|Thursday, 22 October 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-03-30
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>March 30, 2006
 Prime Minister adamant over reforms policy; cites emphasis on regional development
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Regional development dominated an off-the-agenda Parliament debate on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis nevertheless emphasizing that his government's high-profile policy of reforms, particularly in the extended public sector, will continue unabated.
"Changes and reforms are continuing with society's backing in order to produce viable solutions that exploit our (country's) comparative advantages, so that we all, without exclusions and distinctions, enter the path leading to a new Greece," Karamanlis said from Parliament's podium.
In responding to a barrage of recent opposition and trade union criticism, especially following the tabling on Friday of a long-awaited amendment unifying and overhauling bank employees' pension funds, Karamanlis referred directly to a "paradox", as he said, that characterized the previous PASOK governments, namely, high growth rates but with accompanying increases in unemployment, budget deficits and the overall public debt.
"Deficits and debts aren't rolled back easily. Omissions leftover from 20 whole years aren't covered up easily in a short amount of time. Infrastructure isn't built in two or three years when it has been put off for a quarter of a century," Karamanlis told Parliament MPs at the beginning of his address.
Repeating his government's dominant economic mantra, Karamanlis stressed fiscal reform in tandem with the creation of a new developmental policy for the country.
"The (budget) deficit is being reduced, and by the end of the year, it will be at the EMU limit via the mildest means," he said.
In comparing what he called his government's performance with those of its PASOK predecessors, the prime minister cited an absorption rate of 40.6 percent of EU Regional Operational Programs' funding, up from 15.6 percent during the last PASOK government.
Karamanlis also noted of more than half of roughly 1,500 regional financing schemes submitted have been approved, with the emphasis on small-to-medium-sized manufacturing and tourism enterprises.
The prime minister said the government considered the development of a national town planning and zoning charter and special zoning areas for renewable forms of energy, tourism, industry as well as coastal and mountainous regions, as paramount.
Regarding the long-delayed but absolutely essential land registry project, Karamanlis said 80 bureaus operate around Greece at present, up from the 22 operating in 2004, "Let me just remind you that this project was once billed as the biggest national project. The result, however, is known to all. It was steered into an utter dead-end. It got bogged down in the illegalities of the 'PASOK system', and it cost up huge fines from the EU," Karamanlis said, concluding:
"Our goals are clear. They are achievable and they are mutual: Viable development everywhere; more jobs and a better quality of life in the provinces."
In a second address, and following opening remarks by main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, Karamanlis cited what he called "blinding lies competing only with the blinding eclipse of the sun occurring at present", a reference to a partial eclipse visible in much of the east Mediterranean country on Wednesday afternoon.
Moreover, Karamanlis dismissed continuing criticism of the government's decision to commence an audit of state finances in late 2004, a development that recorded substantially higher budget deficits than previously reported and that even led to a very Eurostat ruling this month on how defense expenditures should be calculated by EU member-states.
"In the past, arms purchases did not appear either on delivery or when the defense systems were paid off," the prime minister said, before pointing to a figure of eight billion euros worth of defense spending he said was hidden by the previous PASOK government under Costas Simitis.
"What would you have us do? Maybe record it (eight billion euros) on the 2004 budget so that the deficit surpasses the 10-percent mark and cause more (EU-mandated) fines and even harsher austerity? Is this what you (PASOK) want? Is this what you planned?" Karamanlis said in pointing his rhetorical questions towards the main opposition party.
Furthermore, he took umbrage with Papandreou's use of the term "fraud" for the audit, while continuing his line of rhetorical questions from Parliament's podium: "we're responsible for a fraud when you failed to list eight billion euros worth of defense spending and the debts of (state) hospitals?"
In his rejoinder, Karamanlis replied one by one to the criticism aired only moments earlier by Papandreou, the former foreign minister, from the same podium, beginning with a pre-election promise by the latter to allow for young people's employment without social security contributions -- a position skewered by the ruling ND party as similar to a controversial law being proposed by the current French government.
"Recently in Parliament you (Papandreou) told a grand lie, namely, that social security contributions would be paid by the state, whereas before the election in Lavrio (a town southeast of Athens) you had stated that your proposal would not burden parents, businesses, the state or the social security system..." Karamanlis said.
Regarding the unprecedented mobile phone tapping plot, the prime minister said the PASOK leader was using innuendo instead of arguments, "the rumors and information is being peddled by your party's cadres and mouthpieces.
"We are not tearing down whatever positive was done by PASOK, for which Mr. Papandreou is so proud. However, ask the PASOK president if he is proud of the grand theft of the Athens Stock Exchange (bourse bubble of 1999), for the high rates of joblessness, for the (hallway bed) cots and the poor state of the health care system, for the Lavrio proposal and (young people's) uninsured work, for the land registry scandal etc.?" the prime minister added.
 ND government interrupted development, PASOK leader tells Parl't
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The arrival of New Democracy's government under Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had interrupted Greece's development, especially outside the main cities, main opposition leader George Papandreou told Parliament on Wednesday.
Addressing MPs during an off-the-agenda debate on rural and regional development, PASOK's leader stressed that the only one "living his myth in Greece" - as per the slogan launched by the tourism ministry in its campaign to promote Greece as a tourist destination - was the prime minister himself, "in his hideout at Maximou (prime minister's offices)".
"You have cut three billion euros from public investments these two years, and in Thrace a program for anti-flooding works has been abandoned," Papandreou told the government in his speech after Karamanlis.
He also lashed the ruling party for failing to begin any new major public works in areas outside Athens and stopping programs begun under PASOK governments, while accusing the government of inducting projects completed with national funds into European programs and then using the money to "fill the holes created by your audit".
"You cannot hide any more. The voters that voted for you now realize that ND has a secret agenda," Papandreou added, challenging Karamanlis to head out to the countryside "if he dared" to tell voters what happened with the major public works ND had promised.
PASOK, on the other hand, has always sought a "fair redistribution" between the centre and the regions that would preserve Greece's population in the countryside, he added.
The main opposition leader once again criticized the government for its "audit of the economy", saying that Eurostat had vindicated the methods used by PASOK to record defense spending and that the excessive deficit procedure initiated for Greece might have been avoided.
He also accused the government of passing an amendment for the bank social insurance that "unjustifiably favored specific banking companies and opened the way for similar measures in other sectors."
Finally, PASOK's leader launched a stinging attack on the government over the illegal phone-tap scandal, especially recent revelations that the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) was also operating a phone surveillance system of its own.
"The questions remain and demand an answer. Responsibility for EYP lies with yourself and the appropriate minister - and so far, there have been no clear answers concerning the revelations in the news concerning EYP's actions," Papandreou stressed.
Papandreou's replies to PM's rejoinder
"You are the one who has proved himself a 'tourist' to the reality that Greek citizens experience," Papandreou said in reply to Karamanlis' rejoinder, in which PASOK's leader expressed his agreement with a call for "decentralization and sustainable development" made by the leader of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology party Alekos Alavanos and said the government was investing in "cheap labor".
He also slammed the government's policy for investments, saying that it had led to a ¬ 979 million reduction in foreign investments, and again blamed the government for the delays and lack of progress in major public works that had cost the jobs of 100,000 workers in the construction sector, while noting that the policy for agriculture had led to a reduction of farmer incomes, lower subsidies for tobacco and a failure of negotiations for sugar and sugar beet.
Replying to Karamanlis' reference to his proposals for youth employment at Lavrio before the 2004 elections, Papandreou stressed that his proposal had been "a position that helps the unemployed youth and is absolutely unrelated to the policies of either New Democracy or De Villepin of France," while he accused the prime minister of focusing on this because of its own lack of policies to deal with unemployment among young people.
Papandreou closed his rejoinder with another reference to the illegal phone-taps and the role of EYP, while rejecting the prime minister's reference to a law passed by former PASOK public order minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis as an ill-conceived attempt to pin the blame on PASOK.
"Under what policies and with what legal guarantees did EYP carry out phone-taps for two years using its own equipment? What law allowed phone surveillance without guarantees? What public prosecutor permits are there, for whom did they apply and where is the surveillance material now? Persuade us that the "refunding" of the state was not the refunding of the para-state," PASOK's leader challenged the premier.
 Opposition party leaders address Parliament on regional development
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Addressing Parliament during an off-the-agenda debate on rural and regional development on Wednesday, the leaders of Greece's smaller opposition parties stressed that the inequality between the centre and the regions was continuing to widen inexorably.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga accused both main parties of having the same "anti-working-class" policies that favored the interests of capital, and stressed that she was not interested in the way that these were implemented but only that they be stopped.
"There cannot be any regional policy when it is anti-working-class. There might be some works that create a few jobs but these will be in galley conditions. In reality, it will be an accumulation of wealth for the few," she added.
The leader of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) Alekos Alavanos spoke of an "atmosphere of decline" in many regions and stressed that the phenomenon of regional inequality went beyond politicians and had become of global phenomenon of serious dimensions, depending on how each country was able to protect against it and decentralize.
In Greece, the problems were acute and responsibility was shared by all those who had handled the problem, he said.
As examples he quoted the case of Thessaloniki dairy company that was 'forward-dating' its products, or the complete inadequacy of policies to protect the residents of Evros from flooding.
"We are not even able to cope with a completely predictable natural disaster. All that is done are additions and patch-up jobs," he said, describing his experiences as he traveled down an Evros railway line in a boat.
Alavanos pointed out that 77 per cent of business profits in Greece were concentrated in Athens investments, and that there were no general or long-term policies or strategies.
 Finance, development ministers comment on PASOK party leader's address in Parliament
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Finance and Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas commented on the address made in Parliament by main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou on Wednesday.
Alogoskoufis said that in 2005 the development of the economy "was strengthened for the first time by the increase in exports - 20 percent of the increase in GDP was due to exports, while during the 1993-2003 decade this contribution was only 3.8 percent."
The finance minister added that "the rate of growth in 2005 was 3.7 percent in a much worse unfavorable European environment and with a huge increase in oil prices compared to PASOK's decade."
Alogoskoufis also pointed out that during the two-year governance by the New Democracy party 1 billion 210 million euros have been approved for investment plans, securing 4200 jobs.
On his part, Sioufas accused Papandreou of trying to achieve polarization and of resorting to practices of the '80s which, as he said, harm the country.
"We are continuing the program and the work approved by the Greek people on March 7, 2004, promoting changes and reforms which should have been done by the previous government with faster rates," Sioufas added.
 Deputy FM Evripidis Stylianidis visits Armenia
YEREVAN, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/N. Melissova)The political will to strengthen economic and trade relations and development cooperation between Greece and Armenia was confirmed here on Wednesday with the signing of a cooperation protocol by Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis and with the bilateral contacts the Greek deputy minister had with Armenia's political leadership.
The promotion of the two countries' bilateral relations is a commitment by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Armenian President Robert Kocharian, during the latter's visit to Athens in November 2005, Stylianidis said and termed Armenia a "strategic partner of Greece in the region of the Black Sea."
With the signing of the economic, industrial, technical and scientific cooperation protocol, the work of the fourth Joint Interministerial Committee, at which economic and development issues were examined and which was jointly chaired by Stylianidis and Armenian Agriculture Minister Davit Lokyan, came to an end.
After the signing of the document, Stylianidis expressed satisfaction over the new mobility and the positive reaction of the Armenian side to resolve "pending issues of the past", as he said, that concern Greek investments in Armenia.
The Greek side placed particular emphasis on development cooperation, stressing that Armenia constitutes a basic priority of its development policy. It is characteristic that during the 2001-2004 periods it has spent 9.5 million dollars for this purpose and in a "mutually beneficial" way, as the Greek deputy minister said.
The sectors of financing development projects in Armenia include agriculture, tourism, support for small and medium-size businesses and infrastructures.
The protocol also anticipates, in the framework of backing economic relations, cooperation in the energy sector, as well as the creation of better conditions to improve the investing climate.
Resolving existing pending issues with Greek companies will contribute to a climate of stability and reliability for increasing Greek investments.
"I want a positive response from the Armenian administration so that I can convey a strong message to the business community of my country to carry out new investments here," Stylianidis said and reminded that Greece is the top foreign investor with capital invested amounting to 450 million dollars.
The Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) and the Union of Producers and Businessmen of Armenia signed a cooperation memorandum in the framework of improving the business climate and drawing the business communities closer together.
Referring to political relations and the bilateral meetings he had on Wednesday with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan, Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian and Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosyan, Stylianidis said they were very constructive and that Greece is prepared to support Armenia with its European prospects, placing emphasis on the funding instruments provided for the country.
Athens will also support every initiative by Armenia to harmonize itself with the European framework and to utilize European funds for its development.
Stylianidis pointed out that this is the target of Greece's development aid for Armenia, to bring it closer to the European Union.
 PM to attend EPP Congress in Rome
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will be leaving for Rome in order to attend the European Peoples' Party (EPP) 17th Congress that will take place in the city on Thursday and Friday.
This year's congress coincides with the 30th anniversary since the EPP was founded and will vote for a new president, vice-president, general secretary and bursar.
More than 800 delegates from 68 parties are expected to attend, representing members, associate members and observers of the EPP from 35 European countries within and outside the EU.
Among them will be the prime ministers of 15 European countries - including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Greek Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Ruling New Democracy's delegation will be made up of 16 people apart from the premier, among them Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, ND Central Committee Secretary Lefteris Zagoritis and Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, as well as several MPs and party officials.
 Education minister in Washington for HAHC conference
WASHINGTON, 30/3/2006 (ANA/MPA - A. Ellis)Greece's National Education and Religious Affairs Minister Marietta Yiannakou arrived in Washington on Wednesday to attend the 5th Annual Conference on Greek-American Relations organised by the Hellenic-American Heritage Council (HAHC).
While in the U.S. capital, Yiannakou will also meet U.S. government officials, including a meeting a meeting later on Wednesday with Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobrianski.
The minister's agenda includes making a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on "Social Integration through Education: Immigrants in Greece", followed by a working dinners with the dean of Georgetown University Bob Galucci and Greek-American senator Paul Sarbanes.
On Thursday, Yiannakou is scheduled to meet the U.S. State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues Edward O' Donnell and be shown around the Holocaust Museum, after which she will be the main speaker at the HAHC conference.
Her visit to Washington will end on Friday with a visit to the Greek Studies Centre at Harvard University.
 'Washington Post' dedicates article to Greek FM Bakoyannis, Greece
WASHINGTON, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)The "Washington Post" on Wednesday dedicated its diplomatic column to Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, at the same time projecting the praise bestowed on Greece by U.S. President George W. Bush and to the Greek-American community.
The newspaper noted the remarks by President Bush that "every government that relies on the advise of a woman foreign minister is wise," a remark which was met with smiles and applause by those present at the special ceremony at the White House marking the anniversary of Greece's National Independence Day on March 25.
The article, which had as its headline:" Laurels for another woman Foreign Minister", hosted an interview with Bakoyannis, about whom it recalls that she was the Mayor of Athens when Greece hosted the 2004 Olympic Games. The article further noted that a few days ago she visited Washington for talks with U.S. officials who lavished her with praise.
The "Washington Post" also noted that President Bush thanked Greece for contributing troops to NATO's international force in Afghanistan, while Bakoyannis in her interview with the newspaper highlighted the cooperation which existed with the United States and with other countries for the safe hosting of the Olympic Games, which, however, as it was stressed, cost the Greek taxpayers 1.2 billion dollars.
 Greece-Turkey-US cross investing conference in NY
NEW YORK, 30/3/2006 (ANA)A half-day conference on cross investing in Greece, Turkey and the USA will be held in New York on Friday arranged by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of NY, the International Chamber of Commerce-Hellas, and Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK).
Partnership activities are rising between Turkey and Greece, and trade between the two countries has quadrupled in five years to total 1.75 billion USD annually, organizers said in a statement.
Today, Turkish companies are expanding in Greece and Greek companies are entering the Turkish market with the two sides partnering for opportunities in the region. The growth of the cross-border activity has reinforced U.S. investors interest in the region, the statement said.
Opening the conference will be Christos Folias, Greek Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance, Charles Ries, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Nabi ^ensoy, Turkey s Ambassador to the U.S., Ross Wilson, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, and Alexandros Mallias, Greek Ambassador to the U.S.
Speakers include Miranda Xafa, Alternate Executive Director, IMF, David Kotheimer, Regional President, HSBC Bank USA, Selim Egeli, Chairman, Turkish-Greek Business Council, DEIK, Nicolas A. Vernicos, President, International Chamber of Commerce -Hellas, Y1lmaz Argüden, Chairman, Turkish-US Business Council (TAIK), Nicolas Vernicos, President, International Chamber of Commerce -Hellas, Constantinos Antonopoulos, CEO, Intralot, and John Sitilides, Chairman, Woodrow Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project
 Israeli briefing over Tuesday election results
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Israeli diplomatic officials in Athens on Wednesday commented on the previous day's election results in Israel, where acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is now expected to receive a mandate early next week to form a coalition government following his newcomer Kadima party's more-or-less anticipated first-place showing.
While detailing the election results as well as the characteristics of each of the parties elected to the 120-seat Knesset -- particularly after the cataclysmic changes in the Israeli political scene over the past five months and the subsequent stroke and incapacitation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - Israeli officials nevertheless echoed the government's call for Europe to continue to pressure Hamas.
Moreover, Israeli ambassador Ram Aviram repeated his government's three conditions for beginning any contacts with the hard-line Hamas, namely, recognition of Israeli's right to exist; foreswearing violence and terrorism and recognition of previous agreements by past Palestinian negotiators.
Diplomatic sources nevertheless emphasized that Olmert, who took over for the still comatose Sharon, has not referred to any deadline or timetable regarding potential moves by the Hamas-led Palestinian side.
Regarding the actual election results, one important conclusion, according to diplomatic sources, is the fact that the biggest block of Israeli voters appears to favor a future disengagement with the Palestinians.
Israeli Ambassador Aviram pays courtesy call on Deputy FM Kassimis
Israel's Ambassador to Greece, Ram Aviram, on Wednesday evening paid a courtesy call on Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis, according to a foreign ministry press release.
 Greek economy's prospects, abilities and targets outlined in US by deputy FinMin Folias
WASHINGTON, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)Greece's deputy economy and finance minister Christos Folias outlined the abilities, prospects and challenges of the Greek economy and the targets for its growth set out by the Greek government in the framework of the European Union, the Balkans and the wider Mediterranean region, during an address at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
Folias said it was necessary to place emphasis on the energy sector, growth, efficiency, and better cooperation, opining that investments in the human potential, know-how and innovation were necessary to achieve this. Regarding the structural changes being implemented by the New Democracy government, Folias outlined the incentives provided under the country's new development law and the measures being taken to boost the competitiveness of the Greek economy.
The government's goal, he said, was to create an open, competitive economy, which would mobilize business enterprises in the direction of productivity, innovation and improvement of products.
Folias noted that the successful organization of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and indisputably highlighted Greece's ability to organize major international-scale events, while Greece's positive international image, combined with its modern infrastructures, created an auspicious environment for foreign investments.
Greece, he stressed, utilizing its geopolitical leading role in the wider region, was becoming a lever for the development of the Balkan countries and their accession to the European Union, advancing security, peace, and stability in the region. The deputy minister stressed that the networking of the region's energy sources was a fundamental component of that effort, as they promoted economic growth as well as political stability in the region.
Folias said that the Burgas-Alexandropoulis oil pipeline, the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, and the underwater Greek-Italian natural gas pipeline were three developing projects that would reform the region's energy map, and noted that the new economic sphere arising also included the countries of the Black Sea, the Balkans, and the Near and Middle East.
On Greek-US relations, Folias stressed the traditional friendship and cooperation between the two countries, and invited American entrepreneurs to visit Greece in order to get to know the country and to see for themselves the prospects the country offered.
Responding to questions from the floor, Folias stressed Greece's role as protagonist in the economic development of the Balkans, with private investments totaling 10 billion euros in the region's countries, the strategic plan for the re-emergence of Greek business activity in the Middle East, and the preparedness of Greek businessmen to undertake joint commercial and investment ventures with foreign investors in the wider region.
 Report highlights problems in Greek pension system
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Only 1.8 workers account for each pensioner in Greece, evidence of a significant problem facing the country's pension system, a report stated on Wednesday.
The report, compiled by the national union of social policy organizations' personnel, also said that the country's largest pension funds - accounting for 91 percent of insured individuals -- were facing financial problems.
The report also stated that the average monthly primary pension rate would total 588 euros this year, the average retirement pension 678 euros and the average farm pension rate would be 304 euros.
It also warned that 2007 could become a year of a "great exodus" from pension funds due to a prevailing climate of insecurity and uncertainty among workers, while social contribution evasion totaled 4.5 billion euros annually to the country's pension funds.
The report also urged the state to fulfill its financial obligation to the pension system and warned that a 20-30 percent annual growth rate in health spending, a worsening demographic, high unemployment among young people and a policy of low wages were further causes of concern.
The report said that real retirement age was very high in Greece, 63.9 years for men (the second highest in the EU) and 62.4 for women (the second highest after Denmark), and rejected talk of further raising retirement age in the country.
Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis said the government did not intend to cut pension pay or to raise retirement ages if it succeeded in combating contribution evasion, cutting health spending and restructuring pension funds. The Greek minister called all social partners to a dialogue over the pension system.
Christos Polyzogopoulos, president of GSEE -Greece's largest trade union umbrella- predicted a deadlock in current negotiations over a new collective labor agreement. "We are one step before a significant clash," he said
 Bank workers to decide on new protests
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Leaders of the OTOE bank workers' union are to decide on Thursday what action they will take in a rift with the government and management over social insurance and labor contracts for workers in the sector.
On Tuesday, staff staged a fresh 24-hour nationwide strike, which OTOE called a success.
The string of walkouts have been called to protest against a legislative amendment on a social insurance arrangement for staff at Athens-quoted Emporiki Bank, which OTOE wants to see rescinded along with measures in a government bill for all employees, the union said in a statement on Wednesday.
The government has also refused a request by unions to intervene in a move by managements of the country's largest banks to scrap collective bargaining, instead opting for individual negotiations in each bank.
Strike turnout has been markedly higher at Emporiki Bank and other state-run banks versus the private sector.
 Greece, Armenia to seek closer business cooperation
YEREVAN, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/N. Melissova)The Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) on Wednesday signed a cooperation agreement with the Union of Producers and Businessmen of Armenia as part of a strategy to expand cooperation with business groups in developing countries, particularly in the Black Sea region.
The agreement was signed in Yerevan, Armenia, during a visit there by Greek Foreign Deputy Minister Evripides Stylianidis within the context of a joint interministerial commission meeting between Greece and Armenia.
The deal will offer Greek enterprises information on investment opportunities in the Armenian market and help in forging partnerships with local enterprises.
SEB said Armenia was interested in joint ventures in the fields of farm industry, construction, infrastructure improvement, chemicals, minerals, information and electronics, pharmaceu-ticals, health care and tourism.
 Minister seeks swifter use of tourism property
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia on Wednesday asked the Tourism Development Company (ETA) TO speed up procedures for the exploitation of tourism property, including clearing up legal impediments.
Palli-Petralia, who met top management of ETA to hear a progress report on property for lease, also underlined the importance of transparency in the process.
In 2005, ETA reported earnings of eight million euros against losses of 13.5 million euros a year earlier.
 Development ministry to begin informative campaign on fruit and vegetables after Easter
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The development ministry will begin an informative campaign on fruit and vegetables after Easter with the purpose of promoting a healthy model of feeding titled "Five colors a day with fruit and vegetables - Recipe of life."
The campaign which has begun internationally, through the agency of the Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM), is already bearing fruit both in the European Union and worldwide and now it is taking the form of a rolling annual national program in Greece as well.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said that the effort taking place "concerns the health and lives of all of us, but it will also benefit production and the country's economy in general."
Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanasiou said that the cost of the program has been estimated at 1.5 million euros, which will be covered by resources of the development ministry, the Central Athens Market Organization, the Street Markets Organization, by ministries jointly involved and by sponsorships.
The framework of activities includes advertisements, informative events at schools, the holding of conferences, promotion activities in cooperation with the food industry, a foreign language informative brochure, the promotion of printed material containing recipes by well-known chefs and proposals by known people with the purpose of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.
 Greek household debt remains low vs eurozone
BRUSSELS, 30/3/2006(ANA-MPA/M Spinthourakis)Greek household debt remains low in comparison with other members of the eurozone, EU's monetary affairs commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
In addition, corporate borrowing appears to be used mainly to fund investment, raising economic output, Almunia noted.
He was replying to a question from Kostis Hatzidakis, a eurodeputy of the ruling New Democracy party, who was concerned about forecasts that household borrowing would rise to 52% of gross domestic product by 2010, and corporate borrowing to 49% of GDP.
Almunia acknowledged that household debt to banks had risen sharply in Greece, which he attributed to a rise in income, in turn stemming from an increase in GDP, coupled with a lower cost of borrowing after introduction of the euro.
In a separate statement, Hatzidakis urged restraint by consumers despite the statistics.
"A 30% rise in household borrowing over the last three years...should make us think," he added.
 PASOK party criticises coastal shipping fare deregulation
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The main opposition PASOK party, in an announcement by its development, competitiveness and consumer policy sector on Wednesday, said the "attempted deregulation of economy class fare deregulation in coastal shipping does not safeguard public interest and may lead to uncontrollable situations, the distortion of healthy competition and increases in ticket prices, creating problems for the economic and social life of islands."
PASOK criticized the government that "a few days before the beginning of the tourist season, suddenly and without the slightest preparation, it announced the deregulation of fares on Piraeus routes as well, with which at least 150,000 passengers a year travel and there are two companies on the same route, meaning all in essence, with the exception of routes subsidized by the state itself."
It also criticized it for proceeding with the abolition of the Independent Regulatory Sea Transport Authority, which had been created by PASOK's government, "resulting in shipping's oligopoly market not being supervised and controlled".
 ND's Papathanassiou and PASOK's Venizelos squabble over state of economy
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)A discussion on economic developments, organized by the magazine "Economic Review" in Athens on Wednesday, triggered off a political clash between the government and the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).
The government was represented by Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou and PASOK by Deputy Evangelos Venizelos.
The swelling of the public debt constituted the cause of intense differences between Papathanassiou and Venizelos, with the deputy development minister attributing responsibility for its excessive bulge to the PASOK governments, noting that "it doubled within a decade, reaching 167 billion euros in 2003."
Referring to the "mixture" which the government follows in its development policy, Papathanassiou underlined that "it aims at the substantial and gradual service of the increased needs of the citizens, business and society in general, with measures which may not be liked by many, however, they are necessary in order for the economy to take a step forward."
On his part, Venizelos said that "even with loans, the government is obliged to make a social policy," underlining that "the conservative approach in the specific sector is anti-competitive, anti-growth and is a dead end." The former PASOK minister, having noted "the weaknesses of Greece's economic system," added that the model for economic growth "should be characterized by a national, social and development alliance and be linked with the social state."
 Telecom chief wants to see rapid privatization
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Privatization of Athens-quoted Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE), should be completed as soon as possible, the company's chairman and managing director, Panayis Vourloumis, said on Wednesday.
The move would free the company from the rigidity it has suffered as a state-owned company and allow it to adapt to a new competitive environment stemming from deregulation in the sector, Vourloumis told a seminar arranged by OTE academy.
 Intracom Telecom gets projects in Poland, Moldova
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Intracom Telecom, a division of Athens-quoted Intracom Holdings SA, announced on Wednesday that it had won two projects in Poland and Moldova.
The projects are as follows:
 National Bank eyes expansion in Turkey, Serbia
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Athens-quoted National Bank of Greece is eyeing further expansion in Turkey and Serbia, management said on Wednesday.
Management told the capital market commission that it was formally stating its interest in expansion in the two countries, including selective acquisitions, in line with regulations and the practice of forging confidentiality agreements at a later stage in order to protect shareholders.
 PPC says net profits down 54 pct in 2005
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Public Power Corp. (PPC) on Wednesday reported a 54-percent drop in net profits to 135.7 million euros last year, with total revenues up 4.8 percent to 4.3 billion euros and investments at 739.2 million euros, down from 755.6 million euros in 2004.
The country's electricity utility attributed the decline in its net profits to higher oil and natural gas costs last year, up 59 pct and 64 pct, respectively, or 307.9 million euros.
PPC said revenues rose 4.8 pct to 4.291 billion euros due to an increase of power rates by 2.5 pct in November 2004 and a 3.2-pct rise in September 2005.
Pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) fell 24.9 pct to 906.8 million euros last year, reflecting a 12.6-million-euro cost for the purchase of CO2 emission rights for the first time in 2005.
PPC said its debt totaled 3.833 billion euros, up from 3.692 billion a year earlier. The board plans to pay a 0.50-euros per share dividend to its shareholders. A general shareholders' meeting is schedule for May 24.
The utility said it would implement a reviewed business plan aimed to restructure its operations, while its investment priorities focused on southeastern Europe.
PPC has hired a consultant to record and recommend a plan aimed to make a more efficient use of its real estate assets, worth 1.6 billion euros.
 Greek Producer Price Index jumped 8.9 pct in February, yr/yr
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Greece's Producers Price Composite Index (measuring both the domestic and foreign markets) jumped 8.9 percent in February compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Wednesday.
NSS, in its report said the February figure was more than double compared with a 4.1 pct increase in the February 2005-February 2004 period.
The 8.9 percent increase in the PPI in February 2006 reflected mainly a 9.5 pct rise in the domestic producer price index and a 7.2 pct increase in the foreign market index.
The oil refinery index soared 32 percent in February, the electric machine and appliance index jumped 35.3 pct and the food and beverage index rose 10.9 percent.
 Delta buys milk brand from Nestle
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Athens-quoted Delta Holdings S.A. said on Wednesday that it had signed an acquisition agreement for a brand of condensed milk (Vlahas) owned by Nestle Hellas, and Nestle Hellas' industrial operation in Plati, Imathia.
The acquisition is subject to approval from regulatory authorities, Delta said in a statement to the Athens bourse.
 J&P Avax signs 30-mln-euro project in Cyprus
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)J&P Avax, a Greek-listed construction group, on Wednesday announced the signing of a contract -worth 30 million euros- for the construction of a road project in Cyprus. The project must be completed in 22 months.
 Thessaloniki Prefect Psomiadis inaugurates FURNIDEC exhibition
THESSALONIKI, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Thessaloniki Prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis on Wednesday evening inaugurated the 28th international furniture exhibition FURNIDEC.
Psomiadis expressed the conviction that the significant effort being made by HELEXPO S.A. for the projection of its branch exhibitions abroad can operate in favour of the national economy and consequently, to the increase also of Greek exports.
On his part, HELEXPO S.A. President Aristotelis Thomopoulos said that the FURNIDEC international exhibition is further strengthening its commercial character and for this reason, during the first four days of its operation (March 29-April 1), it will be open only to professionals of the branch.
Taking part in this year's FURNIDEC are 250 Greek and foreign exhibitors. The 75 foreign exhibitors are from Italy, India, Pakistan, Czech Republic, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Egypt and Poland. In the official state participations are included Turkey with 41 companies and Italy with 28.
The exhibition will be open to the public on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets cost five euros.
 Glimpse of total solar eclipse in Greece
KASTELLORIZO, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The small southeastern Aegean island of Kastellorizo had the honor of being the only European Union territory that witnessed a total solar eclipse on Wednesday, as the rare celestial phenomenon stretched from eastern Brazil over the Atlantic to west and North Africa and then into the Middle East, Central Asia and to western China, only to vanish over Mongolia's horizon.
It was the first total eclipse visible anywhere from Greece after decades, as the remote island -- southeast of Rhodes and just across from the Turkish mainland -- attracted hundreds of visitors.
A partial glimpse of the eclipse was also visible elsewhere in Greece, with large crowds gathering in Athens' central Syntagma square to view a video-wall showing a live satellite feed from Kastellorizo, whereas dozens of local residents also headed up the Acropolis to view the phenomenon with special filtered glasses. The last two total solar eclipses in Greece were recorded in 1936 and 1870, whereas the next one is scheduled for far-off 2088.
 Central Municipalities and Communities Union to hold conference on Syros
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) will organize a conference on the "Problem of transport on islands, ways of handling it and the role of local administration" in the city of Ermoupolis on the island of Syros on April 14-15.
The proposal to be made at the conference is based on a special study carried out by a scientific committee of the Local Administration Institute (ITA).
KEDKE President Paris Koukoulopoulos said that the state must handle the problem with the criterion of "securing a guaranteed public interest service for every user, regardless of its geographical position and at an accessible price."
Koukoulopoulos added that the study entrusted with ITA "shows paths and proposes 'life routes' which we shall discuss analytically with all the interested parties and with all those involved in our conference on Syros."
The study, to be discussed at a special KEDKE board meeting on April 6, focuses, among other things, on the need to develop an integrated transport system with the possible coordination of different means as well.
 Event on spread of Greek language held at Greek Office in FYROM
SKOPJE, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/N. Frangopoulos)An event concerning the promotion and spread of the Greek language and of Greek culture was held at Greece's Consular, Trade and Economic Affairs Office in Monastiri (Bitola) on Tuesday.
The presence of guests was impressive and it was indicative of the great interest inhabitants of Monastiri have in the Greek language.
As part of the spirit of promoting Hellenism that prevailed during the event, the Greek Office highlighted acknowledged Greek products, spearheaded by Greek olive oil and olives, in a year proclaimed by the prime minister of Greece as "Olive oil and olives" year.
Greek products were offered during the guests' departure, as well as albums concerning the Aegean Sea.
 Anti-smoking campaign 'HELP - For a life without a cigarette'
BRUSSELS, 30/3/2006 (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)Citizens in Brussels on Wednesday had the opportunity to measure the level of carbon monoxide (CO) they have in their system as a result of smoking.
The citizens visited the pavilions within the context of the European anti-smoking campaign "HELP - For a life without a cigarette".
Every individual who visited the pavilions received a certificate with the results of the tests, along with advise regarding the dangers of passive smoking. Breathing tests were also given to EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou as well to many other Commissioners.
The "HELP" campaign, which will last until October, will tour all the countries of the European Union, according to a European Commission announcement.
Specifically, in Greece, the "HELP" pavilions will be found during the annual Student Festival in Athens from April 7-9, in Patra, Peloponnese from April 10-15 at the Women's Tennis Tournament, and on May 31, World Day Against Smoking, in Athens.
 Convicted felon Apostolos Vavylis to be extradited from Italy to Greece soon
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)The Italian Justice Ministry on Wednesday sent a document to the Greek Justice Ministry, with which its asks it to get in contact with Interpol for an agreement to be reached on the manner, place and time of the extradition from Italy of convicted felon Apostolos Vavylis.
The Italian document referred to the decision of the Court of Appeal of Venice which approved they transfer of Vavylis to Greece to serve the remainder of the sentence imposed on him by Italian Justice for drugs trafficking.
A string of charges have been brought against Vavylis, after a first-instance public prosecutor concluded a preliminary probe into the activities of the drug dealer and former aide of ousted former Jerusalem Patriarch Irineos, who also appeared to be at the centre of a Church scandal that erupted earlier in 2005.
The charges include repeated counts of violating state secrets, repeated counts of forgery, fraud, being an accomplice to fraud, repeated counts of embezzling objects of great value entrusted to him by the manager of foreign property, being an accomplice to embezzlement, stealing a false certificate, theft, harboring a criminal, libel, perjury and unprovoked verbal abuse.
The charges concern his activities in Greece, Israel and in Italy, while some also concern third parties involved in the case that will be called before an examining magistrate to provide explanations.
Vavylis, whose career includes stints as a police informant, a law enforcement equipment sales rep and even a monk, is currently being held in a Venetian jail after Italian police apprehended him in Bologna in April 2005, where he is serving a seven-year sentence for a drug-smuggling conviction.
Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras, in view of the anticipated extradition of Vavylis by the Italian authorities to Greece, said on Wednesday evening that "the judicial procedure for the extradition of Apostolos Vavylis to Greece has been completed, and thus opens yet another chapter of 'cleaning up', which the government and independent justice systematically and steadfastly advances."
To reporters' questions on when Vavylis is expected to arrive in Greece, the justice minister replied:" It is a matter of a few days time."
 Charges against Bourboulia for concealing assets dropped
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)A five-member appeals court on Wednesday decided to drop charges against former examining magistrate Constantina Bourboulia for violating laws that require members of the judiciary to submit complete statements of their means and assets every year.
The court said the charge was dropped because the maximum penalty did not exceed six months imprisonment, based on a law passed over the summer to relieve prison overcrowding that called for all offences with a maximum penalty of six months to be statute-barred.
A lower court had sentenced Bourboulia to serve seven months for failing to submit the forms on two occasions.
 Culture minister accepts resignation of Greek Cinema Centre president
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Culture Minister George Voulgarakis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of the president of the Greek Cinema Centre, Thanassis Valtinos.
According to a Culture Ministry announcement, the name of the new president and managing director at the Cinema Centre will be announced next week.
 Thessaloniki police arrest Russian fugitive
THESSALONIKI, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Police in Thessaloniki on Wednesday arrested a 30-year-old man who is wanted in Russia in connection with a robbery.
The man was caught in the centre of Thessaloniki and charged with purse-snatching and theft carried out in the city. Police then discovered that there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest issued in Russia for suspected robbery and illegal weapons possession.
 Bank firebombed in Halandri district
ATHENS, 30/3/2006 (ANA)Yet another attack targeting a bank branch was recorded in the greater Athens area overnight Wednesday, with a Eurobank branch in the Halandri district damaged by a makeshift firebomb left outside its entrance.
The incident comes after a string of similar attacks targeting banks last week, which authorities believe are the responsibility of self-styled anarchist youths and anti-state activists.
The firebomb was comprised of several camping gas canisters.
 Cypriot President: If Annan Plan returns, it will be tragic for Cyprus
NICOSIA, 30/3/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said here Wednesday that if the plan for a Cyprus settlement proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan returns, it will be rejected by a greater percentage of the Greek Cypriot community and its repercussions will be tragic for Cyprus.
Speaking to students of the Athens University Philosophy School, President Papadopoulos said the Annan Plan did not allow the reunification of Cyprus and would have led to new adventures.
He also said that ''we are much better now'' and that ''the state will be maintained until a better solution is found.''
President Papadopoulos said Turkey does not want to breach the status quo on the island, pointing out that the Greek Cypriot side is "pursuing negotiations and initiatives as well as a solution.''
The Cypriot president said that because of the 21st May Parliamentary elections in Cyprus, many political parties changed their positions for pre-election purposes.
''However, for some time now the position was to rethink the crime we committed, ponder the consequences and bring it back to a new referendum. If it returns to a new referendum, I am telling you that it will be rejected by a greater percentage and Cyprus will not be able to overcome this,'' he added.
 Cypriot FM welcomes Rehn's statements
LARNACA, 30/3/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs George Iacovou on Wednesday welcomed statements made by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, describing them as ''a warning that when the EU date with Turkey will take place, Turkey is expected to fulfill its obligations towards the EU.''
In his interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Rehn had said ''we may face a period of political tension in EU-Turkey relations'' over Cyprus.
He said the European Commission ''is working to avoid a train crash at the end of the year'' and that ''the Finnish presidency will have to use all its diplomatic skills, inherited from the period of neutrality policy, to avoid this train crash.''
Rehn further said ''the sooner Turkey will open the ports and fully implement the protocol, the better, but we will have to present our assessment in the course of this year.''
Turkey has so far failed to implement the Ankara Agreement, extending its customs union agreement to all new EU states, including the Republic of Cyprus, which it does not recognize.
In his statements, Iacovou said that this is not the first time Rehn has indirectly warned Turkey that the promises it gave are promises towards all 25 EU states.
''It is not a bilateral issue between Turkey and Cyprus, which is how Turkey wants to present it. It is a European issue, it is promises that Turkey gave and are included in three documents, the EU position, the adjustment protocol and the EU's well known statement,'' he said.
Speaking after arriving from Khartoum, Sudan, where he took part in the Arab League Summit, Iacovou said Turkey has not done anything whatsoever, on the contrary it is behaving provocatively, even Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he will not proceed with the implementation of the Ankara protocol and apparently he will not implement any other aspect of the promises given.
Referring to his trip to Sudan, Iacovou said he was satisfied with his contacts, during which he informed his Arab counterparts on the latest developments in Cyprus, especially the support provided by the government and the EU to the Turkish Cypriot community.