|Monday, 19 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-07-18
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM: Greece on normalised roadGreece is on a normalised road, prime minister George Papandreou opined in an interview with the UK newspaper Guardian, noting that in the nine months since his PASOK government took office "it has been crisis management, day in, day out", and stressing that, in politics "you have to make tough decisions".
In the interview, titled "Reinvigorating Greece is an Olympian task for prime minister Papandreou", the premier noted: "We knew that we had high debt and a high deficit with high inequality, high unemployment and negative growth ā¦ but we had no idea about the depth and breadth of the problems or the lack of good, transparent, democratic governance. When we found the deficit as high as it was [13.6% of GDP], we wanted to be absolutely transparent."
On the reactions to the austerity measures and major overhaul of the pension system, Papandreou admits that "naturally I feel very bad that we had to take these measures and that our financial sovereignty is under the tutelage of the so-called troika (the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank".
"It's not a happy state to be in, and the most painful thing is to take measures against people who were not responsible for the crisis," Papandreou said.
"But you have to make tough decisions in politics," he continued, adding: "You can theorise about the options you have but in reality they are very specific. The option was: "Do we default or do we take these measures? Do we lose our pension system or do we save what we can? ā¦ it was a question of existence, of being able to pay civil servants their wages or losing that possibility."
Papandreou described as "a small revolution" the reforms his government has pushed through, adding that his hope is to "turn Greece into maybe the most transparent country in the world, with everything on the web".
Noting that re-election is not his aim, Papandreou said he is determined to change Greece "and mindsets" for the better through his modernising policies, regardless of the political cost.
"I have always said I will be in politics to serve as best as I can and it will take me wherever it will take me. As long as I feel I am doing what I think is right and just for my country, for the Greek people, that is enough for me," he said
"Saving Greece from this crisis was the first thing on the agenda. We are now on a much more normalised road," Papandreou added.
 Fires in NE Attica, rest of country recedingThe fire fronts in northeastern Attica that broke out at noon Saturday, as well as a spate of other fires throughout the country, were reported as receding early Sunday morning.
According to the Fire Brigade's operations center, several minor pockets were burning in the main fire between Mikrochori (Kalamos), Kapandriti and Varnavas but without an active front, after destroying an estimated 8,000 stremma (2,000 acres) of pine forest before being contained by an immense ground and aerial team.
The fire broke out around noon in a ravine between Kalamos and Varnava, and was quickly fanned by high winds, with an immense force of more than 340 firefighters on the ground, with 60 fire engines and assisted by 11 water-dropping planes and four helicopters, two regiments on foot and 14 water trucks from surrounding municipalities, as well as a strong police contingent, volunteers and locals racing against time to prevent the fire from spreading to the nearby Varnava Forest and contain the front before nightfall.
There were several rekindlings throughout the night, threatening homes, but the buildings were saved by firefighters, EMAK emergency operations teams, volunteers and locals, while fire-fighting planes and helicopters resumed operation at the first light of day.
A total of 327 firefighters with 61 fire engines, 122 soldiers, 22 water trucks of the surrounding municipalities and 22 water trucks from the Civil Protection services and a large number of volunteers were on the spot as of dawn Sunday.
An estimated 2,000 acres of pine forest have been burned, as well as a 40 sq.m. hospice, but the full extent of the damage will be calculated after the fire is fully extinguished, with the use of aerial photographs.
Local residents have charged that the fire was an act of arson, and prosecutor Dimitris Gyzis has opened an investigation into the causes of the Attica fires, whether they were due to negligence, accident or intent, while a report on an investigation by the Fire Brigade will also be forthcoming. Experts have also been called in to examine a Public Power Corporation (PPC) medium-voltage pylon with transformer that was found fallen at the point where the fire began.
The Fire Brigade is on general alert on Sunday in Attica and neighboring Evia prefectures, due to high temperatures and strong winds forecast for the day.
A second major, but less threatening, fire also broke out at noon Saturday at Punta Zeza in Lavrion, towards Sounion, causing the evacuation of homes and several children's summer camps for precautionary reasons, although no buildings were at risk from the fire.
A strong ground force, assisted by aerial means, managed to break up the fire into smaller pockets by late Saturday.
Two more fires broke out later Saturday at Aghios Nikonas in the Mani, on the border between the prefectures of Lakonia and Messinia, and at Aghios Petros, Kynouria, at Parnona, on the border of Lakonia and Arkadia prefectures.
More than 50 fires broke out throughout the country on Saturday, according to estimates.
 IMF: Greece 'on track"The International Monetary Fund (IMF) late Friday issued its interim report "Greece Stand-By Arrangement - Review under the Emergency Financing Mechanism", in which it finds that the Greek stability program is broadly on track, with the Greek authorities having made considerable progress in putting the public finances on a sustainable path and have implemented major reforms ahead of schedule.
According to a press release by the IMF, the review "presents the findings of an IMF staff visit to Athens during June 14-18, 2010...conducted in cooperation with the European Commission and the ECB" for the purpose of conducting "an interim review of economic developments and policy implementation, as called for under the Fundās Emergency Financing Mechanism (EFM)".
"The report confirms the preliminary conclusions of the interim mission. In particular, the program appears to be broadly on track as authorities are making considerable progress in putting public finances on a sustainable path and are implementing major reforms, including of the pension system, ahead of schedule," the report said, adding that a more comprehensive review of the program is scheduled for July 26-August 6, 2010.
"Completion of this comprehensive review by the Fundās Executive Board -expected in early September- will make the next tranche under the stand-by arrangement of SDR 2.1627 billion (about US$3.27 billion) available to the Greek authorities," the IMF press release said.
According to a five-point Executive Summary of the report:
With regard to the overall strategy of the program: "The authorities are making progress to put the public finances on a sustainable path, complemented with structural reforms to boost competitiveness and growth, while seeking an equitable distribution of the adjustment burden across all levels of society and protecting the most vulnerable."
In the second point, the report states that: "Economic activity is declining as expected with the downturn projected to become more acute as the year goes on. The decline is led by cuts in government spending, with some latent buoyancy in private consumption. Inflation is running higher than expected as indirect tax increases are not (even partially) absorbed in margins. Unit labor costs are, however, moderating considerably, and unemployment is rising."
In the third point: "State budget implementation is on track with good expenditure control. However, hospitals and social security funds present clear risks, as do financial pressures in public enterprises. These three areas are not directly controlled by the state budget and require more attention. The pension reform contains significant reductions in future pension costs, even though it is not clear that the authorities can bring them down from 12.5 ppts of GDP before the reform to 2.5 ppts in one step, as aimed in the program. A full actuarial assessment of the reform will take more time than foreseen in the program."
In the fourth point: "Banks face continued liquidity pressures and some solvency erosion but plans are in place to deal with this. Sharp downgrades of the sovereign led to margin calls on collateralized borrowing. Deposits also are quite soft. That said, the European Central Bank (ECB) is assisting Greek banks to tide them over the liquidity crunch. NPLs are rising but banksā capital remains well above the regulatory minimum and the Financial Stability Fund is nearly in place."
In the fifth point: "Structural reforms are progressing. The authorities announced a privatization program, labor reforms, a local government reform, and initiatives to liberalize closed professions. They are ahead of schedule in setting up a public sector employment and wage census."
The report further notes that the IMF is "encouraged by the progress so far in view of the difficult situation the country faces", noting that the first full review of the program will be conducted during a mission to Athens at end-July, and Board discussion of this review is planned for early September.
 Athens Newspaper HeadlinesAthens' Sunday newspapers at a glance
Developments in the banking sector and the course of the economy in general were the main front-page items in Athens' Sunday newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "180,000 civil servants to receive 'marching orders'."
APOGEVMATINI: "Winners and losers - Public sector social security changes - The new retirement ages".
AVGHI: "Are we again to pay for the banks' crisis? Government at critical crossroads".
AVRIANI: "As 64 percent of the public rejects the entire political scenery, opinion polls show steep drop in PASOK's popularity".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Government producing new debts through direct assignments (of hospital supplies)".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The State engine is sputtering".
ETHNOS: "We openly encourage the restructuring of banks - George Papaconstantinou (finance minister) opens up his cars, in interview".
KATHIMERINI: "Questions and objections on (Piraeus Bank proposal to acquire the State's holdings in) ATEbank and TT-Hellenic Postbank".
PARON: "Acquisition (of ATEbank and TT-Hellenic Postbank by Piraeus Bank) freezes after strong reactions in government and (ruling party) PASOK".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Public childcare stations unable to cover the needs of the working families - Huge blame for PASOK and ND".
TO VIMA: "National Bank preparing super deal - Winks at Alpha Bank and Eurobank".
VRADYNI: "The retirement ages for women and mothers of minors".
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