|Monday, 24 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-03-03
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>March 3, 2006
 FM meets with Serbian leaders during Balkan tour
BELGRADE, 03/03/2006 (ANA-MPA/F.Karaviti)Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis met with Serbian President Boris Tandic and her counterpart Vuk Draskovic in Belgrade on Thursday, the second stop on her Balkan tour.
During their meeting, Tandic expressed his country's willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia.
Regarding Kosovo, he reiterated Serbia's opposition to the region's fragmentation. Instead, Serbia is in favor of preserving the territorial integrity, protecting the rights of the Serbian minority and Serbian monuments, he said.
Tandic also commented on the newly-elected President of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, former leader of UCK, saying that while there is no reason to have so many generals in politics, nonetheless Serbia does not judge Albania's choices and is willing to negotiate.
However, he did say that for negotiations to proceed Serbia wishes to negotiate directly with the Albanian side.
Referring to the upcoming referendum regarding the fate of Serbia-Montenegro, Tandic requested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) be present to ensure that the democratic process is followed and that all political forces will respect the outcome regardless what it is.
On her part, Bakoyannis expressed Greece's support for Serbia-Montenegro's EU prospects.
As for Kosovo, she said that Athens views it within the context of trying to maintain peace and security in the region.
She also stressed the need for a solution agreed upon by both sides, adding that "history has proven that imposed solutions are not viable."
Furthermore, Bakoyannis said she disagreed with the tight deadlines imposed for finding a solution and said that protection of minority rights should go without saying.
The Greek minister hailed the agreement for Montenegro's referendum stressing the need for the democratic process to be safeguarded and that it should be conducted under the EU's supervision so that the outcome is not disputed.
She also underscored the fact that Greece can contribute effectively to security and stability in the region.
During her meeting with Draskovic, Bakoyannis reiterated Greece's support for the country's EU aspirations, adding that an EU future means stability and economic prosperity for the peoples of the West Balkans.
On his part, Draskovic said that his country needs to work towards overcoming the obstacles as it tries to join the EU and reiterated the need for the legal rights of the Serbian minority in Kosovo to be safeguarded.
While in Belgrade, Bakoyannis also met with President of Serbia-Montenegro Svetozar Marovic and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
The Greek minister will be visiting Kosovo on Friday.
 Sarajevo visit
BELGRADE, 03/03/2006 (ANA-MPA/F. Karaviti)Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyiannis began a Balkan tour from Sarajevo on Thursday, saying that the situation in the Balkans and the European rapprochement of countries in the region is extremely important for Greece.
"It is not by chance that I chose that my first official bilateral contacts take place in the region," she said after meeting the Foreign Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina Mladen Ivanic, adding that many possibilities exist for widening bilateral economic cooperation.
Bakoyiannis also referred to the Greek programme for supporting Bosnia-Herzegovina, amounting to 35 million euros over the next two years.
Regarding the issue of visas, she said that unimpeded contact between students, academics and businessmen in the region is important.
Ivanic expressed his satisfaction over support offered to his country by Greece and spoke warmly about the decision taken by the European Council in Thessaloniki on the European course of the western Balkans.
"Greece has offered a great deal to Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the greatest contribution being the paving of the way to the European Union during the Greek Presidency," Ivanic said.
The two foreign ministers further spoke of prospects of developing economic cooperation and, referring to the economic forum to be organized in Sarajevo shortly with the participation of Greek businessmen, they expressed the hope that possibilities of new investments will be ascertained.
Later on, the foreign minister held successive meetings with the President of the Ministerial Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina Adnan Terzic and with the representative of the EU Cristian Schwarz-Schilling, while also visiting the building of "common institutions" which is being renovated with development aid funds of the Greek foreign ministry.
Replying to questions by the press on recent developments concerning the issue of Cyprus, Bakoyiannis spoke of "developments in which she discerns a positive prospect" and on the occasion she wished a speedy recovery for Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat regarding the state of his health.
 Gov't insists it told all as Kiesling article fires up phone-tap controversy
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The government on Thursday insisted that it had "revealed all" concerning the illegal phone-tap affair, in the face of press reports suggesting U.S. involvement and a cover-up on the part of the government.
"The Greek government said all it has to say about the phone-taps to justice and then made all the evidence at its disposal public," alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros stressed.
The spokesman was replying to questions about an article in the Greek daily "Eleftherotypia" - which in turn cited an article written by former U.S. diplomat John Brady Kiesling in the American political review "The Nation". According to Kiesling, the illegal phone-taps have all the hallmarks of a CIA operation, while he surmises that U.S. Ambassador to Greece Tom Miller was forced to go along with what was presented as a covert operation to prevent terrorism.
At another point, Kiesling also suggests that the Greek government knows who was responsible but is not anxious to trigger an open rift with Washington.
The government spokesman, on his part, said that there was no need for the Greek government to take a position concerning Kiesling's article, given that "the American diplomat in question was not an employee of the Greek government."
Kiesling was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Greece when he retired in 2003, in protest over the U.S. war on Iraq.
"The investigation is ongoing and is being carried out in depth," the spokesman noted in response to other questions.
"There is no doubt that the target of the phone taps was the prime minister and top members of the government. This is indisputable. And the government has done what is required by the Constitution, the laws and its duty," Antonaros stressed.
In early February, the Greek government had revealed that some 100 mobile phones, including those of the prime minister and five members of cabinet, as well as top echelons of the police and armed forces, had been illegally tapped for nearly a year before the surveillance was discovered and that a subsequent 11-month investigation had failed to trace the culprits responsible.
 PM meets education minister, EU court president
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis met Education Minister Marietta Yannakou on Thursday morning at 11:00 to discuss the full range of issues concerning her ministry.
After the meeting, Yannakou said the talks covered a series of legislative changes that will establish the National Council of Education, draft bills on university education and for vocational and professional training that had already been approved by the cabinet.
She said the government was seeking to replace current Technical Education Schools, which currently did not give those attending a chance to get into university, with a "technical and professional education along the lines of the best education systems in Europe, which give children alternative solutions."
Later on Thursday, Karamanlis met European Court of Justice President Vassilios Skouris, who briefed him on the work and issues he is handling for the EU court.
 Dep. foreign minister, UNAIDS director discuss fight against AIDS
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)In a meeting with UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Styliandis outlined the current situation concerning AIDS in Greece and discussed ways to improve cooperation against the disease in the Balkans, the Black Sea and sub-Saharan Africa.
Piot noted that the problem is worst in sub-Saharan Africa but the disease is also spreading rapidly in the Balkans and Black Sea - despite being at relatively low levels - due to poverty and illegal migration. He said this trend is most evident in Eastern Europe, especially Russia and the Ukraine.
The Greek side presented figures showing that incidents of AIDS had increased 25 per cent in 2005 relative to 2004.
Stylianidis also stressed that Greece has given ¬ 3.5 million to the global fight against AIDS in the past six years, while a further ¬ 600,000 is scheduled to be spent in 2006 that will be given via UNAIDS.
 Health minister, UNAIDS director discuss major problem of AIDS
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Health and Social Solidarity Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos met in Athens on Thursday with UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot who briefed the Greek minister on the programme of the United Nations for the combating of AIDS.
The health minister said that Greece, as also stated by Piot, merits distinction for the manner in which it is dealing with this great problem.
Avramopoulos presented Greece's policies and actions and noted that "health does not know any borders and constitutes one of the top priorities in the world's political agenda and requires political decisions so that these programmes be implemented and this disease be placed under control, which unfortunately continues to escalate menacingly throughout the planet."
Piot said that 2006 is a crucial year for AIDS, given that up to the present, 65 million people have been infected all over the world. The UNAIDS executive director added that "AIDS is developing into one of the greatest problems which humanity is facing today," noting that the virus "has rapidly spread to Eastern Europe," even though Africa is the continent which continues to be mostly affected.
 Alogoskoufis to attend Greece-UK investment conference in London
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce will host its 4th investment conference at a downtown London hotel on Friday, entitled "Greece - Your Strategic Partner in Southeast Europe: Investment Prospects & Business Opportunities".
The Greek delegation is headed by Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, while other top ministers at the conference expected to attend the conference are Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou and Deputy Foreign Minister Evripides Stylianidis.
Economic cooperation between Greece and the UK, the Greek economy's prospects, major works and investment opportunities in Greece and the wider region in the sectors of energy, transports and tourism are expected to dominate the conference's agenda.
The event will be held under the auspices of the British ambassador in Athens, Simon Gass.
 Papandreou renews attack: 'PM and government untrustworthy'
SITIA, 03/02/2006 (ANA)In a renewed attack against the government and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday, main opposition leader George Papandreou told a meeting of the Agricultural Cooperatives Union in Sitia, Crete that Karamanlis was "untrustworthy". Papandreou arrived on Crete on Wednesday for a two-day tour of the prefecture of Lasithi.
"We do not trust the prime minister and the government. We trust the people and with them we will govern," he said, asking those present to put their trust in main opposition PASOK when elections were next held.
Papandreou said that the prime minister had failed to make good on the many promises he made before the elections, while calling on him "to tell the truth so that we have transparency".
Turning to labor and economic issues, Papandreou praised the Sitia cooperatives for the strong export record and talked of the difficulties that exist in the global market.
"In the face of these difficulties, there are two approaches: One is that of joint services and cheap labor, which is the right wing approach that will destroy the country if it prevails, creating division and placing the burden on citizens. This is the logic followed by the government and Karamanlis. The second approach is investment in quality and value and creating products that will be competitive throughout the world," he said.
He warned that the battle would be hard and that support from the state was needed for it to have a good outcome.
Finally, Papandreou stressed the need to rejuvenate and renew farming cooperatives and their unions to make them stronger.
Before arriving in Sitia, PASOK's leader stopped at Makrygialos, where he talked with local residents and was briefed on the area's problems.
According to Papandreou, many of these problems were the result of the central government cutting back resources to local authorities and he stressed that PASOK would restore the original Kapodistrias plan for municipal government and extend it even further in Kapodistrias 2.
Criticizing the government's recent changes to the Kapodistrias plan, Papandreou underlined the need for strong municipalities and regional authorities in order to create necessary infrastructure.
 PASOK requests Parliament debate on gov't's economic policy
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Main opposition PASOK has requested an off-the-agenda debate at the political party leaders' level regarding the government's economy policy.
The request is included in a letter sent this week by PASOK president George Papandreou to Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki, in which the latter charges that the Greek economy's growth rate is slowing down, that national wealth is being "redistributed" in favor of the few to the detriment of the many, and that inflation is eating away at the incomes of wage-earners and pensioners.
Along those lines, he cited what he called a "dramatic increase" in banks' and big companies' profits.
Papandreou again criticized the government's high-profile reforms agenda, saying that such reforms "eliminate workers' rights and support lawlessness in the job market..."
 Main opposition PASOK highlights price hikes
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Price hikes for consumer goods in the first two months of 2006 had already wiped out the increases given in pay and pensions for this year, according to an announcement issued on Thursday by main opposition PASOK.
PASOK Parliamentary Group coordinator for production and trade Rodoula Zissi, and deputy coordinator Christos Papoutsis, accused the development ministry of "celebrating" when up to 4,000 products had increased in price since the start of the year and Greece was "top" for high prices in Europe.
Zissi and Papoutsis also accused the ministers of not having read a document issued by Greece's Economic and Social Committee, which notes that an increasing number of Greek households are struggling to keep pace with rising prices and that the convergence of prices with those in Europe was accelerating when levels of pay in Greece were actually diverging for the EU average.
 Ukraine's FM visits Ecumenical Patriarchate
ISTANBUL, 03/02/2006 (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)The crisis facing the Church of Ukraine was one of the main topics discussed between Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos during their meeting in Phanar on Thursday.
Tarasyuk thanked Vartholomeos for his efforts to bring unity within the Church of Ukraine and conveyed the personal greetings of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his gratitude.
On his part, Vartholomeos assured Tarasyuk that the Patriarchate will continue making efforts in this direction as is the Patriarchate's duty to do so.
"We will never stop praying and working towards this end," Vartholomeos said.
Finally, Tarasyuk delivered a letter to Vartholomeos congratulating him on his birthday and his efforts regarding human rights.
 DM receives ministry's Civil Employee Federation directorates
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis received the defense ministry's Civil Employee Federations' directorates on Thursday.
The meeting focused on issues concerning the reorganizing of the defense ministry that is already under way.
 Public order minister comments on change in Greek Police leadership
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said on Thursday that the time of the change in the leadership of the Greek Police (ELAS) was "great and blessed."
The minister said that between the worthy and with the hand on one's heart Anastasios Dimoschakis was chosen, "the man from the North", as he called him, to succeed George Angelakos.
Polydoras thanked outgoing Greek Police chief Angelakos for his character and the effort he showed in carrying out his duties.
The new Greek Police chief Dimoschakis said in his address that he is assuming his new duties with great emotion and with a high sense of responsibility.
Dimoschakis thanked the prime minister, the members of the Government Council of Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) and the public order minister in particular and promised to make every effort possible in carrying out his duties.
Angelakos said on his part that he found difficulty in describing his emotion and his feelings and wished every success to his successor, while also referring to the work of the Greek Police in the sectors of security, stability, development, crime and organizing planning during his period of office.
A similar spirit also prevailed during the handing over ceremony for the Fire Brigade, where Christos Smetis was succeeded by Andreas Kois.
 Voulgarakis visits Patra, Cultural Capital of Europe for 2006
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Culture Minister George Voulgarakis on Thursday visited Patra, in the Peloponnese, where he said that "2006 is a great bet for Patra, which it must win, under conditions of an extremely tight time constraint."
Patra is the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2006.
The culture minister said that "the hosting of a European institution of such a range in the time limits which had remained until today is a great feat."
Voulgarakis announced the participation of internationally renowned artists and the hosting in the city of the Southeast Europe Culture Ministers conference.
The minister said that taking part in the Cultural Capital of Europe events in Patra will be opera singer Dame Kiri de Kanawa, choreographer Sasha Waltz from Berlin, French actor Jean Louis Trintignant, who will come to Greece for the first time, and Italian artist Eros Ramazzotti who returns to Greece after many years to perform a unique concert at the Panpeloponnesian Stadium of Patra.
Voulgarakis said that the Southeast Europe Culture Ministers conference will take place in Patra from April 14-15.
Taking part in the conference will be Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Romania and Moldova as country-observer.
 New ND Secretary Zagoritis meets Parliament President
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The new Central Committee Secretary of the ruling New Democracy Party (ND), Lefteris Zagoritis, on Thursday visited Parliament President Anna Benaki-Psarouda in the context of his contacts with the state officials.
Zagoritis told the Parliament President:" I'm here in my new capacity so as to express my respect to your office as Parliament President and to you personally. You know how much I hold you in esteem. I would like to assure you that you will have our cooperation and our effort for the parliamentary dialogue to be on a good level. This is what is important, for the citizens, but also for the functioning of Parliament, which I believe you serve in an admirable way."
On her part, the Parliament President congratulated Zagoritis on his election in his new post as ND Secretary. "The parties are an institution of the republic, are based on the Constitution and they anyway determine the level of discussions in Parliament," she said.
 SYN demands explanations over phone-tap affair
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) President Alekos Alavanos on Thursday called on the government for 'an immediate explanation' after allegations were made by a former US diplomat official that the US government was involved in the affair.
The US diplomat, John Brady Kiesling who was stationed at the US embassy in Athens until 2003 when he retired, also alleges in his article, appearing in The Nation, that the Greek government knows who was involved in the phone-tapping.
Alavanos called on the government to disclose all evidence regarding the case and to implement measures necessary to 'clean up' the country's political landscape.
 Deputy FM Kassimis meets SAE President Athens
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis on Thursday received World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) President Andrew Athens.
According to a foreign ministry press release, the two men discussed issues concerning the operation of SAE and the forthcoming meeting of SAE's Presidium.
 Kassimis in Istanbul on Friday
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)New Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis will visit Istanbul on Friday, where he will be received by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
In the afternoon, Kassimis will tour a hospital and three schools operated by the ethnic Greek community in the Bosporus metropolis.
 Papoulias visits island of Psara
PSARA, 03/02/2006 (ANA)President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday arrived on the remote eastern Aegean island of Psara, following an invitation by local residents.
Following a wreath-laying ceremony at the island's War of Independence memorial, Papoulias referred to a need for abolishing what he called the "dividing lines" between the provinces and Athens.
The Greek president was also declared an honorary resident of the island.
 Labour confederation condemns firebomb attack on its building
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE), in an announcement on Thursday, condemned the attack carried out on its building with firebombs.
"We declare categorically that no force will terrorize us and daunt us and lead us to taking down the flag of our struggles to protect and safeguard the interests of working people," the announcement said.
The firebombs hurled by unidentified hooded assailants against the building housing the offices of GSEE drew condemnation from labor unionists who believe that it is a second attack on the labor union movement, following the recent assault against GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos, who had been attacked with stones and sticks while driving his car in downtown Athens.
"The responsible agencies of the state have great responsibilities because they allow a small group of 'known-unknown people' to terrorize citizens and to place life in direct danger, to destroy property and, in general, to threaten security and the functioning of institutions," it added.
Immediately after the attack on the building, ruling New Democracy party Central Committee Secretary Lefteris Zagoritis, accompanied by the party's Labor Union Secretary Costas Kollias, met with the confederation's directorate.
"We came here immediately after we heard of the attack. We are standing by working people, we honor the labor union movement and its representatives and we condemn any act of violence from wherever it may come. Such phenomena, these people who do such acts must be isolated from society as well. The citizen's security is our priority," Zagoritis said afterwards.
 Government, main opposition condemn attack on GSEE building
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Minister of State and Government Spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday evening condemned an attack earlier in the day against the building housing the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE).
"The government expressedly condemns the arson attack against the GSEE building. The relevant authorities are investigating the incident," Roussopoulos said.
Main opposition PASOK Spokesman Nikos Athanassakis, condemning the attack, said: "It is the second time in a short period of time that the trade union movement suffers a blow and during crucial circumstances for workers' rights...The government and the public order ministry have the obvious responsibility to shed light on the issue."
 Order issued for seizure of former investigating magistrate's home
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Magistrates responsible for probing the issue of illegal judicial activities issued an order on Thursday for the seizure of the home of former investigating magistrate Konstantina Bourboulia.
Bourboulia had left the country and went to France where she was arrested, while her extradition to Greece was decided earlier this week.
The order concerns the defendant's maisonette in the northern Athens suburb of Nea Erithrea.
The magistrates based the seizure order on the law concerning the legalization of revenues resulting from illegal activities, which allows the seizure of property belonging to defendants.
 Antonaros on state of the economy
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Thursday said that "the data of the execution of the budget in the first month of the current year show a real improvement compared to the first month of 2005."
He added that "the increase of revenues and the reduction of expenditures are in a good orbit."
Antonaros was responding to reporters' questions, due to the fact that a surplus was marked last month, whether the government was examining the possibility of exercising "a more popular policy."
The alternate government spokesman said that "in January 2006 there was a surplus of 844 million euros against a deficit of 436 million euros in the corresponding period of 2005."
He said that "this means that the regular revenues increased by 17.7 per cent against 2005 and the net revenues by 19.5 per cent, greatly surpassing the annual target."
 Gov't rejects talk of rampant consumer prices, unions disagree
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The government on Thursday rejected reports that consumer prices in Greece are exceptionally high.
"The extent of high prices in Greece is less than is often stated. Neither are there excessive differentials in the prices of products in Greece and Europe," Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said in a statement.
"Over the last 22 months, inflation has remained at almost the lowest levels of the last four years, despite the record impact of international fuel prices," Sioufas noted.
He cited data from three sources to back up his case:
In a separate statement, the General Confederation of Employees of Greece said that the statements by the economic and social committee confirmed the existence of high prices, and ensuing social and economic repercussions on the quality of life.
The country's largest trade union umbrella group complained of inflationary pressures that hurt people on low wages and pensions, along with the unemployed.
 ECB rise seen having impact on mortgages
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)A rise in European Central Bank rates of 25 basis points is to have an impact on Greek home borrowers whose loans are linked to the European level but bring little change to other categories of loan, domestic bankers said on Thursday.
The increase will nudge up ECB-linked mortgage rates by an equivalent figure, also raising floating rates on home loans if the hike is rolled down to consumers, the bankers said.
Later in the day, Athens-quoted ATEbank said it would not roll down the ECB hike to preferential loans for farmers.
 Opposition party blasts ECB rate rise
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology on Thursday criticized a rise in European Central Bank rates of 25 basis points.
"This new increase within three months of the ECB's base rate will bring an intolerable burden to borrowers in Greece, especially already overendebted Greek households," the party's economy spokesman, Panayiotis Lafazanis, said in a statement.
"Depositor and borrowers are the victims of tremendous robbery by the banks, which has become even more apparent today, at a time when there is a wide differential between very low deposit rates and extremely high loan rates," the statement said.
 Govt will not get involved in collective labor talks, FinMin says
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The government must not and cannot get involved in the issues of collective labor negotiations, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister stressed that a dialogue should proceed according to the law and noted that the existing legislation envisages the signing of sector labor agreements. "The government must not and cannot get involved in negotiations. It is not provided under the law," he said.
Commenting on press reports alleging that a denial by Greek bankers to begin talks with bank workers over a collective labor agreement was against the law, Alogoskoufis said it was a matter of the Greek justice. "We are not the justice, we are the government," he noted.
The Greek minister said that the government would proceed in a dialogue with political parties and all interested parties over the country's pension system.
 Interior minister addresses Greek Businessmen's Union
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, addressing the Greek Businessmen's Union on Thursday, referred to the government's reforming and legislative initiatives, which aim at strengthening entrepreneurship, competitiveness and productivity.
Regarding the sector for which the interior ministry is responsible, Pavlopoulos said that efforts are focusing, among other things, on combating bureaucracy and lifting administrative obstacles with a view to facilitating business activity and restoring transparency and good administration.
The minister also referred to the simplification and speeding up of administrative procedures to serve citizens and businesses, focusing on the promotion of new projects of the ministry's Electronic Governance, in the framework of revising the Operational Programme "Information Society."
Lastly, he mentioned the modernization of the National Printing Office and its contribution towards simplifying and accelerating procedures falling under its jurisdiction.
 Gov't likely to keep early retirement for women in state sector
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The government indicated on Thursday that it will retain a long-standing early retirement scheme for women in the public sector despite pressure from the European Union to scrap the arrangement.
"The (EU's) Commission can exert pressure over whatever issue, but each member state has its own planning and its own direction," the employment and social protection minister, Savvas Tsitouridis, told reporters.
"It is the government that determines its policy on the basis of Greece's social and economic priorities, of course within the framework of our membership of the European 'family'", Tsitouridis noted.
The minister was replying to a reporter's question.
 Govt unveils 210-mln-euro programme to support SMEs
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The Greek government on Thursday announced a programme, worth 210 million euros, to offer financial support to small- and medium-sized enterprises in the sectors of manufacturing and tourism.
The programme, to be covered by both national and community funds, will offer subsidies ranging from 43-50 percent to investment plans, with SMEs having to cover at least 25 percent of the money needed.
The announcement covers both old and new enterprises and all investment plans covering equipment supply, facilities' improvement and improving product quality.
Presenting the plan, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said the government's main priority was to support small- and medium-sized enterprises through subsidies, a new development law and a tax reform programme.
Under the programme, Greek banks will have full responsibility to evaluate, approve and handout money to SMEs, with the Greek state supervising the procedures.
Alogoskoufis said the new programme ensured speedier services to enterprises.
 Gov't presents draft bill to promote 'business parks'
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Greece's development ministry on Thursday offered to public debate a draft bill on developing "business parks" around the country.
The new bill will replace a law dating from 1997 on Industrial and Business Regions, legislation viewed by the government as rife with serious weaknesses and deficiencies as well as lacking a solid institutional framework. The bill also aims to attract new investment plans, expand interest by new agencies - particularly from the private sector -- to develop business parks, improve business infrastructure, reduce bureaucracy and restructure existing industrial groups.
The draft bill was sent to all relative ministries, regional and municipal authorities, chambers, the employers' federation SEB and other agencies.
The main points of the draft bill include:
- promoting a clear phrasing of modern trends,
- creation of a Business Park being considered an investment plan,
- simplifying procedures for approving and monitoring projects,
- simplifying procedures and licensing of enterprises,
- strengthening the management of Business Parks, and,
- promoting environmental surveys.
 Greece exports more olive oil products to Romania
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Greek exports of olive oil and olive products to Romania jumped 45 percent in the first 11 months of 2005, compared with the same period in the previous year, a sign of increasing demand for Greek olive oil products in the Balkan country.
Greek exports to Romania, in total, rose by only 5.3 percent over the same period.
An increase in living standards in Romania in the last two years has led to a change in Romanians' food habits, including more quality and health food. The food and beverage sector accounts for around 60 percent of domestic consumption in Romania.
Greece's External Trade Organization (OPE) is organizing a business visit to Romania, June 5-7, to promote Greek olive oil products.
 Presentation of Germany as a tourism destination
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The tourism year of 2005 for Germany closed with an increase of 11 per cent in overnight stays from abroad in December, it was stressed during a press conference in Athens on Thursday by the German Tourism Organization which presented Germany and Berlin as tourism destinations.
For the period between January to December 2005, the German Tourism Organization (DZT) registered more than 48 million overnight stays by international visitors, marking a six per cent increase over 2004.
From Greece, there was a significant increase by 7.9 per cent, with a total of about 400,000 overnight stays in German hotels and hostels.
 Arab-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Development organizing business mission to Lebanon
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The Arab-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Development is organizing a business mission to Lebanon (Beirut and Tripolis) between May 16-20, 2006.
The mission will give Greek businessmen participating the opportunity of communicating at personal level with counterparts of theirs in Lebanon and with representatives of commercial, industrial, tourist and investments companies to enable them to utilize all the opportunities offered by this country's market.
In past years, Lebanon's economy has been characterized by continuous reforms and efforts to stabilize the local market and achieve its gradual adjustment to free competition conditions.
Lebanon has signed agreements with the United States and the European Union. The Association Agreement signed between the two sides (European Union and Lebanon) gradually establishes a Free Trade Zone.
 Thessaloniki officials announce interest in hosting int'l powerboat race
THESSALONIKI, 03/02/2006 (ANA)International Offshore Team Association (IOTA) general secretary Marco Sala met with officials in the northern port city of Thessaloniki on Thursday after an invitation by the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) leadership, as the organization announced its interest in hosting a World Class 1 powerboat race off the city's seawall.
A meeting at the Macedonia-Thrace ministry included representatives of TIF, the ministry, the sports under-secretariat, the municipality, Thessaloniki prefecture, the port authority, the coastguard, the Greek Tourism National Organization (GNTO) and Helexpo, among others.
 Halkidiki farmers discuss their debts to the PPC with Sioufas
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Thursday met with representatives of farmers from Halkidiki, Macedonia, who expressed their grievances over their retroactive debts to the Public Power Corporation (PPC) in electricity consumption, beyond what was justified for agricultural use.
Triglia Mayor Filalithis Kapandrias told the ANA-MPA that Sioufas promised to study the farmers' proposals and would answer them.
From inspections which were made, it was ascertained that quite a number of farmers exceeded the electricity supply limits allowed to them at lower charges, even up to 80 times over.
Mayor Kapandrias said that the farmers did not know that limits existed. The farmers' proposal is for these limits to be redefined in cooperation with the Agricultural Development and Foods Ministry.
 Seamen's training bill voted in principle
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)A bill regarding seamen's training was voted in principle by Parliament on Thursday, albeit overshadowed by arguments over the recent civil mobilization of striking seamen.
The opposition parties accused the government and Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefalogiannis personally of "intransigence" and noted that one of the striking seamen's demands was the bill's withdrawal.
In response, Kefalogiannis said that a dialogue involving all relevant parties took place over an 18-month period and that the demands made by professors of merchant marine schools had been met.
Kefalogiannis said that the issue of the bill's withdrawal was added at the last minute by PNO, the seamen's union, "more so to give the impression that along with everything else training is also an issue."
As for concerns that the bill diminishes seamen's pension benefits, Kefalogiannis said that he approved a clarifying clause drafted by PNO's legal advisers.
 Central bank workers stage strike over suspensions
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Staff at the country's central bank stage a three-hour work stoppage on Thursday to protest against the suspension of two security officers for allowing protesting trade unionists into a management meeting.
The Bank of Greece's governor, Nikos Garganas, ordered the suspension after the two officers allowed leaders of the OTOE nationwide bank workers union into a general council meeting on Monday.
Trade unionists have asked Garganas to allow reinstatement of the two; and the government to discipline Garganas.
Another three-hour stoppage is scheduled for Friday, followed by a 24-hour strike on March 7.
The Bank of Greece later issued a statement saying that the two security officers had been transferred to other positions of equivalent status.
The transfer was ordered to avert a repetition of the event, the statement said.
 No agreement in power company pay talks
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Management and workers of Athens-quoted Public Power Corporation (PPC) failed to reach agreement on Thursday in the first round of talks on a collective labor agreement for 2006, including pay.
The GENOP-PPC said in a statement that the firm's managing director claimed to be unprepared for the talks and unaware of the union's demands.
The company's workers should be ready for strike action if needed, and join a nationwide strike on March 15 called by the General Confederation of Employees of Greece, the statement added.
 Linking gender equality to work opportunities 'big step', Tsoumani says
NEW YORK, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Linking gender equality to an increase in women's employment is 'a big step', Secretary General for Equality Evgenia Tsoumani said addressing the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York on Thursday.
Tsoumani provided an overview of the Greek government's National Strategic Plan for Equality for the 2007-2013 period, which focuses on regional development by boosting employment.
She stressed the need to transform women's entrepreneurship from a "need" to an "innovation."
"This can be achieved by increasing women's participation in research, technological development and innovation," she said.
Finally, Tsoumani also referred to the dialogue the General Secretariat has begun with employers' organizations in order to promote gender equality in the workplace both within the context of greater productivity and corporate social responsibility.
 Greek, Italian citizens awarded for achievements
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Greek and Italian citizens were awarded for their achievements and for their contribution to strengthening bilateral ties during a ceremony held at the Italian Ambassador's residence in Athens on Thursday.
The "Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta Italiana" awards (Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity) were given to recipients by Ambassador of Italy in Greece Gian Paolo Cavarai on behalf of Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
The following individuals, from the fields of politics, economics, culture and media, were awarded:
§ð Charalampos Aidonopoulos, Vice Mayor of Thessaloniki, charged for Cultural Affairs.
§ð Giovanni Albino, Secretary of the Italian-Greek friendship Association of Volos.
§ð Sergio Coggiola, journalist, Director and Editor of the Italian newspaper Eureka in Athens.
§ð Italo Coscione, CEO of Impregilo Grecia .
§ð Ennia Daniela Dall Ora, Director of Italian Nursery School Il Mulino Magico .
§ð Antonio Ferrari, Journalist, Correspondent of the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera for Greece and the Near East.
§ð Andreas Giakoumakatos, Professor of Architecture at the Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki.
§ð Panayiota Kapatou, Professor of Italian.
§ð Andreas Karavolas, Mayor of Patra.
§ð Panayiotis Kastrissianakis, President of the Athens Comity of Dante Alighieri Society.
§ð Eugenio Ninios, Architect
§ð Maria Angela Rapacciuolo, Professor of Italian, and Honorary President of the Athens Comity of Dante Alighieri Society.
§ð Massimo Romagnoli, Member of the General Council of Italians Abroad (CGIE) for Greece, Spain, Turkey and Israel.
§ð Angelo Saracini, President the Comity of Italians Abroad (COMITES) in Greece.
§ð Nassos Vaghenas, literature critic, poet and translator.
§ð Charis Vlavianos, translator, poet and writer
§ð Panayiotis Vokotopoulos, Ordinary Professor of Byzantine Archaeology at the National University Kapodistrias of Athens.
§ð Georgios Voulgarakis, poet and lawyer
§ð Ioannis Zissimos, CEO of Edison Hellas .
 EU transport ministers ascertain improvement of road safety
BREGENZ, 03/02/2006 (ANA)European Union Transport and Communications ministers held an Informal Council in Bregenz, Austria, on Thursday and ascertained that road safety in the European Union is improving at a more rapid rate than in the past, while examining the course of the target set for a 50 percent decrease in the number of road accidents by the year 2010.
According to the intermediate report presented at the Council, over the past five years, meaning between 2001-2005, a 17.5 percent decrease in road accident victims has been registered. Despite this, however, it was stressed at the Council that there is ground for further improvement.
The EU transport ministers decided to organize a common European informative campaign on road safety, due to begin in the first half of 2007 at all national networks of EU member-states.
Addressing the Council, Transport and Communications Minister Mihalis Liapis said that Greece has achieved considerable progress in the road safety sector, since a 27 percent decrease in road accident victims occurred over the 2001-2005 period, adding that the target is to increase this percentage to 50 percent by 2010.
The Greek minister also presented some of the measures implemented in the country in the framework of the national strategy on road safety, such as the new automated theoretical examination system for learners and automation for vehicles' technical checks.
 Church opposed to cremation, Archbishop says
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos on Thurs-day reiterated the Church's opposition to cremating the dead when they are of the Christian Orthodox faith commenting on parliament's ratification of a relevant amendment a day earlier.
The amendment allows cremation of the dead for the first time in Greece.
Christodoulos' comments came at the conclusion of the Holy Synod's meeting on Thursday.
The archbishop and the Holy Synod said that they are not, however, opposed to cremation of the dead belonging to other faiths.
 Komotini hospital proposes cross-border cooperation with Bulgarian facility
KOMOTINI, 03/02/2006 (ANA)The state hospital of Komotini, in northeastern Greece, has tabled a proposal for cross-border cooperation with a counterpart institution in southern Bulgaria with the goal of offering primary health care coverage to residents of the mountainous regions on
the eastern half of the Greek-Bulgarian border.
The proposal has already been submitted for funding via the EU's Interreg programme, hospital officials in Komotini said.
 Earthquake jolts Halkidiki
THESSALONIKI, 03/02/2006 (ANA)An earthquake measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale jolted the Halkidiki peninsula early Thursday, causing some concern among residents but no damage.
According to the Thessaloniki Aristetelion University's Geophysics Laboratory, the earthquake was recorded at 6:59 a.m., with its epicenter in the sea region 15 kilometers off the southern coast of Sithonia.
Aristotelion seismologist Manolis Skordilis told ANA-MPA that the earthquake was most likely an isolated event, in an area that was not highly seismic. "There are no indications that the area is in a period of increased seismic activity," he said.
The trembler was felt in the southern and central part of Halkidiki prefecture, and in the southeastern section of Thessaloniki prefecture.
 Arsonists torch bank in Peristeri
ATHENS, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Arsonists targeted a National Bank branch in the Peristeri district in the early hours of Thursday, causing extensive damage but no injuries.
Unidentified persons broke the glass front of the bank on the ground level, and set fire to the facility. The blaze, which broke out at 2:00 a.m., spread quickly, completely destroying the ground-floor of the bank and causing damage up to the third floor, before being extinguished by a strong team of firefighters, who fought the blaze for several hours before managing in placing it under control.
Apart from the destruction of the ground floor, the flames also caused damage to the first, second and third floors of the building that house bank offices.
Security police and the Fire Department were investigating the arson.
 Four injured in accident involving military minibus in Rodopi
RODOPI, 03/02/2006 (ANA)Four people were injured on Thursday, one of them seriously, when a military minibus veered off course and fell into a 100-metre ravine about 15 kilometers from Nea Santa in Rodopi, on the road to Derio in Evros.
All four passengers on the minibus sustained injuries, especially a military man who was thrown 15 meters away from the vehicle. Three of the passengers belonged to the military and one was civilian staff.
A rescue operation involving rescue workers, the fire brigade, the military and police had to be set up to bring up the injured man, since the location was very inaccessible.
All four passengers were taken to the Alexandroupolis University Hospital for first aid and treatment, while one was immediately sent home.
 Government: Meeting in Paris signified mobility on Cyprus talks
NICOSIA, 03/02/2006 (CNA/ANA)Deputy Government Spokesman and Undersecretary to the President Christodoulos Pashiardis, on Thursday said that the meeting between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Paris signifies an important development, which gives the Cyprus question a new mobility.
"The meeting in Paris was an important development. Now the Cyprus problem enters a course of mobility and discussions, and this is due to the initiative of the government of Cyprus", he stated.
Pashiardis noted though, that the Turkish side has to agree upon the decisions taken during the meeting in Paris between President Papadopoulos and Kofi Annan, so that the process can move forward through the work of the technical committees.
He added that the main objective is the solution of the Cyprus issue that would be found as soon as possible, stressing that priority should be given in reaching a functional and viable solution.
Answering questions, he clarified that the first step is to hold discussions on a non political level, in order to agree upon issues that would contribute to creating a good climate among both communities, and secondly, to co-examine other issues, which are liked to the solution of the Cyprus problem, and will need a political decision at a later stage.
Regarding the technical committees, he said that the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus will appoint their representatives who will work together with UN Special Representative to Cyprus Michael Moller, who will preside at the committees' meetings.
"The technical committees will begin examining and determining the issues for discussion. If necessary, they will also create other committees in order to invite experts on some other subjects", he concluded.
 UN official in Washington for Cyprus talks
WASHINGTON, 03/02/2006 (CNA/ANA)Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, has visited Washington 27-28 February, for contacts with State Department officials dealing with the Cyprus issue.
During his stay, Gambari also gave a lecture at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies, on the possibilities the UN has to deal peacefully with conflicts around the world.
Responding to a question on Cyprus, Gambari said the Secretary General is trying to ripen this issue because he met with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos again.
"There is a Turkish initiative on the table and he is just trying to keep momentum. He has asked me to come to Washington and talk to senior officials here as what to what we can do jointly to put pressure on the parties to move towards a negotiated peace", he said.
Gambari has also met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Mathew Bryza who intends to visit Cyprus.
 Cypriot MPs hold contacts in Libya
NICOSIA, 03/02/2006 (CNA/ANA)Cypriot MPs Eleni Theocharous and Stella Demetriou Mishiaouli, who are currently visiting Libya at the invitation of the General Popular Congress (GPC) of the country, noted during meetings the potential of Cyprus to become a bridge between the European Union and Libya regarding cooperation and funding programmes.
The two MPs, who arrived in Tripoli on February 28, also expressed Cyprus' gratitude for the steadfast position of principle and support by Libya to efforts to solve the Cyprus question and reunite the island.
Theocharous and Mishiaouli exchanged views with GPC minister for social affairs Arnal Safar on the role of women and expressed the will to further enhance relations in relevant sectors.
The Cypriot MPs noted that Cyprus has the potential to play the role of a bridge between the EU and Libya regarding cooperation and funding programmes concerning women and development, work, environment, education and other issues.
They also held talks with a group of women secretaries and members of the Libyan Popular Congress, during which they evaluated proposals for cooperation.