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Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 99-09-10

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, 10/09/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Earthquake death toll climbs to 94
  • Charges filed against seismologist
  • Greek and Turkish officials try to find common ground
  • Pope sends condolences
  • Simitis postpones China visit
  • Greek representative raises issue of EU quake funding
  • Start of soccer season postponed due to quake
  • Kaklamanis sharply criticises mobile phone operators
  • Farm minister ends visit to Israel
  • German tourism to Greece not affected by quake
  • Cabinet to debate reconstruction today
  • Hotels energy and environment conference in Athens
  • Petzetakis forges alliance with UK's Arco
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Earthquake death toll climbs to 94

The death toll from Tuesday's catastrophic earthquake in northwestern Athens climbed to 94, as rescue teams continued digging through the rubble for the 35 persons still missing, the Health Ministry announced today.

With almost three days since the 5.9 Richter scale powerful earthquake, out of the estimated 2,000 injured, 380 have been hospitalised. Another 85 people have been rescued alive from collapsed homes and factories and 73 were found dead in the debris.

Rescue squads were battling around-the-clock in the rubble at six different locations hoping to extricate more people. They include three factories and three apartment blocks in the northwestern Athens suburbs of Menidi, Kato Kifissia, Metamorphosis and Nea Philadelphia.

The government began this morning to hand out the amount of 200,000 drachma in emergency aid payments to thousands of homeless families, while Red Cross workers and soldiers distributed food, 6,000 tents and 600 prefabricated homes, the Development Ministry said.

According to the ministry an estimated 100,000 inhabitants have requested that their homes be inspected by environment ministry engineers to determine whether their homes and apartment blocks were safe to live in.

"Aftershock activity has been reduced allowing most of the inhabitants to return to their homes," seismologist Gerasimos Houliaras told ANA.

Charges filed against seismologist

An Athens public prosecutor yesterday filed charges against a seismologist for spreading false rumours that Greece would be hit by a major new earthquake.

According to the charge sheet, seismologist Efthymios Lekkas said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he expected a major earthquake to hit Greece yesterday.

His comments caused fear and panic among jittery Athenians many of whom had spent the night outdoors after Tuesday's earthquake.

Mr. Lekkas, a professor of geology at the University of Athens, later expressed his "surprise" at being prosecuted.

"It is incredible to be prosecuted for a scientific opinion that is, indeed, documented," Mr. Lekkas told the ANA.

Mr. Lekkas said he was being prosecuted for his opinion that the Anatolian fault which caused the Turkish quakes could affect Greek territory in the Aegean.

A judicial investigation has also been called into reports in yesterday's edition of the newspaper Eleftheri Ora in which a researcher called Ilias Tsiapas claims that a 6.0 magnitude earthquake will occur on October 11.

Meanwhile, most other experts said they were extremely satisfied with the course of developments in the wake of the quake, just 48 hours after it struck.

Greek and Turkish officials try to find common ground

High-ranking Greek and Turkish foreign ministry officials began a second round of low-profile talks in Athens yesterday, trying to find common ground on economic and commercial cooperation, tourism and the environment.

The talks, which will last until today, will also focus on cooperation between the two countries on dealing with natural disasters, following a proposal from Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and in light of the latest developments.

The next round of talks is slated for Ankara on September 14-15 and these will tackle whether there is common ground for joint action to tackle organised crime, illegal immigration and terrorism, as well as cultural issues and regional cooperation.

Diplomatic sources at the foreign ministry said the initial round of talks in Ankara had seen a convergence of views on a number of issues and that if this could be worked upon in this round of talks, a draft bilateral agreement on various sectors could be considered.

But this possible consideration of a draft agreement, they added, would take place at a future round of meetings, involving the participation of officials from the competent ministries.

The same sources added that Mr. Papandreou would meet with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem on September 23 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The two ministers will also be together days earlier, when the European Union General Affairs Council convenes on September 13-14 in Brussels.

While in New York, Mr. Papandreou will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as well. Ms. Albright on Wednesday telephoned to Mr. Papandreou expressing readiness of the US administration to send aid to Greece after Tuesday's killer quake in Athens.

Pope sends condolences

Pope John Paul II extended his condolences for victims and solidarity with the population of Athens which was struck by Tuesday's powerful earthquake.

In a telegramme sent to the apostolic nuncio in Athens, he expressed his strong grief and sadness over the victims saying he was praying with feelings of solidarity for population of the country and the international community to help rebuild what has been destroyed.

French president Jacques Chirac sent a message of "sympathy and solidarity" to Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

"My thought is with the injured and the families of the dead," Mr. Chirac said.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman has addressed a letter to President Kostis Stephanopoulos, expressing his condolences and sympathy to the Greek people over the earthquake victims.

The president of the German Bundestag, during the House's session yesterday, called on German citizens to show active solidarity towards the peoples of Greece and Turkey.

The German government will send tents, beds and blankets to Greece as aid for the victims.

Following consultations between German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping and his Greek counterpart Akis Tsohatzopoulos, 300 tents, 1,500 beds and 3, 000 blankets are expected to arrive in Athens today.

A 14-member German rescue team with 11 sniffer dogs is already in Athens.

In a related development, Saudi Arabia decided to send humanitarian aid.

According to the Saudi Arabian news agency SPA, foodstaffs, tents and blankets will be sent.

Soudi Arabia had sent similar aid to the victims of the Aug. 17 earthquake that hit Turkey.

Simitis postpones China visit

Prime Minister Costas Simitis has postponed his planned visit to China to stay in Athens and coordinate activity in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake, his press office announced yesterday.

Mr. Simitis was due to leave on his seven-day trip to China on September 15. On his schedule were talks with a number of Chinese government and state officials.

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that the prime minister had postponed his trip so as to head the relief effort.

Mr. Simitis will have a round of briefings of political party leaders on issues related to the killer quake, beginning over the weekend and culminating with a meeting with main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis on Monday, Mr. Reppas said .

Greek representative raises issue of EU quake funding

Acting on instructions by Alternate Foreign Minister Yiannos Kranidiotis, Greece's permanent representative at the European Union, ambassador Loukas Tsilas, raised the issue of the extraordinary funding of the country by the EU to handle consequences of Tuesday's earthquake during Wednesday's meeting of the EU's Council of Permanent Representatives.

According to diplomatic sources of the foreign ministry, the European Commission was assigned with examining existing possibilities of financing by EU funds.

The sources revealed that one of the alternate proposals being examined is for funding to be provided from the budget's "lines" concerning natural disasters, from Community Support Framework funds or through interest-free loans from the European Invest ment Bank. This issue will also be raised at the next General Affairs Council, which will convene in Brussels on the 13th of the month. Participating on the part of Greece will be Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Alternate Foreign Minister Yiannos Kranidiotis, where the European Commission might present its finalised proposals.

Start of soccer season postponed due to quake

The Greek Soccer Federation (EPAE) said yesterday it would postpone the beginning of the first division soccer season this weekend in the wake of the capital's 5.9 magnitude quake.

EPAE said it had accepted a proposal by Deputy Sports Minister Andreas Fouras that all first division games be postponed for the sake of safety of fans and to allow time for engineers to check the condition of football stadiums.

Mr. Fouras also said it was inappropriate for sports events to be held while the country grieved for at least 83 people killed during the quake, and while there were others still trapped under collapsed buildings.

Also cancelled was the second round of third division matches.

Mr. Fouras has asked the head of the basketball federation to call off games scheduled to be played on Sunday, for the same reasons. The request was expected to be accepted.

Kaklamanis sharply criticises mobile phone operators

Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis told Parliament yesterday that the government needed to look into the case of mobile telephony providers, under fire for failing to deliver in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake.

"At a critical moment, they showed that they were not in the position to provide even the most basic of services," Mr. Kaklamanis told the assembly, after a briefing by Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou. The mobile phone network went dead completely just seconds after the 5.9 earthquake. Companies said the network's failure was due to overload as people tried to reach their families. Mr. Kaklamanis praised state-run Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation, saying that compared to the mobile phone companies, it had operated "excellently".

Farm minister ends visit to Israel

Agriculture Minister George Anomeritis yesterday ended his visit in Israel where he met his counterparts in the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Anomeritis and his Israeli counterpart Haim Oron agreed to activate a bilateral standing committee of experts on agricultural cooperation.

The two ministers also decided to promote agri-tourism, trade and water resource enrichment technology.

Mr. Anomeritis also visited the "Agritech" international trade fair, where the Greek delegation headed by the minister met with their counterparts from other Mediterranean countries in the framework of Euro-Mediterranean and Mediterranean cooperation.

He also met with Jerusalem Patriarch Diodorus and the city's Greek community.

German tourism to Greece not affected by quake

German tourism to Greece is unlikely to be affected by a major earthquake that hit Athens earlier this week, a spokesman of Germany's largest travel agency said yesterday.

Speaking in Frankfurt, the spokesman for C&N Touristic noted that there were no cancellations so far of trips to Greece following the quake.

"In any case, the overwhelming majority of packages are to Crete and Greece's Aegean islands with no stopovers (in Athens)," the spokesman said.

In addition, a Lufthansa official confirmed that there were no more cancellations to Greece, including Athens, than usual for the time of the year.

Cabinet to debate reconstruction today

Prime Minister Costas Simitis chairs a cabinet meeting today called to debate swift reconstruction and compensation after a fatal earthquake that struck Athens and Attica earlier this week.

Deputy National Economy Minister Christos Pahtas told the Athens News Agency that no official estimate existed of the cost of the damage from Tuesday's earthquake, and it was too soon to name an exact figure.

According to initial estimates, the damage is estimated at more than 100 billion drachmas, higher than originally expected.

Mr. Pahtas added that a specific figure would be ready at the beginning of next week.

The national economy ministry has endorsed the release of an emergency payment of 15 billion drachmas from the public investments programme.

In the first phase, funds will be sought from the European Union's second Community Support Framework, which expires this year, and fresh monies sought from the third CSF, which begins in 2000.

National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou will raise the issue of EU funding for the damage at a meeting of finance ministers of the 15-nation bloc to take place in Finland at the weekend.

Also today, the government is to launch the disbursement of a 200,000 drachma allowance to the homeless and other casualties of the earthquake.

Among measures the government is working on are a rent subsidy of 60,000 drachmas and an allowance to pensioners and the unemployed in quake-hit areas of 100,000 drachmas.

Also being discussed are a resettlement of debts to the tax office for the earthquake's casualties, an extension of deadlines for the payment of Value Added Tax and for contributions to the Social Insurance Foundation by businesses, and a long-term freeze on the issue of public utility bills.

The Greek National Tourism Organisation and Union of Athens Hoteliers had already made its property, including hotel rooms, available to earthquake victims, Mr. Venizelos added.

Furthermore, the Public Power Corporation is to foot the bill for power supplies and infrastructure needed by camps for the homeless, and encampments by individuals or families not in state-run camps.

Hotels energy and environment conference in Athens

A conference on energy and the environment in the Mediterranean hotels sector will be held on October 14 and 15 on the island of Hydra.

Holding the conference is the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources (KAPE) in association with European agencies and the Panhellenic Federation of Hoteliers. The conference has received funding under the European Union's Thermie programme.

The purpose of the conference is to present European and national policy, and action taken in the fields of energy and environmental management, including information flow.

Also set for presentation are the findings of a survey on the conference's theme by an EU working group coordinated by KAPE, again under the Thermie programme.

Petzetakis forges alliance with UK's Arco

AG Petzetakis, a plastic pipes maker listed on the Athens bourse, said yesterday it had forged a commercial alliance with Arco, the UK's largest distributor of industrial pipes.

Arco will arrange the distribution of the full range of Petzetakis products in the United Kingdom, the Greek firm said in a statement.

The deal states an initial level of sales of one billion drachmas annually.

In the near future, Arco will also extend the distribution of Petzetakis' products to Northern Ireland.

In May, Petzetakis was awarded the ISO 9001 quality assurance certificate, an upgrade from its existing ISO 9002 certification, a factor that helped to produce the deal with Arco, the statement said.

On Monday, Petzetakis will announce the details of an investment plan at a repeat shareholders' meeting. The programme is due to be funded from an upcoming share capital increase, the company said.

WEATHER

Unsettled weather will continue today, with a local showers in the Ionian, mainland Greece and the islands of the northern Aegean Sea. Winds northerly light to moderate. Partly cloudy in Athens with a chance of rain later in the day and temperatures ranging from 19-30C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 17-26C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Friday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar 306.131 Pound sterling 496.139 Japanese yen (100) 281.034 French franc 49.450 German mark 165.850 Italian lira (100) 16.753 Irish Punt 411.870 Belgian franc 8.041 Finnish mark 54.556 Dutch guilder 147.195 Danish kr. 43.628 Austrian sch. 23.573 Spanish peseta 1.949 Swedish kr. 37.672 Norwegian kr. 39.382 Swiss franc 202.666 Port. Escudo 1.618 Can. dollar 205.800 Aus. dollar 198.827 Cyprus pound 560.976 Euro 324.374

(C.E.)


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