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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-12-05
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Cabinet approves stiffer penalties under new Traffic CodeThe government on Tuesday approved the revised traffic code introducing stiffer penalties for offenders proposed by Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis, during a meeting of the inner Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
Liapis said that the aim of the new traffic code was to act as a deterrent in the hope of preventing many of the fatal accidents that put Greece at the top of the league for per capita road accident deaths in the European Union, while at the same time creating a mentality that favoured safe driving habits.
To this end, the minister noted that the fines for dangerous driving would increase but speed limits would also be slightly raised.
He pointed out that the last revision of the traffic code was carried out in 1999 and that the government's present proposals were developed by a team of experts and scientists, while they had been unveiled for public debate six months earlier.
Liapis urged MPs to intervene and voice their opinions on this major issue, one which claims hundreds of lives on Greek roadways each year, stressing that he welcomed dialogue on his proposals.
He also described the draft bill prepared by his ministry as a "breakthrough" and expressed hope that there would be cooperation and broader consensus with the opposition.
Responding to reporters' questions about the sharp increase in the amount of the fines, Liapis denied that this was another method of 'milking' the public to boost government coffers.
"That occurs when something is imposed on you against your will. No one obliges anyone to go through a red light, ignore right of way or to illegally traverse a guarded level crossing," Liapis pointed out.
The minister also stressed that wearing a seatbelt was obligatory and that the measure was now being extended to taxis, where passengers in the front seat will be obliged to wear a seatbelt, as well as to passengers on inter-city buses.
Asked whether the government intended to reduce high rates of VAT currently imposed on motorcycle helmets, which are treated as luxury goods for tax purposes, Liapis said that he had raised the issue with European Commissioner for transport Jacques Barrot but had not yet received any reply.
In comments on the draft bill during Tuesday's regular press briefing, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that the traffic code was not just a legal text but also a rule for life.
He stressed that the government's goal was to protect human life more efficiently, given that Greece occupied one of the worst positions in the EU in terms of road safety.
The spokesman said the transport ministry, following dialogue with the qualified bodies, had settled on a modern framework of dealing with traffic violations, particularly those that placed human life at risk.
This included the decriminalisation of certain minor offences and misdemeanour-type violations, better collection of fines, an upgrade of the point system and a rationalisation of fines, he added.
 PASOK leader addresses AHCC conferencePASOK can guarantee the social pact, reached through social dialogue, which is necessary in order to make the major changes the country needs, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou told the opening session of a two-day Greek Economy Conference organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (AHCC) at a central Athens hotel.
Papandreou, addressing the AHCC conference on Monday night, also said that he will use all the experience he has accumulated to promote Greece‚s interests abroad and attract foreign capital to the country.
He launched a fierce criticism on the government policy, which he said results in missed opportunities despite the fact that it came to power at a time when the Greek economy was at its best moment in recent history.
Papandreou also referred to foreign policy issues and particularly EU-Turkey relations, stressing that the likelihood of sanctions on Turkey for not meeting its obligations toward the EU will constitute palpable proof of the fact that efforts to bring Turkey closer to the EU have failed and, at the same time, the effect on Greek-Turkish relations will also be decisive.
He said that the impasse could have been avoided if Greece had continued the serious efforts for the solution of the continental shelf issue at the appropriate time and had exercised serious policy when handling Turkey's EU Customs Union Protocol issue back in 2004 or 2005.
Referring to the economy, the PASOK leader stated that in 2007 or 2008 the EU will decide on lifting the fiscal supervision status imposed on Greece, stressing that again nothing will change if the economic policy model followed today remains the same.
Papandreou also referred to five priorities that have to be backed by bold changes. Namely, providing equal access to quality education for all and incentives to boost entrepreneurship and innovation, investing in the workers‚ dexterities and vocational training, creating a new social state and making the environment a competitive advantage.
The PASOK leader stated that there are certain necessary preconditions in order to meet the objectives mentioned above.
Decentralization and state reform was one of them, he said, adding that privatizations were not an end in itself but should be part of an overall planning.
He stressed that the creation of a new macro-economic and fiscal framework was necessary and added that he disagreed with the indiscriminate taxation rate cuts on corporate profits.
The PASOK president also stressed that the problem with the taxation system was not high taxation rates but the fact that it lacked credibility.
Papandreou further referred to the need to build a healthier relationship between political and economic forces, between political power and the mass media, and stressing that specific businessmen or mass media should stop enjoying preferential treatment.
 UN adopts 'cultural property return' ResolutionNew York (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou) -- Greece's culture minister George Voulgarakis called for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece late Monday night, speaking at the UN just after the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution tabled by Greece last month on the return or restitution of cultural property to their countries of origin. He also welcomed the adoption of the resolution by the plenary session as "exceptionally important".
"The Greek initiative for the Resolution that has been unanimously adopted by the United Nations, which concerns the reunification of antiquities, is an exceptionally important event," Voulgarakis said after the adoption of the resolution, adding that "this result is the outcome of the efforts we have made recently to enable the antiquities to return to their places of origin".
"The adoption of this resolution in itself signals and guides the countries to help so that the antiquities from all over the world will return to their homes. Greece will always seek and strive, in that direction, for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful place".
Addressing the General Assembly, Voulgarakis explained that "the uniqueness of the Parthenon, as a momument-symbol of the global civilisation, is the decisive factor that renders the demand for their return universal, but also more timely than ever, particularly now, when we are in the final stage of completion of the New Acropolis Museum" in Athens.
The draft resolution on "The Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to their Countries of Origin" had been tabled at the UN by Greece's Permament Representative, Ambassador Adamantios Vasilakis, on November 3.
Addressing himself to the president of the UN's 61st General Assembly and the representatives of the UN member countries, Voulgarakis said:
"I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to address the General Assembly, to express the sincere gratitude and appreciation of the Greek government, for the unanimous adoption of the resolution on the return and restitution of the cultural treasures to their countries of origin. The adoption of the resolution, with a 'consensus', and its endorsement by the majority of the representatives, clearly states its importance for the international community, and the clear intentions of all of us to proceed with bilateral and multilateral collaborations so as to resolve these matters."
Noting that "UNESCO's systematic and hard work is at the core of these efforts for the protection of cultural heritage", Voulgarakis also conveyed the Greek government's appreciation to UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura.
Voulgarakis further noted the immense legal dimensions of antiquities smuggling, stressing that "the illicit trade in antiquities is included in the same category as the illicit trade in weapons, narcotics and people. It constitutes a form of organised crime that is directly linked with the mafia and money laundering. It is a crime against all of us. Not only against the States whose cultural heritage is being decimated, but also against all of humanity, because the monuments are destroyed, information is lost, the artefacts are cut off from their historical and physical environment".
He also spoke of the value of heritage, stressing that "a person without history and a cultural identity becomes poorer as an existence and substance, he is cut off from his natural and cultural environment, and is deprived of his ability to explain the phenomena of his evolution".
However, Voulgarakis continued, "a new wind has been blowing in recent years".
"An increasing number of museums are adopting strictal ethical codes in the acquisition of cultural property. The international scientific community and the archaeologists, regardless of nationality, are raising their voices for the protection of the world cultural heritage and demanding that an end be put to the looting and smuggling of cultural artefacts. New, more stringent legislation is being adopted in this direction, such as recently in Switzerland and Britain. But the global public opinion, too, and the media, have been sensitised, particularly after the destruction of cultural properties in Afghanistan and Iraq," he explained.
Voulgarakis stressed "we hear this necessity, and we are giving it flesh and blood with today's Resolution".
"Greece took the initiative to introduce this Resolution, which is greatly important to the protection of cultural heritage and signals this new era. It reflects the initiatives that have been taken at international level through international conventions, resolutions and intiatives by UNESCO, and other international initiatives. It advances the cooperation among the countries, in the framework of the UN and UNESCO, in order to protect humanity's cultural heritage and its values. It ensures the advancement of the return and restitution of the cultural properties that have been illegally removed from their countries of origin, and stressed the need for their return to those countries," he said.
"In the age of globalisation, the peoples must be able to preserve their historic and cultural identity and, at the same time, communicate and collaborate amongst themselves without the barriers of the past. But this cooperation and movement of cultural properties must abide by ethical codes and rules," he added.
Noting the recent positive developments in this area, Voulgarakis stressed: "Greece, through its collaborations with other states and museums, has already succeeded, in this past year, to repatriate some of its antiquities. Two important antiquities have been returned by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, while discussions are pending for the return of two more antiquities by the same museum. Also returned to Greece were two fragments from the Acropolis, on of which was from the Parthenon. The one fragment was returned by the University of Heidelberg, while the other was returned by Sweden. These returns were made in the framework of the need for restitution of a momument which, although it is situated in Greece, belongs to the entire world."
However, the Greek culture minister continued, "the Parthenon Marbles remain 'divided' between Athens and London".
"The uniqueness of the Parthenon, as a monument-symbol of world heritage, is the decisive factor that renders the demand for their return universal, but also more timely than ever. Particularly now when we are at the final stage of completion of the New Acropolis Museum. This Museum will house all the remaining parts of the Parthenon and is expected to also include the Marbles we seek back from the British Museum," Voulgarakis said.
"The reunification of antiquities signals the completion of civilisational mosaics which, for the time being, are gapingly incomplete, the completion of a fragmented image which, precisely due to the looting of its basic pieces, is distorted and misleading. If we succeed in completing the cultural image of each country with the repatriation of those antiquities that have been removed, illegally or unjustly, from their countries of origin, we will be creating steady foundations not only for the present, but also for the generations that will follow," the minister stressed.
"The cultural heritage of every country is the cultural heritage of all of humanity. All of humanity bears the burden and responsibility for the protection of this cultural heritage," the Greek culture minister concluded.
 Athens-Sparta 8th-5th Century BC exhibit in NYNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou) - The culture and differentiality of the ancient Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta are being presented to the American public from Tuesday, in a "unique exhibition", as described by Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis, during a press conference on Monday at the Onassion Cultural Centre of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, in Manhattan. The exhibition will run through May 12, 2007.
Voulgarakis congratulated the Onassis Foundation, particularly its president Antonis Papadimitriou, as well as the National Archaeological Museum, noting that the exhibition, like others which have been presented by the Onassis Foundation, contribute in the direction of the projection of Greece's culture.
"For the first time, two magnificent cities of antiquity are being projected in a modern multicultural city," said Voulgarakis, noting that "the best ambassador of Greece is its culture."
Speaking at the same press conference, Foundation president Antonis Papadimitriou referred to the content and timeless significance of the exhibition, noting "the parallel life and rivalry of these two cities, with very many dimensions".
Papadimitriou said that unique art objects were on display, adding that this was the first they were travelling outside Greece, and thanked the Central Archaeological Council, the National Archaeological Museums of Athens and Sparta, and all the other museums that allowed "these masterpieces" in their posession to be included in the exhibition abroad.
Greece's National Archaeological Museum director and curator of the exhibition, Dr. Nikos Kaltsas, outlined the exhibits, divided into three unities: the cultural, political and economic course of Athens and Sparta from the 8th to the 5th century BC.
"For the first time has such a large number of Laconic and Attic artwork been gathered side by side," Dr. Kaltsas said, noting that the purpose of the exhibition was not a comparison, but rather to highlight the differentness of the two city-states in mentality, organisation and artistic expression "which, in times of peace, developed that which today is known worldwide and universally acnowledged as classical Hellenic civilisation".
The rival Hellenic city-states, Sparta and Athens, were distinct from one another not only politically and culturally, but also artistically. While ancient Sparta was famous for militarism and austerity, its artistic developments are typically regarded as less advanced than those of Athens, which has long been revered for producing some of the most exquisite artworks in all of ancient Greece.
The exhibition, to be inaugurated by Voulgarakis on Tuesday, will trace both Laconic and Attic artistic developments from the 8th to the 5th centuries B.C., with a focus on the historically overlooked achievements made in Spartan art during this period. A total of 289 rare artifacts from the two city-states are brought together in this exhibition, many of which are visiting the U.S. for the first time. Highlights of Athens-Sparta will include a marble head of Leonidas, from the 6th century B.C., and Laconic bronze figurines of hoplites, from the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C., with loans drawn from musuems across Greece.
Artifacts on display include a marble statue believed to represent the Spartan king Leonidas, weapons found at Thermopylae where he died fighting Persian invaders, and finds from Marathon, where Athens defeated a Persian army in 490 B.C. Athens and Sparta overcame decades of mutual distrust to ally against Persian invasions in the early 5th century B.C., but fought each other in the bitter Peloponnesian War which divided Greece's querulous city states and lasted, with brief intervals, from 431-404 B.C. Sparta won that war but lost the peace, declining in later years into a rural backwater, while Athens remained a center of learning and culture for most of its later history.
Papadimitriou, in an interview with ANA-MPA, said the exhibition was very important and of great interest from both a cultural and a historic viewpoint, and was the seventh exhibition to be organised by the Foundation in the US.
He said the exhibition showcased the parallel life and rivalry of the two city-states, with their numerous influences on politics, history, culture, philosophy and art.
Papadimitriou said that, of the 289 artefacts on display, particular interest was presented by the marble bust of a hoplite believed to be that of Leonidas, dating to the end of the 5th century BC, a marble 5th century BC statuette of an Attic Kore from the Acropolis Museum, bronze hoplite figurines from Sparta dated between the 8th-6th century BC, a 6th century BC clay cylix by the Laconian painter Arkesilas, a mid-4th centry BC marble statuette of the goddess Athena, Attic bas-reliefs and a gravestone stele from the late 5th century BC, and 5th century BC arrowheads and spears from the site of the Battle of Thermopylae.
The Onassion Cultural Centre is the Foundation's headquarters in the US, and a subsidiary of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation established in 1975 after the death of shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, named after Onassis' son Alexandros who was killed in a private plane crash.
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