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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-08-02

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] PM Karamanlis: Shielding the public health
  • [02] Papandreou: PASOK has taken its decisions
  • [03] FM interview with Turkish newspaper
  • [04] Fires in Kavala, Corinth
  • [05] Oil exploration bill
  • [06] Opinion poll

  • [01] PM Karamanlis: Shielding the public health

    The entire population in Greece will be inoculated at state expense, including illegal immigrants, the government announced after a meeting of the inter-ministerial committee on the new flu virus A/H1N1 chaired by prime minister Costas Karamanlis.

    Health minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros made the announcement in statements to the press after the meeting.

    Avramopoulos announced that, on the prime minister's orders, the entire population in the country, in other words all the citizens and residents, including those who are illegally in Greece, will be vaccinated, with the entire expense carried by the state. He noted that the number of vaccines to be procured by Greece will be approximately 24 million.

    He also said that Greece will be among the first countries to procure the vaccine, adding that vaccination will begin immediately upon formal approval by the EU.

    The minister explained that vaccination cannot be made obligatory by law, and therefore applications for inoculation will need to be filled out. He added that population groups would be prioritized for vaccination, beginning with medical and nursing staff.

    During the meeting, Avramopoulos presented to the prime minister and the committee members the updated National Plan on the new flu, stressing that Greece had acted immediately as soon as the global pandemic broke out.

    Noting that there was uncertainty among scientists over the development of the breakout, Avramopoulos said that according to the worst case scenario approximately 30-40 percent of the world population may contract the virus.

    He pointed out that it is the State's duty to be prepared for every eventuality, but stressed that there was no cause for alarm or panic.

    "Our way of life must not change," he said, before outlining the main aspects of the National Plan, which is updated regularly in accordance with the development of the global pandemic, and stressed that the government will not conceal information or figures.

    "The cultivation of panic and irresponsible politicking observed a short while ago on the new flu undermines the country's health security and productive process," Avramopoulos warned, adding that, even at this time, it was positive that the main opposition party (PASOK) was now acting in a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

    He also charged that an effort at political exploitation of the issue had been made, stressing that the government, however, had not been carried away into such a clash, and added that the National Plan will also be submitted to the political and state leadership of the country and, in the event that a political party wanted further information and clarifications, they would receive them.

    Avramopoulos further announced that there will be hirings of additional doctors and nursing staff, while 100 more intensive care units (ICUs) will be set up.

    Replying to relevant questions, Avramopoulos said that there are currently four serious cases of the new flu in Greece, and noted that 95 percent of all the cases thus far have recovered completely.

    "The government and state machine are on alert on a 24-hour basis," he stressed.

    As for concerns voiced regarding schools, which are due to reopen for the new academic year in mid-September, Avramopoulos said that the health ministry was in close cooperation with the education ministry, and the situation was being constantly assessed, adding that this matter will be decided based on the development of the problem.

    The minister further noted the four-digit telephone hotline "1135" that has been set up to provide information to the public.

    Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis

    [02] Papandreou: PASOK has taken its decisions

    Main opposition PASOK has taken its decisions: Recourse to the people because the country is at a total impasse, PASOK leader George Papandreou said in an interview appearing in a Sunday newspaper.

    He said that PASOK is absolutely in line with the view that the country's interests demand immediate general elections, adding that a change of course is necessary "with a new government and the re-election of a worthy President of the Republic", warning that the protracted election-mongering "has hurt the country".

    In his interview with the Sunday edition of Realnews newspaper, Papandreou expressed certainty that his party will emerge from general elections with a self-sufficient majority.

    Asked to comment on claims by some quarters that, in order to become prime minister, he must "if not come to terms, at least speak with non-institutional interests", Papandreou firmly replied: "Manipulation of the political life by no one. Rallying together on common national causes, yes! Serving lawless interests, no!"

    He said that the choice facing the people in the next general elections was whether they want "a government that owes and is dependent", or "a government that expresses the public interest".

    Papandreou further ruled out the prospect of governmental cooperation with ruling New Democracy because "we are on opposite shores".

    He further said that when PASOK wins the elections, it will use "the best it has" but also the best to be found in the wider society, without partisan 'blinders' to staff the state mechanism, under criteria of merit.

    [03] FM interview with Turkish newspaper

    The violations of Greek national airspace and overflights of the Greek islands by Turkish military planes are pointless provocations that contravene international law and will not change the status quo in the Aegean, Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis stressed in an interview in the Turkisy daily newspaper Hurriyet.

    Overflights by Turkish figher planes 300 meters above Greek islands in the Aegean, such as Agathonissi, will neither change the status quo in the Aegean nor prove that Turkish claims in the Aegean are valid, Bakoyannis said, adding that they are just simply unnecessary provocations to Greece.

    Bakoyannis also spoke on the Halki Seminary School and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as the Ankara Protocol.

    On an invitation by her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu to visit Ankara, the Greek foreign minister thanked Davutoglu again for the invitation, noting that the appopriate time for that visit was being examined, and stressed that the two countries must not discontinue their talks, even on the issues on which they cannot agree.

    The full text of the interview appears below:

    QUESTION: Your government recently announced discontent with claims that there is an increased number of overflights in the Aegean by the Turkish air force as a violation of Greek air space. You made calls to the EU to activate FRONTEX in Greek territorial waters for the security of the islands. How are you planning to resolve these bilateral problems? Or is it that you have no hopes to solve them bilaterally and thus bring them to the attention of the EU? The press depicts tension between Turkey and Greece.

    ANSWER: We are talking about two very different and separate issues.

    First, let me start with the violation of Greek airspace and the flights of Turkish military aircraft over Greek islands. This practice is against international law. At the same time it is dangerous, because it dramatically increases the probability of an accident similar to the one that cost the life of a young Greek pilot, Iliakis, in 2006. Having Turkish aircraft fly at 300 meters over the rooftops of the Greek islanders‚ homes on Agathonisi will not change the status in the Aegean, nor will it prove that Turkish claims are valid. It is harassment of the people on the ground and an unnecessary provocation to Greece.

    Second, FRONTEX is something else: a European specialized and independent body tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between member-states in the field of border security and to counter illegal migration. It is a bright example of cooperation within the EU framework. Greece believes that global challenges demand global solutions. That is why we have consistently encouraged Turkey to join us in facing this common challenge. Early on, back in 2001, our two countries signed an important agreement on readmission that has not been implemented thoroughly by Turkey.

    My position is clear: I choose cooperation over confrontation. We are allies in NATO and hopefully future partners within the EU. Again and again, I repeat to my EU colleagues that Greece is the most sincere supporter of Turkish accession to the European Union. Over the past decade successive Greek governments extended the hand of friendship. We hope that the Turkish government will respond and that we will move from words to deeds.

    QUESTION: Both sides point to the international law to defend their positions. Are you ready to take the problems to the Court of Justice in Hague? (As far as I know you are only ready to take the continental shelf issue to Hague and argue that the rest do not need to be taken.) Ankara wants to discuss the whole range of outstanding issues with Greece as one package. You seem to reject the idea that there is one. What is your own formula?

    ANSWER: Our formula - as you say - is simple. Let‚s just implement the law! Almost 160 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. One of the few that haven‚t - i.e., the US - recently declared its willingness to do so. This comes as no surprise, given that the UNCLOS codified existing customary law. It put onto paper existing practice. This is the trend internationally and the only rational and legal framework within which to converge our differing views.

    Recourse to the Hague Tribunal for the delimitation of the continental shelf based on this platform would certainly be an option, as both Greece and the EU have repeatedly declared. Settling this issue would give a great boost to Turkey‚s European perspective and would constitute a solid foundation upon which to build our future friendship and cooperation.

    QUESTION: It seems that illegal immigrant issue is topping the problematic areas between Turkish-Greek relations lately. Undersecretary of Greek Ministry of Interior Mr. Bitsios, during his visit in Ankara, said this may turn into a big obstacle for Turkey in the EU negotiations. You already carried the issue to Brussels. Ankara seems disappointed with the Greek government‚s attitude to deal with the problem. Ankara is worried that if FRONTEX is brought into the picture, because of different interpretations of the borders of air space serious confrontations would take place with European fighter-jets. Are you aware of possible consequences?

    ANSWER: Illegal migration is a common challenge. Both Greece and Turkey, due to their geographical position, have become transit countries in this modern form of slave trade. There is a lot we can do together to fight this phenomenon. First and foremost we need to make it absolutely clear to traffickers that their actions will not be tolerated. Our struggle will be long and hard, but we need to prevail in the name of human decency.

    Greece can raise awareness on this issue within the EU. We successfully brought illegal migration to the attention of the European Council, thus making everybody at the top level realize that this is a European problem, not a Greek or a Turkish one. We created the platform for joint action. The EU can assist Turkey in concluding readmission agreements with third countries. We can assist Turkey in joining European programs for migration management and provide access to European funds. In order to do that, however, we need Turkey to respond positively to our calls for cooperation.

    Finally, since you return to FRONTEX, we need to put things into perspective: The European means and personnel that operate in the Aegean within the framework of FRONTEX are here to assist in controlling the flow of illegal migration. They are here to assist Greece and Turkey in our common fight against traffickers. Against modern slave traders. You cannot catch traffickers with fighter jets. That‚s why you won‚t find any fighter aircraft in FRONTEX.

    QUESTION: Turkey has always said that re-opening of the Halki Seminary and granting rights to Muslim minority in Thrace should be taken into consideration simultaneously. Have you had any talks with the Turkish government lately?

    ANSWER: I had a very interesting meeting with Foreign Minister Davutoglou in Corfu. We had a long and fruitful discussion. When we discussed human rights, we both agreed that it is the duty of modern European countries towards their citizens to protect them - especially minority rights. Everyone in Greece enjoys the rights and privileges of a European citizen. As an old member of the European Union, Greece is implementing a policy of ‚affirmative action‚ in Thrace, in favor of our Muslim fellow citizens. Respect of these rights is in no way a bilateral issue between Greece and Turkey.

    Indeed, I need to stress that the idea of reciprocity runs contrary to any notion of human rights protection in the modern world. In the twenty first century human rights protection can not serve purposes of political expediency.

    I have been following with great interest the public discussion taking place in Turkey with regard to the re-opening of the Halki Seminary. Many of us in Europe and the United States believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an asset to Turkey. It is an institution that has consistently supported Turkey‚s European course, while the Patriarch is one of Turkey‚s best Ambassadors to the world. The re-opening of the Halki Seminary would I think be interpreted all around the world as proof of Turkey‚s commitment to its European path and its reform process.

    QUESTION: During a recent visit by the Turkish Cypriot leader Talat in Ankara, President G?l expressed Turkey‚s wish that ‚the negotiations to be over by the end of the year‚, a wish expressed also by Talat. The Greek Cypriot side immediately ruled out such a possibility. However we know that you have always expressed support to the talks towards a comprehensive solution. What is your take on the state of play in the negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders? Would you encourage Greek Cypriots for a solution before the end of this year?

    ANSWER: To be fair it is the Greek Cypriots who are the ones most urgently seeking a solution to the Cyprus issue. As you know the vast majority of refugees are Greek Cypriots. I have no doubt that they would have wanted a solution yesterday.

    It is high time that this nightmare finishes. President Christofias has repeatedly declared his readiness for a solution, as soon as possible. The whole point of the talks is to get to a comprehensive and mutually acceptable, viable and functional, ‚Cypriot‚ solution.

    A solution that will not be imposed upon Cypriots, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike, but one which the Cypriots themselves will negotiate and endorse.

    Greece strongly supports the process agreed upon by the two leaders. It seems that there is still some way to go. That is why I would hesitate to impose artificial deadlines. I would like to be very careful with my words because it is important that we leave President Christofias and Mr. Talat in peace to negotiate and reach a solution. I have told my Turkish friends in private and I will say it in public: Continuous statements from Turkish officials about establishing a ‚new partnership‚ of two ‚founding states‚, and proclamations of non-negotiable ‚red lines‚ on security and guarantees do not help. Let‚s have faith in the two leaders and give them a chance.

    QUESTION: If there is no solution on the island until November when the EU will assess Turkey‚s progress on opening the ports to the Republic of Cyprus, what would happen? Would Greece propose suspending all negotiation process?

    ANSWER: As you know, Turkey has committed itself to the Ankara Protocol and its Negotiating Framework also calls for the normalisation of Turkey‚s bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. ‚Pacta sunt servanda‚ is a fundamental principle in Europe. I believe there is still sufficient time for Turkey to abide by its EU commitments and I encourage her to do so.

    QUESTION: After recent tensions in the Aegean and Mediterranean, there have been speculations that you cancelled your trip to Ankara. Is it true? If not when are you planning to come?

    ANSWER: I have thanked Foreign Minister Davutoglou for his invitation, which I readily accepted. It is my strong conviction that our two countries should never cease to talk, even about issues on which we do not agree. My sense is that Foreign Minister Davutoglou shares this conviction and I look forward to continuing the discussion we started in Corfu, to the benefit of our two countries‚ relations. We are still looking for the most appropriate time to arrange this visit, as both our schedules are very tight.

    QUESTION: I read some comments in the Greek media that because your government has been struggling with troubles and early elections appear as a possibility, the government takes a hard stance against Turkey to win votes. Is this true that traditionally in Greek politics hardliner policies against Turkey bring better results?

    ANSWER: To be perfectly candid I find this discussion absurd. Foreign policy should never be manipulated for domestic politics purposes. That is a recipe for disaster. And we all have to assume our responsibilities. The representatives of the news media in both countries have a very important mission. They can either act as a bridge of understanding, or they can guide public opinion in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, in some cases they even tend to blow events out of proportion.

    Such stereotypes have been proven wrong time and again. In a few days we will mark 10 years since our greatest cities, Athens and Istanbul, were struck by deadly earthquakes, and our peoples stood shoulder to shoulder with courage and solidarity. Our democracies will only get stronger as civil society gets stronger. As we look back this fall on the 1999 earthquakes, we should reinvest in that outpouring of friendship and empathy and reinvent Greek-Turkish relations based on a bold understanding between our two governments.

    This Greek government has invested in Greek-Turkish cooperation within a framework of respect for international law and national sovereignty. And we have done so with concrete and tangible steps. We have actively supported Turkey‚s European aspirations. The Prime Minister‚s visit to Ankara was the first in almost 40 years. Full normalization of relations between our two countries is within reach. It‚s up to us - it‚s our responsibility - to make it a reality.

    [04] Fires in Kavala, Corinth

    Fires were blazing in forest expanses in the northern port city of Kavala and in Arkadia prefecture on Sunday.

    Two fires were blazing on Sunday afternoon in the northern port city of Kavala.

    The first fire, which broke out just before midnight on Friday in the village of Ano Lefki, was rekindled by strong winds in the area after being partially contained on Sunday morning. The fire was burning forest expanse, but no populated areas were in danger. The blaze was being tackled by a strong fire-fighting force assisted by two water-dropping helicopters.

    A second fire broke out at noon on Sunday near Eleftheroupolis, and a strong firefighting force was battling the blaze.

    Meanwhile, a fire that broke out on Saturday afternoon in a forest expanse near Kechriesi, Arkadia prefecture, continued to blaze on Sunday afternoon, with an immense force of 70 firefighters with 20 fire engines, assisted by two water-dropping airplanes and two helicopters and a strong team of volunteers and locals on the ground, were battling the blaze, in a massive effort to keep it from spreading to nearby Mt. Mainalos.

    [05] Oil exploration bill

    The way for oil exploration is opening up with a bill being drafted by the development ministry, minister Costis Hatzidakis said in an interview appearing in the Sunday edition of Eleftherotypia newspaper.

    Hatzidakis said that the bill, which will be tabled in parliament by the end of the year, will modernise the existing legal framework for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction.

    "We want to adopt a what is called 'open-door' model," the development minister said, clarifying that the areas in which the exploration will be conducted will be set out by an inter-ministerial committee comprising the ministers of economy and finance, foreign affairs, development, and envirionment, town planning and public works.

    On other issues, Hatzidakis said that there will be no price hikes in the Public Power Corporation (PPC) rates, while he also opined that problems regarding the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline will be soon resolved.

    [06] Opinion poll

    Main opposition PASOK maintained a lead over ruling New Democracy, according to an opinion poll by ALCO appearing in a Sunday newspaper.

    According to the ALCO poll, the results of which appeared in 'Proto Thema' newspaper on Sunday, with regard to voter intent, meaning what party the respondent would vote for if elections were held the following Sunday, 31.2 percent of the respondents preferred PASOK, against 26.3 percent for ND, 7.6 percent for the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), 5.0 percent for the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party, 4.1 percent for the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN), and 2.8 percent for the Ecologists-Greens.

    Asked when general elections should be held, 46.8 percent said at the end of the current four-year term while 44.2 percent said by March at the latest.

    Finally, 42.2 percent of the respondents said they wanted the prime minister to make sweekping changes in the government.

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