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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-06-02
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Changes and reforms will continue, PM assures FthiotidaPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday assured productive groups in Fthiotida prefecture, central Greece, that his government will steadfastly press ahead with the changes and reforms that would ensure new and better prospects for the country.
"These changes and reforms will create an environment of confidence, trust and security," he stressed as he addressed a meeting at the Lamia Labour Centre.
Citing his government's achievements in the economy, Karamanlis said there was a constant improvement in the economic climate, with the public deficit set to fall below 3% of GDP for the first time since Greece entered the Eurozone and the country's GDP per capita expected to rise to 80% of the EU average by the end of 2007.
He also stressed rapid growth rates, a rise in investments (which increased 6.9 percent in the first quarter of the year), Greece's improved global ranking in competitiveness from 50th to 42nd place, a reduction in unemployment to below 10% coupled with higher employment above 60%, a 7% rise in revenues from tourism and an increase in exports by 21% in the first two months of 2006.
"These results clearly show the positive trends developing in our country. They are not enough, of course, nor do they mean we can be complacent. But they are, however, an absolutely tangible proof that our policy is yielding important results," the prime minister said.
Karamanlis also highlighted the role of local communities and local government in helping build Greece's future, one in which it fully exploited its membership of the European Union, its geography, its human resources and its traditional advantages.
The prime minister outlined a series of government measures that aimed to boost the funds and responsibilities of local government authorities, allowing them to assist the country's development, and stressed the great strides made in that direction.
He said that his tour of Fthiotida was an opportunity to hear the views of local groups for the prefecture's development and to inspect the progress of roadworks at Maliakos, which aim to reduce accidents along one of the most dangerous stretches of Greece's road system.
Karamanlis stressed that his government had shifted the main thrust of its policies away from the capital and toward the countryside and provinces from the first moment it came into power.
He said this had been done through simultaneous actions on three parallel axes; a new developmental model, support for local government and policies for sectors that most benefited rural areas and small towns, such as agriculture and tourism development.
As examples of the last, he pointed to a draft bill on health spa tourism that was coming to Parliament in the next few days, emphasising that Fthiotida had numerous natural spas and great potential for development in this area, and a central government campaign to promote olives and olive oil - a key product for the area.
In his speech, the prime minister emphasised measures and laws passed by the government to assist small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially those setting up outside Athens, as well as land-planning programmes, measures to promote joint ventures between the public and private sectors and other aids for new business start-ups.
He also underlined major infrastructure road-building projects currently underway in Fthiotida, particularly the imminent start of work on the 175-km national highway E65, which will link the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki highway with the Egnatia highway.
Earlier, the prime minister had visited the work sites for the Aghios Konstantinos and Kammena Vourla bypasses and was briefed on improvements to the safety of the Maliakos 'horseshoe' during a visit to the new traffic police department at Thermopylae.
During his visit, the prime minister was briefed on plans for a new Thermopylae museum near the monument to the ancient hero Leonidas, who died defending the pass against a vastly superior force of invading Persians with a company of just 300 Spartans.
Karamanlis also received a warm welcome from pupils at Lamia's 10th primary school, when he visited to inspect work for a new special school being built in the area for people with special needs.
 PASOK announces candidates for largest municipalitiesMain opposition PASOK on Friday announced its candidates for the country's three largest municipalities -- including Athens, the capital -- during a national party conference here focusing on local government issues.
PASOK leader George Papandreou himself made the announcements, tipping former interior and public administration minister Costas Skandalidis, a current and high-ranking MP, as the party's candidate for Athens -- the largest and most populous municipality amongst nearly two dozen in the greater Athens area.
Skandalidis, a native of the Dodecanese island of Kos, goes up against former health minister -- up until a few months ago -- Nikitas Kaklamanis, the candidate backed by ruling New Democracy (ND) party.
In Piraeus, former Greek international basketball centre Panayiotis Fassoulas, a former PASOK deputy, gained the nod in a bid to unseat ND-backed incumbent Christos Agrapidis.
In Thessaloniki, meanwhile, PASOK deputy Chryssa Arapoglou is the party's candidate for mayor in a race pitting her against incumbent Vassilis Papageorgopoulos. In Thessaloniki prefecture, moreover, 1992 Olympic gold medalist hurdler Voula Patoulidou will face incumbent prefect and former ND deputy Panayiotis Psomiadis.
In referring to the party's newest and most prominent local government candidates, Papandreou said Skandalidis symbolises the relationship PASOK has traditionally enjoyed with local government.
He termed Fassoulas as a younger generation politician with fresh ideas and ideal for the country's largest port.
Referring to Arapoglou, Papandreou praised her involvement from various posts serving the country's second largest municipality, while noting that Patoulidou is a person who know how to set goals and fulfil them.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) have also announced or will shortly announce their candidates for the three large municipalities as well.
In citing what he called five axes for local government, the PASOK leader cited the need for fewer ministries and less responsibilities by ministers; elections at the regional level; a new initiative to further merge municipalities and communities into larger entities; the gradual transfer of a portion tax revenues (property taxes, personal income, possibly VAT) to local governments, and finally, more transparency and oversight.
 Bakoyannis stresses consistency toward TurkeyThe government on Friday underlined the need for consistency in the country's policy toward Turkey and denied opposition claims that it had "abandoned" the agreements made at Helsinki.
Speaking in Parliament, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis stressed that the government was working according to a plan, methodically and consistently, to fully meet the challenges that arose in the country's international relations.
In her response to a question by Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology MP Nikos Constantopoulos, Bakoyannis pointed out that the government was currently trying to deal with a particularly difficult period in the neighbouring country, in which tension was rising sharply.
"It is a completely different situation from that two years ago," the minister underlined.
Bakoyannis also referred to the loss of Greek Air Force pilot Costas Iliakis during last week's collision with a Turkish fighter jet above the Aegean, expressing her condolences toward the unlucky pilot's family, but stressed that such incidents should not be used to call central foreign policy strategies, such as that of supporting Turkey's European prospects, into question.
"Strategic choices should not easily and hurriedly be called into question, even more so when this occurs in the heat of the moment, she said.
Regarding the Helsinki agreements, the foreign minister denied that this had been abandoned by the government, but claimed that, conversely, it had been strengthened and improved. She admitted, however, that Greece would not have been ready to take outstanding issues with Turkey to the International Court of Justice at The Hague at the end of 2004.
"There was no preparation of an agreement to refer the dispute to the court, no one had clarified what the object and content of such an agreement might be," she said.
At the moment, Turkey has not acceded to treaties establishing the International Court of Justice and politicians on the Greek side believe Ankara must sign an agreement promising to respect the results of the court's arbitration.
Greece currently only recognises one outstanding difference with Turkey, that of delineating the extent of the Aegean continental shelf, a position that is backed by both main parties.
Constantopoulos questioned this stance in Parliament, saying that there were other issues that Greece could pursue to its own advantage, and accused both ruling New Democracy and the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) of failing to use the Helsinki agreements to best advantage.
He also criticised Bakoyannis predecessor at the foreign ministry, Petros Molyviatis, for adopting a strategy of "optimistically waiting for things to improve automatically" regarding the Cyprus issue.
 ASE:primary target expansion in the BalkansThe Athens Stock Exchange on Friday said it was in talks with all stock markets, including large European capital markets and smaller Balkan markets, in the framework of a wave of rapid changes in the sector following the announcement of alliances or takeovers between international stock markets such as a merger agreeement between NYSE and Euronext and the purchase of a 25 percent stake in LSE by Nasdaq.
"We speak with everyone," ASE chairman Spyros Kapralos said in Thessaloniki on Friday, adding "we must always have the doors open for any decision to the benefit of the Greek capital market and of Greek listed companies' shareholders".
Kapralos, however, stressed that ASE's strategic goal was to play a leading role in Southeastern Europe, a move that would enhance its position in the international scene and offer a bigger negotiating clout in future talks. Developments in the Balkans are not so fast as in other capital markets, that's why ASE has not specified its interest in the region, Kapralos said. "In Bulgaria, for example, we heard the chairman of the stock market saying that the Bulgarian state would sell 44 percent of the country's capital market. If something like this happens we will be able to evaluate our moves. If not, how to bid for something not yet offered for sale," Kapralos noted.
Commenting on a recent sharp correction of prices in international capital markets, Kapralos said volatility remained high in recent days but noted he expected markets to find a balance since "in general, news from markets and economies were good". Emerging markets suffered the most in recent weeks after recording sharp increases in the past, while the Greek stock market also reacted "violently" showing characteristics of an emerging market.
Kapralos said "foreign investors are good when they buy and markets go up, but they are bad when they sell", while he sounded satisfied that Greek listed companies timely reported their results and showed increased profits in the first quarter of 2006.
A total of 35 Greek listed companies, not included in the FTSE/ASE 20 index, are expected to participate in a roadshow scheduled for September in London, in cooperation with Bloomberg.
 Greece, Serbia reaffirm very good economic relationsGreece and Serbia on Friday reaffirmed the very satisfactory level of bilateral economic relations.
Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, speaking to reporters, after a meeting with visiting Serbian Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic, said the two countries agreed to intensify efforts to further improve bilateral economic relations and stressed that economic growth contributed in the prosperity of peoples.
Greece is one of the biggest investors in Serbia, while the country is one of our main trade partners, Alogoskoufis said, adding that Greek investments to Serbia totalled 1.2 billion euros in the last decade. The Greek minister said Serbian economy was rapidly growing.
Serbian minister Mladjan Dinkic said the value of Greek investments to Serbian was proof of the very good relations between the two countries. The Serbian minister urged for Greece's support in a proposal to approve funds, worth 1.0 billion euros, to be spent on road projects in the country. Alogoskoufis accepted the Serbian proposal.
Dinkic said the two countries agreed to sign -the soonest possible- an agreement avoiding double taxation and urged Greece to abolish entry visas for Serbs visiting Greece and other EU member-states. The Serbian minister also invited the Greek minister to visit Serbia.
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