|Tuesday, 20 February 2018|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 10-07-21
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Papandreou visits Jerusalem; stopover in CyprusJERUSALEM (ANA-MPA - P. Haritos) Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou arrived here for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Wednesday, carrying out the first visit by a Greek prime minister to Israel since the country was recognised by Greece.
Among the issues to be discussed during the visit is the situation in Gaza and ways to find a final a viable solution to the humanitarian problem, the Palestinian problem, the prospects created by the indirect negotiations and the possibility for direct talks between the two sides, the situation in Lebanon and the general climate in the Middle East.
Taking part in the mission is Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and government spokesman George Petalotis. The entire Greek delegation will be received by Israeli President Shimon Peres at 17:00 on Wednesday.
Papandreou will next visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and be received by the Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos III, while his final meeting on Wednesday will be with Holocaust survivors of Greek descent that are now Israeli citizens.
The Greek premier's programme on Thursday includes a visit to the Holocaust Museum, a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who will host an official dinner in his honour, a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and a meeting with Israel's main opposition party leader Tzipi Livni that will end his round of contacts in Israel.
His programme in the Palestinian Territories and Ramallah includes a visit to the Yasser Arafat Mausoleum and a meeting with the Palestinian Authority's prime minister Salam Fayyad to be followed by an official dinner given by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Talks with Cyprus President
Nicosia (ANA-MPA) -- During an brief stopover at Cyprus' Larnaca airport en route to Israel and after a meeting with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, Papandreou called on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership to seriously study proposals recently submitted by Christofias to the UN-brokered negotiations for a Cyprus solution.
Papandreou said that the Cypriot president, with the package of proposals he submitted, "is one step ahead in the efforts for resolving the Cyprus issue".
The Greek premier, who also holds the foreign affairs portfolio, reiterated that the Cyprus issue is a top priority of Greek foreign policy, adding that a solution to the Cyprus issue is a condition for the full normalisation of Greek-Turkish relations.
He also reiterated that the Cyprus solution reached must reunite the island, put an end to the Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island republic, and be founded on the UN resolutions and the principles of the EU.
Christofias, in turn, said that he and Papandreou decided coordination between Athens and Nicosia, at diplomatic level, for advancing the proposals he has placed on the negotiations table.
 ND support for Yiannis Angelou(ANA-MPA) Main opposition New Democracy was harshly critical on Wednesday of the high bond demanded for the release of former premier's aide Yiannis Angelou by the examining magistrate conducting the inquiry into the Vatopedi Monastery land swaps with the Greek State.
"The treatment reserved for Yiannis Angelou violates the basic principles of law and criminal justice. In any case, what everyone now understands is that PASOK is not interesting in uncovering the truth nor in investigating it fully," ND press spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos said when asked to comment on the decision.
He accused the ruling party of trying to misdirect public opinion and "fabricate" guilty parties in order to divert attention "from the huge mistakes and omissions of its government".
The decision was also strongly criticised as political by ND's shadow minister for justice Anastasios Nerantzis, who accused PASOK of "framing" the main opposition party and said that there was no new evidence to justify a change of position in the case.
He also protested at the high bond and travel restrictions imposed on Angelou, saying that this "went above the purposes of the law, a treatment fitting to confessed or multiply proven offences and which concerns other defendants for other crimes".
The influential aide of former prime minister Costas Karamanlis was released after paying a bond of 400,000 euros and forbidden from leaving the country on Tuesday after testifying for several hours to special examining magistrate Irene Kalou concerning the Vatopedi monastery land-swaps case.
This was the highest bond imposed on any of the other defendants accused in the affair, who have so far been asked to pay bonds ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 euros.
The former premier's aide has been accused of moral instigation of breach of faith.
 Health system upgrade bill debated in parliamentParliament on Tuesday night passed in-principle (first reading) a health ministry bill on upgrading the National Health System (ESY), with the votes of the ruling PASOK party MPs.
The opposition parties voted against, although main opposition New Democracy (ND) deputies voted in favor of certain individual provisions (Articles).
Health minister Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou said that it was the state's duty to keep the ESY standing in this difficult conjuncture and to remedy inequalities, solve problems and open up a door to the future as regards the system's development and operation.
ND rapporteur Narios Salmas criticised the bill as dealing with matters of secondary and minor importance, while the plethora of Ministerial and Presidential Acts required for its implementation "render it inapplicable", while Communist Party of Greece (KKE) parliamentary spokesman Haralambos Haralambos charged that the bill "materialises the vision of the creation of businesses in the field of health, with the working people, depending on their buying power, purchasing the product that their pocket can afford".
Responding, Xenoyiannakopoulou said that the government was called on to solve a difficult equation, that of facing the country's fiscal derailment while at the same time backing the ESY "which is at the core of the social state".
She noted that health sector expenditure posted a 16 percent reduction in the first five months of the year, falling to pre-2007 levels, while the government's hiring in the health sector, at a time when hiring in the rest of the public sector has been frozen, was proof that the government was treading public health as a top priority issue.
Xenoyiannakopoulou added that her ministry's next bill will deal with primary healthcare, noting that the bill, to be tabled in the second half of the year, will have to do with the training, quality and evluation of medical personnel, and will be followed by a bill concerning the rules of operation and supervision of the private health system.
 Greek oil market changed drastically in 2009, survey showsThe domestic oil products market witnessed the most drastic redistribution of powers and earnings last year, and this trend continues in 2010, a survey by Stat Bank said on Wednesday.
The survey, based on the 85 largest oil producing and trading enterprises in Greece, showed that total net earnings by the two refinery enterprises in the country (Hellenic Petroleum and Motor Oil) totaled 350 million euros in 2009, after a loss of 42.7 million euros in 2008. The refinery industry reported a profit margin of 5.7 pct, while oil trading companies -despite a rise in profitability- reported a profit margin of 0.68 pct.
A change in refineries' credit policy from April 2009 -drastically cutting the credit time horizon to enterprises- was the main reason for the redistribution of powers in the domestic oil markets. Refineries cut credit times from 40 to 20 days, pressuring petrol stations enterprises. The survey showed that around 1,100 petrol stations were currently facing serious problems or have closed around the country. The market suffered additionally from a three rounds of rises in a special fuel consumption tax and two VAT rises. The oil market recorded an 18-19 pct decline in sales volumes in the first half of the year.
Refineries sales fell 32.8 pct reflecting a sharp fall in international oil prices in 2009, while sales of the 76 largest oil trading companies fell 16 pct and profits jumped by 77 pct. Sales totaled 11.5 billion euros, while profits totaled 78.36 million euros. The survey concluded that deals by Hellenic Petroleum and Motor Oil to acquire the retail sales networks of BP and Shell in Greece, respectively, will change more drastically the landscape in the domestic fuel market.
 Fugitive hostage-taker arrested with aid of EKAM special policePolice on Wednesday finally succeeded in locating and arresting a foreign national that had concealed himself inside an apartment block on Macedonia Street in Patras after fleeing a police pursuit.
During a sensational police chase on Tuesday, the same man had shot and injured a police officer that tried to follow him on a motorbike and had briefly taken a woman hostage in his attempts to escape arrest.
He was taken into custody at 2:30 on Wednesday morning, after remaining hidden in the apartment building for more than seven hours. His arrest was made with the help of a special EKAM counter-terrorism squad from Athens after the building had first been evacuated.
The police chase on Tuesday had been initiated by police officers from the prefecture of Ileia that were investigating a series of robberies and burglaries that had taken place in the area.
 Strong barbs against Supreme Court justice from ZorbasThe former head of Greece's independent authority against money-laundering George Zorbas testified for nine hours in Parliament concerning the structured bonds transactions by Greek state insurance funds. His testimony included strong barbs against former Supreme Court chief prosecutor George Sanidas and behaviour that he said had obstructed his own investigation.
Zorbas began testifying before a Parliamentary examination committee on Tuesday morning and continued until late on Tuesday evening, fully standing by his authority's initial reports of an orchestrated plan behind the purchase of the 'toxic' bonds by the funds involved. He particularly emphasised the actions of Sanidas and appeals court prosecutor George Koliokostas in returning his reports on the affair as "not lawful" by citing technicalities.
"At the same time as they returned by reports as not lawful, these were selectively leaked to the press," Zorbas said, noting that even the heads of the state insurance funds involved were aware of their contents.
"I had the impression that there was a deliberate withholding of evidence by the prosecutors dealing with the investigation. There was a deliberate effort by the prosecutors to not reveal the truth," he assserted at another point.
He also strongly criticised Sanidas for failing to promptly request that the accounts of North Asset Management executive George Papamarkakis in the Cayman islands be frozen. According to Zorbas, Sanidas had refused to act on confidential information from the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) that the company's accounts could be frozen in spring 2007.
According to Zorbas, Papamarkakis's commission was in the region of 19.4 million euros and much would have been revealed if his accounts had been opened promptly.
He was also closely questioned about the decision to remove him as head of the authority in the midst of his investigation into the structured bonds affair, saying that the reason cited was an "inability to cooperate" but that the decision necessarily brought his investigation into where the money had gone to an end.
Zorbas stressed, however, that he was unable to add anything further evidence than that contained in his existing reports while noting that the Greek Parliament was at last able to see and judge their contents.
"Neither I nor anyone else can at this stage speak about existing evidence. The evidence will be offered by a criminal court. I refer to incidents that made an impression on me and hampered my own investigation. Beyond this I have said nothing else. But I did say that justice should have completed this investigation which, whether we wanted this or not, has taken on the dimensions of a political scandal," he said.
Criticism was also levelled against the Bank of Greece and its failure to exercise the supervisory powers given to it under the law, a failure that Zorbas attributed to "indifference and complacency" of central bank agencies. He also questioned the bank's professed inability to evaluate the real market value of the bonds purchased by the state insurance funds, saying that Greek justice should have pressed the Bank of Greece to provide an estimate.
According to Zorbas, the specific investment was also too risky an investment to conform with the provisions of Greek law for investing social insurance fund reserves.
"A social insurance fund is not a societe anonyme company that seeks profit in all directions. The reserves are needed for people's pensions. It cannot carry out high-risk actions and we have laws that state this. These laws were violated in ways that are not inexplicable but are entirely unacceptable. And several people are responsible for this," Zorbas underlined.
The issue now at stake was to find out what had happened to the huge commission given to North Asset Management, Zorbas added.
"Did Papamarkakis keep it all? I don't think so," he concluded, noting that the case had now been dragging on in the hands of justice for nearly four years.
In three reports on the affair compiled and released in 2007, Zorbas had referred to clear signs that finance ministry officials were aware of the "bond's trading route abroad" and also that the fund chairmen that had approved the investments were "were neither inexperienced nor ignorant".
The first report released on August 7, 2007 concerned a 280-million-euro structured bond deal by the civil servants supplementary pension fund TEADY. The second and third dealt with structured bond deals made by the main pension fund for Athens journalists and media personnel TSPEATH and the pension fund TEAYFE, which were released on December 14, 2007 and May 13, 2008, respectively.
The first report concludes that "the acts of purchase and sale of bonds on behalf of TEADY appear damaging" and "the bonds resulted in damage to the assets of the insurance funds".
Concerning the transactions for the 130-million-euro bond deal by TEAYFE, the Zorbas report referred to evidence of "planning and scheming" and indications of the involvement of financial companies whose executives "had a wide circle of highly-placed acquaintances".
Regarding the second 130-million-euro structured bond acquired by TSPEATH, the Zorba report claims "sufficient indications of a breach of faith to criminal degree in its issue and sale transaction" as well as "clear signs of bribery and bribe-taking".
 Draft bill lifting cabotage tabledA draft bill to lift cabotage and allow non-EU flagged cruiseships to call at Greek ports was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. The government anticipates that lifting cabotage rules will help develop maritime tourism in the country and also boost Greek firms linked to the sea cruise market.
The draft bill strives to make it possible for its provisions to apply during the current tourism period, with procedures designed to allow the signature of contracts between the state and shipping companies in just 30 days.
The draft bill regulates issues concerning the employment and insurance of Greek seamen hired on cruise ships, as well as collecting a special levy for each passenger to be paid into a seamen's unemployment and health fund, investments by shipping companies and terms for the extension or early termination of a contract. It also stipulates that the precise content of contracts will be decided through a joint decision of the finance and culture and tourism ministries.
For Greek seamen, it provides that they will work under the terms envisaged by the collective labour agreement for their sector and will continue to be insured with their current social insurance fund, in accordance with Greek legislature.
Early termination of the contract between the state and shipowner can be initiated by the state if a violation of the terms of the contract is observed, while there are also terms that allow the shipowner to initiate termination.
The draft bill stipulates that the ship carrying out cruises must transport more than 49 passengers and that the duration of the cruise must be at least 48 hours, with a minimum 12-hour stay in the port from which the cruise begins. They must also carry out a round trip, beginning and ending the cruise at the same port.
Other conditions for allowing vessels of third countries to call at Greek ports are that the country in question allows EU and EEA-flagged cruise ships to dock at its own ports and that they first sign a three-year contract with the Greek State. Concerning the special levy for each passenger, the bill provides that this will be reduced by 7 percent for every Greek port that the ship calls at during the cruise, with the exception of the port of embarkation.
Article four of the bill provides for the issue of temporary permits from the economy, competitiveness and shipping industry to shipping firms carrying out cruises until the contracts with the state are signed by December 31, 2010 at the latest.
 Gov't to block pay raisesLabour and Social Insurance Minister Andreas Loverdos on Wednesday reiterated plans for legislation that will prevent labour arbitration mechanisms from awarding private-sector pay raises above those agreed with the EU and the IMF for the emergency bail-out package given to Greece.
The minister cited as justification the national general collective labour agreement signed by the unions and the main employer groups, which calls for a freeze on wage raises in 2010.
He had originally unveiled his intentions on Tuesday, in response to decisions by the Organisation for Mediation and Arbitration that had awarded pay raises ranging from 1.5 percent to 3 percent in 2010 for seven types of employees.
Loverdos stressed that the country was making a collective effort to combat the crisis and stressed Greece's obligations in terms of the memorandum of agreement it has signed with the EU and IMF, noting that the government had an obligation to defend this.
 Samaras visits IoanninaMain opposition New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras visited the headquarters of Ioannina prefecture in northwestern Greece on Wednesday, where he met Ioannina Prefect Alexandros Kahrimanis.
In statements at the prefecture, he focused mainly on ND's programme for the economy and said that this would help ensure a faster exit from the economic crisis while demanding fewer sacrifices from the Greek people for less time and with better results than the current memorandum signed by PASOK.
"This memorandum, for us, demolishes many of the expectations the Greek people have for their future," he added.
According to Samaras, the Greek people were currently being asked to make unprecedented sacrifices, both in terms of their severity and duration, which would not be rewarded as they should by the Greek State.
Samaras also officially named Kahrimanis as ND's official candidate for the Epirus regional authority and wished him good luck.
Later on Wednesday, ND's leader will speak at an open meeting at a central hotel in the city of Ioannina and have meetings with local party officials. He is due to visit the Ioannina municipality on Thursday for talks with Ioannina Mayor Nikos Gondas, who will also be a candidate in the November local government elections.
 Petition against salary cutsAn appeals court judge on Wednesday filed a petition with Greece's Salary Court to cancel pay cuts imposed by the Greek government as unconstitional and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge was protesting to cuts in the benefits and special compensation paid to justices, as well as the reductions in the 13th and 14th salaries.
According to the judge, his annual gross earnings of 71,764 euros were cut by 15,432.59 euros.
He also argued that the cuts to judges' salaries were based on the country's fiscal state and inability to borrow and not for the general public or national interest. For this reason, legislators had no right, according to the judge, the cuts were counter to the ECHR that prevented legislators from removing rights such as salaries except for reasons of public interest or benefit, which he claimed was not fully satisfied by fiscal benefit.
Finally, he pointed to articles in the Greek Constitution concerning the protection of labour and salary, as well as the protection of the "citizen's justified trust in the State".
 Greek stocks end lowerGreek stocks ended moderately lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, unable to hold on to the early significant gains. The composite index of the market fell 0.54 pct to end at 1,570.59 points after rising as much as 1.44 pct during the session. Turnover was a low 74.998 million euros.
The Big Cap index fell 0.59 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.32 pct higher and the Small Cap index ended 0.46 pct down. The Media (2.07 pct) and Personal Products (1.54 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Food (1.64 pct) and Telecommunications (1.62 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 77 to 73 with another 57 issues unchanged. Akritas (20 pct), Mouzakis (10.71 pct) and Technical Publications (10 pct) were to gainers, while Mohlos (14.29 pct), Sfakianakis (9.38 pct) and Neorio (9.09 pct) were top losers.
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