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Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-02-07

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

CONTENTS

  • [01] Greeks of Epirus hold traditional cutting of 'New Year pita'
  • [02] Finmin on new measures
  • [03] Promachonas closed again
  • [04] Tsipras slams PASOK policy
  • [05] Greeks back tough measures
  • [06] Snow and storm warning

  • [01] Greeks of Epirus hold traditional cutting of 'New Year pita'

    Dancing, folk songs and a kaleidoscope of traditional colour were the hallmarks of the annual cutting of the New Year 'pita' on Sunday by the Greeks of Epirus at Athens' Peace and Friendship stadium in Faliro. Once again among the prominent guests was President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.

    This year's event was dedicated to the 'Woman of Epirus' and featured three hours of entertainment by some 100 traditional dancing troupes and bands playing traditional Epirus music, including leading traditional clarinet player Petros Halkias.

    Those attending included Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, who represented Prime Minister George Papandreou and PASOK, Parliamentary group secretary Panagiotis Tragakis who represented New Democracy and ND leader Antonis Samaras, Parliament vice-president Grigoris Niotis and PASOK MPs Milena Apostolaki and Yiannis Vouros.

    [02] Finmin on new measures

    Evidence of income criteria for everyone and cash registers everywhere were just two of the upcoming tax measures unveiled by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Sunday, in an interview regarding the government's planned tax reforms that was published by the Sunday edition of the newspaper "Ethnos".

    The minister repeated earlier announcements regarding the abolition of separate tax rates for certain sources of income and said the government intended to abolish early pension privileges and unfair salaries in the public-sector. At the same time, he stressed the need for everyone to contribute according to their means and to provide protection for those that were weakest.

    "This is the direction in which the programme for cutting public sector spending is moving and this is also the direction of the tax bill," he said.

    Papaconstantinou explained that there were no plans to lower the very large tax-free allowance - currently the highest within the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - but that these high tax allowances would be linked to a system of receipts proportional to income. This would be coupled with new objective lifestyle criteria indicating minimum income levels.

    "For example, a tax payer declaring an annual income of 15,000 euros will be asked to explain how it is possible for him or her to maintain a villa, holiday home and yacht," the minister explained.

    He confirmed the abolition of a uniform property tax, to be replaced by a scaled property tax that would require those with major real estate holdings to pay the largest amounts, and emphasised the government's determination to use every electronic means available to monitor and cross-check the tax statements submitted by tax payers.

    On the planned pension reforms, the minister said that this was a major issue that addressed current inequities in the system:

    "We are not the only ones who see that when a private-sector employee is required to retire at 65, after a perhaps difficult and harsh working life, and receives the pension he is entitled to from IKA he might feel offended when he sees special groups enjoying pensions several times larger at much younger ages," Papaconstantinou pointed out.

    During the interview, the finance minister also referred to Greece's massive debt and deficit, pointing out that the country will have to borrow 54 billion euros from markets during the current year. He underlined that Greece had not submitted to the 'dictates of the EU' but was taking steps to comply with a set of rules that it had signed for when it joined the eurozone and was currently violating.

    At the same time, the government had to act in order to protect the country's economy at a time when borrowing conditions were extremely difficult, he added. Referring to the current model for growth in Greece, Papaconstantinou said that this was based chiefly on consumption fuelled by borrowing. He noted that the 2010 budget had allocated funds that boosted the income of groups with a high tendency for consumption but also allocated 10.3 billion euros for actions promoting development, noting that the funds freed from wasteful spending could be used to boost growth.

    [03] Promachonas closed again

    The tail end of the farmer protests continued to cause problems at the Greek-Bulgarian border crossing in Promachonas on Sunday, where hardline farmers voted to once more close the border post to truck traffic after 15:00 in the afternoon. The blockade at Promachonas is the last in Serres after the road blocks at Strymonikos and Kerdyllia dispersed on Friday morning.

    Only the passage of trucks is being blocked at present, with cars and buses free to cross the border in both directions.

    Earlier on Sunday, in a meeting held at Tyrnavos in Larisa at midday, farmers taking part in the 12 remaining road blocks in Thessaly and Macedonia decided to stay put until the government backed down and met their demands.

    They will meet again on Monday afternoon at Nikaia.

    [04] Tsipras slams PASOK policy

    Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras once again targeted the ruling PASOK government on Sunday, saying that the party's leadership "has decided on a final divorce with the social forces that brought it to power with their support."

    He accused PASOK of entering into a grand conservative coalition in order to gain consensus for policies that would "level" Greek society.

    SYRIZA's leader said that this conservative alliance would soon find itself facing a great social alliance, made up of social forces from the entire range of the country's political life but chiefly from those of the Left that were fighting to give to Greek people an alternative plan for exiting the crisis.

    Tsipras was speaking at an event held in Thessaloniki's Thermi district on Sunday, in honour of veteran leftist activist Panos Demetriou.

    [05] Greeks back tough measures

    A majority of Greeks believe that the harsh austerity measures announced by the government are imperative and a move in the right direction, according to the findings of an opinion poll carried out by Kapa Research and published in the newspaper "Vima" on Sunday.

    The poll was commissioned by the newspaper and conducted between February 3-4 using the method of phone interviews based on an electronic questionnaire, in a sample of 2,299 people throughout Greece with a distribution proportional to population in the 13 regions of the country.

    It found that 64.1 percent consider that the government's handling of economic issues is in the right direction and 64.3 percent that the harsh measures were imperative. Only 35 percent continue to believe that there are margins for policies that are less harsh.

    An overwhelming majority, 93.2 percent, agree that taxation with higher taxation of offshore companies, 85.5 percent agree with higher taxation of business profits, and 83.2 percent agree with an increase in taxes on dividends paid to major shareholders.

    There is more restrained support for a freeze on public-sector wages (63.6 percent), cutbacks in benefits to public-sector workers (64.6 percent) and further reductions in the number of people employed by public sector services (71.1 percent).

    By contrast, only 36.5 percent agreed with increasing the age of retirement and 60.5 percent opposed an increase in tax on fuel.

    In spite of their agreement with the government's measures, 61.5 percent believe that they will not succeed in stabilising the Greek economy and 57.5 percent believe that they are not sufficient to stop further cuts in the country's credit rating.

    Nor do the majority of Greeks believe that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy, however, with 66.3 percent considering this outcome improbable.

    Opinions are more dividing on an increase in public debt versus an increase in unemployment: 39.6 percent prefer an increase in public debt, 30.3 percent an increase in unemployment and 30.1 percent are unable to choose.

    The survey shows low support for mobilisations by trade unions and groups of employees to protect their privileges, with 55.6 percent opposed to a decision by the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) to call a general strike and 77.3 percent opposed to the reactions of certain sectors, such as tax and customs officials, against attempts to freeze or reduce their pay and benefits.

    The protest road blocks set up by farmers were supported by only 11.3 percent of those asked, though a further 45.7 percent said that they sympathised with their general demands but opposed the closure of highways as a means of protest.

    The polls also revealed a strong desire among Greeks for consensus in tackling the crisis, with 84.9 percent supporting a decision by main opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras for conditional backing of the government's efforts on the economy, including 87.7 percent of ND voters. They seemed willing to give the Papandreou government additional time for its measures to bring results, with 32.6 percent prepared to wait for one year, 25.6 percent two years and 27.4 percent the whole four-year term.

    [06] Snow and storm warning

    The weather service on Sunday warned of harsh weather conditions in the Aegean Sea, with very strong rain and storms forecast for the next 18 hours around the islands of the north and eastern Aegean, the Dodecanese islands, Thrace and possibly Crete and the Cyclades.

    There are also warnings of heavy snow fall in the mountains of central and northern Greece and in areas of Macedonia and Thrace.

    Earlier, heavy snow fall made snow chains necessary for three sections of the road network in the northern Greek prefecture of Florina, on the Florina-Kastoria national highway via Vigla and on two smaller roads going via Vitsi.

    Heavy rain and storms are forecast on Monday, especially in the Aegean Sea, with snow fall and morning frost in areas of Macedonia and Thrace. Mainly northerly winds between 3 and 7 Beaufort and temperatures ranging from -2C to 15C. Rainy in Athens, with temperatures between 6C and 13C. Rain and sleet in Thessaloniki, with temperatures between 1C and 6C.


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