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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-03-17
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>March 17, 2006
 Greek economic prospects great, FinMin says
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, on Thursday was briefed by Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis over economic developments in the country and the EU.
Speaking to reporters, after the meeting, Alogoskoufis said he briefed the country's head of state over latest economic developments and in particular an approval by the European Commission of Greece's updated stability and growth program for the period 2005-2008 along with economic prospects in general. The Greek minister said the economy avoided a recession in 2005 after the Athens 2004 Olympic Games with the help of the right economic policy followed by the government, while he briefed the President that economic growth totaled 3.7 pct, unemployment fell below 10 pct of the workforce last year, while he predicted that the country's fiscal deficit would fall below 3.0 pct of GDP this year.
Alogoskoufis announced increases in supplementary pension payments for 2007 and lower tax factors for wage earners as part of a policy to support weaker incomes in the country.
He stressed that Greek economic prospects were great both within the borders and in the wider area, while he underlined that the government's main goal was to bring the fiscal deficit below 3.0 percent of GDP this year.
The Greek minister said Greece entered the Economic and Monetary Union at the wrong time and ill-prepared.
 Bakoyannis to meet Condoleezza Rice on March 23
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will be traveling to the United States on March 22 for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the following day in Washington.
Arrangements for the visit were finalized on Wednesday but the agenda for the talks between the two women has not yet been determined, foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said.
The spokesman did not rule out the possibility of a subsequent trip by Bakoyannis to New York for talks with the Greek community in the city.
Asked about the possibility of further contacts by the foreign minister, such as at the Pentagon or at the United Nations, Koumoutsakos replied that the details of the visit had not yet been fully worked out.
He also rejected links between Bakoyannis' visit and a decision by the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) on Wednesday to waive an option for the purchase of an additional 10 F-16 Block 52+ fighter planes from the U.S., available under a contract for the purchase of 30 planes of the same type.
Linking it exclusively with defense procurements would be to "wrong the substance of an important visit," the spokesman noted.
 Funeral for George Rallis held in Athens
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greece's entire political leadership gathered at the Athens 1st Cemetery on Thursday to bid a final farewell to former premier George Rallis, who died of heart failure on Wednesday at the age of 88.
The former premier was given a state funeral, with honors usually reserved for acting prime ministers.
Honor guards from all three branches of the Armed Forces paid tribute to the late politician as his remains, covered in a Greek flag, were carried from the small chapel in the cemetery to his final resting place at the Rallis family tomb.
The service was led by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, who announced that the wish of the departed was a modest and simple ceremony without funeral orations.
Among those who came to pay their respects and offer their condolences to the widow Lena Ralli and the family were Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, main opposition PASOK President George Papandreou, Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki, former presidents of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos and Christos Sartzetakis, former premiers Constantine Mitsotakis, Costas Simitis, Yiannis Grivas and Tzannis Tzannetakis, almost the entire cabinet and a host of politicians from all parties.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) party both sent representatives to the funeral, which was also attended by hundreds of ordinary citizens.
Among the hundreds of wreaths was one sent by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, who was represented at the funeral by his secretary K. Georgiou.
Parliament observes one minute's silence for Rallis: The Greek Parliament on Thursday observed one minute of silence in the memory of the late former premier George Rallis, who died on Wednesday at the age of 88.
"People in politics have lost a figure of honor and works," Parliament president Anna Psarouda-Benaki stressed and announced that Parliament will hold a political memorial service for George Rallis next Wednesday, attended by the prime minister and political party leaders.
Representatives of the political parties spoke about the former premier, referring to Rallis' political legacy and deeply democratic behavior in politics.
Rallis will be given a state funeral with the honors of a prime minister at the Athens 1st Cemetery on Thursday at 16:00.
Archbishop sends condolences to Rallis' family: Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, on Thursday sent a letter of condolence to Lena Rallis, the widow of former premier George Rallis who died on Wednesday of heart failure.
In the letter, the archbishop notes that Rallis was "an able politician and the scion of great political personalities, who offered much to the country with his dedication to the highest democratic values, his rich knowledge and the integrity, nobility and mildness of his character".
 Foreign ministry spokesman refers to comments on Kosovo by Albanian FM
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said on Thursday that Greek diplomacy sincerely hopes that recent statements by Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj, who reportedly said that "in the event of the partitioning of Kosovo Albania will not be in a position to guarantee the inviolability of its borders, both with Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)", have not been conveyed fully and word-for-word.
Koumoutsakos reiterated Greece's position favouring the strengthening of the prospects of the region's prosperity and stability.
"I believe that views that are similar to them (that the Albanian minister reportedly expressed) undermine the effort of the region's development. As regards the need for its steadfast course towards Europe, all of us without exception must help in this direction," the spokesman said.
Koumoutsakos also reiterated that respect for the inviolability of borders and the stability of the region is a basic and primary concern of Greek foreign policy.
 Foreign ministry on Ankara's refusal to allow Møller visit
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Ankara's refusal to allow a visit by the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Cyprus Michael Møller was greeted as a "confused lack of response" by foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos on Thursday.
The spokesman noted that it was up to the UN Secretary-General to decide the appointment of his partners and it was clear that there could be no "joint-management" in such issues.
 PM receives ND parliament group sec't
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday met with ruling New Democracy (ND) party's Parliament group secretary, Apostolos Stavrou, at his office.
Afterwards, Stavrou said upcoming legislative initiatives and tours of the provinces by groups of ND deputies were discussed. He also said work groups of ND deputies will be formed to focus on the issue of constitutional revision.
 PM meets with Piraeus Mayor Agrapidis
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday met with Piraeus Mayor Christos Agrapidis for talks focusing on issues related to the municipality, which includes Greece's largest commercial and passenger ports, as well as the latter's candidacy for another term as Piraeus' mayor.
One of the topics discussed, according to Agrapidis, is an extension of the metro network to Piraeus.
The meeting follows other contacts the premier recently had with both the mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki.
In a separate meeting, Karamanlis also received members of a committee representing the Stavros Niarchos Foundation regarding a proposal by the latter for Sparta's museum.
 Special Committee for crisis-handling at foreign ministry
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Greek foreign ministry on Thursday announced plans to set up a Special Committee to handle crises concerning consular and humanitarian issues, which will support the work of the ministry's Cryptography Service that operates on a 24-hour basis.
Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said the service will collaborate with other Greek services of the same type and its counterparts in the European Union, international organizations and third countries.
The Committee will be housed in a specially designed area within the ministry that includes a conference room, secretarial support, and computers and will have access to the foreign ministry communications system.
At the head of the Committee will be the ministry general secretary, with the head of the E3 directorate as second-in-command, while the other members will include the chief of the information department and the head of the already-existing Crisis Management Unit.
At their disposal will be a team of diplomatic staff and communications technicians, among others, while other ministry personnel will be made available if necessary.
 Government comments on Ericsson chief's testimony in Parliament
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Commenting on the testimony of Ericsson chief executive Bill Zikou in Parliament, alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros reiterated on Thursday that the government had handed all the evidence at its disposal over to justice and had fully informed the public.
The spokesman was asked to comment on an additional list of 30 numbers presented by Zikou to the Parliament's Institutions and Transparency Committee, which is investigating a phone-tapping scandal revealed by the government in February.
Antonaros also stressed that the government "is concerned about the surveillance of any phone", while pointing out that the government had first informed the public about the affair.
He also denied any link between the phone-tapping plot and the government's decision not to make use of an option for the purchase of 10 F-16 fighter planes.
"It was not a commitment and I see absolutely no displeasure from the American side," he said.
The phone-tapping affair erupted into the limelight in February, when the government revealed that some 100 mobile phones had been secretly under surveillance for over a year through rogue software embedded in the systems of Vodafone Hellas. The phones under surveillance included those of high-ranking government officials - including the prime minister - as well as the top ranks of the Greek police, armed forces and intelligence service.
 Main opposition accuses gov't of 'diversionary tactics' on phone-taps
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Main opposition PASOK Spokesman Nikos Athanassakis accused the government of employing 'diversionary tactics' regarding the phone-tap affair that came to light in February, in comments he made on Thursday.
He also accused the government of 'lies and political deception," citing comments made by ruling New Democracy's Parliamentary Group Secretary Apostolos Stavrou as one such example.
Referring to an article appearing in Thursday's newspaper "Ta Nea" regarding the monitoring of the phone belonging to the director of the National Intelligence Service (EYP), Athanassakis said three different scenarios had emerged.
He said that discrepancies continue to exist as to which phone numbers and whose phones were phone-tap targets.
He called on the government to explain whether "after an 11-month investigation it is either lying or completely incapable to discover evidence that should be found in minutes".
Athanassakis also questioned the accuracy of the list of phone numbers that has been released, noting that the list seems to be subject to continuous change.
 DM expresses intention for closer cooperation with Permanent Parliamentary Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis expressed his intention to have closer cooperation with the members of the Permanent Parliamentary National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee in talks with Committee members who visited the defense ministry on Thursday for a briefing on operational issues of the armed forces.
"Both my office and those of the deputy ministers and the general staff chiefs will be open to provide whatever information concerning defense issues," the minister told the members of the Committee.
Meimarakis clarified that the meeting does not replace his institutional obligation to go to Parliament to brief the Committee on whatever issue decided by its members.
He extended an invitation for the participation of members of relevant Parliamentary Committees in his official visits abroad.
Main opposition PASOK party Deputy Christos Papoutsis and Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Deputy Liana Kanelli said their briefing by National Defense General Staff officials was complete and substantive.
Meimarakis indicated that he will be visiting the United States at a time to be determined in cooperation with the U.S. ambassador to Athens to achieve better preparation for his visit.
 Avramopoulos on measures for the betterment of the health system
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis instructed Health and Social Solidarity Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos to recourse to a series of measures for the improvement of the the health system, the minister told reporters on Thursday.
In reference to the health ministry's new policy, Avramopoulos said that "the goal" is to offer better services to citizens and to "promote and take initiatives for the creation of modern and flexible welfare services."
The health minister, referring to the lack of personnel in state hospitals, said that the next hospital which will be backed will be that of "Attikon". He said that overall, hospitals will be staffed with a further 4,000 people.
Commenting on Avramopoulos's remarks, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in an announcement said that "they confirm that the government is continuing the policy of privatization and the joint venture of the public and private sector, a policy which had already started by PASOK and was continued by his predecessor Nikitas Kaklamanis."
 Roussopoulos makes address on government's two years in power
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Minister of State and government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, in an address at the Convention Centre of a downtown hotel in the northern city of Ioannina on Thursday night, said that "the adversaries of the new governance are only the problems and our work is the weapon. We are devoting our efforts to enable us to honor every chapter of our government program at the end of the four-year period."
The event was organized by the Ioannina branch of the Constantine Karamanlis Institute of Democracy, while the title of Roussopoulos' speech was "Two years of new governance - Challenges and prospects."
He outlined work accomplished by the government during the two years it has been in power, stressing that solutions were provided for longstanding major problems, which were a legacy of the past, with careful and well-prepared handling.
Roussopoulos also referred to the effective decrease in deficits and the public debt, the maintaining of high growth rates, the reduction of unemployment below 10 percent for the first time in years, the new development and tax law, the law on joint ventures between the public and private sectors, the new generation of privatizations and the better utilization of the 3rd Community Support Framework.
 European Parliament ratifies draft resolution on EU's enlargement strategy
STRASBOURG, 17/3/2006 (ANA-MPA)The European Parliament plenum on Thursday ratified a draft resolution on the European Union's strategy in relation to enlargement with 397 votes in favor, 95 against and 37 abstentions.
The resolution had been proposed by the Foreign Affairs Committee with a report by German Eurodeputy Elmar Brok. The report makes special reference to the European future of Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and of the western Balkans.
The report had received 33 amendments, two of which concerned article 43 that refers to FYROM.
The article calls on FYROM "to seek in a constructive and flexible way, together with Greece, a mutually acceptable solution to the still unsolved problem of the country's name. It is of the opinion (the European Parliament's) that the issue of the name of the Republic is not an obstacle for its further incorporation in Europe."
 Municipality union KEDKE meets transport minister, seeks dialogue
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)After a meeting with Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis on Thursday, the head of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) Paris Koukoulopoulos said that local government and the transport ministry will soon begin dialogue on the role that local authorities can play in transport and communications issues.
Koukoulopoulos said that KEDKE had raised three main issues during the meeting: subsidies for public transport in areas outside Athens so that municipalities had build up local transport systems for their residents; fines issued by local authorities for traffic code violations that were often not collected because municipalities did not have access to the files on vehicles; and giving local authorities power to regulate the installment of antennas, especially for mobile phone networks, which were currently out of control.
The minister made no statements after the meeting
 Israeli envoy casts early vote for March 28 election
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The first ballots in Israel's much-anticipated March 28 election were cast on Thursday, as Israeli ambassador to Athens Ram Aviram joined other Israeli diplomats around the world in commencing early voting.
According to reports, 28 parties will participate in the March 28 Israeli election.
 International Detente and Peace Committee calls for rally outside Serb consulate in Thessaloniki
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Thessaloniki branch of the Committee for International Detente and Peace (EDYETH) has called for a protest rally outside the consulate of Serbia-Montenegro in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, at 1 p.m. on Saturday March 18.
"The cold-blooded murder of the former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic by the staged, imperialist court of The Hague constitutes yet another link in the chain of imperialist crimes against the martyred people of the neighboring country," EDYETH said in an announcement on Thursday.
 FinMin urges for political, social dialogue on pension system
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Thursday urged for a debate in parliament and dialogue between social partners over the country's pension system.
The Greek minister, addressing an open seminar in Athens, unveiled the government's economic goals for the sustainability of finances, its central role in Southeastern Europe and the Balkans and raising workers' incomes.
Alogoskoufis said Greek workers' income was around 70 percent of the EU-15 average. "Efforts have been made lately to move closer to other member-states' rates but wages remain low," he added. He stressed that the need to achieve a wage convergence, based on healthier economic bases through higher productivity and improved competitiveness. "He gives much emphasis on the long-term reform of the economy and transformations must be made in the private sector as well. We cannot compete with other countries that base their economic growth to low labor costs. Instead, we must emphasize on innovation, product quality and large investments."
Alogoskoufis stressed that moves to support enterprises were often misunderstood. "What we do for enterprises are in the interest of natural persons, since enterprises are paying workers' wages," he noted.
The Greek minister predicted that economic growth rates in Southeastern Europe and the Balkans would remain high in the next years, and predicted that the region could become the next economic miracle of Europe in the next five-to-10 years.
Alogoskoufis said the government was promoting privatization to reduce its public debt while he added that other ways would be sought to deal with the problem. He noted that Greek banks had further room to cut their lending interest rates and predicted high growth rates for the Greek economy in the future.
 Deputy development minister holds talks with labor confederation leader
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanasiou met on Thursday with General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) President Christos Polyzogopoulos and the directorates of the employee unions of the Central Athens and Thessaloniki Markets and requested low prices and an effort at cooperation to strengthen the competitiveness of businesses.
The deputy minister told the employees' representatives that "the government respects the independence of the Competition Committee and does not interfere in its work. It has repeatedly expressed and proved this commitment."
Papathanasiou called once again on the two sides, merchants and employees, to sit at the negotiating table and find a mutually acceptable solution on loading and unloading invoices, which will aim at decreasing loading and unloading invoices for fruit and vegetables.
 SEB says 2.8 pct pay increase to workers "generous"
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Wage increases to workers cannot be higher than the government's incomes policy and pay rises offered in other European countries, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, the president of the Greek Industries Union, said on Thursday.
The Greek industrialist, speaking to reporters, did not exclude collective labor talks with GSEE -Greece's largest trade union umbrella- to end including quantitative and not percentage increases.
Kyriakopoulos said an offer for a 2.8 percent pay increase this year was generous and urged sector unions to begin talks with labor unions without expecting the results of collective labor negotiations. He also urged for a wage freeze in enterprises facing survival problems. A Union report showed that 30 percent of Greek enterprises -employing 53,000 workers- suffered losses, while another 37 percent of enterprises -employing 130,000 workers- showed a decline in sales.
Kyriakopoulos urged the adoption of a French model envisaging lay-offs without compensation for young workers.
Commenting on a pension system dialogue, Kyriakopoulos said a solution must be given the soonest possible and stressed it was logical to rise retirement ages.
Trade union accuses SEB of "attack against workers": The General Confederation of the Employees of Greece (GSEE) reacted to Kyriakopoulos' statements, accusing SEB of stepping up "its attack against workers" by helping to completely "bulldoze over labor, economic and pension rights of workers."
"One would expect, following yesterday's (Wednesday's) major strike that all responsible authorities, and particularly employers, would have realized that workers have reached their limits of tolerance and patience," GSEE said.
"Employees, the unemployed and pensioners who experience the high cost of living, unemployment and a deterioration of their standard of living have no other choice but to continue and intensify labor actions," GSEE concluded.
Social partners must respect collective agreements, main opposition says: Social partners' main obligation is to respect social dialogue and consequently the institution of collective labor agreements on all levels, Evangelos Venizelos, head of the Labor, Social Policy and Health division of main opposition PASOK's Political Council, said in response to SEB's statements.
"The first prerequisite for social partners' credibility, and in this case the represenatives of industry and major companies, is to accept and assume their own responsibilities, primarily in relation with private investment and the creation of new jobs, before they can state their opinions - even more so what they demand of employees," he said.
SYN calls Kyriakopoulos' statements "audacious": Panagiotis Lafazanis, member of the Political Secretariat of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) and responsible for the party's Economic and Social Policy, called Kyriakopoulos' statements "unprecedented in their audacity" and accused him of effectively proposing the elimination of practically all the labor and pension benefits workers have to date acquired and the promotion of a new "medieval era in the labor sector."
"Unfortunately, SEB's audacity is encouraged by the government's extreme anti-social policy but also by [PASOK President George] Mr. Papandreou's proposal that young employees be not insured for the first four years on the job, whose rationale SEB's president praised," Lafazanis added.
 PM confers with Development minister over energy issues
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday met with Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas and was briefed over developments in energy projects.
Speaking to reporters, after the meeting, Sioufas he briefed the PM over a meeting -scheduled for March 31 in Thessaloniki- of Energy ministers from the Balkans and discussed an EU initiative for a common energy policy. The Greek minister said he would announce soon a framework for a competitiveness program to fund small and very small enterprises with 504 million euros, of which 238 million were national and community funds. The program covers 1,652 enterprises.
Sioufas said he discussed with the Greek PM a project to set up three innovation centers in Xanthi, Ioannina and Patra and stressed that a new development law was progressing very satisfactorily with more than 1,500 programs submitted of which 800 have been approved with subsidies totaling 20 million euros.
 Interior Minister Pavlopoulos discusses new Civil Servants Code with ADEDY board
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Thursday evening met with the board of the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY), during which agreement was reached in almost all the points of the new Civil Servants Code.
Pavlopoulos, told reporters after the meeting, which was also attended by Deputy Interior Minister Apostolos Andreoulakos, that he was "particularly satisfied" with the talks.
Pavlopoulos stressed that many of the reforms which will appear in the new Civil Servants Code constitute proposals by ADEDY, while he expressed the conviction "that not only will it be ratified by Parliament, but it will also be long-standing, due to the consensus which existed between both sides."
The minister said that certain points of the Code will include reforms concerning the issue of the transfer of personnel from one prefecture to another or from one island to another and the training of personnel.
On his part, ADEDY President Spyros Papaspyros said that two issues remained pending, that of the operational councils, for which ADEDY wants them to be composed of seven and not five members, and the immediate implementation of the Code, as asked for by the trade unionists.
 Structural reform committee convenes for the first time
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Structural Reform Committee (EDIMET) convened for the first time on Thursday in the presence of Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis.
The Committee is meant to serve as advisor to the Finance Ministry and its proposals will focus on strengthening the Greek economy's competitiveness and facilitating investments.
Alogoskoufis called on the Committee to lift any counter-incentives which hinder investment and entrepreneurial growth and to help combat bureaucracy.
The Committee will be submitting proposals regarding the revision of the constitution and the debate over social security reform.
It will request the cooperation of all productive forces and political parties, while also taking into consideration suggestions submitted by individuals or groups representing a common cause or interest.
EDIMET's President is journalist and former eurodeputy Yiannis Marinos, while its members are: Thanassis Diamantopoulos, Professor at the Panteio University of Political and Economic Science; Lazaros Efraimoglou, entrepreneur and honorary president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Panos Kazakos, Professor at the University of Athens; and Platon Tinios, management consultant for Emporiki Bank.
While the Committee's role is to advise the finance ministry, the minister is not bound by the committee's suggestions.
 Greek unemployment fell to 9.7 pct in fourth quarter 2005
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greek unemployment fell to 9.7 pct in the fourth quarter of 2005 from 10.4 pct in the same period in 2004, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.
NSS, in its regular report, said the average unemployment rate in 2005 was 9.9 pct from 10.5 pct in 2004, with the number of unemployed people totaling 470,888 of which 39.7 pct was seeking a full-time job, while 86.2 pct said it was willing to work part-time job if necessary.
First-time unemployed totaled 40.7 pct, while long-term unemployment was 55.8 pct of total unemployment.
Young people, aged 15-29, recorded the highest unemployment rate, 19.1 pct, while the unemployment rate among women totaled 26.6 pct of the country's active population.
The Western Macedonia region recorded the highest unemployment rate among Greek regions, followed by the Eastern Macedonia and Thrace region (11.8 pct), Epirus (11.4 pct), Central Greece and Evia (11.5 pct).
On the other hand, the Ionian islands (7.8 pct) and Crete (8.0 pct) recorded the lowest unemployment rates.
The statistics service said the number of employed people in the fourth quarter of 2005 totaled 4,383,552, while the percentage of wage workers totaled 64 percent of employed people, down from an average 80 percent in the EU.
Labor minister satisfied with falling unemployment rate: Minister of Labor and Social Protection Savvas Tsitouridis expressed satisfaction on Thursday regarding a falling trend in the country's unemployment rate, following the release of relevant data by the National Statistical Service (ESYE).
He said that the government will continue its efforts to reduce unemployment by shaping policy in line with current needs, creating new jobs for the next generation.
 PASOK party official criticizes government on fiscal audit
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Main opposition PASOK party economy sector chief Vasso Papandreou on Thursday criticized the government on the fiscal audit "that was carried out for petty partisan reasons and led to the pilfering of the income of working people and of pensioners."
Papandreou said that the decision taken by Eurostat on the way of registering defense expenditures "revealed the political fraud of the ND government and vindicates the option of PASOK governments to register armaments expenditures on delivery of material".
She further said that the ND government, with the fiscal audit, "increased the deficits of the years of PASOK governments to confirm the pre-election references of the prime minister and the New Democracy party on deficits, extravagance and unreliable data regarding the economy".
Papandreou also criticized the ND government that with "the fiscal audit ploy it transferred the expenditures of all future deliveries, meaning from 2003 to 2010, amounting to 8,686 million euros, to the years of budgets managed by PASOK governments in evident violation of rules accepted by Eurostat".
Finance ministry replies to comments on economy by PASOK party officials: The finance ministry, replying to questions by the press on Thursday on statements made on the economy by main opposition PASOK party officials, said "this party has reached a political deadlock".
"It was deduced once again from today's press conference by officials of PASOK that the main opposition party's talk of dangers and destruction has nothing to do with reality. The officials of PASOK themselves admitted that throughout the past they were merely talking of dangers. This is the result of the political deadlock in which the main opposition party has found itself," the finance ministry said.
 Government on pay rises at OTE
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Thursday said the 1200 staff at the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) had been given pay rises, in response to reporters' questions.
Asked whether the state-controlled company was justified in handing out bonuses and pay rises when it had lost 25 per cent of the market, Antonaros pointed out that laws limiting spending by public utilities referred to companies in debt and OTE was not in debt.
He also noted that OTE had to operate in the same way as its private-sector rivals in order to do well, create jobs and benefit consumers.
 Greece's economic sentiment index improved in February
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greece's economic sentiment index rebounded further in February, a report by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), said on Thursday.
IOBE said the economic sentiment index rose to 94.5 in February, although the pace was slower compared with previous months, reflecting improved sentiment in business activity and despite a fall in consumer sentiment in the month.
The business expectations' index in the manufacturing sector rose to 103.2 in February, from 98.4 in February 2005, reflecting optimism over production prospects. Manufacturing companies expect higher production, sales and exports, although they sounded more cautious in employment.
The business expectations' index in the construction sector jumped to 94.9 points from 87.9 in January, reflecting more positive forecasts for business activities.
The business expectations' index in the retail sector improved further in February reflecting higher forecasts for sales and order over the next three months.
Finally, the index in the services sector worsened in February for the third consecutive month.
 Greek commercial property market to grow in 1st half 2006, report
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Enterprises will continue their search for cheaper office facilities, while the public sector will continue seeking new buildings to consolidate its services. These two trends will give new impetus to the Greek commercial real estate market in the first six months of 2006, a Kantor Consultants survey said on Thursday.
The report said that Greek-listed real estate developers suffered a marked decline in their turnover last year. Kantor said demand for commercial properties was largely unchanged last year with mortgage credit growth rising to 31.5 pct in the first 11 months of 2005, up from 27.2 pct in the corresponding period in 2004.
Demand for new offices in 2005 rose compared with previous year as enterprises sought better facilities and more capabilities, while public sector companies also sought to bring their services under one roof. The report said many enterprises were seeking for commercial real estate facilities in areas near the Attica Road avoiding the high lease prices of traditional areas such as Kifisias Avenue or Syggrou Avenue. Kantor said commercial rental prices were largely unchanged in 2005.
 Greece, Cyprus to send joint business delegations to Balkans, Black Sea, Mid-East
NICOSIA, 17/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)Greece and Cyprus will be sending joint business delegations to countries in the Balkan, Black Sea and Middle East regions, President of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) Drakoulis Fountoukakos announced during a conference in Nicosia on Thursday.
Manoussos Voloudakis, the Greek Development Ministry's Secretary General of Commerce, referred to accomplishments achieved in Greece in the commercial sector and stressed that there are signs of recovery of the Greek economy as indicated by increases in exports, an inflation rate that has been maintained at low levels and a reduction in the unemployment rate for the first time in many years.
He expressed certainty that Greece will achieve its goal regarding the further reduction of the public deficit and noted that one of the government's key priorities is to achieve growth and quality in all sectors.
Voloudakis also referred to related initiatives the government has undertaken so far, such as a new law aimed at improving the competitive environment and successful efforts to reduce bureaucratic procedures among others.
Also speaking at the conference, Cypriot Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism George Lillikas referred to the daring spirit of Greek and Cypriot entrepreneurs that always exceeded the small geographic size of their respective countries making them innovators in commerce, investments and the economy overall, not only within their own countries but in the broader region as well.
Lillikas expressed the state's support of the business community and called upon entrepreneurs to submit specific proposals so that the state can better help them in their entrepreneurial and investment plans for the Balkan, the Black Sea and Middle East regions.
 Greek farm import prices up 4.2 pct in Jan, yr/yr
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greece's composite farm import price index rose 4.2 percent in January compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.
NSS, in its report, said the composite farm export price index jumped 6.6 percent over the same period.
 Greece steps up its course towards the 'digital era'
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)A two-day conference focusing on the "digital era", jointly organized by the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Athens Bar Association, began in Athens on Thursday.
Speakers will analyze the challenges of the digital era from the aspect of "Electronic Democracy".
"It is henceforth clear that Greece, understanding now with complete clarity the role of technology, is attempting to win the lost time. This is the government's primary aim," Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization General Secretary Vassilis Andronopoulos told the conference, expounding on the projects which his ministry has begun untertaking.
This is the second conference organized Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Athens Bar Association.
 1st World Congress of Greek Gastronomy held in Athens
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (OPE) is aming at an increase in the export of more qualitative Greek products and within this context, the 1st World Congress of Greek Gastronomy and of the Greek Food, Wines and Beverages Industry was held at the Athens Concert Hall on Thursday.
The congress was held under the initiative of the National Economy and Finance Ministry and the OPE and aims at projecting the nutritional value of Greek gastronomic tradition.
Finance Ministry General Secretary George Mergos stressed the need for there to be "extroversion of the Greek economy to support competitiveness and productivity" aimed at further strengthening exports.
On his part, OPE managing director Panagiotis Drossos referred to the OPE's activity for the improvement of the position of Greek food and beverages in the international market. He said that in 2005 the food and beverages branch marked a 24 per cent increase in all the markets.
FinMin Alogoskoufis: National Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis addressed the 1st World Congress of Greek Gastronomy at the Athens Concert Hall on Thursday evening.
The minister noted that the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (OPE), which jointly organized the event with the Greek Food, Wines and Beverages Industry, in 2005 took part in 38 exhibitions compared to 18 in 2004.
Alogoskoufis added that Greek exports in 2005 increased by 13.1 per cent compared to 2004. In January 2006, the increase was 15.4 per cent compared to the corresponding month in 2005.
 3rd Greek Fashion Week kicks off
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou inaugurated the 3rd Greek Fashion Week in Athens on Thursday.
"Greek fashion exports exceed ¬ 2 billion yearly which is why the Greek fashion industry can and must become international and expand its activities based not only on price, but primarily on quality, innovation and design," Papathanassiou said.
He added that the ministry supports Greek Fashion Week "because in this way we help [the industry] towards a more comprehensive and more organized presence of Greek production at home and abroad," he added.
"This goal directly serves our philosophy and strategy for boosting competitiveness," the deputy minister noted.
"Greek Fashion Week can become an established institution that promotes competitiveness and can contribute to the Greek fashion industry's more dynamic entrance onto the international fashion scene. This will mean huge benefits for the Greek industry, both in terms of design and production, but also benefits for the Greek economy in general," he said.
Greek Fashion Week will run through March 19 at Zappeion Mansion.
 Attica hotels report improved occupancy rates in January
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Hotels in the wider Attica region reported improved occupancy rates in January 2006 compared with the same month last year.
A monthly report by the Attica Hoteliers' Association showed that five-star hotels reported a 4.0 pct drop in occupancy rates in January to 38.30 pct from 40.03 pct in January 2005, four-star hotels reported a 22.0 pct jump to 35.20 pct, three-star hotels a 16.7 pct rise to 32.34 pct and two-star hotels a 3.0 pct increase to 25.41 pct.
The Association said that Attica hotels' performance in the period November 2005-January 2006 improved but still lagged behind occupancy rates in 2003 and 2004, while their ARR (average room rate) was below 100 euros, the lowest in Europe.
The Association sounded a worrying note over the future of tourism development citing "uncertainties in creating a Metropolitan Conference Center in Attica".
 Central Macedonia receives 'Region of the Future' award by FDI magazine
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Central Macedonia was awarded for the two-year-period 2006-2007 as the southeastern Europe "Region of the Future" by "Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)" magazine of the Financial Times group.
The announcement was made on Thursday by the Hellenic Investments Centre (ELKE) which participates in the relevant competition each time with a Greek region or city.
General Secretary of the Region of Central Macedonia, George Tsiortas, who received the award during a special event in Cannes, France, noted the investments potential which the region has to offer and underlined the possibility of the international projection of the Greekness of the name of Macedonia.
On his part, ELKE President Yiannis Anastassopoulos stated that the acclaim of Central Macedonia as the best southeastern European "Region of the Future" for the period 2006-2007 was of particular importance for Greece, because it is a region where it participates dynamically in the shaping of the country's Gross Domestic Product.
 Private TV station Alpha fined
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The National Radio and Television Council (ESR) on Thursday imposed two fines totaling 1,500,000 euros to the private television station Alpha in light of problems it ascertained from a legislative and economic inspection of the TV station.
ESR President Ioannis Laskaridis said a fine of one million euros was imposed to the station on grounds of "loans by a shareholder that exceeded the 5 per cent which the law allows, for the years, 2002, 2003 and 2004."
A further fine of 500,000 euros was imposed to Alpha station for a loan from DEMKO company of 28 million euros (71.96 per cent of the share capital) for the year 2004.
 Mobile phone cos. fined for violation of free competition laws
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission (EETT) on Thursday decided to fine Greece's three mobile phone operators for simultaneously increasing rates on SMS text messages last spring.
Each company has been fined ¬ 1 million for violating legislation aimed at protecting free competition.
None of the three companies - Cosmote, TIM Hellas, nor Vodafone Greece - issued a statement commenting on EETT's decision.
The companies' CEOs said they would first review the Commission's reasoning before making statements.
The EETT decision is not set in stone, as the mobile phone operators can appeal the case to administrative courts.
 Greek stocks jump 1.41 pct
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greek stocks jumped 1.41 pct on Thursday pushing the composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange above the 4,100 level. The index ended at 4,104,50 points with turnover an improved 315.7 million euros.
Sector indices ended higher, with the Industrial Products (3.76 pct), Raw Materials (3.71 pct), Technology (3.61 pct) and Utilities (2.66 pct) scoring the biggest percentage gains of the day. The Telecommunications index was the only one to end lower (-0.89 pct).
The Big Cap index rose 1.51 pct, the Mid Cap index jumped 2.05 pct and the Small Cap index soared 2.52 pct.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 241 to 44 with another 37 issues unchanged.
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank of Greece, DEH, OPAP, Piraeus Bank and OTE.
Derivatives Market Close: Intracom top in stock futures trade
Equity Index Futures:
Bond Market Close: Buyers outpace sellers
Foreign Exchange Rates: Friday
Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.216
 Floods in Evros continue to alarm
17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)Anxiety for residents near the Evros River in northern Greece continued on Thursday due to high water levels of the Evros river that continues to be above emergency levels.
It is estimated that more than 30,000 hectares have been flooded, while over 2,000 animals have drowned as a result of the floods.
Dozens of military rescue teams in cooperation with the fire brigade and the police have provided help to distressed residents in the area.
Attention is currently focused on south Evros where large volumes of water have started to arrive over recent days from the northern part of the prefecture.
To defuse the situation, the military carried out a contained explosion of a dam in order to facilitate the river's flow into the sea and to avoid flooding of the Poros residential community.
According to the latest measurements, the water level at Petalo (Ferres) stood at 6.56 meters, at Kipoi 4.90 meters and of Arda at 4.90 meters.
Local authorities say the situation continues to be critical but were reservedly optimistic that it will improve during the next few hours since the volume of water flowing down from neighboring Bulgaria has decreased.
Parts of the area's road network has been flooded and closed off by police, while all the Hellenic Railways Organization's (OSE) itineraries are being carried out by buses.
Finally, the communities of Psathades, Petrades and parts of Didymoteicho are experiencing water supply problems.
Anxiety peaks in Evros as more floodbanks give way: Those living near the shores of the Evros river in northern Greece passed another difficult night in the early hours of Thursday, as floodbanks gave way and released vast quantities of water that flooded several homes and turned roads into rivers.
Elderly residents in the village of Praggi in Didimoticho had to be evacuated as most homes in the village were flooded, while one man said that the villagers had not seen that much water since 1963.
Serious problems also occurred in Lavara, where 72 houses were flooded and had to be evacuated, with the residents now staying with relatives.
In many villages throughout the prefecture, people can only get about in boats as roads and fields are flooded.
Evros Prefect Nikolaos Zabounidis said that more than 30,000 hectares have been flooded in the area.
Water levels remain high at several points along the rivers on Thursday, well above alarm levels, since despite a reduction in the volume of water coming down from the Ardas river there are still large quantities of water coming from further upstream on the Evros river.
Alavanos visits flood-stricken areas: The head of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) party Alekos Alavanos paid a visit to the flood-stricken areas in the prefecture on Thursday, at the head of a delegation from his party.
Speaking to reporters, Alavanos noted that he had been in the area last year on March 15 for exactly the same reason.
"It's become something of an annual 'fair of shame' to come here for things that are predictable, for disasters that could have been dealt with and to declare our presence. I am ashamed because, at some point, what should come are infrastructure works against flooding and dams. At some point it must be demanded, especially from our northern neighbors, that they take measures not to overload the Evros river with waters from upstream," he stressed.
He also noted that there were considerable funds for cross-border programs with Turkey and Bulgaria that had not yet been spent.
At least one community in northern Evros prefecture was evacuated early Thursday morning due to rising floodwaters in the region from the overflowing Evros River and its tributaries, as several levees in the wider area ruptured.
The community was identified as the village of Praggi, in the Didymoticho district.
Authorities said some 30,000 hectares are under water in the extreme northeastern prefecture, which borders on Turkey and Bulgaria and through which the Evros (Maritsa) River flows.
Water heights, meanwhile, at several stations on the river continued to easily exceed emergency levels.
 U.S. Congress recognizes Greek Independence Day
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The U.S. Congress has resolved to designate March 25, 2006 as "Greek Independence Day: A National Day of Celebration of Greek and American Democracy".
The decision was made on March 13 "in recognition of the development by the ancient Greeks of the concept of democracy, in which the supreme power to govern was vested in the people," a U.S. Embassy announcement said.
Other reasons for the decision listed in the announcement were: the major role Greece played in protecting freedom and democracy in World War II; the current strategic partnership between the United States and Greece; the important contributions Greece has made to the global war on terrorism; the political stability and economic development Greece is fostering in the Balkans; the successful 2004 Olympics; and the ideals that have forged a close bond between these two nations and their peoples.
 Pontians term event in Berlin by Turkish nationalists as a 'vulgar insult'
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Pontian Federation of Greece in an announcement of Thursday termed the intention of Turkish nationalists to hold events in Berlin on March 18 in memory of Talaat Pasha, as a 'vulgar insult" against the memory of the 353,000 victims of the Genocide of Black Sea Greeks.
In its announcement, the federation said that Talaat Pasha "was a member of the 'Young Turks Triumvirate' who is guilty with planning and committing the Genocide against the Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire during the first decades of the 20th Century."
Pontian Federation of Greece President George Parcharidis said "this event constitutes a provocative projection and declaration of racist and nationalistic views on European soil," adding that he hoped that "democratic and sensitive Germany will not tolerate the racism of the 'Grey Wolves' on its soil."
 Two Turkish immigrant smugglers given prison terms
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)A court on Thursday sentenced two Turks arrested for carrying illegal immigrants to islands in the Dodecannese, several months ago, to prison terms of 10 and 8 years respectively.
A prison sentence of 10 years and 3 months, together with a fine for 50,000 euros, was imposed on Turkish national Onen Tarkan, while his two co-defendants Coskun Mehmet-Levent and Durder Reyhan, were sentenced to a seven-month prison term with a three-year suspension.
According to the charge filed against them, on July 28, 2005, the Turks were spotted in the sea region of the islet of Syrna, near Astypalea, as they were carrying 41 illegal immigrants in a 12-metre sailing boat that was heading from Marmaris in Turkey to Greece. Each illegal immigrant had to pay 2,000 euros for being transported.
A Dodecannese criminal court also sentenced Turkish national Gundogan Turgut Reis to 8 years in prison and fined him 30,000 euros on Thursday for carrying 26 foreigners to Greece.
The Turk was spotted last August 2.5 nautical miles southeast of Agathonissi as he was carrying the foreigners in his 8.9-metre wooden boat.
 Soccer: World Cup trophy to be in Greece from April 5-8
ATHENS, 17/3/2006 (ANA/MPA)The World Cup trophy will be in Greece between April 5-8 in the framework of its world tour, organized by the International Soccer Confederation in cooperation with Coca-Cola.
The trophy will be on display at the Athens Olympic Stadium's indoor basketball hall throughout the day on April 7 to give visitors the opportunity of seeing it and taking photos with it.
The tour began in January and will be completed in April and will be displayed in 31 cities in 29 countries from all continents. As regards Europe, the trophy will be arriving in Paris on March 19 and will be taken to six cities, including Athens, while it has passed from 21 cities so far in Africa and America and is now in Asia.
The World Soccer Cup will be taking place in Germany from June 9 to July 9 this year, with the participation of 32 countries that have qualified for this event.
 Finnish Premier: Turkey must fulfill all EU criteria before accession
NICOSIA, 17/3/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)Turkey, like any other European Union candidate countries, must fulfill all necessary criteria in order to be able to become a full EU member state, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen stressed here on Thursday.
Vanhanen, the first Finnish Prime Minister to pay an official visit to Cyprus, held Thursday official talks with President of the Republic of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos and was earlier received by President of the House of Representatives Demetris Christofias. He also met with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Nicos Anastasiades, President of the main opposition party Democratic Rally (DISY).
The prime minister of Finland also visited the headquarters of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, (UNFICYP) and met with Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Chief of Mission, Michael Moller.
"Turkey is an applicant country. We have started serious negotiations with Turkey. It can become a new member of the EU if and when it can fulfill all criteria, which are needed before the membership. These criteria are the same to all other applicant countries", Finnish premier said during statements with President Papadopoulos.
The Cypriot president expressed his gratitude for the constructive attitude of Finland regarding the Cyprus problem and the decoupling of the EU regulations for the Turkish Cypriots.
"We are grateful for the constructive attitude of Finland regarding the Cyprus problem and issues which concern the Republic of Cyprus. I feel the need to thank publicly Mr. Vanhanen for the extremely helpful attitude of the Finnish government in our efforts in the EU for breaking the impasse regarding the EU regulations for Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots, which resulted in the agreement of the 25 member states, on 27th of February, 2006", President Papadopoulos stressed.
He added that among the issues discussed were the Cyprus problem, the excellent bilateral relations, the program of the Finnish EU presidency which begins in July 2006, as well as the Constitutional Treaty, the Lisbon Strategy, the Future of Europe, the situation in the Western Balkans and the Middle East.
President Papadopoulos also thanked Finland for its contribution in manpower to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, "at very difficult times for the people of Cyprus."
He also reminded that the first UN mediator for Cyprus, Sakari Tuomioja, was Finnish, whilst UNFICYP Commander was late General Martola, who was also Finnish.
"Cyprus, being the eastern border of the EU, and Finland being the northern one, can make their own contribution in the process of European integration, each utilizing its geographic position and its experiences with its neighbors", he added.
The Cypriot president said he was also grateful to Finland because "many thousands of its citizens choose to visit Cyprus every year for their vacations, thus contributing to the better understanding between our peoples and to the enforcement of our economic relations".
Finnish Prime Minister was due to depart from Cyprus on Thursday night.
 EP calls on Turkey to remove all restrictions affecting Cyprus
STRASBOURG 17/3/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)The European Parliament has called on Turkey to fulfill its obligations deriving from the Customs Union Agreement and to implement the priorities in the Accession Partnership.
With 397 votes in favor, 95 against and 37 abstentions, the European Parliament plenary has adopted a report of Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman Elmar Brok as regards the EU enlargement, expressing regret for the unilateral Declaration made by Turkey on the occasion of the signature of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement and reminding Turkey ''that recognition of all Member States is a necessary component of the accession process".
It also calls on the Turkish authorities Õto fully implement the provisions stemming from the Customs Union Agreement and the priorities in the Accession Partnership and to remove without delay all restrictions on the free movement of goods affecting, inter alia, vessels flying the flag of the Republic of Cyprus or ships approaching Turkish ports from harbors in the Republic of Cyprus, or Cypriot aircraft".
Furthermore it calls on the Turkish government to state clearly that the Declaration is not part of the ratification process in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, thereby enabling the European Parliament to ratify the Additional Protocol.