|Monday, 17 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 07-01-11
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Debate on article 16 begins in ParliamentThe parliamentary ad hoc committee on the revision of the Constitution on Wednesday opened its debate on revising Article 16 so as to allow private, non-profit universities to be established in Greece. At present, article 16 mandates that all higher education institutions in the country must belong to the state sector. The debate ended late Wednesday night.
Ruling New Democracy's spokesman Panos Panagiotopoulos urged main opposition PASOK MPs to vote in favor of revising article 16, pointing out that the revision had been steadfastly supported by main opposition PASOK president George Papandreou.
He also spoke of a "de facto" privatization of universities by "closed shops" tactics guided by partisan bureaucracies.
A spokesman for the main opposition underlined the differences between PASOK and ND, saying that the latter sought to create a situation where private and state-sector universities operated competitively, with state universities under stringent control from the education ministry, whereas PASOK saw the two operating to complement one another.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Antonis Skyllakos said both the main parties were thinking along market-oriented lines that would prove harmful to education and that the problems in education were caused not by the state-sector monopoly but by the policies being followed.
According to the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) spokesman Fotis Kouvelis, both the main parties aimed to abolish the state-sector status of education.
President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday described education as a "national issue on which there must be a broad consensus", during meetings with education minister Marietta Yannakou, and with the presidium of the Panhellenic Federation of Teachers' Organizations and University Research Personnel (POSDEP).
Meanwhile, educational organizations had called a 24-hour strike on Wednesday. Rallies in Athens and other major cities throughout the country were held to protest the planned revision of Article 16.
Among those taking part in the protests was KKE General Secretary Aleka Papariga, who accused the government and PASOK of "telling bare-faced lies to the people".
According to Papariga, the final goal was a single market for higher education, in which universities would compete in the same way as dairy companies or telecoms companies now competed for market share.
"We will be driven into a barbaric and relentless competition and will have institutions split into hierarchies of first, second, third and tenth class. There will be the good institutions for the children of the few and the squalid and degraded institutions for the children of the many," she added.
SYN leader Alekos Alavanos, again from the ranks of the protestors, stressed that both the main parties had come into head-on collision with the educational community and society and stressed that his party would fight for 5% of GDP for education, free access to universities for all and no change to article 16.
 PM confers with chairman of parliament's committee on Cultural and Educational AffairsPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis conferred on Wednesday with the chairman of parliament's Standing Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs (New Democracy MP) Tasos Spiliopoulos, who told reporters afterwards that "the aim of all of us, the prime minister's and all of us, is to secure, in this course of necessary changes to our educational system, the greatest possible consensus."
Spiliopoulos also briefed Karamanlis on the inter-party committee report on the ‚doping‚ issue and transparency in Greek sports as well as on the course of the dialogue concerning university reforms. He said that the objective is to proceed with reforms with the greatest consensus possible.
Responding to the question on the draft dodgers‚ issue, Spiliopoulos opined that the names should be made public.
The prime minister also met with Parliament vice-president Sotiris Hatzigakis and discussed his suggestions aimed at upgrading parliament, as well as the Education reforms issue.
Reforms in Education need to move ahead for realistic reasons as a result of globalization, and for social reasons as well, Hatzigakis told reporters after the meeting.
Education reforms, he added, will benefit the weaker social strata and social groups such as students, the youth, farmers and the middle class.
Referring to the upgrading of parliament, Hatzigakis suggested the establishment of a team that will deal with European issues given the fact that based on the subsidiarity principle in the European Constitution, the Greek parliament will be divided between Greece and Europe.
 PM to chair ND Political Council, meet BakoyannisThe Political Council of ruling New Democracy will convene on Thursday morning chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to discuss the party‚s action plan.
The prime minister will meet earlier with Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.
The meeting with the foreign minister was initially scheduled to take place on Tuesday but it was cancelled because of the bypass surgery undergone by former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, the foreign minister‚s father.
 Roussopoulos on publicizing names of army service dodgersThe government on Wednesday said that legal constraints imposed by European Union laws prevented it from making public the names of those dodging mandatory army service.
‚Politically we agree with the idea of publicity but, like I said yesterday, there is no way to sidestep legislation approved by Parliament‚, government spokesman Thodoros Rousopoulos said in response to a question.
He cited the implementation of an EU Directive incorporated into Greek legislation in 1997, saying that this prevented the government from releasing the names of those illegally exempted from military service.
Roussopoulos said, however, that there are parliamentary procedures that can be followed, adding that the parliament has the authority to determine which ones. He mentioned characteristically that a group of parliament deputies could visit the intelligence service, NIS, and study confidential documents.
Roussopoulos also stated that the list with the names of the draft dodgers has not come to the knowledge of the prime minister or the cabinet and clarified that in 2004 the government gave certain names to publicity as soon as it became aware of the problem.
Soon afterwards, the government had requested and received the opinions of the Hellenic Data Protection Authority and the State‚s Legal Council and since then it observes their interpretations on the issue, he stated. He stressed that an attempt is being made by certain sides to create the impression that the government is involved in a cover-up whereas the government itself had unveiled the affair in the first place.
The government spokesman also stated, responding to a relevant question, that former defense minister Yiannos Papantoniou has backed his statements by saying that he had discovered a similar ring back in 2002.
Roussopoulos added that as soon as the court martial investigation is completed all necessary evidence will be made public proving that all illegal exemptions from military service took place before 2004.
 State Dept.'s Burns on FYROM name issue, Kosovo, CyprusWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns on Tuesday reaffirmed America‚s support for the United Nations' intermediary efforts regarding the FYROM ‚name issue‚ and on the future status of Kosovo, while he also expressed hope that substantial progress would be made this year towards a solution of the Cyprus issue, in statements he made during a visit to the Jewish Museum of Athens‚ exhibition "Hidden Children in Occupied Greece".
The exhibition is currently being hosted at the Greek embassy in Washington.
In a statement prompted by the FYROM cabinet's recent decision to rename Skopje's Petrovec airport as "Alexander the Great Airport", Burns said Washington supported the UN and Amb. Matthew Nimetz's -- the UN's special envoy for the FYROM name issue -- efforts for a just solution to the issue, while he added that Washington was in contact with both governments.
"We have confidence that the two governments can reach a solution on this difficult issue. We hope that this issue will not be an obstacle to the good relations between the governments of Skopje and Athens," said Burns, a former US ambassador to Greece.
On the final status of Kosovo, Burns expressed hope that the matter will be resolved within two months after elections in Serbia, and stressed that the United States has not publicly proposed any solution "recipes", adding:
"We look forward to the elections in Serbia on January 21, and of course hope that they will be free and fair. We have confidence that they will be so. Soon after the elections, we are aware the President Ahtisaari, the UN intermediary, will begin a new round of negotiations between the leadership of the Kosovars in Pristina and the new Serbian leadership of the new government of Belgrade. We hope that the time has come for the future status of Kosovo. It's been nearly 8 years, now, since the end of the war, and the people of Kosovo have not received any indication from the international community on its future status. Every person has the right to know where he lives, who should govern him, and also has the right to freedom".
Asked to comment on EU-Turkey relations and the Cyprus issue, the American official reiterated that the US remained "strong supporters of the door remaining open for a prospective accession to the EU by Turkey, provided it fulfils the EU's requirements".
Regarding Cyprus, he said the US hoped that 2007 would be a year of hope for Cyprus. He said that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was putting together his team, and expressed hope that even high-ranking American officials would be on the team. Prospectively, he added, they will be individuals with experience on the Cyprus issue.
The US supports the UN's effort for finally resolving the problems arising from the intervention in Cyprus some 30 years ago, Burns said, adding that it looked forward to US cooperation with the friendly government of the Republic of Cyprus "the government with which we are cooperating", and to cooperation with the Greek government, the Turkish government, as well as with the Turkish authorities on the island, given that it was high time for a solution to be found.
Burns, who was received by Greek ambassador in Washington Alexandros Mallias and embassy officials, paid tribute to the struggle of the Greek people during the Nazi occupation and their solidarity with the Greek-Jewish community in the country. American Jewish Committee deputy director for international relations Aaron Jacobs also attended the event.
Speaking at the exhibition, which will travel to several other states in the United States, Burns congratulated "the Greek government, and particularly my friend, Amb. Mallias, for his vision in bringing this exhibition to Washington".
"Greece underwent a blatant occupation, and had one of the harshest experiences of any other country under occupation during the war. Many Greeks lost their lives. I remember going to Kalavryta every year for the memorial service for the hundreds of Greek citizens of that town. But anywhere one goes to in Greece, as you know, there is a Square in every village with a plaque dedicated to someone who was killed, who gave his life. What I know about the Greeks is that they opposed, fought against the Nazis, and joined the resistance," Burns said.
"I think, then, that what I will focus on is the heroism of the Greeks and, secondly, the horrible blow suffered by the Jewish community of Greece. I believe that Greece lost the largest percentage of its Jewish community than any other country in Europe, particularly the Jews of Thessaloniki, while the entirety of a group of people, of a community that lived there for thousands of years disappeared, resulting in only a small community remaining today in Thessaloniki, Athens, Rhodes and other places. It is a great tragedy. But we also see the heroism of the Greeks who took these children into their homes, 16 children who they raised and who became great citizens of Greece and its Jewish community. It is, therefore, a sad story, but at the same time a story of courage and bravery", Burns added.
Amb. Mallias, in turn, said that he had very little to add, stressing that "we can forgive, but we do not forget".
"All that Mr. Burns said about the annihilation of the Jews of Thessaloniki in Macedonia is an indication of how important it is for history to be taught and acknowledged," the ambassador added.
 Former PM Mitsotakis' condition good after bypass surgeryFormer prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis' condition was developing smoothly Wednesday morning, following a successful double bypass operation on Tuesday afternoon, according to the Onassio Cardiosurgery Centre.
Doctors treating the honorary New Democracy president announced that he was fully conscious and thinking clearly after being taken off life support and that his health was improving satisfactorily in all ways. He will stay in the Onassion Intensive Care Unit on Wednesday and may possibly be transferred to a regular room from the on Thursday.
Mitsotakis spoke Wednesday morning with members of his family, including his daughter, foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis.
Among those visiting the former premier on Wednesday to wish him a speedy recovery were Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou and Deputy Health Minister Thanassis Yiannopoulos, while Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis is due to visit this afternoon.
Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) leader Alekos Alavanos called Bakoyannis on the telephone to inquire about her father's health and wish him a quick and full recovery.
Mitsotakis underwent bypass surgery with success on Tuesday afternoon, according to an announcement by the Onassio Cardiosurgery Centre.
The announcement further said that his pre-operation assessment had been completed on Tuesday morning by the First Cardiological Department, with the attending doctors being professor Dionysios Kokkinos and the Department's deputy director Vassilios Voudris.
The operation, that began at 16:00, was successfully completed at 20:20.
Mitsotakis was hospitalized at the Onassion on Monday afternoon for scheduled medical examinations, and the surgery was decided on Tuesday following the completion and assessment of the examinations, as well as complaints of discomfort by Mitsotakis over the preceding four days, and arrhythmia.
An Onassion medical bulletin had said that the results of the examinations ascertained the need for bypass surgery.
PM Costas Karamanlis visits former PM Constantine Mitsotakis in hospital
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis visited Honorary New Democracy party President and former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis in the Intensive Care Unit of the Onassio Cardiosurgical Centre in Athens late on Wednesday afternoon and wished him a speedy recovery.
G. Papandreou briefed on Mitsotakis' health condition
Main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou had a telephone conversation on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and was briefed on the condition of the latter's father, Constantine Mitsotakis, expressing at the same time his wishes for quick recovery.
 Prime minister pays hommage to French scholar J-P VernantPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday paid hommage to French academic Jean-Pierre Vernant who died on Tuesday at the age of 93.
"Greece bids farewell to a real friend, to one of the most prominent researchers of its history. Jean-Pierre Vernant, with consistency and indomittable enthusiasm, opened new and exciting paths for a more complete understanding of our ancient history," Karamanlis said in a statement.
"For Greeks, but for all those worldwide who consider the legacy of Greek civilization as a constitutive element of their identity as well, his work will continue to be used as a mirror in which we can see not only the past but also the perspectives of our future," the prime minister concluded.
Jean-Pierre Vernant was a historian and anthropologist, specialist in ancient Greece and particularly Greek mythology. He was an honorary professor at the College de France.
 EU Commission's Dimas calls for unilateral reduction of greenhouse gasesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)
European Commission Commissioner for the environment Stavros Dimas on Wednesday stressed that the European Union needs to unilaterally reduce greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent by the year 2020.
In a joint press conference by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Commissioner for energy Andris Piebalgs in Brussels, during which they presented the Commission's proposals for the EU's energy policy, Dimas said that the target of reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent should be unilateral and independent of any targets set by the new international treaty that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012.
Dimas pointed out that the EU had already pledged to reduce greenhouse gases by 8% by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol, noting that the additional effort that will be required by 2020 will be a 12% reduction.
The Commission's position regarding the future agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol was that developed countries should make a commitment to reduce gas emissions by 30%, he added.
The Commissioner underlined that climate change was one of the most serious threats facing the planet that required urgent action, describing the Commission's proposals as a leap forward that were accompanied by ambitious and realistic targets that would have an impact on a global level, so that the repercussions of climate change might be addressed.
He urged other developed countries to follow the example of the EU regarding reduction of greenhouse gases and to accelerate efforts to seek an international agreement.
Dimas also stressed the need to restrict the average increase in temperature to 2 degrees celsius by taking common action and implementing measures for the efficient use of energy and promoting investments in alternative and renewable energy sources.
 Draft bill on charitable donations approved in principleA draft bill envisioning changes in the tax regime governing donations towards cultural entities and charities was ratified, in principle, on Tuesday by a majority of Parliament MPs.
In statements during the debate, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis stressed that the main provision of the bill is a 30-percent tax break for donations, while attempting to slash bureaucracy with the institution of a "one-stop-shop".
Certain objections were raised by the two leftist opposition parties, KKE and Synaspismos, with rapporteurs for both parties more-or-less announcing their rejection of the bill.
Culture Minister George Voulgarakis criticized the main opposition PASOK party on Wednesday for failing to record stolen antiquities when it was in power, during the discussion on the draft law regarding the "cultural sponsorship", that was completed with the ratification of its articles by the deputies of the ruling New Democracy party.
In parallel, the culture minister spoke of "confusion" between PASOK deputies as to the percentage of the sponsorship that will be exempt from tax.
Voulgarakis said "how can it be that all these years that we were claiming antiquities from abroad, there was no office to record which antiquities were in Greece and had been stolen, which ones exist, which ones we are claiming, or at least to monitor auctions made by foreign firms every second week, the so-called Greek Sales."
PASOK deputy Miltiades Papaioannou said on his part that "we are saying that we are voting in favor of the bill in principle for one reason alone: Because we agree with the institution of the sponsorship and we agree 100 percent. From then on, there are separate approaches and differentiations that are legitimate, from whatever colleague."
 Culture minister to visit Istanbul ThursdayCulture Minister George Voulgarakis will travel to Istanbul on Thursday to attend a concert given the same evening by the Athens State Orchestra at the city's State Opera House, a ministry press release said on Wednesday.
The Athens State Orchestra, together with the Istanbul State Opera Orchestra, will give two concerts dedicated to Greek-Turkish friendship, one in Istanbul on January 11 and one in Athens the following day.
On Friday morning Voulgarakis will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, the press release said.
 PASOK leader expresses support for abolition of death penaltyMain opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou had a telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Wednesday to whom he conveyed his party's and the Socialist International's (SI) "full support" to his initiative at the United Nations for the abolition of the death penalty.
The PASOK leader is also SI president.
According to statements by party spokesman Petros Efthymiou, who made the announcement, Papandreou will address a letter to the leaders of all SI member parties proposing the undertaking of concrete actions towards this direction.
Papandreou and Prodi will also jointly organize an international conference with the participation of international personalities, while he will contact UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the issue, Efthymiou added.
 PAME members taken to police station for banner outside parliamentEight members of the PAME trade union organization were taken to the police station at central Syntagma Square on Wednesday morning for hanging outside the parliament building a huge banner containing slogans regarding a major rally protesting planned changes to the Education system.
The eight members of PAME (Panhellenic Workers' Struggle Front -- a labour movement comprising workers affiliated with the Communist Party of Greece-KKE and other left-wing parties) set up the banner, comprising five sections totaling 2x100 meters, outside parliament at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The evzones carrying out guard service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier alerted their superior officer by striking their arms on the ground, in accordance with the relevant regulations (the members of the elite evzone force are forbidden to move or speak while on guard duty), and the officer, in turn, alerted police.
Police who arrived on the spot asked the PAME members to remove the banner, but they refused and were therefore taken to the police station.
The PAME members were later released, while the banner was removed by police.
 US embassy closed on Mon.The US embassy in Athens and all other US federal offices in Greece will be closed on Monday, Jan. 15, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday in the United States.
 FinMin, regional officials discuss CSF progress, regional developmentNational Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Wednesday chaired a meeting at the ministry, attended by Deputy Minister Christos Folias and ministry secretary general for investments Constantine Mousouroulis, as well as the regional general secretaries, to review the materialisation of projects under the country's Regional Operational Programmes (PEP) and planning for the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA).
During the meeting, Alogoskoufis referred to the immense effort made in 2006 so avert the loss of EU funds earmarked for Greece under the Third Community Support Framework (CSF).
He described as "relatively satisfactory" the absorption rate, which had more than doubled to 58 percent at the end of 2006, compared with 23 percent in 2004 (when New Democracy took over as government).
At the same time, however, he described 2007 as a "very difficult year" because there were fewer margins for flexibility than up to the present.
Alogoskoufis announced that the meetings between the ministry leadership and the general secretaries of the regions would henceforth be on a monthly basis, taking place on the last Friday of each month, aiming at better coordination, while he at the same time acknowledged the difficulties given that there was a dual task to be accomplished in 2007, namely, advancement of the Third CSF, and the "dynamic commencement" of the National Strategic Reference Framework, which was slated for approval by the European Commission by end-March, while the operational programmes (PEP) would be approved in the first half of 2007.
The target, he continued, was to boost the developmental momentum of the periphery, adding that 82 percent of the ESPA funds would be channelled to the periphery.
Alogoskoufis further referred to the proposals pending for the development of the sector of technologies, such as the third cycle of proclamations of the SMEs, noting that 5,400 proposals have been submitted, with an overall projected expenditure of 530 million euros, and which are expected to create 7,000 new jobs.
He added that a new system of management and supervision of expenditures would be in effect for the ESPA.
Folias, in turn, said that no well-intentioned individual could dispute the progress made in the 3rd CSF and the fact that the system of management and supervision had been streamlined. He added that with every month and year that passes, Greece was becoming an increasingly credible partner, stressing that the slogan for the effort should be "no euros for expenditure and up to the very last euro for investment".
 PASOK, Coalition criticize government over 3rd Community Support FrameworkThe main opposition PASOK party's economic sector, referring to the meeting between the finance and economy ministry's leadership and regional secretary generals on the implementation of the 3rd Community Support Framework (CSF), said on Wednesday that "the government is accountable for the deviation of the 3rd CSF. It must not play around with our intelligence with fanciful slogans. The truth is that it is only increasing the absorption of European Union funds with accounting alchemies."
PASOK also pointed out that "the cutback in projects of the 3rd CSF -the list of which the government is continuing to conceal- with the recent decrease in the 3rd CSF's budget by 1.8 billion euros, due to the inability and indifference shown by (ruling) New Democracy in utilizing EU funds, does not constitute neither an expenditure nor an investment but an equal cancellation of investments for the country and the countryside."
It further stressed that "the absorption of the remaining 42 percent of the decreased budget of the CSF in 2007 and 2008 forebodes the loss of other considerable EU funds as well."
Referring to the same issue, Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) party economic and social policy chief and Political Bureau member Panayiotis Lafazanis said that "the management of all the CSFs that has taken place in this country until today can only be recorded in the Guinness book of records as a monumental bankruptcy of Greek governments that the country and the Greek people paid and is continuing to pay for dearly."
Lafazanis went on to say that "with the huge responsibility of the ND government, as well as of the previous PASOK government, we are proceeding speedily, despite the unprecedented tricks and the unbelievable alchemies, not only towards the loss of many billions of euros from the 3rd CSF but to the squandering of these funds as well, that will be absorbed for activities without a corresponding development and social result."
 Two committees created for infiltration of Renewable Energy SourcesThe Committee for the Promotion of Large Scale Investments Plans for Renewable Energy Sources and the joint production of high performance electricity and heat, as well as the Committee for Renewable Energy Sources and the joint production of high performance electricity and heat have been created by a decision signed by Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas.
The minister said that the creation of the two Committees "constitutes yet another step for the implementation of our policy for the infiltration by Renewable Energy Sources of our energy balance."
 Gov't foresees return to Greek ship registerMerchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis said on Wednesday that he expected tens of vessels to join the Greek shipping register for the first time, accompanied by a return of ships that previously left the flag.
"I am very optimistic due to the package of measures to boost competitiveness that the government took for elasticity in crew composition and subsidies for social insurance contributions, to which will Greek shipowners will respond favorably," the minister told the Shipping Chamber of Greece.
In addition, the government had set a priority on growth for the country's ports, and backing ventures between the public and private sectors.
 Greece, Albania discuss power exports to latterDevelopment Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Wednesday met with visiting Albanian Minister of Economy, Commerce and Energy Genc Ruli for talks on expanding bilateral cooperation in development and energy matters.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Greek minister said his Albanian counterpart detailed the major energy problems facing Albania in the current period, especially in meeting that country's power demand. Sioufas said the two countries are seeking ways to increase electricity energy exports from Greece to Albania, within the framework of an agreement recently signed in Athens.
The Albanian minister thanked Athens for its support towards relieving the country's problem, as he reminded that Albania relies heavily on power generated from hydroelectric plants, which of late have been hampered by low rainfall. "We would like to thank the Greek government for helping us with our energy needs," he added.
The meeting was also attended by Nikos Stephanou, the secretary general of development ministry; professor Mihalis Karamanis, the president of the Energy Regulatory Authority; Dimitris Maniatakis, chief executive of the Public Power Corp. and Albanian officials, including Andi Beli, general manager of the Albanian utility KESH and Albanian ambassador to Greece Vili Shefki Minaroli.
 Bank of Piraeus does not plan new bid for Bank of CyprusThe Bank of Piraeus is not considering a new bid for Bank of Cyprus, while it plans to sell its equity stake in the Cyprus bank to the benefit of its shareholders, Bank of Piraeus chairman Mihalis Sallas said on Wednesday.
He was replying to reporters' questions over recent press reports saying that Bank of Piraeus was preparing to submit a new bid for Bank of Cyprus.
 Balkan Export opens real estate division in BulgariaBalkan Export SA on Wednesday announced that its real estate subsidiary in Bulgaria, "Balkan Bulgaria", will begin operations with an initial equity capital of five million euros.
Balkan Bulgaria will be based in Sofia and its activities will focus on buying and selling real estate assets, as well as real estate development.
The move follows a decision at Balkan Export's extraordinary general shareholders' meeting in early December to expand activities in the real estate sector.
 Marfin plans largest bourse share cap riseAthens-quoted Marfin Financial Group Holding SA announced on Wednesday that it will seek a share capital increase of about five billion euros, the largest ever on the Greek market.
Proceeds of the rise would be used to finance new business, management said in a statement.
The share capital increase will be proposed to shareholders, it added.
Marfin Holding controls Marfin Popular Bank, which emerged after a merger of Marfin, Popular and Egnatia banks.
 Lamda acquires land in RomaniaAthens-quoted Lamda Development S.A. has acquired 90% of share capital in "Robies Services Ltd", a Cypriot company that owns 100% of a Romanian firm, which holds a 95.000 sqm plot of land in Bucharest, for euro 2.6 million, the Greek firm said in a statement on Wednesday.
The land is situated on the Bucharest - Pitesti highway and is one of the few plots left of such size to face the motorway. It has a logistic space of more than 400,000 sqm, the statement said.
Lamda will develop logistic space of 47,500 sqm in a project budgeted at approximately euro 23 million, it added.
 Greek closed-end investment funds' returns up in 2006Greek-listed eight closed end investment funds' net assets totalled 385 million euros at the end of December 2006, up from 411 million euros a month earlier, official figures showed on Wednesday.
A monthly report by the Association of Institutional Investors said the December decline reflected the absorption of Diolkos Fund from the market.
Average number return of the sector was 14.53 percent, while trade weighed return was 16.63 percent in 2006. All investment companies in the sector recorded positive internal value returns last year, ranging from 6.71 pct to 26.88 pct, while three firms -with returns ranging from 20.89 pct to 26.88 pct- exceeded ASE's composite index return for the year (19.93 pct).
The average discount of the sector was -16.87 pct at the end of December. All eight closed-end funds were traded at a discount, ranging from 4.49 pct to 22.74 pct.
 Greek bond prices fell significantly in DecemberGreek state bonds' returns rose more than 20 basis points across the yield curve in the domestic electronic secondary market in December, the Bank of Greece said on Wednesday.
In its monthly report on the Greek bond market, the central bank noted an upwards move of the yield curve following a similar trend in other Eurozone markets, with the three-year bond return rising around 22 bps to 3.97 pct by the end of December 2006, from 3.75 pct a month earlier, while returns of the 10-year and 30-year bonds rose by 23 and 21 bps, respectively, to 4.19 pct and 4.45 pct from 3.97 pct and 4.24 pct over the same periods, respectively. The average monthly yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was unchanged at 26 bps in December.
Greek bond prices recorded losses ranging from 48 to 368 bps in December, with the three-year bond price falling to 98.64 in December 29, from 99.12 in November 30. The 10-year bond price dropped bg 169 bps to 95.34 from 97.03, while the 30-year bond price fell to 100.79 from 104.47 over the same period.
Turnover in the Greek bond market totaled 45.01 billion euros in December, from 64.56 billion euros in November and 41.87 billion euros in December 2005, with the average daily turnover at 2.37 billion euros in December from 2.93 billion in November. Investors' interest focused on state securities with a maturity between seven and 10 years, which accounted for 74 pct of total turnover.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2016) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 23.7 billion euros in December, followed by the 10-year (July 20, 2015) with a turnover of 6.5 billion euros.
 Greek stocks fell 1.68 pct on Wed.Greek stocks ended Wednesday's session sharply lower as investors preferred to cash in profits from last year's big rally in the Athens Stock Exchange. The composite index fell 1.68 percent to end at 4,507.44 points, off the day's lows. Turnover was a strong 476.7 million euros.
All sector indices ended lower with the Insurance (3.10 pct), Industrial Products (2.24 pct), Banks (2.22 pct) and Food-Beverage (2.02 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
The Big Cap index fell 1.85 pct, the Mid Cap index dropped 1.18 pct and the Small Cap index ended 1.24 pct lower.
Varvaressos (19.44 pct), Naoussa Spin Mills (18.92 pct) and Tasoglou (18.60 pct) were top gainers, while Hitech (12.12 pct), Technical Publications (8.59 pct) and Sfakianakis (7.06 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 232 to 42 with another 33 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -1.63%
Personal & Household: -1.53%
Raw Materials: -1.25%
Travel & Leisure: -0.44%
Food & Beverages: -2.02%
Financial Services: -0.62%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, Bank of Cyprus, and OTE.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 23.82
Public Power Corp (PPC): 20.48
HBC Coca Cola: 30.16
Hellenic Petroleum: 10.76
Emporiki Bank: 23.00
National Bank of Greece: 35.98
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 28.90
Titan Cement Company: 41.80
 Bond Market Close: 10-yr benchmark at 4.25 pct
Derivatives Market Close: ELTEH top in stock futures trade
Equity Index Futures:
 Foreign Exchange RatesReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.309
Pound sterling 0.675
Danish kroner 7.513
Swedish kroner 9.192
Japanese yen 156.2
Swiss franc 1.626
Norwegian kroner 8.364
Cyprus pound 0.583
Canadian dollar 1.542
Australian dollar 1.679
 European ombudsman on flight passengers' rightsBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamantouros called on the European Commission on Wednesday to correct certain "inaccurate and misleading information" concerning the rights of flight passengers, information included in informative material issued by the Commission in February 2005.
The ombudsman's claim was the result of relevant reports made by two airline companies unions, which claim that the information provided by the Commission regarding the passengers' right to compensation in the event that they are denied embarkation on their flight, in the event of a cancellation or a great delay of a flight is "inaccurate and misleading."
The Commission is called on to reply to the European ombudsman's recommendations by the end of March.
 German parliament deputy visits Thessaloniki prefectGreece and Germany share the same views on the issue of European integration stated German deputy Werner Hoyer, FDP parliamentary group vice-president and party spokesman on foreign policy issues, during a visit to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Wednesday to mark the assumption of the rotating EU presidency by Germany in the first half of 2007.
Hoyer met with Thessaloniki Prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis and characterized the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania as very important step, pointing out that this development boosts the strategic importance of northern Greece. Regarding Turkey, he commented that it would be useful for the EU to have a democratic Turkey as a member, but stressed that Europe should be very careful before approving its accession and examine whether the country observes European legislation.
On his part, Psomiadis raised the issue of reactivating the project to build road axis 10 linking Thessaloniki with Munich, which was positively received by Hoyer. He also stated that the accession of the 12 new members in the EU could create certain problems in the beginning but in the long run can only prove beneficial.
 Landfill's closure generates first warning by KaklamanisThe latest closure of the greater Athens area's only legal landfill caused the first warning to residents by Athens mayor-elect Nikitas Kaklamanis, who called on the municipality's residents to refrain from using municipal trash containers to dispose of garbage for the next 48 hours while talks are held to resolve "operational difficulties" at the landfill.
While the city of Athens is only one of dozens of municipalities in the greater Athens area (Attica prefecture) it is the largest, most populous and influential.
Kaklamanis, the former health minister, is expected to also request a meeting with the prime minister and political party leaders -- immediately following his swearing-in as mayor -- to discuss ways to deal with the massive problem of rubbish management in the Greek capital.
According to reports, as regards Attica, and Athens specifically, Kaklamanis will request the immediate establishment of a new and comprehensive environmental policy concerning waste management.
 Minor from Bangladesh arrested for drug possessionA 14-year-old from Bangladesh was arrested for drug possession by Greek police in Athens on Tuesday night.
The youngster, who was carrying 51.1 grams of cannabis divided into 16 packages, two sedative pills and 65 euros at the time of his arrest has been led before a public prosecutor for juvenile offenders.
 Foreign nationals arrested on drug-related chargesA 32-year-old Kazak national was arrested in Thessaloniki after police found in his apartment a total of 22 kilos and 785 grams of hashish.
In separate incidents, two Albanians were arrested for possession of approximately 220 grams of cocaine found in their apartments.
 Weather Forecast: Unseasonally warm on ThursdayUnseasonally high temperatures are forecast in all parts of the country. Temperatures in Athens from 6C to 17C; and in Thessaloniki between 1C and 14C.
 Spokesman: Dismantling of the bridge not enough for opening LedrasNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The opening of a crossing point at Ledras street cannot be achieved with the mere dismantling of the bridge erected by the occupying regime last year, Cyprus government spokesman said here Wednesday.
Invited, after Wednesday's Ministerial Council meeting, to comment on the dismantling of the bridge carried out by the occupying regime,
Christodoulos Pashiardis said that on Tuesday the bridge's steps were removed under the supervision of the occupying army, which of course did not withdraw from the area, reiterating that the ''issue was and it is not the dismantling of the bridge.''
''The issue is the opening of Ledras Street. And the opening of Ledras street is not achieved with the mere dismantling of the bridge,'' Pashiardis noted, adding that the ''substantive aspects of the issue, such as the military disengagement and the de-mining of the area were not addressed.''
The spokesman reiterated that these ''important and fundamental issues'' are addressed by the proposals the Greek Cypriot side submitted to the United Nations in the end of 2005.
''The Turkish side, if it is interested in the opening of Ledras street and not in creating impressions, should discuss these rational proposals with the UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus,'' he added.
Replying to a question whether Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos has sent a letter Tuesday to UN Head of Mission in Cyprus Michael Moller for this issue, Pashiardis said that the Greek Cypriot side applied both in writing and verbally for a dialogue between the two sides for the opening of Ledras street.
''I understand that the UN already began consultations with the occupying forces,' he added.
Replying to a question why the Greek Cypriot side requested a dialogue with the Turkish Cypriots for the opening of Ledras street, while the Turkish military decides for the opening of the crossing point in the area, Pashiardis said the talks are not carried out directly between the two sides but through the UN.
Noting that the opening of Ledras street involves issues of military nature, Pashiardis said that ''when the UNFICYP consults with the other side for such issues, it discusses with the occupying army and not the Turkish Cypriot leadership.''
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.
 Cyprus Church launches protest campaign for occupied sitesNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Church of Cyprus is protesting strongly the continuing plundering of religious sites, in the Turkish-occupied northern part of the country, condemning the ongoing desecration of Christian churches, some of which have been converted to mosques, military camps, hen houses, mortuaries or silos.
As experts record the overall looting campaign in the past three decades, since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, with about 550 churches desecrated, between 15-20,000 icons missing, believed to be stolen or sold on the black market, a well orchestrated and concerted effort is underway to protest at all international fora this situation.
"We have embarked on a crusade to inform world public opinion through every available means - lectures, literary material, personal contacts, diplomatic channels - presenting indisputable evidence which has been corroborated through careful and professional research carried out on the matter," Charalambos Hotzakoglu, archaeologist by profession and an expert in Byzantine art working for the museum of the Kykko Monastery, has told CNA in an interview.
He said the goal is to save these religious sites, a task vehemently opposed by the Turkish side which claims that all sites now belong to the Moslem religious foundation EVKAF.
Researchers of the Kykko Monastery, who have visited and photographed some 550 churches in occupied Cyprus, say that 50 of them are now military camps - the church of Virgin Mary Axeropiitou in Lambousa village, Agios Panteleimonas in Mirtou village, the church and monastery of Agia Anastasia in Lapithos village is now a luxury hotel complex, the monastery of Agios Panteleimonas is used as a fuel depot and the church of Sotiros in Chrysiliou village in Morphou district now serves as a mortuary.
 Lord Triesman: Direct flights only through Republic of Cyprus' consentLONDON (CNA)
The simplest way of enabling direct flights would be a decision by the Republic of Cyprus to designate Ercan in the Turkish-occupied village of Tymbou as an international airport under the terms of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Common-wealth Office Lord Triesman has said, adding that in the absence of such a decision there are legal obstacles.
Replying to a question by Lord Magginis about direct flights between Britain and the occupied areas of Cyprus, Lord Triesman said his government does ''not intend to pursue a policy which would be in contravention of international law.''
Lord Triesman also said that an application for a licence is presently under consideration by the Department for Transport, adding that it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.
''The UK and its EU partners remain committed to lifting the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots through targeted financial aid and trade liberalization'', he added.
To another question by Lord Magginis whether there are any ''embargos'' between other nations or traditions in the European Union comparable to that of the Turkish Cypriot community on direct flights, Lord Triesman said that ''the status of the divided island of Cyprus is unique within the EU and as such creates an unparalleled situation with regard to direct flights,'' adding that ''there are no direct flights between Northern Cyprus and any EU member states.''
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.