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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-03-29

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

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

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM adamant over reforms policy; emphasises regional development
  • [02] PASOK leader: ND gov't interrupted development
  • [03] Glimpse of total solar eclipse in Greece
  • [04] Greece a leader in the Balkans, Folias says
  • [05] Education minister in Washington

  • [01] PM adamant over reforms policy; emphasises regional development

    Regional development dominated an off-the-agenda Parliament debate on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis nevertheless emphasising that his government's high-profile policy of reforms, particularly in the extended public sector, will continue unabated.

    "Changes and reforms are continuing with society's backing in order to produce viable solutions that exploit our (country's) comparative advantages, so that we all, without exclusions and distinctions, enter the path leading to a new Greece," Karamanlis said from Parliament's podium.

    In responding to a barrage of recent opposition and trade union criticism, especially following the tabling on Friday of a long-awaited amendment unifying and overhauling bank employees' pension funds, Karamanlis referred directly to a "paradox", as he said, that characterised the previous PASOK governments, namely, high growth rates but with accompanying increases in unemployment, budget deficits and the overall public debt.

    "Deficits and debts aren't rolled back easily. Omissions leftover from 20 whole years aren't covered up easily in a short amount of time. Infrastructure isn't built in two or three years when it has been put off for a quarter of a century," Karamanlis told Parliament MPs at the beginning of his address.

    Repeating his government's dominant economic mantra, Karamanlis stressed fiscal reform in tandem with the creation of a new developmental policy for the country.

    "The (budget) deficit is being reduced, and by the end of the year, it will be at the EMU limit via the mildest means," he said.

    In comparing what he called his government's performance with those of its PASOK predecessors, the prime minister cited an absorption rate of 40.6 percent of EU Regional Operational Programmes' funding, up from 15.6 percent during the last PASOK government.

    Karamanlis also noted of more than half of roughly 1,500 regional financing schemes submitted have been approved, with the emphasis on small-to-medium-sized manufacturing and tourism enterprises.

    The prime minister said the government considered the development of a national town planning and zoning charter and special zoning areas for renewable forms of energy, tourism, industry as well as coastal and mountainous regions, as paramount.

    Regarding the long-delayed but absolutely essential land registry project, Karamanlis said 80 bureaus operate around Greece at present, up from the 22 operating in 2004, "Let me just remind you that this project was once billed as the biggest national project. The result, however, is known to all. It was steered into an utter dead-end. It got bogged down in the illegalities of the 'PASOK system', and it cost up huge fines from the EU," Karamanlis said, concluding:

    "Our goals are clear. They are achievable and they are mutual: Viable development everywhere; more jobs and a better quality of life in the provinces."

    In a second address, and following opening remarks by main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, Karamanlis cited what he called "blinding lies competing only with the blinding eclipse of the sun occurring at present", a reference to a partial eclipse visible in much of the east Mediterranean country on Wednesday afternoon.

    Moreover, Karamanlis dismissed continuing criticism of the government's decision to commence an audit of state finances in late 2004, a development that recorded substantially higher budget deficits than previously reported and that even led to a very Eurostat ruling this month on how defence expenditures should be calculated by EU member-states.

    "In the past, arms purchases did not appear either on delivery or when the defence systems were paid off," the prime minister said, before pointing to a figure of eight billion euros worth of defence spending he said was hidden by the previous PASOK government under Costas Simitis.

    "What would you have us do? Maybe record it (eight billion euros) on the 2004 budget so that the deficit surpasses the 10-percent mark and cause more (EU-mandated) fines and even harsher austerity? Is this what you (PASOK) want? Is this what you planned?" Karamanlis said in pointing his rhetorical questions towards the main opposition party.

    Furthermore, he took umbrage with Papandreou's use of the term "fraud" for the audit, while continuing his line of rhetorical questions from Parliament's podium: "we're responsible for a fraud when you failed to list eight billion euros worth of defence spending and the debts of (state) hospitals?"

    In his rejoinder, Karamanlis replied one by one to the criticism aired only moments earlier by Papandreou, the former foreign minister, from the same podium, beginning with a pre-election promise by the latter to allow for young people's employment without social security contributions -- a position skewered by the ruling ND party as similar to a controversial law being proposed by the current French government.

    "Recently in Parliament you (Papandreou) told a grand lie, namely, that social security contributions would be paid by the state, whereas before the election in Lavrio (a town southeast of Athens) you had stated that your proposal would not burden parents, businesses, the state or the social security system..." Karamanlis said.

    Regarding the unprecedented mobile phone tapping plot, the prime minister said the PASOK leader was using innuendo instead of arguments, "the rumors and information is being peddled by your party's cadres and mouthpieces.

    "We are not tearing down whatever positive was done by PASOK, for which Mr. Papandreou is so proud. However, ask the PASOK president if he is proud of the grand theft of the Athens Stock Exchange (bourse bubble of 1999), for the high rates of joblessness, for the (hallway bed) cots and the poor state of the health care system, for the Lavrio proposal and (young people's) uninsured work, for the land registry scandal etc.?" the prime minister added.

    ANA-MPA photo

    ANA-MPA Copyright © 2004-2005 All rights reserved.

    [02] PASOK leader: ND gov't interrupted development

    The arrival of New Democracy's government under prime minister Costas Karamanlis had interrupted Greece's development, especially outside the main cities, main opposition leader George Papandreou told Parliament on Wednesday.

    Addressing MPs during an off-the-agenda debate on rural and regional development, PASOK's leader stressed that the only one "living his myth in Greece" - as per the slogan launched by the tourism ministry in its campaign to promote Greece as a tourist destination - was the prime minister himself, "in his hideout at Maximou (prime minister's offices)".

    "You have cut three billion euros from public investments these two years, and in Thrace a programme for anti-flooding works has been abandoned," Papandreou told the government in his speech after Karamanlis.

    He also lashed the ruling party for failing to begin any new major public works in areas outside Athens and stopping programmes begun under PASOK governments, while accusing the government of inducting projects completed with national funds into European programmes and then using the money to "fill the holes created by your audit".

    "You cannot hide any more. The voters that voted for you now realise that ND has a secret agenda," Papandreou added, challenging Karamanlis to head out to the countryside "if he dared" to tell voters what happened with the major public works ND had promised.

    PASOK, on the other hand, has always sought a "fair redistribution" beween the centre and the regions that would preserve Greece's population in the countryside, he added.

    The main opposition leader once again criticised the government for its "audit of the economy", saying that Eurostat had vindicated the methods used by PASOK to record defence spending and that the excessive deficit procedure initiated for Greece might have been avoided.

    He also accused the government of passing an amendment for the bank social insurance that "unjustifiably favoured specific banking companies and opened the way for similar measures in other sectors."

    Finally, PASOK's leader launched a stinging attack on the government over the illegal phone-tap scandal, especially recent revelations that the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) was also operating a phone surveillance system of its own.

    "The questions remain and demand an answer. Responsibility for EYP lies with yourself and the appropriate minister - and so far, there have been no clear answers concerning the revelations in the news concerning EYP's actions," Papandreou stressed.

    Papandreou's replies to PM's rejoinder

    "You are the one who has proved himself a 'tourist' to the reality that Greek citizens experience," Papandreou said in reply to Karamanlis' rejoinder, in which PASOK's leader expressed his agreement with a call for "decentralisation and sustainable development" made by the leader of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology party Alekos Alavanos and said the government was investing in "cheap labour".

    He also slammed the government's policy for investments, saying that it had led to a 979 million reduction in foreign investments, and again blamed the government for the delays and lack of progress in major public works that had cost the jobs of 100,000 workers in the construction sector, while noting that the policy for agriculture had led to a reduction of farmer incomes, lower subsidies for tobacco and a failure of negotiations for sugar and sugarbeet.

    Replying to Karamanlis' reference to his proposals for youth employment at Lavrio before the 2004 elections, Papandreou stressed that his proposal had been "a position that helps the unemployed youth and is absolutely unrelated to the policies of either New Democracy or De Villepin of France," while he accused the prime minister of focusing on this because of its own lack of policies to deal with unemployment among young people.

    Papandreou closed his rejoinder with another reference to the illegal phone-taps and the role of EYP, while rejecting the prime minister's reference to a law passed by former PASOK public order minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis as an ill-conceived attempt to pin the blame on PASOK.

    "Under what policies and with what legal guarantees did EYP carry out phone-taps for two years using its own equipment? What law allowed phone surveillance without guarantees? What public prosecutor permits are there, for whom did they apply and where is the surveillance material now? Persuade us that the "refounding" of the state was not the refounding of the para-state," PASOK's leader challenged the premier.

    ANA-MPA Copyright © 2004-2005 All rights reserved.

    [03] Glimpse of total solar eclipse in Greece

    The small southeastern Aegean island of Kastellorizo had the honor of being the only European Union territory that witnessed a total solar eclipse on Wednesday, as the rare celestial phenomenon stretched from eastern Brazil over the Atlantic to west and North Africa and then into the Middle East, Central Asia and to western China, only to vanish over Mongolia's horizon.

    It was the first total eclipse visible anywhere from Greece after decades, as the remote island -- southeast of Rhodes and just across from the Turkish mainland -- attracted hundreds of visitors.

    A partial glimpse of the eclipse was also visible elsewhere in Greece, with large crowds gathering in Athens' central Syntagma square to view a video-wall showing a live satellite feed from Kastellorizo, whereas dozens of local residents also headed up the Acropolis to view the phenomenon with special filtered glasses. The last two total solar eclipses in Greece were recorded in 1936 and 1870, whereas the next one is scheduled for far-off 2088.

    Caption: A landmark equestrian statue of Alexander the Great is outlined against a

    partial solar eclipse visible in the northern Greek port-city of Thessaloniki on Wednesday, March 29, 2006. ANA-MPA/Megapress /G. Fotiadis.

    ANA-MPA Copyright © 2004-2005 All rights reserved.

    [04] Greece a leader in the Balkans, Folias says

    Greek Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Christos Folias on Tuesday presented the country's economic prospects and future challenges along with growth targets set by the government in the framework of the European Union, the Balkans and the wider Mediterranean region, during a speech he delivered in the Woodrow Wilson Institue in Washington, DC.

    In his speech, the Greek minister stressed it was necessary to emphasize on research, development, efficiency and better cooperation and underlined that to achieve this goals the country needed to invest in its human resources, know-how and innovation. Folias presented the numerous incentives offered by the government through a new development law and measures taken to improve the country's economic competitiveness.

    "The government's target is to create an open, competitive economy, capable of mobilising enterprises towards productivity, innovation and quality production," Folias said, adding that a successful organising of the Athens Olympic Games proved the country's ability to implement large international-scale events. Greece's positive international image combined with modern infrastructure were creating a favourable environment for foreign investments, while the country was also taking advantage of its leading geopolitical role, acting as a lever of growth and stability in the Balkan region.

    The Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline project, a Greek-Turkish oil pipeline and a sub-sea Greek-Italian natural gas pipeline, were three projects designed to reform the region's energy charter, the Greek minister stressed.

    Folias underlined the traditional friendship and cooperation in the Greek-US relations and urged Americans to visit Greece and to explore the country's prospects.

    ANA-MPA Copyright © 2004-2005 All rights reserved.

    [05] Education minister in Washington

    WASHINGTON (ANA/MPA - A. Ellis) Greece's National Education and Religious Affairs Minister Marietta Yiannakou arrived in Washington on Wednesday to attend the 5th Annual Conference on Greek-American Relations organised by the Hellenic-American Heritage Council (HAHC).

    While in the U.S. capital, Yiannakou will also meet U.S. government officials, including a meeting a meeting later on Wednesday with Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobrianski.

    The minister's agenda includes making a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on "Social Integration through Education: Immigrants in Greece", followed by a working dinners with the dean of Georgetown University Bob Galucci and Greek-American senator Paul Sarbanes.

    On Thursday, Yiannakou is scheduled to meet the U.S. State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues Edward O' Donnell and be shown around the Holocaust Museum, after which she will be the main speaker at the HAHC conference.

    Her visit to Washington will end on Friday with a visit to the Greek Studies Centre at Harvard University.

    ANA-MPA Copyright © 2004-2005 All rights reserved.


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