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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-04-08

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

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

NEWS IN ENGLISH

ATHENS, GREECE, 08/04/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Kyprianou en route to Belgrade for release of three US soldiers
  • Economy shows staying power in Kosovo crisis
  • March inflation slows to 3.4 pct from 3.7 pct
  • Stocks power ahead, sprint through 3,500 pts
  • Bond prices nose up on Kosovo hopes
  • Banks in Piraeus Group post 353 pct profit jump in Q1
  • Brokerage turnover totals Dr 6.9 trillion in March
  • Panafon reports 91 pct jump in subscribers
  • BBC phone interview with Tsohatzopoulos
  • First Kosovo refugees expected in Greece over the weekend
  • Artists against bombing, all military operations in Kosovo
  • Anti-war concerts in Belgrade
  • US ambassador says no travel advisory issued citing Greece
  • Important Notice: New ANA Services
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Kyprianou en route to Belgrade for release of three US soldiers

Cypriot House Speaker Spyros Kyprianou arrived in Athens yesterday evening before his scheduled flight to Belgrade this morning for discussions focusing on the release of three US soldiers captured by Yugoslavia last week.

Mr. Kyprianou, the acting Cyprus president, requested from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a meeting on the possibility of gaining the three army soldiers' freedom, seen as a possible springboard for an end to NATO bombings and the resumption of dialogue for a solution to the Kosovo crisis.

"I have undertaken an initiative of a purely humanitarian content with the release of the three Americans...since their detention serves absolutely no purpose. I believe that their release will contrubute to detente, to the easing of tension, it will give satisfaction to the American people and will be a token of additional goodwill on the part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic," he told reporters upon arrival in Athens.

"The aim of all of us, in view of the major dangers existing in the region, must be de-escalation and peace. Of course, there are certain principles which we must base ourselves on and which we cannot violate. The same principles on which we in Cyprus base our struggle for freedom, restoration of human rights and continuous territorial integrity," he said, noting that although Athens was not involved or knew of the initiative, it now fully supports the effort.

Replying to questions on whether he was hopeful of the three US army enlisted men's release, Mr. Kyprianou said "my hopes are considerable, without this meaning, of course, that I have reached an understanding with NATO."

Mr. Kyprianou said he had requested a 24-hour ceasefire from NATO, enough for his arrival, stay and departure from Belgrade.

In Athens, Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas confirmed that Mr. Milosevic had invited Mr. Kyprianou to Belgrade to discuss the issue of the captive US soldiers.

Sources said the three soldiers - Andrew Ramirez, 24, Steven Gonzales, 24, and Christopher Stone, 25 - would be transported to the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.

Political observers described the proposed release of the three men as a "gesture of good will" by Belgrade in view of Orthodox Christian Easter this Sunday.

Mr. Reppas also said Athens was in contact with all the sides involved to facilitate the transport of three soldiers from the Yugoslav capital, adding that Athens would provide a plane or other means.

Economy shows staying power in Kosovo crisis

The economy is unruffled despite the Yugoslavia crisis, showing stamina equal to any other strong economy, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday.

Mr. Papantoniou was speaking to reporters after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

Also taking part were Bank of Greece governor Lucas Papademos and Tassos Giannitsis, head of the premier's economic bureau.

Mr. Papantoniou said that the drachma, bonds and interest rates had held up very well and that economic growth did not seem to be affected by the crisis.

He said that the economy had kept on track for entry into the euro zone despite financial crises in Asia and Russia last year, and the economy would remain unscathed if the situation in Kosovo improved.

The minister noted that inflation was continuing its downward trend, the public sector deficit was falling, and tax revenue in the first quarter of 1999 had shown a 100-billion-drachma surplus over the government's target.

March inflation slows to 3.4 pct from 3.7 pct

Consumer price inflation slowed to 3.4 percent in March year-on-year from 3.7 percent in February, the National Statistics Service said yesterday. The consumer price index rose 2.2 percent on a monthly basis in March reflecting price rises in olive oil, fruit, cigarettes, heating oil and car service and maintenance. March year-on-year inflation stood at 4.6 percent and 6.0 percent in March 1998 and March 1997 respectively. NSS secretary general Nikos Karavitis said he expected consumer price inflation to drop significantly in April. The government aims to lower inflation to 2.0 percent by mid-summer.

Stocks power ahead, sprint through 3,500 pts

Equity prices jumped 7.13 percent to break through 3,500 points on the Athens Stock Exchange yesterday, reflecting the market's optimism that a diplomatic solution may be found in the Kosovo crisis.

Traders said the market had in the previous two sessions begun to distance itself from the crisis and to focus more on positive economic fundamentals.

The general index ended 7.13 percent up at 3,535.66 points. Turnover was 126.857 billion drachmas and volume 20,321,407 shares.

The index now stands six percent off since the beginning of NATO air strikes in Kosovo, against 20 percent off last Thursday.

Dealers said stable conditions in the domestic bond and money markets and news of an expected drop in inflation to 3.4 percent in March also supported sentiment.

Sector indices scored big gains. Banks soared 8.0 percent, Leasing was 5.24 percent up, Insurance rose 6.80 percent, Investment increased 4.8 percent, Construction ended 7.63 percent up, Industrials surged 7.43 percent and Miscellaneous ended 5.70 perce nt higher.

The parallel market index for small cap companies ended 6.52 percent up while the FTSE/ASE 20 index jumped 7.11 percent to 2,213.34 points.

National Bank ended at 23,058 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 23,166, Ergobank at 24,300, Ionian Bank at 19,872, Titan Cement at 24,430, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,480, Intracom at 19,332, Minoan Lines at 7,235, Panafon at 8, 000 and Hellenic Telecoms at 6,950.

Bond prices nose up on Kosovo hopes

Bond prices yesterday gained 40-45 basis points in thin trade on hopes that a political solution may be found to the Yugoslav crisis.

The new 10-year bond was at 103.20, taking the yield spread with German bunds to 1.93 percent from 1.96 percent in the previous session.

Electronic trade totalled 24 billion drachmas from 59 billion drachmas a day earlier.

At the central bank's daily fix, the euro ended at 324.960 drachmas from 326.480 drachmas in the previous session.

Banks in Piraeus Group post 353 pct profit jump in Q1

The Piraeus Bank Group yesterday reported a spectacular 353 percent increase in pre-tax profits to 15.4 billion drachmas for the group's three banks in the first quarter of 1999 compared with the same period last year.

Bank of Piraeus' first quarter profits increased to 8.4 billion drachmas from two billion, Macedonia-Thrace Bank reported profits of 3.5 billion drachmas following losses of 0.5 billion, and Xiosbank's profits rose from 1.8 to 3.4 billion drachmas.

The group's consolidated profits rose to 22.2 billion drachmas in January- March, up from 5.6 billion in the same period last year.

Brokerage turnover totals Dr 6.9 trillion in March

The country's 67 stock brokerages posted total turnover of 6.9 trillion drachmas in March.

Topping the list were Alpha Brokerage (8.86 percent), Sigma Securities (5.10 percent) and National Securities (4.92 percent). Excluding block trades and stock buybacks, turnover was 6.0 billion drachmas.

Ranking top were Sigma Securities, Alpha Brokerage and Hellenic Securities.

Panafon reports 91 pct jump in subscribers

Panafon, one of the country's three mobile phone operators, yesterday reported a 90.9 percent rise in subscribers to 1,190,838 on March 31 against the same date last year.

In January-March, the rise was 58.6 percent from 122,206 new subscribers against the same period of 1998.

Panafon's services are sold in over 2,000 retail outlets around the country. More than 500 outlets of the total were added in the first three months of the year.

BBC phone interview with Tsohatzopoulos

National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos commented on Kosovo crisis during the BBC's morning programme "Breakfast News" yesterday morning.

During a telephone interview and in reply to a question on whether he considers the ceasefire proposal by Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic as correct, he answered: "I think it was a correct step in the right direction at this moment, but it must be supplemented with many other preconditions which are necessary for a peaceful solution to the crisis to be secured."

In earlier statements, Mr Tsohatzopoulos stated that "naturally, there are proposals by everyone, how a settlement to the problem could be promoted from this first step, however, by also meeting some other terms requiring guarantees, such as the safe re turn of the refugees in the presence of international forces that will guarantee a productive dialogue toward the settlement of the problem as well as a corresponding end to the existing state of conflict...".

First Kosovo refugees expected in Greece over the weekend

Some 5,000 Kosovar refugees that Greece has decided to host will begin arriving from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Saturday, Foreign Minister George Papandreou announced here yesterday.

Mr. Papandreou stayed in Skopje for a few hours and left for Tirana in the evening with his FYROM counterpart Alexander Dimitrov.

Visiting a large refugee camp near Skopje, Mr. Papandreou termed the refugee problem "a disgrace for the end of the century."

Commenting on concern over the future of FYROM, he said "Greece will help in having the country's territorial integrity preserved and will strive to see that borders will not change in the region."

Referring to his visit to Albania, he said he and Mr. Dimitrov were due to meet last night with Albanian Prime Minister Panteli Majko, "to restore good cooperation between Skopje and Tirana on the refugee issue."

Mr. Papandreou met with FYROM President Kiro Gligorov, Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski and Democratic Alternative party President Vassili Topurkovski.

Artists against bombing, all military operations in Kosovo

Thirteen personalities from the arts and letters sectors hailing from Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, the Ukraine, Turkey and Serbia on Monday signed a petition calling for an immediate end to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the war operations in Kosovo.

The signatories include poet Manolis Anagnostakis, film director Theo Angelopoulos, composer Mikis Theodorakis, playwriter Iakovos Kampanellis (all from Greece), Romanian actress Majia Morgenstern and composer Harry Tavitian; Bulgaria's Ventzeslav Iotov, Turkish writer Sezer Duru, journalist Aydin Engin and writer Oral Calislar; Serbs Velislar and Zoritsa Kristich, Ukrainian Vitali Dovgasenko and Armenian Gagik Altounian.

The petition also demands the protection of civilians and the commencement of talks under UN auspices on Kosovo's future, as well as the province's autonomy and international guarantees for Yugoslavia's borders.

Anti-war concerts in Belgrade

Noted Greek singer Giorgos Dalaras left for Belgrade yesterday to participate in anti-war concerts in the Yugoslav capital along with Serbian composer Goran Bregovic and other Balkan artists.

Speaking in Sofia yesterday prior to his departure for Belgrade, Dalaras said "we want to focus on the victims of war. We want to say that this region wants peace, friendship and cooperation to forge ahead. We want the refugees to return to their homes."

"There can be no solution with weapons. 'Solutions' imposed with war are temporary solutions. They have a short-term and are futile. I wonder how reasonable people seeking to be a part of the civilised world are behaving in a way which one could not even immagine in the Middle Ages," he said.

US ambassador says no travel advisory issued citing Greece

US ambassador in Athens Nicholas Burns yesterday assured Development Minister Evangelos Venizelos that Washington has not issued any travel advisory or other official negative recommendation referring to Greece.

He did cite a "misunderstanding", saying the US embassy in Greece has not issued a travel advisory calling on American citizens to avoid travelling at present to Greece.

"There was no reason to do so under the current conditions," Mr. Burns said.

"We just corrected our Internet site following violent demonstrations outside our embassy in Athens and our consulate in Thessaloniki, and threats against our diplomatic staff here.

"We have the responsibility of informing the American public of the reality here, but we did not recommend against travelling to Greece".

He noted that there were many Americans currently in Greece who "were having a great time", and many Greek-Americans arriving for the Easter holiday.

Commenting on a decision to postpone an international tourism conference organised by the US embassy - scheduled for late April in Thessaloniki - Mr. Burns said the decision was based on the fact that due to the current situation in Kosovo, the climate was inappropriate for such a conference.

The conference is likely to be held in the autumn.

He added, however, that the US administration wanted to promote American tourism to Greece and vice versa.

Mr. Venizelos expressed satisfaction after the meeting with the US ambassador.

He said that during their meeting Mr. Burns noted that "Greece is a European country, completely safe as a travel destination".

The Greek minister added that neither Italy nor France had issued travel advisories against Greece.

Important Notice: New ANA Services

Following the conversion of the Athens News Agency (ANA) into a Societe Anonyme (A.E.) earlier this year, which rendered it an independent organisation, the ANA will from now on welcome professional half-page or full-page advertisements in its daily Eng lish and French Bulletin.

Advertisements will be accepted from embassies, banks, commercial and maritime companies, chambers of commerce, advertising companies, airlines, organisations, professional associations, educational and research institutions in Greece and abroad as well as international bodies.

Also, for a small fee, the above groups may channel their Press Releases (PRs), announcements or photographs - in Greek, English or French - to the ANA's more than 100 media subscribers throughout Greece and Cyprus via the recently introduced ANA on-lin e PR's service.

For details on and arrangements for the advertising and/or PRs on-line service, please contact the ANA Marketing Department, tel: 6400580, or 6400560 (ext. 825), between 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

WEATHER

Fair weather with rising temperatures will prevail in most parts of Greece today with light rain in the northeast in the evening. Winds variable, light to strong. Athens will be sunny with temperatures between 11-23C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 9-21.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Thursday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          298.334
Pound sterling       476.220
Japanese yen (100)   246.125
French franc          49.144
German mark          164.822
Italian lira (100)    16.649
Irish Punt           409.313
Belgian franc          7.991
Luxembourg franc       7.991
Finnish mark          54.217
Dutch guilder        146.280
Danish kr.            43.382
Austrian sch.         23.427
Spanish peseta         1.937
Swedish kr.           36.079
Norwegian kr.         38.519
Swiss franc          201.971
Port. Escudo           1.608
Aus. dollar          187.280
Can. dollar          197.666
Cyprus pound         558.298
Euro                 322.360
(C.E.)
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