark 171.060 Italian lira (100) 17.286 Irish Punt 426.560 Belgian franc 8.292 Finnish mark 56.236 Dutch guilder 151.667 Danish kr. 44.997 Austrian sch. 24.314 Spanish peseta 2.013 Swedish kr. 35.137 Norwegian kr. 36.527 Swiss franc 210.006 Port. Escudo 1.669 Aus. dollar 176.556 Can. dollar 181.119 Cyprus pound 578.376

(M.S.)


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