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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-07-11

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] Cyprus President wraps up visit to Athens
  • [02] SI president Papandreou on Syria visit
  • [03] Government rules out change to minimum pass
  • [04] EU satisfied with Greece's progress on deficit
  • [05] Cabinet discusses preparations for local elections

  • [01] Cyprus President wraps up visit to Athens

    Visiting Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos on Tuesday held separate talks with Greece's main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) secretary general Aleka Papariga, and Coalition of the Left, Movements and Progress (SYN) MP and former leader Nikos Constantopoulos on the latest developments in the Cyprus issue, which he also discussed on Monday with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and prime minister Costas Karamanlis.

    The talks come on the heels of a five-point agreement reached Saturday in Nicosia by President Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehment Ali Talat, during a three-hour meeting with UN Undersecretary General for foreign affairs Ibrahim Gambari, that provides for the immediate commencement of talks at technical level on day to day issues of the Cypriot citizens, essential aspects of the Cyprus problem, and confidence-building measures (CBMs). Papadopoulos and Talat agreed during the meeting with Gambari that the technical committees on the Cyprus problem should begin their work by the end of July and that the leaders themselves would meet from time to time to review the process.

    President hosts banquet for Papadopoulos

    President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Tuesday hosted a banquet luncheon in honour of visiting Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos.

    The banquet was attended by foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, national defence minister Vangelis Meimarakis, and diplomatic and ministry officials, as well as Cyprus foreign minister George Lillikas, government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardes, and diplomatic and other officials.

    Meeting with Papandreou

    Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou told reporters after his meeting with Papadopoulos that the latest developments in the Cyprus issue should be used to advantage, adding that he was absolutely in agreement with the Cyprus President' view that the technical committees should begin work not only on the day-to-day issues but also on the substance of the Cyprus issue.

    "Here, there must be a positive response on the part of Turkey, and of course on the part of the Turkish Cypriots," Papandreou said, adding: "This new beginning being attempted by the United Nations, and naturally Turkey's European course, must be used to advantage."

    He said that the current Finnish presidency of the EU "provides a new opportunity, particularly to Greece, to play a role in the formulation of a new Helsinki-style road map that will give an exodus to the current stumbling block between Cyprus, Turkey and the European Union," Papandreou said.

    Addressing a message to Turkey, Papandreou stressed that it was "absoultey necessary that it meets its promises, all the requirements of the course to the EU, as a country that must respect International Law and maintain good-neighbour relatins with Cyprus and Greece and, of course, to follow the acquis communautaire".

    "We cannot speak of a common family when there are (Turkish) occupation troops on Cyprus," Papandreou added.

    Describing his discussion with Papadopoulos as "positive", the PASOK leader said that the close cooperation would continue under the Finnish EU presidency "with initiatives of our own".

    Talks with Papariga

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga stressed after her meeting with Papadopoulos that, given the current "so-called mobility" surrounding the Cyprus issue, it was important that the road to a Cyprus solution should result in the creation of a bizonal, bicommunal federation that is politically independent, without arbitrators and regulators, without foreign troops, with a single political presence outwards, with a single international personality".

    "What is of importance is that, independent of the developments arising in the context of the UN and the technical committees being set up in Cyprus -- and I hope that these processes will lead to a good result -- is the stance that the EU maintains on the process of Turkey's accession," Papariga said, adding that "much is being said about the European acquis and the European Law, we believe that the EU has a responsibility, regardless of the means one uses or believes can be used, for a resolution of the Cyprus issue in the spirit of the UN resolutions".

    She warned that the Cyprus issue cannot be confronted as a side-issue in the more general aspirations of the EU and the internal antagonisms.

    Consequently, she added, treating the Cyprus issue as a side issue cannot result in its substantive resolution, and "in that respect, regardless of the opinion we may have on the EU, Turkey and EU enlargement, we will try to intervene to the benefit of a just resolution of the Cyprus issue also from within the European Parliament bodies".

    Asked whether she had perceived a difference of views between President Papadopoulos and the Greek government, Papariga replied that "the President of Cyprus told us that which he has said publicly and to the press, nothing different".

    To another question on whether the KKE disagreed with the Greek government's handling, Papariga said that "for many years we have been speaking of the responsibilities of the PASOK governments, and currently we have exercised criticism on the ND government, on foreign policy and on matters pertaining to Cyprus, the Aegean and Greek-Turkish relations. I have nothing new to add".

    Discussion with Constantopoulos

    Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) MP and former leader Nikos Constantopoulos stressed after his meeting with Papadopoulos that a national strategy is necessary that will co-estimate and serve the interests of all of Hellenism and not its individual sections in a piecemeal fashion.

    At the forefront is a resolution of the Cyprus issue that will utilise the UN resolutions and the European acquis, Constantopoulos told reporters after his meeting with Papadopoulos, at the head of a SYN delegation.

    "Perpetuation of the present situation and the so-called dogna of inertia leads to consolidation of the current partition of the island," he warned.

    "The natonal strategy required must aspire to the reunification and rapprochement of the two communities in the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation and must also serve Turkey's European course, with the assessment that in the framework of the European acquis Turkey can respond to all those that today constitute the conquest of all the peoples of Europe," Constantopoulos continued.

    He said SYN assesses that the Papadopoulos-Talat agreement was "positive, noting that the Republic of Cyprus is an EU member and therefore it would be a paradox that Cyprus, as an EU member, should remain partitioned by an occupation force maintained on theisland by a country that wants to become a member of the EU," the former SYN leader stressed, adding that "in this perspective, we assess that there must be coordination, exchange of views, and a national strategy that must serve all these goals".

    [02] SI president Papandreou on Syria visit

    "The initiative of my visit to Syria is also within the framework of the continuous Socialist International initiative on the Middle East and Iran", main opposition PASOK leader and Socialist International President George Papandreou said Tuesday, in reply to a press question.

    Papandreou said that there is an emerging crisis in the Middle East with the clashes in Gaza and the abduction of an Israeli soldier, stressing that the situation is unacceptable and that Israel was engaging in excessive moves. Syria can play an important role, he said, adding that the issues under discussion will be the Palestinian affairs, Lebanon-Syria relations and the role Syria can play in defusing the crisis.

    PASOK party spokesman Nikos Athanasakis had announced on Monday that Papandreou will visit Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Over the weekend, Papandreou had telephone discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

    [03] Government rules out change to minimum pass

    Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou on Tuesday ruled out any change to a minimum pass of 10 for entering university, stressing that the government's decision was "final and irrevocable".

    "Tertiary education courses are not seminars. Tertiary education is science and research. All those who tried via the method of access to convert [tertiary education courses] into seminars did not succeed in the end," she stressed during a press conference.

    Regarding Technological Educational Institutes (TEI), which were relatively recently given status equal to universities, the minister stressed that none of these would close because of the sharp drop in students that qualified to attend university-level courses as a result of the new pass-mark rules.

    The education minister said that she planned to meet with the principles and teachers at TEI to examine possible courses of action, such as mergers or the transfer of positions from the centre to regions outside the capital.

    Yiannakou's statement came just hours after the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), Greece's largest trade union umbrella group, unveiled a proposal for a more flexible system to determine the minimum pass mark in nationwide university entrance exams, rather than the blanket 50 percent minimum (or an overall mark of 10 out of 20) proposed by the government.

    GSEE's proposal called for pass marks to be set based on the nationwide average for each of the five categories in which candidates compete, and for those who achieve this average within a range of about 700 points to be offered a place in university or other tertiary education institute.

    The head of GSEE's Educational Policy Centre Mihalis Kouroutos announced that the proposal would be presented to Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou on the grounds that an inflexible pass mark of 10 was not based on correct educational criteria and concealed a number of dangers, since at least 13,500 school leavers will not be able to attend university this year.

    This left them with the options of either leaving to study abroad or attending degree courses offered by foreign universities in Greece through 'free studies centres' that are not recognised by the Greek government, or attending a vocational training institute, he noted.

    Kouroutos stressed that exclusion of thousands of young people from tertiary education actually costs the state more, while GSEE's proposal would allow many of them to attend university with marks that were very near a 50% pass.

    Adult education programmes outlined

    During the press conference, Yiannakou also outlined the education ministry's latest initiatives in the adult continuing education sector, listing off a list of priorities amid a period of heightened public attention to proposed changes at the tertiary level and raging debate over whether Greece will join other western countries in allowing the establishment of private, non-profit universities in the country.

    Computer and new technology training, long deficient in the east Mediterranean nation, was highlighted by the relevant general secretariat for adult education, with officials noting that 45,000 participants attended training programmes.

    [04] EU satisfied with Greece's progress on deficit

    Eurogroup president and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and European Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who is responsible for economic affairs, on Monday expressed satisfaction over the progress made toward fiscal balance by a number of countries with large deficits, including Greece, during the past year.

    The two leading EU officials made the comments in Brussels after the Eurogroup meeting on Monday evening, while they also stressed that all Eurozone countries should intensify efforts to achieve lasting fiscal reform and criticized the fiscal laxity tendencies observed in certain countries which currently are not being subjected to the procedures aimed at controlling excessive deficit and are not taking any steps to prevent this from happening in the future.

    Referring to the Greek economy, Almunia pointed out that it has made notable progress during the past year, like the economies of France, Germany and Portugal which are also countries with large deficits.

    On the prospects of the Greek economy, the Spanish European Commissioner noted that Greece's national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis briefed the Eurogroup on Monday that state revenues are on a satisfactory course and the Greek government target for 2006 to bring deficit below 3 percentage points of GDP will be met.

    However, Almunia pointed out that he and the European Commission were expressing caution, as always, and anticipate that the Greek deficit in 2006 will be ?around 3 percent?.

    The Commissioner reiterated that it is important to stabilize fiscal balance with interventions of a structural nature adding that in order to decide if this is the case with Greece he will have to review next year‚s budget figures, which he expects to receive in the autumn.

    [05] Cabinet discusses preparations for local elections

    Preparations for holding local government elections are almost completed, earlier than for any previous elections, Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos told a meeting of the inner cabinet on Tuesday.

    Only a very few things remained to be done and most were linked with the formal pre-election period, Pavlopoulos added.

    The minister also outlined the government's policy for local government, stressing that all its pre-election pledges had been implemented from the middle of the government's term.

    Among them, Pavlopoulos listed the enactment of a new code for municipalities and communities, and the ‚¨3.5 billion that were given to local government via the 'Thiseas' programme for joint ventures between private firms and public-sector organisations, roughly double the amount given under previous PASOK government.

    He also stressed the government's support for prefecture authorities, such as a 2005 law that trebled the net funds going to prefectures to ‚¨330 million and work currently underway to prepare a prefecture authority code.

    Pavlopoulos also clarified that EU citizens were also entitled to vote in the upcoming election and that the registers will be completed by July 15, while a decree is being prepared that will allow foreign nationals from non-EU countries to vote in the next local elections.

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