|Tuesday, 7 April 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 07-02-01
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Greece, Italy sign protocol for natgas pipeline, construction to begin in June '08Construction of a natural gas pipeline - officially known as the 'Interconnector Greece-Italy (IGI)' -- linking Greece with Italy is due begin in June 2008, with completion slated for 2011, Greek Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas announced on Wednesday, speaking at the ceremony during which he and Italian Minister of Productive activities Pierluigi Bersani signed the pipeline's support protocol.
Bersani was also received by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the latter's Maximos Mansion office on Wednesday.
The agreement also provides for exclusion of the underwater section of the pipeline from access to third parties in order, according to Sioufas, to ensure the viability of the investment, pending approval of the European Commission, which is expected in April, and will be in effect for 25 years.
The Greek-Italian pipeline comprises a supplement to the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, and aims at the transport of natural gas from the Caspian region and possibly the Middle East to the west via Turkey and Greece. The Greek-Turkish pipeline, currently under construction, is expected to start operating this summer, and will have a transport capacity of 11.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually. The Greek-Italian pipeline, in turn, will be able to transport 8-8.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.
The difference between the two quantities will be funneled to the Greek market, as well as Albania and FYROM, according to Sioufas, while Bulgaria has also recently expressed interest in natural gas supply via Greece.
The land-based section of the Greek-Italian pipeline (Komotini-Thesprotia) will have a length of 590 kilometers, and the completion cost is estimated at more than 600 million euros, while the underwater section (Thesprotia-Otranto) will stretch over 217 kilometers under water in length and the cost is estimated at 300 million euros. In other words, the total investment will exceed one billion euros, part of which will be funded under the EU's 4th Community Support Framework (CSF).
According to the agreement, 80 percent of the pipeline's capacity will belong to Edison, with the remaining 20 percent to DE.PA.
Sioufas said the pipeline will strengthen the position of Greece's DE.PA (Public Natural Gas Corporation) and the Italian Edison's on the market of the wider region, creating the conditions for supplying Central and western Macedonia and Epirus with natural gas. It will also boost energy security and render Greece a natural gas transit hub.
For Greece, he added, the Greek-Turkish pipeline will comprise the third source of natural gas supply, after the central pipeline from Bulgaria which transports Russian natural gas, and the installations at Revythoussa, where liquefied natural gas is imported from Algeria.
Bersani stressed that the accord was "good news" for the general framework of economic relations between Greece and Italy, and he invited Sioufas to visit Rome for talks on matters concerning SMEs, in addition to energy issues.
Asked where the natural gas to be carried along the pipeline would originate from, Sioufas said the two companies (DEPA and Edison) would cooperate on this matter and make every effort to ensure the pipeline's supply, while Bersani said the pipeline "could also mark a diversification of supply sources."
The two ministers agreed that relevant studies on doubling the transport capacity of the underwater power grid connection between the two countries would begin immediately.
DE.PA managing director Asimakis Papageorgiou referred to the Turkey-Greece-Italy line as a 'vital energy corridor' bringing natural gas from east to west, a project that will elevate Greece into a strategic energy hub in SE Europe.
On his part, Edison vice-president Roberto Poti noted that 'in order to increase Europe's supply security it is necessary to differentiate supply sources and to open new channels for natgas with countries and regions that do not export to Europe today. Edison is the only Italian energy company that promotes the development of Pan-European infrastructure, such as the Greece-Italy connection and the liquefied gas station of Rovigo, which will facilitate the import of natural gas from Qatar,' he added.
In a related development, 38 main opposition PASOK deputies on Wednesday tabled a question in Parliament over what they called delays in expanding the natural gas supply network around Greece.
 PASOK leader briefs European Parliament Socialist GroupBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Spinthourakis)
Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou visited Brussels on Wednesday in his capacity as President of the Socialist International (SI) and briefed the European Parliament's Socialist Group on the main issues on the international political scene.
Papandreou stressed the need for a contrast between socialist parties and neo-conservatism, the "main element of which is the creation of allied ties between governments and big business forces."
The PASOK party leader placed particular emphasis on the issue of the "global governance", underlining the great significance for the socialists of the enactment of institutions and structures through which the arrangement of the global economy, in a way that the interests of the weaker will be protected, will be feasible.
In this way, he added, phenomena of extremism and populism that have been developing in past years in various parts of the world will be able to be combated.
Focusing on issues concerning the international political scene, Papandreou expressed concern over the problems of an environmental nature that are being created as a result of the economic development of China, while as regards the Middle East, he stressed the role that the Socialist International could play in efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue.
Papandreou sharply criticized U.S. foreign policy, saying that "just like during the Cold War period the Soviet Union undermined the idea of socialism, so is the U.S. undermining the idea of democracy today."
On the question of a united Europe, the PASOK leader said that "only the European Left can prevent the evolvement of the European Union into a non-governmental organization." The EU will either be progressive or it will play no role on the international scene, Papandreou said.
Papandreou also stressed the particular role that the EU could play on the issue of Kosovo. He said that despite reservations that are logical to exist (and that he himself has) a European prospect must be given to Kosovo in the form of an incentive for democratization and an improvement in its relations with its neighbors.
He further said that "it must be made clear to authorities in Kosovo that it must have accession negotiations with the EU in order to become an independent country."
"From the moment that the EU assesses that Kosovo fulfills the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the EU, it could also be proclaimed an independent country," Papandreou noted, saying that he has discussed these ideas with the political leaderships of both Kosovo and Serbia.
On the question of Turkey, Papandreou stressed that he has expressed support for the country's European prospects on condition, however, that it will meet its commitments.
As regards Cyprus, he referred with emphasis to the issue of the withdrawal of Turkish troops and pointed out that if that happened the EU would also be able to work more effectively in the direction of improving relations between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.
Papandreou inaugurated on the European Parliament premises on Wednesday a painting exhibition by Vassos Lyssarides, former Speaker of the Cypriot House of Representatives and honorary president of the socialist EDEK party.
The inauguration of the exhibition, organized by the Eurodeputies Ioannis Kasoulidis and Stavros Lambrinidis, was attended by Eurodeputies and representatives from all the political groups in Parliament.
After the inauguration, Papandreou met with the President of the European Parliament's Socialist Group Martin Schulz, the President of the European Socialist Party Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pottering and Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
 Koumoutsakos on Bakoyannis' visit to ThraceForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will visit Thrace, northeast Greece, on February 4-6 at the invitation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Rodopi and Xanthi. During her visit, the foreign minister will meet with local officials and present the government's positions on developmental issues.
Foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos on Wednesday pointed out that the cabinet's announcements on Tuesday confirmed that the Greek State would continue a steadfast policy of enhancing equality before the law and state that had been followed by all Greek governments so far.
Koumoutsakos added that there is no concern over the way the Turkish press interprets a policy of self-confidence followed by a modern European democracy, noting that interpretations concern, commit or expose those who make them.
The government's policy is clear, Koumoutsakos said, referring to the settlement about to be reached concerning the accumulated debts of vacoufs (properties owned by religious foundations), adding that this will help take things forward and end the complication as dictated by the European reality, which Greece has a part in creating.
Responding to a question on whether Athens believes that a similar move will be made by Turkey, Koumoutsakos said that there is no correlation between the obligations undertaken by Turkey toward the EU, as a candidate state, and the evolutionary positive steps made by the democratic government of a country that is already a member of the EU.
He added that the Greek government follows its declared policy and its moves are not based on the policies of other states. He stressed that there is no correlation between the obligations of other countries and Greece's policy toward the Greek citizens regardless of their faith, language or origin.
 Greece rejects Turkish objections to Cyprus-Lebanon-Egypt economic zoneGreek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos on Wednesday rejected Turkish objections to an agreement for an 'exclusive economic zone' between Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, stressing that Turkey could not "question agreements between states".
He was commenting on an announcement by the Turkish foreign ministry objecting to the agreement, under which Cyprus intends to proceed with the exploration and exploitation of possible fossil fuel reserves in the exclusive economic zone, on the grounds that it did not take into account the wishes of the Turkish Cypriots in the illegally occupied north of Cyprus.
According to Koumoutsakos, the positions expressed by Ankara are "in flagrant violation of the fundamental principles of international law, national sovereignty and the rights of independent nations to proceed with agreements with each other, especially since this cooperation is in accordance with international law, international rules and has a peaceful purpose, which is the economic development of the region," he said.
The Turkish foreign ministry's response was not at all productive in a very serious discussion, who final strategic goal was stability, peaceful neighbourly relations and the economic growth of the southeast Mediterranean region, he added.
 Greece stresses need for consensus in KosovoThe Greek government on Wednesday underlined that a solution regarding the future status of Kosovo must be based on consensus, while expressing Athens support for the efforts of UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari and the international community at this specific stage.
"The sides involved must avoid unilateral actions; there must be realism and maturity," foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said in response to reporters' questions.
He stressed that the process currently underway could only lead to a functional and viable solution through some sort of com-promise, which meant that neither side could end up as either 100 percent winners or 100 percent losers.
"We believe that the fundamental criteria must be to reinforce the region's stability, ensure Kosovo's multi-cultural character, the security of all its inhabitants and, of course, protection of all historic and religious monuments and places in the region," the spokesman said.
The region's prospects of EU membership and its respect and agreement with European values and principles was another factor that Athens believed should be taken seriously into consideration in this solution, he added
"We believe that the European course of the entire region is a catalyst for stability and peace," he told reporters.
Koumoutsakos also noted that Greece, as a country with an intimate knowledge of the region, was "fully aware of what it will mean for stability if the solution for the future status of Kosovo is not functional and viable".
 Parliamentary Committee votes for revision of article 16The revision of article 16 of the constitution - for which proposals had been made by both the ruling New Democracy (ND) and main opposition PASOK parties - was ratified on Wednesday by a relevant Parliamentary committee. Voting for the revision were deputies of the two mainstream parties, with the exception of PASOK deputies Evangelos Venizelos and Sokratis Kosmidis (who voted against, as did the deputies of the Communist Party of Greece) and PASOK MP Andreas Loverdos who declared himself "present."
In the case of article 24 and the proposal for the change of the framework of constitutional protection for forestland, five ND deputies (N. Lengas, Elsa Papadimitriou, Chrysi Karydi, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Yiannis Ioannidis) voted against their party's proposal, while Nikos Dendias declared himself "present." In votes that followed, these deputies, with the exception of Papadimitriou, voted "present."
On the part of the Coalition party, its representative, Fotis Kouvelis, had declared from the start that his party would not participate in the votes, since it was opposed to the constitu-tional revision in general, however, in the vote on article 24 he requested that he be recorded as "present."
 Government again denies plans to privatize educationAlternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros on Wednesday underlined that the government had no intention of privatising education in Greece.
"The main goal is to boost and upgrade the quality of state education provided," he said.
Asked to comment on reports that 20,000 places in tertiary education institutes are to be cut, Antonaros said these were probably linked to the proposals submitted by a committee for the planning of Technological Education Institutes (TEI), which were drawn up after the results of the latest university entrance examinations came out.
"This committee was made up in the greatest part by representatives of the TEI and created to examine the situation and present proposals to Greece's political leadership. The proposals are made in order to upgrade higher educational institutes and will be studied by the appropriate leadership," Antonaros said.
In comments on Wednesday regarding the ongoing protest action by students and teachers, meanwhile, Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou expressed her disagreement with those academics objecting to plans for reforming Greek universities.
"I consider that most of them must be aware that they must adapt to the new state of affairs. Greece cannot stand aloof and veer away from the good universities of Europe," she stressed.
Regarding a set of proposals submitted by university professors for changing Greek universities, the minister said that this was "not a new initiative".
"They have done this a long time ago and we are engaged in dialogue. We have taken their proposals into account and this is why we unveiled a draft of the law and held talks. For the past two years we have been talking at the Educational Affairs Committee, the National Council for Education and we have taken everyone into account," she said.
She also noted that the parties that considered a substantial reform of Greek universities important tended to have similar views.
Regarding a rectorial congress that will take place in Athens on Saturday, Yiannakou said that she had already stated the government's central position, which was an increase in real self-administration but also greater accountability to society.
Meanwhile, protests and sit-ins by Greece's education sector are continuing this week, with university teachers launching a three-day strike and a student-teacher protest march in central Athens.
The main demands are against any change to article 16 of the Constitution in order to allow the foundation of private universities in Greece and that the government withdraw its draft bill on education.
Also taking part were the primary and highschool teachers' union federations DOE and OLME, who held a work-stoppage on Wednesday.
 Yiannakou at seminar on EU vocational training credits systemGreece's Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou on Wednesday attended a seminar organised by the Organisation for Vocational Education and Training on "European systems for transferring credits in the Vocational Education area".
The EU credit accumulation and transfer system, dubbed ECVET, is designed to help young people, especially in new sectors, but also mobility within Europe. ECVET, along with the credit transfer and accumulation system for academic and professional qualifications ECTS, are included in a law on assessment that will soon come into effect.
Yiannakou stressed that the credit transfer system would help and create new opportunities for young people.
"This system has European recognition. It will be linked, in effect, with the recognition of degrees and qualifications," she said.
 PM meets with Swedish former premier PerssonPremier Costas Karamanlis met Wednesday with Swedish former prime minister Goran Persson, who is currently on a visit to Greece.
No statements were made after the meeting.
 Chinese State Councilor Hua Jianmin visits RhodesVisiting Chinese State Councillor and the Secretary-General of China's State Council Hua Jianmin continued his official visit to Greece on Wednesday by travelling to the Dodecanese island of Rhodes, the largest isle in the group and one of the best known holiday destinations in the eastern Mediterranean.
The high-ranking People's Republic of China dignitary was accompanied by Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis on a tour of the island -- including archaeological and medieval sites -- as well as in meetings with local officials.
Both men also walked through the city of Rhodes' medieval quarter and the fortress of the Knights of St. John, where a reception will be held in Hua Jianmin's honor in the evening. The Chinese State Councillor will visit the Lindos archaeological site on Thursday.
 Chinese gov't delegation visits Olympic Stadium in AthensA visiting Chinese government delegation, headed by State Councillor Hua Jianmin, who is also Secretary-General of China's State Council, on Wednesday visited the installations of the Olympic Stadium in Athens, accompanied by Deputy Culture Minister responsible for sport George Orfanos.
The delegation's members included Foreign Minister Kong Quan, Minister of the Presidency Le Shishi and Chinese Ambassador in Athens Tian Xue Jun.
After their tour of the sports complex (OAKA), Orfanos said:"They were enthusiastic with what they saw and in general described OAKA as an excellent complex for games."
 Foreign ministry spokesman on anniversary of Imia incidentThe foreign ministry's spokesman on Wednesday commented on the 11-year anniversary of the Imia incident, a dispute over a pair of rocky, uninhabited islets in the eastern Aegean that almost precipitated in a confrontation between Greece and Turkey.
"Eleven years have passed since yet another incident in Greek-Turkish relations, and this gives us the opportunity to confirm our volition to always defend Greek interests, and at the same time, to safeguard conditions for good-neighborly relations with Turkey," spokesman George Koumoutsakos told reporters.
Ankara's dispute of Greek sovereignty of the islets and their accompanying continental shelf -- which lies to the east of the "sponge-divers" island of Kalymnos - ranked as the lowest point in Greek-Turkish relations since 1974.
 Military exercise held in RhodesA military exercise was conducted on the Dodecanese island of Rhodes on Wednesday in the presence of Deputy National Defense Minister Yiannis Lambropoulos.
After the end of the exercise, the deputy minister expressed his satisfaction on the high level of the units' alertness and on the excellent training of the members of the Armed Forces.
The exercise was conducted at the Kattavias firing range.
Lambropoulos was accompanied by Army General Staff Chief Lieutenant-General Dimitrios Grapsas.
 Deputy minister Nerantzis to attend event in WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)
Deputy Development Minister Anastasios Nerantzis will attend the National Prayer Breakfast to be held here on Thursday.
The National Prayer Breakfast will be addressed by President George W. Bush.
During his stay in Washington, Nerantzis is expected to meet with Senator George Voinovich, Congressman John Sarbanes and other U.S. officials.
 PM to meet Parliament presidentPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis is to meet Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki on Thursday.
 New Year cake cutting ceremony at foreign ministryThe human dynamic at the foreign ministry is the best in public administration and worthily represents the country, foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis said Wednesday, during the traditional cutting of the New Year "pitta" (cake) at the ministry, adding that soon steps would be taken to ensure its even more efficient operation.
"2006 was a good and productive year, and 2007 will be even better," she said.
Bakoyannis explained that the ministry's new organizational plan, which will better utilize the ministry's abilities, back the efforts and enable greater mobility, was due to be tabled in parliament this year.
At the same time, she said, efforts were being made together with the finance ministry to satisfy this year the long-standing requests of the foreign ministry "within the country's fiscal abilities".
"I hope to have better news to announce, soon," she added.
 Rise in Greek exports as pct of GDP anticipated, FinMin tells National Exports Council conferenceThe value of Greek exports is expected to reach 9.8 percentage points of GDP this year, national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis said Wednesday, opening the 10th conference of the National Exports Council.
Alogoskoufis said that despite the increase, "we must not be complacent", explaining that the increase in exports' contribution to GDP anticipated in 2007 to 9.8 percentage points against 8.8 percentage points in 2006 was nevertheless smaller than the proportion recorded in 2000.
According to figures released during the conference, covering the 10-month period January-October 2006, Greek exports to Russia rose by 20.6 percent, to Turkey by 24.7 percent, to Bulgaria by 31.6 percent, and to Romania by 46.8 percent, while they jumped by 60.8 percent to Japan and 65.0 percent to China.
Alogoskoufis further said that an increase in exports to the US, Australia and India would also be sought.
The minister explained that consumers, at an international level, demanded diverse and quality products, adding that more efforts needed to be made in that direction "because we have a relative lack of Greek brand name products".
Speaking more generally, Alogoskoufis said that, in addition to exports, tourism was also going well and foreign investors were returning to Greece, while the public finances were also improving continuously.
Addressing the same conference, deputy foreign minister Evrypides Stylianidis said that a total of 20 business missions abroad took place in 2006, as well as visits to 48 countries, while 15 mixed inter-ministerial committees also met.
He also said that three major overtures were made to the regions of SE Europe, the Black Sea, and the Arab world.
Regarding the Hellenic Exports Promotions Organization (HEPO), he said that the Action Plan for 2007 included participation in 99 international trade fairs as well as 45 business missions.
Further, Stylianidis continued, there were integrated programs for exports promotion to target-markets, such as the program for combined promotion of the construction materials and construction branches, and the program for combined promotion of the fashion products branches (clothing, fur, footwear, jewelry, cosmetics, accessories, natural cosmetics, etc.).
 Greece to send revised GDP figures report to Eurostat, FinMin saysThe Greek statistics service is expected to send a detail report on a GDP revision to Eurostat in the next few days, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister said there was no other reason for the delay except that the procedure was a time-consuming process and added that the evaluation of the Greek economy would be based on the country's old GDP figures. The European Commission just wants to have a picture of the country's fiscal conditions after its GDP was revised upwards, he said.
Alogoskoufis said that the country would have to decide GDP revisions every five years in the future to avoid any retrospective problems. He noted that a revised upwards GDP figure showed that Greeks were more rich than initially estimated, bringing the country closer to EU average. "We must never fear of the truth," he said.
The Greek minister said the government had a plan to combat tax-evasion and noted that tax-evasion was an anti-social behavior. Commenting on the results of a Eurogroup and ECOFIN meetings in Brussels, Alogoskoufis said Joacqin Almunia, the EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner said the Commission, after France, would decide on Germany, Greece and Malta.
Greece has a long way ahead and efforts would not stop here, he noted, adding that the aim was to achieve balanced or slightly surplus budgets in 2012. A decision to exit an excessive deficit procedure was an intermediate station in an effort to achieve fiscal consolidation through mild fiscal adjustment policies with necessary reforms.
Alogoskoufis said interest rates have never been so low and noted that consumers should be careful when borrowing money. Competition, he said, was the key for interest rate differences and underlined the important role played by the Competition Commission and the Bank of Greece in market regulation and supervision. The Greek minister said progress has been made on the issue, but more has to be done.
Alogoskoufis said pay rises in the public sector this year would exceed the inflation rate.
 PASOK, Coalition parties criticise FinMin's statementsThe main opposition PASOK party and the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) party on Wednesday criticized statements made by Finance and Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis on the state of the economy earlier in the day.
PASOK's economy sector chief Vasso Papandreou said that "Mr. Alogoskoufis is insisting on not talking about the account of the 'trick' concerning the GDP's revision. The account exists and it is very expensive. The Greek citizens will be called on to pay over 4 billion euros."
She added that "the minister is rejoicing, once again, over our country's upcoming exit from supervision, which we entered at his initiative in an artificial way and which we will be leaving in an artificial way."
Coalition party Political Bureau member and economic and social policy chief Panayiotis Lafazanis said that "the insistence of Mr. Alogoskoufis, in the framework of the neo-liberal directions of Ecofin, on the escalation of the so-called 'reforms' and of the fiscal 'adjustment', in the name of balanced and slightly surplus budgets, leaves no ground for illusions. The government is preparing a new stormy package of measures, mainly for after the elections, if and provided it wins them, with new prolonged unilateral austerity for salaries and pensions, a new demolition of labor and social security rights and new 'gifts' for big capital."
 FinMin on ECOFIN meeting in BrusselsPreparation of a European Council in March, economic situation in the European Union, foreign exchange developments and coordination of fiscal policies were the main issues discussed during an ECOFIN meeting held in Brussels January 29-30, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister said the meeting discussed also completion of internal market, quality of fiscal policies and better coordination in direct taxation policy among EU member-states.
Commenting on an ECOFIN decision to lift an excessive deficit procedure on the French economy, Alogoskoufis said France's fiscal deficit remained below 3.0 pct of GDP for two years, proof that the rate was sustainable. The Greek minister said the next ECOFIN meeting would discuss EU member-states' progress in a Lisbon strategy.
 PASOK spokesman Efthymiou criticizes government's economic policyMain opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) spokesman Petros Efthymiou, in a press conference he gave in Patras, in the Peloponnese, on Wednesday, criticized the government on its economic policy as well as on the issue of contract workers in the public sector, citing data of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece.
He also said that the social insurance system is being "threatened," adding that "the over-borrowing has led the Greek house-hold to 'the month of 20 days'."
Responding to a question on the eventuality of early general elections, Efthymiou said:"The government and top ministers created it. It is a dilemma for the New Democracy (ND) party, not a problem of PASOK. Our position, through the mouth of our president George Papandreou, is the sooner the better."
 30-year Greek bond issue priced at 37.5 points above German bondsA 30-year bond issue by the Greek government was met with significant interest by international markets, with bids totaling 11 billion euros, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.
The Greek bond was priced 37.5 points above the 30-year German benchmark bond and offers a coupon of 4.60 percent. Initial market estimates called for a spread of 37-39 points above the German bund, but strong demand for the issue pressured the spread to 37.5 percent.
The finance ministry said 30 percent of bids made through a book-building procedure, came from investors based in the UK, followed by US-based investors with 13.0 percent.
Commenting on the success of the issue, Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Petros Doukas said the success of the 30-year bond issue and the very favorable borrowing terms were proof of the fiscal progress made by the Greek economy and reflected the country's upgraded credibility in international markets.
 Bank of Piraeus says profits up 65 percent in 2006Bank of Piraeus Group on Wednesday reported a 65 percent increase in its net after tax and minorities earnings to 434.7 million euros in 2006, from 263.8 million euros in 2005, and an 83 percent jump in its pre-tax profits to 556.6 million euros from 304.6 million euros over the same period, respectively.
The bank said its strategic goals for the four-year period from 2007 to 2010 included an average annualized net profit growth rate of 24 percent, an average annualized organic earnings growth rate of 30 percent, maintaining its return over equity rate (after tax) at 30 percent, reducing its cost/revenues rate below 44 percent and improving its non-performing loans rate below 3.0 pct.
The bank's board will seek a shareholders' approval to a plan to pay a dividend of 0.64 euros per share, up from 0.40 euros in 2005, after already paying a pre-dividend of 0.32 euros per share to shareholders.
Bank of Piraeus Group assets totaled 30.931 billion euros last year (up 31 pct from 2005), its loan portfolio totaled 20.8 billion euros (up 31 pct and exceeding the Greek banking market's average rate of 19 pct). The bank said it achieved a significant improvement in its portfolio quality with non-performing loans at 2.37 percent of total loans, down from 3.41 pct in 2005.
Deposits, including credit securities, totaled 17.964 billion euros last year, up 28 percent from 2005.
Mihalis Sallas, the bank's chairman, commenting on the bank's 2006 results said high growth rates of profitability were a strong base to implementing a new four-year business plan aiming to raise the Group's assets at 65 billion euros, loan portfolio at 52 billion euros, net profits of 1.0 billion euros and a branch network of at least 900 units in Greece and abroad.
 Entrepreneurship up in Greece last year, GEM reportEntrepreneurship by younger professionals grew in Greece, according to the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report.
The report said that 7.9 pct of the Greek population, aged 18-64, was at an early stage of starting a business, including self-employment. It is a significant increase, compared with previous years, since the rate in previous GEM reports ranged between 5.7 pct and 6.7 pct. The 7.9 pct figure ranked Greece 19th in the global list and fourth in Europe, marking a significant improvement from the past.
The Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), presenting the report, said the development coincided with a rebound in entrepreneurship that prevailed the previous three years. This rate rose to 20.7 pct in 2006, from 14.2 pct in 2005, ranking Greece third from bottom in Europe and among the bottom in the global list.
The report said that 14.2 pct of the population (aged 18-64) said they planned to start a business in the next three years (down from 15.4 pct in 2005), another 2.7 pct of the population said they ended their business activities last year (2.9 pct in 2005), and 22 pct said there were business opportunities in the market (16 pct in 2005).
Another 35 pct of businesspeople in early stages of their activity last year said they used technology/processes mostly unavailable during the year. IOBE said 64 pct of new business projects focused on activities with consumer being the final customer (38 pct the average European rate).
 Greek businesses awarded by IsraelTwenty Greek businesses were given awards by the state of Israel for their contribution to the promotion of trade relations between Greece and Israel, during a special event held on Wednesday evening at the residence of Israel's new Ambassador to Greece Ali Yahya.
Yahya and commercial attache Mikhail Houri gave special awards signed by Israel's Trade Minister Eliahu Yisai.
Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis attended the ceremony and stressed during his address that the volume of bilateral trade transactions has been characterized by a stable increase in past years.
In 2006, according to Israeli statistical data, the volume of trade transactions was estimated as being close to 500 million dollars, increasing by 28.6 percent, primarily in such sectors as: plastics, building materials, food, farm products, technology, telecommunications, software, chemicals and medical equipment.
Stylianidis said that there is ground for further progress in trade relations in sectors such as agricultural equipment, textiles, telecommunications, shipyards, tourism, energy and construction.
He also announced that Greece and Israel are ready to organize the first meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee in Tel Aviv.
 President Papoulias receives GSEE trade union leadersPresident of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received the president and general secretary of the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), George Panagopoulos and Kostas Poupakis, respectively.
The heads of Greece's largest umbrella trade union organisation presented Papoulias with an invitation to attend and open the next GSEE conference on March 15.
 Olympic Airlines pilots to observe work stoppages on February 2 and 5Olympic Airlines company pilots have scheduled work stoppages over the next few days, protesting the fact that so far the company's administration has not proceeded with the leasing of five aircraft, which will be added to the airline's fleet to enable it to meet the increased requirements of passenger travel during the summer period.
The pilots have announced two three-hour work stoppages, between 8-11 in the morning, on Friday February 2 and Monday February 5. However, it is not certain that the strike action will be taking place, since the company's administration has resorted to an Athens court, requesting that the work stoppages be declared illegal and abusive. The decision is expected to be issued on Thursday.
 PASOK deputies on Public Gas Corporation of GreeceA total of 38 deputies of the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), headed by the party's Parliamentary Development Department, Christos Papoutsis, on Wednesday submitted a question about "the significant delays presented by the development program of the gas network of the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA)."
According to the PASOK deputies, "despite the loudmouth proclamations by the government about extension projects to 13 new regions, the consumers of these regions will still remain waiting for a long and undetermined time."
 Greek participation in FOODEX trade fair in JapanThe Federation of Northern Greece Exporters (SEBE), in cooperation with Hellenic Export Promotion Organisation (HEPO), are organising the participation of Greek enterprises in Japan's largest international food and beverage trade fair "FOODEX", to be held in Tokyo, March 13-16.
SEBE said it has secured the presence of Greek enterprises in a space of 100 sq.m. amongst Japanese importers, a point with almost double the number of visitors compared with other exhibition points.
Greek exports to Japan grew 61 pct in 2006, compared with the previous year, with the food/beverage sector accounting for 40 percent of total exports.
 Eurobank Properties reports sharply improved 2006 resultsEurobank Properties on Wednesday reported a 72.5-percent increase in its 2006 pre-tax profits to 32.4 million euros, up from 18.8 million euros in 2005.
The company said proceeds from the exploitation of real estate assets grew 28.7 percent, while revenues from deposits also jumped to 1.7 million euros in 2006 from 250,000 euros in 2005. Including tax burdens, the company's net profits totalled 31.3 million euros in 2006 from 27.1 million in the previous year.
Eurobank Properties' board will seek shareholders approval in a plan to pay a 0.64-euros per share dividend to shareholders, up 78 pct from the previous year.
 G. Ioannidis new managing director of RomTelecomAn old and distinguished cadre of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) will undertake the Organization's subsidiary in Romania, RomTelecom. He is George Ioannidis who, as it was announced, will assume the post of managing director as of Thursday, replacing James Hubley who is withdrawing.
Ioannidis is undertaking RomTelecom at a crucial turning point for the company, since he will have to take measures aimed at completing its modernization to enable it to cope with the challenges of ever-increasing competition.
RomTelecom is Romania's main telecommunications provider, appealing to a market of 22 million people and constituting OTE's biggest investment in the Balkans, since over 400 million euros have been invested.
OTE has been the company's main shareholder with 54.01 percent of the share capital since the beginning of 2003, while the remaining 45.99 percent remains in the possession of the Romanian public.
 Greek elected new vice-president of EUROPECHEThe new vice-president of the Union of National Organisations of Fishery Businesses of the European Union (EUROPECHE) is a Greek, following his unanimous election in Bilbao, Spain, on January 26, during the sessions of the umbrella organisation for commercial fishermen in Europe.
He is Dimitris Goulielmos, national representative of the Panhellenic Union of Fisheries (PEPMA) in the European Union.
 Report on Greek auto market outlookGreek consumers are more likely to purchase a car this year than any other citizen in the Eurozone, a report by the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Wednesday.
The report, based on October 2006 figures, said intention to purchase a car was almost identical in Greece with the average rate in the EU-25.
Car distributors in Greece were more cautious over their expectations for this year's sales, with a 16 pct expecting a decline in sales, while a 10 percent said they expected car prices to rise.
 Trade office of British Consulate in Thessaloniki to close in AprilThe trade office of Great Britain's Consulate in Thessaloniki, central Macedonia, will close in April, within the framework of the extended restructuring which has started at the British government organisation "UK Trade and Investment", with the objective of transferring funds from developed countries to emerging markets.
Part of the activities of the trade office will be transferred to the Trade and Investments Department of the British Embassy in Athens, as clarified in Thessaloniki on Wednesday evening by British Ambassador in Athens Simon Gass during his speech at the New Year event of the Northern Greece executive committee of the Hellenic-British Chamber of Commerce.
 Iaso SA hires Boston Consulting GroupIASO SA on Wednesday said it has appointed Boston Consulting Group to draft a development plan for the group. The plan will aim to further expand in the Greek market and abroad, particularly in Southeastern Europe, Balkans, Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
 Greek stocks end 0.79 pct higher on WednesdayGreek stocks rebounded strongly on Wednesday with the composite index rising 0.79 pct to end at 4,710.24 points. Turnover in the Athens Stock Exchange was an improved 449.8 million euros.
All sector moved higher with the exception of the Travel sector (off 0.25 pct). Industrial Products (1.92 pct), Food-Beverage (1.63 pct) and Chemicals (1.53 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day.
The Big Cap index rose 0.66 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.77 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 0.33 pct.
Interfish (17.58 pct), Korinth Steel (13.78 pct) and Kyriakoulis (11.54 pct) were top gainers, while Moda Bagno (6.67 pct), Viosol (5.56 pct) and Gener (5.0 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 161 to 93 with another 54 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.76%
Personal & Household: +0.51%
Raw Materials: +0.78%
Travel & Leisure: -0.25%
Food & Beverages: +1.63%
Financial Services: +1.33%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Piraeus Bank, National Bank, Marfin Popular Bank, Bank of Cyprus and OPAP.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 24.68
Public Power Corp (PPC): 22.10
HBC Coca Cola: 30.70
Hellenic Petroleum: 11.18
Emporiki Bank: 22.90
National Bank of Greece: 39.70
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 30.00
Titan Cement Company: 43.00
 ADEX closing reportFutures contract prices maintained their discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday with turnover at 111.579 million euros.
The February contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 0.26 pct and on the FTSE 40 index at a discount of 0.35 pct.
Volume in futures contracts on the FTSE 20 index totaled 5,202 contracts worth 67.666 million euros with 21,130 open positions in the market, while on the FTSE 40 index totaled 457 contracts worth 12.67 million euros with 1,533 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 8,203 contracts worth 7.569 million euros with investment interest focusing on Viohalco (1,449 contracts), followed by OTE (487), PPC (308), OPAP (369), Piraeus Bank (619), National Bank (572), Alpha Bank (347), ATEbank (536) and Intracom (449).
Volume in stock repos totaled 10,299 contracts and in reverse stock repos 179 contracts.
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 3.054 billion euros on Wednesday, of which 1.7 billion were bid orders and 1.35 billion call orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2016) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 1.045 billion euros, followed by the 10-year (July 20, 2015) with 617 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was unchanged at 0.25 percent. The Greek bond yielded 4.37 pct and the German Bund 4.11 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates were mixed. National Bank's overnight rate rose to 3.59 pct from 3.57 pct on Tuesday, the two-day rate was unchanged at 3.58 pct, the one-month rate fell to 3.58 pct from 3.61 pct and the 12-month rate was unchanged at 4.09 pct.
 Foreign Exchange Rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.305
Pound sterling 0.668
Danish kroner 7.514
Swedish kroner 9.124
Japanese yen 158.5
Swiss franc 1.634
Norwegian kroner 8.213
Cyprus pound 0.583
Canadian dollar 1.544
Australian dollar 1.692
 Actor Nikos Kourkoulos buried in Zografou cemeteryFamous Greek actor Nikos Kourkoulos, who died on Tuesday at the age of 73, was buried at noon on Wednesday at the Athens suburb of Zografou cemetery.
Present at the funeral were Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Parliament President Anna Benaki-Psarouda, former president of the republic Kostis Stephanopoulos, former prime minister Costas Simitis, many government ministers and deputies and thousands of Athenians.
The funeral service was officiated by Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos.
 Gov't warning on olive tree leaves 'cancer cure'; prosecutor intervenes"Public health issues should be handled very carefully," alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros warned on Wednesday in response to the media barrage here centered on yet another cancer-curing concoction, with the latest fad proclaiming "therapeutic properties" of olive tree leaves.
Antonaros said state services reacted swiftly as soon as the issue arose.
He added that the ministry of health immediately requested the opinion of a health experts' council, with a formal statement subsequently issued.
"Nobody is allowed to play with the hopes of people suffering from health problems or to put public health at risk," the spokesman noted.
Meanwhile, a first instance court chief prosecutor in Athens ordered an inquiry in response to the row over the therapeutic qualities attributed to the concoction by some practitioners of alternative medicine, some of whom have publicly claimed that it can cure cancer.
The urgent inquiry will determine if there is a risk to public health and conclude whether there is malice in any potential offenses committed, before proceeding with the identification of those responsible.
Extensive local media coverage regurgitating claims that the olive tree leaves concoction can cure illnesses like cancer have caused a stir in the east Mediterranean country, generating hundreds of inquiries from cancer sufferers and their families, and at the same time, a sharp reaction by physicians and public health officials.
 WWF urges Greece to step up action against climate changeThe Greek branch of the World Wildlife Fund, WWF Hellas, on Wednesday urged Greece's political leaders to take effective action to curb climate change by promoting energy conservation and renewable energy sources.
Pointing to the mounting scientific evidence that the world's climate is changing - a conclusion that the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to announce officially and authoritatively in Paris on Friday - WWF Hellas noted that Greece does not appear to be taking the threat seriously, in spite of numerous signs and warnings by scientists.
According to information that has leaked from the closed-door IPCC meeting in Paris so far, the rise in temperatures throughout the world in the past 100 years is 90 percent due to human activities.
"The situation looks to be difficult and this applies for Greece as well," the environmental organisation said.
It pointed out that Greece has so far failed to make changes necessary for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so that it was now considered extremely difficult for the country to meet the targets set under the Kyoto Protocol.
"The way that climate change is being handled is reflected by the 2nd National Plan for the Emissions Trading System, in which big industries in the country - and especially the Public Power Corporation (PPC) - are liberally handed rights to essentially pollute for free," WWF said.
A programme to restrict greenhouse gases currently being drawn up by Greece's environment ministry - in terms of its contents as outlined in a discussion document - was also unambitious, the group added.
"Some believe that reducing emissions runs counter to economic growth but this is a myth," WWF Hellas director Dimitris Karavellas stressed, noting that this view did not take into account the cost of the repercussions of climate change on farming, tourism, the country's ecosystems and Greek citizens.
 Court rules for nine people alleged in 'para-judicial ring' to stand trialAn Appeals Court ruled on Wednesday for nine people to stand trial on cases involving the "para-judicial ring".
The main accused in the case which was examined by the court were former judges Evangelos Kalousis and Constantina Bourboulia, as well as lawyers Sakis Kehayioglou and George Nikolakopoulos.
Jointly accused are three businessmen, a seaman, captain of the ship on which Bourboulia and Kalousis went on holiday, as well as the husband of the former public prosecutor.
 P. Serifis, Kondylis latest defendants to make statements in N17 appeals trialAnother two lesser known defendants in the ongoing "No-vember 17" appeals trial made final statements on Wednesday, with the second, Sotiris Kondylis, again repeating his first trial admission of participation in the once-elusive urban terror band.
The second defendant, Pavlos Serifis, who was also convicted in the first instance on lesser charges than the main protagonists and who was conditionally released from prison last year due to serious health reasons, initially began his statement by saying he was "against all forms of terrorism from wherever they may come from. I have no relation to N17. I am innocent. I support mass movements".
Serifis' defence counsel, meanwhile, said his client "neither condemns nor disputes" his (Serifis) initial statements - ones implicating other defendants - to police's anti-terrorism unit. In the first instance, Serifis, a distant relative of Yiannis Serifis -- one of the few defendants acquitted in the first trial -- said his confessions were the product of the "anti-terrorism unit's scenarios".
On his part, Kondylis said that during meetings with convicted N17 arch-assassin Dimitris Koufodinas and other individuals in various "rembetadika" music halls, he saw Alexandros Giotopoulos, who was introduced to him as "Lambros".
Giotopoulos, alternately identified as the co-founder and "primus inter pares" of the deadly ultra leftist terrorist group's members, was sentenced to life in prison in the first trial. He has continued, nevertheless, to maintain that he has nothing to do with N17.
Kondylis said he left the group in 1996.
 Road death statisticsThe road accidents that caused deaths or injuries rose to 1,261 in November 2006. More specifically, 120 people died, 139 were seriously injured and 1,443 suffered lighter injuries in those 1,261 road accidents recorded throughout Greece.
In November 2005, a total of 1,236 road accidents were recorded causing 130 deaths, 157 serious injuries and 1,400 lighter injuries.
According to the figures released Wednesday by the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), in November 2006 road accidents increased 2 percent, road accident-related deaths dropped 7.7 percent, the serious injuries recorded a decline of 11.5 percent and lighter injuries rose 3.1 percent.
 Thessaloniki Psychiatric Hospital patient wins distinction in European painting competitionThe coffee markings on used coffee cups are being copied on paper by a Thessaloniki Psychiatric Hospital patient whose drawings won a distinction in a European painting competition for people with mental disorders.
Amalia Vandera is among the 25 best painters with mental disorders in Europe and her works will be displayed in the 'EUward 4' exhibition to take place in Munich, Germany in March.
A similar distinction was won three years ago by another patient in the same hospital.
 Cyprus to report Turkish provocations to UN and EUNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus was to report on Wednesday to the UN and the EU Turkey's provocative stance towards the Republic of Cyprus, in relation to the exploration and exploitation of possible oil reserves or natural gas in the sea area of the island.
"We are proceeding just as we planned," Government Spokes-man Christodoulos Pashiardis said here Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting.
To a question on Turkey's threats, he said "we have nothing else to add further to our reaction yesterday (Tuesday) towards the Turkish Foreign Ministry's provocative statement."
"We will not be hauled into a public debate over an issue which solely concerns the lawful government of the Republic of Cyprus and in which neither Turkey nor the illegal regime has any say," the spokesman pointed out.
Asked if the exploration and exploitation of the possible oil reserves was discussed during the cabinet meeting, the spokes-man said there was a briefing and there was an exchange of views on the issue.
"We are proceeding just as we planned, exercising, as an independent and sovereign state, the legal, inalienable and safeguarded by international law, rights," the spokesman added.
Pashiardis said "we are neither indifferent to Turkey's threats nor are we concerned."
To a remark that Turkey might try to create a climate of instability to possible investors and asked how the government is intending to react, the spokesman said "we are proceeding within the day, to report Turkey's provocative stance both to the UN and the EU."
"We assess Turkey's threats as unjustified, and the reaction of the incorrigible troublemaker of the region as unfounded," Pashiardis said, adding that "we refuse to discuss Turkey's reactions."
The spokesman remarked he had nothing to say to a question whether the government intends to sign with Syria an agreement similar to those it signed with Egypt and Lebanon.
Invited to comment on a recent article by former Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Nicos Rolandis concerning the land oil reserves in Cyprus, the spokesman referred journalists to Rolandis.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in its statement Tuesday that "the countries and companies, which think of launching oil and natural gas exploration under null and void licenses to be given by the Greek Cypriot administration, should take into consideration the sensitivity of the situation and will of Turkish Cypriots who are the other founder nation on the island."
"These countries and companies should not launch any initiatives that may have a negative impact on the settlement of the Cyprus problem," it said.
The Republic of Cyprus is an EU member state since 2004. It has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 US say Turkish reactions to oil exploitation highlight need for Cyprus solutionNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said on Wednesday that Turkey's reactions to agreements signed by
Cyprus with neighbouring countries regarding the exploration and exploitation of possible oil reserves or natural gas in the sea area of the island highlighted the necessity for a settlement of the Cyprus problem.
McCormack told his regular briefing that ''this issue highlights once again why it is imperative that Cyprus, the Cyprus issue be resolved, as soon as possible,'' adding that ''a final settlement will enable all Cypriots to benefit jointly from the island's resources.''
''We encourage both parties to implement UN Undersecretary General Gambari's proposals and move towards settlement,'' he said.
Replying to questions, McCormack said ''we recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign state.''
''We also believe that it is important that any developments in the offshore area be done in a way to enhance prospects for the unification,'' he added.