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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-12-08

Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>


CONTENTS

  • [01] Civil aviation strike to affect thousands
  • [02] Proximity talks continue in New York
  • [03] Minister slams 'shabby' taxi drivers
  • [04] School labs failing safety standards
  • [05] Health Minister calls for foundry closure pending new tests
  • [06] Drought could force rethink of water rationing
  • [07] Klerides plays up growth, but credit ratings down
  • [08] Pittokopitis appeals for stricter controls on used cars
  • [09] Savvides despair at kidney drug ruling

  • [01] Civil aviation strike to affect thousands

    By Jean Christou

    DOZENS of flights and thousands of passengers will be affected today if a planned strike by civil aviation staff goes ahead. Efforts to avert the four-hour strike failed yesterday but will be resumed early this morning, senior civil aviation official Stelios Vassiliou said.

    Those on strike include air traffic controllers and ground staff.

    "We will try to avoid the strike. I hope we can, but at this moment it looks like it will go ahead," Vassiliou said last night.

    In all 37 arrivals and departures scheduled to fly in and out of Larnaca and Paphos airports between 2pm and 6pm today will be delayed. Seven arrivals and ten departures at Larnaca and nine arrivals and eleven departures at Paphos will be affected.

    Further delays will affect flights scheduled to leave before 2pm and after 6pm, Vassiliou said. He said some airlines had already rescheduled but some had not.

    "There will be delays to other flights. People will lose their connections," Vassiliou said. "There will be congestion before 2pm and a lot more after 6pm."

    A Cyprus Airways (CY) spokesman was unable to say whether the airline had made a contingency plan.

    The planned strike by civil aviation workers comes only two weeks after a threat by three CY unions to stage a strike on Saturday over pay.

    The civil servants union Pasidy is calling today's strike over government plans to privatise the airports. The union also complains that the government has been stalling for years over restructuring the civil aviation department.

    On the privatisation issue, Pasidy said the Ministry of Communications and Works has tabled to the House a proposal to bring in consultants at a cost of 900,000 to draw up a plan to attract strategic investors for the restructuring and management of the two airports.

    "This is despite assurances given to Pasidy that they would not go ahead with any privatisation measures without prior consultation with the union," a Pasidy statement said. "We regret the inconvenience to the travelling public but we believe we have no other choice."

    The union also warned it would escalate measures if its demands were not met.

    Communications and Works Minister Averof Neophytou yesterday confirmed the government had asked the house to approve the contracting of a consultant to prepare the legal framework for privatising the airports.

    Neophytou was speaking during a visit to Larnaca Airport with CY's new chairman Haris Loizides. Loizides, who has pledged to review industrial relations at the airline, yesterday met pilots union Pasipy to work out a series of trust-building measures.

    [02] Proximity talks continue in New York

    PRESIDENT Glafcos Clerides met yesterday in New York with the United Nations Secretary-general's special Cyprus representative, Alvaro de Soto.

    The meeting was part of the new round of proximity talks on the Cyprus issue which opened last Friday.

    De Soto was due to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash later last night.

    No statements were made after Clerides' meeting with de Soto as part of a news blackout on the proximity talks imposed by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan.

    Clerides met Annan twice, last Friday and Monday, but the Secretary-general had to leave on a trip to Canada yesterday.

    The proximity talks are aimed at paving the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.

    Meanwhile, Disy leader Nicos Anastassiades was last night quoted as complaining at being kept in the dark on the talks. According to Mega TV, President Clerides has said he will brief all of the party leaders when he returns to the island.

    [03] Minister slams 'shabby' taxi drivers

    By Martin Hellicar

    AS SERVICE taxi drivers returned to work after more than a month on strike yesterday, Communications Minister Averof Neophytou launched a campaign to "clean up" the image of local cabbies.

    The Minister also announced a new plan to sort out and order the way in which taxis serve the island's two airports.

    Service taxi drivers, who had, for 36 days, been on strike over the terms offered by the new service taxi firm formed by the merger of the five old companies, went back to work yesterday. The boss of the new merged firm, Panayiotis Christou, said the strike had been called off after a compromise deal was tabled by the Labour Ministry. Christou said both sides had accepted the deal, though he did not say what it entailed.

    But Neophytou was yesterday more concerned with what some taxi drivers wore.

    "I am not satisfied with the standards of taxi drivers in Cyprus today. It has to be said," Neophytou said.

    The minister spoke of shabbily dressed and ill-mannered cabbies who were dragging their profession down.

    "We are talking of cases of isolated individuals whose whole demeanour and appearance defames and blackens the whole image of taxi drivers," the minister said.

    He said he had asked his ministry's road transport division to come up with suggestions on how to turn things about.

    Neophytou made his cutting comments after a meeting with representatives of taxi drivers operating out of Larnaca and Paphos airports.

    The minister said it had been agreed that taxis would wait in line for airport customers in a specially designated lane.

    The current way of serving customers, which Neophytou described as disorderly, goes out of the window.

    "There will be no-one waiting for customers at the airport entrance controlling and directing tourists to a taxi," the minister said.

    "Taxis will be in line, in a rank, as they are in all modern towns and modern airports in all countries of the world," he said.

    "Every taxi driver will take his turn, there will be no need for intermediaries for him to get passengers."

    The new measures would be implemented from January 1, 2000, Neophytou said. He added that taxi drivers had agreed to blacklist any of their number that failed to comply with the new rules.

    The chairman of the Pancyprian Association of Taxi drivers, Kypros Adamou, said he was satisfied with the taxi rank proposal. He also asked that the government provide a cabin for drivers at both Larnaca and Paphos.

    But a representative of Professional Drivers' union, Pea, expressed reservations about the new plan. He said "time would tell" if the plan was workable.

    [04] School labs failing safety standards

    By George Psyllides

    ONLY FIVE out of 110 chemistry labs in as many schools are safe for students to work in, the Chairwoman of the Chemistry Teachers' Association, Christina Valanidou, told the House Education Committee yesterday.

    The issue was tabled by Akel deputy George Lillikas, who said the situation was tragic and posed a risk to pupils' health.

    He maintained that most labs did not have emergency exits, ventilation, or even proper space to store chemicals.

    "I am referring to this because it is a serious issue. It will become obvious in case of an accident in the labs; then we will mourn the victims, and ponder on what went wrong," Lillikas said.

    Valanidou supported Lillikas, saying that several labs posed an immediate danger to health and safety, while conditions in the majority of labs was unacceptable.

    "Out of 110 labs in lyceums and technical schools, only five meet the standards set for the operation of chemistry labs," Valanidou said.

    Valanidou revealed that the same findings had been reported by the Ministry's Inspector of chemistry lessons, and challenged the ministry to publish the report.

    An Education Ministry representative defended the ministry and tried to play down the seriousness of the issue.

    Only 28 out of 110 labs had problems, he claimed, and these problems were not so serious, he added.

    He said lab specifications were strictly upheld by the ministry, and that most labs had been upgraded since 1995.

    [05] Health Minister calls for foundry closure pending new tests

    By Anthony O. Miller

    HEALTH Minister Frixos Savvides yesterday called for the closure of the Marios &amp; Andreas foundry in Ergates until the government can bring in foreign experts to determine if the factory's smoke is poisoning the blood of Ergates residents with lead and cadmium.

    "I have agreed with my colleagues at the Ministries of Labour and Education to take a joint proposal to cabinet to get funding to bring foreign experts of international renown to carry out a study so we have evidence" of the health effects of the Ergates foundry and the Nemitsas foundry in Zakaki, he said.

    "We want to bring experts to tell us clearly if there is a problem, not just now but in the future, too," Savvides said.

    The new Health Minister called for shutting down the Ergates foundry in the meantime, adding, "the costs of closing it down for a time until the investigation is concluded are not prohibitive."

    Labour Minister Andreas Moushiouttas yesterday said separately that Cyprus would not allow any factory to poison the people.

    He added he had requested a Cabinet meeting for December 16, after President Glafcos Clerides returns from Cyprus "proximity talks" in New York, to discuss the Marios &amp; Andreas foundry in Ergates and the Nemitsas foundry in Zakaki.

    Moushiouttas said he was waiting for the Health Ministry to do a study of the Marios &amp; Andreas foundry in Ergates.

    Blood tests done by public health physician Dr Michalis Voniatis show Ergates residents have five times the cadmium and nearly three times the lead in their blood as Nicosia residents do.

    Lead and cadmium are heavy metals that cause organ and neurological diseases. Voniatis and other Cyprus doctors also suspect the two foundries may be emitting deadly dioxin in their smoke.

    Voniatis this week urged that tests be done of the vegetables grown around Ergates, where one to two per cent of the island's leafy vegetables are grown, to see if they too were being poisoned with the heavy metals and other toxins in Marios &amp; Andreas smoke.

    Meanwhile, residents of Zakaki yesterday dismissed as "far too high" the latest government particulate measurements in the Nemitsas foundry's smoke.

    Labour Ministry tests on the smelter's emissions last Thursday showed Nemitsas chimneys had a particulate level of "285-290" milligrams per cubic metre of air, Labour Department Director Sotiris Sotiriou said yesterday.

    He admitted Nemitsas barely squeaked by the Cyprus standard of 300mg of emission particulate per cubic metre of air.

    Bernadette Charalambous, whose two school-age children needed medical care after inhaling Nemitsas foundry smoke, scoffed at the tests. And she called Cyprus' 300mg emission limit "ridiculous" in light of the island's European Union accession process.

    "There was a lot of steam, but not much smoke" coming from the Nemitsas foundry last Thursday, when the latest particulate tests were done, she said, suggesting the foundry had made a special effort to reduce emissions on that day.

    "It's below the limit," Nemitsas Managing Director Kikis Petevis said yesterday of the test results. "We will try to do better."

    The Labour Ministry recently set the Cyprus particulate limit at 300mg per cubic metre of air. The tougher EU emission limit is 50mg of particulate per cubic centimetre of air.

    The Labour Ministry has already sued Nemitsas for allegedly exceeding the Cyprus 300mg level, as it has the Marios &amp; Andreas foundry in Ergates.

    Moushiouttas has pledged to force both foundries to comply with the tougher EU emission standard by the end of next year.

    Nemitsas counter-sued the Labour Ministry in the Supreme Court to try to lift the Cyprus 300mg emission level. No date has been set for either case to come to court.

    [06] Drought could force rethink of water rationing

    By Anthony O. Miller

    DESPITE reservoir levels double those of last December 8, the Agriculture Ministry might have to alter the island's water rationing regime in 2000 if winter rains continue to fail as badly as they have so far, government officials said yesterday.

    As of yesterday, Cyprus had 29.2 million cubic metres (29.2 billion litres) of water behind its dams, Water Development Department (WDD) spokesman Haris Omorphos said.

    While this represents only 10.7 per cent of total storage capacity for the island's dams, Omorphos conceded, it is double what Cyprus had in its reservoirs last year at this time.

    Then the total water behind island dams was a mere 14.3 million cubic metres, or 5.2 per cent of the reservoirs' storage capacity, he said.

    Despite that good news, the bad news was that October and November were "the seventh-driest two-month period of the century," Klitos Piyiotis, senior superintendent at the Meteorological Service, said.

    During those first two months of the current meteorological year (it runs from October 1 to the following September 30), normal average Cyprus rainfall is about 86 millimetres of precipitation, he said.

    But during this past October and November an average of only 22.7mm of rain fell on Cyprus, he said.

    With double the reservoir water this year over last, "we are in better condition than last year," Piyiotis said.

    But the fact the rains are failing so far "gives us the obligation to take all the (water saving) precautions we did last year," he added.

    WDD Director Christos Markoullis admitted that if the rains continued to fail at this rate throughout the few months of the winter rainy season, his boss, Agriculture Minister Costas Themistocleous, would have to rethink the island's rationing.

    But for the time being, he said, no change is imminent from the current water-rationing regime in operation across Cyprus.

    Markoullis said he expected the island's second permanent seawater desalination plant to be completed and operating in early 2001. The plant, currently under construction, has an 18-month completion date built into its contract.

    The new desalination plant is to have the same daily output of 40,000 cubic metres of fresh water as the island's sole desalination plant in Dhekelia.

    Tenders will close on December 22 on construction of a smaller, "prefabricated" desalination plant, to be located outside Zakaki near Limassol, Markoullis said. That facility will have a daily output of 20,000 cubic metres of water, he said.

    A second planned "prefabricated" desalination plant, which was to have been located outside Ayios Theodoros, has been cancelled, Markoullis said.

    "At the moment, we are not that anxious about that (plant)," so Markoullis said it would be next year before the government undertook the studies needed prior to seeking tenders for a second "prefabricated" desalination plant, Markoullis said.

    The government originally sought bids for two "portable" desalting plants - one for Zakaki, the other for Ayios Theodoros - before adequate environmental assessment studies had been done and the views of local - opposing - residents had been solicited.

    As a result, the government was forced to cancel both tenders for the two "portable" plants, revise its desalination strategy, and go to bid again, now on what it is calling "pre-fabricated" plants.

    In essence, there is no difference between the two types of desalting facilities, since the once "portable" de-salting plants were never designed to be "portable," and neither are the "prefabricated" plants.

    [07] Klerides plays up growth, but credit ratings down

    By Hamza Hendawi

    FINANCE MINISTER Takis Klerides has waxed lyrical on the island's economy in a London speech, telling participants of per capita GDP incomes in excess of $20,500, extremely low inflation, almost full employment and an average growth of five per cent since 1981.

    The economy of Cyprus, he continued, "possessed all the ingredients, not only to survive, but also for further progress in the emerging globalised economy."

    Klerides' positive review of the economy and his optimistic tone appear to conflict, at least in part, with a critical assessment given by Standard &amp; Poor's last Friday to accompany its decision to downgrade the island's credit ratings.

    The report by the London-based rating agency spoke of weak policy implementation, delays of financial and economic reforms in Parliament, widening macroeconomic imbalances and what it called unsustainably high fiscal deficits.

    But Klerides, speaking on Monday at a seminar organised by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had little to say on the island's growing fiscal deficit, possibly the most serious of the economy's woes.

    "The Government of Cyprus has prepared a medium-term oriented fiscal plan aiming at containing the fiscal deficit to 2 per cent of GDP by the year 2002," was all he said on the deficit, according to a text of his speech made available in Nicosia yesterday.

    The minister also emphasised the vulnerability of a small and free economy such as Cyprus' to external changes, a point also mentioned by Standard &amp; Poor's on Friday.

    Contrary to the case in areas such as interest rates, foreign exchange controls and taxation, the minister said Cyprus was rapidly harmonising its "legislation, institutional framework and policies with the conditions prevailing in the EU.

    "The government of Cyprus has committed itself to satisfy all Maastricht criteria before accession," he said. The minister, however, admitted that there was still a great deal of work to do.

    "We acknowledge that in certain sectors, such as energy, telecommunications and air-transport, restructuring and organisational changes are required with a view to enabling them to successfully confront the challenge of intensified competition," he said.

    Standard &amp; Poor's, in its Friday report, catalogued the island's financial and monetary woes, but gave Cyprus a stable outlook. It praised its low inflation, high growth rates and cited the prospect of European Union accession as a catalyst to the adoption of fiscal reforms and the reduction of the fiscal deficit.

    Yesterday, the Finance Ministry's Department of Statistics and Research reported that November's Consumer Price Index had fallen by 0.05 per cent to 127.83 compared to the previous month.

    But while things were positive on the inflation front, Standard and Poor's said domestic credit growth was alarming, having grown to 105 per cent of GDP in 1999 from 76 per cent five years ago.

    It also noted that a high percentage of the banking system's loan portfolio was classified as substandard or worse and that supervision of the cooperative banks was not on par with that imposed on commercial banks.

    Standard &amp; Poor's concluded with a warning: Cyprus' credit ratings could come under renewed downward pressure if the government continued to delay fiscal adjustments or if the Central Bank failed to tighten monetary conditions and check the continued expansion in domestic credit.

    [08] Pittokopitis appeals for stricter controls on used cars

    By George Psyllides

    OUTSPOKEN Diko deputy Nicos Pittokopitis yesterday said that many used cars on the roads of Cyprus were moving coffins.

    Pittokopitis was speaking during a session of the House Communications and Works Committee, held to discuss a proposal that he had tabled concerning the roadworthiness of used cars.

    He had proposed that there should be a law forcing used car owners who were selling their vehicles to provide a roadworthiness certificate together with the transfer documents, to the new owner.

    The certificate, he said, would be issued by the Director of Motor Vehicles.

    Pittokopitis said that people could go out and buy cars that had been sitting in yards for years for as little as 50.

    These cars were death traps and a potential danger to everybody on the road, he added.

    "These cars are moving coffins on the road, with no inspections; 15, 20, or 30-year-old cars, without traffic or driving licenses, and with all the consequences that we see every day," Pittokopitis said.

    A representative from the Attorney-general's Office, however, said that the law would first have to specify what constituted a used car, and for how long the roadworthiness certificate would be valid.

    According to existing legislation, he said, a car was considered used as soon as it was registered and hit the road.

    [09] Savvides despair at kidney drug ruling

    By Martin Hellicar

    HEALTH Minister Frixos Savvides yesterday expressed despair at the Attorney-general's office ruling that there was nothing criminal about tender procedures for the supply of Erythropoetine to hospitals.

    The investigation was launched after an uproar over the disappearance of large quantities of the vital kidney drugs from ministry stores and revelations of huge delays in replacing them.

    Savvides said the ruling by the Attorney-general's office, released on Monday, robbed him of the chance to probe the matter further.

    He described the ruling as a painful shock. "They handed me lighted coals, I had a damp towel to limit the burns, and when they gave me the coals, they pulled away the towel as well," Savvides told a news conference.

    He said he could do nothing about investigating the Erythropoetine scandal any further because the Attorney-general's office was the final arbiter on such issues.

    The Attorney-general's office found there was no criminal case to answer concerning the kidney drug supply procedures, but added there were some question marks concerning ethics.

    An earlier investigation by the Auditor-general's office found the Ministry had been too slow in procuring fresh Erythropoetine stocks, even though it was aware of the urgent need.

    Police are investigating information that the drugs found their way to the Nicosia race track, where they were used to dope race horses.

    The "ethical" issues referred to in the Attorney-general's office report concerned a senior government medical officer, who allegedly demanded that a drugs firm supplying hospitals pay for him to travel to Argentina.

    Savvides said yesterday that he would ask the cabinet to approve the appointment of an independent investigator to look into the senior medical officer's alleged misdemeanours.

    It has been claimed the medical officer was asking the firm for money to attend a medical conference in Argentina. To avoid similar situations recurring in the future, Savvides said he would, as of next year, ensure that the ministry - rather than drugs firms - paid for all medical conference trips.

    The New Horizons party, which first broke the story of the "disappearing" Erythropoetine, yesterday claimed the Attorney-general's office report was a whitewash.

    Party vice-chairman Stratis Panayides said "powerful" interests were hidden behind the ruling.

    He said the findings of the Auditor-general's office should have sufficed for a criminal investigation to be launched against those responsible.

    "The evidence was there but there was no desire to apportion blame," Panayides said.

    © Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999

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