|Friday, 28 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 02-12-20
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>December 20, 2002
 Athens confirms receiving Annan letter on Cyprus problem
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The Greek government on Thursday confirmed that it had received a letter sent to all four sides in the Cyprus problem by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, in which the UN chief said that a final settlement for solving the Cyprus problem was possible by February 28.
Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas said that similar letters had also been sent to Turkey and the two communities on Cyprus.
Expressing his sorrow that the failure of previous efforts for a solution and his desire to intensify the effort in the near future, Annan says that the last set of proposals submitted by the UN on December 10 still stand as a basis for negotiations that would allow Cyprus to join the EU reunited.
The UN chief also called for two technical committees for Cyprus to be immediately activated and announced a visit to Athens and Ankara on January 8 by UN special envoy for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto. The UN envoy would then travel to Nicosia to coordinate negotiations.
The spokesman commented on apparent "double talk" coming out of Turkey with respect to Cyprus' EU accession, especially statements by the Turkish foreign ministry on Wednesday that effectively did not "recognize" an EU decision to admit the island republic, and urged Turkey to support negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem rather than "presenting unfounded claims".
 Verheugen: Cyprus accession irreversible, unconditional
BRUSSELS 20/12/2002 (ANA/V.Demiris-CNA)The Copenhagen European Council's decision on Cyprus' accession to the EU is ''irreversible'' and ''with no preconditions attached to it'', Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman of EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said here on Thursday.
Clarifying Wednesday's statements by Verheugen before the European Parliament, Filori said the European Council took the irreversible decision for the unconditional accession of Cyprus to the EU as from May 1st, 2004.
Filori said Cyprus as all other candidate countries will ratify its accession to the EU, following the procedures provided in the country's Constitution.
Verheugen's remarks were interpreted by some circles as suggesting a connection between Cyprus' accession and the political settlement on the island.
Filori explained that Verheugen, who was replying to a question, merely recalled EU principles and made only one reference to UN Secretary General's plan for Cyprus, relating to the procedure of approving the peace plan by the island's two communities.
The UN plan provides for a referendum among the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities on a comprehensive settlement, if one is reached. The referendum includes a question on Cyprus' accession as well.
 Greek EU presidency to focus on improving EU-Russian relations
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The effective development and strengthening of Russia-EU relations will be a priority of Greece's presidency in the EU in the first half of 2003, the Greek Embassy in Moscow said on Thursday according to an Itar-Tass dispatch from Moscow.
Commenting on Greece's foreign policy priorities during its presidency in the EU, the statement stresses that the development of relations with Russia is an important direction in EU efforts to ensure peace, cooperation and stability in Europe.
Greece intends to help step up a Russia-EU dialogue in the energy sector and is ready to give a considerable impetus to the talks on Russia's accession to the WTO, the statement notes.
Athens calls for revising Russia-EU relations in order to consolidate integration processes not only in economic cooperation but also in social relations and security, the statement says.
 Greek and Swiss FMs discuss EU-Swiss relations
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his Swiss counterpart Joseph Deis discussed relations between the European Union and Switzerland in light of the upcoming Greek EU presidency during a luncheon on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Deis expressed hope that chapters concerning cooperation between the EU and Switzerland will be completed in the coming months.
Negotiations between the two sides primarily concern the taxation of capital, the Schengen Treaty, the environmental sector, genetically modified products and fraud in the customs sector.
The two sides are also discussing developments in the sector of EU enlargement and are cooperating on humanitarian law issues, as well as international relations such as in the area of the Middle East and Iraq.
Bilateral Greek-Swiss relations were also discussed, which are at a very good level.
Referring to reactions by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in past days, Papandreou reiterated that the present opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue is a considerable one and expressed regret in the event the Turkish Cypriots stay out of the European family.
He said it is a pity for Denktash to insist on these positions and if he does not realize the present-day conjuncture history will pass him by.
He further said walls such as those of Berlin should fall.
On the question of the letter by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the foreign minister said the text stresses the need for all sides to show a will for negotiating over a specific period of time and keeps the impetus created open.
 Deputy DM Apostolidis discusses bilateral, regional cooperation with FYROM DM
SKOPJE, 20/12/2002 (ANA - N. Frangopoulos)Bilateral defense cooperation and regional cooperation were at the focus of talks in Skopje late Wednesday between visiting Greek deputy Defense Minister Loukas Apostolidis and FYROM Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski.
Apostolidis, on a 2-day visit to Skopje, reiterated Greece's unreserved support for the FYROM Defense Ministry's ''2+2'' initiative concerning the cooperation framework among Greece, Turkey, FYROM and Albania for strengthening their efforts to boost FYROM's and Albania's bids to join NATO.
Buckovski welcomed Greece's assumption of an initiative for a meeting of experts of the countries of SE Europe aimed at promoting cooperation among those countries in the defense industry sector.
He also stated the FYROM armed forces' readiness to take part in joint military exercises with the Greek armed forces, in the framework of cooperation with NATO.
 Apostolidis says European force ready for FYROM by March
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Deputy Defense Minister Loukas Apostolidis, speaking to the Athens News Agency (ANA) on Thursday, expressed certainty that the European rapid reaction force will be in a position to replace the NATO force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) by the informal meeting of EU Defense Ministers in Athens in March at the latest.
Apostolidis, who began a two-day visit to FYROM on Wednesday, has already met with FYROM Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, Deputy Defense Minister Rizva Suleymani and Parliament Defense Committee President Tito Petkovski.
Speaking after his talks with Suleymani on Thursday, Apostolidis said Greece supports FYROM's efforts for accession to Euroatlantic structures.
He added that, in this framework, he expressed Greece's undivided support for the initiative by FYROM's Defense Ministry ''2+2'', concerning the framework of cooperation bet-ween Greece, Turkey, FYROM and Albania regarding the strengthening of efforts between them which will facilitate the efforts of FYROM and Albania to join the NATO alliance.
The two countries' deputy defense ministers, during their meeting here, signed an agreement on scholarships being provided by Greece for officers from FYROM for studies at military academies in Greece.
 FYROM president calls on Greece to ratify EU-FYROM accord
SKOPJE 20/12/2002 (ANA - N. Frangopoulos)Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) President Boris Trajkovski called on Greece on Thursday to ratify the Association and Stabilization Accord signed between FYROM and the European Union early in 2001.
Addressing Parliament on the general situation prevailing in the country, Trajkovski also said seven years after the signing of the interim agreement in New York, relations between FYROM and Greece are achieving satisfactory progress, adding that talks at the UN's headquarters on the issue of the country's name should acquire a new impetus.
''I wish to point out that the interim agreement contributed to the two countries coming closer, as well as to progress and the promotion of cooperation between them. Relations with Greece, being an EU and NATO member-state in the region, are continuing to achieve positive results,'' he said.
Trajkovski further said the ratification of the Association and Stabilization Accord by Greece will provide a considerable impetus for FYROM’s effort to achieve its EU accession as soon as possible.
He also noted that the preservation of the country’s constitutional name in its international relations will constitute a considerable basis for strengthening its position.
 Deputy FM meets with Bosnian minister, discusses Greek aid
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos on Thursday met with Bosnian Deputy Political Affairs Minister Milan Lovric, who is his country's National Coordinator for the Greek Plan on Balkan Economic Reconstruction.
The two men discussed the realization of the Bosnian proposal for the reconstruction of the Common Institutions Building in Sarajevo, which was submitted to the Greek embassy in the country in November.
The cost of the project was budgeted at 10 million euros.
 Karamanlis says he doesn't foresee early elections in first half of 2003
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis on Thursday expressed his assessment that early elections are a very remote possibility in the first half of 2003, particularly in light of the Greek EU presidency and developments surrounding the timely Cyprus issue.
Speaking to reporters during a luncheon in the Greek capital, Karamanlis also noted that several changes are needed to the revised Annan peace plan for Cyprus, otherwise a “painful compromise” could arise. He also appeared pessimistic over prospects for a Cyprus solution by a recently set Feb. 28 deadline.
Moreover, he brushed off criticism that New Democracy failed to congratulate the government for its efforts towards securing an official invitation by the EU for Cyprus to join the Union, saying that his party featured a “responsible stance” on the issue and contributed with all its forces to promote Cyprus’ EU accession.
In related comments, Karamanlis said he does expect any “incident” with Turkey in the coming months, saying that Ankara is under the EU’s scrutiny at the moment, while adding that the political scene in Turkey is in transition at the moment vis-a-vis the balance of power between the military and the new government.
 New round of Greek-Turkish exploratory contacts in Athens
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The eighth round of exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey, between foreign ministry Secretary General Ambassador Anastasios Skopelitis and his Turkish counterpart Ambassador Ugur Ziyal, was held in Athens on Thursday.
No statements or announcements were made on the content of the meeting, but it was revealed that the Turkish foreign ministry's secretary general had a brief courtesy meeting with Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
In the evening, Skopelitis gave a working dinner for his Turkish colleague.
 EU Justice & Internal Affairs Councils conclude meetings in Brussels
BRUSSELS 20/12/2002 (ANA - A. Simatos)The European Union's Council of Justice and Internal Affairs Ministers concluded its session on Thursday, having discussed the management of the EU's external borders and the mutual judicial recognition of civil penalties involving money.
The basic issue concerning the external borders' management was that of controlling illegal immigration and the trafficking of human beings, while Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis called on the EU's ministers to finalize their proposals before June 2003 so that political decisions can be reached on these subjects, in accordance with the Seville summit's timetable.
Greek Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos addressed the ministers on the issue of the judicial recognition of civil penalties involving money and urged them to create a common EU crime list.
 Relatives of terrorism victims hold candlelight gathering
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Hundreds of people holding lighted candles stood in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Parliament building in Athens on Thursday, responding to a call by the relatives of the 35 victims of terrorism in Greece - husbands, brothers and fathers - who coined the slogan ''Enough is Enough.''
Their names were mentioned slowly and with emotion over a microphone and were accompanied by the names of the terrorist organizations which murdered them in cold blood.
The voices heard over the microphone belonged to the children of three victims: George Momferatos, Alexandra Rouseti and Alexia Bakoyianni. The calling of the names was followed by a minute's silence.
The event was attended by main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, Public Order Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis, Honorary ND President Constantine Mitsotakis and his wife Marika and many deputies, as well as by U.S. Ambassador to Athens Tomas Miller and British Ambassador David Madden.
 Finance Minister says gov't will speed up EU convergence
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, addressing Parliament on Thursday during the ongoing five-day debate on the 2003 state budget, said the government's targets are decreasing the public debt (predicted at 5 per cent of GDP in 2003), speeding up convergence with the European Union by maintaining growth rates of 2-3 per cent above the EU's average, increasing employment by 1 per cent annually and increasing private and public investments by 5 and 4 per cent respectively.
Christodoulakis said the 2003 state budget shows the possibilities ''of a fair allocation of the benefit of the growth effort'', consolidating in Greek society ''a feeling of security, self-confidence and trust.''
He went on to say that convergence with the EU average is possible in 2015 ''if, of course, the same economic and social policy is continued and we do not fall again into the disastrous policies applied 10 years ago.''
The finance minister also said ''public investments will increase 13 per cent in 2003 and will amount to 8.9 billion euros. Out of this figure, only 2.8 billion will come from the EU's structural funds, while the main bulk will be financed by national resources. The Greek citizen must feel proud of the Public Investments Program because it is based on money which he himself contributes.''
Referring to working people's incomes, he said in past years ''they have been increasing steadily'', while the average real salary in Greece has increased 3.3 per cent in 2002, compared to 0.8 per cent in the eurozone.
Christodoulakis also referred to farmers in his address, saying their income increased by 5.7 per cent in the past year and underlining the ''new contract of trust with the farmer'' which is being initialed by the government with four new financing measures for farmers by the Agricultural Bank.
Main opposition New Democracy party Parliamentary spokesman Prokopis Pavlopoulos accused Christodoulakis of using ''accounting alchemies, arithmetic tantrums and economic fantasies'' and termed him ''the father of creative accounting'', while calling the budget unreliable and ineffective.
Also speaking during the debate on the state budget, Labor and Social Security Minister Dimitris Reppas said two new bills concerning the creation of a National Employment Committee and the formation of a national system linking educational training with employment will be tabled in Parliament soon.
 Gov't: Farming income rises in Greece
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The government on Thursday reported Eurostat figures showing that agricultural income in Greece rose by 5.7 percent in 2002, while the EU average was a 3.0 percent decline.
Government spokesman Christos Protopapas said the increase was second highest in the European Union, behind Finland's 7.3 percent rise.
 New owners of Olympic Catering foresee profitability in 2003
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Everest SA, an Athens-quoted snacks chain, said on Thursday that it expected Olympic Catering SA, a former subsidiary of the national airline, to show profitability in 2003.
In September, Everest acquired a controlling 58 percent stake in the catering firm for 16.1 million euros.
Everest's chairman, Lavrentios Freris, told shareholders that the acquisition would aid the group's performance as it allowed key inroads into the mass catering market.
 Hospital signs cooperation pact for Athens 2004 Olympics
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Iaso SA on Thursday signed a cooperation agreement with the national organizers of the Athens 2004 Olympics.
The hospital located near the main stadium for the international event has promised to offer medical and hotel infrastructure, parking space and other facilities.
 Greece in talks with Bulgaria on reconstruction aid
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos on Thursday met Bulgarian Deputy Finance Minister Gati Al Jebury for talks on Greece's reconstruction plan for the Balkans.
Bulgaria is to receive 54 million euros of Greek aid under the five-year scheme. Bulgaria is interested in modernizing its customs and tax services.
 Tourism from abroad slipped in 2002, gov't says
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Tourism from abroad in 2002 appears to have dropped by between 1.0 and 1.5 percentage points in 2002 against a year earlier, Development Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said on Thursday.
At the same time, the tourism season had expanded in many parts of the country, which was encouraging, Tsohatzopoulos told reporters.
Charter air arrivals in January-November dropped by 1.68 percent from the same period of 2001, he said.
The minister added that he wanted to see the creation of a chamber of tourism that could eventually act as a consultant to the state.
 Most Greeks feel at ease with the euro
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Following introduction of the euro nearly a year ago, most Greeks say their feel at ease with the new currency but complain of a rise in prices linked to its entry, a European Union survey showed on Thursday.
At the same time, only four in ten Greeks are satisfied with the fact that the euro has replaced their former national currency, according to the Eurobarometer opinion poll.
Seventy percent of Greeks said that the euro no longer caused them problems, higher than an average of 51.5 percent for all citizens polled.
Concerning prices, 86 percent of Greeks felt that drachma figures had been adjusted upwards, slightly above an average of 84.4 percent.
Finally, Greeks are becoming less and less happy with the new currency. Forty two percent of respondents were satisfied that the euro had become their currency, lower than an average of 49.7 percent.
 GSEE calls for less red tape in residence permit renewal
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE), Greece's largest umbrella trade union organization, on Thursday urged the government to reduce red tape in the renewal of residence permits by working foreign nationals.
Thousands of registered economic migrants were at risk of becoming 'de-legalized' due to the process, the union warned and called on the government to take into account the demands of migrant organizations and facilitate those foreign nationals that met the conditions for legal residence in Greece.
 Athena & Phoivos, Olympic mascots to promote Athens 2004 merchandise
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Athens 2004 Olympic Games mascots Athena and Phoivos will "walk" around the streets of central Athens on Saturday and Piraeus on Sunday to promote the Olympic products.
There are 28 categories of Olympic products and they are available in 200 shops in Athens and some 6,000 all over Greece.
 Cypriot composer Marios Tokas gives concert in Vienna
VIENNA 20/12/2002(ANA - D. Dimitrakoudis)Leading Greek Cypriot composer Marios Tokas gave a concert at Saint Stephen's Cathedral here on Wednesday night, with his work of Byzantine tradition named ''Mary Mother of God.''
The performance, enthusiastically welcomed by the audience, included singers Manolis Mitsias and Costas Hadjichristodoulou, who were accompanied by Bratislava's Philharmonic Orchestra and the choir Echo, conducted by George Payiatis.
Seated among the audience was Cyprus' Education and Culture Minister Ouranios Ioannidis and many representatives of Austria's public life.
In a brief address before the beginning of the concert, Tokas expressed his emotion, pleasure and pride for the great moment when the voice of his small motherland is being heard through his music.
In his own address, Cyprus' Ambassador to Vienna Stavros Epaminondas said that with the decision taken at the EU's Copenhagen summit Cyprus, which has been a part of European culture for thousands of years, is now joining Europe's political and economic expression and this decision is being celebrated with a concert, a token of cultural tradition.
Epaminondas also said the Cypriots, having a European passport while being free under siege and with limited rights in their own homeland, are awaiting redemption with memory and tradition as their company, which are unbeatable weapons which no invader or conqueror can remove.
Speaking to the Athens News Agency (ANA) in the Austrian capital, Minister Ioannidis said that with the concert a clear message is given to European countries that Cyprus is Europe as a culture and a tradition.
 GNTO to utilize success of film 'My big fat Greek wedding' to promote Greece
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The National Tourism Organization of Greece (GNTO) is planning a unique advertising program in the United States in order to capitalize on the positive climate which has developed in the U.S. for Greece following the great success of the film ''My big fat Greek wedding''.
The GNTO will place an advertisement in the magazine ''Modern Bride'' of the publishing group Conte Nast Bridal and distribute free of charge 7.2 million DVD with the film through the magazine.
GNTO President Yiannis Patellis said the organization will also make other promotions in the U.S., including its participation this year, as well, as main sponsor of the event Travel Show which will take place at Long Beach in California from February 1-2, 2003 and which is organized by the ''Los Angeles Times'' group.
Further more, from Monday and for a whole week, the BBC World will broadcast a program dedicated to Greece.
 EU Commission takes Greece to court over environmental concerns
BRUSSELS 20/12/2002 (ANA - M. Spinthourakis)The European Commission is taking Greece, along with another eight European Union members-states, to the European Court for violations of the EU's environmental legislation concerning sewage and industrial liquid waste.
The relevant EU legislation concerns the transport of dangerous waste and the management of waste in general, landfill management, used engine lubricants, PCBs and PCTs, as well as packaging waste.
Referring to Greece in particular, the Commission said that it decided to take the country to Court because of concerns over the large number of illegal or uncontrolled landfills in the country.
The number of illegally operating landfills in Greece decreased to 1,458 by May 2002, from 2,810 in December 2001.
 Greek & Australian universities sign cooperation agreement
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The University of Thessaloniki and the Melbourne, Australia La Trobe University signed a cooperation agreement in Thessaloniki on Thursday, which includes cultural and academic activities.
Thessaloniki University Rector Michalis Papadopoulos and La Trobe University Dean Michael John Osborne signed the agreement, which follows the twinning of Thessaloniki and Melbourne in 1987.
 Alleged 'N17' female suspect reprimanded by prison officials
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Prison officials have reprimanded the only female “November 17” terrorist suspect in custody by barring her visiting hours and phone privileges for five days, the result of an authorized interview she gave to a weekly newspaper.
A disciplinary council at the Korydallos Prison ruled that Aggeliki Sotiropoulou, in her fourth day of a hunger strike, violated the facility’s regulations. A similar measure has in the past been imposed on a handful of “N17” suspects as well.
Finally, another six alleged “N17” members have joined in the hunger strike in solidarity to Sotiropoulou, including her husband, Dimitris Koufodinas.
 Police announce breakup of women-trafficking, drugs ring
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Athens police on Thursday announced the breakup of a ring believed to be involved in the trafficking of women and the drugs trade, taking eight people into custody as suspected members of the gang.
A ninth suspect wanted in connection with the group's activities was still being sought, they said.
During the bust, police also confiscated a number of guns, knives, ammunition and weapons accessories, quantities of drugs, large amounts of cash, a fake passport, a car reported stolen in Italy and other items to be used as evidence.
Those taken into custody were identified as Letsky Kifsky, 27, from the Ukraine, Vasilios Theodoris, 30, from Uzbekistan, Ilias Syranidis, 24, from Kazakhstan, Nikos Papadopoulos, 25, from Kazakhstan.
They are accused of bringing women from former Soviet Union countries into Greece and 'renting' them to Greek clubs to work as strippers against their will, taking the lion's share of their pay. They are also accused of 'selling' three women to a club for five million drachmas and of abducting and assaulting a man who failed to pay them the pre-agreed sum for women they had provided.
Police say they have proof that the ring brought 28 women into Greece after an extensive investigation of Athens clubs in which they interviewed 95 strippers.
The investigation also led to the arrest of Valerian Sohadze, 28, from Georgia, Emil Sposov, 30, from Bulgaria, Stekova Kirazova, 26, from Bulgaria and Casmina Mohametali, 25, from Bulgaria. The above suspects are seen as the main suspects in the trade in women, while Sposov and the two women were involved in selling drugs.
The search is still on for a ninth suspect identified as Panagiotis Sohadze.
The eight people in custody will be led before a Misdemeanors Court prosecutor.
 Appeals court reduces sentences of Ukrainian seamen in smuggling case
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The captain and crew-members of the cargo ship ''Pena'' were found guilty of smuggling contraband cigarettes and convicted to two and a half years imprisonment by an appeals court in Thrace on Thursday, which reduced the four-year sentences originally imposed on them by 18 months.
The five men were identified as Ukrainian nationals Anatoly Byedrik, Oleskandr Podonin, Igor Tevelev, Volodymyr Gly and Mykola Branchenko. They all chose to pay off their sentences at 4.4 euros per day, while the court recommended that the six months they had already spent as remand prisoners count toward their sentence.
The court also ordered that the seizure of the ship and of four trucks found on board, each laden with 1,564,100 packets of contraband cigarettes and face creams.
The men had been taken into custody on May 24 after their ship ran aground in a shallow bay off the island of Thassos. While authorities had originally believed the cigarettes and other contraband were destined for smuggling rings within Greece, investigation later showed that the captain had simply strayed off course on his way to the port of Bar in Montenegro.
The total value of the confiscated merchandise is estimated at 3.5 million euros, while the value of the craft and the four lorries that were seized by irreversible order of the court are unknown.
 Medecins du Monde to protest against power cutoff at Kurd camp
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The Greek chapter of 'Medecins du Monde' will stage a sit-in outside the headquarters of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) on Halkokondyli Street on Christmas Eve to protest against the company's decision to cut off the power to a Kurd refugee reception centre in Penteli.
The organizations claims that the decision to cut off the power was taken arbitrarily and that the PPC was demanding an excessive amount of money for the power used by the refugees, using safety issues as an excuse when the PPC had done nothing to improve existing facilities.
''Behind all these excuses lies an effort to force these people to abandon their lodgings,'' the organization concludes.
 Inauguration of Patras bypass by PM postponed due to weather
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The inauguration of the Patras bypass by Prime Minister Costas Simitis, due to take place on Thursday, was postponed until January 20 due to high winds that prevented the helicopter in which the prime minister and Environment Minister Vasso Papandreou would be traveling from taking off.
 Deputy FM to inaugurate Greek-Albanian border crossing station on Friday
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos will inaugurate the third border crossing station between Greece and Albania on Friday along with Albanian Economy Minister Arben Malaj.
 Four illegal immigrants dead, several missing after speedboat runs aground
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)Shortly after the body of an illegal immigrant who had jumped off a distressed speedboat was found close to the Mantoudi coast of northern Evia on Thursday, the coast guard spotted the bodies of three more illegal immigrants from a second smugglers' speedboat some 15 kilometers from the first incident
The body of an illegal immigrant was found close to the shores of northern Evia on Thursday morning, and a search operation by local authorities was still in progress to locate several others still missing after jumping into the water when the speedboat smuggling them to Greece ran aground and took on water earlier in the day.
The 14-metre speedboat manned by two people-smugglers, carrying an unknown number of illegal immigrants -- Afghanis and Iraqi Kurds -- ran aground off Kymasi beach on the Mantoudi coast of northern Evia, and the illegal immigrants abandoned the vessel, jumping into the water to swim ashore.
The 58 survivors, including one woman and the two smugglers, managed to swim to shore where they were taken into custody and provided with food, dry clothing and blankets and put up temporarily at a nearby farm building.
According to accounts by the survivors, several more illegal immigrants were still missing.
A Super Puma helicopter, coast guard patrol boats and nearby fishing boats were taking part in the search operation.
Meanwhile, during the search operation for possible survivors of the first speedboat, which was later discovered and identified as the "Arit Beta", coast guard patrol boats spotted a second speedboat 15 kilometers away near the Evia coast of Hiliadou. Aboard the second speedboat were 24 men, including the vessel's two Turkish people-smugglers/captains, and two women, as well as three bodies.
Given the proximity of the two incidents, the coast guard believes the two speedboats were an organized operation to smuggle illegal immigrants from the Turkish shores.
Search operations for possible survivors were being hampered by storm winds of 9-beaufort magnitude.
 US embassy temporarily suspends visa issuing through travel agencies
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The United States Embassy in Athens is temporarily suspending its travel agency program for visa issuing, whereby applicants applied through authorized travel agents for tourist, business and other non-immigrant visas.
The new policy will go into effect on Jan. 13 and is part of an overall American effort to make visa issuance more rigorous after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., a press release issued by the U.S. embassy said, adding that it is discontinuing the program pending further study.
Visas will be ready for successful applicants within one day. If approved, passports with visas will be available on the same day of application, while persons over 65, those under 16 and prearranged groups will enjoy the expanded ''drop-box'' service.
 UN SG sends letters to leaders charting road ahead for comprehensive settlement of Cyprus problem
UNITED NATIONS 20/12/2002 (CNA/ANA)UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has sent letters to the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities in Cyprus, as well as to the leaders of Greece and Turkey, charting the road ahead and the work to be done in order to reach an agreement on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem by the end of February 2003.
Speaking to journalists at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, at the end of a meeting of the Security Council which was briefed on efforts to achieve a Cyprus settlement, Annan's special advisor on Cyprus Alvaro de Soto said the Secretary General also drew attention in his letters to the need for work to be done in January in order to achieve agreement.
''The Secretary General has written to the two leaders today, as well as to the two leaders of Greece and Turkey, setting out the road ahead as he sees it and the work he thinks needs to be done and drawing attention to the need to move very quickly on a number of issues that are pending,'' de Soto said.
The UN representative on Cyprus said he and the Secretary General had received ''strong support'' from the members of the Security Council and pointed out that there was ''a lot of work to be done in the 10 weeks ahead.''
He expressed the hope that the work would be done, adding that his aids were on Cyprus for this purpose. De Soto is expected to return to the island on January 7.
''We hope we will achieve success in the time remaining,'' he said.
Asked what the next deadline was and when the leaders had to answer to the Secretary General, de Soto said the UN did not like talking about deadlines, adding that the two ad hoc committees suggested by Annan to deal with legislation for Cyprus after a settlement and international treaties entered into by Cyprus should begin work as soon as possible.
''We are hoping for work to take place this week, some preliminary work and for work to take place by each of the two sides separately, in preparation for the very intensive efforts that should take place in January, particularly,'' he said.
Asked if he was referring to the two ad hoc committees, de Soto said ''that's one of the areas where work needs to be done.''
 UN Security Council statement on Cyprus
Athens, 20/12/2002 (ANA)The UN Security Council expressed full support for the efforts by Annan to bring about a settlement of the Cyprus problem by the end of February 2003, on the basis of his revised proposals presented to the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides on December 10.
The members of the Council expressed their regret that Turkish
Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash ''had not responded in a timely way to the initiatives of the Secretary General'' and called for his ''constructive efforts'' to reach a settlement in conformity with the timetable proposed by Annan.
The Security Council was briefed on Wednesday, in the presence of Annan, by his special adviser de Soto on the negotiations
that had taken place in recent months between Denktash and Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and issued a statement read to the press by Council president Alfonso Valdivieso.
During the meeting of the Council, the representatives of a number of members made interventions and expressed support for the efforts of the Secretary General.
The representatives of China and Russia said they did not consider February 28, 2003 a binding deadline, but agreed with the text of the joint statement for the sake of unanimity.
The statement on Cyprus by the president of the Security Council is as follows:
1. On December 18 the members of the Security Council, in the
presence of the Secretary-General, heard a report from the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus on the negotiations that have taken place in recent months, in pursuance of the mission entrusted to the Secretary-General by the Security Council in its resolution 1250, aimed at achieving agreement on a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem which takes full account of relevant Security Council resolutions.
2. The members of the Council commended the Secretary-General for the initiatives he had taken in November and December 2002 to bridge the gaps between the two sides and to enable them to reach an agreement.
They expressed the view that the proposal put forward on November 11 as revised on December 10 offered a unique opportunity to reach a settlement in the coming weeks.
3. They regretted that the Turkish Cypriot leadership had not responded in a timely way to the initiatives of the Secretary-General; and they called for its constructive efforts to reach a settlement in conformity with the timetable proposed by the Secretary-General.
4. They welcomed the willingness of both sides to continue the negotiations in the period ahead. They underlined the importance of intensifying the negotiations so that full agreement could be reached before February 28, 2003, in conformity with the timetable proposed by the Secretary-General in his proposals. They urged both sides to work on the basis of the Secretary-General's revised proposals of December 10.
5. The members of the Council drew attention to the unique opportunity that existed for the settlement of this long-running problem; and to the benefits for all concerned from so doing, so that all Cypriots can benefit from Cyprus's accession to the European Union. They urged all concerned to seize the historic opportunity to bring a peaceful, just and lasting settlement to the Cyprus problem to the benefit of all its people and the wider region.
6. The members of the Council expressed their full support for the continuation of the Secretary-General's mission of good offices and his efforts to bring about a settlement in the first two months of 2003.
 House parties welcome Cyprus' accession to EU
NICOSIA, 20/12/2002 (CNA/ANA)The decision of the European Council in Copenhagen to invite Cyprus to become a member as of May 1, 2004, is a landmark in the island's history, political party leaders told the House of Representatives here Thursday.
The House, which met for the last time before the Christmas break, held a debate on the decision of the Copenhagen summit with all House parties commending the work done by the President of the Republic, the Chief Negotiator at the Accession talks, the House, the Greek government and the late Yiannos Kranidiotis, of Cypriot origin, who was the architect of the island's accession course.
The parties repeated the readiness of the Greek Cypriot side to negotiate the proposal of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but stressed that more amendments are necessary to the revised plan to make it functional and viable.
House President Demetris Christofias stressed the need for a fundamental change in the Turkish policy to open the road towards an agreed solution to the Cyprus problem and called on the international factor to turn its attention towards Turkey and exert pressure there.
In his speech before the House, Christofias said the European Council's decision to accede Cyprus in the EU ''is a great achievement of the people of Cyprus, of historical significance.''
He said it ''opens new perspectives, leads Cyprus to a new era and brings before us unique challenges,'' adding ''it is up to us to lessen any difficulties which this tremendous change will have on our lives and make use, to the greatest possible extend, the possibilities which open before us.''
Christofias pointed out that the decision for accession to the EU should make us realize that there is still enough work ahead until
Cyprus becomes a full member of the EU, and Cyprus is still being tried by the Turkish occupation.
He reiterated the solution to the Cyprus problem remains ''our fervent desire and major strategic aim,'' adding that the Greek Cypriot side is ready to negotiate based on the revised UN Secretary General's plan to secure a just, under the circumstances, functional and viable solution to the Cyprus problem.''
 US and EU think a Cyprus settlement still possible
WASHINGTON, 20/12/2002 (CNA/ANA)US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said it is still possible to achieve a solution to the Cyprus problem and assured that Washington will work hard for this goal.
Speaking after a meeting between the US and the EU, Powell expressed support for the UN Secretary General's efforts to reach a settlement and noted that his country is in close contact with the EU on the issue.
The meeting was also attended by Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Paten.
Moeller said that now there is a good chance to settle the Cyprus question.
''I think any one of us would do what is necessary and within our power to do to try to achieve a solution to this problem (Cyprus question) which has existed for so many years. I hope that both sides, all four parties who really have an equity in this will view the proposal of the SG with seriousness and try to find a way to use this historic opportunity to resolve this longstanding problem,'' Powell said.
Moeller expressed hope that the UN will have a deal on Cyprus before February 28 ''so that we can have a united Cyprus which becomes member from the 1st of May 2004 in the EU.'' He expressed the conviction that ''there is a chance'' for a settlement and said that ''the two communities really want to unite.''
The Danish FM recalled that Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides had made ''a very, very beautiful declaration (before EU leaders last week) saying that he will work hard to get the island united as soon as possible and before February 28th.''
Moeller also recalled that the EU has set aside money to help the Turkish Cypriots to arrive at the same level as the Greek Cypriots as soon as possible.
''So I really think there are good possibilities now. This is an historic moment for unification. If you don't use this historic moment to finish before February 28th, then it can take a very long time,'' he stressed and noted ''both communities shall think this now can be done.''
''If not now then when? And when is far away,'' he added.
Cyprus and other nine candidate countries were invited last week by the 15 EU members to join the EU. The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 per cent of its territory.
 EU House Committee hails Copenhagen's decision on Cyprus
NICOSIA, 20/12/2002 (CNA/ANA)European Affairs House Committee on Thursday hailed a decision by the Copenhagen European Council with regard to Cyprus' accession to the European Union.
It also expressed its warm and sincere congratulations to those who have contributed one way or another to this effort and paid
particular tribute to the support the Greek government and Parliament as well as the Greek political leadership have offered.
The Committee has so far examined over 235 bills and tabled more than 300 regulations before the plenary as part of the harmonization effort.