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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-07-29

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, 29/07/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • New policy on immigration unveiled after Cabinet meeting
  • Central bank slaps curbs on banks for rampant consumer loans
  • Interamerican, Portuguese bank in joint venture
  • Banks launch pilot 35-hour week
  • Stocks slump in profit taking
  • Ergobank posts 60.45 pct profit jump in H1
  • G. Papandreou: Greek-Turkish talks so far 'positive'
  • Avramopoulos concludes contacts with Israeli leadership
  • Headstones desecrated at Greek cemetery in Istanbul
  • Talks over 'crisis handling centre' for SE Europe held in Athens
  • Two more Russian vessels arrive in Thessaloniki
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

New policy on immigration unveiled after Cabinet meeting

The government yesterday outlined the general principles of its immigration policy, agreed to at an earlier Cabinet meeting.

In statements afterwards, Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou said the latest policy will involve improved guarding of the country's borders to prevent the entry of even more illegal immigrants.

She added that measures taken recently to increase border security were already paying off and would be continued at an even greater pace. Underlining the need for entry into the country to be controlled, Ms Papandreou said this would gradually be achie ved through bilateral agreements between Balkan countries; employment agencies expected to be set up in Balkan capitals and within the framework of the Stability Pact for the region - something being discussed at present by the European Union.

As the government said, the new immigration policy will comprise a "two- speed" system in which seasonal foreign labourers will be allowed to stay in the country for only a short period of time and for a specific task, mainly in the agricultural and tourism sectors.

Ms Papandreou noted, however, that there will also be other non-EU workers who will be permitted to stay in the country for longer periods.

The minister said measures must be taken to assimilate foreigners in Greek society so that their obligations and rights are recognised and that they are treated on the basis of equality.

She said this was the only way to secure a labour market which was competitive rather than a "black" labour market.

Measures will also be taken to unite families and facilitate their entry to Greek society for, as Ms Papandreou said, "we shall be dealing with the issue of immigration for many years to come".

Ms Papandreou said the Cabinet decided that all illegal immigrants presently in the country would be registered by all municipalities and communities in cooperation with police.

She clarified, however, that this did mean all these illegal immigrants would be granted residence and work permits.

"We will decide on a case by case basis which of these immigrants will be given a 'green card'," she said.

Ms Papandreou said the registration of all illegal immigrants would begin at the earliest, as soon as the necessary forms and questionnaires had been prepared.

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that the government was considering changes in legislation on immigration and the granting of Greek citizenship. In addition, he said, the government intends to undertake an initiative for a common policy on granting legal status to economic refugees. Mr. Reppas said Greece would raise the issue at the EU summit in Finland in December.

Describing immigration legislation in force as "inadequate" and "outdated", he said it was very difficult to formulate a comprehensive immigration policy.

He cited the case of France, where the government tried three or four times unsuccessfully to put such a policy together.

Mr. Reppas said talks had already begun among the jointly competent ministers to determine the main principles of the immigration bill.

Before the bill is drafted, he added, Ms Papandreou will discuss the matter with opposition parties in order to secure the greatest possible consensus.

Commenting on the registration of all illegal immigrants in the country, he said economic refugees who had not applied for or been granted legal status and who register in the new "census" would not be deported.

Central bank slaps curbs on banks for rampant consumer loans

The Bank of Greece yesterday announced new curbs on consumer loans, for the first time singling out the sector as a separate target, as part of a drive by monetary authorities to reduce inflation for entry into the euro zone.

Under the measures, commercial banks that overstep ceilings on the growth of consumer loans will have to deposit an amount double the excess at the central bank for six months, receiving no interest.

An acceleration in consumer credit triggered the second round of curbs after the first round in April failed to rein in commercial banks, jeopardising the government's bid to achieve price stability.

In June, consumer loans jumped by 46.4 percent in absolute terms against the same month of 1998. The total drops to 36.4 percent if seasonal factors affecting demand are taken out of the calculation, which central bank officials still see as worryingly high.

Bank of Greece governor Lucas Papademos said the new penalties aimed to contain overall credit expansion to a 12 percent annualised rate of growth, in line with inflation targets.

Also as part of the battle to bring down stubborn inflation, the central bank will refrain from lowering its intervention rates in the near future, Mr. Papademos said.

The original curbs on credit in place from April to December 1999 were on commercial bank loans to the private sector and a group of state enterprises that exceeded the 12 percent growth target.

Rising loans have endangered price stability and therefore the country's entry into the euro zone by the target date of January 1, 2001 that involves meeting a tough inflation target.

Since introduction of the original measures, the rate of growth in consumer loans has remained high although other sectors have shown a decline.

In April to June, consumer loans rose by 8.7 percent while consumer loans plus lending to domestic commerce and exports rose by 5.0 percent against a target of 3.5 percent.

Inflation has also been hit by rising oil prices in world markets, and a formerly rising dollar against the euro.

Interamerican, Portuguese bank in joint venture

Interamerican, a Greek insurer, and Banco Commercial Portugues (BCP) SA announced yesterday that they will set up a new bank in Greece.Under the terms of the 22-billion-drachma investment, the new bank will have at least 120 branches within three years.

The bank will target middle income customers, offering integrated services focusing on telephone and Internet services.

BCP is listed on the Lisbon, New York, London and Frankfurt stock exchanges and has a market capitalisation equal to 1.7 trillion drachmas.

Interamerican is newly listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. It sees consolidated turnover of 110 billion drachmas this year, up 21 percent on 1998. Consolidated pre-tax profits are forecast at 23 billion drachmas, up 90 percent on 1998.

Banks launch pilot 35-hour week

Selected banks are introducing a pilot 35-hour working week from August 1, the bank workers union federation said in a statement yesterday.

Among the banks taking part in the scheme are National Bank of Greece, Alpha Credit Bank and Citibank with one branch each.

Stocks slump in profit taking

Equities finished lower in profit-taking yesterday, dragging the market below 4,400 points after losing the 4,500-point mark two sessions ago.

The general index ended 0.76 percent lower at 4,392.24 points from 4,425.4 points a day earlier.

Turnover was 164.1 billion drachmas from 217.5 billion drachmas in the previous session.

Players stayed away from blue chips, instead focusing on small and medium capitalisation stocks.

Sector indices ended as follows: Banks (-1.36 pct), Leasing (+6.58 pct), Insurance (-0.05 pct), Investment (-1.45 pct), Construction (+0.88 pct), Industrials (-0.71 pct), Miscellaneous (+0.94 pct) and Holding (-0.49 pct). The parallel market index fo r smaller capitalisation stocks ended 1.43 percent higher.

The FTSE/ASE 20 index for heavily traded stocks and blue chips dropped 1.14 percent to finish at 2,543.89 points.

Of 297 shares traded, declines outpaced advances at 141 to 140 with 16 issues unchanged.

National Bank of Greece ended at 21,500 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 21, 140, Bank of Piraeus at 8,700, Ergobank at 34,730, Titan Cement (commom) at 30,190, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,850 and Intracom (common) at 20,900 drachmas.

Ergobank posts 60.45 pct profit jump in H1

Ergobank yesterday reported a 60.45 percent net pre-tax profit jump in the first half to more than 40 billion drachmas from 25 billion drachmas in the same period of 1998.

The bank said in a statement that the sharp increase in profits was due to a rise in banking operations and not to share transactions.

G. Papandreou: Greek-Turkish talks so far 'positive'

Foreign Minister George Papandreou noted yesterday that what is important in the recently inaugurated Greek-Turkish dialogue is the fact that it is not taking place with mediation by a third party but is a process the two countries have decided on indepen dently.

Mr. Papandreou, speaking from the island of Corfu, avoided detailing any conclusions reached at the first session of dialogue at an ambassadors' level in Ankara. He said dialogue will be continued, adding that the process has been constructive so far a nd that the climate is positive.

Replying to questions, Mr. Papandreou said proposals for cooperation were made during talks between the two delegations, not only at a governmental level, but also at the level of entrepreneurs and non-governmental organisations.

Referring to the outcome of the meeting organised on Corfu with the participation of several ministers and diplomats from all the Balkans, Mr. Papandreou said the issue of minorities was discussed at length. The Greek FM said a constructive way exists for these issues to be solved, namely, minorities should be handled equally with other citizens, they should feel members of the society in which they live and participate democratically in developments.

Avramopoulos concludes contacts with Israeli leadership

The historic city of Bethlehem in the Palestinian self-rule territories was the last stop in Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos' two-day visit to Israel.

Earlier, Mr. Avramopoulos met with Israeli President Ezer Weizman and was briefed on developments in Mideast peace process, as well as on talks between Israeli PM Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Despite the fact that problems were encountered during Tuesday night's meeting between Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat, the Israeli president reportedly told Mr. Avramopoulos that "where things have reached now, no side can pull back."

Mr. Avramopoulos said the target of his contacts, both with local administration representatives and Israel's state and political leadership, is to strengthen relations between the two countries and peoples. He also met with Israeli Parliament President Abraham Berg and watched part of a debate in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.

Mr. Avramopoulos said Mr. Berg supports efforts to strengthen the role of cities at the level of international cooperation, something promoted by the municipality of Athens.

He also met the mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert and discussed events to take place in 2000, while both men agreed to have a cooperation protocol signed on issues concerning culture, sports, etc.

Lastly, Mr. Avramopoulos' meeting with Mr. Arafat, scheduled to take place yesterday afternoon, did not occur since, as it was stated, the Palestinian leader was in Gaza due to talks over the Middle East issue.

Mr. Avramopoulos will return to Athens today and, as he noted, will brief the government and political parties on his talks in Israel.

Headstones desecrated at Greek cemetery in Istanbul

In what has become a recurring event over the past few years, unidentified vandals again damaged a number of tombstones at the Greek cemetery of Kurtulus in Istanbul, the Turkish foreign ministry announced yesterday.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the incident occurred on the night of July 26, adding that "every possible effort will be made to find the perpetrators of these actions and to bring them before justice."

"Wherever such bad actions occur, we condemn them," an announcement read.

In response, the Greek foreign ministry announced that it sternly condemns the recent destruction of the tombstones.

"It is an unacceptable event which should be tackled effectively by the Turkish authorities," a spokesman said, announcing that Greece's general consul in Istanbul was due to make a strong protest to the city's prefect yesterday.

Talks over 'crisis handling centre' for SE Europe held in Athens

Procedural issues concerning the creation of a "crisis handling centre" and a mechanised unit for construction works to join a multinational brigade of SE Europe were discussed in Athens yesterday in the first of a series of meetings of military experts on these issues.

The meeting was attended by the national defence general staff deputy chiefs of Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia, as well as representataives from the US, Italy, Romania and Turkey.

The decision to create both the crisis centre and the construction unit was taken during a meeting of deputy defence ministers from countries in SE Europe in Sofia on May 25.

Two more Russian vessels arrive in Thessaloniki

Two Russian vessels docked in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki yesterday, carrying equipment and troops destined to participate in the peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Another two vessels were expected to dock later in the day.

A total of 400 troops and 130 military vehicles will be unloaded with this second dispatch. The first Russian dispatch brought 450 troops and 130 vehicles about two weeks ago.

Also expected in Thessaloniki yesterday were two vessels bringing mililtary equipment and vehicles for the 450 soldiers of the United Arab Emirates, who arrived in the city by air on Tuesday.

WEATHER

Fair weather is forecast throughout the country on Thursday with clouds developing in west, central and north Greece and local rainfall in the northern Ionian, Macedonia and Ipiros. Winds will be westerly mild to moderate, with temperatures ranging from 18-3C in the north, 20-36 in the rest of the mainland and 23-32C at the islands. Fair weather in Athens with scattered cloud in the afternoon hours, and temperatures between 23C and 36C. In Thessaloniki weather will be fair early in the day with clouds developing in the afternoon hours and possibility of rainfall or storm. Temperatures will range from 21C to 33C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Wednesday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          304.147
Pound sterling       482.568
Japanese yen (100)   262.235
French franc          49.135
German mark          164.790
Italian lira (100)    16.646
Irish Punt           409.238
Belgian franc          7.990
Finnish mark          54.207
Dutch guilder        146.254
Danish kr.            43.301
Austrian sch.         23.422
Spanish peseta         1.937
Swedish kr.           36.593
Norwegian kr.         38.638
Swiss franc          201.654
Port. Escudo           1.608
Can. dollar          200.781
Aus. dollar          195.801
Cyprus pound         558.159
Euro                 323.925
(L.G.)
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