|Sunday, 16 February 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-03-03
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 3 March 2011 Issue No: 3734
 US Assistant Sec't confers with Athens over North AfricaVisiting US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon briefed local reporters here on Wednesday following his talks with Greek foreign ministry leadership -- including Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas -- with the emphasis expectedly focusing on recent developments and violence in North Africa and the Mideast, particularly Libya.
"Greece has been a very helpful partner," Gordon said, while praising Athens efforts to evacuate thousands of third country nationals to Greece from eastern Libya.
Pressed on the US administration's position regarding the fluid situation in the North African country, the high-ranking US diplomat denied that a military operation was pending, noting that extra US naval assets were ordered to the Mediterranean to deal with whatever contingencies arise. "We're simply preparing for what may be unforeseen circumstances," Gordon said.
Moreover, he was succinct in referring to Washington's position vis-?-vis the turmoil in Libya and clashes between pro- and anti-government forces, stressing that "this (Gadhafi) regime is going to go, so there's no reason to perpetuate this violence."
Queried on the possibility of the United States recognising a provisional or transitional government in eastern Libya, Gordon merely noted that Washington is studying its options.
Asked about the long-standing Cyprus problem -- which was dicussed earlier with Greek officials -- Gordon echoed the US State Department position that direct talks between the two communities on the island republic offer the "best prospects" for progress, "but having said that, we would have wished to have seen more progress."
He cited a lack of progress on the issues of property and security, amongst others. "We encourage the parties to accelerate efforts."
Turning to standing issues on Athens' agenda, Gordon praised continued efforts by the Greek and Turkish governments to improve and broaden relations via joint ministerial meetings and reciprocal visits, adding that "context and the overall tone and atmosphere" matter greatly when trying to solve often complicated and long-entrenched problems.
In reference to the still unresolved "name issue" between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) to its north, the US official underlined that the Greek government is committed improving stability in the region. Along those lines, he reminded that Washington is not a party to negotiations between Athens and the one-time Yugoslav republic, while it nevertheless considers a resolution to the problem as a "win-win" situation, but absolutely not a "zero sum game".
Finally, the US official expressed Washington's support, as he said, towards the "difficult and courageous" steps taken by the Greek government to face down the ongoing and unprecedented fiscal and economic crisis.
 Eight officers shot, 2 dead in shootout; political leadership reactionA total of eight police officers were struck by gunfire during a deadly shootout with three or four assault-rifle wielding perpetrators Tuesday afternoon in the working-class district of Renti, near the port of the Piraeus.
Two motorcycle policemen were fatally shot in the incident, one dying at the scene and the other roughly three hours later at a local hospital. The fallen officers were identified as Georgios Skylogiannis, 22, who joined the force in 2009 and special police guard Ioannis Evangelinelis, 23, who joined in 2008. Another policeman is in serious but stable condition after sustaining a gunshot wound in the abdomen, while a fourth was shot in the knee.
The violent incident occurred during a police chase and after the vehicle driven by the gunmen, a Volvo SUV, was identified as sporting stolen license plates. The vehicle itself, later found abandoned with two assault rifles and a handgun inside, was also stolen from a private residence in northern Athens that was also burglarised.
Another four motorcycle officers were hit by gunfire but emerged unscathed thanks to the bullet-proof vests and helmets they were wearing. The assault rifles were identified as the AK-47 type, i.e. "Kalashnikovs".
The incident comes a week after police intercepted a getaway car on a south-central highway carrying five armed suspects, all Albanian nationals, suspected of robbing a handful of banks and post offices in the Fthiotida prefecture in the course of several days. One suspect was killed during the incident while the others were arrested.
Condolences by political leadership
In a statement immediately after the announcement that the two young police officers had died in the line of duty, President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias issued the following announcement:
"I want to express my sincerest condolences over the death of these two young police officers, who fell in the line of duty. I am certain that Greek society was shocked by the fact that these two young men were killed in their attempt to protect law and order and social peace. We are living in rough times; crime is becoming more and more violent and acquiring ever more abhorrent forms ? Again, allow me to express my solidarity and support to the relatives of the victims."
Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis also issued a statement on behalf of PM George Papandreou and the entire government, where he also expresses his stern condemnation for the "cowardly attack on the police officers in Renti".
"To the families of the victims, we would like to express our condolences, and to the injured, our best wishes for a speedy recovery," Petalotis said, while citing a certainty that the criminals will soon be arrested and punished.
 Minute of silence in Parliament for officers killed in line of duty; ministry flags at half-mastA minute of silence was observed in parliament on Wednesday in honor of the two police officers killed in Tuesday's bloody incident in Renti, near Piraeus, when gunmen opened fire on a squad of DIAS motorbike police giving chase.
Parliament President Filippos Petsalnikos said that he felt "crushed" by the deaths of the two young men and underlined the parliament's gratitude to all police officers who put their lives at risk on a daily basis.
Expressing the parliament's deep regret for the two dead police officers and wishing a speedy recovery to their wounded fellow officers, Petsalnikos underlined that "they put their lives at risk under dangerous and adverse circumstances to ensure the citizens' safety and protection. They are appreciated and honored for this."
By order of Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, meanwhile, flags at the ministry and all its services, as well as the Greek Police (ELAS) and the coast guard, will fly at half-mast until Thursday when the two slain officers are to be buried.
 Petalotis on officer deaths: Greece still one of Europe's safest countriesGreece continues to be one of the safest countries in Europe and this was largely due to the titanic efforts of the Greek Police and especially the 'Dias' motorbike squads, who were always on the scene when they were needed, government spokesman George Petalotis stressed on Wednesday.
The spokesman made the statement one day after two 'DIAS' motorcycle police were shot dead during a police pursuit of armed criminals, in the southwest Athens district of Renti.
Petalotis underlined the horror of the government and Greek citizens at the "cowardly murder" of the two officers and extended the government's sincere condolences and solidarity to their families. He also wished a speedy recovery to a number of other officers injured in the same incident.
The spokesman underlined that the two young police officers, aged 22 and 23, respectively, had fallen in the line of duty, while trying to protect the safety of society, and come up against bloodthirsty killers.
Noting that the 'Dias' teams were seen as one of the most positive steps for ensuring the security of Greek citizens, Petalotis underlined that this was not going to change and also said that the tragic incident of the two deaths should not be linked with shortages of infrastructure, even those did exist.
 Colleagues of slain policemen rally outside Attica Police headquartersPolicemen in Athens held a demonstration outside the Attica General Police Headquarters (GADA) at noon on Wednesday, in memory of two young colleagues of the DIAS motorbike squad who were killed during a shootout on Tuesday night.
Attica Police Employees Union president Yiannis Makris said that the police have been abandoned by the state, adding that "we are not willing to sacrifice human lives when others are not able to do their jobs properly".
Makris said that the DIAS squad policemen lack the proper training and required equipment, and charged that when the incident erupted and calls were made to patrol cars for assistance, there were no patrol cars available because "they were busy guarding soccer club presidents".
Union vice-president Antonis Liakopoulos said the service has tragic shortages.
 Police headquarters on investigation into shooting that claimed the lives of two policemenAttica security police senior officials believe the gunmen who opened fire on DIAS motorbike squad police on Tuesday evening, killing two officers and seriously injuring two others, are part of an organised car theft gang and perhaps involved in other armed robberies or even more serious crimes.
Police said on Thursday that they have found 23 shells from Kalashnikov rifles and 17 9mm shells at the scene of the shooting in the district of Renti, near Piraeus, as well as 9 bullets while, at a short distance, they also found a pistol clip with five bullets.
A police announcement said the Volvo jeep used by the gunmen had been stolen on January 17 from a used car dealership in Nea Erythrea, on the 18th kilometer of the Athens-Lamia national highway, while its license plates had also been stolen the same day at the same dealership from another vehicle.
A total of 8 Volvo vehicles had been stolen that day from the dealership, one of which was used in a recent armed robbery of a National Bank branch in the Aspra Spitia town in Viotia prefecture and later abandoned, while three others had been used to transport illegal migrants and were seized by police in Kavala and Larissa, the announcement said.
Police are also investigating the prospect that the perpetrators of Tuesday's robbery of a kiosk in the Menidi district of Athens, who later riddled the DIAS policemen with bullets, are involved in the Aspra Spitia robbery or acquired the vehicle from another vehicle theft gang.
The Volvo involved in Tuesday's shooting and a kalashnikov and pistol used against the police officers, which were found in the vehicle the gunmen abandoned in Moschato after the shooting, are still being investigated by the police crime lab, and a ballistics test will turn up whether the weapons have been used in other criminal actions.
The Menidi kiosk robbery is similar to another armed robbery of a kiosk in Ano Liossia a few days earlier, in which the kiosk owner was killed, police are examining the prospect that the perpetrators were the same in both instances.
Police are continuing a manhunt for the gunmen.
The GADA announcement further said that the DIAS squad chasing the Volvo they spotted near Renti after the robbery of the kiosk in Menidi had called headquarters seeking back-up, and within four minutes 14 DIAS teams, in other words 28 policemen, were dispatched, as well as 7 patrol cars, bringing the number to 56 police officers, with orders for all vehicles to head towards Piraeus and close off all the escape routes.
Meanwhile, several other patrol cars had reached the scene of the shooting, as indicated by the bullets from the perpetrators' weapons found in the helmets and bullet-proof vests of four more officers apart from the initial four, but without causing injury.
 Weapons used in two policemen's slaying not used in other criminal act, police announcement saysThe Kalashnikov weapon and the pistol found in the car used by the assassins of the two policemen in Renti on Tuesday afternoon were "clean."
According to an announcement by the police, a ballistic examination completed in the laboratories of the crime service, revealed that the weapons have not been used in another criminal act. However, as was revealed by police sources, there had been another Kalashnikov weapon that the perpetrators took with them and police do not consider it improbable for the specific weapon to have been used in other crimes. The perpetrators did not fire with this weapon in the clash in Renti.
As it was clarified by the police investigation, the perpetrators were four and not three as was mentioned in initial reports and this results from the testimonies by witnesses of the armed robbery that they had carried out earlier at a kiosk in Menidi.
According to the testimonies, the robbery was carried out by three persons with two Kalashnikovs and a pistol while the fourth accomplice of theirs drove the stolen car.
 PASOK's Political Council convenesThe PASOK party's Political Council convened on Wednesday and during the session the organ's members were briefed by the Finance, Regional Develoment and Competitiveness ministers and by Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenoyiannako-poulou on developments in Europe and North Africa.
The session was chaired, since Prime Minister George Papandreou was unwell, by National Council secretary Mihalis Karhimakis and focused on issues concerning party functioning, as well as planning for PASOK's National Conference on September 3, 2011.
Addressing the session, Karhimakis attacked the main opposition New Democracy (ND) party.
Karhimakis stressed that ND "is behaving as if it is counting on the failure of the country's effort, instead of realising its great responsibilities for the present situation." Instead of this, as he said, the main opposition party is trying to obtain political benefits from the government's difficult options.
The ruling party's secretary also referred to the parties of the left, saying that "the revolutionary disobedience exercises have a heavy cost for the citizens and the country." He mentioned that in the effort it is making for the country's salvation, the government does not have the assistance of the parties,on the contrary the opposition parties are behaving like rivals.
 Government not discussing debt restructureThe government is not discussing restructure of the Greek debt, spokesman George Petalotis reiterated on Wednesday, clarifying that it is only negotiating extension of the EU-IMF support loan repayment period and reduction of the interest.
He said that the Greek government is going to the upcoming eurozone and EU summits with specific positions and was present at all levels of the negotiations taking place in Europe, stressing that "at this time we are at a very satisfactory level of credibility" and "consequently we are dealing with strict adherence to the program".
Asked to comment on a reported comment by ruling PASOK MP T. Antonakopulos for a "government of a national nature under (prime minister) George Papandreou), Petalotis stressed that "a government exists, with a program and a plan", adding that "we are trying to meet our targets within the fluidity we are facing at European and international level".
The spokesman noted that every MP has the right to his own opinion on the political situation, but added that "there is no need for a government of a different nature", stressing that "we are a government which the people have entrusted to govern, and that is what we are doing".
On finance minister George Papaconstantinou's meetings throughout Wednesday with representatives of a handful of political parties in the context of a dialogue on drafting the country's Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Plan for 2012-2015, Petalotis said the move was in materialisation of the government's and prime minister's position of national understanding, especially with regard to the medium-term strategic plan which "exceeds the current governmental term in office".
Papaconstantinou met with representatives of the Democratic Left and Democratic Alliance parties and was due to meet in the afternoon with representatives of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), while main opposition New Democracy (ND), the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) have turned down the finance minister's invitation to dialogue on the fiscal strategy plan.
"It was and is our obligation to see how the country can stand beyond the next 1-2 years, which was not the case up to now," Petalotis said, adding that "some realise this obligation and are taking part in the dialogue for national understanding, while others don't".
 Interior minister on public-sector wage reformA recently released report on the public-sector payroll confirmed that the government's policies were moving in the right direction and had achieved visible results, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis said on Wednesday. He was commenting on a report released the previous day by the finance and interior ministries.
Concerning planned changes to civil service salaries, Ragoussis stressed that the new salary scale "in no way aimed to cut back payroll costs".
The goal of reducing the public-sector payroll from 21.5 billion euro a year to 16.5 billion euro a year at the end of the government's term will be achieved "through the policies that we have adopted until now and the choice made last year to freeze hiring and this year to adopt the 5:1 ratio (five departures for one hiring)," the minister said.
Ragoussis said that dialogue will soon begin with the civil servants' union ADEDY on the form of the new salary scale, which would be simple, straightforward and based on the principle of equal pay for equal work.
"We want a salary scale that is based on this basic principle, which is fair, simple and modern and which acts as an incentive and not a disincentive for a civil servant to give his best in the effort to serve citizens," he added.
According to Ragoussis, the ultimate goal was to make the Greek civil service one of the most economical among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union.
"We will have one of the lowest public-sector payroll costs in relation to the total of primary spending of a state," he said.
According to the report unveiled on Tuesday, employment levels in the Greek public sector were comparable with those of developed economies and especially those of the EU. The problem, according to the authors of the report, lay in the Greek public sector's efficiency and "the chosen policy of state involvement in economic life".
Among others, the current structure of the payroll was criticised as "introverted" and out of touch with market trends, where wages were lower. Other shortcomings were the failure to differentiate between staff with marginal or poor performance and those whose performance was high, thus encouraging indifference and acting as a disincentive for productivity.
 ND on slain police officers; public debtMain opposition New Democracy (ND) spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis on Wednesday expressed his deep regret for the shooting deaths of two police officers on Tuesday afternoon, and extended the party's condolences to the victims' families.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, Mihelakis attributed rising public debt to the memorandum policy followed by the government, while forecasting that new and tougher measures will be introduced soon.
Responding to a relevant question, he said the party was in favour of state assistance in the repayment of Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) debts.
 ND leader Samaras in Helsinki for EPP summitMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras will be in Helsinki later on Wednesday to attend the European People's Party (EPP) summit on Europe's economic governance, to take place on Friday.
In the summit, Samaras will outline his party's positions on Greece's economic crisis and underline the need to take development measures including the utilisation of public property.
Samaras is expected to point out that the debt problem faced by Ireland and southern European countries should be dealt with on a single basis, and as regards Greece, he will back the extension of the repayment period for its bailout package without the adoption of additional economic measures.
The Helsinki Summit will be attended by EU heads of state and government who are members of the EPP, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.
 KKE leader urges legalisation of hunger strike migrantsAfter a meeting with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Wednesday, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga asked for the legalisation of 300 illegal migrants that are currently on hunger strike in central Athens in order to demand legal residence in Greece.
Papariga expressed concern over the fate of the hunger striking migrants, urging the government to "use the legal arsenal at its disposal in order to deal with the issue, win time and find a final solution".
Papoulias had earlier noted that the issue of migration was a global problem and Papariga had stressed that it could no longer be handled on a national level.
"Numerically, there are more migrants going to Asian countries than those coming to Europe. It is just that in Europe there is a surfeit of labourers and they seem many," she asserted.
The president and KKE's leader also discussed the deaths on Tuesday of two 'Dias' officers shot dead in an exchange of gunfire with bank robbers, with Papariga raising questions about whether the officers had adequate experience to deal with such dangerous situations.
 Leftist leader's press conferenceCoalition of the Left (SYN) President Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday questioned outright the premier's position according to which, the policy followed, as regards the memorandum, is "patriotic" because it is aimed at salvaging the country. He also accused PM George Papandreou and his government of "having degraded the meaning of negotiation".
Tsipras made the comments in a press conference ahead of an international conference on the economy organized by SYN on March 10-12.
Tsipras, who is also the head of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group, expressed pessimism in view of the EU decisions. He called for a referendum on the new European treaty to be adopted in the March 25 EU Summit meeting and questioned the government's legitimacy to impose such decisions on the people.
Responding to a relevant question, Tsipras stressed that he was in favour of snap elections, expressed deep regret for the shooting deaths of two police officers and rejected the likelihood of a NATO intervention in Libya.
 EU Commissioner announces end of RaBiT operation, launch of 'Poseidon' in GreeceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA / M. Aroni)
European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday announced the extension of the Frontex border guards' mission along the Greek borders with Turkey.
The European Commissioner stated that the Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) operation deployed by Frontex in Greece since November 2, 2010 until today March 2, 2011 will continue through the immediate launch of the Poseidon joint operation. The Poseidon operation is under the auspices of Frontex since 2006, and is assigned with the mission to help guard Greece's sea borders with Turkey.
"The immediate launch of the Poseidon joint operation to follow up on the RABIT will ensure continuity in effectively controlling the Greek-Turkish border, as well as in addressing irregular immigration in the Eastern Mediterranean region," she stressed.
The RABIT operation "has been of great importance for stabilising the situation at the Greek land border with Turkey. This has been a concrete proof of European solidarity," Malmstrom said.
The European Commissioner also called on all member states "to continue supporting and actively participate in this operation," pointing out that she "counts on Greece to continue its efforts to secure the border, to improve the migration cooperation with Turkey, and to ensure that all arriving migrants are received in human and dignified conditions."
Malmstrom's statement also stressed that "the Commission urges the Greek authorities to improve reception and detention conditions for migrants coming to Greece. Vulnerable groups such as families, children, pregnant women, and victims of abuse must receive special attention and consideration."
She reminded that the Commission has provided financial assistance to Greece to this end (9.8 million euros in Dec. 2010), adding that "we are closely monitoring the humanitarian situation which still gives rise to serious concern".
The statement also mentioned that the first asylum support teams coordinated by the European Asylum Support Office arrived in Greece last week.
The European Commissioner stressed that "cooperation with Turkey is of fundamental importance" and welcomed "the member states' endorsement last week of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement. The Commission considers Turkey as an important partner and will soon take steps to launch a dialogue on visa, migration and border management."
 Gov't on mufti issue in Thrace"There are legitimate muftis in accordance with the Greek laws and international treaties," government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis emphasised on Wednesday, adding that the Greek government has specific positions and proposals as regards the issues concerning the Muslim minority in Thrace, NE Greece.
Petalotis commented on statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claimed that the Greek government has not kept its word in accepting the demand for elected muftis.
However, the government spokesman underlined that "we should know the exact statement made by Mr. Erdogan to know the time period to which he refers".
He added that "safeguarding the rights of the minority in terms of religion, exercising religious rights, education and relations with the majority, the local Christian population, are of great interest to us".
"There is always a need to adjust the policies? and the government decisions will be announced ... The daily life of the Muslim minority in Thrace is the daily life of Greek citizens on Greek territory," he said, adding that this is a "general characteristic that could serve as a response to Mr. Erdogan".
 State funding for political parties to be cut 20%State funding for the political parties is to be reduced by at least 20 percent, in line with the cutbacks to public-sector wages and pensions, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis announced on Wednesday.
Ragoussis revealed that the interior ministry is currently preparing legislation that will radically change the framework governing state funding for political parties and anything relating to the management of party finances, both by the parties themselves and by bodies in charge of monitoring political money.
The minister said that the cut in funding would not be imposed all at once but take place in stages from year to year, until the reduction amounted to 20 percent or more. He made it clear, meanwhile, that the state does not intend to take responsibility for dealing with overborrowing by political parties.
The changes envisaged would also affect the committee checking party finances and the means and assets statements provided by politicians but also the process of raising party funds, seeking to establish rules that ensured transparency, Ragoussis said.
The minister underlined that this would primarily benefit the parties themselves, which had to had to pass to a new age where their management of money that ultimately came from Greek tax payers was considered fully transparent and above reproach. He also repeated plans to make all sources of party funding fully traceable to individuals.
 Greek ships continue evacuation of third-country citizens from LibyaGreek ships on Wednesday continued the evacuation of third-country citizens from violence-torn Libya.
The Greek ferry "Eleftherios Venizelos" sailed into port in Irakleio, Crete, on Wednesday morning, carrying 2,146 Chinese citizens and one Greek from Libya.
Another Greek ship, the "Ionian Queen", is due to arrive in Irakleio on Wednesday afternoon from Libya, carrying 665 Filipino citizens.
 Finmin counters criticism that draft tax bill is 'too harsh'Speaking before a Parliamentary Committee processing his draft tax bill, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Wednesday countered criticism that the penalties this envisions for tax-dodgers were too harsh. The finance minister stressed that, on the contrary, the previous system had given tax payers absolutely no incentive to be honest.
"The requirement to combat tax evasion concerns saving the country and is a matter of social justice," he underlined during the debate on the individual articles of the draft bill.
"The older regime not only did not avert tax evasion but encouraged it. For someone owing 10 million euro, the penalty provided today is up to one year in prison. The highest penalty that a court can impose is five years, suspended for three years. The debtor pays 82,400 euro and is done," Papaconstantinou pointed out.
The older system had given tax-payers no incentive to conform to the rules and, in this way, some 35 billion euro in overdue debts had accumulated that could not now be collected, the minister added.
The non-payment of VAT due to the Greek state amounted to "embezzlement of money from the public sector that comes to several points of GDP," he underlined and rejected arguments that businesses should be able to use sums owed as VAT as capital for the businesses "catastrophic".
He also denied that the penalties proposed were excessive or "out of proportion", pointing out that crimes such as fraud, embezzlement or theft for similar or smaller amounts bore much harsher penalties than those proposed.
"On the contrary, tax evasion offences remained unjustifiably penalty-free and the view was established that systematically cheating the public sector of VAT helped markets and was fair," he noted.
 Commission report on Greek debt crisisBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V.Demiris)
The lessons of the debt crisis in the Eurozone, emphasizing on the Greek case, is examined in a survey of the European Commission's Economic Affairs general directorate. The survey, conducted by professors M. Argyros and A. Kontonikas, is a 47-page document, examining five basic issues: which were the reasons why spreads rose in Eurozone states after the financial crisis began in August 2007, while Greek spreads grew dramatically in November 2009, why Greek spreads rose so much compared with other regional countries and whether the Greek crisis expanded to other Eurozone economies. Finally, what is the role of speculation in the CDS market.
The conclusions of the survey say that in contrary to what was happening before the crisis, during the crisis markets changed their attitude evaluating both international risks and macro-economic fundamentals of each country. The Greek crisis is the result of worsening macro-economic data in the period 1999-2009 and a change of private investors' expectations. The country suffered from the transfer from a status of fully credible commitment in participating in EMU to a status of non-full commitment in EMU without any fiscal guarantees. This change was the cause of a rapid worsening of the debt crisis in Greece since November 2009 and a rise in Greek yield spreads. The survey concludes that Greece suffers from problems of confidence and its public finances. The survey also noted that the Greek crisis spread to other Eurozone states, such as Portugal, Ireland and Spain.
The Commission noted there were no evidence that speculation in the CDS market was a cause of the debt crisis in the Eurozone, without this meaning that there was no speculation in the market. The survey concluded that a marked improvement in fiscal condition and competitiveness was a precondition for a de-escalation of yield spreads in Eurozone states, while these states should improve investors' expectations over their economic outlook.
 FinMin meets with party reps on fiscal strategy planSpeedier reduction of interest rates, deeper structural changes and fairer distribution of burden were requested by Democratic Alliance party representatives in Wednesday's meeting with Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou. The meeting was held at the ministry of finance within the framework of the dialogue focusing on the drafting of the country's Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Plan for 2012-2015.
The party's MEP Thodoros Skylakakis stated afterwards that Europe should help Greece but this alone is not enough, adding that the country should proceed with the necessary reforms without extreme populism and trade union objections.
Earlier, the finance minister had a meeting with representatives of the Democratic Left party who expressed opposition to the government's policies.
The party's economic policy officer Dimitris Hatzisokratis stressed that "a different way exists, with a fair distribution of the burden and reinforcement of social solidarity".
The Democratic Left delegation said a uniform effort by Greece and the EU is necessary, adding that Greece must demand an extension of the EU-IMF support loan's repayment period, reduction of the interest rate and the issuance of a so-called Euro-bond.
Hatzisokratis also said his party is opposed to constitutionally mandated fiscal restrictions, as demanded by Germany.
Papaconstantinou is due to meet with representatives of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) party later in the day.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND), the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) have turned down the finance minister's invitation to dialogue on the fiscal strategy plan.
 Middle-Term Fiscal Strategy FrameworkThe Middle-Term Fiscal Strategy Framework anticipates measures totalling 22 billion euros for the 2012-2015 period, so that the fiscal deficit will be limited below 3 percent of GDP at the end of 2014 and in parallel for the public debt to be controlled.
These fiscal policy axes for the next four years that will be ratified in Parliament in mid-May were delivered on Wednesday by Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou to the representatives of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party, the "Democratic Alliance" and the "Democratic Left" in meetings held at the Finance ministry.
The Middle-Term Framework incudes:
-Conservative macroeconomic predictions
-A basic scenario with projections of revenues and expenditures for the state and the other state agencies.
-A description of permanent fiscal interventions, timetables and quantitive targets.
-Annual maximum limits for expenditures for every ministry and targets for other agencies.
-Fiscal interventions for the General Government following the interventions.
-Longterm projections of the debt.
-Sector intervention plans in such sectors as public enterprises, the other legal entities of public law and the special accounts, tax evasion, the payroll of the public sector, public administration, social and defence expenditures.
According to the Middle-Term Framework, the 22 billion euros will concern by 2/3 the expenditures and by 1/3 the revenues.
 UHCC: 'Victims of merciless tax-collecting policy'Central Union of Hellenic Chambers of Commerce (UHCC) president George Kassimatis warned on Wednesday that "we are all becoming victims of a merciless tax-collecting policy, and indeed with a constantly changing institutional status quo".
Kassimatis said that "we are unfortunately trapped in a fiscal impasse, the epitome of which is reflected in the new, revised version of the Memorandum", adding that the "one-dimensional accounting approach to the problems has fatally struck the real economy".
He said that the much-desired developmental policy is announced repeatedly, but without any tangible indications of its implementation, adding that the credibility of the government's fiscal attitude has suffered a huge blow.
 Greek enterprises cautious over business labour contractsThe majority of Greek enterprises (59 pct) are cautious over the implementation of a business labour contracts, worried that such a move could lead to labour unrest or undermine the company's status in the market, a report by People for Business showed.
However, the report showed that one in three enterprises said they would implement such contracts this year, while a 13 pct did not answer. A 45.4 pct of enterprises in the report said the introduction of business labour contracts was a move towards the right direction, while a 40.9 pct said it was a necessary choice to maintain competitiveness. A 77.2 pct of respondent enterprises said a necessary precondition to implementing a business labour contract was ensuring job positions and only 22.8 pct said these two should not be linked. A 22.7 pct said these contracts should be implemented in order to avoid lay-off of workers and another 8.7 pct in order to avoid the transformation of full-time jobs into part-time jobs.
A 27.7 pct of enterprises said wages should be cut when a company was in danger of bankruptcy, while a 28 pct of enterprises said they planned to cut wages this year.
A 62.3 pct of human resources executives said they were positive towards the measure, although they acknowledged that it could lead to labour unrest.
The survey was conducted in the period January 10 to February 10, 2011 in a sample of 145 enterprises, of which 72 pct were Greek and 28 multinational.
 Piraeus Bank presents EU-funded 'Climabiz' programmePiraeus Bank on Wednesday held a seminar to present a project designed to assess risks and opportunities for businesses in Greece and southeastern Europe as a result of climate change.
Dubbed 'Climabiz', the project is part-financed by the European Union's "Life+ Environment Policy and Governance" funding instrument, with Piraeus Bank acting as coordinator, while other participants and 'associated beneficiaries' include WWF Hellas and the FACE3TS, a consulting company specialising in energy, environment and climate change issues.
The aims of the project are to:
- Quantify financial impacts and business opportunities that arise from climate change in SE Europe, with special focus on Greece.
- Develop mechanisms that will monitor the financial impacts of climate change on Greek companies.
- Develop the necessary tools that will determine business opportunities deriving from climate change.
- Raising awareness, guiding and supporting companies towards a smoother adaptation to climate change.
- Informing and raising awareness among shareholders, suppliers, employees and the broader public with regard to tackling climate change and adapting to the new conditions.
The project will run in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus until the end of 2012.
 Cosmote promises generous severance package for 120 laid-off staffMobile phone service provider Cosmote, a part of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) group, on Wednesday said that it was preparing an unusually generous severance package for the 120 staff that are to be laid-off when the company undergoes restructuring and sheds some of its operations.
Cosmote's management said the scheme envisaged compensation higher than the legal minimum for laid-off staff, which would take into account their age, family situation, past performance, and continued provision of benefits such as health plans and daycare costs for a reasonable space of time. The company also stressed that it will not make use of the right given under new labour laws to dismiss up to 30 employees a month.
Sources within the company said that the staff laid off will receive 3.2 times the legal compensation, on average, receiving between 13 and 27 gross monthly wages in addition to the legal compensation. The number of additional wages will be calculated based on their age, marital status, children, whether they are a single-parent family and job performance.
Cosmote's group employed more than 9,000 staff at the end of 2010, of which 3,500 were based in Greece and the remainder in Balkan countries where it is active. The economic crisis caused a dip of 1.1 billion euro in its revenues on the Greek market in the past two years and reduced the company's profits by 10 percent in 2010, with a similar reduction in its EBITDA.
The OTE group union OME-OTE has announced a 24-hour strike by all OTE staff on Friday in response to the lay-offs and will hold a meeting to decide further action next Tuesday.
 Olympic Air to restructure flight itineraryOlympic Air on Wednesday announced its intention to restructure its flights program following a recent European Commission rejection of a merger plan with Aegean Airlines.
According to an OA announcement, the restructure aims to enhance the airline's leading position in the region of SE Europe, taking advantage of its competitive edge due to the high quality of its product.
In that context, the airline's new Board of Directors convened to re-examine and restructure the flights program so that it will meet the company's new strategic planning.
The restructure includes the addition of more destinations to its domestic itnerary, expansion of international itineraries, and the discontinuation of four European destinations.
 Stocks end 0.63% downStocks ended lower at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as a warning by Standard & Poor's over a possible downgrade of the Greek economy undermined sentiment in the market. The composite index of the market fell 0.63 pct to end at 1,569.92 points, off the day's lows of 1,545 points. Turnover was a disappointing 111.262 million euros. OPAP (3.27 pct), Jumbo (2.46 pct) and Ellaktor (1.80 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while ATEbank (3.85 pct), Cyprus Bank (3.32 pct), Viohalco (2.86 pct) and Alpha Bank (2.39 pct) were top losers.
The Big Cap index index fell 0.63 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.67 pct lower and the Small Cap index fell 0.92 pct. The Travel (2.78 pct) and Personal Products (1.03 pct) sectors scored gains, while Media (2.70 pct) and Health (2.62 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 94 to 54 with another 53 issues unchanged. Attikat (16.67 pct), Mouzakis (10 pct) and Nakas (8.99 pct) were top gainers, while Eurobrokers (9.0 pct), AEGEK (9.09 pct) and Avenir (8.82 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.58%
Personal & Household: +1.03%
Raw Materials: -1.59%
Travel & Leisure: +2.78%
Food & Beverages: -1.09%
Financial Services: -0.42%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and Bank of Cyprus.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 i ndex closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.90
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.72
HBC Coca Cola: 19.78
Hellenic Petroleum: 7.40
National Bank of Greece: 6.65
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 4.57
Bank of Piraeus: 1.56
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was unchanged at 880 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 11.98 pct and the German Bund 3.18 pct. Turnover in the market was a low 35 million euros, with 11 million euros representing buy orders and the remaining 24 million euros sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 7.0 million euros.
In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed. The 12-month rate rose to 1.77 pct, the six-month rate was unchanged at 1.37 pct, the three-month was flat at 1.09 pct and the one-month rate was 0.86 pct.
 ADEX closingThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at -0.35 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover a low 37.341 million euros.
Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,603 contracts worth 27.453 million euros, with 28,836 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 20,676 contracts worth 9.887 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (4,408), followed by Eurobank (1,048), MIG (1,116), OPAP (1,074), Piraeus Bank (2,578), Alpha Bank (2,811), Marfin Popular Bank (2,009), Cyprus Bank (2,726), PPC (750) and Mytilineos (430).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.391
Pound sterling 0.854
Danish kroner 7.515
Swedish kroner 8.802
Japanese yen 114.24
Swiss franc 1.290
Norwegian kroner 7.763
Canadian dollar 1.356
Australian dollar 1.372
 PM issues message on Athens Concert Hall anniversaryThe Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) is scheduling events that will last throughout the year.
The announcement was made on Wednesday during an event held on the Hall's premises for the anniversary of its 20 years of functioning and in the presence of representatives of the state, culture and the country's wider social life.
"The contribution of Megaron was decisive in the cultural development of our country," Prime Minister George Papandreou stressed in a message read by Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos.
The prime minister termed the Megaron "a valuable helper in the sector of culture" speaking of the "international cooperations that have as a basis equality and reciprocity, with the opening to education for the children and young people and the lifelong learning and with pioneering initiatives in the sector of conference tourism," as well as to its contribution to "the country's development effort."
Papandreou conveyed the wish for the Megaron's "splendid course to continue with a greater opening to society," since "art and culture open the horizons, constitute a field of consultation, healthy dialogue even confrontation as well, but above all they constitute a basic motive power for the future."
 Greece's first Vehicle Museum opensVehicles covering a period of more than a century will be on display at Greece's first Vehicle Museum in an exhibition that opened on Wednesday in downtown Athens.
The recently-inaugurated Museum, located on the top level of the three-storey Athenian Capitol multi-purpose cultural, commercial and recreational facility, features an 1895 fire pump, the oldest exhibit on display, while other highlights include cars belonging to historical figures of the arts and politics, some of which were acquired through international auctions over the last three decades.
The Athenian Capitol mall, which also contains a conference center, a 3D cinema, some 30 shops, and 10 restaurants and cafes, as well as an 8-storey underground garage with a capacity of 800 cars, is a 45 million euro investment by the Charagionis Group is expected to attract more than three million visitors annually.
All the Museum's exhibits are from the private collection of Group founder Theodoros Charagionis, which currently numbers 292 vehicles.
Initially, 111 of the vehicles will be on display in the alternating exhibition. They will be replaced by 100-120 other vehicles next year, and by the remaining vehicles of the collection the following year.
The Museum also plans to host parallel theme exhibitions such as racing cars, and exhibits dedicated to vehicles originating from different industries, such as Ferrari, or different countries, such as Italy.
Among the current exhibits are actor Paul Newman's Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, legendary Led Zeppelin rock group frontsman Robert Plant's 1959 Chrysler ?mperial, Formula 1 driver Lorenzo Bandini's personal 1953 Lancia Aurelia with its Gucci-designed interior, as well as cars that belonged to dukes, barons and members of the House of Lords.
A special road safety program for children will also be running at the Museum on weekdays, specialised for a variety of age groups.
Another attraction is a Formula 1 simulator, while the Museum Store offers a host of collector-item memorabilia.
The Vehicle Museum, situated at the corner of Patission and Triti Septemvriou street, will be open to the public from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays.
 Hybrid City Symposium in Athens"Hybrid City" is the title of a two-day international symposium that opens at the University of Athens on March 4, organised by the University Research Institute of Applied Communication (URIAC) in collaboration with the New Technologies Laboratory of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens' Faculty of Communication and Media Studies.
The Symposium, to take place at the Ioannis Dracopoulos Amphitheater in the University's downtown Athens building, is organised in the context of the Global Gateway action and the EU-funded program "Civil Society Dialogue - Istanbul 2010 European Cultural Capital".
The Symposium brings together experts drawn from academia, as well as artists, designers, researchers, cultural operators and others as presenters.
The keynote speakers are Edinburgh University professor and head of the School of Arts, Culture and Environment Richard Coyne, and Martin Rieser, artist and joint research professor between the Institute of Creative Technologies and the Faculty of Art and Design at De Montfort University.
The primary goal of The Hybrid City Symposium is to highlight the potential transformative shift of the urban condition, as a result of recent developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Emphasizing the inherently interdisciplinary nature of technologically mediated urban activity, the Symposium aims at exploring the emergent character of the city, addressing resurfacing questions on the nature of the urban experience, and outlining strategies and tools for future social interaction and participation.
 Court hands down 13 jail sentence to child porn molestorA Thessaloniki criminal court on Wednesday handed down a jail sentence of 13 years and fine of 90,000 euro to a man found guilty of producing child pornography and having sex with his underaged victims.
The 33-year-old farmer apparently posed as photographer working for a modelling agency and promised his victims jobs and high-paying modelling careers. In this way, he persuaded a number of young girls, most of them between the ages of 14 and 16 years old, to pose naked for him and in some cases even to have sex with him.
The man operated in the region of Pella and came into contact with his victims through a social networking site on the Internet, where he had set up a fake profile.
The 33-year-old was arrested last June in Esovalta, Pellas based on the report of two 16-year-old girls. In a shed in the same area that he had converted to a photography studio, police found hundreds of photographs depicting naked girls, including some erotic scenes of the victims with the accused.
 Measures against fake public transport tickets, fare dodgersThe Athens Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) has requested the assistance of police and judicial authorities in an effort to curb the problem of fake public transport tickets.
As a result of the intensified inspections conducted by OASA, roughly 50 violators have already been led to justice and received suspended jail terms ranging between 3 and 18 months.
Since 2010, the security characteristics on tickets have been upgraded to make it easier for authorities to trace fake tickets, while inspections have increased to deter fake ticket distribution and public transport fare dodgers.
Among the new measures announced are stepped up inspections, cooperation with police and the announcement of an international tender for the introduction of the electronic ticket regarded as being the most effective solution.
 Controlled explosion of forgotten suitcase near US embassy, no dangerous materials foundPolice bomb disposal experts made a controlled explosion of a suitcase outside a building close to the US embassy in Athens on Wednesday morning, but an investigation turned up that it contained no explosive materials or devices.
The investigation turned up that the suitcase had been forgotten at the spot and contained only clothing and personal items.
The forgotten suitcase was spotted at about 9:00 a.m. by a passerby, who considered the item to be suspicious, and alerted police.
The area around the building on Semitelou street was immediately cordoned off, and traffic resumed after the alert was over.
 Rainy on ThursdayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -1C and 17C. Cloudy with possible showers in Athens, with northerly 3-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 7C to 11C. Cloudy with local showers in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 2C to 7C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe death of 2 police officers in a shootout and economic issues dominated the front page headlines in Athens' newspapers on Wednesday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "New salary scale in public sector".
AVGHI: "Layoffs and 10 billion euros cutbacks in public sector".
AVRIANI: "Prosecutor investigation into insider trading speculations in proposed National Bank-Alpha Bank merger".
ELEFTHEROS: "Lack of coordination between ministries and government headquarters peaks".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "125 benefits face the firing squad".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "New criteria for salary promotions".
ETHNOS: "Murderous attack against policemen".
IMERISSIA: "3-speed court for tax evasion".
KATHIMERINI: "Cold-blooded murder of two young policemen".
LOGOS: "Strict penalties for tax dodgers".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Global alert over inflationary threat".
NIKI: "The entire truth about the fuel".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Layoffs in Cosmote a harbinger of new, harsh anti-labor measures".
TA NEA: "Public sector: The benefits at risk".
VRADYNI: "Employers not paying and firing".
 Turkish Cypriots protest against Turkey in the occupied areasNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Turkish Cypriots protested on Wednesday for the second time against the economic policy of the so called government in the occupied areas of Cyprus and against the policy of the Turkish Government towards the occupied areas.
According to estimations, around 40.000 people participated in Wednesday's rally. This massive rally was organized by the platform of Turkish Cypriot Trade Unions comprising approximately 30 trade unions and organizations. Political parties opposing the policy followed by the illegal government backed the event. The Platform demands civil and labour rights and the re-unification of Cyprus through a comprehensive solution.
The demonstrators protested against the package of financial measures imposed to Turkish Cypriots by Turkey.
Participants were holding the same placards, with slogans against the Turkish government and Turkish Prime Minister as "Peace and solution right now", "Ankara take off your hands", "We are Turkish Cypriots, who are you mr?".
The main slogan on the podium of the rally was "There is no salvation for ourselves. All together or none of us" and also, "Not to the administration with instructions. This country is ours, we will administrate it".
Turkish Cypriots held a mass rally on January 28 against the economic policy of the so called government in the occupied areas of Cyprus, in line with Ankara's directions.
The rally was organized by the Platform which is also demanding civil and labour rights and the re-unification of Cyprus. The demonstrators protested against the package of financial measures the illegal government, following Turkey's instructions, is trying to implement in the occupied areas of Cyprus.
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, namely President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu, are currently engaged in UN-led negotiations with an aim to reunify the island.
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