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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-03-20

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Papandreou in Belgrade, Kosovo
  • [02] Safeguards for pension fund assets announced
  • [03] 'Odyssea' unveiled by Theodorakis
  • [04] FM begins US visit on Tues.

  • [01] Papandreou in Belgrade, Kosovo

    Main opposition PASOK leader and Socialist International (SI) president George Papandreou had a telephone communication with Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev on Monday in view of their visit to Belgrade on Tuesday and afterwards to Kosovo, a Socialist International initiative.

    Papandreou stated that they discussed developments in Kosovo and UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal advocating independence for Kosovo "under international supervision", stressing that the issue should be handled with great caution to maintain calm in the region.

    Papandreou and Stanishev also discussed the conditions created after Bulgaria's EU accession.

    The Bulgarian prime minister assured the PASOK leader that his country wishes to have close cooperation with Greece and particularly with the prefecture of Serres, an gateway to Greece for Bulgarian citizens and goods.

    Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of PASOK leader George Papandreou.

    [02] Safeguards for pension fund assets announced

    Three key decisions to safeguard the reserves of social insurance funds were announced on Tuesday after a government meeting headed by Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis and Employment and Social Protection Minister Savvas Tsitouridis, amid a recent furor over the questionable purchase of a state bond by the civil servants' pension fund. The first decision is to establish an ad hoc committee that will submit proposals for reforming the institutional framework by end-June. The committee, to be set up by the employment ministry, will be comprised of representatives of the national economy and finance ministry, the Capital Market Commission, the state-run Social Insurance Foundation (IKA), the stock market, and others.

    The second decision, effective immediately, prohibits social insurance funds from investing in bond derivatives. The third decision calls for a government audit of the social insurance funds' financial management dating back to 1998. The audit will be conducted by the employment ministry with the assistance of the Bank of Greece, the finance ministry, and the Athens Stock Exchange. According to Alogoskoufis, the audit will be in-depth, so as to ascertain whether the 23 percent ceiling on investments by social insurance funds has been adhered to. The government, he told reporters, has proved that it makes "no deductions" on matters of transparency, and that it reveals the problems itself. The minister further said that the "slander and mudslinging coming from the opposition does not alter the fact that problems had been created on the stock market in the past when the present main opposition party (PASOK) was in power". He explained that the problems and weaknesses regarding the social insurance funds' investments "is known from the past, and that is why the law stipulates that they (the funds) cannot invest more than 23 percent (of their reserves) in stocks and real estate". Alogoskoufis said that the greatest part of the investments were in low-risk public sector bonds, adding that the new financial transactions had led, however, to dealing in bond derivatives and high-risk compound fiscal means. In that respect, he added, the government has said that it will reform the relevant institutional framework. Tsitouridis, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said that "we are proceeding with deep-rooted changes", adding that this would be effected "without compromising the autonomy of the social insurance funds". Tuesday's meeting was also attended by Deputy Economy Minister Petros Doukas, Bank of Greece Governor Nikos Garganas and central bank's deputy governor Panagiotis Thomopoulos, finance ministry secretary general Yiannis Sidiropoulos, the ministry's secretary general for fiscal policy Georgios Kouris, Capital Market Commission Chairman Alexis Pilavios and Athens Stock Exchange President Spyros Capralos.

    Fund boards fully responsible for actions, minister stresses

    A day earlier, Doukas underlined in Parliament on Monday night that the managements of social security funds were "completely responsible for their actions" while underlining that the government would be ruthless in punishing those that misused fund assets. "If anyone from the [social insurance fund] managements stretches out his hand, the government will cut it off," Doukas said, while stressing that the economy ministry's job was to ensure the cheapest funding and that the ministry's work stopped there. He was replying to questions regarding revelations of financial mismanagement by the board of the state-controlled Civil Servants' Auxiliary Pension Fund (TEADY) and its dealings with the brokerage firm Acropolis AXEPEY, which dominated Monday night's debate on the government's income policy draft bill.

    Main opposition PASOK MP Dimitris Georgakopoulos blasted the government, however, for issuing the controversial bond purchased by the social security funds, saying that it had orchestrated something akin to "reverse money-laundering" in which millions of euros had seeped away. "Though the public sector could have gone directly to the social insurance funds in order to sell the bond in question, instead you went from the State to a bank, from there to a brokerage and another bank, in order for it to return to the state sector with losses of millions of euros along the way," he said. PASOK MP George Floridis, a former minister, noted that TEADY had paid five million euros in commission for the transaction and had bought the bond at significantly more than its average market value, though it could have paid as little as 50,000 euros in commission for the deal. In response to other criticism regarding the bond issue, meanwhile, Alogoskoufis said that the use of syndicated loans via banks was a standard method for covering the need to service the vast public debt, also used to the hilt by former PASOK ministers, while this type of borrowing was decreasing since 2004. He also underlined that this was the first and only such loan given to the specific bank, JP Morgan. Replying to the minister, PASOK MP Vasso Papandreou noted that syndicated loans taken out by PASOK were linked to specific defence contracts: "What we have here is the issue of a secret bond that is not the state borrowing from third parties: this is internal government borrowing," she said. In his reply, the minister pledged to fully uncover what had occurred at the social insurance funds and reform the legislative framework governing their operation, beginning with the meeting held on Tuesday. "We will have a big meeting in order to see how we can protect the money of those insured. Because we cannot talk about solving the social insurance problem and not reform they way that funds use their reserves," he said.

    Caption: A file photo of FinMin George Alogoskoufis. ANA-MPA photo

    [03] 'Odyssea' unveiled by Theodorakis


    The latest work by renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, entitled "Odyssea" (Odyssey) and based on the lyrics of poet Costas Kartelias, was unveiled in Athens on Tuesday.

    The scores in the newly released CD expectedly revolved around the trials of mythical Trojan War hero Ulysses (Odysseus) during 10 years of wandering before finally returning to his Ithaca island kingdom.

    Noted Greek performer Maria Farantouri is the featured singer on the 82-year-old composer's latest project.

    Caption: Theodorakis appears at a press conference to unveil his latest work in Athens on Tuesday, March 20, 2007. ANA-MPA / S. Pantzartzi.

    [04] FM begins US visit on Tues.

    Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will have a wide-ranging discussion on a series of issues concerning Greece and the region with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, during a working dinner in New York on Tuesday evening, while she will also hold talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Thursday.

    Bakoyannis, who arrived in New York on Tuesday, following a one-day visit to Rome and talks with the Italian government, is also slated to meet with several members of the Bush administration and Congressional officials in Washington.

    Among the topics expected to be discussed with the UN chief are the FYROM "name issue", the Cyprus issue, developments regarding Kosovo and the situation in the wider region of the Middle East.

    The UN chief was briefed last Friday by the UN special envoy on the FYROM name issue, Matthew Nimetz.

    Bakoyannis is due to leave for Washington on Wednesday, where she will also have meetings on Thursday with US Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Afterwards, she will attend a luncheon in her honour hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

    While in Washington, Bakoyannis will also meet with US National Security Advisor Steven Hadley and the US president's Assistant for Homeland Security director Frances Fragos Townsend, a meeting expected to touch on Greece's request for inclusion in the US visa waiver programme.

    On the following day (March 23), Bakoyannis will take part in a special event at the White House marking Greek Independence Day, during which US President George Bush will proclaim March 25, 2007 as "Greek Independence Day: National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy."

    Caption: FM Dora Bakoyannis, right, meets with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Greek foreign ministry in Athens on Tuesday, April 25, 2006. ANA-MPA / N. Voutos.

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