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Athens News Agency: News in English, 96-12-20

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.forthnet.gr/ape>


NEWS IN ENGLISH

Athens, Greece, 20/12/1996 (ANA)

MAIN HEADLINES

  • Farmers loosen blockades
  • Simitis says he would never bow to blackmail
  • Striking seamen escalate action
  • Karokis instructed to escape, says government
  • Cyprus plans to buy Russian missiles unhindered, says Athens
  • OECD forecasts 3% growth in '97
  • Aviation strike suspended

    NEWS IN DETAIL

    Farmers loosen blockades

    Road access to Thessaloniki from the surrounding prefectures was restored this morning after farmers lifted their blockade at the Malgara toll post on the Thessaloniki-Athens highway.

    The farmers left just a small number of tractors at the side of the road at Malgara and did not rule out re-blocking the road for a few hours later in the day.

    The same tactic was adopted by farmers yesterday in Pieria, who opened the last remaining roadblocks in the prefecture at Variko and Aiginio on the Thessaloniki-Athens highway, only to reblock the road at the same two points this morning.

    At the same time, the coordinating committee representing farmers of Macedonia and Thrace today decided to suspend their protest action.

    The committee said all tractors at blockades still standing in the region would depart at 16.00 local time in order to facilitate motorists wishing to travel on the occasion of the Christmas holiday and pave the way for dialogue with Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

    The government has insisted that there can be no dialogue between protesting farmers and Simitis as long as they continued to block the country's road and rail links.

    Representatives of farmers in Macedonia and Thrace warned however that if the dialogue with the premier proved to be fruitless, they would resume their protests in mid-January.

    Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that following yesterday's mass protest rally by farmers in Athens, ''the process of dialogue remains open''.

    Reppas said the government had already replied to three of the six ''points'' raised by farmers, adding that ''anyone can put forward demands but it is the government which charts policy and is responsible for tackling problems in the way it sees fit''.

    The spokesman also attacked opposition parties, saying that ''the silence of the political party leaders... concerning the damaging and provocative'' farmers' blockades ''speaks volumes''.

    ''I am surprised by the fact that the (opposition) leaders do not take a stance concerning the inability of citizens to freely travel, particularly on the eve of the Christmas holidays,'' Reppas said.

    The spokesman called on the farmers ''and all others who have the ability to contribute to the unblocking of the roads'' to do so.

    Simitis says he would never bow to `blackmail`

    The government is not opposed to Greece's farmers but only to a few of them, Prime Minister Costas Simitis was quoted yesterday as stating during an interview with the popular monthly magazine "Nitro". He said that he would rather "go home" instead of bowing to protesting farmers' demands.

    "There are millions of farmers in Greece but only 3,000 farmers have taken the streets," Mr. Simitis said, sending a clear message to farmers blockading the country's roads for 22 days, demanding higher subsidies, lower taxes and cheaper fuel.

    "My job is to spread the available money in a socially just way and that is why we must struggle not to succumb to blackmail," he said.

    Mr. Simitis has rejected all demands, saying Greece had no money to give and must catch up with its European Union partners.

    Striking seamen escalate action

    Striking seamen appeared determined to escalate their action which has crippled ports around the country since Monday, in support of their demand that the government does not go ahead with plans to abolish the special fiscal status according to which their income is taxed.

    The Panhellenic Maritime Federation (PNO) originally called a 48-hour strike beginning Monday, which was subsequently extended for two days and then, yesterday, for a further 24 hours.

    At a press conference today, PNO general secretary Yiannis Chalas said ''we will continue our strike which is still legal since provisional remedies proceedings have not been initiated''.

    A Piraeus court ruled yesterday that the strike was illegal and asked the PNO to immediately call off all protest action.

    ''We do not accept coercion from the shipowning companies which are asking Greek captains not only to carry on sailing vessels but also to impose sanctions on striking seamen,'' Chalas said.

    After the press conference, striking seamen were to hold a protest rally and march in Piraeus. The possibility of a meeting later today with Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis remained open.

    Meanwhile, scores of passenger and car ferries remained at anchor at ports around the country, with hundreds of trucks queuing up at quaysides and frequent conflagrations between drivers and seamen.

    In a related development striking seamen and port police clashed today at Igoumenitsa, western Greece, when the ferry-boat ''Brindisi'' tried to leave carrying 50 lorries headed for the Italian port of the same name.

    The clash took place on the ramp of the ferry-boat, from which one seaman fell and was taken to a nearby hospital at Philiates.

    Another seaman climbed on to one of the vessel's mooring ropes in an effort to prevent it leaving port, but fell into the sea. He too was taken to hospital.

    The ''Brindisi'' finally managed to sail at 15.15 local time and the situation at Igoumenitsa is said to be calm.

    Karokis instructed to escape, says Government

    The government said today that its ambassador in Peru had been instructed ''to use the opportunity given to him to escape'' from the Tupac Amaru guerillas who are holding about 200 people hostage at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.

    ''This was the message given to (Ambassador Alciviades) Karokis, when he was a prisoner, through his wife,'' government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said in reply to press questions.

    The Greek envoy was released by the guerillas along with three other ambassadors to negotiate with the Peruvian government on their behalf.

    Karokis, like the ambassadors of Germany and France, did not return to the embassy. Only the Canadian ambassador returned.

    Diplomatic sources said all the European diplomatic missions in Lima agreed with the decision on the European ambassadors' getaway.

    Asked why Karokis did not play the role of mediator as requested by the guerillas, Reppas replied that ambassadors are representatives of their respective countries and ''the Greek government did not assign the role of mediator to our envoy in Lima''.

    Reppas clarified that no request had been put to Greece to play some role in the hostage crisis.

    Cyprus plans to buy Russian missiles unhindered, says Athens

    Greece said today that there was ''no problem'' in contacts between Cyprus and Russia concerning Nicosia's plans to buy S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Moscow in order to bolster its defence against air attack.

    Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas added that the S-300 was not an ''aggressive'' system and recalled a similar statement by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

    Reppas made the statement when asked to comment on remarks by Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller who claimed that on her recent trip to Moscow, she had received assurances that Russia would not go ahead with the sale after beating her fist on the desk of Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin four times.

    A Russian diplomat who was present at the Ciller-Chernomyrdin meeting later categorically rejected that such assurances had been given.

    Iraqis charged with stealing passports

    Police and customs officers in Promachonas and Serres have arrested four Iraqis who are alleged to have stolen 150 passports from public offices and travel agencies in Belgium in 1993.

    The four were identified as Aziz Mohamed, 28, Hussein Sibik, 33, Hamid Siad, 28 and Rashid Halil, 34.

    All four tried to enter Greece on false passports from among those stolen in Belgium but were arrested after Greek police were notified by Interpol.

    Although the four have not told the police what they did with the stolen passports, informed sources said that they sold them to fellow Iraqis and other Asians.

    The four Iraqis were due to appear before the public prosecutor in Serres.

    OECD forecasts 3 per cent growth in '97

    Greece will have a growth rate near 3 per cent in 1997 but is in danger of maintaining an increased public deficit, high inflation and unemployment as well as a drop in competitiveness, an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report stated.

    The report said growth reached 2.5 per cent in 1996, which is higher than the European Union average, following salary increases which precipitated an increase in household consumption, as well as to an increase in public investments supported by EU funds.

    The report noted that inflation stood at 8.5 per cent, higher than the government's convergence target, while efforts to limit the public deficit to 7.6 per cent of GDP in 1996 will be "difficult to attain." Consequently, the target of 4.2 per cent for 1997 is in danger of being missed, according to the OECD, which estimates that the deficit is not expected to be reduced by more than 1.5 per cent next year.

    The report also refers to "uncertainties" which exist concerning a reduction in interest rates and the rate of de-escalation of inflation, despite the declared intention of the government to persist with its "hard drachma" policy.

    Civil aviation strike suspended

    Airport employees have suspended a 24-hour nationwide strike scheduled for today, and all domestic and foreign flights will be carried out normally.

    The strike was called by the Federation of Civil Aviation Employee Associations (OSYPA) demanding that four employee benefits be excluded from the new scalary sale, an 8% salary increase and legislation of overtime and holiday remuneration.

    Bendit urges radical chane in anti-drug policies

    Green Eurodeputy and former leftist firebrand Daniel con Bendit urged adoption of a European Union anti-prohibition policy in relation to drug substances and legalisation of so-called "soft" drugs, as well as the free provision of "hard" ones or their sub stitutes under strict medical control.

    Mr. Bendit made his proposal in a speech at the Athens Economic University (ASOEE) yesterday.

    Mr. Bendit referred to official figures outlining the magnitude of the development of the illegal drugs trade. Its annual turnover amounts to $US500 billion, with the price of substances being 1,700 times greater than their purchae value from Third World farmers.

    "Mobilise as many armies as you like. Only 10 per cent of drug trafficking is seized and the sole thing further prosecution will achieve is some sort of an increase in the above percentage with, however, a parallel increase in the price of drugs in the illegal trade as well," he said.

    "The legalisation of 'soft' drugs and implementation of methadone programmes is the sole solution for handling the problem," he said.

    WEATHER

    Rainfall from the western regions will gradually spread to the rest of the country and the northern Aegean later in the day. Athens will be sunny getting cloudy with possible rain at night with temperatures ranging from 10-16C. Thessaloniki will be partly cloudy with temperatures between 8- 13C.

    FOREIGN EXCHANGE

    (Closing rates - buying) U.S. dlr. 244.945 Can. dlr. 178.799 Australian dlr. 194.462 Pound sterling 409.398 Irish punt 407.355 Cyprus pd 519.411, French franc 46.598 Swiss franc 183.589 Belgian franc 7.641 German mark 157.460 Finnish mark 52.786 Dutch guilder 140.313 Danish Kr. 41.168 Swedish Kr. 35.702 Norwegian Kr. 37.863 Austrian Sh. 22.380 Italian lira (100) 16.017 Yen (100) 214.867 Spanish Peseta 1.871 Portuguese Escudo 1.560

    (M.P.)


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