|Friday, 28 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 07-04-20
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 20 April 2007 Issue No: 2574
 Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact concludes 16th ministerial conferenceBELGRADE (ANA-MPA/N. Melissova)
The 16th ministerial congress of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact (BSEC) ended on Thursday with the signing of two memorandums, one of which opens the way for the implementation of the Detour Motorway round the Black Sea, which was proposed and supported by Greece. Greece was represented at the conference by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis.
The signing of the memorandums, the other one of which concerns the linking of the Black Sea ports with the ports in the Aegean, "constitute specific steps in linking our region with the European continent," Bakoyannis said in her address, adding that Greece has a very important role to play for rapprochement between the BSEC and the European Union. "Our goal is for the BSEC to be treated by the EU as its main interlocutor in the region and, in parallel, the Europeanisation of the Black Sea countries to forge ahead."
"We hope that at the summit in Istanbul on June 25, at which our country will be represented by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the foreign minister, that the new institutional framework for a closer cooperation with the EU will be raised," Bakoyannis said.
Thursday's final ministerial conference of the Serb BSEC presidency, which Turkey will take over, was admittedly the conference with the highest representation in the 15-year history of the BSEC, on the sidelines of which intense diplomatic activity took placxe focusing on Kosovo.
The Greek foreign minister held a series of bilateral contacts with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Serb President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the foreign ministers of Azerbaidjan, Armenia and Romania.
In the discussion that Bakoyannis had with Lavrov on Kosovo, according to foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, she conveyed the position of the Greek government that Greece supports the taking of a decision by the Security Council as a first step, as well as a unified European position on the issue.
As regards the time of taking the decision on the final status quo, the foreign minister, according to the spokesman, expressed support for adequate time that will be really necessary, and not an extended one as a pretext, to assist the acceptance of a solution by the sides involved.
Speaking during the press conference given by the troika at the end of the session, Lavrov said of the issue that Russia will never support a solution that will not be acceptable to all the sides involved.
The Greek foreign minister also discussed with Lavrov, who represents one of the countries of the quartet, the situation in the Middle East which, as she said, is a "boiling pot" and placed emphasis on efforts to solve the Palestinian issue, which is the nucleus of problems in the wider region.
Lastly, Bakoyannis gave her Russian counterpart a short briefing on Turkish activity in the Aegean in the recent past.
"The Greek proposals that had been adopted by the Komotini Treaty during the Greek presidency are being scheduled with the Serb presidency now. The Detour Motorway that Greece had proposed to be named "The Path of the Argonauts" will have a length of about 7,500 kilometres while, apart from self financing and development aid that will be given for some parts of the axis, international fiscal organisations have also shown interest," Stylianidis said on his part.
"The scheduling of these proposals vindicates Greece which not only played a leading role in the development of relations between the BSEC and the EU, but which is also playing a leading role in practical proposals that will open the Black Sea market, that will be the second important opening for our country after the one we made in the Balkans," the deputy foreign minister added.
 FM Bakoyannis comments on FYROM 'name issue'Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was asked on Thursday, while in Belgrade to attend the 16th ministerial congress of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact (BSEC), to comment on recent statements by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) pending membership in NATO.
"Everyone has the inalienable right to repeat their positions and to express their hopes. Beyond that, Greece's positions are well-known and have been communicated to friends and partners.
"In the end, Skopje does not border with the United States, Greece borders with Skopje. We are neighbours and it is in Skopje's best interests to solve, with us, this pending problem," she said.
In a letter addressed to FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososky and publicised in Skopje on Wednesday, Rice said "we continue to support the process for the solution of this matter (of the name), within the framework of the United Nations, hoping that the lack of a mutually acceptable solution on this issue will not hinder the course of 'Macedonia's' course to NATO."
 State Department says US policy on FYROM name issue has not changedWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
The policy of the United States on the name issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has not changed, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Thursday.
McCormack officially confirmed the sending of the letter by the US Secretary of State to her FYROM counterpart, noting, "I read the letter and there is no change in our policy."
The spokesman added, "We continue to support Greece and Macedonia coming to a solution under the aegis of the UN. There's a process underway. We encourage both sides to come to a resolution of the matter."
 PM confers with FinMin, education minister on digital access in Higher EducationPrime minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday conferred with national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis and education minister Marietta Yannakou, to discuss digital access in higher education.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Alogoskoufis said that the government, consistent with another one of its commitments, "which was also a personal commitment on the part of the premier, has decided to materialise a very important programme that concerns digital penetration in higher education".
He said that the "See it Digitally" programme, which was addressed to higher education students, was commencing, enabling 20 percent of the students who excelled in the 2006 examinations -- some 12,500 students -- to acquire a modern laptop computer with Internet access.
The programme, he explained, was budgeted at more than 7.5 million euros, and was co-financed by the European Union, adding that it would be expanded over the coming years.
This will enable the youth to participate in the digital revolution, the information society and in the technological developments, the minister said.
Yannakou, in turn, said that a similar programme already existed for highschool honour pupils, who received PCs, adding that the programme would be furether expanded in order to give many opportunities to the country's youth.
"We have a comprehensive strategy that touches on all sectors, but digital convergence, especially in the field of education, is the most important issue, in the sense that all these are spearhead policies for the present government," Yannakou said, noting that there was also a programme for cheap internet for students.
State to subsidise laptops for 12,584 first-year undergraduates
About 20 percent for Greece's first-year undergraduate students will qualify for a state-subsidised laptop under the "See it Digitally" action launched by the government.
Commenting on the decision on Thursday, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that it implemented a pledge by made by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the ruling New Democracy party.
"The programme is growing and now 20 percent of the top students will receive a laptop and an internet connection," he added.
The subsidy will cover 80 percent of the value of the laptop chosen by students, up to the sum of 500 euros, and will be given to some 12,584 students who passed university entrance exams in 2006 with the highest marks in their department or school.
The action, a collaborative effort by the finance and education ministries, has a total budget of 7.5 million euros and is co-funded by the European Union.
A letter will be sent to the students that qualify for the programme in the next few days that will contain a personal code, which they can use to purchase the laptop of their choice at any retail outlet by the deadline of May 31, paying only the difference in value for its purchase. The laptop also comes with a year's Internet, a two-year warrantee and guarantee that it will be replaced if it malfunctions within the first month of ownership.
Based on the response to the action this year, the government will examine the possibility of extending the programme further in coming years.
Participation in the "See it Digitally" action is open to all suppliers, who will receive the subsidy after selling a laptop to students and submitting the necessary documents to the National Network for Research and Technology that is in charge of carrying out the action.
Further information for students and companies is available on the website <http://www.destinpsifiaka.gr> and at the phone line 801 11 85 100.
 FM Bakoyannis says 'Greece has int'l law as its ally'Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who arrived on Rhodes on Thursday to attend the meeting of EU European Affairs Ministers, said that "Greece has international law as its ally and is moving on the basis of this."
She was commenting on statements made by Turkish National Defence General Staff chief General Yashar Buyukanit.
"Turkish policy is known but we have internationlal law as our ally," she said, adding that "Greece is a strong country with a strong defence, member of the European Union and NATO and it has nothing to fear."
Bakoyannis also stated that Greece supports Turkey's accession to the European Union but that in order for Turkey to become a member, it must accept the acquis communautaire.
Referring to the meeting of the European Affairs Ministers which is being held in Rhodes, she described it as "extremely important" because during its course, issues will be discussed which concern European policy on the Sea.
The aim of the meeting is to transform existing ideas into directives and policies of the European Union. The meeting's sessions began on Thursday night in Rhodes and will conclude on Friday.
 Turkish military chief visits Atatürk house in ThessalonikiThe chief of the Turkish armed forces' general staff, Gen Ya_ar Büyükan1t, on Thursday continued the private portion of his visit in Thessaloniki, a day after participating in the inaugural summit of Balkan and SE European countries' military chiefs of staff in the city.
Where there is will there is a solution. What matters is to ask if there is a will. My opinion is that, yes, there is. Therefore, there can be a solution , Büyükan1t said in a response to a bevy of reporters' questions regarding Greek-Turkish relations.
He made the comments after visiting the 19th century house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, was born. The house lies within the premises of the Turkish consulate in the Greek port city.
"The only way to solve (problems) is to create a climate of confidence and hold regular meetings", he said, adding that it is unrealistic to expect two military officials, from Greece and Turkey, respectively, to sit down and solve all Greek-Turkish problems. Conversely, he said their duty is to create a climate of trust allowing politicians to meet and solve the problems.
"We should not be without hope when dealing with problems. Countries that used to be enemies during the world wars now form the European Union. Such a development was unthinkable at the end of WWII," he said.
Gen. Büyükan1t also stated that relations can develop through cooperation, while noting that there are differences but no animosity between our peoples.
In reference to his tour of the Atatürk house, he rejected any noting that he wanted to send any message to the Erdogan government, stressing that he had already presented the armed forces' viewpoint in a lengthy press conference he gave in Turkey last Friday.
Responding to question on the demonstration held in Ankara last week in support of the secular state, he underlined that legitimate rallies are a democratic right.
Greek National Defence General Staff, Adm. Panayiotis Hinofotis, also had separate talks with Büyükan1t on the sidelines of the summit.
Büyükan1t departed Thessaloniki in the early afternoon.
 Papandreou addresses Democrats of the Left congress in ItalyFLORENCE (ANA-MPA/S. Aravopoulou)
President of the Socialist International and Greece's main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou, addressing the congress of the Democrats of the Left, said on Thursday that the undertaking of the Italian Left strengthens common values.
Speaking in Italian, Papandreou said "only united, only together can we win and change the world. Because we have real differences from conservatives and the Right. Differences in values."
The 4th congress of the Democrats of the Left, the party that resulted from the "ashes" of the Italian Communist Party, began here on Thursday with 1,550 delegates, 147 representatives of 73 parties from all over the world, international organisations from 73 countries and 65 diplomatic delegations. The party currently constitutes the biggest "pylon" of the ruling coalition headed by Romano Prodi.
Papandreou said that democracy needs renewal today for the good of its citizens, adding that it is not an issue of election tactics but a crucial case for political life.
"Today, we only need political will for the change and the building of a new cooperation, the creation of foundations for a new political organisation that will express with realism and vision that the alternative solution in the world we are living in is feasible today," he said.
He further said that "for this reason just like in any other political organisation the time has also come for the Socialist International to reconsider in depth its structures and action and to follow the proposal of Piero Fassino."
Piero Fassino, Secretary of the Democrats of the Left, had proposed in his inaugural speech to the congress, that his party "be neither conservative nor of the centre, but progressive and reformist."
Referring to the role and the action of the Socialist International and focusing on pre-emptive diplomacy in promoting peace both in the Middle East and the Balkans, which is the direct neighbourhood of the EU to which Europe must give a clear European prospect, Papandreou also underlined the efforts taking place to widen cooperation with political movements of the progressive sector in regions which are becoming all the more important for the future of humanity, such as India, China, Russia and the Arab world.
"Common conscience makes us intelligent enough to enable us to work together, to think of tomorrow and not only of today, to break the wall of inequalities between genders, races and nations, as well as the real walls that exist in Palestine and Cyprus," the PASOK leader said.
Lastly, Papandreou expressed his support for the government of Romano Prodi and did not omit, in view of the April 21 anniversary, to thank the Italian parties for their solidarity to the struggle of the Greeks against the junta.
Official guests at the congress included American Democrat President Howard Dean, European Socialist Party President Paul Rasmussen and the head of the European Parliament's Socialist Group Martin Schultz.
 Political responsibilities will be attributed in bonds issue, PASOK spokesman saysMain opposition PASOK party spokesman Petros Efthymiou, referring to the ongoing bonds issue, said on Thursday that the political responsibilities will be attributed as well as all other responsibilities, "whatever character they may have, will lead to the punishment of the perpetrators in the case".
"Regardless of the outcome of the issue, at the level of political, penal or civil responsibility, what must happen is for them to return the money to the social insurance funds before the elections," Efthymiou said.
He added that not only has the government "lost the trust of the Greek people, but it is leading the country to a deadlock in all sectors" and stressed that "it is natural for all this to be led before the judegement of the Greek people."
PASOK's spokesman also mentioned that the bonds case "could only have been made possible with an organised plan and with the complicity of the two ministries:The finance ministry that includes (Economy and Finance Minister George) Mr. Alogoskoufis and (Deputy Finance Minister Petros) Mr. Doukas and secretary general Mr. Kouris and the employment ministry that includes (Minister Savvas) Mr. Tsitouridis, Evgenios Papadopoulos and the system of partisan appointed social insurance funds' governors."
In another development, PASOK's employment rapporteur Maria Damanaki said on her part that "the amendment that was ratified and that concerns the way with which social insurance funds are run is the 'screen' behind which the government and the employment minister in particular are trying to conceal their responsibilities."
 Government spokesman responds to PASOK over bonds issueMinister of State and Government Spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos responded on Thursday to criticism formulated earlier in the day by main opposition PASOK spokesman Petros Efthymiou on the Social Insurance Funds bonds issue.
"After yesterday's (Wednesday) decision by the Capital Markets Commission which unveils that Acropolis Securities cooperated with the Funds receiving excessive commissions already during the period of PASOK governments, Mr. Efthymiou should have been more careful in his statements," Roussopoulos said.
"The difference between the present government and PASOK governments is clear. The New Democracy government, in a serious and responsible manner, brings to light and before justice every case, shielding with specific measures transparency and proper management. Those who for twenty years shut their eyes to reality have no right today to present themselves as accusers," the spokesman concluded.
The Capital Markets Commission on Wednesday revoked the operating license of Acropolis Securities and placed the company under liquidation supervision after a meeting found that the company has breached securities legislation making it risky to investors and to the market's smooth operation.
Government responds to PASOK criticism over pension funds issue
Responding to the main opposition's charges over the pension funds issue, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday countered that these were made without due consideration, while stressing that the government had done everything it had promised to do.
"The charges made by PASOK members were outlined just half an hour or one hour after the contract with JP Morgan [for the structure bond issue] was submitted to Parliament - this is a contract that runs to several hundred pages - and were made with the same carelessness with which they earlier claimed that the bond was for 300 million euros when it was actually for 280 million euros," Roussopoulos said.
The spokesman also pointed out that the issue had been referred to justice precisely because there had been suspected overpricing in the transactions involving the specific bonds.
"The government is doing those things it made a commitment to do. It submitted the contract to Parliament, it referred the case to justice, it involved the authority against money-laundering, while the Capital Market Commission yesterday released the first evidence, whereas the previous government had not strengthened the Capital Market Commission.
"It is indicative that evidence has arisen for similar overpricing in 2002-2003 involving the Acropolis Brokerage, which had no time came to light. Therefore, some people were either unaware or knew and covered up [the irregularities]. In any case, the government now says that everything must be dragged into the light," he added.
 Deputy FM Valinakis inaugurates Greek Consulate General in FloridaNEW YORK (ANA-MPA / P. Panagiotou)
Deputy Foreign Minister Yannis Valinakis officially inaugurated the Greek Consulate General in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, at a ceremony attended by municipal and state officials and representatives of the Greek-American community.
The Consulate covers the states of Florida -- with a roughly 150,000-strong Greek-American communit -- Alabama and Mississippi.
Valinakis also addressed a large gathering of Greek expatriates at Tarpon Springs and referred to Greece's place in the international political scene as well as to a number of Dodecanese Islands-related issues.
The deputy foreign minister was honored with the Gold Key of the City of Tarpon Springs and, during a special ceremony held afterwards, he bestowed a Hellenic Presidency medal on former US House of Representatives member Michael Bilirakis, who comes from the southeastern Aegean island of Kalymnos and served in the House of Representatives for 24 years.
The deputy foreign minister praised Bilirakis' contribution to issues of national interes,t particularly in crucial times, and stressed that Greece is closer than ever to meeting its goals while the foundations are being laid allowing the country to play a leading role in the region and internationally.
 Interior minister at presentation of IT systems for prefecturesInterior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Thursday addressed an event presenting the progress of a programme for "Integrated Computer Systems for Prefectural Authorities" organised by the interior ministry, the prefecture union ENAE and "Society of Information" SA.
During his speech, he referred to the need to create strong local authorities that would be administratively and financially independent and "a source of expression of popular sovereignty and a cell of immediate democratic legitimisation". He also pointed to recent increases in funding for prefectures, saying that this had increased four-fold since 2004.
According to Pavlopoulos, 82 percent of funds from the 4th Community Support Framework (CSF) were gradually being funnelled to the regions and to various levels of local government, while the aim was to improve the daily life of ordinary citizens. He stressed that these funds would be used for developmental investments and infrastructure.
"Given that 60 percent of transactions with the public occur through prefecture authorities, one can see the importance of this participation and its effect in terms of a better and faster service for citizens but also for businesses, on transparent terms".
Regarding the integrated computer systems for prefectures, budgeted at over 141 million euros, he said this covered about 60 percent of their operations and would assist in improving their organisation, making better use of human resources, improve decision-making systems and boost enterprise and productivity.
 Greece interested in Romanian electricity deal; oil pipeline discussed in SofiaBUCHAREST (ANA-MPA)
Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Thursday announced that a team of Greek experts would visit Romania in two weeks' time to discuss, with local agencies, the prospective purchase of electricity from the newest EU member-state.
Sioufas spoke to reporters after a meeting in Bucharest with Romanian minister of economy and commerce Varujan Vosganian.
The two ministers also discussed prospects for further boost bilateral relations, as well as Greek businesses' significant presence in Romania, as Greece is the third largest foreign investor in Romania.
Efforts to increase bilateral trade and economic ties even more will be discussed during a visit by Vosgonian to Greece in the coming months.
Sioufas arrived in Sofia after his visit to Bucharest, where he held high-level talks with Bulgarian Regional Development Minister Asen Gagaouzov, focusing directly on progress to construct the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline.
Both sides confirmed their volition to proceed as soon as possible with the project as well as to ratify an interstate agreement recently signed by the leaders of Russia, Bulgaria and Greece in Athens.
Bulgaria's Cabinet approved the tripartite agreement on Thursday, while the country's Parliament is also expected to ratify the pact in the coming weeks, whereas Sioufas said the agreement will be tabled with the Greek parliament's plenum on April 25.
The next three-party meeting will take place in Moscow at the end of May to focus on the establishment, share composition, charter and other particulars of a consortium set up for the construction and subsequent management of the pipeline.
Sioufas was also expected to meet with Bulgarian Economy and Energy Minister Roumen Ovcharov.
 Transport and communications minister concludes official visit to TokyoTransport and Communications Minister Mihalis Liapis has successfully concluded an official visit to Tokyo, during which he held a series of meetings with Japanese ministers for talks on issues concerning relations between the two countries in various sectors.
Liapis attended an official dinner given in his honour by the first deputy minister of the Japanese foreign ministry Takeshi Iwaya with whom he discussed the question of a direct air link between the two countries to further develop their economic relations and their tourist markets in particular.
The Greek minister proposed the scheduling of special charter flights at an initial stage for the direct air link between Athens and Tokyo during holiday and vacation periods and in general at times of increased tourist travel between the two countries.
Liapis also had consecutive meetings with the interior and communications minister and deputy minister Yoshihide Suga and Hideo Shimizu respectively, with whom he discussed the sectors of electronic communications, informatics and communications technologies and future prospects of cooperation in the framework of promoting the global informatics society.
Both sides confirmed their desire for closer cooperation and expressed confidence that it will be mutually beneficial.
 Commission demands return of 285.3 million euros of CAP money from member-statesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
The European Commission on Thursday called for a return of 285.3 million euros in EU farm payments it said were "unduly spent" by member-States -- including Greece -- following a same-day decision adopted by the Commission here.
According to a press release issued here on Thursday, "the money returns to the Community budget because of inadequate control procedures or non-compliance with EU rules on agricultural expenditure. Member States are responsible for paying out and checking expenditure under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the Commission is required to ensure that Member States have made correct use of the funds."
Commenting on the decision, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel stressed: "We have been working very hard to ensure the best possible control over farm spending. The clearance procedure is a vital process in ensuring that taxpayers' money is used properly and that incorrectly spent amounts are recovered. We have made enormous progress over recent years in improving controls and I am determined that these efforts will continue in the future."
The decision calls for the recovery of unduly spent CAP money from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Britain and Portugal.
Specifically, 60.6 million euros charged to Spain for non-respect of payment deadlines in the nuts payment scheme; 53.7 euros million charged to United Kingdom for non-respect of payment deadlines; 48.5 million euros charged to Italy for non-respect of payment deadlines; 35.8 million euros charged to Greece because the LPIS (Land parcel identification system) implemented to manage the direct payments schemes was found to be not fully operational to the standard required and on-the-spot checks were still carried out too late to be fully effective; 26.7 million euros charged to the Netherlands because of the insufficient number of substitution controls in the export refund scheme; 17 million euros charged to Spain for non-respect of payment deadlines; 8.7 million euros charged to France concerning the over thirty months slaughter scheme - technical and accounting controls were found to be deficient; 7.5 million euros charged to France for weaknesses in the control system for subsidised-interest-loans and in secondary controls concerning Rural Development Programmes expenditure.
For the full story: http://www.europa.eu/press_room/index_en.htm
 Greece emerging as important photovoltaics market, conference toldGreece is emerging as one of the most important markets for photovoltaics, delegates were told on Thursday at the start of the two-day 2nd Mediterranean Conference of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) held in Athens.
Welcoming the 400 delegates from 300 countries, EPIA Board Chairman Winfried Hoffman said that recent legislation passed by the Greek government was moving in the right direction and made Greece one of the most important markets for energy production using photovoltaic systems.
He urged Mediterranean governments to seriously consider implementing a plan for Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation and set up a EU-MENA (Europe-Mediterranean-North Africa) grid using Renewable Energy Sources (RES).
Among speakers at the conference on Thursday was Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou, who said that the new legislation passed on June 2006, which made provision for payment of up 0.40-0.50 euros for every KW of solar-generated power input into the Public Power Corporation (PPC) grid and subsidies of up to 60 percent for RES power generation, had enlivened investment interest in photovoltaic systems.
According to Papathanassiou, investment interest was shifting away from wind power to photovoltaics, an extremely promising field given the plentiful sunshine in Greece. The minister also underlined the plans for a special spatial planning act for RES that had been unveiled for consultation with industry.
"We believe that in this way the production of green energy will be rapidly promoted from 11 percent today to 20 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2020," Papathanassiou said.
The conference was also addressed by main opposition PASOK MP Christos Papoutsis, who pointed to the minimal use of photovoltaics in Greece up to this time and stressed their great potential, given that the country received the highest levels of sun radiation in Europe and had the greatest dependency on oil. He also noted Greece's problems in meeting targets under the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that carbon dioxide emissions were increasing by 38 percent instead of the Kyoto target of 25 percent.
 Vote to strike leads to rift within GSEE trade union groupTrade unionists in the DAKE faction, affiliated to the ruling New Democracy party, on Thursday said they would split ranks with the majority within the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE), Greece's largest umbrella trade union organisation, in the wake of a deeply divisive decision for a protest strike over the pension funds' issue.
The meeting of the GSEE management plenum, which culminated in a decision for a 24-hour strike on May 1 to mark Labour Day and a 24-hour nationwide strike on May 15 over the pension funds issue, was marked by heated arguments between factions affiliated to the different political parties. These came to a head when GSEE General Secretary Costas Poupakis announced that DAKE will "freeze" its participation in GSEE's presidency until DAKE's conference at the end of May.
GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos had proposed that the May 15 strike be carried out in cooperation with the civil servants' union ADEDY and that it raise demands for the "return of money lost by state social security funds" through investments in high-risk structured bonds and measures to boost the viability of pension funds and the social insurance system. The proposals were approved by the majority at the end of the meeting.
Poupakis said that DAKE would vote in favour of the Labour Day strike but would not participate in the actions planned by GSEE, holding separate rallies instead. He also underlined that, even if DAKE did vote in favour of a strike on May 15, it would participate for different reasons and would highlight the need to find those responsible but also the losses to pension funds stretching back to 1998. He asked for an audit and evaluation for fund activities since 1998 and proposed a meeting between GSEE and the ministers of employment and finance.
The DAKE conference at the end of May will be an opportunity to "determine, with all issues on the table, our further course within the presidency, the Executive Committee, GSEE and society...The conference will decide to support restructuring in the trade union movement, where people, organs, ideological trends will act and operate only for the benefit of the workers that they are meant to represent - even if this requires their refoundation," Poupakis added.
The proposal to strike was supported by the factions representing the left-wing parties, though the Communist Party-affiliated PAME stressed that it would also have its own agenda - demanding full withdrawal of pension fund reserves from all forms of "gambling" in securities - and would hold separate rallies to the main body of GSEE.
At the end of the meeting, GSEE announced that the central demand of the events it would organise on Labour Day this year would be that pension funds get their money back, that the guilty be punished, that the financial viability of pension funds and the rights of workers be protected. It said a rally would be held at 11:00 at Pedion tou Areos in central Athens.
It also announced a meeting on April 24 of the National Trade Union Council of GSEE and ADEDY, which together represent the majority of Greek employees in the public and private sectors, to coordinate action for jointly demanding a return of pension funds' money and the May 15 strike.
Finally, it announced plans to seek a return of the funds through the courts using legal means and to find those responsible, and to seek a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the political party leaders to present the workers' demands.
 'Tourism Panorama 2007' exhibition inauguratedIn the presence of Tourism Development Minister Fani Palli-Petralia, the inauguration was held on Thursday of the "Tourism Panorama 2007" exhibition which is taking place at the Expo Athens exhibition centre in Anthoussa, in the Attica region, until Sunday.
The tourism minister in her address said "our country this year is prepared to receive more tourists than in any other year," noting that tourism to Greece can grow even further and that the major investments being materialised during this period in Greece "will also shape the new face of Greek tourism after 2010."
Earlier, during a press conference held within the framework of the exhibition, Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Christos Folias presented the Programme for the Viable Development of Northern and Central Pindos, which, along with Evia, is the theme region. The total budget, after the 3rd Observation Committee, has increased to 100 million euros. The programme is financed exclusively by national funds of the Public Investments Programme.
 National Bank sells remaining stake in AGET Heracles to Lafarge for 321.6 mln eurosNational Bank on Thursday announced it has reached an agreement to sell its remaining stake in AGET Heracles to Lafarge SA for 321.6 million euros.
National Bank will sell 18,480,899 shares, or 26 percent of AGET Heracles, at a price of 17.40 euros per share (the average market price in the last 30-days during which AGET Heracles recorded a 6-year high). The sale price offers a 13 percent premium from the company's average market price in the last 12 months.
The sale is part of National Bank's strategy to focus on banking activities. Goldman Sachs acted as financial consultant to the deal.
Lafarge not planning to delist AGET Heracles from ASE
AGET Heracles' board on Thursday said a restructuring of its Chalkis unit was not negotiable, based on the company's standards.
Saad Sebbar, the company's chief executive, speaking to reporters, left the door open to all possibilities regarding the future of the unit, a day after the board announced it was shutting down operations, and stressed it would participate in a tri-party meeting in the Employment ministry under the right conditions and terms for a fruitful dialogue.
Sebbar said Heracles Cement was a significant business unit of Lafarge Group and that a further development of the company was planned for the long-term, offering additional value to its shareholders and customers. In this framework, Lafarge bought an additional 18.5 million euros of Heracles from National Bank of Greece, at a price of 17.40 euros per share, or a total of 321.6 million euros in cash. Lafarge did not plan to proceed with a public offer to the remaining shareholders of the company nor to delist the stock from the Athens Stock Exchange.
Sebbar underlined the board's wish for the Chalkis unit to begin operations again said plans were ready to develop the unit through investments and restructuring.
 PPC expects improved results this yearPublic Power Corp. (PPC S.A.) chairman and chief executive Takis Athanassopoulos on Thursday said he expected the state-controlled and bourse-listed power utility to stop declining profits this year, while stressing, however, that 2007 would be a very difficult year.
Speaking to reporters, Athanassopoulos said PPC was taking all precautionary measures to ensure power supplies during the peak summer period, while he urged for a fair pricing policy. Furthermore, the PPC executive he did not exclude a voluntary retirement programme, before adding that PPC would unveil a business plan by end September or early October.
PPC reported an 83-percent decline in profits in 2006 down to 22 million euros, reflecting higher costs for fuel and energy.
Athanassopoulos said he expected power demand to reach 10,300 MW this summer, up from 9,970 MW in 2006, as early forecasts for temperatures over the summer were gloomy. He noted that production by hydro-electric power stations has fallen by 50 percent due to low rainfall this year, while the country faced less imports from Bulgaria after the closure of Kozlodui nuclear plant. He noted, however, that the enterprise was doing everything possible to ensure supplies.
Athanasopoulos said PPC and Naguib Sawiris enjoyed the best of relations in their joint venture Tellas (in which PPC owns 50 percent minus one share) and that the utility was "studying its position" both in Tellas and in the natural gas market (it holds a 30 percent equity stake in DE.PA).
PPC's strategic planning includes five elements: a regulatory framework strategy, cutting spending and improving efficiency, a production strategy, new sources of revenue and a new corporate culture.
 GMAC president arrives for Greek visitThe president and chief executive officer of the well-known Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which owns and manages the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), arrived in Athens on Thursday to deliver a speech on management education at an international meeting of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD).
David A. Wilson's visit comes on the heels of recently released data by GMAC showing that Greek citizens show a proportionately strong interest in pursuing graduate degrees in management.
According to GMAC, applicants in Greece took the (GMAT) -- the admission test used by top business schools around the world -- almost twice as many times in 2006 as they did in 2000, whereas Greece was third among European countries in terms of the number of GMAT exams taken in 2006. Also, Greece was fourth on the list of countries worldwide to which European GMAT examinees sent their score reports in 2006.
In a fillip for the otherwise non-evaluated and more-or-less stagnant Greek higher education system, the Athens University of Economics and Business' (former ASOEE) MBA program is ranked as among the 10 most popular MBA programs among European GMAT examinees, as measured by where examinees send score reports.
The data comes from the latest European Geographic Trends Report published by GMAC.
GMAT is the standardized exam used by admissions officials at more than 3,000 business education programs around the world. The test is owned by GMAC, a non-profit organization of leading business schools around the world.
 Industrial new orders index down 0.5 pct in February, yr/yrGreece's industrial new orders composite index (measuring both domestic and foreign markets) fell 0.5 pct in February, compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.
The statistics service said, however, that the average index was up 11.8 pct in the 12-month period from March 2006 to February 2007, compared with the previous 12-month period.
The February figure reflected a 19.7 pct increase in new orders of intermediate goods, a 6.0 pct rise in capital goods, an 1.0 pct increase in durable goods and a 2.5 pct drop in non-durable goods.
The turnover index in the industrial sector fell 1.7 pct in February 2007 compared with the same month last year, for an increase of 10.4 pct in the 12-month period from March 2006 to February 2007. The 1.7 pct decline of the turnover index reflected a 2.5 pct decline in the mining sector and an 1.7 pct drop in the manufacturing sector.
 Black Sea Bank offers 18-mln-US dollar loan to Turkey's AveaThe Black Sea Trade and Development Bank on Thursday announced it was offering a US$18-million loan to Avea, a Turkish telecommunications enterprise.
The nine-year loan will be used by Avea to finance a programme to expand its network and the supportive infrastructure of its GSM system at a national level.
The project, budgeted at 1.5 billion US dollars, is co-funded by International Financial Corporation (IFC) - a subsidiary of World Bank - and the official development representations of Germany (DEG), the Netherlands (FMO) and France (PROPARCO), along with a joint venture of international and Turkish financial institutions.
Avea is the youngest telecommunications operator in Turkey with more than eight million subscribers. It employs more than 1,800 people and cooperates with 369 operators in 165 countries.
The Black Sea Trade and Development Bank was founded by Greece, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Its capital totals 1.45 billion US dollars.
 Hellenic Exchanges' board member resignsAlexandros Moraitakis, the president of the Members' Association of the Athens Stock Exchange, on Thursday resigned as a member of Hellenic Exchanges SA board, citing disagreement over the pricing policy followed by the Greek markets' operator.
In his letter of resignation, Moraitakis said the decision was taken after Hellenic Exchanges' board rejected his proposals to cut transactions fees.
 Bank of Piraeus wins international award for internal controlThe European Foundation for Quality Management awarded the Bank of Piraeus with its E.F.O.M. (Recognised for Excellence in Europe) award for the Greek bank's internal control directorate.
The Greek bank's internal control directorate operates under its present form since 2000, with offices in Athens and Thessaloniki.
 Restis family buys 33.45 pct stake in Imako MediaImako Media on Thursday announced that Restis family has acquired a 33.45 percent equity stake in the company and that its chief executive, Petros Kostopoulos, was reducing its majority stake in the company from 60.32 percent to 50.30 percent.
Imako Media said it would seek approval from an extraordinary general shareholders' meeting in a plan to change the number of its shares to 2,780,750 and its nominal value to 1.08 euros from 0.36 euros per share.
 Aspis Life reports impressive Q1 resultsAspis Pronia Life on Thursday reported a 67.5-percent jump in its premium production in the first quarter of 2007 to 16.5 million euros, up from 9.84 million euros in the corresponding period in 2006. The listed insurance company said its premium production reached 60 percent last year.
Proceeds rose 20 percent to 28.3 million euros in the January-March period, up from 23.89 million euros last year, while compensations were unchanged over the same period.
Premium production by Aspis Pronia Damages soared 120 percent to more than 40 million euros in the first three months of 2007, while revenues rose 26 percent over the same period.
Car insurance premium production more than doubled. Aspis Pronia said all sectors recorded profits in the first quarter.
 Greek stocks end 0.59 pct lower on ThursdayGreek stocks remained under pressure for the third consecutive session in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday. The composite index fell 0.59 pct to end at 4,777.21 points, with turnover a strong 758.8 million euros, of which 397.6 million euros were block trades (the transfer of a 26 percent equity stake in AGET Heracles by National Bank to Lafarge at 17.4 euros per share).
Sector indices ended lower, with the Technology (2.14 pct), Utilities (2.01 pct) and Oil (1.59 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while the Media (1.08 pct), Food/Beverage (0.19 pct) and Travel (0.06 pct) scored gains.
The Big Cap index fell 0.54 pct, the Mid Cap index eased 0.81 pct and the Small Cap index rose 0.61 pct.
Galis (20 pct), Imako (20 pct) and Lyberis Publications (20 pct) were top gainers, while Tasoglou (10.28 pct), Moda Bagno (9.43 pct) and Lavipharm (5.64 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 141 to 112 with another 53 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -1.59%
Personal & Household: -0.22%
Raw Materials: -0.15%
Travel & Leisure: +0.06%
Food & Beverages: +0.19%
Financial Services: -1.38%
The stocks with the highest turnover were AGET Iraklis, National Bank, OTE and Alpha Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 23.98
Public Power Corp (PPC): 17.60
HBC Coca Cola: 33.40
Hellenic Petroleum: 11.14
Emporiki Bank: 20.78
National Bank of Greece: 41.72
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 31.18
Titan Cement Company: 42.60
 ADEX closing reportTurnover in the Athens Derivatives Exchange jumped to 241.369 million euros on Thursday, which futures contract prices maintained their discount.
The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 1.84 pct, while the April contract on the FTSE 40 index was traded at a discount of 0.18 pct.
Volume in the FTSE 20 index totaled 13.866 contracts worth 173.030 million euros, with 32,765 open positions in the market, while on the FTSE 40 index volume was 801 contracts worth 23.939 million euros, with 1,780 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 5,782 contracts worth 4.061 million euros, with investment interest focusing on ATEbank's contracts (1,186), followed by Eurobank (263), OTE (292), Piraeus Bank (233), National Bank (430), Alpha Bank (365), Intracom (587), Attica Bank (236), Intralot (216) and Mytilineos (212).
Volume in stock repos was 5,771 contracts and in reverse stock repos 17,413 contracts.
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 2.666 billion euros on Thursday, of which 1.176 billion were bid orders and 1.490 billion euros were sell orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2017) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 910 million euros. The Greek 10-year bond yielded 4.42 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates eased slightly. National Bank's overnight rate was 3.83 pct, the two-day rate was 3.83 pct, the one-week rate 3.84 pct, the one-month rate 3.85 pct, the three-month rate 3.98 pct, the six-month rate 4.11 pct and the 12-month rate 4.25 pct.
 Foreign Exchange Rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.371
Pound sterling 0.684
Danish kroner 7.512
Swedish kroner 9.293
Japanese yen 161.41
Swiss franc 1.647
Norwegian kroner 8.172
Cyprus pound 0.586
Canadian dollar 1.543
Australian dollar 1.646
 Athens Metro line extensionEnvironment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias was on board the metro train conducting the first Egaleo-Keramikos route trial. The Line 3, 4.3-kilometers-long extension to the Athens Metro includes three new stations (Keramikos, Eleonas, Egaleo) that will open to commuters in early May and serve roughly 80,000 passengers daily.
The Syntagma-Egaleo distance will be covered in 7 minutes, while commuters will need 40 minutes to get from Athens' "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport to Egaleo. Ancient findings of great value uncovered during the excavation of the extension will be on display at the Eleonas and Egaleo stations.
The Line 3, 1.5-kilometers-long extension to Haidari is also under construction, and is expected to be ready at the end of 2008, while a tender is in progress for the 8.2 km extension to Piraeus with seven new metro stations.
 Culture minister comments on remarks by British Museum directorCulture Minister George Voulgarakis on Thursday commented on a statement made by British Museum Director Neil MacGregor on the Bloomberg website on Wednesday who spoke of a temporary borrowing of the Parthenon Marbles, for three or six months, providing the Greek government first accepts that the Marbles belong to the British Museum.
"I read with great interest the statement by Mr. MacGregor, but there is nothing official at this moment apart from the pre-determined meeting in London, under the auspices of UNESCO, on May 4, with representatives of the Greek and British Culture Ministries and of the British Museum on the issue of the exhibition of the Marbles in Athens," Voulgarakis said.
 EU Council of Justice and Internal Affairs Ministers examines civil and penal issuesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
The European Union's Council of Justice and Internal Affairs Ministers convened in Luxembourg on Thursday and examined civil and penal issues. Greece was represented at the meeting by Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras.
Intervening in the discussion on family law issues and issues concerning divorces between people of a different nationality in particular, the Greek minister stressed the need for European citizens to be facilitated in relevant procedural and judicial issues.
However, he pointed out that member-states must preserve their legal autonomy regarding the enactment of internal legal rules on issues of substantive family law.
Moreover, as regards the judicial rights of citizens in penal procedures in the EU, Papaligouras said during his address that the observance of the minimum specifications that are determined in the European Human Rights Agreement, both during the arrest and during the penal process, is a necessary precondition for the consolidation of trust between member-states in the justice application systems in each of them.
 BALCINET executive secretariat meets in ThessalonikiThe BALCINET (Balkan Cities Network) executive secretariat met in Thessaloniki on Thursday, to prepare for the 8th conference of mayors of the major Balkan cities, to be held in Novi Sad from November 30 to December 2 which will deal with environmental protection issues.
On the sidelines of the secretariat meeting, Nov Sad mayor Maja Gojkovic told ANA-MPA that the emphsis of the talks would be on management of water resources, and EU relations with the Balkan countries.
More specifically, the mayors will examine how the Balcinet can evolve into a self-managed branch of the South East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP), as well as a permanet member of the Council of Europe and the European Union, with the central target of advancing the EU accession of all the Balkan countries.
A series of cultural events, titled "Balkan Art", will also be organised in Novi Sad over a period of 7-10 days and will coincide with the mayoral conference.
One of the main events will be an exibition titled "Art in Transition", during which artists from the Balkans will display paintings and more contemporary forms of expression, video productions, video clips and others.
Gojkovic noted that the theme of the exhibition was not elected by chance, given that transition does not concern only art, but also refers to political developments in the Balkan countries.
Culture, she added, eliminated differences and could bring the younger generations closer together, while it also helps the people to get to know "who different we are, but also how qualitative the element of differentness is, and that it must not divide, but unite".
Nov Sad, Vojvodina in general, she said, was an example of harmonious coexistence among different ethnicities, adding her conviction that this co-existence will continue to be peaceful unless some outside factor attempted to ruin all that has been achieved.
Gojkovic voiced the belief that conflicts are incited by a "third side, from outside", adding that she feared outside interference in the case of Vojvodina. "If everything is up to us, those who were born and grew up in Vojvodina, there will be no conflicts. But we fear the possibility of attempts to create disagreement and unrest among us," she said.
Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia and capital of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, has approximately 350,000 inhabitants, of which 80 percent are Serbs while Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Italians and Germans comprise the remaining 20 percent.
In Vojvodina -- which is called "Little Europe" due to its multi-ethnic character -- "we are proud to have so many different cultures", Gojkovic said.
 Int'l conference on 'Broadband Internet' to be held in AthensFor the second consecutive year, the National Commission for Telecommunications and Post Offices (EETT) is organising an international conference on the theme "Exploring the Global Dynamics of Broadband Internet", at Athens' coastal district of Lagonisi from June 1-3.
According to an announcement, the conference's aim is to analyse the international dimension of the broadband internet. Specifically, discussion will focus on issues concerning the policies for the growth of the broadband internet, its international implementation and the regulating actions for its spreading, while Greek reality will be depicted regarding the broadband internet, on the level of the market and of the society of citizens.
President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias has been invited to open the sessions, while Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has been invited to address the delegates.
 Euro-Court Advocate General questions Greece's failure to recognise certain diplomas of EU statesBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
European Court Advocate General Yves Bot on Thursday detailed his position against the Greek State's laws concerning the recognition of higher education diplomas from other EU member-states, saying the legal framework in the country violates Community Law and must be changed.
The case concerns the high-profile case brought against Greece for failure to fulfil obligations -- Infringement of Arts 1, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10 of Council Directive 89/48/EEC of 21 December 1988 - regarding a general system for the recognition of higher-education diplomas awarded on completion of professional education and training of at least three years' duration, as well as "recognition of professional qualifications acquired in another Member State for the purposes of employment in the public sector and registration in the Technical Chamber of Commerce (Tekhniko Epimelitirio Elladas),"
Athens' representatives during the hearing said Greek authorities are not obligated to recognise diplomas issued by other member-states' universities when part or all of the studies have taken place at the aforementioned affiliated campuses in Greece, which are not recognised as higher education studies by the Greek State. Additionally, they said Article 16 of the Constitution still prevents recognition of non-state universities in the country.
Conversely, Bot said the academic level of "is judged under the Law of the issuing member-state," whereas if the Greek argument prevailed the entire system of reciprocity in diplomas' recognition would be disputed.
 Students, tutors hold protest rally in AthensStudents and tutors held a protest rally in central Athens on Thursday.
The demonstrators, who were protesting over the framework law on universities and called for its abolition, assembled at 1 p.m. at Athens University. They then marched in central Athens.
The protestors, shouting slogans, passed in front of Parliament and later dispersed.
Athens' main streets remained closed for about three hours due to the march.
 President Papoulias inaugurates shelter for kidney patientsHellenic Republic President Karolos Papoulias on Thursday inaugurated the Shelter for Kidney Disease Patients in Athens, donated by the Kritikos-Fotineli Foundation.
The Kidney Disease Patients Association chairman stressed that the shelter will serve as a permanent reference point for the members of the association seeking information or entertainment.
 5.4R earthquake jolts ChalkidikiA moderate earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale jolted the Chalkidiki Peninsula in northern Greece on Thursday, creating concern among residents but no damages.
The earthquake was recorded at 1:15 p.m., at a distance of 150 kilometres southeast of Thessaloniki, with its epicentre in the sea region between Sithonia and the Sporades Islands.
No damage was immediately reported.
 Refugee camp simulation in ThessalonikiA simulated refugee camp designed to house 30,000 people was set up in front of the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki on Thursday, where it will remain until April 29 at the initiative of the Medecins Sans Frontieres humanitarian aid organization.
The camp is designed to give city residents a taste of life as a refugee and the conditions that these exhausted and often sick people, who have been stripped of everything, have to contend with.
For 15 minutes, people will be able to experience life from the vantage point of the refugee and the difficulties they face over vital issues like vaccinations, food, water supply and medical care.
Visitors wear headphones and can pick one out of three roles: that of a doctor, nurse or technical personnel that are called to make critical decisions for the life and future of refugees.
They will distribute cooking pots, beds and bamboo canes for makeshift huts to the refugees before leading them to the camp clinic to undergo medical examinations.
They can measure the height and weight of the children to determine the state they are in and whether they are at risk of dying from malnutrition, while they can also visit the cholera treatment center.
 Illegal immigrants detained on SamosCoast guard officers on Thursday arrested two Turkish nationals at the Cape Praso region on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, charged with attempting to ferry over 29 illegal immigrants onto Greek territory.
The migrants, all male of different nationalities, were detained and are being held at the island's Immigrant Reception Center, after undergoing medical examinations for precautionary reasons.
 Police on trail of international immigrant-smuggling ringPolice in Thessaloniki on Thursday revealed that they are on the trail of an international immigrant-smuggling ring, following the arrest of five people in the city's Lagada district and in the Attica region of Oinofita.
In the operation, police arrested a 23-year-old Pakistani man near Lake Mikri Volvi as he was picking up five illegals from Pakistan with his car in order to take them to Thessaloniki. Another two foreign nationals were arrested near the same spot on charges of acting as lookouts for the vehicle carrying the immigrants.
At the same time, near Soufli in the prefecture of Evros and a short distance from the border with Turkey, officers of the Thessaloniki Foreign Nationals Department picked up another 22 illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan as they tried to cross the border into Greece on foot.
According to police, the suspected masterminds of the outfit are two Pakistanis, aged 38 and 37, who were arrested in Thessaloniki and in Oinofita, respectively. They have been charged with picking up illegal immigrants dropped off by their accomplices, while a police investigation to find the other suspected members of the outfit is continuing.
 Ecumenical Patriarch sends birthday gift to PopeISTANBUL (ANA-MPA / A. Kourkoulas)
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, sent an icon as a birthday present to Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 80 on Monday.
The icon, depicting the Apostles Peter and Paul, was presented to the Pontiff at the Holy See in Rome by Vartholomeos' representative, Metropolitan of Pergamum Ioannis, who is also the co-chairman of the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue.
 N17 appeals trial verdicts on May 3Verdicts in the appeals trial of nearly two dozen "November 17" defendants will be issued on May 3, according to the three-justice court overseeing the proceedings. Possible sentencing for first instance upheld convictions may come a day earlier
 Fair on FridayFair weather is forecast in most parts of the country on Friday. Slight increase in temperatures in central and southern Greece. Winds southerly, southeasterly, light to moderate, turning strong in the Ionian Sea. Temperatures in Athens ranging between 11C and 24C and in Thessaloniki from 9C to 20C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe bonds affair, and the attack outside Areios Pagos (Greek Supreme Court) president Romylos Kedikoglou's home in which the assailants took Kedikoglou's guards service revolver, were the main front-page items in Thursday's dailies.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Free 8-day excursins for 33,180 workers from the Workers' Home - The programme begins June 23, applications begin April 23".
APOGEVMATINI: "Renewable energy sources the only way - Success of day-seminar on photovoltaic energy organised by Apogevmatini with EBEA (Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry".
AVGHI: "The government sinking in the months'-long crisis - Avalanche of revelations on the bonds affair".
AVRIANI: "Zorbas (prosecutor heading the independent money-laundering watchdog) a 'sphynx' - Not saying a word until the investigation into the bonds scandal is completed - All the behind-the-scenes and the dialogues he had with the relevant parliamentary ad-hoc committee".
CHORA: "Security concerns after the three armed attacks - Fear of new cycle of terrorism".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "The Greek people, speechless, watching the developments concerning them as if from another planet, hearing the representatives they voted to parliament exchanging such expressions as...You stole, we stole, we're even!".
ELEFTHEROS: "Meimarakis (national defence minister) 'rockets' against those who destroyed the image of ND (ruling New Democracy party) and the government".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Virtual security - Although we have 5,000 guards for the protection of VIPs, it seems that someone is needed to guard the guards".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Contract, with the Funds as the victims - What the public sector agreement with JP Morgan hides".
ESTIA: "What political order requires: Tsitouridis (employment) should resign".
ETHNOS: "Costas (Karamanlis), we're sinking - Dramatic SOS and intimations by Meimarakis over the bonds scandal".
KATHIMERINI: "The State unshielded - Worry over the actions of operations groups of terrorists".
LOGOS: "Parliament in chaos over the bonds - Akropolis brokerage's (implicated in the bonds affair) licence revoked - Zorbas cited the 'confidentiality duty'...".
NIKI: "The 'unveiling' of the plan - The contract with JP Morgan 'points to" 35-42 million euros kickback (commission)".
PONTIKI (weekly): "The government's situation from bad to worse".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Measures for safety at sea and the social insurance of the seamen".
TA NEA: "Top-level backstabbing in ND - Picture of dissolution over the bonds affair".
TO VIMA: "Meimarakis' statement: 2-3 ministers hiding in order to increase their popularity - Reactions by ministers, who demand explanation".
VRADYNI: "Interest-free housing loans for military personnel - Solution of the housing problem for military officials in three stages - The relevant bill on Armed Forces housing nearing completion".
 Slovakian President Gasparovic calls for timeframe over Turkey complying with EU regulationsNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Slovakian President Ivan Gasparovic, who is on an official visit to Cyprus, said on Thursday the time has come for the EU to take a more concrete and absolute stance as far as Turkey, complying with the conditions and obligations deriving from its accession negotiations and set a timeframe for this purpose.
He was speaking after talks with President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos and stressed that Slovakia will do everything possible to solve the Cyprus problem in a positive manner for Cyprus.
On his part, President Papadopoulos expressed the hope that the UN Secretariat and the Security Council will call on the Turkish Cypriot side to reactivate unconditionally the Gambari procedure on Cyprus.
He also said he was satisfied with Slovakia's efforts to solve the Cyprus problem, adding that both countries have identical views on many issues.
Papadopoulos said the two discussed bilateral relations and ways to further promote these relations, as well as international issues which affect both countries. "I am pleased that in many issues we have identical views", he said.
The Cypriot President said that Slovakia's developing economy and industry exhibits "attractive opportunities for Cypriots and we are happy that the President is accompanied by a delegation of business people from Slovakia".
On his part, speaking through an interpreter, Gasparovic said his country follows closely progress on Cyprus and assured that "Slovakia will do everything possible to solve the Cyprus problem in a positive manner for the Cypriot government".
He said that Cyprus and Slovakia have common views on fundamental issues and issues which concern both countries as far as democracy and developing the correct relations between the two countries.
Referring to the European Constitution, Gasparovic said that "we are convinced that this document must be accepted by all countries before the European elections", adding that within this constitution neither the boundaries nor the rights of some EU states should be violated.
He also said that they discussed the issue of Kosovo and Turkey's EU accession prospects, noting that "we agree in most of these issues".
Slovakia, he said, is a country with a dynamic economy which not only attracts investments but also makes investments and that is why it is in Cyprus.
Replying to a question on Kosovo, President Papadopoulos said that "we hope that its solution will be achieved within the best possible agreement. Surely we consider it necessary to have a new Security Council decision." However he said that generally in Kosovo they should not pursue to achieve a balance in the area, if this will cause a general disturbance in the area.
"We should not forget that officially and unofficially, the case of Kosovo is what we describe as 'sui generis'", the president stressed.
As far as Cyprus is concerned, President Papadopoulos said that after many months of efforts, a new initiative on the part of the UN was achieved with the July 8 agreement by Ibrahim Gambari in 2006.
He said that apparently, this agreement does not satisfy Turkey and Turkish Cypriots and especially Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and they are trying to divert the agreement from the discussion of the substantial issues, bringing back as a basis for the discussion the Annan Plan.
President Papadopoulos said that Talat does not fail to repeat that he wants reunification, however all actions are leading towards secessionist trends.
"I hope that the UN Secretariat and the Security Council will ask that words become actions and that the Gambari procedure is reactivated unconditionally", the president replied.
Invited by CNA to give Slovakia's position on Turkey's accession course as well as the fact that it fails to recognize Cyprus which is an EU member state, Gasparovic said that the EU favours Turkey's accession to the EU, just as the Republic of Cyprus does, but surely "with the precondition that it fulfils the conditions and regulations which apply for all EU states".
Gasparovic said however that "to discuss for 40 years whether the EU will accept Turkey as part of it or if Turkey will discuss for the next 40 years whether it will accept the EU's conditions, then I think that this is just too much".
"For this reason I believe that now is the time to speak more specifically and absolutely about fulfilling the terms and preconditions and even set a specific date", said Gasparovic, adding that he does not care much about the economic issues ''but the main issue is political and specifically the Cyprus problem".
Before the statements, President Papadopoulos presented Gasparovic with the Grand Collar of the Order of Makarios III and Gasparovic presented the Cypriot president with the order of the White Double Cross in recognition for the cooperation and development between the two countries' relations.
The Slovak President met also President of the House of Representatives Demetris Christofias and Nicosia Mayor Eleni Mavrou and will also meet with Archbishop Chrysostomos II.
Gasparovic is accompanied by Slovak government officials, as well as a multimember delegation of Slovak businessmen and journalists.
During his official visit, Gasparovic will give a lecture at the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry on "Investment opportunities in Slovakia".
Cyprus and Slovakia entered the EU in May 2004.
 Gasparovic says his country to work for reunification of NicosiaSlovakian President Ivan Gasparovic assured the citizens of Nicosia on Thursday that his country would continue efforts for the reunification of the town, adding that Slovakia, as a non permanent member of the UN Security Council, has always supported a just solution to the Cyprus problem.
Gasparovic visited the Nicosia Town Hall, where Mayor Eleni Mavrou presented him with the gold key to the town, noting that this is the last divided capital of Europe.
The Slovakian President said that only with cooperation and understanding could a mutually acceptable solution be found.
In a short speech, Gasparovic referred to the close cooperation of the two countries, adding that this would be expanded to other fields, such as the social, economic and cultural sectors.
Receiving the gold key to Nicosia, Gasparovic said this decision of the Municipal Council proved the relations of friendship and cooperation between Cyprus and Slovakia.
Mavrou said the continuation of the division of Nicosia is unacceptable, adding that it is ''the most serious problem of our town but at the same time a huge challenge.''
She noted that ''the dividing line, the line of disgrace, divides the town and its people from the east to the west, divides the historical centre which is enclosed in the Venetian walls and the adverse consequences of division victimise its inhabitants and recoil its growth.''
Mavrou pointed out that the division ''wrongs the capital of Cyprus and its people, creating insurmountable difficulties in its potential for economic, social and cultural support, deprives its inhabitants of the fundamental rights of free communication, degrades the environment and the quality of life, especially in areas near the buffer zone, and at the same time increases the already complex problems faced by a contemporary town.''
The Mayor said ''Cyprus' European course magnifies the challenge and arms us with greater strength.''
''The sad particularity of Nicosia being the last divided capital of Europe strengthens our will to struggle with all our might for the reunification of the town and its people,'' Mavrou assured.
After the ceremony at the Town Hall, the Slovakian President and his delegation, accompanied by Mavrou and the Municipal Council, walked down Ledra Street, where Gasparovic was informed by a National Guard officer about the situation there and signed the visitors' book.
 Cypriot House adopts resolution calling on Britain to pay sums owedNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cypriot House of Representatives adopted unanimously on Thursday a resolution calling on the government to
make all necessary representations towards Britain to pay the sums it owes to the Republic of Cyprus, hoping that the island will in the future be rid of any military presence or bases on its territory.
The resolution was adopted after the House plenary discussion of the issue ''The financial obligations of Britain towards the Republic of Cyprus, as these emanate from the Treaty of Establishment, and the necessity to take every available legal measure to claim that owing.''
The House says that it will monitor the issue closely and requests that the government ''examines the further relevant conducts and taking measures, in case of a continuation of the refusal of the British authorities to respond to their obligations.''
With its resolution, the House ''condemns especially the recent case of the illegal arrest and detention, by the authorities of the British Bases, of Cypriot MEP Marios Matsakis, who was in Cyprus on a mission of the European Parliament.''
This arrest constitutes ''contempt of the European Parliament and the EU institutions in general,'' it says.
The House points out that ''many other actions of the British authorities, in relation to the operation of their Bases in Cyprus, have repeatedly provoked the feelings of the Cypriot people.''
It reiterates that the rights of Britain, emanating from the Treaty of Establishment, are remnants of colonisation in a former colony and have been considered as such by the UN.
The House adds that the Treaty also provides for obligations, among which the payment of sums as economic aid to the Republic of Cyprus and as compensation for the facilities Britain enjoys.
In the resolution, the House points out that since 1965, Britain has not paid any amount to the Republic of Cyprus, adding that this failure to pay ''amounts to a violation of the Treaty of Establishment on behalf of the British side.''
House President Demetris Christofias, speaking at the plenary session, expressed the general wish of all political forces for the dissolution of the British Bases in Cyprus, adding that the issue must be examined in depth and be decided on collectively.
''We do not exercise sovereignty on the Bases' territory. We question, rightly, the sovereignty on behalf of the British on the Bases,'' he added.
Christofias said ''we certainly want the dissolution of the Bases, but how and when and the rest we must look into responsibly, for the financial issues and everything, and for the issue of sovereignty, because we do not exercise sovereignty, they claim that they have the sovereignty, so these things must be clarified.''
President of Social Democrats EDEK Yiannakis Omirou, who proposed the discussion of the subject, said the issue of the British behaviour towards Cyprus and mainly the violation of explicit contractual obligations is today a major foreign policy matter, linked directly to the struggle for national survival.
Britain has retained two sovereign military bases in Cyprus since the island gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1960.
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