|Thursday, 26 November 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 05-07-15
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>July 15, 2005
 Greek economy to grow at around 3.5 pct in 2nd qtr, FinMin says
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Thursday said the country's economic course was satisfactory adding that Greece "seems to have one of the best economic performances in the EU".
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister said economic growth rate would reach 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2005 and added he expected similar growth rate for the second quarter, quashing bleak forecasts for economic growth after the Olympic Games.
Alogoskoufis said recent figures for unemployment and retail sales were better than expected, with the unemployment rate falling at 10.4 percent of the workforce in the first three months of 2005, from 11.3 percent in the same period last year. "Without being fully satisfactory, the figures are evidence that we don't have any worrying developments in the unemployment front," he said adding that retail sales and exports were steadily rising.
Alogoskoufis said the economy ministry would have to face two big problems in the next two months: tax evasion, particularly in VAT, and fuel smuggling in the country. The Economy minister said systematic work and offering more information to consumers to help in dealing with these two problems.
Commenting on a package of recommendations made by an IMF delegation, after an official visit to Athens, on drafting the state budget and the reforming the tax system, Alogoskoufis said the ministry would study these proposals, some of which were already included in the ministry's plans.
Alogoskoufis said the government did not have any particular problems in its discussions with the European Commission over a restructuring plan in Hellenic Telecommunications Organization. The Greek minister said the government was awaiting a response by the European Commission over a ministry plan to exclude first home owners from paying VAT from January 1, 2006. Alogoskoufis said the government would unveil its plans over introducing a VAT on real estate by the end of the month.
The Greek minister also said the Finance ministry would proceed with a plan of securitization part of public sector's revenues, a measure successfully introduced in Portugal in the past.
Economy moving towards recession, PASOK party spokesman says: Main opposition PASOK party spokesman Nikos Athanassakis said on Thursday that the economy is moving towards recession, commenting on statements by the economy minister that the economy is on a satisfactory course.
"Unfortunately, the economy is moving towards recession, it is under supervision due to the policy of the government with the inventory and every day it is moving down the downhill path which above all harms working people, pensioners, small and medium-size businessmen, farmers, handicraftsmen and professionals," the spokesman said.
Athanassakis also referred to statements made by the government spokesman on the new investments programs, saying that "no job has been created so far and no new investment has been approved".
 Public order minister and British interior minister hold talks despite bomb threat
LONDON, 15/07/2005 (ANA/L. Tsirigotakis)Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis's talks with British Interior Minister Charles Clarke developed into a hectic process after a phone call claiming that a bomb had been planted in the building housing the interior ministry triggered a pre-emptive alarm and the two ministers moved from one office to another for security reasons and to conclude their talks.
Welcoming Voulgarakis, the British minister thanked him for his contribution to the conference held in Brussels on Wednesday, in which issues concerning security and the handling of terrorism were discussed.
Voulgarakis conveyed the solidarity of the Greek government to the British people over the great tragedy they faced with the terrorist attacks in London last week during his talks with Clarke.
Talks between the two ministers focused on the priorities of the European Union's British presidency, as well as on bilateral cooperation on security issues.
"The British presidency has set a series of interesting issues. It has an interesting agenda and, evidently, the handling of terrorism is an issue which shall have a leading role during the British presidency. We also discussed issues of bilateral cooperation, which we have developed in past years and we aspire to develop it even more in the coming years. We discussed issues concerning organized crime, immigration, the granting of asylum and the exchange of information, as well as joint action issues in the framework of the European Union," Voulgarakis said.
Earlier in the day, Voulgarakis met George Psaradakis, the Greek driver of the bus involved in the terrorist attacks, and gave him a small silver wreath as a symbolic gesture.
"You made us proud," Voulgarakis told the driver, who replied "I am pleased that you feel that way. I did my duty and I am glad that I also honored Greece."
Psaradakis then gave the minister a description of the dramatic moments he experienced immediately after the blast which reduced the bus to wreckage.
"The sight was terrible. I thought I was standing before a slaughterhouse, but I did not loose my calm and I tried to help my passengers. I feel lucky that I survived. It was a miracle and I attribute it to the Virgin Mary. I have her icon beside me in the bus when I am driving," he said.
 Gov't spokesman on EU-wide data retention proposal
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greece on Thursday noted that it retained certain reservations to a British EU presidency proposal, one discussed at the Commission level a day earlier, over a regime to force telecoms companies in the Union to store customers' mobile phone communications and Internet usage for a certain period of time.
"The coming (EU) procedure foresees that the issue will be referred to expert committees ..." spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos noted.
However, he again repeated that constitutionally mandated liberties in the east Mediterranean country will not be threatened even in the slightest.
"Countries are obliged to adjust their systems towards more effectively dealing with the safeguarding of their citizens' lives, liberty and democratic rights, because a different form of terrorism has emerged over time," he added.
 PM meets interior minister, ND party secretary, cabinet secretary
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday met Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos for talks that focused chiefly on a draft bill for immigration being prepared by the government.
Also discussed during the meeting were new measures for the civil service, such as a new regulations code, wage scales and benefits. No statements were made after the meeting.
The prime minister also had meetings with New Democracy party secretary Vangelis Meimarakis and the secretary of the cabinet, Argyris Karras.
 Ruling ND party leading PASOK in 'intent of vote' in latest poll
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The ruling New Democracy party (ND) was leading main opposition PASOK by 5 percentage points regarding intent of vote, in an opinion poll conducted by private Skai radio station released on Thursday.
According to the poll, 43 percent of the respondents said that they would vote for ND if general elections were held tomorrow, followed by 39 percent who said they would vote for PASOK, 7 percent for the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), 4.5 percent for the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN), and 3.5 percent for the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party.
Regarding who was the most suitable for prime minister, 48 percent of the respondents opted for ND leader and current premier Costas Karamanlis, and 22 percent preferred PASOK leader George Papandreou, while 21 percent of the respondents did not have confidence in either of the two mainstream party leaders.
To a question on which government could better tackle the country's problems, 31 percent pointed to ND and 19 percent to PASOK, while 34 percent replied neither of the two.
 PM to speak at New Democracy youth festival on Limnos
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will depart for Limnos on Friday, where he will deliver the opening address at the New Democracy Youth organization (ONNED) festival "Parousies 2005", government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos announced.
At a press conference on Thursday, ONNED President George Papanikolaou presented the festival's program and expressed his excitement at the "active support of New Democracy President and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis".
"We are stirring up the stagnant waters of political party youth groups....All those who believe that Greek youth is apathetic and non-political are proved resoundingly wrong," he said.
He stressed that the festival had attracted large numbers of participants during a politically "dead" period, despite being organized at a location far from the capital. He also stressed that the choice of location was symbolic and a way of saying that Greek regions - including a remote island like Limnos - were also at the "centre" of Greek life.
Papanikolaou also noted that this would be the first time that a political party youth organization would show its faith in the climate of solidarity and "constructive coexistence" with the Turkish people by visiting the Turkish coast and carrying out joint events there.
Planned events at the festival include three discussions, one on education with Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou speaking, one on youth and the armed forces with Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos as main speaker and one on policies for regional development, with the input of Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Aegean and Island Policy Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis.
A number of cultural events are also planned, such as a theatre performance, a puppet show, musical concerts, art exhibitions and events, book fairs and various activities, such as visits to archaeological sites, tree-planting expeditions, beach volley and water sports competitions, among others.
 Greece settles three cases related to EU environmental law, five remain pending
BRUSSELS, 15/07/2005 (ANA/M.Spinthourakis)Three cases regarding Greece's failure to adopt European Union environmental legislation have been settled the European Commission announced on Thursday, while another five remain pending.
Specifically, in January 2005, the European Court of Justice ruled against Greece because it had failed to transpose into national legislation the EU directive regarding waste incineration. However, Greece passed the relevant legislation and the case has been closed.
In July 2004, the Commission had sent Greece a first warning for the lack of information the member state provided regarding the use of methyl bromide, a pesticide that is particularly damaging to the ozone layer. Greece took necessary action and the matter has been settled without requiring further action on the part of the Commission.
Finally, in July 2004, Greece had received a first warning from the EU since it had failed to submit a gas emission trading plan within the deadline set by the EU. However, this case was also settled after Greece submitted a plan at the end of 2004.
As for the five cases that are still pending against Greece, they are: a first warning issued on January 27, 2005 regarding harmonization with EU law on the issue of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs); a case pending in the ECJ due to Greece's failure to implement various clauses of an EU directive regarding protection of the ozone layer; a final warning regarding insufficient waste water management; a final warning due to Greece's failure to submit proposals aimed at reducing air pollution; and a final warning regarding noise pollution, environmental assessment of projects and programs, providing citizens access to environmental information and electronic waste management.
 Greece supports enlargement of UN Security Council, US opposed
NEW YORK, 15/07/2005 (ANA/P.Panagiotou)Greece's United Nations Representative, Adamantios Vassilakis, stressed that Greece is in favor of the enlargement of the Security Council, a proposal set forth by the Group of Four (Brazil, Germany, Japan, India) that was discussed during the UN General Assembly's open session here on Thursday.
According to the G-4 proposal, presented by Brazil's Ambassador to the UN, Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, the new Security Council would be comprised of 25 members with the addition of six permanent members (among them the G-4 countries) and four non-permanent members.
This change, according to Sardenberg, would make the Council more representative and would generally reinforce the UN.
Vassilakis emphasized member-states' agreement on the need to reform the Council so that it better reflects the actual conditions of the modern-day world.
"This change will bring about balance within the Council, it will increase its responsibility and transparency, as well as its multicultural and multidimensional character," Vassilakis told the Assembly.
He stressed that "Greece believes that this proposal can provide the Security Council with the means to find global solutions to global problems. We hope that it will have the greatest possible support."
However, according to New York newspapers, the US has called on the UN to reject the G-4 proposal.
In addressing the Assembly, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, advisor to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the G-4 proposal will not strengthen the international organization.
 Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos holds series of meetings in Brussels
ISTANBUL, 15/07/2005 (ANA/A. Kourkoulas)The European Commission president's adviser on religious issues Michael Weninger said on Thursday the series of meetings held by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos in Brussels is of "historic significance."
Weninger attended the Ecumenical Patriarch's working luncheon, together with four European Commissioners.
The Commissioners requested information from the Patriarch on problems facing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and minorities in Turkey, while repeated reference was made to the Orthodox Church of Finland which activates itself productively and enjoys support for its work by the Finnish state.
Vartholomeos arrived in Brussels at the invitation of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, accompanied by the Metropolitans of Belgium Panteleimon, Philadelphia Meliton and France Emmanouil.
The permanent representatives of Turkey and Greece at the European Union hosted dinners in honor of Vartholomeos, who also met with the U.S. Ambassador in Brussels Tom Karalogo.
 Ecumenical Patriarch to attend Religious Conference on Islam in Vienna
VIENNA, 15/07/2005 (ANA/D. Dimitrakoudis)Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos will attend the Inter-religious Conference on the theme of "Islam in a pluralistic world", to be held in Vienna from November 14-16, at the invitation of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.
On the occasion of the announcement of his participation in the Conference, the Ecumenical Patriarch praised, during his visit to the European Commission in Brussels, the efforts of the Austrian Chancellor and of the Austrian government in favor of the religious freedom of Christian minorities in Turkey.
In talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the Ecumenical Patriarch praised the role of Schuessel, who will be presiding over the European Union in the first half of 2006, who "supports in an exemplary way the safeguarding of the rights of Churches and of religious communities in EU accession candidate Turkey as well."
 PASOK party leader criticizes Archbishop Christodoulos over document published in Athens daily
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou criticized Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos, while speaking in the Cretan city of Rethimno on Thursday, on account of a document by an associate of the Archbishop published in the Athens daily "Eleftherotypia."
"Being an Orthodox citizen of this country, as well as an Orthodox believer in all of Orthodox Christianity, I consider it a shame for the Archbishop to function as the leader of a party," Papandreou said.
"The Archbishop of the Orthodox Church must be a spiritual leader and not a petty political leader. We want a bishop who will be a model of ethics and attitude and not a figure who hides behind anonymous documents," he added.
 PASOK party protests meeting of far-right, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi parties and organizations in Greece later this year
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The main opposition PASOK party's human rights sector on Thursday protested the meeting of far-right, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi parties and organizations scheduled to take place in the country later this year.
"The international meeting of far-right, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi parties and organizations, which is due to be held in Meligala in the prefecture of Mesinia in autumn, has already caused reactions internationally, the opposition of the citizens of the region and denunciations by human rights movements and mass agencies," PASOK said in an announcement.
"This meeting offends the sensitivity of the Greek people. Its xenophobic and racist slogans create abhorrence in every democratic citizen in Greece and in Europe, particularly this year on the 60th anniversary of the defeat of fascism. The rhetoric of hatred, nationalism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia underline open society and human rights, as much as the barbarism of terrorism and the obscurantism of religious fundamentalism which dealt a blow at our continent recently do," the announcement added.
 IMF: Greek tax management system flawed, needs modernization
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greece's tax management system, which is heavily flawed, needs to be modernized, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a report released on Thursday.
In recommendations given to the government, the IMF said the flaws involved structural and organizational problems due to a lack of data management and controls coupled with outmoded administrative procedures.
On Wednesday, IMF economists ended a 10-day visit to Athens to study the taxation system and methods used to formulated the budget.
Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis told reporters that he would set up working groups to put the suggestions into practice: certain steps would be taken immediately with action on deeper aspects of the problems likely to take more time.
While acknowledging that steps had been taken towards improvement, nevertheless modernization of the tax management system should move in two directions, said the IMF report, which was released by the finance ministry.
Firstly, an overall reform plan should be evolved and implemented. And secondly, immediate measures should be taken that would produce a swift rise in tax revenue.
Concerning mid-term policy, a committee headed by a senior finance ministry official should be created that would set in motion the changes, and forge policy, the report said.
The IMF recommended as an immediate measure the collection of outstanding payments to the state totalling 17-18 billion euros, a level deemed as extremely high as a proportion of annual revenue from tax.
The debt is 5-8 times higher than a level stated by the OECD, and similar to the highest debt levels found in African countries and countries of the former Soviet Union, according to the report.
The IMF acknowledged that a large part of the debt may not be obtainable, but the remainder should be sought employing new debt collection methods; and the overuse of installment arrangements should be avoided.
Concrete suggestions in the report included the following:
Among mid-term measures was the abolition of some of the country's numerous tax offices, converting regional auditing centers into units that offered the full range of services for heavy-duty tax payers.
Finally, the IMF recommended further growth in data management concerning taxpayers.
Gov't on IMF recommendations : The government spokesman on Thursday noted that the government considers proposals, "while it proceeds with an intervention when it deems so necessary", in reference to recent statements by IMF officials regarding the Greek economy.
Spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos added that a new tax bill was passed recently, "therefore, there is no issue of a change in the law."
Roussopoulos made the statements during his regular press briefing.
 Greek unemployment fell to 10.4 pct in 1st qtr
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greek unemployment rate fell to 10.4 percent of the workforce in the first quarter of 2005, from 11.3 percent in the same period last year, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.
NSS, in its regular report, said unemployment rate among women was more than double (16.1 pct) compared with that of men (6.5 pct) over the January-March period. Young people were the hardest hit by unemployment, particularly people aged 15-29, with unemployment rate of 19.7 percent, while unemployment rate for women aged 15-29 years old reached 27 percent.
Unemployment rate among university degree holders was 5.1 percent.
NSS said from a total of 502,551 unemployed people, 37.7 percent were seeking full time jobs, while 85.9 percent were willing to work either full or part-time jobs.
Unemployment among first-time workers was 37.2 percent, while long-term unemployed people (unemployed for more than 12 months) accounted for 53.7 percent of total unemployed in the country.
The Western Macedonia (18.8 pct), South Aegean (13.3 pct) and Eastern Macedonia-Thrace (12.9 pct) recorded the biggest percentage unemployment rates, while Attica and Crete the lowest rates (8.8 percent each).
 Greek SMEs report high profit margins, bigger expenses, report
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greek small- and medium-sized enterprises were enjoying high gross profit margins, but increased administration and financial expenses were evaporating profits, a report by Hellastat said on Thursday.
The report, based on the results by 25,000 enterprises in 2004, said the most significant result of the survey was that the size of an enterprise was inversely proportional to its gross profit margin, with smaller companies reporting significantly higher gross profitability compared with larger companies in the period 2002-2004, with the exception of the manufacturing sector.
Enterprises with a turnover less than one million euros reported administration expenses at around 20-30 percent of annual spending, when for enterprises with turnover more than 30 million euros the rate was just 5-7 percent. Financial spending totalled 10-20 percent of total annual cost in smaller companies, compared with around 5.0 percent in big companies.
Hellastat's report said the critical figure for a company to achieve positive per capital returns and enjoy a strong capital structure was clearly above 1.0 million euros, a mark that around 12,000 Greek enterprises failed to reach in 2004.
 Budget deficit widens to 11.6 bln euros
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The budget deficit widened to 11.6 billion euros in May-June, representing 76.7% growth in central government borrowing needs, or a five billion euro increase, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday.
The central government deficit represented 6.5% of gross domestic product against 6.1% in the same period of 2004, the central bank said in a statement.
The data was not calculated on the same basis as figures given to the European Union or international organizations for assessment under terms of the bloc's Maastricht Treaty, the statement said.
 Head of civil servants union blames government for breakdown of talks
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The head of the civil servants' union ADEDY, Spyros Papaspyros, on Thursday blamed the government for the failure of talks between the two sides, saying that government officials had come to the dialogue unprepared, without specific positions and proposals.
During a press conference in Thessaloniki, Papaspyros said the union had presented its proposals in the form of a draft collective agreement containing 12 articles. He said that the government, conversely, had said nothing definite on what it adopted, rejected or counter-proposed and had instead suggested the formation of three-member committees to collect technical data and put together a proposal by October.
Papaspyros said ADEDY refused to participate in these committees because it considered the entire process a sham, since the data required already existed and could be updated in a matter of days and hours.
He also criticized business people that blamed the public sector and civil servants for lowering competitiveness, saying that this approach was "disorienting".
He announced that ADEDY will be carrying out a series of demonstrations over the 10 days of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), culminating in a rally on September 10.
 Unions, employers reach deadlock over labor relations reform
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Trade unions and employers on Thursday reached deadlock in talks on the government's plan to overhaul industrial relations, especially the working week and overtime.
The head of the Federation of Greek Industry, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, told reporters that the two sides had agreed to disagree, and would meet for fresh talks in the autumn.
The General Confederation of Labor of Greece asked the government immediately to ratify a national collective labor pact forged for 2004 and 2005.
 Gov't firm on decision to extend shop hours
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The government on Thursday noted that a decision to unify and extend, by one hour daily, shop hours around the country was based on the status quo found in other EU countries, and not based on whatever opinion poll results.
Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos added that combining shop hours with proposed changes in the labor regime -- both issues were raised in a recent opinion poll commissioned by the country's largest union -- merely confuses some citizens.
"In every instance, a political decision is substantive when it is based on studies conducted throughout the rest of the EU, studies that were analyzed by development ministry experts in Greece; that's how the decision to change the shop hours regime was taken ..." he said.
Extended shop hours to offer a new impetus, minister says: Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Thursday expressed his confidence that draft legislation for extending shopping hours in the country would offer a new impetus in the domestic market and would lead to a new era, resolving chronic problems.
Speaking to reporters, Sioufas said retailers and supermarkets would be open until 21.00, Monday to Friday, and until 20.00 on Saturdays, while he categorically dismissed talk of letting shops open on Sunday.
The Greek minister said that by introducing a new single shop hours schedule around the country, each prefecture could not lower shop hours in their region, but only extend shopping hours after consultation with local entrepreneurs.
"A government is not a government of a particular social group," Sioufas said, adding that a government must compose different views. He noted that the country operated under 54 different shopping hours systems in the present, and that the government sought to harmonies the system.
Draft bill to extend shop hours passes relevant Parliament comm't: A relevant Parliament committee, with the votes of a majority of New Democracy members, approved of a bill to extend -- by one hour on weekdays -- and unify shop schedules around the country, with the draft legislation now headed to a Parliament plenum next week.
Relevant Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas again dismissed stepped up opposition criticism that the proposal favors only a few large multinationals active in the country at the expense of smaller businesses.
 Real estate market has great growth potential, report
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greece needs to draft a long-term policy for its real estate sector, a report by the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Thursday.
The report said that the economy and the real estate sector were heavily interacted and each influenced another, evidence of the strategic importance of the sector to economic growth in the country. However, lack of specific development policies led to serious problems in the market, limiting its growth potential. IOBE said Greece remained a spectator of real estate funds even during very favorable periods.
The global real estate market's turnover accounts for 15 percent of total GDP in the world's wealthiest countries with investors increasingly putting money in the sector during the last few years. The value of homes in developed economies totaled 30 trillion US dollars, compared with the value of stock shares and state bonds (20 trillion dollars) and corporate bonds (15 trillion dollars).
IOBE said the Greek real estate market has significant growth potential, although it noted that absence of a land registry in the country was a major hurdle for the sector's growth.
The report said understanding factors affecting real estate prices was very important to evaluating the sector's influence in the whole economy, as well as the function of the home rental market.
The Greek real estate market has made significant progress in the last few years and can attract institutional investors' interest for large scale investments, the report added.
 Infringement proceedings against Italy, Germany and Greece for their failure to transpose EU Directives
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The European Commission on Thursday said it would send reasoned opinions to Italy and Greece, for failing to notify the EU's executive of national measures implementing Directive 2004/79/EC on mutual assistance for the recovery of tax claims.
A Commission announcement said that if the Member States concerned failed to bring their legislation into line within two months of receipt of the reasoned opinion, the Commission might also bring these cases before the Court of Justice. As Greece and Italy have failed to reply to this formal letter of notice, the Commission said it could only conclude that national implementing measures have not yet been adopted in these countries, though they should have been in force since 1 May 2004 at the latest according to Article 3 of the Directive, or at least that they have not yet been communicated to the Commission.
 Gov't adopts measures aimed at effective monitoring and promotion of biological products
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Foods announced on Thursday a series of measures it is adopting aimed at monitoring more effectively and promoting biological products.
Deputy Minster of Agricultural Development and Foods Alexandros Kontos presented the measures he is promoting by means of a joint ministerial decision.
They include: determining and defining the role and operation of all entities/authorities active in the biological agricultural sector; allowing the establishment of new certifying agencies in order to boost competition, which will operate according to a standard set of rules and regulations; defining and enforcing the relevant penalty system; definition and standardization of inspections - method, frequency; and drafting of national regulations in the cases where there is a lack of EU legislation, among others.
"We called on the sector's authorities today, whom I would like to thank for their contribution in our effort to finalize a new joint ministerial decision, which places biological agriculture on a new developmental track, reinforces inspections, sets a national emblem to be used on certified Greek, biological products and supports the plans of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Foods in boosting production, promotion and availability of these products on the market," Kontos said after the presentation.
 Absorption rate of EU funds up 4.0% in H1
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Deputy Finance Minister Christos Folias said on Thursday that the country's absorption rate for European Union funds under the Third Community Support Framework had increased by about 4.0% in the first half of 2005.
The absorption rate in June was 34.2% versus 30.34% on December 31, 2004, Folias told a news conference in the northern port city of Thessaloniki.
At the end of 2006, the percentage of contracted projects under the 3rd CSF would total 100% from 54.61% at present, the minister said.
 Analyst says Greece far from Lisbon target on jobs for women
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Greece has far to go before meeting an employment goal for women of 57% by 2005 and 60% by 2010 as set in the European Union's Lisbon agenda, Alpha Bank said in a market report released on Thursday.
A failure to achieve major progress towards the target would have indirect but major repercussions in the future on Greece's further economic alignment with other member countries of the European Union, the report said.
In addition, non-viability of the social insurance system would be intensified due to the size of the country's ageing population, it added.
 State-run telecom okays early retirement plan
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Athens-quoted Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) on Thursday approved an early retirement scheme forged by management and unions.
The plan, whose method of implementation was unanimously endorsed by the board, had caused a lasting rift between the two sides but a compromise was finally reached.
 Cardico in deal with UK's Cash & Carry
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Athens-quoted Cardico SA said on Thursday that it had made a contract with Cash & Carry Makro UK that would allow the Greek packaged nuts producer to penetrate the British market.
The agreement was forged after lengthy negotiations, Cardico said in a statement.
The company has secured quality assurance certification from BRC of the UK, it added.
 Investments approved under development law created 785 jobs, gov't says
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The government has approved 62 out of 249 investment schemes proposed under its new development law, which have created 785 new jobs that are mostly in the tourism sector, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos announced on Thursday in response to questions.
He said the government also expected more jobs to be created indirectly by the program.
 Stocks nose down with players shrugging off blue chips
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Stocks finished lower with players staying out of high capitalization paper but focusing on medium-sized shares, traders said.
The Athens general share index closed at 3,116.35 points, marking a decline of 0.23%. Turnover was 178.6 million euros.
The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalization shares ended 0.23% down; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks closed 1.00% higher; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 0.34% down.
Of stocks traded, declines led advances at 163 to 107 with 64 remaining unchanged.
 Triumphant welcome ends maiden run on new Thessaloniki-Istanbul train lineISTANBUL, 15/072005/ (ANA - A. Kourkoulas)
Inaugurating the new Thessaloniki-Istanbul train line, the inter-city train 'EXPRES ÖÉËÉA' (pronounced Express Filia, or "friendship express") rolled into a triumphant welcome at Istanbul's flag-bedecked Sirkeci station at 10:00 on Thursday morning, after completing its maiden run.
On board was Greece's Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis, who was met by Turkish Transport Minister Yildirim Binali, the head of the Turkish railway authority Suleyman Karaman, the local mayor, the Greek General Consul in Istanbul Alexis Alexandris, and dozens of TV news crews.
As the Greek minister and his entourage alighted, traditional dance groups from the Black Sea performed a spectacular and breath-taking dance with war knives.
"Today we are witnesses to a great historic moment, when a train linking Istanbul with Thessaloniki becomes a steady bridge of communication between our people," Liapis said in a brief speech to the welcoming committee.
"This line does not only symbolize the closer ties between Greece and Turkey but is also a first step in completing an ambitious transport and communication plans of the European Union. The doors of the European Union are opening for Turkey, also," Liapis stressed.
The Greek minister also noted that a new highway to Turkey was also due to be completed within the next two years.
He said that the new train line would signal a new spurt of economic growth for the region, bringing Europe and Turkey closer together and shortening the journey from Thessaloniki to Istanbul by three hours.
"This line is a line of friendship between our two countries and their people but also a commercial and tourist route that begins in the heart of the Thermaic Gulf (in Thessaloniki) to end up in the heart of the Bosporus," Liapis added.
After the welcoming ceremony, gifts were exchanged between the Liapis and Binali and between the head of the Greek Railway Organization (OSE) Constantinos Yiannakos and Karaman. The two ministers then went to dinner on board a ship sailing on the Bosporus.
 Transport minister meets with Turkish PM following inauguration of new Thessaloniki-Istanbul train line
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan agreed to establish a transportation link between Evros Prefecture and Turkey, during their meeting here on Thursday.
Erdogan, received Liapis, who was escorted by Turkish Transport Minister Yildirim Binali and a group of Greek MPs. Liapis and the Greek delegation were in Istanbul inaugurating the new Thessaloniki-Istanbul train line, which completed its maiden run at 10 am on Thursday.
Liapis briefed the Turkish premier on progress made in the transport sector and on future plans for strengthening infrastructure and cooperation.
The Greek minister also conveyed Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' sincere regards to Erdogan.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Liapis said that the meeting was sincere and useful and said he was satisfied with the progress achieved in Greek-Turkish relations.
 National Opera to mark Theodorakis' 80th year with performance of 'Canto General' as a ballet
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)The National Opera of Greece will mark the 80th year of Greece's "national composer" Mikis Theodorakis by staging a production of "Canto General" - one of his best known and most ambitious works - as a ballet at the Herod Atticus Odeon on July 21-22.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Theodorakis called "Canto General" his "most contemporary, political, advertising and national work", stressing its highly ecological message.
It will be conducted by Ilias Voudouris, who said it was the composer's "most important" work, while the choreography will be the work of Spain's Ray Barra.
Theodorakis also spoke about his relationship with the poet Pablo Neruda, who wrote the words to "Canto General" and stressed that he considered it a "joint creation" after their collaboration.
"As a deeply religious person, I believe in the law of cosmic harmony and my relationship with Neruda is a magic moment," he said.
He also revealed that he had composed the music at the request Chile's former president Salvador Allende, and considered it a commission from the socialist government of Chile.
Lead singers in the performance will once again be Maria Farandouri and Petros Pandis, while other parts will be sung by Sofia Mihailidou and Tassis Christoyiannopoulos.
Concert at Roman Forum in honor of Theodorakis this month: The municipality of Athens' cultural organization has scheduled an outdoor concert on July 25 at the Roman Forum archaeological site -- north of the Acropolis -- in honor of noted Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.
Composer Stavros Xarhakos will conduct the state orchestra for Greek music during the concert. The event is free for the public.
 Greek cities rank poorly in Eurobarometer survey on quality of living
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Athenians are the most dissatisfied with the air quality and quality of living in their city among 31 European cities, according to a special Eurobarometer survey released on Thursday.
Iraklio on the island of Crete, the other Greek city included in the survey, did not rank much better. It placed 21st in terms of air pollution and 26th in terms of residents' satisfaction with living conditions.
The great majority of Stockholm residents - 81% - said they were happy with the quality of living in their city.
Regarding job opportunities, the two cities fared better with Athens placing 16th and Iraklio placing 6th. Dublin placed first in this category, while Naples finished last.
In terms of finding housing at reasonable prices, Athenians were relatively pleased placing their city in 12th place, while Iraklio scored even higher placing 9th. Dubliners were the most pessimistic in this category.
Cleanliness was another weak spot for the two Greek cities, with only 5% of Athenians (21st) agreeing that their city was clean and 8% of residents in Iraklio (19th) agreeing as well.
Athenians feel much less safe in their city (Athens placed 30th), but Iraklio fared better filling the 9th slot. Munich was considered the safest, according to 72% of its residents.
In terms of public transportation, Athens and Iraklio were close, placing 17th and 18th, respectively.
Finally, in terms of foreign immigrants having adjusted to living in their cities, 15% of Athenians (18th) and 25% of Iraklio (2nd) residents said that immigrants had sufficiently adjusted.
 Armed robbers hit security van in Kifissia
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Two armed robbers waylaid a Wackenhut security van on Thursday when it stopped to restock an Omega Bank ATM in Kifissia with cash.
The two Wackenhut employees in the van testified that the guard carrying a bag of cash was held at gunpoint by a young man, who grabbed the money and ran to where his accomplice was waiting on a motorbike that quickly sped off.
Police have now mounted a search for the two robbers based on the description given by the security guard and driver.
 Drug arrests in Thessaloniki
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Two people have been arrested in Thessaloniki for possession of 42 kilos of hashish, local police said Thursday.
They said the two individuals, aged 49 and 39, were arrested after 22.91 kilos of the narcotic were found in their car, which was parked outside their apartment.
Police seized the hashish, as well as a cell phone and 1,320 euros also found in their possession/
The two detainees were due to appear before a public prosecutor.
 Seven-year-old found after spending night alone in the woods
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)A seven-year-old boy from Grevena was found wandering next to a field on Thursday after spending the night alone in the forest of Valia Kalda.
The seven-year-old had accompanied his mother and uncle to the area to herd cattle on Wednesday, when he wandered away and became lost in the forest. After some time had passed and he was still missing, his family returned to their village to enlist the aid of the authorities.
A search party made up of local police, firemen and villagers was set up, while the search ended early on Thursday morning when the boy was found walking along a dirt road between fields. He was taken to Grevena prefectural hospital for precautionary reasons, where doctors gave him a clean bill of health.
 Man arrested after box of bullets found in bank deposit box remanded in custody after making plea
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)A man arrested after a carton containing about 100 bullets was found in a bank deposit box was taken to a prison where he will remain in custody after making his plea before a magistrate on Thursday.
Panayiotis Aspiotis, 21, is reportedly a member of the "Order Disruption Units" group and was reportedly involved in the case of weapons stolen from riot police in Harilaou Trikoupi street in Athens earlier this year.
Aspiotis also reportedly rented the deposit box at a National Bank branch in the Athens district of Kypseli in which police found the carton of bullets.
Just as in the case of his two other fellow defendants, Karasarinis and Kalaitzidis, who were remanded in custody on Wednesday, Aspiotis is faced with charges based on the anti-terrorism law concerning creation and membership of a criminal organization, distinguished possession of weapons and procurement and possession of explosives.
 Occupational therapist with foreign degree entitled to practice in Greece, ECJ finds
BRUSSELS, 15/07/2005 (ANA/M.Spinthourakis)The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Thursday ruled in favor of Maria Aslanidou, a Greek citizen with a German degree in occupational therapy, which the Ministry of Health had refused to recognize.
The ministry had refused to allow Aslanidou to practice occupational therapy on the grounds that EU Directive 92/51 which requires a second general system for the recognition of professional education and training to supplement Directive 89/48/EEC, had not been transposed into Greek legislation at the time Aslanidou applied for authorization to pursue her profession.
In its judgment, the ECJ stated: "...where national measures transposing the directive are not adopted within the period prescribed in Article 17 of Directive 92/51, a national of a Member State may rely on Article 3(a) of that directive in order to obtain, in the host Member State, authorization to pursue a regulated profession such as that of occupational therapist. That possibility may not be made subject to recognition of the qualifications of the person concerned by the competent national authorities."
 French students meet with President Papoulias
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Twenty French students, who excelled in the subject of ancient Greek, visited President Karolos Papoulias on Thursday.
Having won a distinction from a total of 30,000 students studying ancient Greek in French schools, the group of 20 won a trip to Greece and chose to visit President Papoulias one day before their departure.
 President Papoulias delivers ceremonial swords to new air force officers
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)President Karolos Papoulias delivered ceremonial swords to new air force officers during a special ceremony held at the Dekelia air base at Tatoi on Thursday afternoon. President Papoulias was accompanied on his visit by the defense minister.
 Deputy Sports Minister George Orfanos leaves for Montreal to support Swimming Federation's bid to host 2009 World Swimming Championship
Athens, 15/07/2005 (ANA)Deputy Sports Minister George Orfanos left for Montreal, Canada, on Thursday to support the Swimming Federation's difficult bid to host the 2009 World Swimming Championship.
Orfanos will attend the draw taking place on Friday on the order of the candidate cities' presentation and on Saturday he will be present at the event concerning the presentation of Greece's candidacy.
"The experience we obtained from hosting the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games in 2004 on issues of hospitality, security and transport, and their absolutely successful holding, confirm our country's positive prospects for assuming difficult undertakings such as the 2009 World Swimming Champion-ship," the deputy sports minister said in a message he sent to FINA which was published in the relevant bulletin.
Orfanos further said "our invitation is open, to meet again in four years from today, in the capital of Greece, to celebrate together with the athletes and the members of the family of international swimming one more important international tournament, as the world championship is."
 President Papadopoulos ready to accept viable settlement
NICOSIA, 15/07/2005 (CNA/ANA)Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos stressed Thursday his readiness to say ''yes'' to a functional and viable solution of the Cyprus problem but to say ''no'' again to a tortuous and handicapped settlement of the question.
In a speech at the Presidential Palace during an event on the occasion of the 1974 military coup against the democratically elected President of Cyprus and the subsequent Turkish invasion of the island, President Papadopoulos said the solution plan proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan remained the basis of negotiations, and sent a message of unity for a successful outcome of the struggle of the people of Cyprus.
President Papadopoulos said the proposals of the Greek Cypriot side aim at achieving agreed changes to the Annan plan, so that the solution would permanently safeguard the legitimate interests of the people in a common united homeland, now an EU member state.
The military coup against the first President of the Republic, Archbishop Makarios, engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece, was followed five days later by the Turkish invasion, which resulted in the illegal occupation of the island's northern third and its de facto division.
Referring to the gap in the two sides' positions, President Papadopoulos said this unavoidably would continue to exist, as long as the aim of the Turkish side was to upgrade the puppet regime in the Turkish occupied areas and create two separate legal entities on the island.
''The solution of a bizonal, bicommunal federation is and remains an unchanged, unmoved and steadfast position for us. The Annan plan remains the basis for negotiations. This policy of ours has not changed. All the changes we discussed in recent talks with the UN were based on this plan,'' he said.
The president assured he would use all his strength in the struggle for a settlement. ''I am ready to say the big 'yes' to a functional and viable solution. However, I am ready to say the big 'no' again to a tortuous and handicapped settlement of our national question. If absolute justice under the circumstances is infeasible, this does not mean that fundamental justice cannot apply and be implemented in the case of Cyprus,'' he pointed out.
He added that no one was justified in saying they were not aware of the positions of the Greek Cypriot side. ''No one can prove and convince that these positions of ours are excessive, extreme, irrational or unreal,'' he said, noting that almost everyone on the island and abroad are finding it difficult to blame the Greek Cypriot community's ''no'' to the Annan plan in last year's referendum and acknowledge the need for changes to the plan.
President Papadopoulos pointed out that it was neither rational nor feasible to expect the Greek Cypriot side to make unacceptable concessions in order to bridge the gap between the two sides, thus adapting its reasonable pursuit to the unreasonable Turkish aims.
''The gap will remain as long as the Turkish side will not budge from its positions and insists on the many unjust and unjustified advantages the Annan plan has offered the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey, writing off the just and reasonable demands and concerns of the Greek Cypriot side,'' he added.
 Cypriot President wishes British courage to endure ordeal
NICOSIA, 15/07/2005 (CNA/ANA)Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has expressed his sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks in London, their relatives and the people of Britain and wished ''courage and strength to endure this ordeal.''
Speaking Thursday after the observance of two minutes of silence at the entrance of the Presidential Palace, in memory of the victims from the terrorist attacks, President Papadopoulos said ''we condemn with repugnance every kind of terrorist act, which virtually afflicts all the peoples' peace and human rights, all over the world.''
''The state and private sector and the whole people of the Republic of Cyprus have responded positively to the EU Troika's suggestion to observe two minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the last terrorist attack in England,'' the president added.
 State Department: US aid for Cyprus designed for reunification
NICOSIA, 15/07/2005 (CNA/ANA)A 10-million-dollar contract awarded to Bearing Point Incorporated through the USAID aimed to help develop Turkish Cypriots in occupied Cyprus is part of a 30.5-million-dollar US effort designed to create a climate that will lead to the island's reunification, State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey has said.
Commenting on press reports that Bearing Point, one of the world's largest business consulting and systems integration firms, had won a task order contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Casey said: ''Bearing-Point Incorporated is the recipient of a contract valued at approximately $10 million over three years, and that $10 million effort is part of a $30.5 million Cyprus partnership for economic growth assistance package designed to create a climate that will support the reunification of the island''.
Asked if the aid is for the Turkish Cypriots or for both parts of the island, Casey said that ''it's for both parts of the island''.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the island's northern third.