|Sunday, 15 December 2019|
Macedonian Press Agency: News in English, 06-02-06
From: The Macedonian Press Agency at http://www.mpa.gr and http://www.hri.org/MPA.
 PM MEETS WITH RUSSIAN FM LAVROVAthens, 6 February 2006 (16:01 UTC+2)
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis met here on Monday with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with the latter later commenting to reporters on the simmering crisis focusing on Iran's nuclear programme.
"It would be best if we didn't make prophecies or various predictions; issuing assorted threats also isn't needed," the Russian minister said in response to reporters' questions vis-?-vis a reported statement by the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Lavrov made the statement at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Petros Molyviatis, who also attended Russian FM's meeting with Karamanlis.
Rumsfeld was quoted by a German paper on Sunday as saying that "all possibilities are still open in the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, including military action".
Lavrov reminded that the use of violence can only be based on the UN Charter, while he also cited comments by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who ruled out the possibility of military action against Iran.
Concluding, the Russian minister said the most significant issue at hand is for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) queries to be answered by Tehran.
 INQUIRY LAUNCHED INTO PHONE- TAPS AND VODAFONE EXECUTIVE'S DEATHAthens, 6 February 2006 (16:03 UTC+2)
A preliminary inquiry into the death of a senior Vodafone executive in charge of the mobile phone provider's network design department - at the time considered a suicide - began on Monday with the testimony of police officer Lt. Gen. Stelios Syrros.
Costas Tsalikidis died on March 9, 2005, just a few days after a 'ghost' software system responsible for the clandestine tapping of 46 Vodafone mobiles, including those of the Greek prime minister and several members of government, was discovered in Vodafone's systems. His death also occurred one day before the security breach was reported to the government.
Syrros, who led top-secret police investigation into the phone-tapping conspiracy lasting 11 months, had attributed the 38-year-old's death to suicide in his last testimony to a public prosecutor, which is also the sole cause of death listed in a police report submitted at that time.
In charge of the re-opened judicial investigation is first-instance court public prosecutor Ioannis Diotis, who was also in charge of the investigation into the terror group November 17.
The public prosecutors' office announced on Monday that it would ask for the confidentiality of phone records and conversations by the deceased during the period in question to be lifted, as well as investigating press reports alleging that a Vodafone executive had been murdered.
An announcement by Vodafone on Monday, meanwhile, denied reports claiming a series of meetings between Tsalikidis and Vodafone managing director George Koronias in the crucial period when the phone-taps were discovered, as well as meetings between Tsalikidis and a series of other senior Vodafone executives.
The conspiracy and an unsuccessful 11-month probe to discover those behind it was announced by the government last week, following a front-page article that appeared in the Athens daily 'Ta Nea'.
In a lengthy press conference held by three ministers, the government revealed that the phone taps were discovered during a systems check initiated on March 4, 2005 after customers complained of a glitch in the system. The 'ghost' software responsible was then isolated by the multinational Ericsson, which had developed Vodafone's systems, on March 7, 2005.
An order to disable the software was given the next day, March 8, and the government was notified two days later on March 10. The company's decision to disable the software before notifying the government has given rise to much press speculation, since the government said that this hampered attempts to trace those responsible, or even the location of the 14 pre-paid mobiles used to eavesdrop on the phones being monitored, once it ceased to function.
According to Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis, the 'ghost' software was actually a legal but very costly 'lowphone interception' programme developed by Ericsson that had not, however, been purchased by Vodafone and had been activated without the knowledge of either Vodafone or Ericsson.
Also considered controversial was the government's decision to keep the investigation secret, even from the individuals whose phones had been under surveillance or Greece's independent authority for the privacy of telecommunications.
The 46 individuals listed as having fallen victim to the mobile phone tapping include Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, the foreign minister, defence minister, the public order minister, the justice minister, the deputy foreign minister, former PASOK minister Yiannos Papantoniou, the mayor of Athens, a few journalists, police officials, diplomats, defence ministry cadres and attorneys, as well as mobile phones belonging to ruling New Democracy party.
Other targeted individuals include a bevy of known anti-state, anti-war or out-of-Parliament leftist activists, a Greek-American U.S. Embassy employee, along with 11 individuals with Arab surnames, including a correspondent for "Al Jazeera" and a former correspondent in Athens for a Syrian newspaper.
Constantopoulos seeks Parliament briefing on phone-tap affair
In a letter to Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki, the former leader of the left-wing Coalition party Nikos Constantopoulos proposed that Parliament be immediately briefed on the phone-tap affair and that a probe be launched by Parliament's Institutions and Transparency committee, as well as an off-the-agenda debate on additional measures that should be taken to protect against surveillance networks.
Earlier, Constantopoulos tabled a question in Parliament concerning the government's decision to by-pass the independent telecoms authority in this case.
 COLD FRONT AGAIN SWEEPS THROUGH GREECEAthens, 6 February 2006 (17:26 UTC+2)
A severe cold front, the second in the past 20 days, made its way through most of Greece on Sunday and Monday, resulting in heavy snowfall for northern Greece and torrential rains in the greater Athens area.
A series of mostly transport-related problems were reported throughout the north, including the closing of the east-west Egnatia Highway, flight cancellations and sporadic power outages, especially on the remote northeastern island of Samothrace.
Conversely, Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport was operating without problems.
Most schools in the Macedonia and Thrace regions, as well as in the greater Thessaloniki, remained closed on Monday, whereas authorities cautioned motorists to use snow chains or tires on roadways.
Temperatures dropped to -5C in Halkidiki prefecture and the town of Kozani. Greece's coldest temperature was recorded, expectedly, in the Nevrokopi township of Drama prefecture, -10C.
In the greater Athens area, meanwhile, continuous rainfall caused flash flooding in the congested Greek capital, while snow blanketed the mountains around the city.
 VOULGARAKIS MEETS WITH INTERIOR MINISTER OF SERBIA DRAGAN JOCICAthens, 6 February 2006 (15:36 UTC+2)
Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis on Monday received here his counterpart from Serbia, Interior Minister Dragan Jocic, for talks focusing on bilateral issues.
Jocic arrived in Athens to attend a council of Southeastern European countries justice and home affairs ministers, which is taking place in Athens.
 PAPANDREOU CALLS FOR MINISTERS' RESIGNATION DUE TO PHONE- TAPPING AFFAIRAthens, 6 February 2006 (15:29 UTC+2)
Main opposition leader George Papandreou on Monday again commented on the unprecedented mobile tapping furor that more-or-less shocked the nation late last week and which continues to cause political reverberations, as PASOK's president called for the resignation of the ministers responsible for issues dealing with telecommunications and public security.
"In any well-governed state this is the least that would have been done, namely, for responsible ministers to resign," Papandreou told high-ranking PASOK cadres and members of his party's political council, which convened in a seaside town southeast of Athens.
The phone-tapping conspiracy, which targeted Greece's top political leadership, including Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, was disclosed by a trio of ministers on Thursday after an initial 11-month probe into the affair. A same-day front-page article in the Athens daily "Ta Nea" preceded the government's announcement. Charges, against "unknown persons", have already been filed by a relevant prosecutor, while the judicial probe will also consider felony espionage charges.
Turning to other political fronts, Papandreou, the former foreign minister, emphasised that differences between ruling New Democracy and PASOK's policies are now clear two years after the March 2004 election.
Among others, he charged that the government is attempting to slash wage-earners' real incomes and to establish a "medieval labour regime", as he called it. Along those lines, he said the country's developmental prospects are not based on low labour costs, "poverty and depravation, but rather, on social solidarity and citizens' security".
Earlier, several top PASOK cadres covered issues ranging from the party's strategy for upcoming municipal and prefectural elections, analyses of recent opinion polls, the main opposition's positions on constitutional revision and various organisational issues.
 DEBATE ON SOCIAL INSURANCE SECTOR TO BE INITIATED IN PARLIAMENTAthens, 6 February 2006 (14:05 UTC+2)
The government intends to initiate a debate in parliament on reform of the social insurance sector, national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis said Monday, addressing an event organised by the Constantine Karamanlis Institute of Democracy at a central Athens hotel.
According to Alogoskoufis, the social insurance issue was a "time-bomb", while the system's actuarial deficit was estimated at 200 percent of GDP.
The problem, he explained, was that society would be called on to pay the pensions, and cited a study according to which in the year 2050 expenditure for pensions would double to 25 percent of GDP from the present 12.5 percent, requiring the contribution from the budget to triple to 15 percent from 5 percent today.
Given those developments, the social insurance issue was a major problem and a responsible attitude was required on all sides in order to resolve it, Alogoskoufis said, adding that the government has committed itself to advance dialogue on the issue. He also noted that his ministry will finance a commonly acceptable study on the social insurance problem.
Alogoskoufis said that the Greek economy was facing several challenges, such as the high public debt, the deficit, but also the rigidity caused by the over-inflated public sector.
Between 1993 and 2004, the number of civil servants jumped by 25 percent, or 120,000 persons, but without a parallel reduction in the unemployment rate, he said, adding that the economic policy of the past had proved ineffective and inefficient.
The minister also spoke of mismanagement in the public utilities and organisations (DEKO), and, outlining the targets of the present government's economic policy, said that the conditions were now being created for boosting entrepreneurship and extroversion of the economy.
He further noted the government's initiatives in such areas as promoting collaborations between the public and private sectors, the new investments law, and the reduction of taxation.
Alogoskoufis described tax-evasion as a large wound of the past, adding that the government's efforts had started to yield, with tax revenues marking a 17.8 percent rise in January 2006. He also said that taxation on physical entities would be reduced in 2007.
The minister severely criticised the stance of the main opposition party (PASOK), noting that the new investment law had been voted against by that party, and adding that there was an inconsistency between its words and actions, whereas the greatest possible consensus was required.
On collaborations between public and private sector, Alogoskoufis said that a special Secretariat has been set up to accept relevant proposals, adding that a proposal has already been submitted by the Organisation for School Buildings (OSK). Even here, he added, the main opposition party had displayed pettiness, noting that main opposition (PASOK) leader George Papandreou had called, in parliament, the law on Public and Private Sector Collaborations a "suit for collusion".
Turning to the government's initiatives for growth of the economy, Alogoskoufis cited the new generation of denationalisations, the new DEKO operational framework, better exploitation of the EU's Third Community Support Framework (CSF), and confrontation of the banks' social insurance problem, among others.
He explained that the banking system continued to have large diversions in interest rates, and described the system as the "traffic jam" of the economy, stressing that the cost of loans needed to be reduced.
The minister further referred to the forging of a digital strategy for the 2006-2013 period, the upgrading of the Exports Promotion Organisation and a new export policy, noting that the next step would be the restructuring of the Hellenic Centre for Investment (ELKE).
Today, Alogoskoufis said, employment was increasing, unemployment was being reduced, exports were being boosted, as was tourism, while the Greek economy's extroversion was also being strengthened, and expressed his conviction that the government's targets for further improvement of the economy will be achieved.
 GOVERNMENT TO PROPOSE FACTFINDING COMMITTEE ON PHONE-TAPPING ISSUEAthens, 6 February 2006 (10:05 UTC+2)
Minister of State and Government Spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said on Sunday that when the judicial enquiry on the phone-tapping issue ends the government will propose to Parliament the creation of a Factfinding Committee to probe the issue.
Roussopoulos added that the Factfinding Committee will investigate all the aspects of the issue and will formulate its proposals in the consensual climate necessitated by the seriousness of the issue, as regards both shielding the country and protecting individual rights.
The minister of state criticised the main opposition PASOK party for what he said were "repeated irresponsible accusations by many members of PASOK, even by its president, on the phone-tapping issue", saying that "PASOK is attempting to attribute to the government intentions and practices which had branded, for decades, its own options, ultimately rendering it synonymous with unaccountability, intransparency, covering up and the country's international downgrading."
Roussopoulos went on to say that the government has handled and is handling the phone-tapping case with all due seriousness and with the responsibility required.
"The government has moved and is moving exclusively within the institutional framework which guarantees the extensive probing and the full clarification of the case," he added.
Lastly, Roussopoulos stressed that seriousness and responsibility is required of all at the moment, to allow justice to complete its work unimpeded and without obstacles.
 RUSSIAN FM ON A VISIT TO ATHENSAthens, 6 February 2006 (10:04 UTC+2)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will begin a two-day working visit to Athens today and will have successive meetings with President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis.
The visit comes in the wake of the visit recently made to Moscow by Molyviatis.
A foreign ministry announcement said that the agenda of talks between Molyviatis and Lavrov will include bilateral relations between Greece and Russia, issues of regional interest with emphasis on the Balkans, developments in Kosovo, the issue of Cyprus, relations between the European Union and Russia, the Middle East question and latest developments concerning Iran's nuclear programme.
A joint press conference will follow the talks between the two ministers and then Molyviatis will offer a working luncheon for his Russian counterpart.