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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-01-10

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, 10/01/1999 (ANA)

NEWS HEADLINES

  • Simitis blasts opposition
  • Defence minister calls for reform of ruling party
  • Consumer price inflation drops to 3.9 pct in December
  • Senior ruling party officials call for change
  • New privatisation tender called for Ionian Bank
  • Coalition of Left rejects alliance with ruling party
  • Stocks nose up in heavy trade, hit new record
  • Intracom signs key research contract with MIT
  • Demetriadis Textiles turns to financial services
  • Energy and sustainability congress to be held in Athens
  • Initiative to reopen Halki School
  • Strategic investor for Olympic considered
  • Delivery of fire-fighting aircraft soon
  • Major investment in pipe manufacturing
  • WEATHER
  • FOREIGN EXCHANGE

    NEWS IN DETAIL

    Simitis blasts opposition

    Prime Minister Costas Simitis has charged opposition parties with exhibiting serious irresponsibility, accusing the Communist Party in particular of fomenting continuing unrest among school children with the aim of overturning or obstructing government policy.

    "They are promising all things to all people, exhibiting the dramatic irresponsibility which characterises them ... The Communist Party is seeking to foment unrest on the basis of a specific plan, and with the obvious intention of overturning or obstrucing government policy. They are not interested in education, but in cutting our course short," he said in his concluding address to the ruling PASOK party's central committee session Saturday.

    He stressed that such phenomena should not be allowed to hinder Greece's efforts to join European Economic and Monetary Union.

    "Given that the majority endorses the efforts towards EMU accession, everyone must reject phenomena such as (the planned) farmers' mobilizations in Thessaly, or the 'fraternal front' of workers, students and farmers on January 15," he said.

    He reiterated that 1999 would be a year in which the government would complete its main tasks and plan for the future, and appealed for internal party unity in view of PASOK's congress in March.

    "Everyone in PASOK should not forget that Greek society is watching us. We have the duty to see what the people expect from us. It is certain they do not consider personal differences a priority, but wish to see solutions to problems," Simitis stressed.

    Defence minister calls for reform of ruling party

    Defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos on Saturday stressed the need for extensive changes in the structure, organisation and functions of the ruling party, and that an agreement was imperative on the aims of PASOK's ruling congress in March.

    Tsohatzopoulos was addressing a meeting of PASOK's central committee.

    He defined the changes as the strengthening of the party in society and in its internal cohesion, the carving of a course towards the elections for the European and the national parliaments, the formulation of new policies for the new decade, an effective stand vis-a-vis the main opposition New Democracy party, and PASOK's relations with the Left.

    Regarding Euroelections, he said that whether the party liked it or not, it was being led to a total stand-off with the opposition, and called for and end to isolated phenomena of defeatism.

    A condition for victory in Euroelections, he added, but also in the national elections, which were the main goal, was the enhancement of PASOK's social and political base, and the projection of its visible differences from New Democracy.

    "The maintenance of the party's cohesion among its supporters is necessary if we are to avoid defeat," he said.l

    Consumer price inflation drops to 3.9 pct in December

    Consumer price inflation dropped sharply to 3.9 percent year-on-year in December from 4.2 percent in November, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said on Friday.

    Inflation has been the hardest nut for the government to crack in order to meet its target of entry into economic and monetary union (EMU) by January 1, 2001.

    The minister called on industry and commerce to maintain their contribution to the anti-inflation drive begun last year by freezing or lowering prices.

    "A drop in prices has now become the responsibility mainly of business, which must contain prices and freeze profits so that inflation may fall to 2.0 percent at the end of 1999, thus ensuring the country's entry into EMU, " he told a news conference.

    Inflation was likely to continue its decline in the first half of the year, allowing the fall in interest rates to accelerate in the second half.

    Mr. Papantoniou said that the new year augured well for the attainment of EMU targets, but complacency could jeopardise gains so far, especially in inflation and rates on long-term state securities.

    In addition, he announced that the rate of increase of government revenue in 1998 was 13.6 percent from the original target of 10.7 percent, resulting in a budgetary surplus of 186 billion drachmas.

    The minister repeated that the government would to some extent ease the tax burden in the budget for 2000 in measures that would aid low and middle incomes.

    Consultations with interested parties would begin at the end of March, he said.

    Senior ruling party officials call for change

    European Union Energy Commissioner Christos Papoutsis, who is also a member of the ruling PASOK party, on Saturday urged the government to bring its policies closer to the public in order to maintain its roots.

    Papoutsis was addressing a meeting of PASOK's central committee, which is debating proposals submitted for the party's national congress in March.

    "PASOK has the image of a divided party," he said.

    Speaking at the same meeting, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the two last PASOK governments had revitalised the economy and brought Greece within a hair's breadth of economic and monetary union.

    The party's economic policy had remained consistent under late premier Andreas Papandreou, who founded and led PASOK, and his successor Costas Simitis, prime minister and party chief.

    "The congress will be a unique opportunity to clarify political positions and proposals ... There is enough ground to achieve broader agreement among all the tendencies within PASOK," Papantoniou said.

    Press Secretary General Nikos Athanassakis told the central committee that PASOK might fall flat on its face, and was beginning to display "suicidal tendencies".

    Minister of State Costas Geitonas said the national congress should aim to be substantive, and avoid turning into a settling of personal or political accounts.

    Eurodeputy Rena Lambraki told the meeting that PASOK's lack of credibility was due not only to coverage by the mass media but also to party officials themselves, who "make fools of themselves for a minute of fame."

    New privatisation tender called for Ionian Bank

    State-owned Commercial Bank of Greece on Friday called a new international tender for the sale of a majority stake in its subsidiary, Ionian Bank.

    Under the two-phase privatisation tender, non-binding bids for the purchase of a 51 percent equity stake in Ionian Bank must be submitted by February 8.

    In the first phase, investors will receive a report by J.P. Morgan, the US investment bank acting as consultant to the sale, containing confidential data on the bank's finances.

    In the second phase, bidders will submit final bids accompanied by letters of guarantee, and details of the sale's timescale will be announced.

    National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou later estimated that the sale would be completed in March.

    Bank of Piraeus has expressed interest in buying the controlling stake in Ionian Bank. Banking sources expect Eurobank and Alpha Credit Bank also to take part in the tender.

    Coalition of Left rejects alliance with ruling party

    The Coalition of the Left (Syanspismos) on Saturday rejected a proposal by PASOK secretary Costas Skandalidis for a joint ticket in the June Euroelections, and reiterated prior conditions for the introduction of the proportional representation system, a change in government policy, and dialogue on possible convergence of positions with a view to forming a coalition government comprising progressive parties.

    In his proposal, made in an interview with the "Ependytis" newspaper, Skandalidis said the two parties did not differ on the issue of the country's European strategy and participation in EMU.

    "I am tired of hearing of theoretical discussions on coalitions, rhetorical calls and above all theatrical statements. We have Euroelections before us, there is almost identity of views, so let's collaborate," he said.

    He ruled out the simultaneous holding of national and Euroelections, while referring to the electoral system, he said that the issue of constitutional revision would be open after the election of the next parliament, when the idea for a more stable and proportinal system could mature.

    "However, the effort for political convergence through sincere and unconditional dialogue takes precedence before we reach that point," he stressed.

    Stocks nose up in heavy trade, hit new record

    Equities moved cautiously higher on Friday to end at new record levels for the second consecutive session on the Athens Stock Exchange.

    The general index ended 0.09 percent up at 3,003.54 points reversing an early correction caused by profit-taking. The index ended the first trading week of the year with a 9.72 percent gain.

    Traders said buying interest focused on medium sized stocks, and metallurgical companies in particular.

    Turnover was heavy at 108.7 billion drachmas on volume of 18,303,000 shares. The week's average daily turnover totalled 104.9 billion drachmas, up from 93 billion the previous week.

    The parallel market index ended 0.45 percent off, and the FTSE/ASE-20 index gained 0.07 percent to finish at 1,910.26 points.

    Of 279 shares traded, advances led declines at 135 to 120 with 24 remaining unchanged.

    National Bank of Greece closed at 70,400 drachmas and Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation at 8,500 drachmas.

    Contributing to euphoria this week was optimism by foreign investors that Greece will meet European Union convergence criteria in 1999. In addition, consumer price inflation ended the year at 3.9 percent, interest rates are declining, higher profitability is being shown by listed companies, the government has stated its resolve to carry out its privatisation programme, and market liquidity is high.

    Analysts also noted that despite its record rally, the general index's P/E ratio remained relatively low at 22 percent compared with 27 percent in Portugal, 24 percent in Spain and 26.3 percent in Italy.

    Intracom signs key research contract with MIT

    The Intracom Group of Companies has signed a key research and development agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Laboratory that is to include electronic commerce, Internet and multimedia.

    Intracom said in a statement on Friday that the contract, signed in late December, was concluded after a visit by Intracom's chairman, Socrates Kokkalis, to the Media Laboratory on December 17 where he negotiated the deal with its director, Nicholas Negroponte.

    Demetriadis Textiles turns to financial services

    Demetriadis Textiles, a company listed in the main market of the Athens Stock Exchange, is to be transformed into a holding company offering investment and financial services following a radical change in its equity structure, it said in a statement on Friday.

    Buying a 72 percent equity stake in Demetriadis Textiles for 947 million drachmas were a group of companies and businessmen led by M.H. Media Productions Holdings Ltd, represented by entrepreneur Minos Kyriakou, the owner of Antenna TV.

    The other companies in the group are the listed Mytilineos Group of Companies, whose main activity is metals trading, and LFG Capital Management Ltd, which handles financial derivatives on the Chicago bourse, and is represented by Linnco Europe Ltd.

    Both companies acquired stakes of more than 10 percent of the total.

    Remaining small stakes were acquired by individual businessmen.

    The shares were transferred yesterday by their owners, members of the Theoharakis family. Vassilis Theoharakis will retain some of his shares.

    Demetriadis' share showed the highest returns in the Athens bourse in the period October 12-January 7, up 708.96 percent.

    Energy and sustainability congress to be held in Athens

    An international congress on energy and sustainable development in European cities is to be held in Athens on January 18-19 at the Hilton Hotel.

    The congress, entitled "Metropolis 2000" will bring together government ministers, international institutions, municipalities, public utilities and experts from Europe.

    Opening the congress is European Union Energy Commissioner Christos Papoutsis.

    Among Greek officials invited to attend are Development Minister Vasso Papandreou, Public Works, Town Planning and Environment Minister Costas Laliotis, and Transport and Communications Minister Tassos Mantelis.

    Further information is available from the European Commission's office in Athens.

    Initiative to reopen Halki School

    NEW YORK - The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is undertaking an initiative to establish an independent foundation whose task will be to promote efforts to reopen the Halki School of Theology, shut down by Turkey some 30 years ago.

    The announcement was made by Archbishop of America Spyridon during a press conference.

    The Archbishop stressed that apart from the Greek Orthodox faithful in the US, the initiative will expand to garner support from all Orthodox Churches, among others.

    To achieve this important target, he added, all means will be used to mobilise the large US society.

    Strategic investor for Olympic considered

    National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said one of the scenarios being considered for debt-ridden Olympic Airways is for a foreign partner to undertake the carrier's restructuring and to participate in its share capital increase afterwards as a strategic investor.

    Mr. Papantoniou said final decisions regarding OA will depend on the condition of the state-run carrier itself, as well as on the stance of employees, whom he accused of pressuring for "irrational benefits."

    "What is currently going on in the company at present shows a sick climate of pressures for irrational benefits which are undermining its future," he said.

    OA management is apprehensive over the reaction by pilots, fearing pilots will call in sick en masse.

    OA pilots are refusing to work overtime in order to press demands, including the hiring of more flight personnel. The move has caused cancellations and long delays to OA's domestic and international flights.

    Transport and Communications Minister Tassos Mantelis said the demands were "illogical and would not be met".

    In addition, Mr. Mantelis also said that a pilot who refused to make a scheduled stop in Thessaloniki over the weekend, leaving 86 passengers stranded in Athens, had been suspended from flying pending the completion of an administrative inquiry.

    Delivery of fire-fighting aircraft soon

    Greece will soon take delivery of the first of 10 new "Canadair 415 GR" fire-fighting aircraft following an agreement signed by the government with the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace.

    The agreement implements a decision taken by the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) after last summer's catastrophic forest fires throughout Greece.

    The cost of the aircraft is more than 78 billion drachmas, which will cover also spare parts, ground equipment and crew training. The agreement contains an option for the purchase of a further five aircraft.

    The Canadair 415 GR has a maximum speed of 375 kph and on a normal mission where a fire is up to 10 kilometres from the source of water, they are capable of dropping 10 loads of water every hour.

    The first aircraft will be "delivered shortly" and the other nine between the summer of 1999 and 2001, according to the government.

    Major investment in pipe manufacturing

    Viohalko subsidiary Corinth Pipeworks S.A. has purchased 25.1 hectares of land in the Viotia industrial zone from the Hellenic Industrial Development Bank (ETBA) as part of a 33.6-billion-drachma investment in pipe manufacturing.

    According to press reports, the company aims to purchase a total of 100 hectares for construction of steel pipe and beam plant based on new European Union standards.

    Production will be funneled into the domestic and regional market.

    According to the company, the investment will proceed in two separate phases, the first being a 4.3-billion-drachma beam-production unit, already approved by the development ministry, while the second will be a 29.3- billion-drachma investment in pipe ma nufacturing and infrastructure, which is awaiting approval by relevant agencies.

    The company has contracts for pipe deliveries with British Petroleum (BP) as well as a Mobil and Shell joint venture.

    WEATHER

    Partly cloudy weather is forecast for most parts of the country on Monday with showers likely in the west. Winds southerly, moderate to strong. Temperatures in the north are expected to remain around 0C to 13C; on the rest of the mainland 2C to 19C; and in the islands 9C to 19C.

    FOREIGN EXCHANGE

    (Monday's rates) Banknotes Buying Selling US Dollar 275.746 282.140 Can.Dollar 181.754 185.968 Australian Dlr 174.438 178.483 Pound Sterling 453.086 463.591 Irish Punt 408.230 417.695 Pound Cyprus 551.552 564.340 Pound Malta 683.750 702.240 Turkish pound (100) 0.072 0.075 French franc 49.013 50.150 Swiss franc 199.094 203.710 Belgian franc 7.970 8.155 German Mark 164.384 168.195 Finnish Mark 54.074 55.327 Dutch Guilder 145.894 149.276 Danish Kr. 43.204 44.205 Swedish Kr. 35.156 35.972 Norwegian Kr. 37.478 38.347 Austrian Sh. 23.365 23.907 Italian lira (100) 16.604 16.989 Yen (100) 246.214 251.923 Spanish Peseta 1.932 1.977 Port. Escudo 1.604 1.641

    (C.S.)


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