|Sunday, 26 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 07-05-04
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 4 May 2007 Issue No: 2586
 PM: Constant clash with corruption is 'matter of course' for ND governmentPrime minister Costas Karamanlis severely criticised all those who attempt to cast a shadow over the government's reforms strategy and "subjugate everything to their party expediencies", speaking in parliament on Thursday during an off-the-agenda discussion on agricultural policy initiated by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga.
"I have given a commitment for a governance of changes, reforms and social allocation for all the citizens," Karamanlis said, stressing that "this vision cannot be undermined, either by those who oppose the reforms, nor by those who attempt to poison the public life through irresponsible generalisaions, distortion and falsification, insults and slander, and populistic cries".
"The changes and reforms comprise national strategy, are a universal demand of society, and comprise the greatest challenge for the country in the coming years. They are a national goal," Karamanlis stressed, adding: "I am determined to ensure this target, which serves all the Greeks, at any cost. The reforms are continuing. Nothing can turn us back".
Referring to the purchase of overpriced bonds by the administration of the TEADY (civil servant's supplementary pension fund), Karamanlis said that the incident neither determined the course of the country, nor justified "extreme danger-mongering, irresponsible claims, and provocative populism", which tend to "poison the public life". He said the causes of such a stance were based on an attempt by some "to cast a shadow on the country's progress in its economic and developmental policy".
Underlining the fact that the government itself had "revealed the affair and put it in its targets", Karamanlis stressed that the government's aspiration was that "not a single euro should be lost", contrary to the "slogans" of "those who did not act accordingly" in the past.
The government "puts forward the ensurance of the interests of the social whole, the investigation of any 'shadow', and the imposition of transparency everywhere," the premier said.
Commenting on the stance of the preceding PASOK government, Karamanlis said that "dilemmas, for us, did not exist and do not exist".
"We will not tolerate any cover-up, as others did. We will never follow the example of those who remained apathetic and indifferent spectators to the looting of the public money. We are absolute on the phenomenon of corruption," he said.
The prime minister said that the road to combatting corruption is a long one, and the results come "only if we reveal such phenomena".
The citizens "know that the phenomena multiplied in the past years, within the full inertia of the previous government that tolerated them and concealed them almost as if they were a matter of course", he said.
The ND government, on the other hand, that which is a matter of course is the constant clash with corruption. "This is the difference between the past and the present. Revelation, not cover-up. The clash with everything that harms the Greeks, not compromise".
Karamanlis said that everyone had the right to disagree with the decisions taken by the government. However, "no one can subjugate everything to his party expediencies. No one will cast a shadow over our reforms strategy," he said.
The attempt at poliarsation, the attempt at generalisations and disinformation, the attempt to undermine the public life, "are doomed to failure", Karamanlis warned, stressing that the ND government was continuing, at an increasing pace, with the changes and reforms in all the sectors.
"We are all judged and will be judged" on their decisions and choices: "Some for their divisive words and their irresponsibility. We (the ND government) for the reform work we are advancing together with the citizens," the premier concluded.
Turning to agricultural policy, Karamanlis reiterated the government's recent announcement that 80 percent of the national and EU funds of the new Programming Period (4th Community Support Framework-CSF covering the period 2007-2013), which, combined, exceed 36 billion euros, will be chanelled to the periphery.
More specifically, for agricultural development actions alone, Greece will receive 4 billion euros under the 4th CSF, while the country's farmers will receive subsidies reaching 8 billion euros up to 2013. "Overall, in other words, the agricultural sector will be reinforced with more than 22 billion euros," the premier said.
Karamanlis noted that gradual and targetted implementation was necessary of a substantive reform in the agricultural sector. "In other words, we must acquire flexibility and utilise our traditional advantages and implement a national strategy for the Greek farmer of the future, with emphasis on new markets, new products and quality products, but also new parallel activities: agrotourism, agro-industry, standardisation and manufacturing," he said, adding that the EU's new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was the main tool on that course, and must be utilised to the fullest.
The premier reiterated that ND's commitment on farm pensions "is becoming action", noting that OGA (farmers' social insurance and pension fund) pensions have been increased from 227 euro to 280 euro, while a new increase was slated for the beginning of next year, bringing the pension to 330 euro. "Day by day, we are fulfilling all our commitments. And, more importantly, we are laying the foundations for a change of substance in the agricultural sector. A change with tangible results for every farmer".
Commenting on charges of "low prices for the farmers and high prices for the consumers" contained in KKE leader Papariga's letter calling for the debate, Karamanlis said that the problem indeed existed in some cases. "We do not disregard it, nor conceal it. The practices of 'virtual beautification' of things are definitively a thing of the past," he said, adding that the factors that "widen the gap between producer prices and consumer prices are many, and are not tackled from one moment to the next".
Karamanlis continued that, although direct state interventions and obstruction of imports are forbidden under EU regulations, "substantive checks on the import and movement of farm products are being coordinated and carried out, at inter-ministerial level, and are yielding significant results".
On reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate on farm machinery, the premier noted that this was one of the government's main targets, and was pending before the European Commission "but is not being abandoned". He said that the relevant Greek request has bee submitted repeatedly to the European Council (council of EU heads of state and government), adding that he, personally, had put this issue forward at the December 2005 European Council (summit meeting). However, he explained, no unanimity was reached, and consequently none of of the requests of the member countries were adopted.
"We did agree, however, that the issue would be studied by the European Commission and that a relevant report will be submitted to the Council by this coming July. Our decision is to put forward the same demand, again, immediately afterwards," Karamanlis explained, stressing the importance placed by his government on policies regarding the development of the agricultural sector and social protection.
He added that the government's policy on agricultural development "cannot be held captive in short-sighted practices with ephemeral results".
"We paid, and are still paying, dearly for such practices. The new era requires responsible policies, with vision, a programme and a plan," Karamanlis said, adding that his government's choice was to support the agricultural world so that the farmers could proceed with assured and safe steps towards the future, function as modern businessmen, and produce and progress with their land.
 Farmers cheated by present government, Papandreou saysGreek farmers have by now discovered the "fine print" in ruling New Democracy's promises, while the government's rallying cry of "zero tolerance" for corruption has ended up being the country's shortest joke, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou said on Thursday. He was speaking during an off-the-agenda debate on agricultural policy requested by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
In a broad allusion to revelations that Greek pension funds may have lost money by investing in high-risk structured bonds issued by the government, Papandreou said that Greece's unsuspecting farmers had been persuaded to "buy the bond called ND government" in the elections three years earlier by ND's promises to increase farming incomes.
"They now know that the government of the Right has proved to be a high-risk bond with a low yield. They know they were cheated. They know that you fooled them," Papandreou asserted, adding that farmers were now worse off than before ND came to power.
In a diatribe against the government's agricultural policy, he pointed out that the government had itself increased VAT by 1 percent, even as it professed to be fighting for a reduction of VAT in the framework of the EU, and that it had agreed to reopen talks on EU subsidies for farming in 2008 after guaranteeing that these would be non-negotiable until 2013.
At the same time, it was leading the state agricultural insurance organisation ELGA to bankruptcy and using it as a party tool to benefit a minority of farmers, while 13 studies commissioned three years earlier on the repercussions of the new CAP had yet to materialise.
"What do you know about the company 'Noisis'? Does it have any scientific links to the sector or is it linked with the families of government members," Papandreou continued.
He further criticised the government for seeking a one billion euro reduction of the 3rd Community Support Framework (CSF) budget and for its poor results in negotiations over cotton, tobacco and sugar - while pointing out that the prime minister had promised to undertake these personally.
"If you return with results like these from negotiations at the EU, it would be better if you didn't go at all," Papandreou added.
Karamanlis covering up bonds issue, PASOK's leader claims
The main opposition leader referred at length to the bonds issue, claiming that there was a cover-up that pointed to personal responsibilities by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
"In an issue that has shocked the country, you are hiding and hiding the truth," he accused the premier.
According to Papandreou, the affair was not limited to just one bond but was centrally planned and the execution of this plan was centrally coordinated.
"ND has no plan for Greece but it does have a plan to serve dark interests," he added.
The government could not continue to claim that so many pension fund managements had simultaneously chosen to switch from investments in low-risk state bonds in order to buy the higher-risk bond products that "served this plan", Papandreou stressed. He repeated a demand that the losses incurred by pension funds be restored and the money be returned before the elections.
Regarding investigations initiated into past fund transactions under PASOK governments, Papandreou said that this was an attempt to "hide the truth" and challenged the government to set up a Parliamentary investigative committee into "anything you want".
He ended by giving a personal guarantee to carry out PASOK's programme:
"We do not promise miracles but we will honour our commitments. I personally promise this," he underlined.
 Karamanlis denies bonds issue cover up, points to fund losses under PASOKStrongly denying accusations of a bonds issue cover up, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday accused main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou of glossing over a series of transgressions by past PASOK governments "when transparency had taken a long-term leave of absence". He also dismissed Papandreou's "personal guarantee" to fight corruption.
"Why did you keep quiet then, Mr. Papandreou? I know you and the Greek citizens know you very well," Karamanlis stressed.
He was speaking in Parliament during an off-the-agenda debate requested by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) - nominally to discuss agricultural policy - that was actually dominated by the cross-accusations over the so-called bonds affair. This concerned recent revelations that Greek pension funds may have lost money by investing in high-risk structured bonds issued by the government, initially brought to light when the Capital Markets Commission initiated an investigation into transactions involving the Athens-based brokerage firm Acropolis.
Karamanlis had earlier accused the main opposition leader of happily coexisting with instances of corruption as a government minister that included illegal naturalisations, a government-assisted stock market bubble in which ordinary investors lost millions, defence contract kickbacks and pension fund losses under the Simitis government that also involved the Acropolis brokerage.
The prime minister strongly denied opposition claims of a government cover up on the bonds issue and stressed that every case with even a whiff of scandal would be fully investigated and referred to justice. He also underlined government measures to protect Greek social security funds and ruled out any possibility that pension funds would be unable to cover their costs.
"The claims of a supposed, possible inability of funds to meet their obligations are completely groundless. The truth is that the funds' assets in securities, stocks and mutual funds were reduced between 1999-2002 and not now," Karamanlis told Parliament.
According to the premier, fund assets had at that time been reduced by 13.4 percent - representing losses of 1.6 billion euros - whereas their assets had increased significantly in recent years, from 22 billion euros in 2003 to 29 billion euros in 2005. These assets were currently estimated to exceed 31 billion euros, he added.
"Let there be no self-delusions. The funds will not lose even one euro. We ensure and guarantee this," Karamanlis stressed.
Repeating that he had carried out self-criticism over the fact that it had taken his government three years to find a way to select the management of Greek social security funds, he then slammed PASOK's failure to ensure transparency when in government and revealed that the Acropolis brokerage had been allowed to freely exploit pension funds in 2002.
Karamanlis presented evidence that the Acropolis brokerage had bought 27 bonds from pension funds, which it had then "broken" and resold to the same pension funds at a profit that exceeded the official derivatives market limit.
"These were not one or two but 70 transactions by 'Acropolis' that you were covering up and that we are now reporting to justice," the prime minister underlined.
Commenting on the impact of the transactions, Karamanlis stressed that these were a "debacle" for the funds involved, for the PASOK government of that time but also for the Capital Markets Commission, which had at no time intervened to stop the brokerage.
"It took five years for the truth to come to light, for the Capital Markets Commission, released from your party shackles, to do its job," the premier added.
Karamanlis was particularly stinging in his dismissal of Papandreou's claim to be "unaware of the term structured bond" and listed four structured bond products issued under PASOK, as well as claiming that a PASOK government had in 2001 issued the "most complex and most expensive 'mammoth' bond ever issued by the state to hide 2.5% of public debt", for which Greek tax payers would have to pay 400 million euros a year until 2019.
Replying to Papandreou as he ended the debate in Parliament, meanwhile, Karamanlis stressed that he would hold elections when the time was right.
"I will go to the elections at the proper time. You should think about where you will be on the Monday after the elections," Karamanlis said in his reply to a call by Papandreou for the government's resignation.
Countering Papandreou's insistence that ruling New Democracy members were guilty of graft and corruption, the prime minister replied that Papandreou had been exposed and had to provide answers about the suspect bond transactions carried out the Acropolis brokerage, when he had been a minister in PASOK governments, and said that Papandreou was showing "structured agitation" because "the lies of several years had been revealed and could no longer be covered up".
 PM submits to Parliament list of stockbroker company's bonds transactionsPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday submitted to Parliament two lists concerning an analysis of the sales and purchases of bonds of the Akropolis Securities stockbroker company with social insurance funds during the period between January 2002 amd October 2005. The prime minister was responding to criticism by main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou, who spoke of a "blue" stockbroker company, during an off the agenda debate on agricultural policy.
The lists register a series of transactions, already during the governance of the PASOK party, according to which the Akropolis company appears, on the one hand, to be purchasing bonds from the funds at prices that were lower than the prices of the corresponding day at the Bank of Greece's official Electronic Second Stage Securities Market and, on the other hand, to be selling bonds to funds at prices that were higher than the corresponding ones at the Electronic Securities Market. According to the lists, in the first case (purchase from funds) the difference in the transaction prices with the Electronic Market's prices reached as much as -3.30 percent, while in the case of sales to funds the difference was as much as +3.17 percent.
The funds with which the Akropolis company had dealings over the 2002-2005 period were the following:Newspaper Sellers and Agency Employee Pension Fund, Civil Servants Auxiliary Insurance Fund (TEADY), Civil Servants Welfare Fund, Agricultural Cooperatives Organisation Fund, Pharmaceutical Company Employees Auxiliary Insurance Fund and Municipal and Community Employees Health Fund.
Karamanlis said that during the last two years of PASOK's governance, in 2002 and 2003, Akropolis purchased 27 bonds from the aforesaid funds. It then broke them into 45 pieces and sold them again to the funds, always making a profit that was above the official limit given by the Electronic Securities Market.
"Did anybody hear anything about them? Did anybody ever say anything about them? Was any check carried out? Was anything revealed? Did you check the administration of any fund? Did you dismiss anyone? Did you show interest? No, of course. Because then you were covering up everything. Five years had to pass for the truth to come to light. For the Capital Market Committee to be able to do its job, free now of your party pincers. For all Greek citizens to learn the truth," the prime minister said.
 Papariga blames both ND, PASOK for state of agriculture sectorCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga lashed out at ruling New Democracy and main opposition PASOK on Thursday in a Parliament address ostensibly held to debate farm sector policies, as political leaders nevertheless referred at length to the bonds furor involving state-run pension funds' reserves.
Papariga opened the off-the-agenda debate on agriculture policy as her party tabled the relevant question.
Among others, she termed the entire discussion on bond purchases as misleading, accusing the two major parties of sharing responsibility "in the gambling of pension funds' reserves", adding that legislation passed by New Democracy and PASOK merely consolidated speculation.
"The fate of pension funds is defined by the overall policy followed and an attempt at disassociation is both damaging and suspicious. The position according to which only structured bonds are risky is misleading and is being exploited by the government to justify the adoption of laws allowing capitalists to manage pension fund reserves," she said.
The KKE leader called on the trade union movement to record overall losses suffered by pension funds, while she added that her party will not go along with a "clean hands" slogan because "this campaign is a cover-up for anti-popular policies".
"It means nothing to put certain individuals in jail. KKE cannot accept any scandals big or small," Papariga said, noting that ND and PASOK must reveal and return funds' losses.
Referring to agricultural policy, Papariga stated that it constitutes a huge socio-economic scandal "legitimised" by all governments.
She also unveiled a hefty list of proposals the communist party demands for the agriculture sector, namely, price controls on agriculture supplies, VAT refunds, free and unlimited power consumption, cheap petrol for farmers, restrictions of farm imports, creation of aquaculture infrastructure and preferential treatment to new farmers seeking housing loans.
Papariga blamed the Maastricht Treaty for what she called "anti-popular and monopolistic policies" and accused ND, PASOK and the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) as being equally responsible for misleading the people regarding the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by cultivating false expectations, as she said.
 Agricultural development minister addresses Parliamentary debate on agricultural economyAgricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos, replying to criticism by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) during a Parliamentary debate initiated by the opposition party on the agricultural economy, said on Thursday that without European Union funds in the sector of agriculture, the decrease in the active farming population and of farming income would be rapid.
"We receive on an annual basis an amount that is approximately 2.8 billion euros in EU inflows, either for subsidies or for agricultural development projects, which, it is self-evident, could not be replaced by corresponding national funds. If, therefore, as you claim, there is a big crisis in the agricultural sector, you can realise how greater a crisis there would have been if we had been deprived of these valuable EU funds and we were obliged to accept an even more rapid decrease in the active agricultural population and of agricultural income and, primarily, the need to support this very crucial sector with national funds," Basiakos said.
The minister also criticised the main opposition PASOK party, saying that "this formidable pro-agricultural party received the agricultural population at 20.5 percent of the country's active population and delivered it at 12.5 percent."
Lastly, Basiakos called on PASOK leader George Papandreou "if he has whatever example of untransparency in rights to send it to the public prosecutor himself, eitherwise I will send it."
 SYN leader stresses bond issue, ' collapse' of rural regionsThe bonds issue also figured highly in the address made by Coalition of the Left, of Movements and Ecology (SYN) leader Alekos Alavanos, who called for a Parliamentary investigative committee into the issue.
He also criticised the prime minister for failing to appear in Parliament to answer questions on the bonds issue and asked that the money lost be returned to pension funds in full.
On farming policy, Alavanos referred to the "collapse" of Greece's rural regions, saying that these had become a "huge pensioners' club" because the two main parties had implemented EU measures "in the worst possible way".
He also called for urgent reforms in agricultural cooperatives, claiming that these were riddled with corruption and had become centres for collecting political "clientele".
 Greece's role as factor of stability in wider region stressed by FM, DMGreece's role as a factor of stability in the wider region and as a credible partner and interlocutor on all the major issues facing the international community, as well as the country's initiatives for enhancing Greece's international prestige, were stressed by foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and national defence minister Evangelos Meimarakis, who were the main speakers at an event organised by the Politics and Communications Centre at a central Athens hotel on Wednesday night titled "Greece, a reliable partner", in the framework of the "Greece 2020: A vision for the Greece and children of 2000" programme.
The event was also attended by ruling New Democracy (ND) honourary president and former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, deputy foreign minister Yannis Valinakis, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Panos Kammenos, and other officials.
Bakoyannis said that "Greece must change", adding that bold decisions needed to be taken in such areas as: administrative reform and wiping out bureaucracy; environmental protection, safeguarding the natural resources -- particularly the water resources, in the case of Greece -- advancing alternative forms of energy, and extensive reforestation; quality of life in the modern, constantly growing urban centres; education, and particularly life-long learning; boosting innovation, research and development; and safeguarding social cohesion.
The foreign minister expressed pride in the fact that "the New Democracy government is taking steps in precisely this direction", adding that the road ahead was a long one, but "we are moving forward".
Turning to foreign policy, she reiterated that the central and steadfast goal was safeguarding the national interests and enhancing the country's international prestige through the projection and expansion of Greece's clout in the international environment.
"Greece's foreign policy is a policy of principles that is exercised with consistency, self-confidence and open horizons towards the world," she explained, adding that one of the mid-term targets of foreign policy was that Greece must remain among the forces serving as a steam-engine for promoting political unification. "The political and economic vision of the united Europe will be materialised," she said.
On Greece's recent two-year tenure (2005-2006)as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council, Bakoyannis noted that "we managed our participation iwth a sense of responsibility and prudence", without resorting to the "easy path" of public relations tricks and creating "impressions for domestic consumption". In this way, she added, Greece projected "our abilities to manage serious international issues", giving Greece prestige and projection.
She also called for safeguarding the credibility and mission of the UN.
Turning to other issues, Bakoyannis reaffirmed Greece's "active support of and efforts for" the accession of its neigbouring countries into the Euro-Atlantic institutions. "I hope that, in 2020, we will be living in a solid European neighbourhood", she stressed.
She reminded that a smooth course on the European path required that the interested countries meet the criteria and respect the European rules, principles and values "in action", without divergence and back-tracking. "A Europe 'a la carte' does not exist today, nor will one exist in 2020, I believe".
On the Cyprus issue, Bakoyannis reitarated that "we are working towards finding a just, viable and functional solution that will lead to the reunification of the island" and, looking ahead to 2020, she expressed worry that "as the years go by, the prospects for a solution become more distant". This was why the Greek government supported the Cypriot government's efforts with all its strength, she added.
Meimarakis, in turn, said that his ministry's cooperation with the foreign ministry was excellent and fruitful, and referred to the initiatives taken by the Armed Forces for reducing tension in the region, as well as their participation in international peace-keeping movements, and praised the Armed Forces' readiness and efficiency.
The defence minister also reiterated his proposal that the cost of Greece's participation in peace-keeping missions should not be accounted in the budget deficit, and announced that the expenditure for Greece's participation in the peacekeeping mission to Lebanon has been undertaken by the Armed Forces' General Staffs from their own funds which were destined for other purposes.
Today, he said, more than 1,600 Greek soldiers were serving in international missions, with the cost running into many millions of euros.
Meimarakis added that the Hellenic Armed Forces, in ensuring a climate of security, were creating a climate conducive to new investments.
The two ministers also took questions from the floor on the latest developments in Turkey, the economic aspect of diplomacy, the changes in the Armed Forces, and domestic affairs.
Bakoyannis expressed hope for "better democratic developments" in neighbouring Turkey, and cited a phrase coined by her late first husband, ruling New Democracy party MP and parliamentary spokesman Pavlos Bakoyannis (who was assassinated in 1989 by the 'November 17' terrorist group) that "there are no impasses in Democracy".
She reiterated that if and when Turkey becomes a member of the European Union at some point "depends on Turkey itself, on the volition of its leadership and its people".
Turkey, she added, has the potential of becoming an EU member on condition that it full meets the criteria and conditions put forward by the EU, such as respect of human rights and religious freedoms, and without compromises on the EU principles.
Greece backs Turkey's European prospect, because this would strategically assist the national interests and peace in the region, she explained.
Meimarakis reiterated that the direct dialogue between the Armed Forces chiefs of the two countries, under the guidance of the political leadership, helped in creating an atmosphere for discussion of the problems of concern to the two countries for many years, and urged that any domestic developments should not create tension on these issues.
"Whatever domestic developments will not affect the bilateral relations. There will be no such influences," he assessed.
In every instance, however, the defence ministry, due to its role, has examined all the possibilities for precautionary reasons, Meimarakis explained, adding that "the Greek citizens may sleep peacefully, the Greek military is vigilant 24 hours a day to ensure peace and tranquility in the region".
On the economic aspect of diplomacy, Bakoyannis said that protection of entrepreneurship by ambassadors had been wrongfully criticised in the past, adding that from now on each embassy would be judged on the basis of its promotion of foreign policy and also on its economic performance. "The foreign ministry must be a productive ministry, contributing in turn to increasing the income of the Greeks," she said.
 Valinakis and Spanish counterpart discuss Turkey, illegal immigrationTurkey's progress toward the EU and ways to tackle illegal immigration were two issues that dominated talks held in Athens on Thursday between Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis and Spain's Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Bernardino León.
The two men stressed that Turkey should continue its European course and fulfill the terms and criteria set by the EU, while Valinakis underlined the importance of Turkey's progress for Greece, including its democratic function.
On illegal immigration, Valinakis said that Greece and Spain were cooperating on both a bilateral level and in the framework of an initiative by eight Mediterranean countries.
He said the two sides had agreed to further increase cooperation in order to find practical ways of tackling the issue together.
Their talks also covered international and regional current affairs, such as developments in the Middle East and the Balkans.
The Greek minister underlined that Greece supported the European prospects of Balkan countries seeking to join the EU and promised to help them meet the terms and criteria required by the Community.
León stressed that Greece and Spain enjoyed excellent relations on a bilateral level and referred to their joint activities in the Mediterranean. He noted the need to pay special attention to issues concerning the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Iraq but also the Barcelona Process and the EU neighbourhood policy.
 South Australia Premier to visit Greece and CyprusMELBOURNE (ANA-MPA / S. Hatzmanolis)
South Australia Premier Mike Rann begins a four-day official visit to Greece on Friday, to be followed by an official visit to Cyprus.
The South Australia Premier will meet in Athens with Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Kassimis, responsible for issues concerning the Greeks living abroad, Deputy Education Minister Spiros Taliadouros, and main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou, before heading on to Thessaloniki.
While in Athens, the Australian state government leader will also visit the Acropolis and its museum.
In Thessaloniki, Rann will meet with local government officials and receive the city's gold medal distinction in recognition of his friendly feelings toward the Greek expatriates in South Australia and his support for the Greek stance on the FYROM name issue. He is also scheduled to visit the Vergina Museum and the Byzantine Museum.
Rann, for many years a patron of Austrlia's "Justice for Cyprus" Committee, will leave on Monday for Cyprus.
 Greek and Cypriot education ministers received by Ecumenical Patriarch in IstanbulISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A.Kourkoulas)
Greece's Education and Religious Affairs Minister Marietta Yiannakou was received here on Thursday by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
The minister, who is in Istanbul to attend sessions of the 22nd education ministers' conference of Council of Europe member-states, told reporters after the meeting that she had "very interesting" talks with Vartholomeos.
"We are cooperating closely, as you know, and we talked about education issues and issues related to the country we are now. We discussed issues pertaining to religious freedoms and the Patriarchate's activities, in general, all over the world as well as its ecumenical character," Yiannakou added.
The CoE conference will focus on education policies promoting educational coherence in a multicultural Europe, the educational dimension of children's rights and the role of life-long learning.
Yiannakou is expected to chair sessions of a working group on the issue of 'educational dimension of children's rights'.
On Saturday, the Greek minister is expected to fly to Berlin to participate in the Inaugural European meeting on the "Life-long Learning 2007-2013" programmes.
Vartholomeos also officially received Cyprus' education and culture minister, Akis Kleanthous.
 Greece to exit excessive deficit procedure very soon, Almunia saysBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
The probable go-ahead for Greece's exit from the excessive deficit procedure will be given next Monday when the European Commission publishes its report on EU member-state economies, EU Commissioner for monetary affairs Joaquin Almunia said on Thursday.
Presenting the European Commission's report on the economic condition of the Eurozone, Almunia said countries with excessive fiscal deficits such as Germany, Portugal, Italy and Greece have achieved significant improvement in the last 12 months.
Commenting on Greece and Germany, the EU Commissioner said: "Greece and Germany will exit the excessive deficit procedure very soon and the 'green light' will be given next Monday when the Commission publishes its estimates for the two countries' economies."
 Commission publishes annual report on Eurozone's economyBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
The European Commission on Thursday published its annual report on the condition of Eurozone's economy, saying economic growth remained strong and noting that the economic outlook was favourable.
The EU's executive stressed, however, that Eurozone member-states should take advantage of this positive economic conjucture to promote necessary structural changes more rapidly.
Referring to Greece, the Commission said the country achieved a "strong correction" of its fiscal deficit to 2.6 pct of GDP. It also noted that all Eurozone member-states should take the necessary measures to deal with the impact of an ageing population in European economies, stressing the significance of such measures particularly in Greece and Portugal.
"We have entered a cyclical recovery and thanks to structural reforms, the impact on Eurozone's economy is positive," EU Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.
 Budget revenues up 15.4 pct in AprilGreek budget revenues jumped 15.4 pct in April, significantly up compared with the budget's provision for an annual growth rate of 5.5 pct.
Tax agencies recorded a 19.5-pct increase in revenues in April, customs' revenues were up 11.3 pct, for a total growth rate of 17 percent.
Budget revenues rose 6.5 pct in the four-month period from January to April, above the budget target of 5.5 pct, while regular revenues were up 9.7 pct in the four-month period from a budget target of a 7.2 pct growth rate.
VAT revenues soared 23 percent in the first four months of 2007, up from a budget target for a 9.6 pct growth rate this year.
 Greek tourism to grow by 6-7 pct this year, reportGreek tourism will grow by 6-7 pct this year, the Institute of Tourism Research and Forecast (ITEP) said on Thursday.
In its six-month report on the Greek economy and tourism, ITEP said this conservative forecast was based on an hypothesis that Turkey would recover all ground lost in 2006 (-8.7 pct) and stressed that verification of the forecast would be a very optimistic development not only for the tourism sector but for the Greek economy in general.
ITEP said 2006 was the second consecutive good year for tourism after the Olympic Games, although questions remained over a continuing slower growth of foreign exchange revenues. This development cannot be attributed simply to all inclusive policies followed by major hotels, the report noted.
The institute said this year's forecast was based on efforts to upgrade infrastructure and a wider acknowledgement of Greece as a top tourism destination, attracting more tourists from Eastern Europe, containing hotel price increases and improving tourism services and a revival of the US market.
 Northern Greece industries planning investments between 1-10 million euros over next two yearsInvestments in the region of 1-10 million euros are being planned over the next two years by 37.8 percent of industries based in northern Greece, while 33.3 percent are placing the "bar" lower (with investments of up to 1 million euros) and 6.7 percent even higher (over 10 million euros).
However, 12.2 percent of industries are not planning to make investments, while 10 percent prefer not to reveal their intentions, according to a telephone poll carried out by the Kappa Research company over the April 25-26 period with a sample of 130 companies.
Over the past two years, 44.4 percent of respondents invested capital of up to 1 million euros, 40 percent between 1 and 10, 5.6 percent over 10, while 7.8 percent made no investments.
The poll also showed that in their overwhelming majority (95.6 percent), respondents disagree with the idea of withdrawing or "transferring" investments abroad.
 Athens journalists to stage 24-hour strike on May 8The Athens Journalists' Union (ESHEA) announced on Thursday that it will stage a 24-hour strike on Tuesday, May 8.
The journalists mainly demand "the immediate return of money given for the purchase of the bond with the legitimate interest rates and the yields of the capital which was allotted, the securing of the autonomy and functioning of the Funds with elected administrations and social control, the full securing of the Funds' reserves with a stable and guaranteed in advance yield, the complete clearing up of all this unprecedented issue with the revealing of any civil and penal responsibilities."
 Gov't cuts off-season airport fees in half at five island destinationsGreece will slash all landing, take-off and parking fees by 50 percent in five provincial airports from October 1 until March 31 each year, a move aimed to boost air traffic during off-season months, Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis said on Thursday.
The minister said the measure will cover five island airports -- Hania and Irakleio (both on Crete), Rhodes, Corfu and Kos. He stressed that the measure would significantly contribute in further boosting all-season tourism by offering more incentives to airlines and tour operators for special "travel packages" to Greek destinations.
 New Kalamata-Thessaloniki air linkThe new Kalamata-Thessaloniki air transportation route will be inaugurated on Thursday afternoon at the Kalamata Airport in the presence of Transportation and Communications Ministry General Secretary Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Deputy Minister of National Defence Ioannis Lambropoulos, locally elected parliament deputies, local government officials and the Olympic Airlines President.
Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis will not attend the inauguration ceremony due to an off-the-agenda debate in parliament.
 Building activity up 6.2 pct in Jan-Feb, yr/yrBuilding activity increased by 10.3 percent (in the number of permits) and 6.2 pct (in volume) in the first two months of 2007, compared with the corresponding period last year, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.
The statistics service said Crete (21.3 pct), Attica (20.3 pct), Central Greece (21.5 pct) and Western Greece (15.9 pct) recorded the biggest increase (in permits), while the Ionian Islands (11.4 pct), Southern Aegean (10.9 pct) and Central Macedonia (3.1 pct) recorded the biggest decline in the January-February period.
NSS said building activity in the private sector rose 10.6 pct in permits and 7.6 pct in volume in the two-month period.
 House prices stable this year, forecastApartment prices increased by an average of 105 percent in the period 1999-2006, a report by Propindex stated on Thursday.
The report, presented during an Economist conference in Athens on developments in the Greek real estate market, said real estate assets located in the Athens centre, and in particular the regions of Ambelokipi, Girokomio, Filothei, Ano Kypseli, Gyzi, Polygono, Pagrati, Aghios Artemios, Goudi, Exarhia, Ilisia, Koukaki, Philopappou, Neos Kosmos and Fix, recorded the biggest average increase in prices (150 pct), while the smallest increase (62.6 pct) was recorded in real estate assets in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace.
The report was based on 31,422 estimates by four major Greek banks (National Bank, Alpha Bank, Eurobank and Emporiki Bank) on prices of apartments and homes around the country in the period 1999-2006.
House prices will remain stable this year in most regions, according to estimates made by the president of Real Estate Dealers in Attica, during the conference.
Yiannis Revithis said a decline of 5-7 pct was expected in regions with high concentration of building companies and oversupply of apartments, while a slight rise, of 3-5 pct, was expected in homes prices in regions with transport work underway (metro station, Suburban station, etc.).
Revithis said that real estate prices would move upwards in the long-term, particularly in Athens and other large cities, because of lack of new open spaces, while he predicted significant developments in the holiday home market in the country. Demand for new homes are expected to grow by 3.5 pct annually in the next decade, up from 2.5 pct in the 2004-2006 period and 2.0 pct in the period 2000-2003.
 Greek stocks ease slightly on ThursdayGreek stocks ended Thursday's session slighty lower in the Athens Stock Exchange. The composite index fell 0.14 pct to end at 4,769.28 points, with turnover a moderate 326.7 million euros.
Sector indices turned negative with the Commerce (2.74 pct), Financial Services (1.35 pct) and Raw Materials (1.17 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses, while the Industrial Products (1.20 pct), Travel (0.90 pct) and Constructions (0.72 pct) scored gains.
The Big Cap index fell 0.13 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.73 pct lower and the Small Cap index eased 0.60 pct.
Ideal (18.87 pct) and Zampa (9.62 pct) were top gainers, while Marfin Financial Group (20.0 pct), Attica Publications (7.57 pct) and Epilektos (5.71 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 149 to 102 with another 53 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.91%
Personal & Household: -0.26%
Raw Materials: -1.17%
Travel & Leisure: +0.90%
Food & Beverages: +0.62%
Financial Services: -1.35%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 22.26
Public Power Corp (PPC): 19.76
HBC Coca Cola: 33.60
Hellenic Petroleum: 11.26
Emporiki Bank: 21.64
National Bank of Greece: 41.22
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 30.10
Titan Cement Company: 42.50
 ADEX closing reportFutures contract prices widened their discount during Thursday's session in the Athens Derivatives Exchange. Turnover was a moderate 161.671 million euros.
The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 2.07 pct, while the April contract on the FTSE 40 index at a discount of 1.55 pct.
Volume in futures contracts on the FTSE 20 index totaled 10,138 contracts worth 126.154 million euros, with 33,035 open positions in the market, while on the FTSE 40 index volume was 923 contracts worth 27.419 million euros with 1,641 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 5,017 contracts worth 8.098 million euros with investment interest focusing on PPC's contracts (560), followed by Eurobank (197), Piraeus Bank (282), National Bank (238), Alpha Bank (259), Intracom (405), ATEbank (470), Attica Bank (222) and Hellenic Petroleum (247).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 2.948 billion euros on Thursday, of which 1.844 billion were bid orders and 1.104 billion were sell orders.
The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2017) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 965 million euros, while the yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds was unchanged at 0.23 percent. The Greek bond yielded 4.45 pct and the German Bund 4.22 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates were largely unchanged. National Bank's overnight rate rose to 3.85 pct from 3.84 pct on Wednesday, the two-day rate was 3.84 pct, the one-month rate was 3.86 pct and the 12-month rate rose to 4.32 pct from 4.30 pct.
 Foreign Exchange Rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.372
Pound sterling 0.688
Danish kroner 7.511
Swedish kroner 9.214
Japanese yen 164.78
Swiss franc 1.661
Norwegian kroner 8.187
Cyprus pound 0.587
Canadian dollar 1.520
Australian dollar 1.662
 Commission reviews environmental priorities, future plansBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
The European Commission on Thursday adopted its mid-term review of the 6th Community Environment Action Programme (6EAP), which gauges progress made since 2002 and the challenges ahead until it finishes in 2012.
The mid-term review concluded that the EU is on track with adopting the policy measures outlined in the Programme. It makes clear that the Commission will continue to focus on addressing the 6EAP's four priority areas, namely combating climate change, halting biodiversity loss and protecting nature, reducing environmental impacts on health and reversing the unsustainable management of natural resources and waste.
According to a press release issued in Brussels, the Commission also adopted its Annual Environment Policy Review for 2006, which reports on EU policy developments last year and looks in some detail at Member States' policy performance. It shows that climate change is higher on the political agenda than ever before and that policy has progressed on issues such as the revised sustainable development strategy, the REACH chemicals regulation and the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources.
In presenting the documents, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said "EU environment policy is delivering tangible results for our citizens and has helped European industry to become a world leader in ecotechnologies. But despite this progress, global emissions of greenhouse gases are rising, the loss of biodiversity is not yet under control, pollution is still harming public health and volumes of waste are increasing in Europe. The Commission is committed to fully implementing the current Environment Action Programme in order to make significant progress towards tackling these issues."
For the full text, visit: <http://www.europa.eu/press_room/index_en.htm>
 Culture minister visits Greek Film CentreNew foundations will be laid for the Greek film industry before the end of the year if the reform process already underway is completed as planned, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said Thursday.
During a visit to the Greek Film Center offices, Voulgarakis said that the new procedures aim at the adoption of institutional changes that will improve the existing legislation regulating the film industry, adding that a breakthrough is expected in the upcoming film conference to take place on May 11-12.
The culture minister also stated that the Film Center has received a total of 7 million euros in subsidies this year and underlined the fact that it has become a public utility company (DEKO).
Voulgarakis also referred to the adoption of a tax shelter system aimed at attracting private funding for film productions by offering tax exemptions as an incentive, and the establishment of a film commission to facilitate foreign film productions in Greece, such as in the case of the movie "Mamma Mia", starring Meryl Streep, to be shot on the island of Skiathos or Skopelos.
A programme for students aged between 12 and 17 is also underway. Young students wishing to shoot their first documentary are provided with access to the center's technical infrastructure and the advice of film directors, engineers and screenwriters.
Also, the cinema magazine published by the Film Center will include pages written in Braille for the visually impaired, in addition to the 1,000 copies of DVDs for people with hearing problems.
 Culture minister inaugurates 30th Book FestivalCulture Minister George Voulgarakis inaugurated the 30th Book Festival at the pedestrian road of Dionysios Areopagitis, under the Acropolis, in Athens on Thursday evening.
At the 30 years of the festival, the organiser, the Athens Federation of Book Publishers (SEBA), honoured its previous president Dimitris Papadimas and George Dardanos, who then, in 1978, had taken the initiative of the organising of the first exhibition at Kifissia Park.
 The exhibition is dedicated to the promotion of books.The Book Festival was addressed by SEBA president Dimitris Panteleskos, who noted "the continuous danger of the safeguarding of the intellectual rights against the new multimedia" and by Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis.
Inaugurating the exhibition, Culture Minister Voulgarakis said that "the informed citizen reads more but also the citizen who reads, feels the need to be briefed more spherically on the problems of modern society."
 Draft law passed establishing the "Vangelis Papathanasiou" Research FoundationThe Greek State is in a position to expropriate the real estate situated between the New Museum of the Acropolis and the Acropolis archaeological site, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said Thursday, during a debate in parliament that led to the approval of the draft law on the establishment of the "Vangelis Papathanasiou" Research Foundation.
Voulgarakis said that the Papathanasiou Foundation is not linked with the building in question and asked why the controversial real estate was excluded from the expropriations programme advanced by the previous government in the first place.
The culture minister said that he received instructions from the prime minister himself to accelerate procedures that will make the museum a reality, leading closer to the realization of the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
 Event held marking 170th anniversary of the founding of Athens UniversityAn event was held on Thursday marking the 170th anniversary of the founding of Athens University, in the presence of President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and former presidents of the Republic, Kostis Stephanopoulos and Christos Sartzetakis, at Athens University's main building.
The government was represented by Deputy National Education and Religious Affairs Minister Spyros Taliadouros who praised Athens University's contribution and referred to the government's efforts for the upgrading of education.
Parliament was represented by Vice-President Sotiris Hatzigakis, while Cypriot government spokesman Christodoulos Pasiardis spoke on the particular bonds between Athens University and Cyprus.
 Panhellenic Journalists Union Federation on World Press DayThe Panhellenic Federation of Journalists Unions (POESY) issued an announcement on the occasion of World Press Day on Thursday, stressing "its will to defend in practice, together with the entire journalistic world, the inalienable right of society to full and authoritative information and to combat with all its strength whatever authority attempts to manipulate information for the citizen."
The announcement further said that "Greerk journalists already have a rich negative experience from this new state of affairs that is being created in the sector of information. Dismissals, problems in labour relations, the implementation of collective labour agreements and the phenomena of vested interests and dependencies are the crude reality that thousands of journalists are facing in our country on a daily basis," while calling on journalists to have "constant vigilance and contact with their union bodies."
 Event held in US on Cretan foodAn event dedicated to the top quality of Cretan food was held at the Greek Embassy in Washington.
It was organised by the Greek Embassy, the Region of Crete and the Cretan Union of America.
Welcoming the guests, Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias noted that "it is wrong to say that Cretan food is healthy. The proper thing is for us to say that healthy food is Cretan!"
 Athens court passes 'guilty' verdict for 13 of 17 'November 17' defendantsAn Athens appeals court on Thursday passed a guilty verdict for 13 out of the 17 defendants on trial for a second time in connection with the November 17 terrorist group.
According to the verdict, Alexandros Yiotopoulos was considered for the second time to be the moral accomplice in all the acts of November 17, that included 17 homicides, meaning that it considered him to be a leading figure in the terrorist organisation.
The guilty verdict issued (judgement concerning sentences will be passed another time) presents certain differences from the verdict reached during the first trial.
More specifically, there were differences in 36 out of a total of 75 cases that are included in the lengthy indictiment concerning the group, that were related to write-offs of acts or changes in the characterisation of acts.
These changes are expected to decrease life sentence counts imposed on leading defendants in the case, such as Yiotopoulos who had been handed down a 21-count life sentence during the first trial, that is now expected to be decreased to a 17-count life sentence.
Yiannis Serifis and Angeliki Sotiropoulou were acquitted since doubts existed as to their guilt, while in the cases of Nikos Papanastasiou and Pavlos Serifis, the court ruled that the only offence against them (creating and joining a criminal organisation) has now been subject to a write-off.
Speaking after the verdict was announced, Yiotopoulos said that "the court judged politically and not penally. In present-day democracy there is no independence of Justice."
 Ombudsman comments on prison conditions in GreeceOmbudsman George Kaminis on Thursday said that "the country's prison system is seriously ailing," in light of the recent incidents which occurred at Malandrinos prison.
Kaminis attributes the causes "of this situation to the asphyxiating and constantly intensifying, beyond any precedent, over-population of prisons which continuously downgrades the living conditions, encourages phenomena of offencive behaviour within prisons, such as the trafficking of drugs and maximises the dangers at the expense of the life and health of the inmates and wardens, either through coincidental causes (eg. fires and infectious diseases) either through acts of violence."
Furthermore, the Ombudsman also focused his attention to the guarding of prisons, noting that "under such conditions it is natural for someone to expect a possible increase of arbitrary judgment by the prison guards or the services of the Justice Ministry."
He called on the Justice Ministry to cooperate "for the solving of the daily problems in prisons and the credibility of the complaints expressed by the inmates."
 Police services in Thessaloniki to be boosted with cadetsPolice services in Thessaloniki will be gradually manned with 235 cadets by October within the framework of the efforts to combat crime and create a climate of security for the citizens, according to an announcement.
The new personnel will be posted in police stations, and traffic and airport police services. A number of the cadets will also be appointed to identity cards issuance offices.
 Illegal immigrants intercepted on SamosTwelve illegal immigrants of various nationalities were arrested on Thursday morning by coast guard officers on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, north of Cape Praso.
All of the illegals underwent medical screening at a hospital for precautionary reasons before being led to the reception center, where roughly 180 mostly Third World nationals are currently held.
 Massive cache of bootleg shotgun shells discovered in N. GreecePolice in the town of Assiros, near Thessaloniki in northern Greece, uncovered more than 130,000 shotgun shells and a large quantity of dynamite in an animal feed warehouse that had allegedly been turned into an ammunition factory.
The 48-year-old owner of the warehouse, who also operated a hunting supply store in Thessaloniki, was arrested after 34,000 illegally produced shells were found in his store.
An investigation is underway to determine if other stores had been supplied with the bootleg shells.
 Mostly fair on FridayMostly fair weather is forecast throughout most of the country on Friday. Partly cloudy in northern, western and central mainland Greece. Scattered showers or storms in central Macedonia and Thrace. Small rise in temperatures, ranging from 10C and 29C. Winds, southerly, southeasterly, light to strong.
Sunny in Athens, with temperatures ranging between 14C and 28C. Overcast in Thessaloniki and temperatures ranging from 13C to 25C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe political developments in Turkey, which is heading to early general elections, the bonds affair, and the new spatial planning framework for tourism unveiled by the government, were the main front-page items in Thursday's dailies.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "The social insurance Funds will also cover In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) - New National Plan on health and children".
APOGEVMATINI: "National plan for protection of children - 20 governmental measures for youth up to 18 years of age".
AVGHI: "Roussopoulos (government spokesman) attack on GSEE (General Confederation of Workers of Greece) and ADEDY (Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council)".
AVRIANI: "The state lost 360 billion from Simitis' (prime minister in preceding PASOK governments) structured bond - Light shed on the big looting".
CHORA: "Souflias (environment, town planning and public works minister): I will solve the problem with the unlicenced constructions - Presentation of the spatial planning framework for tourism".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "Trade unionists the 'parakeets' of the parties - Government's harsh language on GSEE and ADEDY", the country's two main labour umbrella organisations.
ELEFTHEROS: "GSEE an 'branch' of PASOK (main opposition party) - Bring back the stole credibility of the labour federation".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "It's getting dark in Turkey - Islamists-Kemalists in battle positions".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Turkey: New attempt to elect President on Sunday, and after that...elections, with a view of the...tanks".
ESTIA: "Parody of democracy in Turkey - Annulment of the vote for President unprecedented".
ETHNOS: "London searching for the kickbacks - JP Morgan and Papamarkakis targetted by Britain".
KATHIMERINI: "European ultimatum to the Turkish generals - Erdogan (Turkish prime minister): Gunshot against democracy from the Constitutional Court".
LOGOS: "Duel between the Leaders on the backdrop of the bonds affair - Pre-electoral climate today in parliament".
NIKI: "With his back against the wall - New pounding of Karamanlis today in parliament over the (bond) scandal".
RIZOSPASTIS: "People's front against the establishment of the monopolies - Developments in Turkey".
TA NEA: "PASOK and...ND...demand elections, now - Bomb no. 2 for 'blue' secretary general (of ministry)".
TO VIMA: "Souflias Plan changes everything in tourism - The special spatial planning framework ready".
VRADYNI: "Reply to PASOK's delirium - Off-the-agenda discussion in parliament today (Thursday)".
 National Guard post at Kato Pyrgos demolishedPAPHOS (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cypriot authorities demolished on Thursday a National Guard post at Kato Pyrgos, north-west of Paphos, with a view to open a new crossing point in the area, which would allow Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to cross to and from the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.
Demolition work began at 0930 local time (0630 GMT) by a Public Works Department team using an excavator that knocked down the post.
National Guard officials and UN personnel were on site monitoring the job, while a UN helicopter was flying over the area.
Residents in the area, present during the demolition of the military post which was constructed after the 1974 Turkish invasion on the island, expressed satisfaction and called on the Turkish Cypriot side to follow suit so that a new crossing point can open linking the area of Kato Pyrgos, located in the government controlled areas with the occupied village of Limnitis.
They also said they demand the concurrent opening of a crossing point at Ledra street, in the capital Nicosia.
Head of Kato Pyrgos Community Council Costas Michaelides expressed hope that all infrastructure work in the area will conclude in less than a month, adding that if the Turkish Cypriots follow suit, the crossing point will open.
The president of the committee for the opening of the Limnitis crossing point Andreas Caros said Thursday was a historic day, adding that residents in the area received the news with satisfaction. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 UN indicates politics of reconciliation demand civil society be heardNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cyprus problem must have a Cypriot solution, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cyprus and Chief of Mission Michael Moller said on Thursday at the International Civil Society Fair.
In a speech during the opening of the International Civil Society Fair, in the presence of US Ambassador Ronald Schlicher and Jaco Cilliers from UNDP-ACT, which had the initiative to organise the fair, Moller said that the politics of reconciliation demand that the voices of civil society and citizens be heard.
"Finding a solution to the de facto division of the island must involve a process where Cypriots grapple with issues such as the shape of Cypriot society ten and more years from now; keeping the island's unique environment intact; managing social realities such as multiculturalism, gender equality, HIV/AIDS and social exclusion, etc," Moller said.
He stressed that "there is a need for catalysts like politicians, academics, public figures and the media to promote and support the debate, indeed, a national media that informs objectively and educates factually is a must,'' adding that ''the debate can and should tackle controversy, but in a fair and balanced manner, where different views can be expressed and people have an opportunity to have an open voice."
Moller further noted that the society's future "rests not just with its elected leaders but also with an enlightened and active citizenry, one that is made up of individuals, working together to help improve the society in which they live."
At this point, the UN diplomat said he is "convinced that no solution to the problem of Cyprus will be sustainable or take sufficiently strong root unless every Cypriot has the conviction that he or she truly understands all its components and ramifications and, more importantly, feels that their voice has been heard and that they have had a say in shaping that solution,'' and pointed out that ''the Cyprus problem must have a Cypriot solution."
Noting that "civil society is the lifeblood of a healthy democratic culture," Moller said that "giving people the space to participate in the decision-making processes that impact on their lives through a critical and balanced debate on the issues of the day, is a basic function of democracy."
"Encouraging the island's youth to get involved and to participate in this debate is a matter of no small significance,'' he said, adding that ''creating a sustainable peace requires that every Cypriot, individually and collectively, takes part in the debate over what their country is going to look like in the future and in helping unleash its potential."
Moller said that understanding and peace is best achieved by those who already know each other, noting that "it is seldom sustainable if imposed by outsiders, and the population of this island instinctively understands this."
From an inter-communal survey UNFICYP announced just over a week ago, Cypriots made the clear distinction between meddling and facilitating by outsiders in bicommunal activities, Moller said, noting that majorities in both communities say they are convinced that day-to-day bicommunal contact is essential to pave the way for a united Cyprus.
But the survey results showed that the actual number of Cypriots engaged in inter-communal activities remains surprisingly small, he added.
He repeated that the survey revealed attitudes towards prospects for an early Cyprus settlement, where there is ''a crying need for dialogue, debate and discussion between and among the island's communities on all the issues which make the mosaic of life on the island and, just as importantly, the need to overcome the pervasive and persistent lack of trust between the two communities."
Concluding, Moller said that "civil society is both a catalyst and an early warning system." The challenge and the responsibility is to ensure that civil society partners with government in the service of all through a culture of openness, accountability and good governance, he noted.
 Three-day mourning declared for death of Defence MinisterNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cabinet has expressed its deep grief over the death of Minister of Defence Nicos Symeonides and declared a three-day mourning in memory of Symeonides, who died Thursday at Nicosia General Hospital, where he was admitted a month ago, with symptoms of infection of the urinary system.
An extraordinary Cabinet meeting, convened by President Tassos Papadopoulos, also decided to fly the national flag at half mast during the mourning at all national guard camps and government departments and to recommend that Ministers and other high ranking civil servants refrain from functions to celebrate various events, Deputy Government Spokesman Vassilis Palmas has said.
A condolences book will also be open at the Ministry of Defence on Thursday and Friday, and the funeral will take place on Saturday at the cost of the state, in the presence of the President of the Republic and the members of the Cabinet.
The obituary will be read by Minister of Justice and Public Order Sophocles Sophocleous.
Replying to questions, Palmas said that Minister of Finance Michalis Sarris will take over the duties of the Minister of Defence, as Acting Minister of Defence, until a new Minister is appointed.
He also said that the Greek government will possibly be represented at the funeral by Minister of National Defence Evangelos Meimarakis.
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