|Monday, 17 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-01-27
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 27 January 2011 Issue No: 3705
 Debt 'manageable', PM tells PASOK MPsThe government's programme was not based only on Greece's obligation to pay its debts towards its creditors but also its own policies to correct the problems that had led to those debts, Prime Minister George Papandreou told ruling PASOK's Parliametary Group on Wednesday. He emphasised that the country's debt was now manageable.
"The problems were not the fault of the IMF nor the European Commission, with the proviso that the second should have better monitored the previous government," Papandreou noted. He underlined that the EU-IMF inspectors that checked Greece's progress in implementing the terms of the Memorandum for the loans were not trying to 'punish' Greece but had reasons to want the country to succeed.
During his address, Papandreou criticised what he called "conservative Europe" that clung to a blind faith in "an automatic process through markets". The view that there should be a policy concerning markets was not always understood, he added, noting that if Europe came to understand its power it could then play a major role in putting a human face on globalisation.
The Greek premier referred to what he called a "pervasive rage" throughout the world at the huge concentration of power in a banking system burdened with "huge sins" that had harmed both the poor but especially the middle classes.
"Apart from the weakest, PASOK must also support the middle class because this secure social cohesion," Papandreou emphasised, noting that the government was fighting battles in Europe to this end.
He also emphasised that Greece must be prepared to support itself using only its own powers in the case of a possible economic shock from an energy or food crisis.
Replying to the concerns of MPs about their local constituencies and regions, the prime minister stressed that Greece was undergoing one of the most crucial periods since democracy was reinstated in 1974. This would either result in the "dissolution" of society or "we will be the country's reformers," he added.
"We are experiencing the repercussions of the decisions but not yet the positive results of the changes that need time to appear," he asserted.
According to Papandreou, the money that Greece once possessed had been squandered through a doubling of the debt and a lack of growth. He also emphasised the destructive influence of corruption in preventing growth.
Concerning PASOK's upcoming National Conference, Papandreou said that this would centre on the issue of economic growth and development.
On the issue of 'cleansing' politics and dealing with scandals, the prime minister opposed "violent and autocratic solutions" and said that sending people to jail was the work of the courts. He pointed out that PASOK had been the one to demand Parliamentary investigations into various scandals, including that of Siemens, and had ordered a probe into the case when it became a government.
During his address, Papandreou announced a planned series of initiatives on the function of the justice system, political party finances and asset declarations of politicians, the electoral law and clamping down on corruption.
Among others, the prime minister also referred to the occupation of a university building closed for repairs by 237 illegal migrants seeking universal legalisation of all migrants in Greece without legal residence status. Papandreou criticised left-wing parties for organising the occupation of the building, saying that they were abusing university freedoms and triggering "destructive reflexes".
 PM chairs meeting on Law School occupation by migrantsPrime Minister George Papandreou on Wednesday asked that the laws be enforced and that the rule of law be protected, while urging all sides to shoulder their responsibilities, during a government meeting concerning the occupation of an Athens Law School building by economic migrants demanding legal residence for all migrants in Greece.
After the meeting, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou was due to meet Athens University Rector Theodosis Pelegrinis late on Wednesday evening. According to sources, the minister intended to convey a message that the rector had an obligation to apply the laws and take action if he was aware that the law governing university asylum rules was being violated.
Participants in the meeting, which began immediately after that of ruling PASOK's Parliamentary Group, included Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis, Deputy Labour Minister Anna Dalara, Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, Diamantopoulou and the premier's aide Reggina Vartzeli.
Meanwhile, the appeals court prosecutors' office on Wednesday announced the launch of a preliminary inquiry into the occupation of the building by illegal migrants, to determine whether the university's rector failed to take necessary action to prevent the occupation and were guilty of breach of duty.
Under Greek law, university premises enjoy 'asylum' and are off limits to police unless they are specifically invited by university authorities or when a serious crime is being committed. For many people this law, originally designed to protect free thinking within universities from authoritarian state interference, has since been open to various kinds of abuses, including criminal actions, that have little to do with freedom of thought for academics.
Along those lines, main opposition New Democracy announced plans to table a draft bill for the abolition of university asylum laws as these exist to day, on the grounds that these were outdated and no longer served any purpose.
Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis, on the other hand, urged university authorities to adopt a clear stance on the issue and stressed that it was the rectors' job to safeguard university asylum from abuse.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Kastanidis underlined that "university asylum is a necessary institution that exists to protect the academic community and the free movement of ideas and not to solve the housing needs of migrants".
The issue was raised earlier in the Parliamentary session when the right-wing ND and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) parties clashed with Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) MPs, who strenuously objected to calls for the abolition of asylum as "political hysteria".
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga stressed that her party would oppose pressures to install police within universities and give them powers to violate this from time to time.
"The asylum can and should be defended by the students against both the police and any one else that seeks to abuse it," she added.
Papariga also highlighted the plight of illegal migrants that frequently ended up living in Greece for years without any legal status, subject to the worst sorts of exploitation and bereft of even basic rights.
"The interior minister should announce measures in favour of migrants here and now," she underlined.
A group of 237 migrants lacking legal residence status were brought to Athens on Sunday and installed in the old Law School building, which is currently unused and undergoing renovation. Once inside, they announced the start of a mass hunger strike in order to demand legal residence for themselves and all the roughly 400,000 migrants currently living in Greece without residence permits. Another 50 migrants have also begun a hunger strike at the Thessaloniki Labour Centre.
 Reactions on takeover of Law School by illegal migrantsAthens University rector Theodosios Pelegrinis, during a press conference on Wednesday, appealed to prime minister George Papandreou and the responsible ministers to move, within the day, some 300 illegal migrants -- who are in the third day of a takeover of the Athens University's downtown Law School building -- from the Law School premises to another location.
Appealing for the "safe movement" of the illegal migrants to another location, Pelegrinis also called on interior minister Yiannis Ragoussis, deputy employment minister responsible for coordination of the government's migration policy Anna Dalara, Attica regional head Yiannis Sgouros and Athens mayor George Kaminis to meet to find a suitable location for the safe transfer of the illegal migrants.
He stressed that the issue was a migration policy matter, and criticised those who "exploited the issue politically, for their own purposes", and charged that some quarters "invested politically" in the dissolution of the university asylum regime, stressing that "there is no issue of forcibly vacating the Law School".
At the same time, Supreme Court prosecutor Ioannis Tentes on Wednesday instructed Athens chief prosecutor Ioannis Sakellakos to "urgently summon" Pelegrinis to provide information and clarifications on the takeover by illegal migrants, and on what stance he intends to take and his intentions on the matter.
Pelegrinis will be asked to clarify whether he intends to immediately convene the Rector's Council and whether he will seek intervention to vacate the Law School premises taken over by the illegal migrants.
Sakellakos was also instructed to point out to the Rector that the premises taken over by the illegal migrants are currently undergoing repair and no classes are being held there, and consequently there is no issue of university asylum.
Addressing his ruling PASOK party's parliamentary group earlier in the day, prime minister Papandreou blasted the "traditional Left", accusing them of "dissolution of the university freedoms" which "will give birth to destructive reflexes for the country", in a reference to the takeover of the Athens University's Law School building, currently closed for repairs, by nearly 300 illegal migrants seeking mass legalisation of all migrants, both legal and illegal, in Greece.
The issue also gave rise to a heated argument in parliament on Tuesday night after Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) MP Athanasios Plevris charged that a felony was taking place at the Law School, that of illegal trafficking of illegal migrants from the island of Crete to Athens which, he stressed, gives police the right to intervene without prior permission by the Rectors Council.
There are 287 illegal migrants taking part in the takeover, and have also launched a hunger strike, in total, 237 of them camped inside the old law school building in central Athens, and the remaining 50 in Thessaloniki's Labour Centre. Rather than seeking political asylum, the mostly North African and 20-something men are demanding unconditional legalisation of all migrants in Greece, both legal and illegal. The group arrived in Athens from Crete by ferry boat early morning Sunday, a week after the law school's faculty rejected a request by a leftist student grouping to host the hunger strikers.
Retorting to Plevris' statements, SYRIZA MP Th. Dritsas said that "migrants are working people too, without rights and without social security -- they protested in Crete, but no one listened to them".
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Spyros Halvatzis said the migrants' demands were "just", but added that he is disturbed with the risk put to university asylum from the takeover "and its organisers".
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) MP Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in turn, noted the destitute condition of the migrants, but also a decline in lawful order and the quality of democracy in Greece, and warned that the takeover of the Law School harmed the migrants themselves as well as the university asylum.
Justice minister Haris Kastanidis said that everyone's attention should be focused on protecting human rights, and helping people in exceptionally difficult conditions of poverty and destitution to face the difficulties in this transitional period in their lives. "But from that point to the point of having the university asylum placed in doubt is a distance that must not be traversed," he warned.
"The university asylum is being violated, and must be protected, first of all by those who serve it. The university asylum was created to safeguard academic freedom, and not for anyone to do whatever he wants with disregard for the founding act of the university asylum," Kastanidis stressed.
Meanwhile, in a morning interview on a private radio station, Anna Dalara said that the takeover by the illegal migrants creates more problems and does not help their situation, warning that "it is a wrong handling and one with ulterior motives or, in the best case, a naive approach or advice".
She said illegal migration, apart from an issue of illegal entry into the country, also had another dimension: "We have not spoken adequately about the big mass of those who want to leave and are prohibited due to the hypocrisy of the northern Europeans," she said, adding that her efforts are focused on settling the issue "with agreements, pressure, in Europe to confront the issue of these people who come here and want to leave".
"They come here, hunted. They do not come here for Greece but, unfortunately, it is their only entry way," Dalara said.
 Papandreou has telephone contact with Cyprus presidentDAVOS (ANA-MPA/V.Mourtis)
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had a telephone conversation with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias on Wednesday night, soon after his arrival here earlier in the evening.
President Christofias briefed Premier Papandreou on his meeting in Geneva, earlier in the day, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
 ND leader supports eurobond issueMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Wednesday expressed his clear support over the issuing of a eurobond, saying it would offer stability and would allow a country to repay its debt.
Addressing an extraordinary board meeting of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA), the main opposition leader stressed that long-term austerity solutions do not yield results and said he would soon meet with European Central Bank's president Jean-Claude Trichet to request higher liquidity "or else the risks will be huge".
Samaras also criticized the government for its economic policy saying 2011 would be a year of harsh austerity, unemployment and business closures and reiterated his view that the memorandum, signed with the EU and the IMF, was not "an one-way road" and it was not offering solutions, "something they have accepted also".
 Droutsas in SEECP meeting in MontenegroGreek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas will be in Montenegro on Thursday and Friday, for a meeting of South Eastern Europe's Foreign Ministers.
Droutsas will be having talks with Montenegro's political leadership in Podgorica on Thursday, while on Friday he will be addressing the informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in the city of Budva.
Montenegro currently holds the Presidency of the SEECP.
 Siemens replies to minister's letterThe management of the multinational Siemens on Wednesday said that it had given Greek authorities all evidence at its disposal regarding an investigation into a kickbacks scandal involving Siemens in Greece.
The Managing Director of Siemens Hellas Panos Xydis, in a reply to a letter sent by Minister of State Haris Pamboukis, assured the Greek government and Prime Minister George Papandreou that Siemens "does not have any other evidence concerning the investigation in Greece that we are aware of and which has not been handed over to the Greek Parliament's Examination Commission and to the examining magistrates."
Pamboukis, in a letter he addressed on Monday to the German company's management, requested the company's assistance to accelerate the investigation, pointing out that this will be "greatly appreciated by the Greek government, political parties and the Greek people".
 Local authorities to post decisions on Internet from March 15Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis on Wednesday issued a circular informing all local government authorities that they will be obliged to post all their decisions and actions on the Internet as of March 15, in accordance with a government programme to promote transparency in the public sector.
 EU blocks Aegean/Olympic merger planBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/Maria Aroni)
The European Commission on Wednesday vetoed a proposed merger between Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air, saying a tie-up would have hurt competition in the Greek air transport market.
A Commission statement said the merger between the two airlines would have led to higher prices for the four out of six million Greeks and European consumers travelling to and from Athens each year. The two airlines control more than 90 pct of the Greek air transport market, thus blocking the entry of new airlines in domestic flights.
"The merger between Aegean and Olympic would have led to a quasi-monopoly in Greece and thus to higher prices and lower quality of service for Greeks and tourists travelling between Athens and the islands," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.
 Aegean, Olympic to examine 'next step' in merger planAegean Airlines and MIG (owner of Olympic Air) will carefully analyse the text of European Commission's decision and after consultation with their advisers will decide on any further actions within the country's legal framework, the two companies said in a joint statement.
The merger agreement was pre-agreed by the main shareholders of the two companies in February 22, 2010. Following the Commission's decision, the agreement is annulled.
Theodore Vasilakis, chairman of Aegean Airlines said both companies presented the benefits from the proposed merger for our companies, passengers and the country's economy and offered significant reassurances over consumers protection and facilities for the entry of new competitors in the domestic market. "Unfortunately, the EU did not approve the merger. A significant opportunity is lost for a strong representation in the European airline market. We adjust to developments and move forward."
Andreas Vgenopoulos, chairman of Marfin Investment Group, said the EU's decision will have negative repercussions for both passengers and the country's economy, while would benefit the two airlines' foreign competitors. "It is obvious that we will continue to do our best for our executives and staff, our shareholders and passengers," he said.
The European Commission on Wednesday prohibited, on the basis of the EU Merger Regulation, the proposed merger between Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air, as it would have resulted in a quasi-monopoly on the Greek air transport market. This would have led to higher fares for four out of six million Greek and European consumers travelling on routes to and from Athens each year. Together the two carriers control more than 90% of the Greek domestic air transport market and the Commission's investigation showed no realistic prospects that a new airline of a sufficient size would enter the routes and restrain the merged entity's pricing. The companies offered to cede take-off and landing slots at Greek airports, but Greek airports do not suffer from the congestion observed at other European airports in previous mergers or alliances.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaqu?n Almunia said: "The merger between Aegean and Olympic would have led to a quasi-monopoly in Greece and thus to higher prices and lower quality of service for Greeks and tourists travelling between Athens and the islands. It is the duty of the Commission to prevent the creation of monopolies when applying the EU merger control powers conferred on it by the Member States. My services and myself did our best to find a solution, but unfortunately the remedies offered by the companies would not have adequately protected the interests of the four million consumers that use the routes."
The European Commission has prohibited the merger between Aegean Airlines, a publicly-listed company, and Olympic Air, which is part of the bigger Olympic group of companies themselves owned by Greece's Marfin Investment Group. The deal was notified to the Commission for regulatory clearance under the European Union's Merger Regulation.
Aegean provides scheduled and charter air passenger transport as well as cargo transport in Greece and on international short-haul routes. It operates from Athens International Airport and serves around 45 short-haul destinations, including to the Greek islands. It has been part of the Star alliance since 2010.
Olympic consists of three legal entities: (i) Olympic Air, active since 1 October 2009, following the privatization of the former Olympic Airlines; (ii) Olympic Handling, which offers a full range of ground handling services at 39 Greek airports, serving both Olympic Air and third party airlines; and (iii) Olympic Engineering, which is currently in start-up mode and is active in the provision of maintenance, repair and overhaul services.
Both Aegean and Olympic Air operate on routes covered by public service obligations (PSOs). Aegean has PSOs on four routes. Olympic has PSOs on thirteen routes.
As with previous airline mergers, the Commission analysed the combined effects of the proposed merger on the individual routes on which both companies operate. It received views and complaints from a large number of market participants in Greece and internationally, including consumer associations, public authorities, travel agents, airport operators, ferry operators and other airlines.
Quasi-monopoly on nine routes
The proposed merger would have led to a quasi-monopoly between Athens and Thessaloniki, the country's second-biggest city, and between Athens and eight island airports, namely Herakleion and Chania, both in Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Mytilini, Chios, Kos and Samos. None of these are routes covered by public service obligations.
The investigation showed that ferry services do not generally constitute a sufficiently close substitute to air services so as to discipline the merged entity's pricing behaviour post-merger. Their travel times are much longer and frequencies lower. The only domestic route where ferry services were considered a close substitute to air services is Athens-Mykonos for which the Commission concluded there were no competition problems.
The market investigation also showed that there is no prospect that any new player would enter the Greek market after the merger and challenge the new entity on a sufficient scale as concerns domestic flights to and from Athens.
Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines currently compete head-to-head on these routes and will continue to do so in the future.
The market investigation did not find significant competition problems on short haul international routes also operated by the parties, including, for example, on the Athens-Brussels route where they face competition from Brussels Airlines.
The companies offered to release slots at Athens and other Greek airports as well as other remedies such as access to their frequent flyer programmes and interlining agreements However, the nature and the scope of these remedies were insufficient to ensure that customers would not be harmed by the transaction. This is notably because the main problem in this case - unlike in many previous airline cases - was not the availability of slots, which are available at Athens airport and at most Greek airports. The market test also showed that the remedies were unlikely to entice a credible new player to create a base at the Athens airport and exert a credible competitive constraint on the affected routes.
The Commission, therefore, had no alternative but to conclude that the concentration "would significantly impede effective competition in the internal market or a substantial part of it" (Art 2.3 of the Merger Regulation) and prohibited the transaction. The elimination of competition which would have been associated with the merger would have been harmful for Greek customers, which need to be able to rely on competitive airlines.
The merger was notified for clearance on 24 June 2010. On 30 July the Commission started an in-depth investigation. The deadline for a ruling was extended twice to assess the remedies and to wait for information requested from the parties. The parties were warned in the Statement of Objections sent in October that the merger raised very serious concerns and could be prohibited.
Previous airline mergers
The Commission has examined 11 mergers and many alliances in this sector since 2004 and this is only the second negative prohibition. The first, in 2007, was a prohibition of the proposed acquisition of Aer Lingus by Ryanair, both Irish, which presented similarities with the Greek case. Both transactions amounted to a merger of two airlines based at the same "home" airport in the national capital.
 Finance ministry begins consultation on new tax legislationGreece's Finance ministry on Wednesday announced amendments to a new tax draft bill, which was presented the previous day, and put the new legislation on the Internet for consultation with interested parties.
The amendments extracted from the legislation the introduction of a general attorney on financial crimes, stiffer sanctions -including jail sentences- for non-payment of VAT and other withholding taxes and introducing minimum income tax criteria for 11 categories of self-employed people (doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers).
The consultation on the draft bill will end on Monday 31, January.
Finance ministry officials said the amendments made on the text of the draft bill were part of a decision to finalize details with the Justice ministry and to be brought back at a later stage. The Justice ministry expressed reservations over the legal status of some of the legislation's articles.
 Labour ministry unveils electronic prescription systemAll social insurance funds, including branches of the Social Insurance Foundation (IKA), will be hooked up to the electronic prescription system by May 1 this year, the Labour and Social Insurance ministry announced during a press conference on Wednesday.
The press conference was held to present a cooperation memorandum between the ministry and the National Bank of Greece for a 1.5 million euro donation from the bank in order to develop the Electronic Prescription System.
The system is also scheduled to be extended to all branches of the National Health System and all providers of medical services and pharmaceuticals by the year 2017.
Participating in the press conference were Labour Minister Louka Katseli, Alternate Labour Minister George Koutroumanis, NBG governor Apostolos Tamvakakis and Social Insurance General Secretary Athina Dretta.
Katseli stressed that the new system would be a major reform allowing effective control and rationalisation of spending and transparency of agencies in the social insurance system, ensuring its viability and the provision of decent pensions.
She stressed that the working of the social insurance system until now had been "an example of mismanagement, lawlessness and deviation".
The minister pointed out that the pilot phase of the programme as implemented in the OAEE fund for the self-employed had resulted in a 45 percent reduction in pharmaceutical spending compared to the same period in the previous year, reducing the average cost of a prescription from 80 euro to 48 euro and the total number of prescriptions from 950,000 to 620,000 in the October-December period of 2010.
The extension of the system to all social insurance funds from May 1 is expected to yield savings of around 1.4 billion euro during the year 2011, Katseli announced and thanked the NBG for its support.
Koutroumanis said the system was expected to bring benefits on many levels - including that of excessive use of medicine that was harmful to health. He predicted a better service for the general public, with improved access to necessary medication, and forecast that annual spending on drugs will have been reduced from 10.6 billion euro to seven billion euro by the year 2012.
 Civil servants to join Feb. 23 general strikeA 24-hour general strike involving both the public and private sector will take place on February 23, following Wednesday's decision by the civil servants' union federation ADEDY to join the strike declared on that day by Greece's largest umbrella trade union group, the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE).
ADEDY said the strike alongside the private sector was "a reply to the financial problems of supplementary pension funds, the changes in the new salary scale that are coming as a follow-up to painful cuts in benefits but also the [loss of the] 13th and 14th salaries".
It also decided a three-hour nationwide work stoppage from 11:30 a.m. until the end of the shift for the public sector on February 10, a day on which the union had originally announced a 24-hour strike.
ADEDY will also organised protest demonstrations at public-sector social insurance funds on that day and will cooperate with other trade unions and groups in holding rallies to protest against high prices and price hikes in basic goods - including public transport fares - in early February.
 President receives union of new farmersPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday received the board of the Panhellenic Union of New Farmers, expressing his support for their efforts.
"If the crisis begins to be overcome in the farming sector, the message will be very encouraging that we will also finally overcome the economic crisis," he noted.
The president underlined the need for close cooperation between the agriculture ministry and those actually working the land in order to achieve Greece's goals, while predicting that the country should expect "difficulties" in Brussels for the farming sector over the coming years.
 Shipbuilding production down 57 pct in Jan-NovThe Greek shipbuilding industry suffered the biggest production decline among Greek industrial sectors in 2010, hit by the termination of shipbuilding activities and production of rolling stock, after recording a production decline of 16.5 pct in 2009, but 2.4 pct in 2008 and rising by 14.8 pct in 2007, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Wednesday.
The statistics service, in a report, said negative trends prevailing in the production of the sector mainly reflected the shrinking activities of the shipbuilding sector. Total production of the transport equipment industry fell by 57 pct in the January-November period, compared with the same period in 2009, with production levels falling 65.3 pct compared with 2005 levels. The decline in production accelerated after the first four months of 2010, with November recording a decline of 34.7 pct.
Hellenic Statistical Authority said naval ship production fell 16.15 pct in the 11-month period last year, utility ships (coastal guard, submarines, crane vessels) was down 13.8 pct, floating tanks vessels was down 18.6 pct, sports and leisure ships fell 25.3 pct and sea bikes was down 18.3 pct.
The statistics service stressed that employment in the sector fell significantly (17.4 pct) in the period from the second quarter of 2008 until the second quarter of 2010, with the sector's workforce falling to 10,410 from 12,600.
N. Greece petrol station owners block border in protest of decision to allow duty-free petrol stations on frontier
Petrol station owners in northern Greece blocked Greece's border with FYROM till noon on Wednesday in protest over a decision to allow duty-free petrol product stations to operate again at three border stations.
Petrol Station Owners Federation vice-president and president of Kilkis prefecture petrol station owners Yiannis Maglousidis told ANA-MPA that the escalations will continue if the state does not take back the decision.
 Applications for building energy efficiency programme from Feb. 1Home owners will be able to submit applications to be included in the "Savings at Home" programme for improving building energy efficiency at the four banks handling the programme from February 1 until March 31, the environment ministry announced on Wednesday.
The banks accepting applications are Alpha Bank, National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank and Eurobank. The programme provides subsidised loans at low or zero interest for work to improve energy efficiency in residences.
The ministry has prepared material providing information about the programme and who is eligible for the subsidised loans that are available at the site (http://exoikonomisi.ypeka.gr), while it will also operate a help desk at the phone number 210-9797400.
 Visa says total number of cards unchanged in 2010A 10 pct increase in the use of electronic payments in Greece could lower informal economy by around 5.0 pct, or 3.0 billion euros, annually, Nikos Kampanopoulos, vice-president and general manager in Visa Europe, Greece, said on Wednesday.
Presenting Visa's annual results, Kampanopoulos said the total number of Visa cards (debit, credit and corporate) was around 8.6 million units last year, unchanged from 2009, with transactions through debt cards rising to 835 million euros (up 16 pct). Credit card transactions rose 12.5 pct to 84 million euros, with spending per credit card totaling 160 euros, up 9.0 pct
The total number of credit cards fell 15 pct to around 3.0 million, while consumer spending was down 10 pct to 3.8 billion euros, last year, reflecting an economic recession in the country. Corporate cards grew 6.0 pct to 48,000, with transactions per card rising 7.0 pct.
 Greek stocks jumped 2.18 pct on WednesdayGreek stocks ended sharply higher in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday as investors welcomed a government decision to lower corporate tax rates and the taxation of dividends. The composite index jumped 2.18 pct to end at 1,567.83 points, with turnover rising slightly to 131.777 million euros.
OPAP (8.35 pct), Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling (4.06 pct), Motor Oil (3.01 pct) and Mytilineos (4.05 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Eurobank (2.38 pct), Alpha Bank (1.69 pct) and National Bank (1.46 pct) were top losers. The Big Cap index rose 1.76 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.18 pct up and the Small Cap index ended 1.43 pct higher. The Travel (8.0 pct), Food (3.90 pct) and Raw Materials (3.72 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Media (4.40 pct) and Constructions (0.03 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 122 to 52 with another 53 issues unchanged. Altec (14.29 pct), Unibios (14.29 pct) and Vioter (14.29 pct) were top gainers, while Vell Group (11.76 pct), Olympic Catering (9.09 pct) and Eurobrokers (8.96 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +3.65%
Personal & Household: +0.55%
Raw Materials: +3.72
Travel & Leisure: +8.00%
Food & Beverages: +3.90%
Financial Services: +1.20%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, OTE and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.08
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.58
HBC Coca Cola: 22.06
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.69
National Bank of Greece: 6.75
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.10
Bank of Piraeus: 1.66
 Greek bond market closing reportGreek bond spreads fell to 711 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 715 bps on Tuesday, with the Greek bond yielding 11.29 pct and the German Bund 3.15 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 49 million euros, of which 33 million were sell orders and the remaining 16 million euros were buy orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved slightly higher. The 12-month rate was 1.605 pct, the six-month rate 1.29 pct, the three-month 1.055 pct and the one-month rate 0.85 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -1.35 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover a low 42.384 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 9,223 contracts worth 33.311 million euros, with 9,233 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 17,138 contracts worth 9.073 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (5,412), followed by Eurobank (1,188), MIG (1,102), OTE (1,483), Piraeus Bank (2,505), Alpha Bank (1,188), Mytilineos (668), OPAP (488) and ATEbank (397).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.379
Pound sterling 0.870
Danish kroner 7.511
Swedish kroner 8.929
Japanese yen 113.37
Swiss franc 1.302
Norwegian kroner 7.929
Canadian dollar 1.373
Australian dollar 1.383
 Counter-terrorism squad questioning new suspectPolice authorities on Wednesday announced that a young man caught carrying a 9mm Glock pistol and a hand-grenade was being questioned by the counter-terrorism squad.
The young man was arrested at around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday by a DIAS police patrol in Elaion Street, near the Kifissia traffic police station. At the time of his arrest, the suspect was with another individual that managed to escape arrest. The weapons were found on the suspect during a stop and search.
The suspect's name has not yet been released and police are investigating whether he is linked to incidents of armed violence or whether he is among those being sought in connection with terrorist activity.
Further announcements by the Greek Police concerning the arrest are expected later on Wednesday.
 Greek seaman abducted in Nigerian harbourA Greek seaman has been abducted in an armed attack on the St. Vincent-flagged freighter "Perseus" while this was docked in the port of Onne, Nigeria.
According to initial reports, the gunmen that attacked the ship have abducted the captain, a Ukrainian national, and the ship's first engineer, a 54-year-old Greek. Also injured in the attack were two Egyptian crew-members. The 54-year-old ship's engineer is the only Greek on the crew.
The reasons for the attack on the ship are not yet known.
 Baby trafficking ring dismantledGreek authorities on Wednesday announced that seven individuals accused of baby trafficking had been arrested and led before a public prosecutor, who pressed charged against them for forming a criminal organisation, abduction of minors for financial gain, mediating in an adoption for illegal financial gain and mediating in the acquisition of a child through a surrogate mother.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe takeover of the Athens University's Law School building by illegal migrants seeking legalisation and the new tax bill clamping down on tax dodging were the main front-page items in Athens' dailies on Wednesday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "War between government, university officials over the Law School building takeover by illegal migrants".
AVGHI: "Persecution of university asylum, migrants".
AVRIANI: "Hundreds of small-scale debtors to the state will be sent to prison".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "The 'child of the Diaspora' (premier George Papandreou) protecting the takeover - Government states on the one hand that the incident is 'unacceptable', but on the other hand protects the illegal migrants staging the takeover".
ELEFTHEROS: "Shock - 152 MPs in Siemens' books".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Minister/traffic cop, 'operetta' state".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Prison for debt of 5,001 euros".
ESTIA: "The 'kids' are playing with the taxation".
ETHNOS: "Taxation with minimum income declared for 11 professions".
IMERISSIA: "Shock measures against tax evaders - Spot court proceedings for VAT, overdue debts".
KATHIMERINI: "Inertia in the face of the takeover".
LOGOS: "Abolition of the university asylum?"
NAFTEMPORIKI: "The changes to be introduced to the taxation system".
NIKI: "The road opens for the 'trimming' of the debt".
RIZOSPASTIS: "They're playing games on the backs of the migrants".
TA NEA: "Suspects of tax evasion, by virtue of law".
VRADYNI: "Dramatic reduction of pensions".
 UN chief: Cyprus leaders to intensify negotiationsGENEVA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said on Wednesday that the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus have agreed to intensify their negotiations for a solution of the Cyprus problem through a series of additional meetings in the coming weeks, adding that he would make himself available to them again soon to continue to take stock of progress and to encourage the parties in further narrowing their differences.
The UN chief was speaking after a meeting at the UN offices in Geneva with the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, namely President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
The meeting began on Wednesday morning and concluded in the early afternoon with a statement by the UN Secretary General.
The UN Secretary General extended his ''deep appreciation'' to the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus ''for joining me here in Geneva today to take further steps towards a solution of the Cyprus problem.''
''Two months ago, I called the leaders together in New York because I felt the negotiations were losing momentum. During our meeting, I asked the two leaders to identify the core issues in all of the chapters yet to be resolved, and they have done this. I also asked them to agree on a practical plan. Both sides have worked energetically to take the negotiations ahead. Despite Mr. Eroglu's heart surgery, the two leaders held four meetings, while their representatives have met a further 13 times,'' he said.
He noted that ''there has been progress since we last met in November'' and that, ''based on discussions today, it is clear that the two leaders worked to move closer together through a range of bridging proposals, notably in the chapters of Economy, EU matters, and Governance and Power-Sharing.''
''Nonetheless, more work must be done to reach further convergences on the outstanding core issues,'' the UN Secretary General pointed out.
He also noted that ''today, we have identified a number of elements designed to maintain momentum and to address more directly the details of a workable, mutually beneficial solution,'' adding that ''the meeting's spirited and substantive discussions contributed to clearing the air on several key issues.''
''The leaders have discussed the outstanding key issues in a more interrelated fashion, since a settlement proposal will need to consist of an integrated package across chapters. I have encouraged both sides to talk to experts that I can make available on the technical aspects of the property issue,'' he said.
The UN Secretary General noted that ''the sides have also agreed to intensify the negotiations through a series of additional meetings in the coming weeks and I have pledged to make myself available to them again soon to continue to take stock of progress and to encourage the parties in further narrowing the differences.''
''As recent surveys have shown, both communities in Cyprus want more than talks. They want a solution. The leaders have heard that message and they are acting. I welcome the steps that the leaders have taken today which give a clear indication of their commitment to reunifying Cyprus as soon as possible,'' he said.
He noted that ''at the end of February I will be providing the Security Council with a report on the state of the talks,'' adding that ''I will closely follow the efforts of the leaders in the coming weeks as they reach further convergences across all chapters.''
''I am certain that, if the constructive spirit that I witnessed today continues, I will have a positive report to submit,'' he pointed out.
The Secretary General said that they had agreed not to take questions from the press because ''these are issues of great sensitivity'' and that ''this is a very sensitive process of negotiations.''
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
President Christofias and Eroglu are currently engaged in UN-led negotiations with an aim to reunify the island.
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