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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-01-29
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Head of Thessaloniki chamber awarded medal by JapanDimitrios Bakatselos, head of the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry and long-time honorary Consul General of Japan in the northern Greek city, has been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun medal by the Emperor of Japan. The medal and certificate were presented to Bakatselos by Japan's Ambassador to Athens, Takanori Kitamura, at a ceremony held in the ambassador's residence in Athens on Thursday evening.
Presenting the medal to Bakatselos, one of just a handful of Greeks to be honoured in this way over the past two decades, the ambassador said it was the most formal way in which Japan could express its appreciation for the Greek businessman's invaluable contribution and efforts in the past 10 or so years toward promoting and developing Greek-Japanese ties.
Among these he listed the businessman's assistance and advice to Japanese companies seeking to develop activity in Greece, his support as head of Thessaloniki's chamber of commerce, his role in the official visits by Greek premiers to Japan in 2002 and 2005 and many others. Officials from the embassy also referred to more personal touches, such as his assistance to a Japanese family visiting an injured relative in a Greek hospital.
According to Bakatselos, his position as honorary consul general of Japan had come about almost as a "lucky fluke", through his involvement in the organisation of the 1997 Thessaloniki Cultural Capital, but had given him an opportunity to advance a cause that he considered to be highly important. He stressed the benefits for Greece of developing economic and cultural ties with a country like Japan - adding most of his own efforts had been geared in this direction - and of attracting Japanese investments.
Especially for his own city Thessaloniki, he emphasised the port city's strategic position as a European and international gateway to the surrounding region, while citing red tape and bureaucracy as one of the chief obstacles to Japanese businesses attempting to launch activities in the country.
 FM on TurkeyForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis predicted on Thursday that 2009 will be a crucial year for Turkey's relations with the European Union and spoke of a qualitative increase in Turkey's unacceptable provocations in the Aegean and placing emphasis on the Greek government's policy of handling them in a calm manner.
"We look forward to the responsible position of all parties, because they constituted and will constitute the country's most powerful implement," she said, but criticised the opposition parties of criticising foreign policy while not making any proposal.
The minister, who briefed the members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, placed emphasis on relations with Ankara, stressing the need for an improvement to be sought through dialogue of Confidence Building Measures and criticised those "who question the policy of calmness and of understanding."
Bakoyannis further said that "is there anybody in this hall who believes that all the possibilities, all the working cases have not been studied in depth or that they are not being evaluated. Our government places the determination and the responsibility of its handlings before the voices of superficial impressiveness and of populism."
She pointed out that all the necessary steps have been taken through diplomatic channels and at the level of NATO secretary general for the Turkish provocations in the Aegean, adding that despite the neighbouring country's aggressive stance, efforts are continuing to normalise Greek-Turkish relations and ease tension and in this framework, as she noted, the exploratory meetings are taking place.
"These meetings have produced no results so far. However, they shall be continued and whoever has a proposal must make it. This is the country's national strategy, that we are serving. We shall continue in the same direction with determination. It is a difficult year in which Turkey shall be judged. We shall use our arguments during the year and I hope that it will realise that a solution to problems is in its own interests," the minister said.
Commenting on the confession made by Turkish actor Attila Olgac regarding the killing in cold blood of Greek-Cypriot hostages in 1974, the minister spoke of a flagrant infringement of human rights, which is not changed by the effort he made afterwards to retract all that he had said.
"It is imperative that the decisions of the European Human Rights Court are fully implemented and that there should be a full clarification of all the cases of missing people," she added.
On the question of Greece receiving detainees from Guantanamo, Bakoyannis explained that it concerns citizens and not prison detainees seeking asylum.
The minister noted that Greece is among the European countries that are discussing the preconditions and the terms, that will take some time, for possibly receiving them and it concerns citizens who are unable to return to their country and want to ask for asylum.
"We are speaking of one or two cases, it does not concern a large number," she said and promised to inform the parties as soon as there is any development.
Bakoyannis placed emphasis on the Middle East issue, saying that the top priority is the unobstructed provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
She further said that what is necessary to meet needs on a daily basis is about 600-700 truckloads of humanitarian aid, while only 130-140 succeed in entering Gaza.
As regards the Greek OSCE presidency, Bakoyannis said that Greece will strongly pursue dialogue on the security of Europe.
Main opposition PASOK party deputy Andreras Loverdos assessed that "2009 will be a year of tension on the part of Turkey, through the search and rescue processes" and called for a "more categorical stance by the Greek Foreign ministry with regard to the Turkish actor's crude confession of the coldblooded killings of Greek Cypriot prisoners."
Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) President Alekos Alavanos referred to the issue of Guantanamo and said that "the United States should kneel before the detainees and pray for having kept them for years with illegal procedures. If someone wants asylum he must ask for it from the United States, that must give him a home and not share the problem internationally."
 Credit expansion slows downCredit expansion slowed significantly in Greece during the last month of 2008, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday. The central bank, in a monthly report, said annual growth rate of financing both enterprises and households slowed to 16.4 pct in December 2008, from 18.2 pct in November 2008 and 21.5 pct in December 2007.
New credit to entetrprises totaled 1.174 billion euros in December, down from 3.283 billion euros in December 2007, for an annual growth rate of 19.8 pct, down from 22.2 pct in November and 20.6 pct in December 2007.
Credit growth slowed towards most economic sectors, with the exception of agriculture and ?other sectors? where it remained unchanged. Credit growth rates to manufacturing and commerce, however, remained significantly up compared with December 2007, despite falling from November levels.
Net funding to households totaled 1.043 billion euros (2.060 billion in December 2007), for an annual growth rate of 12.8 pct, from 14 pct in November and 22.4 pct in December 2007.
Mortgage loans totaled 867 million euros in December (1.349 billion in December 2007) for an annual growth rate of 11.4 pct, from 12.3 pct in November and 21.9 pct in December 2007.
Consumer loans totaled 152 million euros, down from 655 million in December 2007, for an annual growth rate of 16.0 pct, down from 17.8 pct in November and 22.4 pct in December 2007.
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