|Saturday, 18 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-01-13
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 13 January 2011 Issue No: 3693
 PM urges end of delays in paying pensionsAddressing a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed that it was high time for the government to fulfill its pledge for the faster payment of pensions after retirement.
"It is unacceptable that after 30 or 40 years of work, employees may have to wait for up to two years in order to receive their pensions," the prime minister underlined, saying that the gap between retirement and receipt of the first pension check should be reduced to not more than 2.5 months.
He said the government had delayed in carrying out the promise first made at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) in 2009, since it had put all its weight behind measures to deal with the economic crisis. Now, he added, the promise was finally being fulfilled through the process of issuing "pre-pension decisions" that would allow pensioners to receive the greater part of the pension that would finally be due to them in less than 12 weeks.
The prime minister also urged ministers to step up efforts to solve the problems faced by the public in their daily transactions with the state sector, especially in services where long queues tended to form such as social insurance funds, hospitals, tax offices and town planning departments.
 Greek government to back war reparations claims in ICJThe Greek government will exercise its right to participate in proceedings being held before the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) in the pending dispute between Germany and Italy as regards WWII reparations for the massacres and destructions committed during the Nazi occupation. The decision was announced by Prime Minister George Papandreou during the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
"We are all aware of the gravity and significance of this issue and of its special symbolism," Papandreou told his cabinet.
In taking the decision to participate and be represented at the court, the government had to examine "obvious moral, legal and political reasons but also important issues of the highest national importance and the overall interests of the country at a specially crucial period for our homeland," he underlined.
"..our actions serve a self-evident debt to actively honour the memory of those that sacrificed themselves for this homeland," Papandreou added, thanking all the members of his governments and the experts that had prepared Greece's participation in the proceedings.
The Greek government's move is made in support of the people of Distomo in south-central Greece, who, despite the fact that both Greek and European courts had ruled in favour of their claims for war reparations have been prevented from confiscating German state property in Greece.
As a result, the people of Distomo were forced to recourse to the ICJ with Italy which has instituted proceedings against Germany for damages it had suffered by the Nazis considering that the ICJ only tries disputes between countries.
Distomo was the scene of a massacre during WWII when 218 locals were executed as part of Nazi reprisals for the activity of partisans in the area.
The Distomo massacre case deadline at the International Court of Justice in The Hague expires on Jan. 14, 2011.
 PM chairs meeting on use of former Athens airportPrime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday chaired a meeting on the development of the real estate in Helliniko, the site of the former Athens airport.
Minister of State Haris Pamboukis and Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili attended the meeting which focused on shaping a framework for the utilization of the site (land use, green spaces, etc) before entering discussions with prospective investors.
Among others, the government is considering setting up a Societe Anonyme though which the real estate development of the former airport site will get underway.
Minister of State Pamboukis will visit Qatar next month following a visit by government vice-president Theodoros Pangalos who returned from the emirate on Tuesday. Qatar has expressed strong interest in investing in Helliniko. Greece and Qatar have already signed an investment memorandum of 5 billion US dollars.
 Israel's Lieberman meets Droutsas, begins two-day visit to AthensWays of "deepening" and improving the institutional frame-work for bilateral cooperation between Greece and Israel will be at the centre of talks that visiting Israeli Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman will have with Greece's leadership during a two-day visit to Athens beginning on Wednesday.
His first meeting was with Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas but he will also meet the Greek president Karolos Papoulias and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, as well as Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
Prior to Lieberman's visit, Papandreou had a telephone discussion on Tuesday night with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which they agreed to set up a joint Greece-Israel ministerial council and also discussed the next steps in the process of enhancing their bilateral ties that was commenced last summer.
Droutsas stressed that cooperation between the two sides will have multiple benefits for Greece and Israel but also the surrounding region.
Among others, the two sides have agreed to cooperate in setting up a regional rapid deployment unit to provide assistance during natural disasters that hit the region, such as the recent massive fires in Haifa.
Droutsas also underlined his recent decision to appoint Antonis Nikolaidis as Greece's special envoy for the Middle East in a bid to further strengthen Greece's role and presence in the area.
In statements after their meeting, Lieberman highlighted cooperation between the two sides in tourism but noted, in response to questions, that cooperation in natural gas would require "detailed study". He underlined the value of economic cooperation that he said would be the "challenge of the years to come" and that this should begin as soon as possible.
Concerning Greece's role in the Middle East, Lieberman said that this would be successful "if Greece can contribute to strengthening Israel's ties with its neighbouring countries".
Regarding the planned Greece-Israel ministerial council, the Israeli foreign minister said that this would probably hold its first meeting in three months, while Droutsas said that the first meeting would take place in Israel and deal with issues such as culture, tourism, agriculture, energy and high technology.
Replying to questions about the timing of the effort to strengthen ties with Israel, when the country was under fire worldwide for demolishing the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem, Droutsas noted that "Greece's views do not coincide with those of Israel on all issues."
"But we must talk openly also, where our opinions diverge," he added.
He stressed that Athens uses every opportunity to express its desire for a fair and viable solution to the Palestinian problem, as well as its concern that the peace process was at a standstill.
"All sides must refrain from unilateral actions, which must not happen and are not even in Israel's interests," he stressed, in order for dialogue to make progress.
"Because Greece has consistently followed a policy based on principles, which also constitutes our countries added value in the region, for this reason Greece has gained the trust of the Arab world but also Israel. Few countries can claim that they have this advantage," he added.
 PM Papandreou and Israeli FM to meet on ThursdayPrime Minister George Papandreou will be meeting Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Avigor Lieberman at the Maximos Mansion on Thursday morning.
Papandreou will then be meeting the directorate of the Union of Greek Shipowners, while in the afternoon he will be meeting European Commission Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier.
 PM phone discussion with Israeli counterpart, agreement to set up joint ministerial councilGreek prime minister George Papandreou had a telephone discussion Tuesday night with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, during which they agreed to set up a joint Greece-Israel ministerial council and also discussed the next steps in the procedure of enhancing their bilateral ties that was commenced last summer.
The ministerial council, which will be chaired by the two prime ministers, will comprise ministers from both countries, for the purpose of boosting Greece-Israel cooperation in specific sectors.
The first meeting of this new inter-state body is planned sometime in the next two months, and has been assigned by the prime ministers to their respective foreign ministers, Dimitris Droutsas of Greece and Avigdor Lieberman of Israel, who begins a two-day visit to Athens on Wednesday.
Lieberman's visit is in reciprocation of a visit by Droutsas to Israel last October.
The two ministers will meet at 13:30 on Wednesday and are expected to review 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 planned meetings with President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister George Papandreou and Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
 Asylum bill discussed in parliamentThe aim of the government's policy is for only those migrants who are eligible for asylum and international protection to remain in Greece, and no one else, citizens' protection minister Christos Papoutsis explained in parliament on Tuesday night, at the same time expressing the determination for all others to leave the country either through voluntary repatriation or through obligatory deportation.
During a discussion in parliament on a bill introducing a new asylum system, Papoutsis also defended the government's decision to construct a 12.5 kilometer long fence on Greece's land border in the Evros region, noting that this was not an isolated, and therefore ineffective, measure, but part of an integrated action program for management of the migration influxes, with 250 million euros in funding having been secured up until 2013.
The minister elaborated that the overwhelming majority of illegal migrants cross over through that zone, and thus the decision was taken to put up the fence. He stressed that this was not a wall, but a means, equipped with modern tracking devices, that could stem illegal entry into the country.
The fence is not aimed against the migrants but, rather, will facilitate the cooperation with Turkey and contribute to decisive confrontation of the migrant-smuggling gangs, he said.
Illegal migration is a huge issue, he said, and a matter of survival and national security. Guarding the borders is a matter of national sovereignty, he added, and accused those who "on the one hand accuse Greece of inability to guard its borders and on the other criticise it because it is now carrying out its Constitutional duty" of being hypocrites.
Papoutsis further said that the legislative initiatives being taken by the current government should have been taken decades ago, calling the issue a top policy priority.
The minister also said that the EU should feel that it has fully met its obligations with its financial contribution for the temporary reception of illegal migrants, stressing that Greece could not by itself solve the problem of illegal migration, "which is a European problem", and therefore Greece was not only seeking revision of the Dublin II agreement but also the adoption of a common European migration policy supported by the necessary resources and policy tools.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) parliamentary rapporteur Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha voiced her party's support for the bill, but expressed reservations on specific articles, noting that the bill does not ensure the effectiveness of the policies Greece is required to apply based on its commitments to the international treaties.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) parliamentary spokesman called for withdrawal of the bill which, he warned, would create a suppressive vise on the refugees, and also for cancellation of the "inhuman" plan for the fence at the Evros border.
Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis said that Greece is the only country in Europe where 20 percent of the population comprises illegal migrants, as well as the European country with the lowest per capita income. He opposed the bill, arguing that it does not serve the fundamental principles of a proper migration policy, but voiced support for the fence "although late in coming".
Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) MP V. Moulopoulos accused the government of manipulating the public opinion through cultivation of "instincts of suspicion and fear, and of the 'external threat'".
 Asylum draft law approved by Parliament"A more effective asylum policy, aside from the planned fence construction or the advance technology means used by other countries to protect their borders, is the best deterrent to the flow of illegal migrants that Greece is facing," Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis stressed in Parliament on Wednesday, during the second reading (by article) of a draft law on asylum.
Papoutsis said the law is part of an overall action plan approved by the European Union, underlining that Greece also seeks a revision of the Dublin II Regulation and financial assistance for the European countries being pressured the most from illegal immigration.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party rapporteur MP Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha stated that her party approves of the draft law in principle and most of its articles, despite the fact that it is regarded as ineffective.
Opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) parliamentary spokesman MP Thanassis Pafilis and rapporteur MP Nikos Papaconstantinou stressed that "there will be no solution to the problem unless the causes leading to migration are eradicated".
Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) parliamentary spokesman MP Asterios Rontoulis predicted the creation of an "industry of naturalisations".
Finally, Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) rapporteur Vassilis Moulopoulos expressed the political and ideological opposition of his leftist party to the draft law.
 Minister's response to Wikileaks publicationsRegional Development & Competitiveness Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis, a former public order minister in two separate PASOK governments, on Wednesday directly responded to confidential reports reportedly sent by the US embassy in Athens and leaked to Wikileaks, with the documents appearing in a London paper (Guardian) the same day.
Speaking to an Athens radio, Chryssohoidis merely noted that "I have publicly described the unpleasant situation during that time thousands of times. The National Intelligence Service (EYP) was not doing its job as regards the country's security".
"Where exactly is the disclosure on the EYP issue," he asked rhetorically, pointing out that "when I took over, the situation in the (citizen protection) ministry was very unpleasant. I have talked about it in the press and in Parliament. EYP was not doing its job vis-?-vis the country's security. But since then things have changed a great deal."
"I have made thousands of statements, a prosecutor has been appointed to EYP, a public administration inspector has also been appointed, and recently submitted his report (?) Everything mentioned in this document has already been stated publicly and I am surprised that it is being presented as a disclosure," he said.
As regards the reference made in the US embassy document on alleged Greek-US cooperation to combat urban terrorism, the former head of the public order ministry stated that international cooperation on issues of terrorism and crime is routine and necessary to have results that will benefit the people.
 Presentation of urban transport billThe main points contained in the bill on the restructuring, reorganising and development of urban transport in the Attica region were presented late on Wednesday afternoon by the relevant minister Dimitris Reppas. The bill had been discussed earlier during the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister George Papandreou.
The minister said that the main points of the bill are:
The restructuring and improvement of finances
The organising and development of urban transports
The rationalisation of state subsidies
The continuous monitoring and the checking of results
The arrangement of issues concerning staff
Securing the viability of public transports
According to the bill, out of the five companies currently operating under the umbrella of the Urban Transport Organisation (OASA), two new agencies will be created: one for road transports, trolley buses and buses, and one for the fixed lines -- tram, metro electric rail (ISAP).
 President briefed by environment ministerPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received environment, energy and climate change minister Tina Birbili, who briefed him on the management plan that is currently being drafted for Lake Pamvotida in the Epirus region of Greece, where the President comes from.
Papoulias also asked the minister to help in resolving the problems faced by the coastal town of Schinia, outside Athens.
Birbili, in turn, explained that there were a large number of agencies involved in the matter, including the Forestry authority, the environment and culture ministries, and the local peripheral authority and surrounding municipalities, noting that there were many problems that need to be solve
 Papariga criticises gov't policy on politican parties' financesCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga sharply criticised the government on Wednesday over its party on the finances of the political parties and over its rejection of related proposals repeatedly submitted by the KKE in parliament.
Speaking at a press conference, Papariga said that the relevant 'public dialogue' on the party finances, "a discussion that has been going on for years on the 'moralisation' and 'purification' of the political system, which has been "disdained by a great part of the Greek people", is "hypocritical and superficial", and seeks to impose a suppressive framework of action for the popular movement and the political parties, aiming at the disorientation and manipulation of the popular conscience.
She reiterated that the KKE will not make public the names of the people who, with fund-raising coupons, have contributed to the party. As for the state subsidy, Papariga noted that it is a help for the KKE, but added "let them abolish it, if they want".
The KKE leader charged that the entire discussion on combating corruption seeks to deflate the people's displeasure and draw the working people's attention away from the government's economic policy.
 EcoGreens criticise planned landfill in KerateaGreece's Ecologists-Greens party on Wednesday criticised government planning for managing Attica's waste, including a planned landfill in Keratea that has local residents up in arms.
The party presented an alternative "Zero Waste Strategy" for coping with the capital's waste management problems and accused the government of choosing "overly expensive and ecologically unsound" solutions that pandered to the interests of financially powerful groups and were hard for local communities to accept.
According to the EcoGreens' Nikos Chrysogelos, the plan worked out by the party would be cheap, immediately effective and viable in the long-term, without requiring one or two areas to be sacrificed as "victims" or enforcement by riot police.
The proposal calls for the creation of two plants for composting pre-selected organic wastes at Keratea and Grammatikos capable of handling 600,000 tonnes of waste per year, along with a third such unit at the existing landfill site at Fylis and ten smaller composting units at municipalities.
They also called for small composting units at parks, hospitals, army camps, hotels, large supermarkets and individual households.
The plan also calls for a more far-reaching recycling and re-use programme with separate bins for paper and cardboard, other types of packaging, organic wastes and other residues as well as additional waste sorting, recycling and re-use centres.
According to the EcoGreens, adoption of their proposal in full will divert 1.1 million tonnes from the Fylis landfill in two-three years and up to 1.8 million tonnes by 2020. If this reduction is combined with programmes to process and separate the massive quantities of buried refuse at the Ano Liosia-Fylis landfill, this might postpone the need for another landfill site in Attica for several decades, they claimed.
 PM's political office transformed into general secretariatThe Council of State has approved of the changing of the prime minister's political office into a general secretariat, as of Feb. 1, 2011.
The new general secretariat will burden the state budget by 70,272 euros and will be covered by the credits already registered on the finance ministry's budget.
 New Coast Guard commander appointedConstantinos Soulis was appointed as the new Hellenic Coast Guard commander on Wednesday, following a decision by the government council for foreign affairs and defence (KYSEA), which convened shortly after a Cabinet meeting the same day.
 Rehn says Greece has set an example in promoting reformsEU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn on Wednesday voiced the Commission's support to the Greek government's efforts to restructure the country's economy.
Speaking in the Europarliament during a debate on strengthening economic governance in the Europe, the Commissioner said Greece, Sweden and Latvia were examples of countries that have managed to promote bold reforms without consideration of any political costs. Rehn said these three countries were the proof that belie a recent comment by Luxembourg Prime Minister and president of Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, that: "we all know what we have to do but we don't know how to win elections afterwards".
Commenting on Greece in particular, Rehn said that Greek Premier George Papandreou managed to win elections a few months ago, after promoting very bold reforms in the country. The Commissioner stressed that the Greek premier and president of Socialist International promoted very bold reforms and succeeded in gaining the support of voters. Rehn said the situation in Greece was very delicate and difficult and noted that efforts made by the Greek people and the Greek Prime Minister to promote these reforms should be acknowledged. He clearly dismissed talk of a debt restructuring by Greece or any other Eurozone member, saying that such a development could have very serious negative consequences. Such as a scenario was neither desirable nor an option, he stressed.
 Greek economy will exit recession in 2011, minister saysGreek Deputy Finance Minister Philippos Sahinidis on Wednesday expressed his optimism that the Greek economy will exit a recession this year and return to growth in 2012, while he rejected speculation that the country would be forced into a debt restructuring. In a radio interview, Sahinidis offered an official answer to repeated comments made by Nobel winner professor Nuriel Roubini that Greece would have to proceed with a restructuring of its debt, saying that Mr Roubini was not infallible and his forecasts would be dismissed, while he added that citizens shoud be very cautious when hearing economists expressing views over state debt. Sahinidis reiterated that the government's main goal was to restarting the economy through a different growth model and noted that the government had a vision, a plan with hope and prospect.
 Deputy FM Kouvelis on Qatar's investing interest in GreeceDeputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis revealed that during the visit to Qatar by government Vice President Theodoros Pangalos "the Emirate's excellent relation with Greece and the undiminished investing interest in our country was confirmed." He participated in the government delegation that visited the Arab country.
It was the first official visit to Qatar following the unfortunate development concerning the Astakos project and it is important that even for this specific project the side of Qatar expressed satisfaction with intergovernmental cooperation, the deputy minister said, reiterating that the problem resulted from the private sector.
 Final proposals on deregulation of power sectorThe Environment, Energy and Climate Change ministry on Wednesday submitted the government's final proposals on the deregulation of the electric power market and access by private individuals to the Public Power Corp.'s (PPC) lignite production.
The government rejected the claim made by the European Union in the summer for the sale of 40 percent of PPC's lignite units to private individuals, as well (for environmental protection reasons) as the prospect of private individuals being given new lignite deposits, that have been located throughout Greece.
The proposals it made anticipate the exchange of energy as of 2012, at a first stage from units of a capacity of 1000 MGW, with contracts of up to a 15-year duration between PPC and European companies.
 Tax inspections focusing on high-profile individualsThe Greek Finance ministry is intensifying tax inspections aimed at combatting tax evasion by high-profile individuals as part of a plan to promoting tax conscientiousness among citizens, G. Kapeleris, the head of the ministry's financial crimes combat force said on Wednesday.
In a radio interview, Kapeleris said that through a quality focusing of inspection, the ministry will try to bring to the light incomes that have tax-evaded and resulted to the acquisition of real estate and other assets of great value. He noted that intensified efforts to combat tax evasion will bring results this year. He acknowledged that inspections included high-profile individuals, including public figures.
 Gov't: Contracts will be renegotiated with motorway concession holdersThe negotiations underway between the ministry of infrastructures, the 19 contractor companies of the five major motorways and the 26 banks financing them will be completed by the end of March, hopefully leading to the solution of problems that have emerged, including tolls, Deputy Transport Minister Yiannis Magriotis said on Wednesday.
He made the comment in response to growing popular protests against toll fees and following the arrest of Stylida Mayor Apostolos Gletsos -- a well-known television actor -- on Tuesday, after the latter ordered the opening of an access road parallel to the Athens-Lamia national highway near the Pelasgia toll station in central Greece.
On Monday, the Stylida mayor used the municipality's heavy machinery to tear down the bars on the sides of the Pelasgia toll station and create a parallel access road that local residents could use to travel to the rest of the municipality without paying tolls.
Magriotis acknowledged that local residents in Stylida are right to protest and stated that among the issues under negotiation with the concession holders is a freeze on toll fees for the next 30 years, adding that technical issues and contractual errors are also under negotiation.
Last weekend saw grass-roots protests throughout Greece over the hikes in tolls announced by concession holders, especially in areas where residents were not provided alternative local access roads.
 Temporary pensions compulsory in all fundsThe issuing of a temporary pension will become compulsory for social insurance funds, according to what was stated at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday by Alternate Employment Minister George Koutroumanis. The amount of the temporary pension will near 90 percent or even 95 percent of the normal one and the liquidation will be taking place with the issuing of the finalised decision.
As a result of the measure, a pension will be granted in 1-1.5 months in cases when insurance has taken place with one fund and within 1.5-2.5 months in the cases of insurance with two or more funds (successive insurance).
 PM to meet Greek Shipowners Union management on ThursdayThe management of the Union of Greek Shipowners will be meeting Prime Minister George Papandreou at the Maximos Mansion at 12:30 on Thursday, according to Marine Affairs, Islands and Fisheries Minister Yiannis Diamantidis.
Diamantidis said in a statement "that many things in cruises, that will be a growth lever for our country, have already been scheduled, stressing that in the specific sector the government is determined to support it" and, referring to shipping, added that "it is making all of us proud in a crucial period for the country."
 Eurobarometer: 75% of Greeks see joblessness risingBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)
Three in four Greeks consider that "the worst is yet to come" in terms of the impact of the economic crisis on employment, according to a Eurobarometer poll released in Brussels on Wednesday.
This is considerably higher than the average among Europeans as a whole, where 48 percent consider that the impact of the crisis on employment will become worse. Conversely, only 22 percent of Greeks consider that the repercussions of the crisis have reached their peak, compared with 42 percent of Europeans.
After Greeks, most pessimistic among Europeans are the Portuguese (73 percent think the worst is yet to come and 20 percent that the crisis is at its peak) and the Irish (72 percent see the job crisis becoming worse and 21 percent believe it is at its peak). Most optimistic are the Luxembourgians, with 47 percent considering that there is worst to come and 47 percent believing that the crisis has reached its peak.
 Strike against threatens Athens transports; court rule against actionsAthens may remain without public transports on Thursday as unions plan to escalate mobilisations against a government bill to restructure and reorganise of urban transports in the Greek capital.
Employees of the metro, the electric railways (ISAP) and the suburban railway, as well as their colleagues in the buses and trolley buses have announced a 24-hour strike on Thursday.
However, the management of the providers have sought court rulings to declare the strikes be illegal and abusive. Specifically,a court on Wednesday declared illegal both the same-day work stoppages Thursday's 24-hour strike by the metro union. A similar decision was handed down by a court in Piraeus, which declared illegal Thursday's 24-hour strike at ISAP.
Additionally, the Infrastructures, Transport and Networks ministry has warned employees' unions that if the strikes proceed, inspite of the court rulings, other sanctions would be taken.
 ETHEL employee strike action declared illegalAn Athens court on Wednesday declared strike action announced by employees of the ETHEL bus company for Thursday illegal. The court partially accepted an appeal by the management that wanted the strike declared illegal and abusive.
Earlier, a court had likewise declared strike action by Metro employees for the same day illegal.
 Business confidence index down significantly in GreeceThe business confidence index fell significantly in Greece, an International Business Report (IBR) by Grant Thornton for 2011 showed on Wednesday.
The report showed that the business confidence index (the ratio between optimistic/pessimistic enterprises) in Greece has fallen by 21 points this year compared with 2010, to -23 from -44 points.
A similar situation prevails in Ireland, where the business confidence index has fallen from -42 to -45, while in Spain, the index rose to -56 from -50 last year, although this recovery did not change a negative economic climate prevailing in the country. The index rose in Germany, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Ed Nusbaum, CEO in Grant Thornton International, said high public debt levels burdened countries such as Ireland, Greece and Spain and noted that it seemed that Europe would spend several years of tense and volatility, with the current year could becoming a turning point for the euro currency.
 Import price index up 4.6 pct in Nov.Greece's import price index in the industrial sector grew 4.6 pct in November 2010, compared with the same month in 2009, after an increase of 4.0 pct recorded in November 2009, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Wednesday.
The index was up 1.2 pct in November from October, double the growth figure of 0.6 pct recorded in November 2009. The statistics service, in a report, attributed the November increase to an 1.7 pct rise in the import price index from Eurozone countries and a 7.5 pct increase in the price index from other countries (reflecting higher international oil prices).
 fYRoM tobacco producers again close border crossingsSKOPJE (ANA-MPA / N. Frangopoulos)
Protesting tobacco producers from the southwest part of fYRoM on Wednesday again set up a blockade at the Medzitlija border crossing that leads to the Niki crossing and Florina, northwest Greece, in protest against what they charge are low prices offered by tobacco dealers the country.
The protesters, who closed off the crossing at noon, said they intended to remain at the blockade for a few hours. A similar mobilisation was held last week.
A fYRoM border crossing with Bulgaria was also briefly closed off a few days ago.
 Rail workers strike on Thursday, Jan 19-20Hellenic Railways (OSE) engine drivers on Wednesday announced a 24-hour strike on Thursday, followed by a 48-hour strike on January 19-20. Their strike will immobilise all Greek railways, including the Proastiakos line serving the Athens airport.
OSE workers object to government plans to reform the debt-ridden Greek railways that include staff transfers on a massive scale to other state-sector jobs. They accuse the management of train operator TRENOSE and the infrastructure, transport and networks ministry of "an inexplicably inflexible attitude" and insist that the personnel transfers are not necessary.
The rail strike on Thursday will coincide with a 24-hour strike by Athens buses and trolleys.
 Stocks soar 5.02% on Wed.Stocks soared at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, pushed higher by a positive climate prevailing in European markets on expectations that European leaders will take decisions to resolve the debt crisis, a development that led to a successful auction of state bonds in Portugal and a significant decrease in Greek bond yields.
The composite index of the market jumped 5.02 pct to end at 1,438.03 points, with turnover rising to 130.731 million euros.
The Big Cap index rose 5.95 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 2.74 pct higher and the Small Cap index ended 3.48 pct up. Cyprus Bank (14.66 pct), Hellenic Postbank (9.47 pct), Viohalco (8.93 pct), National Bank (7.88 pct) and Piraeus Bank (7.55 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while the Banks (8.12 pct) and Raw Materials (6.04 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day. The Health sector was the only one to end lower (1.21 pct). Broadly, advancers led decliners by 138 to 35 with another 48 issues unchanged.
Spider (17.65 pct), Cyprus Bank (14.66 pct), Mohlos (11.11 pct) and Progressive (10.53 pct) were top gainers, while Pairis (20 pct), Edrasi (12.5 pct) and Nutriart (9.09 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +2.95%
Personal & Household: +2.76%
Raw Materials: +6.04%
Travel & Leisure: +2.09%
Food & Beverages: +2.72%
Financial Services: +5.25%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Alpha Bank and DEH.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 3.62
Public Power Corp (PPC): 10.90
HBC Coca Cola: 20.15
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.91
National Bank of Greece: 6.30
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.62
Bank of Piraeus: 1.71
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank spectacularly to 831 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, after hitting a low of 821 bps earlier in the day. The Greek bond yielded 11.32 pct and the German Bund 3.01 pct. The three-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 20 million euros. Turnover in the market totaled 76 million euros of which 65 million were buy orders and the remaining 11 million euros were sell orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 1.50 pct, the six-month rate 1.22 pct, the three-month 0.9 pct and the one-month rate 0.75 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.83 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising to 71.193 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 18,177 contracts, worth 59.140 million euros, with 37,885 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 26,836 contracts, worth 12.053 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (8,287), followed by Eurobank (2,509), OTE (1,775), PPC (991), Piraeus Bank (2,149), Alpha Bank (1,716), Mytilineos (1,657) and Hellenic Postbank (820).
 Thessaloniki mayor receives Turkish consulThessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris and Turkey's consul in the northern port city, Huseyin Ozdemir, discussed further cooperation between the city and the Turkish economic and tourism sectors.
Boutaris received the Turkish diplomat at his office, with the former pointing out that a goal of increasing the number of Turkish tourists visiting Thessaloniki.
Both sides expressed a view that a boost in visits will come with the re-establishment of a direct Thessaloniki-Istanbul air route by Turkish carrier THY, following a 10-year lull.
 Izmir-Thessaloniki cruise inaugurated in May 2011Turkish tourists will be able to combine an Aegean sea cruise with a tour of Ottoman monuments in the northern port city of Thessaloniki this coming summer, as the Greek-owned "Ocean Majesty" will depart Izmir and visit Thessaloniki six times in 2011, it was announced on Wednesday.
Amongst others, Thessaloniki hosts the residence (today a museum within the Turkish consulate) where Kemal Ataturk was born in 1881, the 15th century Imaret Aladja mosque, as well as the Bey Hamam baths -- alternately known as the "Baths of Paradise" -- built in 1444 by Sultan Murat II, the most important monument of its kind in Greece.
The cruiseship's first visit will take place on May 23 and another five will follow until Oct. 19.
 First radiation therapy centre for children opens in GreeceHealth Minister Andreas Loverdos on Wednesday inaugurated the first radiation therapy centre specifically for child cancer victims in Greece at the Aglaia Kyriakou children's hospital in Athens. The new centre was built with money raised by 'Floga', the association of parents of children with cancer, and seeks to improve cancer treatment for children in Greece.
Until now, children and teens received radiation therapy in centres designed for adults that often used older technology equipment leading to serious side effects, made even more severe for young people whose tissues were still developing.
At the inauguration, Loverdos announced that the health ministry will set up a special working group to handle donations and grants and ensure that they are used speedily, without delays caused by bureaucracy.
 The unique stone bridges of the Greek countrysideThe stone bridges found throughout the Greek countryside are unique masterpieces of the stonemasons of yore.
The local craftsmen, using only the materials provided by nature and guided by their instinct, aesthetics and common sense, built bridges that have nothing to envy of those designed by engineers.
Although many of the bridges have been replaced by steel constructions, a number of the stone bridges still dot the Greek countryside.
These bridges are small masterpieces, and no two are alike. The stonemasons who built them were simple folk, without any formal education in their craft and in building, they managed instinctively to solve technical problems and construct works of art, with an ingrained talent for engineering and architecture.
Their bridges, and a wealth of other stone structures, were built to serve everyday needs, but managed to blend exquisitely with the natural landscape, and give off a sense of harmony and measure.
The oft-sung stonemasons of the past, whose works serve as a lasting tribute to their craft, traditionally came from specific parts of mainland Greece, and to a lesser degree from the islands.
The most renowned stonemason villages were located around Mt. Grammos and Sarantaporos River, Tzoumerka, western Macedonia, Arcadia, Epirus and Thrace.
 Tax bureau head arrested on felony drugs, weapons possessionThe head of the local tax bureau in the western Greece town of Amfilohia was arrested on felony drugs and illegal arms possession charges, police announced on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old reportedly generated increased attention by authorities due to his lavish lifestyle, reports state. On Tuesday, he was spotted in the northern Peloponnese city of Egio driving one of a luxury SUV. A search of the man's vehicle allegedly turned up 51 grams of cocaine.
A subsequent search of his residence revealed a number of weapons, including a pistol, an assault rifle and a submachine gun.
 Homemade explosive devices in downtown ThessalonikiTwo homemade explosive devices went off in downtown Thessaloniki early afternoon on Wednesday.
The first explosion was recorded at 13:17 outside the second-floor office of opposition Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S) MP Angelos Kolokotronis located on Mitropoleos Street. Two female employees who were in the office at the time were slightly injured by flying glass, while the damages caused were minor, according to police.
Another explosion was recorded ten minutes later outside the second-floor offices shared by the Greek Veteran Police Officers' Club and the local branch of the International Police Association (IPA) located on Promitheos Street causing only limited damage.
 Police catch copper cable thieves that cost railways 1.3 million euroGreek authorities on Wednesday announced the arrest of a gang of thieves that cost the Greece's state-owned railways an estimated 1.3 million euro in damages by stealing copper cables from railway lines.
The gang had operated mainly along the Dekeleia-Oinoi line, stealing the overhead copper cables that transmit electricity along the line. In addition to the financial damage, they also placed the safety of the railway network at serious risk.
The West Attica Security police caught seven foreign nationals (five Pakistanis, an Indian and an Albanian) at Skourta and Schimatari in Viotia with 1,850 kilos of copper cable taken from various sections of the northeast Attica railway network in their possession.
Under questioning, the suspects admitted that they had been operating for the past two months and selling the stolen cables for scrap.
All seven were led before an Athens first-instance court prosecutor on Tuesday.
 Contraband cigarettes seized in Patras portA large quantity of contraband cigarettes was seized Wednesday in the western port of Patras in a refrigerator truck boarding a ferry bound for neighboring Italy.
A total of 31,380 cartons of cigarettes were discovered by port authorities during a routine search of the truck before it boarded a ferry to Italy. The 34-year-old truck driver was arrested and is due to be taken before a public prosecutor.
 Rainy on ThursdayCloudy and rainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 2C and 17C. Cloudy with local showers in Athens, with northerly 4-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 9C to 15C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 11C.
The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glance
Economic issues and a WikiLeaks publication of classified cables from the US embassy in Greece mostly dominated the front pages in Athens' dailies on Wednesday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Dora (independent MP Bakoyannis, former ND minister and leader of the new Democratic Alliance party) calls for parliamentary fact-finding commission on overpricing of medical examinations, materials and medicines in state hospitals".
AVGHI: "They're putting private concerns in the buses -Bill on public transport to be presented to Cabinet today, limiting existing routes and making way for private exploitation of routes in wider Athens area, with increase in ticket prices as bonus".
AVRIANI: " 'Deep throat' fingers politicians with secret accounts in banks abroad and property assets in names of 'surrogates'."
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Chryssohoidis a 'deep throat' for the Americans - US has full knowledge of condition in Greek police, services of strategic importance to our country's security, and their structure and mode of operation".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "When the minister was a stool pigeon for the US - Citizens' Protection minister Michalis Chryssohoidis' meeting with (then) US ambassador Daniel Speckhard on January 22, 2010, ended with a blatant bashing of the Greek secret service and a 'yes' to setting up a joint Greek-American counter-terrorism task force".
ESTIA: "Society rejects the changes".
ETHNOS: "Shock recommendation for 50 percent reduction of number of university entrants".
IMERISSIA: "Eurobond on the horizon - Flurry in the EU for the crucial step".
KATHIMERINI: "Radical restructuring of the National Health System (ESY)".
LOGOS: "Need to fortify the financially weaker strata".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Plans for permanent solution to the eurozone debt".
NIKI: "Debt restructuring on the threshold".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Strikers in public transport being sent to court".
TA NEA: "WikiLeaks - The confidential documents of the US embassy".
VRADYNI: "Government's plan for immediate payment of 'temporary pension' until issue of regular pension, the waiting time for which reaches up to three years, is trickery".
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