|Wednesday, 29 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 00-01-18
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Simitis says revaluation proves economic growthAthens, 18/01/2000
Prime Minister Costas Simitis said on Monday the European Union's decision on Saturday to revalue the Greek drachma against the euro showed that major steps had been taken to stabilize the economy and boost growth.
Simitis was speaking on arrival at a reception by the Piraeus Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"We will persevere in the same direction in order to attain greater prosperity and more social justice."
"We are succeeding and for this reason we can be optimistic. Greece is changing its image," he added.
The European Union's monetary committee on Saturday gave the drachma a new central parity of 340.750 to the euro in the exchange rate mechanism (ERM), representing a revaluation of 3.5%.
Greece is expected to enter the 11-member euro zone on January 1, 2001 at the drachma's newly-set ERM parity.
The members of the monetary committee are representatives of the 15-nation bloc's finance ministries, central banks, the European Central Bank, and the EU's executive Commission.
 German Economy Ministry spokesman says Greece should join EMU as soon as possible
BERLIN, 18/01/2000(ANA)A German Economy Ministry spokesman said on Monday the German government wishes to see Greece participating in the eurozone "as soon as possible" and underlined the "excellent progress" achieved in the direction of convergence.
The spokesman, Torsten Albing, conveyed the "satisfaction and personal pleasure" of Economy Minister Hans Eichel, who left on a visit abroad, and said "the German government is of the view that, on the basis of the Greek government's achievements in the sector of the economy's adjustment, Greece should participate in Economic and Monetary Union as soon as possible."
Referring to the decision taken by the Monetary Committee on Saturday to adjust the drachma's parity to the euro through a 3.5 percent revaluation of the Greek currency, he said the decision taken in Brussels constitutes "another important step in the direction of Greece becoming a member of the euro family, to which it belongs."
Albing said the timing of Greece's entry into EMU and the introduction of the common currency depends on "issues of a technical nature", while referring to the "objective fact" that the euro banknotes being printed also bear Greek writing.
 Italian industrialists back Greek euro entryAthens, 18/01/2000
Italian industrialists said on Monday they fully supported
Greece's entry into the 11-member euro zone, anticipated on January 1, 2001.
The statement at the start of a Greek-Italian symposium in Athens followed a decision by the European Union on Saturday to revalue the drachma versus the euro in the exchange rate mechanism.
The union welcomed efforts made by the Greek government to rekindle and stabilise the economy.
 British Defence Secretary Hoon holds talks with Greek counterpartAthens, 18/01/2000
Visiting British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon on Monday discussed prospects of further cooperation between the Hellenic Vehicles Industry (ELBO) and companies in the British war industry sector, in talks in Thessaloniki with his Greek counterpart Akis Tsohatzopoulos.
Tsohatzopoulos said ELBO was an important defence industry in northern Greece which would be called on to respond to an improvement in Balkan countries' armaments in accordance with NATO standards, given their decision to join the alliance.
Hoon referred to the importance attributed by his country to cooperation between Greece and Britain on expanding defence cooperation between the two countries in manufacturing the new battle tank for the Greek army.
The two ministers will hold talks in Athens on Tuesday, focusing on European defence and security policy and on the initiatives to be undertaken by the two countries to further stabilise peace in the Balkans. Hoon is also expected to have talks with Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
 Balkan Reconstruction Agency convenes in ThessalonikiAthens, 18/01/2000
French European Union official Hughes Mingarelli was appointed on Monday as the first Balkan Reconstruction Agency general director, during the initial meeting of the agency's board, here, despite opposition from Germany.
The meeting, at which the Agency's board was set up, was held at the offices of CEDEFOP and was chaired by European Commission representative Fabrizio Barbaso in the place of EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.
Minister of Macedonia and Thrace Yiannis Mangriotis and Alternate Foreign Minister Christos Rokofyllos also attended the meeting.
Speaking at a press conference later, Barbaso said that in his personal view for as long as Slobodan Milosevic remains President of Yugoslavia there will be no aid granted to the Balkan country.
He stressed that there would not be aid provided to Yugoslavia, even if Milosevic remains in power through democratic elections.
On his part, Rokofyllos said "the EU has decided to show real interest in operations in the Balkans and to promote Thessaloniki as the gateway to defining strategy for the region's reconstruction."
 Government says early elections not an issueAthens, 18/01/2000
Greece's government on Monday again fended off questions about when general elections would be called, saying it was not an issue on its agenda right now.
"Persistent talk of elections ...can cause harm, which is why the government does not intend to become involved in it," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas told reporters.
He was speaking after the European Union's monetary com-mittee gave the drachma a new central parity of 340.750 to the euro in the exchange rate mechanism, a 3.5 percent revaluation of the Greek currency.
Greece is expected to enter the euro zone on January 1, 2001, at the drachma's newly-set ERM parity.
Reppas reiterated the standing government position that Greece's entry into the 11-member euro zone was the priority and that it intended to see through its four-year mandate.
"The prime minister," he added, "is not being pressured by anyone (on this issue)."
 PM to confer with econ, defence ministers ahead of KYSEA meetingAthens, 18/01/2000
Prime Minister Costas Simitis will meet with Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos and National Economy and Finance Minister Yannos Papandoniou on Thursday, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said.
The meeting will be held a day before the Government Council on Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) meets.
KYSEA is expected to discuss the Hellenic Air Force's new five-year armaments programme for the period 2001-2005, Greece's participation in the production of the Eurofighter, a final agreement for the purchase of more US-made F-16 fighter planes, as well as an agreement for the acquisition of French-made Mirage 2000-5 jetfighters and the upgrading of several of the air force's Mirage 2000s into Mirage 2000-5 fighters.
 Karamanlis outlines ND's privatisation targets if electedAthens, 18/01/2000
Main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis on Monday underlined that if elected his party would implement an ambitious privatisation programme encompassing some of Greece's major state-run enterprises.
Speaking to an audience of Thessaloniki-area mayors, business leaders, trade union officials and supporters, the ND president said stalled or delayed projects in the region now "proceeding at a snail's pace will move forward at a hare's pace," if the main opposition assumes the reins of government in this year's general elections.
He listed Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport, the east-west Egnatia motorway across the breadth of northern Greece, north-south road links, the city's port, a new city hall, an undersea tunnel off the main seaside boulevard, Thessaloniki's metro and a city-wide waste treatment network as ND's top priorities for the region.
Karamanlis, whose election district is located in the northern port city, also referred to Greece in the post-EMU period, saying the country needs to achieve a "leap in growth...even a miracle", citing the Republic of Ireland's annual growth rates of 7 and 8 percent as an EU member-state example.
Along these lines, Karamanlis said ND's priority is none other than a complete liberalisation of the Greek economy -- including the privatisation of national carrier Olympic Airways, the Athens area's mass transit system, Commercial Bank as well as National Bank of Greece's management and the energy market.
Referring to the recent revaluation of the drachma against the euro, he said the move was dictated by concerns over inflation, adding that the Greek economy's competitiveness will suffer and a subsequent rise in unemployment will follow.
The ND president also mentioned tax reform, citing a four-year timetable to gradually lessen income tax rates and the abolition of base assessed income as well as the 35-percent flat corporate tax rate.
Additionally, Karamanlis called for the government to take further legislative measures to protect retail investors in the Athens Stock Exchange, while he said a "courageous solution" must be given by Parliament on the issue of penalty interest rates on overdue loans, saying an ND amendment vis-a-vis a relevant bill tabled recently should be included.
Finally, Karamanlis said the state-run Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) organisation "belongs to all Greeks, but especially to Thessaloniki's residents, who should participate in its operation," adding, however, that a restructuring should be implemented along with greater transparency.
"It's not possible for privatisation tenders for such an organisation to be called off without explanations being given," he concluded.
 Karamanlis-Avramopoulos meeting set for TuesdayAthens, 18/01/2000
A meeting between main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis and Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos has been set for Tuesday, reportedly at a downtown restaurant in the Greek capital.
According to press reports, the popular Athens mayor and former diplomat isn't expected to announce any decisions in light of general elections later this year. Avramopoulos was re-elected in the first round of local government elections in 1998 with ND's backing.
On his part, Karamanlis will travel later on Tuesday to the northern port city of Thessaloniki, where he is expected to unveil the main opposition party's proposals for that area's problems.
 Demand for Greek bonds risesAthens, 18/01/2000
Greece's Public Debt Management Organisation announced on Monday it would raise the size of a five-year state bond, to be auctioned on Tuesday, from 200 to 250 billion drachmas in view of increased demand by investors following the drachma's revaluation against the euro.
The bond is paying an annual coupon of 6.6 percent.
An official statement said "the revaluation of the drachma's central parity against the single European currency is making Greek state securities more attractive to foreign investors".
 Drachma revaluation lifts equity prices on ASEAthens, 18/01/2000
Equity prices rebounded strongly on Monday helped by weekend news of a revaluation of the drachma's central parity against the euro ahead of the country's participation in EMU.
Traders said the drachma's revaluation paved the way for a more rapid fall in domestic interest rates.
The general index ended 1.68 percent higher at 5,362.30 points, sharply off the day's highs of 5,483.33 points. Turnover was a moderate 249 billion drachmas.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavy traded stocks rose 1.76 percent to end at 2,775.47 points, while the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index ended at 999.30 points, up 2.63 percent.
The parallel market index for smaller capitalisation stocks jumped 3.32 percent to 1,723.47.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 276 to 41 with another 11 issues unchanged.
A total of 40 shares ended at the day's 8.0 percent limit up, while ETBA, Bitros, Terna and Petropoulos suffered the heaviest losses.
ETBA and Panafon were the most heavily traded stocks.
 Demand seen for drachmas, no central bank interventionAthens, 18/01/2000
Demand was seen for drachmas in the domestic foreign exchange market on Monday, the first trading session after the European Union approved a 3.5 percent upward revaluation of the national currency against the euro in the exchange rate mechanism.
The demand was met by commercial banks, and the central bank did not need to step into the market.
In the previous session, the central bank had intervened to prop up the drachma after it slumped on talk that the anticipated revaluation would be accompanied by tighter trading limits.
The Bank of Greece had sold around 300 million euros to ease pressure on the drachma, which had still finished sharply lower against the euro.
Under the upward revaluation, the drachma's central parity was set at 340.750 to the euro from 353.109. Its trading band remains at 15 percent either way, bucking fears of a reduction to 2.5 percent, following the example of Denmark when it revalued its currency.
Bankers had said a tighter volatility curb would tie the Bank of Greece's hands in allowing a further decline in drachma rates, which does not apply to retention of the 15 percent trading band.
Also on Monday, the European Central Bank and Bank of Greece announced new intervention points for the drachma following the revaluation. They are 391.863 drachmas to the euro (ceiling) and 289,638 drachmas to the euro (floor).
At the central bank's daily fixing, the euro was set at 330.770 drachmas from 331.800 drachmas a day earlier and 330.840 drachmas on Thursday.
Also at the fix, the US dollar jumped versus the drachma, in line with its surge in markets abroad.
The greenback was set at 326.990 drachmas from 323.590 drachmas in the previous session and 321.300 drachmas on Thursday.
 Bond prices drop on profit-taking after surgeAthens, 18/01/2000
The price of bonds in the domestic secondary market fell on profit-taking on Monday after an early jump maintaining an abrupt rise in the previous session.
Fuelling sentiment at the start of the session was an upward revaluation on Saturday of the drachma versus the euro in the European exchange rate mechanism, but profit-taking took the market back to Friday's already robust levels.
The 3.5 percent revaluation was approved by the European Union's monetary committee in Brussels following a Greek request.
The parity shift will aid a reduction in interest rates across the board, but the market has already priced in a 0.75 basis point cut in the central bank's key rates, analysts said.
A deeper rate cut would be needed to give the secondary bond market more impetus, and the time was now ripe for profit-taking, the analysts said.
Recent sessions lightened a moribund market, aided by rises abroad. On Monday, the benchmark 10-year bond showed a yield of roughly 6.51 percent, the same as the previous session, from 6.63 percent on Thursday.
The yield spread over German bunds shrank to 93-96 basis points from 96 basis points in the previous session and 111 basis points on Thursday.
On Friday, the 10-year bond yield spread over German bunds had narrowed to below the psychological 100-basis point barrier for the first time, managing to set two second historic lows within the same day.
Turnover through the central bank's electronic trading system on Monday was over 300 billion drachmas from 320 billion drach-mas a day earlier and 98 billion drachmas on Thursday.
Sell orders accounted for the bulk of turnover.
Players have retained their interest in long-term paper that recently had been dumped in favour of mid-term securities.
Analysts have forecast an overall decline in domestic paper due to uncertainty over price levels in markets abroad and the fact that players have already discounted Greece's entry into the euro zone, which means the expectation is unlikely to drive prices up any further, especially after Saturday's revaluation, which was anticipated.
 Commercial banks seen cutting rates after central bankAthens, 18/01/2000
National Bank of Greece Governor Theodoros Karatzas said on Monday that commercial banks were likely to lower their interest rates following an anticipated reduction in the central bank's intervention rates.
Karatzas, who is also President of the Hellenic Banks Union, declined to forecast when the new round of rate cuts would begin, but predicted that domestic rates would probably have aligned with their euro-zone equivalents by the end of the year.
Addressing a Foreign Press Association luncheon, the senior banker also said he was optimistic about the future of Greek business activities in the Balkans although the pace of investment depended on progress in those countries' economies.
National Bank of Greece was eager to expand into Turkey, if the political climate was right.
"If our foreign policy allows it, we will develop activities (in Turkey) in order to complete the bank's regional policy," said Karatzas, who is due to visit Istanbul at the end of the week accompanied by a group of business representatives.
Turning to the Athens Stock Exchange, he declined to make concrete forecasts for the general share index but said the bourse would rank among the world's mature markets within the year.
 GSEE-SEB in early retirement dealAthens, 18/01/2000
GSEE, Greece's largest trade umbrella union, has reached a deal, in principle, with employers on a plan to co-fund the pre-retirement of unemployed people at the age of 55 and over. GSEE's leadership had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Costas Simitis the previous week.
On his part, GSEE president Christos Polyzogopoulos said a deal with the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) and other employers' groups envisaged that funding of the programme would emanate from a special fund dedicated to decreasing unemployment and to pay for vocational training, as well as from social partners' money.
Details of the plan are expected to be finalised over the next few days.
GSEE is also expected to begin a new round of wage negotiations with employers' representatives on Tuesday. Union sources said employers would try to benefit from a decision to revalue the drachma to push for lower wage increases.
Several analysts have forecast that the drachma's revaluation would harm the country's competitiveness and burden labour costs in Greece.
GSEE sources said last week that it would ask for a 4.0 per cent pay increase for this year.
 Nationwide taxi strikeAthens, 18/01/2000
Taxi drivers begin a 48-hour nationwide strike early Tuesday to press for financial and institutional demands. The strike, which begins at 5:00 a.m., is being held in demand of the re-introduction of a taxi registry and replacement of taxi licence plates to weed out unlicenses cabs. Duty taxis will be on call for emergencies.
 Consumer group: Greek economy rose 36 times in 20th centuryAthens, 18/01/2000
The 20th century, particularly in its second half, witnessed huge changes and development in the Greek economy, a consumer group said on Monday.
The consumers' advocacy group EKPOIZO reported that the country's economy increased 36 times throughout the 20th century, while industrial capacity rose 46 times, the agriculture sector 13 times and the services sector 50 times. Additionally, the organisation said per capita income rose 8.6 times.
These growth rates were even more significant when compared with a 4.24 times increase in the country's population between 1900 and 2000. World growth rates were even lower. At present, Greece's average income is double the world's average. EKPOIZO noted, however, that economic growth does not result necessarily in social prosperity and positive prospects, urging Greek citizens to try to keep the country far from what it called the "nightmare prospect" of a "morally downgraded and sterile life."
 Retail sales value up in OctoberAthens, 18/01/2000
The value of retail sales year-on-year stood at 2.5 percent in October following a 0.3 percent month-on-month rise from September, the National Statistics Service (NSS) said on Monday.
NSS attributed the annualised rate to an increase in the indices for foodstuffs (2.8 percent), apparel and footwear (2.3 percent), and furniture and household goods (2.3 percent).
 Greece to offer certification on non-genetically modified agri-productsAthens, 18/01/2000
Agriculture ministry's, Agricultural Products' Certification and Supervision Organisation, (AGROCERT), announced the drafting of regulations for the certification of Greek non-genetically modified agricultural products.
AGROCERT announced the move in response to demand by domestic and foreign consumers for non-genetically modified agricultural products, which according to projections will command higher prices and market share.
 Nikas to hold Dr 9.3 billion share cap riseAthens, 18/01/2000
Listed cold meat processor P.G. Nikas S.A. said it would hold a 9.3 billion drachma share capital increase after it secured shareholders approval on Monday.
The company is to issue 4.6 million common shares at 2,000 drachmas each. Three new shares will be distributed for ten existing, and shareholders will be compensated in cash, Nikas said in a statement.
Forty percent of proceeds will be used to repay loans; 24 percent to boost operating capital; 20 percent to invest in equipment; and 16 to finance acquisitions.
 OA establishes "Business Class" on domestic jet flightsAthens, 18/01/2000
Olympic Airways, Greece's national carrier announced the establishing of a "Business Class" on most of its domestic jet flights, a company press release stated. The new class provides passengers with free 24-hour parking, VIP check-in points in ten airports around the country, VIP club services and priority luggage pick up, among other benefits.
The new service entitled "Olympic Club" applies to flights departing from to the cities of Thessaloniki, Kavala, Alexandrou-poli, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes, Irakleio and Hania. The city of Mytilene is expected to be added to the list in April.
OA denies plans to drop Sydney from its schedule
Olympic Airways' management has no plans to drop its Athens-Sydney route, a statement from the national carrier said on Monday. The statement was issued in response to recent reports that the airline company was planning to cut back on long-haul flights. "Indeed," the statement added, "the company is studying and planning to increase the frequency of flights to all destinations, and particularly those overseas."
 DANE fails to carry off share cap riseAthens, 18/01/2000
DANE, a listed passenger shipper with chronic financial problems it is trying to resolve, said on Monday it had failed to accomplish a 15 billion drachma share capital rise with around 4.5 million shares left unsold out of an offer of 75 million shares. The company's management said in a statement it hoped the outstanding stock would eventually be sold.
 Athens Metro prepares for launch at end of JanuaryAthens, 18/01/2000
A flurry of last-minute preparations are currently underway for the launching of the first of Athens Metro lines at the end of January, according to Metro sources.
The sources said 18 trains were already on the tracks, testing the operation of the stations, while restoration of the ground-level entrances was nearing completion.
The first section of the Metro -- which comprises extensions to the existing HSAP Kifissia-Athens-Piraeus underground -- will run from the National Defence Ministry (Pentagon) to the Sepolia residential district, via Syntagma and Omonoia Square, encompassing 14 stations.
The second section, from Syntagma Square to Daphni residential district, will be completed in nine months.
The entire project, comprising 21 new stations, will serve an anticipated 450,000 commuters daily and ease the Greek capital's severe traffic congestion. Traffic is expected to be reduced by 250,000 cars daily, reducing atmospheric pollution by 35 percent.
The ultra-modern project features easy access to each station by stairway and escalator, as well as specially-designed elevators for the physically disabled.
The Metro stations are paved and lined with marble and granite that has been specially treated for easy removal of graffiti and stains and easy cleaning. The walls are also scattered with paintings, while the Syntagma Square station features a hall decorated with archaeological artifacts uncovered during the drilling for the project. The artefacts date from the 5th century BC to 1000 AD, the Metro sources said.
The sources also said that smoking, food and drinks are prohibited inside the Metro's underground network, while mobile phones will be fully operational at any point inside the network. With respect to safety, the Metro sources said the project was being constructed with the latest anti-seismic technology, while it also an automatic fire-safety system and the Fire Brigade had conducted numerous emergency drills inside the network. In addition, the Metro boasted state-of-the-art communications systems -- conventional communications, an independent inter-com system and wireless communication.
All the operational systems of the project are subject to a triple safety check so as to rule out human error, the sources said. For example, the trains are monitored by three different safety systems simultaneously. The one system does not allow two trains to come closer than 90 seconds from each other, the second does not allow two trains to move in opposite directions on the same track, and a third system automatically halts any train that approaches another train at a distance of less than 200 metres. All the systems are monitored by the control centre at the Syntagma Station, the sources said.
The Metro will operate daily from 5:00 a.m. to midnight. On Line 2, the first train from Sepolia to Syntagma will leave at 5:30 a.m. and the last at 11:51 p.m. Conversely, the first train will leave Syntagma at 5:25 a.m. and the last at 11:50 p.m.
At peak hours -- 7:00-9:30 a.m. and 1:00-4:-00 p.m. daily -- trains will be running every three minutes, with a capacity of 1,035 passengers. During off hours and on weekends, trains will be running every 5-10 minutes.
The travel time for the Syntagma-Daphni and Syntagma-Pentagon routes will be reduced from the present 35 minutes to just 10 minutes, the sources said.
The cost of the ticket will be 250 drachmas, and the ticket will be valid for all transfers within the network within a 90-minute period.
There will be 107 automatic ticket vendors installed in the stations, and another 139 ticket validation machines -- without bars, for safety reasons -- while movement will be monitored by closed-circuit television and frequent ticket inspections.
A monthly unlimited-travel card will soon be available for 10,000 dr., and may be used on all public transport, the sources said.
 Search efforts for missing F-4, crew turn to landAthens, 18/01/2000
Search and rescue teams seeking the two crew of a Hellenic Air Force F-4 jet missing since early Monday have turned their attention to Mt. Parnassos, according to defence ministry reports.
A massive search and rescue operation was mounted on land and sea when the jet disappeared from radars at approximately 9.45 a.m., but all efforts have so far failed to detect any trace of the aircraft or the two pilots.
The plane disappeared 15 minutes before it was due to land on the island of Skyros. The F-4 jetfighter took off Monday morning from Andravida airbase on a training flight.
Search and rescue crews are now combing the area between the town of Itea and Mt. Parnassos. Searches of the sea between the Tanagra Air Force Base and Skyros have proved fruitless.
According to a statement from the Air Force General Staff, there are fears that the jet crashed into some rocky outcrop, hampered by poor visibility due to the adverse weather prevailing in the area at the time.
 "Athens 2004" committee rebuts criticism over delays and planningAthens, 18/01/2000
The Athens 2004 Olympic Games committee met on Monday for its fifth conference rebutting criticism over the progress of projects and the strategic planning regarding the Olympic Village location and personnel appointment procedures.
"The processes for the maturing of projects, regarding the Olympic installations, falling within the immediate responsibility of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games committee, were promoted," committee Managing Director Costas Bakouris said.
"There was a completion of the geo-technical and archaeological preliminary studies and the initiation of procedures for securing the land necessary for the projects.
"The committee signed a framework agreement with the Workers' Housing Organisation (OEK) regarding the constru-ction of the Olympic Village, while the compulsory purchase order for the land has been made public," he added.
On her part Culture Minister Elisabeth Papazoi, heading the intra-ministerial committee for the Games, noted that Australia was confronting the same problems Greece is, regarding the organising of the 2000 Games in Sydney.
She also said that there would be no changes regarding the location of the Olympic Village, stressing that relevant legal action against the current choice of location "is not a criterion for us. We will move on based on the existing plans".
Former deputy sports minister and ruling PASOK party deputy George Lianis, however, criticised the committee's decision regarding the hiring of 28 managers for the Games, noting that such hiring should be left to the relevant sports federations.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) deputy and former deputy sports minister Fani Palli-Petralia criticised the committee for what she called lack of accomplishments, stating "the 2004 Games move ahead to uncharted territory in a dreamboat".
"You have not succeeded in your work up 'till now. Information received stated that the Olympic Village would not be constru-cted in Lekanes, Aharnes (northwestern Athens), but at the Hellinicon district (southeastern Athens, present location of the Athens international airport to be moved to the Spata region east of Athens). You should at last tell us the truth," she concluded.
 El Greco exhibition in Athens tops attendance recordsAthens, 18/01/2000
The long lines of patient art aficionados disappeared on Monday from outside the National Art Gallery in downtown Athens as the heralded and most prolific exhibition of El Greco works - entitled "El Greco: Identity and Transformation" - wound up a smashingly successful three-month stay at the gal-lery.
Two attendance records also fell by the wayside during the carefully organised exhibition's run, with approximately 550,000 visitors passing through the art gallery's doors since Oct. 18, 1999, besting the figure for the exhibition's inaugural venue in Madrid (around 400,000 visitors). The Athens gallery's previous attendance record for a similar exhibition - some 500,000 visitors -- was also topped. A distinct El Greco "drawing card", the exhibition "From Theotokopoulos to Cezanne" held the previous attendance record.
In true "last minute" Athenian form, local art lovers waited until practically the last minute to savor an exhibition that for the first time ever brought together under one roof so many - 72 paintings, in all -- of the Cretan-born Toledo master's paintings, covering his early period, his Venetian tenure and, of course, many of the works representing his Spanish-period brilliance. Attendance over the last week averaged some 15,000 visitors a day with an average wait of up to two hours, even as visiting hours were extended.
Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos on Venetian-held Crete in the 16th century, the young artist first emigrated to Venice and renaissance-influenced northern Italy before travelling and living out the rest of his life in Toledo, from where the title of "El Greco" arose.
 Ecumenical Patriarch Vartolomeos to visit Warsaw
ISTANBUL, 18/01/2000 (ANA)Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos will begin a three-day visit to Poland on Saturday.
The Ecumenical Patriarch will travel to Warsaw on Saturday and on Sunday will give a service with the Archbishop of Poland at the city's Orthodox Cathedral.
On Monday he will speak at the Polish Parliament on the position of Orthodoxy in the modern world.
During his stay, the Patriarch will also meet with President Aleksander Kwasiniewski, Prime Minister Jerzi Buzek and Parliament President Majiec Plazjmski who will host an official dinner in honour of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
 Christodoulos lashes out at 'inefficient' state servicesAthens, 18/01/2000
Archbishop Christodoulos on Monday lashed out at the lack of efficiency in Greece's public services, saying that they were characterised by corruption and unjustifiable delays.
"The Church does not want to pave over ditches. Nor does it want to pay bribes to those expecting them to achieve a solution. The Church proceeds with cross in hand, awaiting the law to build its house.
"How can the people believe in public services? Why should laws not be adhered to, just as we prepare to enter economic and monetary union?
"What are they waiting for? For me to telephone the prime minister? ...Public services exist to serve the citizen and not to cause him grief," the archbishop said.
Christodoulos was referring to years of delays the Church has faced in building a church on a plot of land donated by the northern Athens municipality of Halandri.
His comments were greeted enthusiastically from the congre-gants, amid shouts of "bravo" and "tell them".
"The word 'minister' means ministering to the needs of the people, and not just during a pre-election period," Christodoulos said pointedly.
 Illegal immigrants survive in car accidentAthens, 18/01/2000
Thirty Albanian illegal immigrants miraculously survived without a scratch after the refrigerator truck transporting them crashed into two police cars and overturned during a chase on the Kozani-Ioannina national highway, police said Monday.
They said the truck, driven by 40-year-old Albanian national Rama Baskin, was spotted early Sunday by police, who tried to flag it down.
The driver accelerated, and a chase by police ensued.
Police said Baskin was manoeuvering dangerously, and the truck crashed into two police cars before overturning.
They said the driver fled under the cover of darkness, and when police opened up the door of the refrigerator compartment found the 30 Albanians "piled up" on one side, where they had fallen after the truck overturned.
A short while later the driver, Baskin, was located by police and taken into custody.
The illegal immigrants told police under questioning that Baskin had picked them up outside Kozani, northern Greece to take them to Larissa. They said they paid Baskin 30,000 dr. each
 Man killed in gas station hold-upAthens, 18/01/2000
A man was fatally shot as he attempted to foil a hold-up at a petrol station outside Kozani, northern Greece, police said Monday. They said two young men, possibly Albanians, entered the petrol station on the Kozani-Ioannina state highway late Monday night and demanded at gunpoint that petrol station owner, 56-year-old Thomas Rezidis, turn over the money in the cash register to them.
A friend of the owner, 58-year-old George Nikolaidis, who was in the petrol station at the time along with five other people, tried to immobilise one of the two culprits, who had his gun out, police said.
They said the second culprit pulled out a hunting rifle hidden in his jacket and shot Nikolaidis, fatally injuring him in the stomach. The owner, Rezidis, was injured lightly from the schrapnel. The two would-be robbers fled after the shooting. Eyewitnesses told police the culprits spoke broken Greek.
Nikolaidis succumbed to his wounds as he was being taken by ambulance to the Kozani state hospital. Rezidis was given first aid and released, hospital sources said. Police have launched a manhunt for the two assailants.
 Parents protest at Greek consulate
BERLIN, 18/01/2000 (ANA)Representatives of the parents of Greek primary and junior secondary school students in the Munich area have taken over the premises of the local Greek consulate to demand consular authorities take immediate action to change their children's school premises.
Some 30 people have occupied the consulate since Friday and they say they are staying put until a solution is found to the problem of excessively high levels of a carcinogenic substance in the school's insulation.
According to the protestors, their children have suffered from a high incidence of allergies and fainting fits, due to findings of between 6,000 and 11,000 nanogramms of PCB per cubic metre.
Permissable levels of PCB range from 0-300 nanograms. Readings of 300-3000 nanograms, according to prevailing legislation, require authorities to detect the source of the pollution.
About 700 Greek community children attend the specific school, which is shared with a German technical school with 1,700 students. Munich suffers from a chronic shortage of school premises.
 Israeli military officials visit Cyprus
NICOSIA, 18/01/2000 (CNA/ANA)Israeli Defence Ministry officials were visiting Cyprus as part of efforts to develop relations between the ministries of defence of the two countries, a Cyprus defence ministry press release said.
The officials, whose names were not released, arrived on Sunday and on Monday conferred with members of the Cyprus House Defence Committee where they exchanged views on various issues of mutual interest, it was announced.
House Defence Committee Chairman MP Takis Hadzidemetriou said the discussion "concentrated on protecting the interests of the Cyprus Republic and strengthening relations between the two countries".
The Cypriot MP recalled that a parliamentary delegation was scheduled to visit Israel in December last year but the visit was postponed because of House President Spyros Kyprianou's hospitalization.
 The Athens dailies at a glanceAthens, 18/01/2000
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS (Mitsis): "They're pushing Athens mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos to the chairmanship of the Athens 2004 Olympics committee - They want to take him out of the political game - The mayor to reply in 15 days - Tuesday, his meeting with Karamanlis".
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS (Rizos): "The pros and cons of the new drachma parity vis-a-vis the euro - What is changing in our lives and our pockets after the 'locking' of the drachma parity"
APOGEVMATINI: "The bitter truths about the drachma - What Simitis did not tell the people".
ATHINAIKI: "The revaluated Simitis - The Europeans raised his price - They gave him the 'key' to EMU, inflation, interest rates - Full speed ahead now for elections - Problem with exports and unemployment".
AVRIANI: "The election results hinge on Avramopoulos' stance - Simitis and Karamanlis offer 'land and water' to the mayor".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "'Revaluation' of the drachma with devaluation of our intelligence - Government's super-effort to create bogus impressions".
ELEFTHEROS: "The elections are being 'locked' - The pros and cons of the new drachma parity".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Provocative government propaganda with the new drachma-euro parity - The statistical convergence brings five austerity measures", and "Turkish maneuvers in the airspace over Skyros, with Greece's approval".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "The pros and cons of the new euro-drachma parity - Historic turning point in the Greek economy in view of EMU - New battle for the convergence programme in 14 days".
ESTIA: "Main opposition New Democracy party committing suicide - It's toeing the Dimitris Tsovolas policy line".
ETHNOS: "Breather for loans - The drachma revaluation to bring down the interest rates in the coming days".
EXOUSIA: "Euphoria on the market due to the 'locking' of the drachma parity - Starting point for interest rates, bonds, Athens bourse", and "Prodi: Greece ready for EMU".
STO KARFI: "Sudden love affair - Karamanlis telephone call to Avramopoulos, and the date is set for Tuesday - Come as you are", and "After the Brussels battle, the drachma votes for elections - New page for stock, bonds, investments".
TA NEA: "Bank of Greece governor Lucas Papademos: The interest rates will decline more rapidly - The effects of the drachma revaluation on stocks, loans, prices".
TO VIMA: "The markets vote, after the determination of the new drachma-euro parity - Interest rates reduction just a matter of days".
VRADYNI: "Avramopoulos in the game once again - Meeting tomorrow with ND leader".