|Monday, 20 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-10-03
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Cabinet briefed on Turkey's European progress, arts sponsors billThe Inner Cabinet convened on Tuesday, chaired by prime minister Costas Karamanlis, to discuss foreign policy issues and a culture ministry bill on sponsorships, with foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and culture minister George Voulgarakis as the main speakers.
Bakoyannis told reporters after the meeting that she briefed the Inner Cabinet on the results of Greece's presidency of the UN Security Council during the month of September, and on her visit to the US last week -- during which she addressed several Security Council sessions before heading on to Washington for talks with US government officials -- as well as the developments regarding Turkey's European prospects.
Replying to press questions, Bakoyannis reiterated that this autumn, with respect to Turkey, was a period in which great caution must be displayed by all sides.
Noting that the EU's first progress report on Turkey was imminent, she said that an overall evaluation would be made in end-December by Greece and all the other EU member states.
Asked to comment on US president George Bush's recent endorsement of Turkey's EU prospect, Bakoyannis said that this was a firm position of the US, adding that it was a statement of political support, but also stressing that it was the European Union that would evaluate and decide on the issue. She also reiterated Greece's support of Turkey's European orientation under the oft-stated condtitions.
Voulgarakis, in turn, stressed the exceptional importance of the fact that Greece was acquiring a policy on sponsorships, as this would release and accrue funds that would be chanelled to the restoration of monuments and also to the projection of cultural events in both Greece and abroad.
The culture ministry's bill, he said, would fill a large void.
Responding to questions on the developments in the education sector, Bakoyannis appealed to the striking public elementary school teachers, who are in their third week of mobilisation, to open up the schools and engage in a dialogue with education minister Marietta Yannakou whom, she said, has repeatedly stated that the education ministry's doors were open to them. Bakoyannis added, in reply to another question, that during an appearance on state television earlier in the day, she had lauded the education minister's work and the extent of the effort she has made.
She said the dialogue that has been conducted so far was not widely known, thus rejecting opposition criticism, clarifying, in reply to a question, that the dialogue was not more widely know because it appeared that, at the time, the journalists had not been interested in it.
Regarding the "climate of clash" that has arisen, Bakoyannis stressed that the climate of polarisation was not helping, especially at a time when understanding and wider concensus were necessary in order for the reforms to proceed.
In a further clarification, national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis reiterated that the government has exhausted all the margins regarding the teachers' financial demands, stressing the fact that the (2007) state budget he tabled in parliament on Monday forecast a deficit of below 3 percentage points of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time since Greece's entry into the EMU, while at the same time it also ensured social priorities such as an increase in the EKAS supplementary benefit for low pensions, in the OGA farmers' social insurance fund pensions, and in the unemployment benefits.
 Papandreou foresees early electionsMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Tuesday reiterated his position over the prospect of early elections, speaking this time to members of his party's Parliament group.
His appearance came a day after the government unveiled portions of its draft budget for 2007, which Papandreou said lacked transparency, was unreliable and socially unfair.
Turning to recent developments, he again criticised a government decision -- last week -- re-evaluating the country's GDP upwards (25 percent), while he referred to growing public sector corruption, for which he cited several proposals.
Among others, he said PASOK would make board of director appointments in public sector companies an open process; forbid the inclusion of amendments or riders to draft bills after discussion in Parliament concludes, and, shift proposed weapons contracts to Parliament's jurisdiction.
Furthermore, Papandreou also expressed a brief but direct position regarding the state's involvement in the economy - which in Greece is huge - saying that he "believes more in the protection of the public interest and not in the (protection of the) public stake in enterprises." He added that he favored partnerships with foreign firms, but was against the practice of merely turning local businesses into subsidiaries of multinationals.
In terms of specific references, Papandreou said a buyout of a Turkish bank (Finansbank) by the National Bank of Greece, the country's largest credit institution, was "scandalous", while he termed high-profile investments by state-run ATEbank as "very risky".
In other matters, the PASOK leader said the upcoming local government elections were a "crucial battle."
Finally, Papandreou denied a charge by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis that PASOK and its leadership were responsible for a climate of "political divisiveness" in the country.
 Government stands fast as teacher strike continuesTeachers and the government each dug into their positions on Tuesday, as striking teachers refused to back down from demands for substantial pay increases and the government insisted that it had already taken action to meet them, within the limits of what the economy could bear.
Tension escalated even further in the wake of allegations by strikers that a member of the riot police used brass knuckles to assault teachers during a protest on Monday.
Commenting on the assault claim, alternate government spokesman stressed the government's condemnation and rejection of "all behaviour that exceeds the limits".
"This applies regardless, whether it is about the use of a metal ring or an attachment on a police man's uniform, or the wooden boards with which certain protestors attempted to break through the ranks of the police," he said.
He denied that this statement 'traded-off' the violence of police and protestors or that it encouraged the police to continue using strong-arm tactics against protestors, stressing that the government's condemnation had been absolutely unequivocal.
Meanwhile, protest action by teachers continued with a picket in Thessaloniki on Tuesday as the strike entered the second day of its third consecutive week.
Regarding the â¬105 benefit that teachers want to see paid immediately in full, rather than the six half-year increments beginning in 2007 offered by the government, Antonaros pointed out that payment of the benefit was among the government's pre-election pledges and that it had already been carried out.
He clarified that the full benefit represented roughly 12 percent of the pay of a newly-appointed teacher.
"Even if you divide this by three - which are the six half-year installments - the increase represents 4 per cent of the salary, apart from the regular pay increases for public sector staff," he claimed.
Teachers have rejected the government's offer as paltry, pointing out that the initial addition to their pay will come to just â¬17.50, representing a salary increase just over 1.8 percent. They demand that the full â¬105 monthly benefit begin to be paid at once, stressing that their salaries are very low by European standards.
Another demand made by teachers is a substantial increase in the starting pay of newly appointed teachers to â¬1,400 a month, up from about â¬950 at present.
Responding to questions about his statement on Monday that most Greeks would be unable to sympathize with teachers' demands for a 45 percent pay rise, Antonaros denied that the government was seeking to set groups of workers against each other:
"However, this doesn't mean that we must hide or paint a rosier picture of facts and real events," he added.
As the primary school and kindergarten teachers' strike drags on into week three, joined by highschool teachers on Monday and Tuesday, teacher unions as continuing to claim turnouts as high as 60-75 percent for the strike while the government puts strike participation closer to about 40 percent.
 Alavanos raises issue of 'problematic democracy'Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) leader Alekos Alavanos said after a meeting Tuesday with President Karolos Papoulias that he raised certain issues concerning the country's political system, which he charged is operating amid a "problematic democracy".
Alavanos also referred to the Vodafone phone tapping case, and the lack of transparency in the public and private sector in tandem with the lack of political volition to tackle the problem, as he said.
In addition, he referred to mass media sector, stressing that some media groups are not fulfilling their role as a "fourth estate" to check and prevent the abuse of political power, but rather are seeking to become a "state-within-state" by targeting fundamental values and downgrading the parliamentary system and the country's political figures.
Alavanos also spoke of escalating police authoritarianism, while even maintaining that certain police officers have directed a fascist-like attack on his party.
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