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Athens News Agency: News in English, 08-05-16
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM squares off against opposition over OTE dealThe deal between the Greek state and Deutsche Telekom (DT) for the management of Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) prompted spirited exchanges in Parliament on Friday, during which Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis traded sharp words with main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou but also Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parliamentary head Alekos Alavanos, accusing them, respectively, of a "complete lack of arguments" and "absolute populism".
"Our aim - and we have proved this - is to better serve the interests of the state, the economy and consumers - seriously and responsibly. Two concepts that are obviously unknown to you," Karamanlis said during his reply to questions tabled by Papandreou, during the "premier's hour" in Parliament, at the same time defending the deal struck by the government.
"You know full well that there is nothing 'behind the scenes', no undisclosed deal. â¦ You know that we were seeking an alliance with a large European organisation that would bring technical expertise and new services to the citizens, the consumers and investments," the premier underlined.
He also accused PASOK of "lapsing into a state of total confusion" and claimed that the 66 percent of OTE shares sold by PASOK governments might have led to a loss of control over the phone utility. He also noted that PASOK governments had then spent three years looking for strategic investors.
"Now that we have found a strategic investor, and one that is among the largest organisations in Europe, you are accusing us and talking in ways that restore the 'dark ages' of nationalisations. What really bothers you is that, while you tried to do exactly what we did now, you failed," Karamanlis added, accusing PASOK of being unable to deal with the major problems while in government and proving itself unable to present serious arguments and proposals as main opposition.
"This inability cannot be concealed, neither by your hypocritical double-talk nor by the extreme expressions of your party officials," he concluded.
Discussing the government's policy for OTE, the prime minister underlined that there were no plans to reduce the state's share in the phone utility yet further, after the 3 percent sold to DT in the latest deal. He also stressed that the agreement with DT secured the Greek phone company's alliance with a European telecoms giant, while it was subject to the approval of the Greek Parliament, the European Commission and regulatory authorities in both Greece and Germany.
The premier then clarified that the deal gave the Greek State the last word on strategic issues, with enhanced powers of veto on key decisions concerning financial, business and corporate operations, as well as any issues pertaining to national security, national defence or law and order.
Karamanlis was responding to a heavily sarcastic attack from main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, who accused the government of handing over control of OTE "for a song" and announced that PASOK would propose a fact-finding committee to investigate the government for breach of faith.
According to the main opposition leader, the 140 million euros for which the government had sold an additional 3 percent of OTE and its management to DT represented less than three months' profits for the telephony utility, which made profits of 660 million euros in 2007.
Papandreou also rejected the government's claim that the deal would make OTE a more "serious player" within the European Union. "The Germans are becoming players, we are becoming a subsidiary," he stressed, dismissing the government's position as "a lie" and denying that it was continuing the policy of past PASOK governments.
In a rejoinder to PASOK's leader, Karamanlis said that a dearth of positions and its rivalry with the smaller left-wing parties were leading PASOK to "inaccuracies and promises that would cost vast sums and were impossible to fulfil".
Referring in particular to Papandreou's threat to exhaust every means to restore state control of OTE if PASOK returned to government, the premier suggested that this completely unrealistic.
"It is your right to dream. But it is not your right to lie, consciously mislead and toy with the citizens," he added, at the same time underlining that the agreement with DT was beneficial to the OTE, Greek consumers and all Greek society.
Reply to Alavanos
Responding to SYRIZA's Alavanos, meanwhile, Karamanlis rejecting accusations that ruling New Democracy was "selling something that does not belong to it" and denounced him for resorting to "insults" and "demagoguery and absolute populism."
"What most interests me, however, is that these things damage the country, damage the land. And, I will say this for the first time, I am afraid that this is being done consciously and deliberately," Karamanlis asserted in response to the criticism from Alavanos.
"The public sector is the 'sick man' in our country. It is frequently over-abundant in places where it has no reason to exist at all and, in many cases, is absent in places where citizens need it," the premier added.
He also angrily rejected suggestions that the agreement that would be presented to Parliament for ratification would be in any way different from the announcements that the government had made so far regarding the contents of the deal.
Far from leading to deteriorating services and higher prices, the agreement with DT would have precisely the opposite effect, promoting healthy competition that would increase jobs, the quality of services and restrain prices, the prime minister claimed.
He underlined that OTE's workforce had nothing to fear from the reforms now underway: "Our positions are clear-cut and our commitment is strong. We will not overlook their interests, on any account."
At the same time, Karamanlis stressed that the government would not give in to "the blackmail of the few that harms the interests of the many. We will not stop the reforms that are absolutely essential for the country to go forward."
"I have said many times - and I mean this fully - that it is the inalienable right of workers, of every citizen, to make demands, to strike, to mobilise. It is not, however, anyone's right to abuse their position as a monopoly. And this applies to all collective bodies; there cannot be groups that seek to impose their demands through extortion, striking indiscriminately at the interests of others. A question of social responsibility is raised for all. And, at the end of the day, there is also an issue of the democratic attitudes of those supporting such practices," he said.
In scathing remarks during the debate, Alavanos had suggested that since the government had so little faith in the country's ability to manage OTE as it should, rather than give it away, "instead appoint a German minister" and later perhaps a minister from Dubai to manage Greece's ports.
"The sick man is not just the public sector but the ND government, which is unable to meet today's challenges," he added, while he linked DT with the Siemens bribery scandal and suggested that the government had no right to go ahead with DT until this affair was fully clarified.
Alavanos also directly attacked Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, suggesting that he "would be unable to hold down a job even as manager in a local supermarket" based on his performance regarding OTE, earning the minister's reply that he was "not a political party test-tube baby" like Alavanos himself but had a successful academic career in his own field, economics, before entering politics.
 Russian avant-garde exhibitionThe exhibition "Five Seasons of the Russian Avant-Garde", with works from the Costakis Collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, was inaugurated Thursday at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens by Greek President Karolos Papoulias. The exhibition will run until Oct. 10, and features 90 works from the acclaimed Costakis Collection, which includes paintings, drawings and three-dimensional artifacts that represent all the groups and movements of the Russian avant-guard (1900s-1930s). Among the artists whose works can be seen on display are Malevich, Popva, Tatlin, Rochenko, Nikritin, Lissitzky etc. The exhibition is divided into five units devoted to the bold pioneering aesthetic experiments that took place in Russia and, through their dynamism and boldness, transformed the history of 20th-century art.
Caption: A file photo dated Tuesday, 7 August 2007 shows black-and-white sketch by Ivan Kliun, which along with two other works was found drawn behind mechanical designs, dated to the immediate period after the Russian revolution. The work is part of the noted Costakis Collection of Russian avant-garde art works. ANA-MPA / STR.
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