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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-05-27

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, 27/05/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Simitis sends letter to EU leaders on Kosovo crisis
  • Gov't to cut direct taxes in January 2000
  • Employment action plan goes to parliament
  • Stocks slump on Kosovo jitters
  • National Bank Group posts 92.1 pct profit jump in Q1
  • Shipping forex inflows up 2.9 pct in 1998
  • Papandreou-Albright talks focus squarely on war in Yugoslavia
  • Papandreou, Holbrooke talks in NY focus on Kosovo, Cyprus
  • PM says Euro-elections crucial
  • Latest poll shows ND, PASOK gap narrowing
  • Seminar brings Europe's press agencies to Athens
  • Reconstruction of Parthenon's north side approved
  • Book on Turkish destruction of Cyprus' cultural sites
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Simitis sends letter to EU leaders on Kosovo crisis

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday sent a letter to his EU counterparts stressing the necessity for a speedy peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis.

"It is imperative that diplomatic efforts are intensified. That we have results until the Cologne summit with everyone's cooperation. Each one of us needs to express to the protagonists of the negotiations the need for peace to prevail as soon as possib le...Greece has already done it. It has especially appealed to Yugoslavia to accept the proposal of G8. Problems are not insuperable," he said in the letter.

Speaking at a press conference, the prime minister said he did not see any reason for the deployment of NATO groung forces in Kosovo.

"NATO is preparing, but I do not see such a possibility because negotiations are underway which I think will bear fruit. Most countries do not want ground operations and I believe they would lead nowhere," he said.

He said the Greek government would continue its initiatives in the search for a solution, always according to national interests.

"We have kept Greece out of the crisis and said a clear "No" to ground operations," he said.

He described Greece as a reliable partner with a distinct place in the European Union and NATO, as well as a reliable interlocutor with all Balkan peoples.

Gov't to cut direct taxes in January 2000

The government plans to cut direct taxes in January 2000, aiding households and companies, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday.

In an interview to Reuters, Mr. Papantoniou said that taxation was very high in Greece, and the government therefore planned to phase in cuts from the start of 2000.

At the same time, indirect taxes would remain unchanged unless consumer price inflation failed to drop to the government's target of 2.0 percent at the end of the year, jeopardising entry into the euro zone, which is planned for January 1, 2001.

In that case, reductions would be ordered, Mr. Papantoniou said.

According to sources, the cuts in direct taxation will include a rise in the tax-exempt level for wage earners and pensioners to 2.0 million drachmas from 1.355 million drachmas.

For other categories of income, the tax-free limit will rise to 1.7 million drachmas from 1.055 million drachmas.

Tax brackets will also be modified, including the introduction of two new categories to aid middle incomes.

Employment action plan goes to parliament

The government yesterday gave parliament an employment action plan that aims to boost jobs through job creation and incentives for employers to hire the jobless.

The plan was forged after talks with employers and unions aimed at achieving consensus.

The architect of the bill, Labour and Social Insurance Minister Miltiades Papaioannou, is in Brussels attending a social affairs ministers' meeting to debate the European Union's plan to lower unemployment, a problem throughout the 15-nation bloc.

The EU plan, drawn up by the German presidency, is similar to Greece's national plan, which aims to create 32,000 new jobs and provide financial assistance to 5,000 self-employed youth.

The Greek bill also offers employers incentives in the form of tax breaks to recruit the unemployed.

Stocks slump on Kosovo jitters

Equity prices came under pressure for the second consecutive session yesterday to end sharply lower on the Athens Stock Exchange.

The general index ended 2.46 percent down at 4,010.93 points, off the day's lows.

Traders said the market found support just above 4,000 points which was seen as a technical support level in the short-term.

Turnover shrank to 157.1 billion drachmas.

The banking and leasing sectors came under heavy pressure to end 3.32 and 3.59 percent lower.

Other sector indices ended as follows: Insurance (+0.31 pct), Investment (- 0.39 pct), Industrials (-1.38 pct), Construction (-0.61 pct), Holding (- 2.57 pct) and Miscellaneous (-1.02 pct).

A total of 14 issues ended at the day's 8.0 percent limit up, while another three ended at the day's limit down.

National Bank of Greece ended at 22,500 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 22, 150, Ergobank at 28,590, Ionian Bank at 17,100, Titan Cement at 29,050, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,715, Intracom at 22,840, Minoan Lines at 9,400, Panafon at 7,745 and Hellenic Telecoms at 6,890.

National Bank Group posts 92.1 pct profit jump in Q1

The National Bank of Greece Group posted pre-tax profits of 81.9 billion drachmas in the first quarter, up 92.1 percent on the same period of 1998, governor Theodoros Karatzas said yesterday.

Addressing the bank's annual general meeting, Mr. Karatzas reported that the parent company's net pre-tax profits were 61.1 billion drachmas, showing a rise of 65.7 percent from a year earlier.

He attributed the major increase in profitability seen in the parent company and the Group to lower operational costs and greater activity in financial markets. Mr. Karatzas added that the bank's share price on the Athens Stock Exchange jumped 202.5 percent in 1998, outperforming the market's general index, which gained 85 percent.

Shipping forex inflows up 2.9 pct in 1998

Shipping foreign exchange inflows totalled 1.38 billion US dollars in 1998 from 1.34 billion in 1997, an increase of 2.9 percent, Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis said yesterday.

Mr. Soumakis said that a total of 1,117 shipping companies spent 353 million US dollars in operational expenses last year, down 1.5 percent from 358 million dollars in 1997.

Other expenses (taxes, payrolls, ship maintenance) increased by 6.6 percent to 1.006 billion dollars in 1998. Registered staff in shipping companies totalled 10,533 persons last year - 8,884 Greeks and 1,653 foreigners - up from 10,292 in 1997.

Mr. Soumakis said that 680 shipping companies managed 3,844 ships under Greek or foreign flags, while another 459 companies were active in shipping business outside ship management.

Papandreou-Albright talks focus squarely on war in Yugoslavia

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared unwavering over the five conditions set by NATO as an essential prerequisite for a ceasefire, after holding 90-minute talks with Foreign Minister George Papandreou he re yesterday, which focused primarily on the Kosovo crisis.

Ms Albright distanced herself clearly from the position of other allies, including Greece and the Czech Republic, which are calling for a temporary ceasefire to enable the Yugoslav government to accept a UN Security Council decision defining the framework for a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis.

According to diplomatic sources, Ms Albright made it clear to the Greek delegation that different views and ideas can be put forward, however, the alliance's undivided front must not be affected.

Mr. Papandreou outlined Greek positions, placing emphasis on the particularity of a country such as Greece, which is located in the Balkans and is both a member-state of NATO and the European Union.

He said the Greek government supports NATO's decisions and actions. However, due to its special condition, it cannot participate in military operations and instead of this it only offers logistical support.

"We will continue to do so," Mr. Papandreou said and condemned the policy of ethnic cleansing in the region.

On the question of NATO forces passing through Thessaloniki, Ms Albright appeared to understand the Greek government's disposition to stop it temporarily due to the Euroelections. The period of time Greece is requesting is 10 days before the elections.

Ms Albright referred to Greece's special weight in the region and said that the US supports Greece's efforts on restructuring the Balkans after the war is over.

However, she avoided making any prediction on the duration of the war, underlining that if Belgrade does not accept the five conditions set by NATO, the bombings will not stop. She said the alliance's 19 member-states are cooperating closely and with de termination to have the conditions accepted by Yugoslavia.

Papandreou, Holbrooke talks in NY focus on Kosovo, Cyprus

Foreign Minister George Papandreou held talks with US presidential envoy on Cyprus and SE Europe Richard Holbrooke after his arrival in New York on Tuesday.

Afterwards, he said his meeting with Mr. Holbrooke was "useful and informative", adding that they discussed the Cyprus issue and the problem of Kosovo "of course."

Mr. Holbrooke said he had the opportunity of conveying his views to Mr. Papandreou on the Kosovo issue.

"We also discussed the situation on the Cyprus issue, of course. We also talked about NATO. I analysed American positions on Kosovo. However, it was a private discussion," he said.

Mr. Holbrooke underlined that it was Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic who took the decisions which led to the bombings.

"He was well aware when I was with him eight weeks ago that if he did not accept the basic principles we put to him the result would be bombings. He had no doubt about this. He led things to the point they are today," he added.

Replying to a question on whether he sees any prospects of progress on the Cyprus issue, Mr. Holbrooke said "the US remains steadfastly committed and are in frequent contact with all sides, but I would be misleading you at this stage if I told you that I see some signs of progress."

"As you are aware, we believe that the entire process of Cyprus' accession to the European Union has created a new dynamism. We hope that the Turkish Cypriot side will realise that it is an opportunity to start cooperating with the Greek Cypriot community and participate in the negotiating group. Indeed, new prospects are being created for cooperation in the framework of the EU."

Referring to the Greek-Czech initiative, Mr. Papandreou said the two countries, being NATO member-states, have cooperated for about a month on formulating a series of thoughts which they consider useful for a diplomatic solution to the problem.

"These proposals are, of course, supplementary for the decisions of NATO and the G8. They also include the idea of a temporary ceasefire, the creation of a dynamism at diplomatic level and the endorsement of a UN resolution in particular. We put these ideas to NATO and they will be discussed between the alliance's permanent representatives these days. They are specific positions and thoughts and we hope they will provide NATO with some specific movements which it will be able to make to help in resolving the problem," he said.

PM says Euro-elections crucial

The June 13 Euroelections are a crucial election contest for Greece's prospects in the European Union, as the larger the popular endorsement of the government's work, the speedier it will be brought to a successful end, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday.

"The June 13 elections pose the dilemma whether the stability of the country will be secured or whether a new round of upheavals will open...The larger the acceptance our policy has, the faster we shall succeed," he said in a press conference in Zappeion Hall.

"Greece is changing face, daily life is improving and from now on everthing will go better because we shall complete the country's accession to EMU, will modernise the Greek economy and increase the prosperity of all citizens," he added.

He stated confidence PASOK would retain its popular lead as opinion polls showed a clear improvement.

Latest poll shows ND, PASOK gap narrowing

Two opinion polls unveiled yesterday showed that the ruling party was closing on the lead that the opposition New Democracy has on it. A poll published in the daily "Eleftherotypia" gave PASOK 27.4 per cent to New Democracy's 29.5 per cent, just three weeks before the European Parliament elections.

In another poll, published in the daily "Ta Nea", PASOK was nearing New Democracy at similar levels, 29.4 to 31.4 per cent.

The second poll also showed that Prime Minister Costas Simitis was slightly leading New Democracy president Costas Karamanlis in the popularity stakes. Mr. Simitis polled 49.4 per cent and Karamanlis 47.8 per cent; ahead of both of them are Coalition of the Left's Nikos Constantopoulos (56.8 per cent) and Democratic Social Movement leader Dimitris Tsovolas (52 per cent).

PASOK came out ahead when respondents asked which party was best suited to handle the economy, foreign policy, health and unemployment issues.Respondents said New Democracy would do a better job on education and combatting crime.

Seminar brings Europe's press agencies to Athens

An Alliance of European Press Agencies (EAPA) seminar opens in Athens today, focusing on the issues of "Economic, Financial and Business Services in the Digital Era", and "Ownership of News Agencies and Conflicts of Interest".

The two-day seminar, organised by the Athens News Agency (ANA) at the Astir Hotel in Vouliagmeni, will be attended by the presidents, general directors and other senior staff of 30 European news agencies.

The 4th annual EAPA seminar will be inaugurated this morning by Press and Mass Media Minister Dimitris Reppas, while National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou will be the guest speaker at a formal banquet tomorrow evening.

Speakers at the seminar include Oliver Boyd-Barrett, professor of communications at the University of California, the author of numerous books on news agencies and the globalisation of news, as well as senior administrative staff of the international news agencies Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg, France's AFP, the German DPA, the Spanish news agency EFE, and others.

The seminar is sponsored by the National Bank of Greece, the Agrotiki Insurance-Agrotiki Life insurance company, General Bank, Commercial Bank of Greece, the culture ministry, and the National Tourism Organisation of Greece (EOT).

Reconstruction of Parthenon's north side approved

The Central Archaeological Council yesterday approved a study for the reconstruction of the north side of the Parthenon.

Reconstruction of eight out of seventeen columns on the north side of the ancient temple dedicated to Athena is budgeted at two billion drachmas, and is considered necessary.

The minimum time required for the project's completion is estimated at five years.

Archaeologists are also demanding the return of two friezes from the north side of the structure, which are now housed at the British Museum in London.

Book on Turkish destruction of Cyprus' cultural sites

Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis yesterday presented an illustrated publication detailing the destruction of cultural sites and monuments in the Turkish-occupied portion of the Republic of Cyprus.

Mr. Kaklamanis said the destruction of artworks and buildings violates intenational law.

The 235-page publication will be available in Greek, English, French and German editions, and is entitled "Cyprus: The Plunder of a Civilisation."

Since the 1974 invasion of Turkish forces and the continued illegal occupation of the northern part of the island republic, several churches and archaeological sites were destroyed.

WEATHER

Fair weather will prevail in most parts of the country day with showers in the afternoon in the mountainous regions of mainland Greece. Winds northerly, light, turning moderate in the Aegean Sea. Partly cloudy in Athens with temperatures between 15-26C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 13-25C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Thursday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          305.040
Pound sterling       488.917
Japanese yen (100)   250.133
French franc          49.205
German mark          165.028
Italian lira (100)    16.670
Irish Punt           409.830
Belgian franc          8.001
Luxembourg franc       8.001
Finnish mark          54.285
Dutch guilder        146.465
Danish kr.            43.422
Austrian sch.         23.457
Spanish peseta         1.940
Swedish kr.           35.887
Norwegian kr.         39.176
Swiss franc          202.328
Port. Escudo           1.610
Can. dollar          208.419
Aus. dollar          198.846
Cyprus pound         556.274
Euro                 322.767
(C.E.)
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