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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-01-12

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

Wednesday, 12 January 2011 Issue No: 3692


  • [01] PM Papandreou briefed President Papoulias
  • [02] PM: 'We kept Greece standing'
  • [03] PM to chair cabinet meeting on Wednesday
  • [04] Gov't flatly dismisses speculation of debt restructuring
  • [05] FM on maritime zone delineation; new Mideast envoy
  • [06] Appointment of special Mideast envoy
  • [07] FM chairs National Foreign Policy Council meeting
  • [08] Israeli FM to visit Athens
  • [09] Government meeting on rationalising use of public sector staff
  • [10] EU Internal Market Commissioner due in Athens on Thursday
  • [11] Health minister says bill on pharmacies ready next week
  • [12] PASOK nat'l con'f to convene
  • [13] Independent MP joins new party
  • [14] Turkey accepts readmission of 38 illegal migrants
  • [15] FinMin, on CNBC, assures investors on state debt
  • [16] Greece raises 1.95 bln euros from T-bill auction
  • [17] Commission to decide on OA-Aegean merger by Jan 26
  • [18] Interministerial strategic investments com't holds first session
  • [19] Greek inflation rose to 5.2pct in December
  • [20] Budget deficit down in 2010
  • [21] Greek exports up by more than 7.5% in 2010
  • [22] Economic sentiment index continues slide in Dec.
  • [23] Stocks end 1.09% higher
  • [24] Greek bond market closing report
  • [25] ADEX closing report
  • [26] Greek firefighters who assisted in Israeli wildfire honored
  • [27] Organ trafficking angle probed in latest migrant smuggling case
  • [28] More charges against terror suspects
  • [29] Stylida mayor arrested for opening access road next to highway
  • [30] Striking public transport workers change times for Wed. strikes
  • [31] Veteran opera singer Modinos dies
  • [32] Postman robbed and injured, 17,000 euro taken
  • [33] Court ruling: Sludge must be sent to Ano Liossia landfill
  • [34] Cocaine lab busted in Haidari
  • [35] Rainy on Wednesday
  • [36] The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

  • [01] PM Papandreou briefed President Papoulias

    Prime Minister George Papandreou and Greek President Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday discussed European affairs, the premier's trip to Turkey and social policy issues in a meeting at the Presidential Mansion that lasted an hour and 15 minutes.

    Afterwards, the PM stated that he briefed the president on the initiative undertaken on European level and on Greece's important contribution to decision-making that will lead the EU to stability and growth through strong economic governance. A special reference was made to the Eurobond.

    As regards his visit to Erzurum, PM Papandreou briefed President Papoulias on the adoption of a new course in Greek-Turkish relations aimed at solving long-lasting problems and on Greece's contribution to the neighbouring country's European course.

    Social policy was also discussed, with the prime minister stressing that the government-sponsored reforms support a common goal in 2011 namely, a lawful society, social justice and a sense of security, while setting the economy on a course toward development.

    "Together we'll get through this," the prime minister stressed.

    Earlier, welcoming the premier to the Presidential Mansion, President Papoulias referred to the frank language that he (PM Papandreou) had used in his recent visit to Erzurum in Turkey, the course of the Eurobond campaign and the need to support the most vulnerable social strata.

    "We are making an effort for a greater rapprochement facing the known difficulties, challenges and the long-lasting issues but, at the same time, we are sharing a common will," PM Papandreou pointed out, referring to his recent visit to the neighbouring country.

    "However, you have made yourself very clear by being very precise," the president commented, with the prime minister responding that "this is the best way in order to have relations based on mutual confidence and be able to solve the problems we are faced with".

    On the effort to win the necessary consensus for the issuance of a Eurobond, the PM linked the discussion on the European economic governance directly with the Greek interests.

    "Substantive governance in Europe will contribute greatly to stability and will help Greece in its effort to make changes aimed at a state ruled by law because this is what the Greek people want," Papandreou said.

    The prime minister added that a priority for the government is to boost the welfare state which he described as "unorganized, chaotic, clientelist".

    [02] PM: 'We kept Greece standing'

    Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed during an address to top government and party officials at the Maximos Mansion on Tuesday afternoon that the changes the government is implementing will continue in 2011 as well.

    Papandreou insisted on the implementation of the reforms programme on the basis of which, as he said, "we kept Greece standing", attributing this success to the fact that the government is implementing a specific plan.

    The prime minister added that the government was obliged to take "decisions that are painful as well", although developments are such that they leave no other ground.

    The target, as was determined by the prime minister, is "a Greece with social justice, a state of law, a productive Greece, creative; which respects the citizen and gives young people a prospect."

    [03] PM to chair cabinet meeting on Wednesday

    Prime Minister George Papandreou will chair a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, focusing on draft bills concerning urban transport in the Attica region, as well as the ratification of a European Union directive regarding marine strategy for the protection and management of sea waters.

    The cabinet members will also be briefed by Alternate Employment and Social Security Minister George Koutroumanis on arrangements being promoted for the timely granting of pensions.

    [04] Gov't flatly dismisses speculation of debt restructuring

    The government on Tuesday categorically dismissed speculation of a restructuring of the Greek debt and reiterated its determination to strictly adhere to targets of structural reforms and fiscal consolidation.

    Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis, speaking to reporters, said:

    "It is clear that the situation is not as it should be, but we are clearly dismissing debt restructuring and sticking to our goals, which have already begun to bear fruit".

    Commenting on a Financial Times report regarding a debt restructuring by the country, Petalotis said "we are used to foreign press reports being unfair to the country..."

    He added that a six-month T-bill auction was successful and stressed that speculation of huge interest rates - which could surpass 5.0 pct or 6.0 pct - again failed to materialise.

    Petalotis said higher participation by foreign investors in the auction was evidence of increased confidence to the country, which was gradually regaining its international credibility.

    The government spokesman said a discussion over extending the period of repaying the EU/IMF loans was expected to be held in January or February and noted that the euro-bond was a very significant decision, very complex and several variables and underlined that this was a case promoted by the Greek Prime Minister and has taken European-wide dimensions.

    [05] FM on maritime zone delineation; new Mideast envoy

    "The goal and policy of the Greek government is the delineation of the sea zones with all neighbouring countries," Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas underlined on Tuesday .

    Speaking to an Athens radio station, he stressed that "the issue is very complex with many legal details and foreign ministry experts in cooperation with other specialists were assigned this serious systematic and comprehensive work".

    Droutsas also stressed that "Greece is not influenced by a casus belli or any other threat", adding that "it has firm and very strong positions" and "a strong deterrent ability".

    As regards a question tabled by the Communist Party (KKE) in Parliament concerning the results of the prime minister's recent trip to Turkey, Droutsas stated that views expressed by political parties and political party leaders are being respected.

    He added, however, that the absolute success of the premier's visit to Turkey has become annoying and there are those who try to regain the lost ground through "populist views".

    He acknowledged that there are problems in the Greek-Turkish relations, adding that "step-by-step we are trying to resolve them always keeping in mind our country's interests and legitimate rights."

    [06] Appointment of special Mideast envoy

    Meanwhile, the Greek foreign minister announced the appointment of ambassador-at-large Antonios Nikolaidis as Greece's special envoy to the Middle East.

    Amb. Nikolaidis, who hails from the Middle East and speaks Arabic, is a veteran member of the Greek diplomatic service, currently serving as ambassador-at-large and foreign ministry inspector general.

    [07] FM chairs National Foreign Policy Council meeting

    Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas chaired a National Foreign Policy Council meeting at the Foreign ministry on Tuesday, with the participation of representatives of all the Parliamentary parties.

    All sides stressed that the discussion was held in a good climate. However, as was agreed by the representatives of the parties and the government, no announcements or other official statements were made after the meeting.

    [08] Israeli FM to visit Athens

    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigor Lieberman will pay a two-day visit to Athens in response to the visit made to Israel last October by his Greek counterpart Dimitris Droutsas.

    The two ministers will meet at 13:30 on Wednesday and are expected to reassess bilateral cooperation, as a continuation of the agreement they had signed for the deregulation of charter flights and the agreement on cooperation and exchanges between the two countries' diplomatic academies.

    The Israeli official is also expected to discuss energy cooperation issues, as well as regional issues, with Iran and the Middle East issue as the focus, in his contacts with President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister George Papandreou and Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

    [09] Government meeting on rationalising use of public sector staff

    Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Yiannis Ragoussis on Tuesday held a first meeting with the general and special secretaries of all government ministries on the rationalisation and optimal use of human resources in the public sector.

    "Since the state consists, in the final analysis, of the people that serve it, we are proceeding with steady steps to a rationalised utilisation and fundamental upgrade of the human resources of public administration," he said after the meeting.

    The ministry's plans include the abolition and merger of public sector agencies, a reform of the public utilities and state enterprises now running at a loss and a new wage scale that will abolish special benefits and link public-sector staff wages to productivity. The new plan is also expected to result in some 30,000 staff transfers.

    The aim of the transfers will be to remove personnel from services or agencies that fail to produce the hoped-for results, lack any particular mission or those with a surfeit of personnel and to use these to strengthen services that come into daily contact with the public.

    Another goal set by the interior ministry in order to reduce state spending is to reduce the number of state-sector employees by 200,000 at the end of 2013. Ragoussis appeared confident that this goal would be achieved through the government's decision to hire just one employee for every five that retire or resign and a 15 percent reduction in the hiring of contract workers.

    In addition to introducing electronic governance and establishing advancement based on merit within the public sector hierarchy, one of the government's main wagers is to change the image of the public sector and ensure a more efficient operation of the state.

    [10] EU Internal Market Commissioner due in Athens on Thursday

    EU Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier will visit Athens on January 13-14, the head of Greece's representation to the Commission, Panagiotis Karvounis, announced on Tuesday on the sidelines of an event in Athens for the presentation of the Hungarian EU presidency's program.

    On the occasion of Barnier's visit, Karvounis noted that the European Commission's priorities for 2011 include implementation of the new "European six-month" measure which, he said, was a "preventive procedure of examination of the economic indicators" in such a way to enable the Commission to discuss the indicators with the EU member states before they are included in the draft budgets.

    He also said formulation of a proposal for the creation of a European credit rating organisation is a "major issue", which was expected to be discussed during Barnier's visit.

    [11] Health minister says bill on pharmacies ready next week

    Health Minister Andreas Loverdos on Tuesay said that he hoped to wrap up talks between the ministry and pharmacists about opening their profession within the week, so that he could table the relevant draft bill in Parliament by next Wednesday.

    "As soon as we have the comments of the European Commission we will call the national pharmacists association in order to talk and conclude," the minister said.

    Questioned about serious shortages in basic medicines that have arisen, Loverdos suggested that these were largely artificial and caused by "parallel exports" that he stressed were a form of illegal behaviour.

    He said Greek authorities would be ruthless in dealing with the phenomenon and that the national drug organisation was monitoring the shortages and would come up with a solution sometime next week.

    Meanwhile, Greek pharmacists' association officials travelled to Brussels on Tuesday and held talks with the European Commission, outlining their objections to planned measures that will minimise their profit margins and change pharmacy opening times.

    Association president Dimitris Vagionas said that Commission officials wanted the opening of the market but not more pharmacies that would lead to increased spending on drugs. He reported that they seemed suprised by the large number of pharmacies in Greece relative to other EU countries.

    Turning to other issues, the minister again clarified the criteria for planned hospital mergers, saying that these would be judged by four basic rules:

    That one hospital governor could run two hospitals that were adjacent to each other; that administrative structures could be shared between more than one hospital; that mergers would aim to enhance cooperation between hospitals in terms of emergency duty and clinic operation; and that smaller hospitals situated near much larger hospitals would essentially be converted into health centres governed by the central hospital.

    Loverdos promised that the changes would not mean the firing of excess administrative staff and announced that some 3,000 administrative employees would be transferred from other state organisations to the health system, covering positions mainly in technical services, IT departments and other similar services.

    Among other announcements, the minister unveiled plans to set up an independent committee that will prepare a detailed report on an overall reform of the health system designed to make it more efficient.

    The committee will be empowered to check the monitoring of prescriptions and even propose modifications to the EU-IMF Memorandum concerning health issues and will be made up of university academics specialising in health sector economics. It will be led by Ilias Mossialos, a professor of health policy at the London School of Economics and a PASOK state deputy.

    Loverdos also referred to a process now underway for a new costing of medical actions - the first since 1991. He stressed its importance and noted that several members of the Central Health Council had received threats from the various groups of interests that were affected.

    He appeared confident that the modernisation of the procurement system for hospital supplies would help save 400 million euro in spending on hospital supplies and drugs by the end of 2011, with ministry officials pointing out that five companies had already halved the cost of pace-makers to 1,500 euro.

    [12] PASOK nat'l con'f to convene

    The convening of a national conference of the ruling PASOK party, with June being the last deadline, was decided during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister George Papandreou at the Maximos Mansion government house on Tuesday.

    A meeting of PASOK's national council was also decided for the beginning of next month and before this the convening of the party's Parliamentary group. In parallel, and until the conference in June, a nationwide campaign will be carried out by the party, in which the prime minister will be participating in some cases, while regional conferences will also take place.

    Tuesday's meeting, chaired by the prime minister, focused on the planning of legislative work, as laws concerning so-called "closed professions", urban transports and taxation changes are expected to be ratified in February.

    [13] Independent MP joins new party

    Independent MP Giorgos Kontoyiannis, a former main opposition New Democracy (ND) MP, on Tuesday announced that he will join the Democratic Alliance party, which was founded last year by former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis after her expulsion from ND.

    Kontoyiannis, who is elected in Ilia prefecture of SW Greece, attacked the ND party leadership in Parliament last November, charging that it has declined to "cooperate" with the government in "difficult hours for the country".

    Democratic Alliance now includes five Parliament MPs.

    [14] Turkey accepts readmission of 38 illegal migrants

    Greek authorities on Tuesday returned 38 illegal migrants to Turkey under the provisions of the bilateral Readmission Protocol signed by the two countries. The 38 migrants had been picked up on the Aegean island of Leros.

    Also due to be returned to Turkey in the next few days are another 26 non-legal migrants from Syria that were intercepted at the Kipoi border checkpoint in Evros.

    Financial News

    [15] FinMin, on CNBC, assures investors on state debt

    Finance minister George Papaconstantinou gave assurances to investors regarding Greece's state debt, in an interview on the US network CNBC, and attributed the spread between the Greek and German government bonds to the wider turbulence on the market, rather than to a real danger of Greece defaulting on payments.

    "The spreads remain where they are due to the more general turbulence on the European markets," Papaconstantinou said Tuesday on CNBC.

    "We have all realised that this is a systemic issue for Europe," he added.

    The spread between Greek and German 10-year government bonds have reached an all-time high since Greece's accession to the euro area, having exceeded 10 percent.

    Papaconstantinou said he was anticipating a "major decision" over the next two months that "will clarify, once and for all, the issue of debt sustainability in the eurozone".

    The EU member countries intend to adopt a permanent rescue mechanism as of 2013, and the relevant decision requires revision of the Lisbon Treaty so as to enable assistance to eurozone member states facing problems. The permanent mechanism will be activated upon the expiry of the current mechanism being used for support to Greece and Ireland.

    "All the necessary mechanisms that need to be activated will be in place so as to convince the markets that the eurozone will defend itself, its currency, the countries that are doing everything necessary to be fiscally responsible as well as competitive in the eurozone," Papaconstantinou stressed.

    [16] Greece raises 1.95 bln euros from T-bill auction

    Greece on Tuesday successfully auctioned a six-month Treasury bills issue raising 1.95 billion euros from the market with the interest rising to 4.90 pct.

    A Finance ministry announcement said the auction was 3.4 times oversubscribed.

    [17] Commission to decide on OA-Aegean merger by Jan 26

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / V. Demiris)

    The European Commission is expected to offer its recommendation over a merger plan between Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines by Jan. 26, Commission sources said here on Tuesday.

    The deadline for the EU's executive to reach a decision on the issue ends Feb. 2, but according to community procedures, a decision must be taken before the deadline ends, with the next scheduled meeting of the Commission set for Jan. 26.

    The European Commission began an in-depth inquiry on the merger plan. The initial study showed that the proposed merger could create serious problems to competition, mainly because the new company would have very big market shares, if not monopoly in all domestic flights and in certain international flights.

    [18] Interministerial strategic investments com't holds first session

    Organisational issues related to the acceleration of strategic investments (fast track) were discussed on Tuesday, during the first session of the Interministerial Strategic Investments Committee (DESE).

    According to an announcement, issues were discussed during the session concerning the enactment of the procedures of the new Law "Speeding up and Transparency for the Implementation of Strategic Investments", organising the operation of DESE, as well as individual matters regarding procedures for the promotion of strategic investments with the aim of achieving the immediate, transparent and effective implementation of the new framework.

    [19] Greek inflation rose to 5.2pct in December

    Greek inflation rose to 5.2 pct in December 2010 from 4.9 pct in November, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Tuesday. The statistics service, in a report, said the average inflation rate was 4.7 pct last year, from 1.2 pct on average in 2009. The 2011 budget envisages that the average inflation rate would slow to 2.2 pct this year, depending on whether enterprises would absorb higher taxes.

    Hellenic Statistical Authority said the inflation rate was 2.6 pct in the previous year. The inflation rate rose 0.4 pct in December from November.

    The statistics service attributed the 5.2 pct inflation rate to an 1.9 pct rise in food/beverage prices, an 18.9 pct jump in alcohol/tobacco, a 2.3 pct rise in clothing/footwear, a 7.5 pct increase in housing prices, a 2.1 pct rise in durable goods, a 15.1 pct increase in transport and a 2.9 pct increse in hotel/coffee/restaurant prices.

    Greece's harmonised inflation rate also rose to 5.2 pct in December from 4.8 pct in November, for an average rate of 4.7 pct in 2010, up from 1.3 pct in 2009.

    [20] Budget deficit down in 2010

    The Greek budget deficit fell by 25 pct last year, measured on a cash flow basis, the Bank of Greece announced on Tuesday.

    The central bank, in a report, said the central government's shortfall fell to 23.396 billion euros in the January-December period in 2010, from a deficit of 32.622 billion euros in 2009. Regular budget revenues grew 7.7 pct to 52.306 billion euros last year, while spending fell by 8.1 pct to 68.671 billion euros.

    [21] Greek exports up by more than 7.5% in 2010

    Greek exports' growth may have surpassed 7.5 pct last year, up from initial estimates for a growth of more than 5.0 pct, following a surge of exports by around 40 pct in November, the national exporters' association said on Tuesday.

    In a review based on figures published by the Hellenic Statistical Authority, the association said Greek exports grew 39.8 pct last November, compared with the same month in 2009, surpassing the 24.1 pct growth rate of October and noted that Greek exports were up 7.5 pct in the January-November period totaling 14.206 billion euros.

    The association said it expects exports to grow by more than 7.5 pct for the whole year to more than 15 billion euros. Greek imports fell 21.4 pct in the same period to 35.326 billion euros.

    Chistina Sakellaridi, president of the Association, commenting on the figures said the global real economy offered a strong vote of confidence to Greek products and noted that Greek exporting enterprises showed that Greek economic competitiveness was not a legend but a reality, sending a message of optimism.

    [22] Economic sentiment index continues slide in Dec.

    Greece's economic sentiment index fell further to 65.6 points in December, down from 67.3 in November, reflecting worsening conditions in the manufacturing sector despite some improvement in the services and retail sectors, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) announced on Tuesday.

    Sentiment in the construction sector fell further to record lows, while consumer confidence also touched new historic lows in December, reflecting weakening demand.

    Business expectations in the manufacturing sector worsened in the production level, while some improvement was recorded in demand and new orders, with forecasts over inventories remaining unchanged.

    Business expectations in the services sector recorded a significant improvement over forecasts for the current level of works and demand, particularly over the next quarter.

    In the retail sector, sentiment was improving, while in the construction sector expectations over activities and employment fell sharply.

    The consumer confidence index fell significantly in December, after a slight improvement in November, with Greek households' forecasts over their financial situation and the country's economic condition falling to new record lows, along with forecasts over unemployment and the intention to save in the next 12 months.

    The economic sentiment index continued improving both the Eurozone and the EU-27 in December.

    [23] Stocks end 1.09% higher

    Stocks recovered at the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday after Monday's plunge, supported by positive results of a Greek Treasury bills auction and a sharp drop in bond yields. Bank stocks were at the focus of investors' interest. The composite index of the market rose 1.09 pct to end at 1,369.35 points, after rising as much as 2.42 pct during the session.

    Turnover was an improved 114.627 million euros. The Big Cap index rose 1.84 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.71 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 1.35 pct. The Health (5.09 pct) and Banks (3.43 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Commerce (2.38 pct) and Food (1.86 pct) were suffered losses. Hellenic Postbank (5.60 pct), Piraeus Bank (5.30 pct), ATEbank (4.62 pct), Eurobank (3.69 pct) and National Bank (3.55 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling (1.95 pct), OTE (1.46 pct) and Titan (0.32 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 85 to 72 with another 51 issues unchanged. Galaxidi (10 pct), Akritas (9.80 pct) and Avenir (9.52 pct) were top gainers, while Allatini Ceramics (20 pct), Progressive (9.52 pct) and Vivere (8.33 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Insurance: Unchanged

    Industrials: +0.93%

    Commercial: -2.38%

    Construction: +0.46%

    Media: +2.34%

    Oil & Gas: +2.02%

    Personal & Household: +1.05%

    Raw Materials: +2.90%

    Travel & Leisure: +1.11%

    Technology: +0.47%

    Telecoms: -1.46%

    Banks: +3.43%

    Food & Beverages: -1.86%

    Health: +5.09%

    Utilities: +1.95%

    Chemicals: -1.30%

    Financial Services: +2.56%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, DEH, OTE and OPAP.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 3.38

    ATEbank: 0.68

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 10.55

    HBC Coca Cola: 19.61

    Hellenic Petroleum: 5.69

    National Bank of Greece: 5.84

    EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.37

    OPAP: 12.80

    OTE: 6.75

    Bank of Piraeus: 1.59

    Titan: 15.45

    [24] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank spectacularly to 880 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Tuesday, from 948 bps on Monday, with the Greek bond yielding 11.70 pct and the German Bund 2.90 pct, following the successful auction of a six-month Treasury bills issue by the Greek finance ministry.

    Turnover in the market jumped to 127 million euros of which 103 million were buy orders and the remaining 24 million euros were sell orders. The six-month Treasury bill was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 37 million euros.

    In interbank markets, interest rates remained largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.50 pct, the six-month rate 1.22 pct, the three-month rate 0.90 pct and the one-month rate 0.75 pct.

    [25] ADEX closing report

    The March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -2.79 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Tuesday, with turnover a low 35.520 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 8,733 contracts worth 27.072 million euros, with 36,863 short positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 20,195 contracts worth 8.448 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (8,180), followed by Eurobank (1,452), OTE (1,046), Piraeus Bank (3,121), Alpha Bank (1,455), Mytilineos (923), Cyprus Bank (1,548) and Hellenic Postbank (707).

    General News

    [26] Greek firefighters who assisted in Israeli wildfire honored

    The 74 Greek firefighters, pilots and engineers who took part in extinguishing a massive wildfire in Israel in December were honored by minister of state Haris Pamboukis during a special ceremony on Tuesday attended by Israeli ambassador in Athens Arye Mekel and Greek ambassador to Israel Kyriakos Loukakis.

    Pamboukis presented honorary plaques to Airforce General Staff (GEA) chief Lt. Gen. Vassilios Klokozas, Fire Brigade chief Lt. Gen. Stylianos Stefanidis, disaster management team (EMAK) chief Vassilis Papageorgiou, 38 men from the Air Force and 36 EMAK firefighters for their participation in the mission.

    The minister said that the members of the mission had displayed extreme professionalism and high morale under very difficult conditions and served as an example of what Greece can do when it wants to and is organised. He also said that they contributed decisively to consolidating very good relations with Israel.

    "We helped a friendly country when it was in need. The EMAK men kept Greece high," Stefanidis said in turn, while Klokozas noted that both in times of peace and in periods of tension or crisis, the Airforce is always prepared to do its duty if needed.

    The Hellenic Airforce took part in the effort with 4 firefighting planes, 16 pilots and 22 technicians, who made 128 sorties and clocked in 90 flight hours during the mission.

    [27] Organ trafficking angle probed in latest migrant smuggling case

    Authorities in the northwest city of Ioannina, in cooperation with Interpol and Italian police, have launched an urgent investigation into a migrant smuggling case that may involve possible organ trafficking, given the enornmous amount of money involved in the migrants' transport via chartered executive jets and high-end passport forgeries.

    Six Afghans, two couples, an infant and another adult, attempted to depart the Ioannina airport aboard a leased executive jet with forged Danish passports. The entire group was detained.

    A 19-year-old Moroccan woman with Italian nationality, identified as a Paris-based travel agency employee in Greece since Jan. 4, was also arrested. The woman allegedly met the Afghan illegal immigrants in Athens with the group in tow boarded an intercity bus to Ioannina, from where they were supposed to fly to Rome on a chartered private plane reportedly leased in Milan.

    A police investigation revealed that the young woman had arrived in Athens from Milan on Jan. 4 accompanied by another 19-year-old Moroccan woman, both working for the same travel agency. The second woman was arrested at Kavala airport, northeast Greece, on Jan. 7 in a similar case of migrant smuggling -- the latter involving 15 Afghans who again sported forged Danish ID cards. The Kavala group of illegals was also arrested before boarding two leased executive jets to fly to Genoa, Italy.

    Authorities in Ioannina impounded the eight-seat private plane and arrested its two Italian pilots. The plane belongs to a Milan-based air transport company and was leased for a chartered flight by a travel agency in Paris. The leasing registration was made in Germany while in the Kavala airport case it was made in the UK. A flight plan was submitted in Brussels and Eurocontrol was notified, but the Ioannina airport authorities had no knowledge of the flight, considering that it requests a flight arrival notification 12 hours in advance due to the construction works underway.

    Meanwhile, 31-year-old man, a travel agency employee on the Ionian island of Lefkada, was also arrested for paying the required flight fees. According to the flight confirmation documents, the plane was leased for 11,600 euros, a price deemed as bogus, considering that executive jets are leased for 6,000-8,000 euros per flight hour. Therefore, the specific flight should have cost roughly 40,000 euros.

    Greek authorities are now investigating whether similar flights could have been made from other provincial airports in the country over the recent period.

    [28] More charges against terror suspects

    Five defendants have been summoned to make new pleas on charges of participating in the "Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire" terrorist gang.

    The five suspects -- Gerassimos Tsakalos, Panayiotis Argyrou, Harilaos Hatzimihelakis, Georgios Karayiannidis and Alexandros Mitrousias -- face charges related to the sending of 14 mail bombs to embassies in Greece as well as foreign leaders.

    [29] Stylida mayor arrested for opening access road next to highway

    Stylida Mayor Apostolos Gletsos was placed under arrest on Tuesday after opening an access road parallel to the Athens-Lamia national highway at the Pelasgia toll booths.

    A strong police force working with Crime Prevention and Prosecution Teams and security police had been searching from the mayor since Tuesday morning in order to arrest him, in spite of a large turnout by Stylida residents.

    Gletsos finally turned himself in to Stylida's police force at around 3:00 p.m. and was taken in handcuffs to the Fthiotida police headquarters.

    On Monday, the Stylida mayor had used heavy machinery owned by the municipality to tear down the bars at Pelasgia toll booth and create a parallel access road that local residents might use in order to pass from eastern Fthiotida to the rest of the municipality without paying tolls. He said he would persevere until Fthiotida residents could carry out local trips without charge.

    Local residents currently have no alternative road they can use without paying tolls in order to move within their area, while the road tolls were recently raised.

    Sunday saw protests throughout Greece over the increase tolls announced by concession-holders, especially in areas where residents have not been given alternative access roads in order to get about their local neighbourhoods.

    [30] Striking public transport workers change times for Wed. strikes

    The metro and ISAP electric railway staff unions have changed the times of their planned work stoppages on Wednesday in an announcement issued late on Tuesday afternoon.

    The two unions intend to coordinate their strike action, carrying out two work stoppages on Wednesday from the start of their shift until 8:00 a.m. and from 9:00 p.m. until the end of the shift. Both the metro and ISAP railway will run normally between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.

    Other Athens metro staff unions have also announced work stoppages and a 24-hour strike on Thursday if the Infrastructure, Transport and Networks minister does not agree to meet them and hear their objections to a new bill on reforming public transport.

    Meanwhile, Athens buses, trolleys and trains are continuing strike action announced on Monday.

    Buses and trolleys will repeat Tuesday afternoon's work stoppages on Wednesday (11:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. for buses, 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. for trolley buses), followed by a 24-hour strike on Thursday. The ISAP trains held a four-hour work stoppage on Tuesday afternoon, will go on a 24-hour strike on Wednesday and hold another four-hour work stoppage on Thursday.

    In addition, ISAP staff will not be selling or checking tickets from the beginning of their shift until 8:00 a.m.

    [31] Veteran opera singer Modinos dies

    Veteran baritone John Modinos died on Tuesday at an Athens area hospital due to heart failure.

    Modinos, 84, was born near Limassol, Cyprus and emigrated to the United States after WWII, where he completed a formal education in music.

    His career spanned four decades and included numerous operatic performances, including a total of 223 appearances in Verdi's "Rigolleto".

    His funeral will take place on Cyprus.

    [32] Postman robbed and injured, 17,000 euro taken

    A 48-year-old postman was robbed by two armed men in the Ambelakia region on the island of Salamina on Tuesday. The culprits were riding a powerful motorbike and threatened the postman at gunpoint, beating and kicking him until he handed over his bag, which contained 17,000 euro.

    The two then sped away in an unknown direction, discarding the gun.

    The unlucky postman was picked up by an ambulance and rushed to Tzanio hospital in Piraeus, where he was admitted for treatment.

    [33] Court ruling: Sludge must be sent to Ano Liossia landfill

    The Council of State on Tuesday ruled that the landfill at Ano Liossia -- the greater Athens area's only legal facility for accepting waste -- must continue to receive, on a permanent basis, sludge from the Psytallia islet sewage processing unit.

    [34] Cocaine lab busted in Haidari

    A cocaine lab run by two Albanian drug dealers has been uncovered and dismantled by drugs squad officers in Haidari. The lab was found on Monday afternoon, based on a tip-off received by police 10 days earlier that two Albanians were dealing in large quantities of cocaine from a location in west Attica.

    The search led police to Haidari, where they located the cocaine lab in a local apartment.

    Two Albanian nationals aged 27 and 34 years old, respectively, have been placed under arrest after police found roughly 1.5 kilos of cocaine in their possession. Also confiscated were a gun and a clip containing 16 bullets, 1,450 euro, a private car, a motorcycle and three cell phones.

    The two suspects will be led before a public prosecutor on Tuesday.

    Weather Forecast

    [35] Rainy on Wednesday

    Cloudy and rainy weather and southerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Wednesday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 2C and 16C. Cloudy and rainy in Athens, with southerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 8C to 14C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 10C.

    [36] The Tuesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance

    The critical test for state borrowing with Tuesday's T-bill issue, planned increases in mass transit ticket prices, and a 'reshuffle' of main opposition New Democracy's (ND) 'shadow government' were the main front-page items in Athens' dailies on Tuesday.

    ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "ND: 'Shadow government' with...81 members".

    AVGHI: "40 percent increases in public transport tickets".

    AVRIANI: "ND: Strong 'shadow cabinet' ready to win elections".

    ELEFTHEROS: "Lawsuit over looting of Army Share Fund".

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Message of reversal with overture to society - ND 'shadow government' reshuffle".

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Basic medicines 'disappear' from pharmacies".

    ESTIA: "Inadequate targets for the deficit".

    ETHNOS: "Pensions with down payment and installments".

    IMERISSIA: "Black Monday for Athens Stock Exchange, T-bills - Banks, down 6.56 percent, spread at 1,001 points".

    KATHIMERINI: "Tax Bureau puts end to write-off of unaudited tax statements after five years".

    LOGOS: "Critical test for state borrowing".

    NAFTEMPORIKI: "The markets demand decisions from the eurozone".

    NIKI: "How to make 5 percent in six months - Six-month T-bill issue on Tuesday, three-month T-bill issue on January 18".

    RIZOSPASTIS: "New anti-popular raid by the government - 40 percent increases in urban transport tickets".

    TA NEA: "Merchants demanding 'European' shop hours".

    VRADYNI: "In the vise of the loansharks - T-bill issue on Tuesday, as Greek spreads exceed 1,000 points".

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