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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-02-11
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Three weekend opinion polls see ruling New Democracy leadThree separate opinion polls released over the weekend see ruling New Democracy retaining its lead over the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) - in one case comfortably - but also a marked in improvement in PASOK's image among voters. Two of the polls were published in Sunday papers, while one appeared in the Saturday edition of 'Ta Nea'.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis remained firmly ahead of his main rival, PASOK leader George Papandreou, as 'most suitable for prime minister' in all three polls.
Comfortable lead for ND in poll conducted by VPRC
A "barometer" poll conducted by VPRC on behalf of the television and radio broadcaster SKAI that was published in this week's Sunday edition of the Greek "Kathimerini" gives a clear lead to the ruling New Democracy (ND) party but also shows a rise in support for main opposition PASOK.
The poll shows ND 3.5 percentage points ahead of PASOK in voter support, with 43% of respondents saying the would vote for ND in the next elections - the same as in the previous VPRC poll in January - while 39.5% backed main opposition PASOK, an increase of 0.5% since January.
Percentages for the other parties were 7.5% for the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), 4% for the Coalition of the Left, of Movements and Ecology (SYN) and 3.5% for the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS).
PASOK's image is also holding steady relative to the previous poll in October, while the image of the other political parties, including ND, appears to have taken a bruising since that time.
ND is seen to have shed 6 percentage points with respect to its image since October, SYN has lost 9, the KKE 4 percentage points and LAOS another 6.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is still firmly ahead of his main rival, PASOK leader George Papandreou, as most suitable for prime minister according to the poll, backed by 51% against Papandreou's 30%. The prime minister's personal image has also improved by 2 percentage points since January, though Papandreou has forged ahead by 7 percentage points in the same period.
Also higher relative to the previous month was the percentage of those that opted for neither of the two, which rose to 22% from 16% in January.
Regarding the controversial issue of revising the Constitution, 59% of those asked believed it should go ahead, 20% were against and 21% did not answer.
About 47% of those asked estimate that the reforms cannot be pushed through while 41% disagree and 12% did not answer.
About 51% believe that the government does not have a concerted plan for reforms while 36% believe the opposite and 10% did not answer.
The question of allowing the foundation of private universities in Greece continues to be divisive, with 47% in favour and 43% against the measure. In a poll last December, this difference stood at 16%, with 52% in favour and 36% against. The current percentages are closer to those recorded in July (47% in favour, 46% against), when large protest rallies were again taking place throughout the country.
The nationwide poll was conducted over the phone between February 5-7 using a sample of 947 individuals.
GPO poll gives ND 1.9% lead, sees division over private universities
The ruling party has a 1.9% lead against main opposition PASOK according to a nationwide poll conducted by the firm GPO that appeared in this week's Sunday edition of the newspaper "Proto Thema". The poll was conducted on February 7-8 using a sample of 1,200 people.
Specifically, 36.9% of those responding said they would vote for ND, against 35% who backed PASOK, while the 'undecided' voters made up the next-largest category with 11.7%.
Support for KKE stood at 6.7%, for SYN at 3,8%, for LAOS at 4% and for other parties at 1.9%, the GPO poll found.
Asked which party was most likely to win if elections were held the following day, an overwhelming majority (69.1%) predicted victory for ND against 20.9% for PASOK.
Also, about 44.5% believed that the elections will be held in March 2008, 38% foresee elections in September or October and 14.2% see elections in May or June.
Asked which party leader had made the best impression during last weekend's debate in Parliament on a no-confidence motion tabled by PASOK, 46.8% said that the 'winner' was Karamanlis and 33.8% believe the best impression was made by Papandreou. 'Neither' was the response of 7% and 12.4% did not answer.
On Karamanlis' attitude, 59.2% of those responding and 36.5% of ND voters agreed that the prime minister used disparaging expressions and had an arrogant air when addressing PASOK's leader. The opposite view was held by 37% of those asked and 60.3% of ND voters, while 3% refused to answer.
About 56.9% of those asked and 36.1% of PASOK voters believe Papandreou should stick to a milder political mien, compared with 39.1% and 61.4% of PASOK voters that would like to see a more aggressive attitude and harder language in his dealings with Karamanlis.
Just over half, or 50.6%, of those asked and 41.8% of ND voters believe that the process for revising the Constitution has no meaning after PASOK's withdrawal, while 42.3% say that is should continue as normal.
On the handling of education issues, 35.5% believe that ND can do this best, 34.5% support PASOK, 27.4% spontaneously said neither and 2.6% did not answer.
A 62.1% majority of those asked - and 32.5% of ND voters - agreed with the view that Karamanlis and the government had honoured their pre-election pledges hardly or not at all. The opposite view was held by 37.2% of the sample and 67% of ND voters.
Another 58.2%, among them 29.3% of ND voters, agree that the government is answerable for phenomena of corruption. The opposite view is held by 39.4% of those asked, among them 68.1% of ND voters.
The most popular politicians from the ruling party, according to the poll, are:
Dora Bakoyannis (71.1%), George Souflias (69.1%), Dimitris Avramopoulos (67.1%), Evangelos Meimarakis (54.6%), Mihalis Liapis (53.4%), Theodoros Roussopoulos (53.1%), Prokopis Pavlopoulos (52.6%), Dimitris Sioufas (52.9%), Fani Palli-Petralia (52.6%), Savvas Tsitouridis (46.9%), George Voulgarakis (46.7%) and George Alogoskoufis (45%).
From main opposition PASOK, the most popular are:
Evangelos Venizelos (57.7%), Anna Diamantopoulou (32.3%), Theodoros Pangalos (26.7%), Andreas Loverdos (25.8%), Vasso Papandreou (22.6%), Mihalis Chrysohoidis (21.6%), Petros Efthymiou (20.9%), Apostolos Kaklamanis (20.3%), Haris Kastanidis (19.5%), Akis Tsohatzopoulos (17.9%), Alekos Papadopoulos (17%) and Costas Skandalidis (16.5%).
Kappa Research poll reduces difference to 1.6%
The poll conducted by Kappa Research and published by the newspaper 'Ta Nea' on Saturday, meanwhile, places the difference between the two main parties at just 1.6% in favour of ND, representing just 100,000 votes in total. It was conducted by phone between February 8-9 using a sample of 2027 households.
In this, 37.5% said they would vote for ND, 35.9% for PASOK, 7.4% of KKE, 3.6% for SYN, 3.2% for LAOS and 1.7% for other parties. The 'undecided' vote stood at 10.7%.
Karamanlis is comfortably ahead of Papandreou as most suitable for premier with 54% against 35.8% and 8.3% replying 'neither'.
Satisfaction with ND's progress was expressed by 42.6% and 56.8% said they were dissatisfied. Conversely, 32.9% said they were satisfied with the actions of the main opposition and 65.4% said they were dissatisfied.
Respondents said that ND was better than PASOK at handling the economy, foreign policy, the country's presence abroad, health and education. PASOK was seen as better able than ND to handle farm policy, high prices, protection of the less well-off and an increase in wages and pensions.
The main opposition was also seen as 'closer to the people' by 44.9%, as representing progress by 38.3% and as more moder by 35.9%.
For ND, 62.5% agreed that it was 'closer to the world of business', 50.2% agreed that it represented conservatism, 42.9% that it was 'closer to European ways of thinking' and 42.1% that it had a 'clearcut policy'.
Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis
 PASOK defends withdrawal from Constitution revisionSpeaking at a PASOK youth party congress on Sunday, PASOK Secretary Nikos Athanassakis defended the main opposition party's decision to withdraw from the process for revising the Constitution as an "act of responsibility and dignity".
"This is a time for elections," Athanassakis added, expressing confidence that PASOK would emerge from these victorious. He stressed that the party would stop the revision process and launch a new procedure in the next Parliament.
"The next Parliament will be pre-revisionary and the one after that revisionary," he said.
PASOK's Secretary noted that something similar had occurred in 1996 when a revision of the Constitution was interrupted when Costas Simitis was elected prime minister and PASOK president, and the process then resume in 2001.
Commenting on the protest action by students against a revision of article 16 of the Constitution that bans private-sector universities in Greece, Athanassakis said that they had "waged a good fight" even though not everyone within PASOK agreed with their view.
"We want youth to be steps ahead of the party," he added.
Also among the speakers was the head of PASOK's political council for youth issues Costas Skandalidis, who outlined proposed changes to the structure of PASOK's youth party organisation.
In statements to the press afterwards, he sharply criticised the government's policies for tertiary education, university asylum and article 16, saying that it was "endangering the institutions" on issues of democracy.
Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of PASOK Secretary Nikos Athanassakis
 U.S.-Greek relations 'better than ever', envoy saysRelations between Greece and the United States "have never been better" according to an interview by U.S. Ambassador to Athens Charles Ries appearing in this week's edition of the Sunday paper "Macedonia on Sunday".
He had been asked whether the recent terrorist strike with a rocket-propelled grenade against the US Embassy in Athens last month had caused friction between the two countries.
According to Ries, the attack had essentially been made against Greece, as well.
Asked if the new terrorist group might be a spin off of the defunct Marxist terror group "November 17" - whose key members are now in jail - Ries said that it was difficult to say for sure. He expressed some doubts about whether N17 had been fully disbanded, noting that the investigation and trial had failed to identify those guilty for the murders of CIA station chief Richard Welch or U.S. Navy officer George Tsantes, while neither a gun used by the organisation nor its seal had ever been found.
"Presumably there are people who know where this evidence is. There are unanswered questions that will not be answered until we get right to the end of this," he added.
Regarding Turkey's progress toward European Union accession, the U.S. envoy said that Athens appeared to be "seeing far and to have a strategy" on this issue".
"It is in Greece's interests for Turkey to commit to the target of become a full EU member," he said, noting that Ankara appeared determined to overcome any difficulties while conceding that "not everything is going smoothly" in this effort.
Commenting on the latest problems between Turkey and Cyprus over oil exploration rights in seas south of Cyprus, the ambassador reiterated Washington's position that a solution of the Cyprus issue would obviate problems of this sort and expressed hope that a U.N.-mediated process for solving the Cyprus problem begun in July would lead to the desired result.
With respect to Greece's dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Ries said he was sanguine that an initiative by U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz would yield results while noting that the U.S. had recognised FYROM with its Constitutional name 'Republic of Macedonia' in order to preserve stability in the Balkans and would abide by this decision until there was a final agreement over the dispute.
On Kosovo, he said that the U.S. viewed any change in Balkan borders as a destabilising factor and, for this reason, proposals by U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari stipulate that Kosovo will not then join with any other state and that its current borders will final.
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