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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-05-21

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, 21/05/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Vatrholomeos begins official visit
  • Social spending rising in the 1990s
  • Unemployment at 11.5 pct in first quarter
  • Greece to release Balkan reconstruction plan in June
  • Stocks hit new high, smaller stocks sought
  • Government sees SMEs as priority, Simitis says
  • Increase in tourists from Scandinavia reported
  • Gov't proposes TV debate between Simitis, Karamanlis
  • G. Papandreou in Moscow, Beijing for talks on Yugoslav crisis
  • Greece rejects Turkish request for military air transport passage
  • Onassis Foundation trustees press for Swiss court decision
  • Hios mastic cures ulcers
  • Gov't points to very clean Greek beaches
  • British backing for Greek wine exhibition
  • Panathinaikos wins basketball championship
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Vatrholomeos begins official visit

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, betgan a 15-day official visit, the first to the Autocephalus Orthodox Church of Greece.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, who is afforded full head of state honours, was met at Athens airport by President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, Parliament Preside nt Apostolos Kaklamanis, main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, cabinet members, the armed forces' leadership, members of the Holy Synod as well as of the diplomatic corps.

At noon, Foreign Minister George Papandreou hosted a luncheon in the Patriarch's honour.

During his visit, which ends on June 5, Vartholomeos, will tour a number of cities and towns throughout the country.

On May 31, the feast of the Holy Spirit, Vartholomeos will visit the metropolitan church in the Thessaloniki district of Kalamaria, accompanied by Archbishop Christodoulos.

The Church of Greece is the only Orthodox Church that Vartholomeos has not visited. He has already visited the all-male monastic community of Mount Athos and areas of Greece under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including the semi-autonomous Church of Crete and the Metropolitan dioceses of the Dodecanese.

The Patriarch blessed crowds of Athenians who had gathered to greet him in central Syntagma Square, from his hotel balcony.

"We hail the Greek people for their adherence to their principles and traditions," Vartholomeos said.

He called for peace to prevail, saying: "Where might fails to impose its will, love prevails."

Later in the evening, President Stephanopoulos awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Saviour to Vartholomeos, whom he also hosted to an official dinner.

Mr. Stephanopoulos stressed the Patriarch's great contribution to the promotion of Christian unity and understanding between churches.

"In an era when spiritual values are cast doubt upon, societies are in turbulence and world peace is upset, we look upon the teachings of religion and to the Orthodox Church to draw new hope and strength in the struggle for an improvement and the development of human societies," he said.

He also emphasised the importance of the Patriarchate.

"It promotes peace in the world, supports the great human values and principles, and proposes compromise between peoples beyond national boundaries," he said.

Social spending rising in the 1990s

Social spending in Greece has increased significantly in recent years, improving the country's position among European Union member-states, especially southern countries with comparable economies, according to a survey by the National Statistics Service.

The NSS survey, which was released yesterday, covers the period 1990-1998 and employs harmonised EU figures.

National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the figures covered spending on health, pensions, employment and housing.

In 1992, spending on social protection as a percentage of the gross domestic product was 21.5 percent, at the bottom of the EU league, rising to 24.3 pct in 1993. The percentage then continued to rise.

In 1998, spending on social protection totalled 8.7 trillion drachmas with the annual rate of increase accelerating every year.

Mr. Papantoniou said the rate of increase in 1991 and 1992 slowed by 1.1 and 1.8 percent respectively, but it rose by 2.3 percent in 1993, by 4.1 percent in 1995 and by 7.8 percent in 1998.

He noted that the increase in spending on social protection was double the rate of GDP growth, and was up 30 percent from 1992.

The minister stressed, however, that the situation was still unsatisfactory and that the country had still a long way to go to reach average EU levels.

Unemployment at 11.5 pct in first quarter

Unemployment in the first quarter of the year was 11.5 percent of the working population, the National Statistics Service said yesterday.

Commenting on the record figure, Labour Minister Miltiades Papaioannou said that a high proportion of seasonal unemployment was incorporated that did not signal an annual rate.

The annual rate would be lower, Mr. Papaioannou added.

The minister was speaking after a meeting with leaders of the General Confederation of Greek Labour on an action plan the government is drafting to boost employment.

The plan, which is in its final stage, will be given to the European Union by May 30, he said. Mr. Papaioannou is due on Monday to meet with employers' representatives to discuss the scheme.

GSEE president Christos Polyzogopoulos told reporters that this was the first time a government had made a concerted effort to hold talks on employment policy.

Greece to release Balkan reconstruction plan in June

An international plan to restructure Balkan economies, budgeted at 10-30 billion US dollars, will contain a package of measures proposed by Greece, due for completion by the end of June, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yeste rday.

Mr. Papantoniou was speaking to reporters after a meeting with officials from other ministries and representatives of industry, banking and exports.

It was decided to create five working groups to collect data on the Balkans covering investments, infrastructure, external trade in goods, external trade in services and legislation. The data will be used to draft the national action plan.

Mr. Papantoniou said the government's action was timely, and would enable the country to launch initiatives in the Balkans.

Bulgaria will be included in the international reconstruction drive. "I think it would be irrational not to include Serbia in the plan," said the minister in reply to a question.

Stocks hit new high, smaller stocks sought

Equity prices set a new record yesterday reflecting strong buying interest in small and medium capitalisation shares.

The general index ended 1.37 percent higher at 4,165.36 points, off the day's highs. It was the 29th record close in 1999 bringing gains for the year so far to 52.16 percent.

Turnover was 212.795 billion drachmas with 40,024,333 shares changing hands.

Banks and construction - which led the market's recent record rally - underperformed the index ending 0.42 and 0.97 percent lower respectively.

Other sector indices scored gains as follows: Leasing (+4.35 pct), Insurance (+5.01 pct), Investment (+4.11 pct), Industrials (+3.34 pct), Miscellaneous (+2.53 pct) and Holding (+6.31 pct).

National Bank of Greece closed at 22,420 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 22, 400, Ergobank at 29,150, Ionian Bank at 16,995, Titan Cement at 29,050, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,900, Intracom at 22,995, Minoan Lines at 9,699, Panafon at 8,400 and Hellenic Telecoms at 7,500.

Government sees SMEs as priority, Simitis says

Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday that the government had set a priority on aiding the growth of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).

Mr. Simitis was visiting Ylikon SA, a manufacturer and repairer of ship engine components located in Attica.

The prime minister urged the owners of SMEs to take advantage of European Union funding, banking facilities and new financial tools to boost competitiveness.

He gave the company's 50 employees a review of government policy over the last five years that had aided the sector, noting that industrial output had grown by 8.5 percent after 20 years of stagnation.

Increase in tourists from Scandinavia reported

Some 1.2 million tourist arrivals are expected from Scandinavian countries this year despite the war in Yugoslavia, with an increase around 5 per cent expected this season compared to 1998. According to reports, no cancellations or a freeze in bookings has been noted.

Scandinavian countries - Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark - are considered to be among the top tourist markets and hold third place in Greece with more than 1.12 million arrivals in 1997. As a percentage, however, in relation to their population whic his barely 24 million, they come first with 21 per cent.

The war has had no repercussions on tourist movement since about 95 per cent of tourists travel with charter flights and most bookings (80 per cent) in the entire region had already been closed at catalogue prices before the crisis erupted, according to Christos Lianeris, the head of the Greek Tourist Organisation's (EOT) office in Stockholm.

Gov't proposes TV debate between Simitis, Karamanlis

The government yesterday reiterated its position that a televised debate should be held between Prime Minister Costas Simitis and main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis prior to Euro-elections next month.

Replying to reporters' questions, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas proposed June 7 as a suitable date for the debate, six days before the elections.

Responding to the government's call for a televised debate between Mr. Simitis and Mr. Karamanlis, Mr. Spiliotopoulos said:

"If the government assumes its responsibility and replies unequivocally with a 'no' to ND's proposal for a televised debate with the participation of all political party leaders and takes the responsibility for excluding the other political forces, some thing which we would regret, we would be obliged to accept its proposal..."

G. Papandreou in Moscow, Beijing for talks on Yugoslav crisis

Foreign Minister George Papandreou leaves today for Moscow for talks with Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov.

Diplomatic sources said Mr. Papandreou would also hold consultations with Russia's special envoy on the Yugoslav crisis, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who will brief the Greek minister on the results of his marathon deliberations with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

He has also asked to meet with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who were due in Moscow yesterday for deliberations.

On Saturday night, Mr. Papandreou will leave for Beijing, for talks Monday morning with his Chinese counterpart. He leaves Beijing Monday evening for New York via Frankfurt.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Papandreou will hold talks with diplomat Richard Holbrooke, US President Bill Clinton's nominee for US representative to the UN who brokered the Bosnia peace deal, and meet with members of the Greek- American community.

He then flies to Washington for talks Thursday with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA chief George Tenet and other officials.

Diplomatic sources yesterday expressed "reserved optimism" on the diplomatic initiatives for a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo crisis.

The sources said optimism was raised by the fact that both Russia and the US were positively viewing Mr. Papandreou's proposal for a 48-hour halt of NATO bombings in Yugoslavia at the first positive indication on President Milosevic's part on a G-8 draft proposal, and for a simultaneous meeting of the UN security council.

The sources said that Greece would participate with approximately 1,000 troops in an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Mr. Papandreou on Wednesday presented copies to Mr. Chernomyrdin, President Ahtisaari and Mr. Talbott of a draft resolution for the Security Council drawn up by the Greek foreign ministry to assist the multilateral efforts being made to formulate a resolution text acceptable to all sides.

Greece rejects Turkish request for military air transport passage

Athens yesterday rejected Ankara' application for the use of Greek airspace by Turkish transport planes destined for Italy, sources said.

According to reports, the Turkish government submitted an application at noon to the Greek foreign ministry for passage of two or three planes. The aircraft were to transport personnel and spare parts to Italy for Turkish fighter jets taking part in the NATO operations against Yugoslavia.

The rejection came after consultations with the ministry of defence, and on the grounds that Greece does not participate in military operations or provide facilities to countries taking part in them.

Onassis Foundation trustees press for Swiss court decision

The Athens-based trustees of the Onassis fortune said yesterday they would press further their recourse against a Swiss guardianship authority decision to assign management of the assets to a Lucerne-based firm.

The Onassis Foundation said it had sent KPMG a questionnaire designed to validate its suitability for the task, saying the firm had refused to answer.

"We shall press our recourse against the unlawful and unfounded decision which appointed KPMG as curators," a foundation press release stated.

The Onassis Foundation, which administers the partimony of teenage heiress Athina Roussel and is pitted in a three-year battle with her father, Tierry, won a stay of execution of the decision from a Swiss court in March. The decision upheld the last wishes of Christina Onassis in her handwritten will, namely, that her husband be excluded from the administration of Athina's legacy.

The trustees said they had also decided to make public the questionnaire and the written reaction of KPMG.

"For the sake of our own credibility and because we have often been the victims of slanderers and perjurers, have decided to make public the questionnaire and the written reaction of KPMG to it, so that the matter be presented with transparency," the release read.

Hios mastic cures ulcers

Mastic producers on the eastern Aegean island of Hios have asked the agriculture ministry for support in cultivating the island's exclusive product, following reports that it can aid in the cure of ulcers. Researchers at the Nottingham University Hos pital and Barnet General Hospital have found that Hios mastic is an effective treatment against ulcers.

The research findings were published in the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings showed that even in small doses of one gram a day for two weeks, mastic gum could cure peptic ulcers.

The mastic gum has anti-bacterial properties that are particularly effective against the bacteria which lead to gastric and duodenal ulcers.

The mastic tree which produces the resin for the gum is exclusive to Hios.

According to reports, some of the researchers involved in the study may attend a seminar on the island in September and the agriculture ministry is reported to be preparing a programme to support and advertise the product.

Gov't points to very clean Greek beaches

Close to 99 per cent of Greece's beaches are suitable for swimming, placing the country in first place among European countries, the government said yesterday.

Environment Costas Laliotis said a water quality measuring scheme run by the ministry had tested 1,737 beaches in 609 municipalities and communities and found that only 17 had waters unfit for bathing.

The entire programme cost 170 million drachmas.

British backing for Greek wine exhibition

The Brintex company, which organises the International Wine Trade Exhibition in London (LWITF), has announced its backing for the Greek Trade Exhibition "Oinorama", due to take place in Athens next February.

"British buyers are showing interest in Greek wines and in this way our involvement in 'Oinorama' is justified as organisers and marketing advisers, " LWITF director Andrew Evans said.

Brintex will undertake the European sales and the marketing of the "Oinorama" exhibition for wines from Greece, the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, according to a announcement.

Panathinaikos wins basketball championship

Panathinaikos won the Greek basketball championship last night by prevailing over Olympiakos Piraeus 62-53 in the fifth play-off (29-29 at half-time) at the Peace and Friendship Stadium.

WEATHER

Partly cloudy weather is forecast throughout the country today with the possibility of showers in central and northern Greece. Winds variable, light to moderate. Partly cloudy in Athens with temperatures between 17- 27C. Possibility of intermittent rain in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 16-22C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Friday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          302.669
Pound sterling       488.302
Japanese yen (100)   244.082
French franc          49.127
German mark          164.764
Italian lira (100)    16.643
Irish Punt           409.174
Belgian franc          7.988
Luxembourg franc       7.988
Finnish mark          54.199
Dutch guilder        146.232
Danish kr.            43.398
Austrian sch.         23.419
Spanish peseta         1.936
Swedish kr.           35.821
Norwegian kr.         39.027
Swiss franc          201.262
Port. Escudo           1.607
Can. dollar          206.336
Aus. dollar          200.389
Cyprus pound         556.155
Euro                 322.251
(C.E.)
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