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Cyprus Mail: News Articles in English, 99-12-23
From: The Cyprus Mail at <http://www.cynews.com/>
Thursday, December 23, 1999
 Market tax compromise halts share price skidBy Hamza Hendawi
NEWS of a possible compromise on a controversial bill to tax stock market capital gains yesterday halted a four-session skid that ate up 66.77 points off the bourse's index. Opposition to the proposed tax, however, continued to come from some quarters, just five days before the House Plenum is due to meet to vote on the bill.
Deputies from the ruling Disy party agreed on Tuesday night on a five per cent tax on stock market profits made in 1999, provided that investors pay zero tax in the years 2000 and 2001. They have also agreed that investors should pay a one per cent levy on market transactions starting January 1, 1999.
Disy leader Nicos Anastassiades, who had until Monday vehemently opposed any tax on market gains, told reporters yesterday that investors and brokers should be "thankful" that they were not being asked to pay 40 per cent tax on capital gains, from which stock market profits had hitherto been exempted.
His statement contrasted sharply with remarks he made on Monday night when he said the government had an obligation to respect its public pledges not to tax capital gains made on the market. Ironically, it appeared to meet a measure of approval from the new head of the brokers' association.
"Five per cent is better than 40 per cent," said Christodoulas Ellinas of Share Link brokerage. Others thought differently.
"The investors have been conned by the government. They have been trapped with promises," declared Andreas Antoniou, secretary-general of the stock market investors association.
"They changed the rules of the game at the last moment and they trapped investors by taxing them when they promised the opposite," he charged.
Taxing market gains is the brainchild of Finance Minister Takis Klerides, who yesterday briefed the Cabinet on his contacts to win the support of political parties of his bill. He later told reporters that the Cabinet had given him a framework for fresh contacts with the parties in the run-up to Tuesday's Plenum.
Klerides' original proposal was reportedly for eight to 10 per cent tax on stock market capital gains. It had been expected to be voted on in the Plenum on Monday, but discussion of the bill was postponed after it became clear that it would be defeated.
Even a five per cent tax would be a Godsend for the government, whose financial woes have been compounded in recent years by a gaping fiscal deficit set to hit six per cent of GDP next year. The tax, together with the one per cent levy, would go a long way in narrowing the fiscal shortfall, but no exact figures have yet been made available.
Bringing down the fiscal deficit to three per cent would meet one of the key Maastricht criteria for European Union single currency membership, and would alleviate some of the pressures piling up on the government as a result of the recent downgrading of Cyprus' credit worthiness by a major rating agency.
Brokers, meanwhile, said yesterday that news of the compromise was affecting trade on the market with many investors reluctant to sell before the situation was finally clarified.
This, however, did not seem to stop the all-share index from jumping 9.28 points, or 1.3 per cent, to close at 725.73 on a modest volume of £20.67 million. It was the first close in positive territory since December 15, when the index rose by 9.8 per cent and only the second since December 3.
All sectors except tourism companies finished up yesterday, with the biggest gains made by industrials. The banks, the market's backbone, had a mixed day, with both the Bank of Cyprus and Hellenic Bank down, while Popular Bank and the small Universal Bank were up.
Thursday, December 23, 1999
 Hospitals swamped as flu hits more than half the populationBy Charis Mastris
CASUALTY departments around the island have been swamped by influenza sufferers, in an attack of the virus which doctors say has already hit half the population of Cyprus.
Over the last few days, more than 400 flu patients have been arriving every 24 hours in Nicosia hospital alone, complaining of symptoms including headaches, fevers, sore throats, coughs and general weakness.
"The numbers are outrageous," said Dr. Costas Antoniades, Head of Casualty at Nicosia General Hospital. "The emergency rooms are packed, especially in the afternoons and the evenings."
A spokeswoman for Larnaca casualty said that the virus has hit more people this winter than in previous years, becoming a "major problem."
Infants, the elderly and the chronically ill are particularly vulnerable to the illness.
The Director of Medical Services, Dr. Costantinos Mallis, told the Cyprus Mail that doctors were working flat out to deal with the rush, but hospitals had not yet felt the need to implement any extra measures.
He advised those hit by the virus to take warm drinks and flu remedies, and if the symptoms persist for three or four days to visit their doctor.
Those worried about contracting the flu should stay away from crowds and confined spaces, eat plenty of fresh vegetables and avoid smoking and drinking.
"This is not a serious illness," he said, and stressed that sufferers should not take antibiotics because they do not fight influenza.
Nicosia Blood Bank is hoping that potential blood donors display the Christmas spirit of generosity over the next week.
Blood supplies are currently low because of an increase in demand from those suffering from chronic diseases.
The bank will stay open for the next few days for anyone who wishes to give blood.
Thursday, December 23, 1999
 Travel agents expect tourism to rise 10 per cent next yearBy Jean Christou
TRAVEL agents said yesterday they were optimistic there would be another 10 per cent rise in tourism next year.
Tassos Katsourides, general secretary of the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents (ACTA), told journalists that all the indications pointed to a substantial increase in arrivals in 2000.
He said his assessments were based on information received from tour operators abroad and from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO).
"But this will only be achieved if the political situation in Cyprus remains stable and if there is industrial peace at the national carrier and in the hotels, and if exchange rates remain at current levels," Katsourides said.
He also called for more diversification and specialisation of the tourist product and the speeding up of government's winter tourism plans.
"Our tourism is based on sun and sea and we can't develop that any further, " Katsourides said, adding that only further construction to create new beds would bring in more beach tourists.
"There is no more room to expand arrivals for the summer months unless people carry on building more floors," he said.
"Winter tourism can be developed without straining existing resources, but a lot of work is needed," he added.
Katsourides referred to the lack of cultural events and other forms of entertainment during the winter.
The government and the CTO have drawn up a winter tourism plan, which will offer incentives to facilities to stay open during the winter period when occupancy is usually at a lower level.
Commenting on the 1999 season, Katsourides said the year had started well, with a five per cent increase in the first month.
"But problems started after with the crisis in Kosovo and continuing economic crisis in Russia," Katsourides said.
However, as soon as the Kosovo crisis ended, tourism bounced back, ending the year with a ten per cent increase, higher than the original forecast of seven per cent or around 2.5 million tourists.
"This of course does not mean there has been a substantial improvement," Katsourides, said referring to the low increase in revenue, despite the rise in arrivals.
He said this was due to the low prices that Cyprus had had to maintain to fend off competition from similar destinations in the region.
Thursday, December 23, 1999
 Workers strike in CoLA protestBy Athena Karsera
WHILE workers from several unions staged a walkout from noon to 2pm in protest to changes to the Cost of Living Allowance (CoLA), rival union leaders yesterday exchanged angry words during a live radio show.
Peo, Deok and Poas unions took part in the two-hour strike, while bank workers' union Etik yesterday announced that they would be striking on Monday December 27 from 4 to 6pm.
The strike was called in protest at the government's decision to exclude rises in consumer taxes from its calculation of the index. VAT rises will still be taken into account.
Labour Minister Andreas Moushiouttas yesterday condemned the strike, but said the unions had the right to make their opinions known.
Right-wing Sek and civil service union Pasidy back the government position, and did not take part in yesterday's strike.
Employers want the government also to exclude VAT from CoLA, saying rises due as part of the island's EU harmonisation process will cost them millions if included.
Sek and Peo leaders Demetris Kittenis and Bambis Kyritsis clashed over the issue during a CyBC radio forum.
During the show, Kittenis said Peo had agreed that there had to be changes to CoLA.
He said that Peo had given its consent to consumer taxes on alcohol and cigarettes not being taken into account for the calculation of CoLA.
Kyritsis denied the claim, but the Sek leader insisted that Peo had also recommended yearly adjustments to CoLA.
Defending Peo's stand, Kyritsis said: "Sek has the right to have its opinions, to believe that the way it is handling the issue defends the institution (of CoLA). It is also our right to believe that in the way we are handling it, we are defending the institution_
"But to try to put words in someone else's mouth, to try to corrupt opinions or discussions or position that took place at a table under completely different conditions, is unacceptable."
Kyritsis said the two unions had always tried to avoid confrontation and said he was saddened that Kittenis "continually brings back this issue."
Kittenis said that from the moment Peo had opened up discussions about CoLA, Sek was obliged to make public, "new thoughts, concerns and suggestions put forward during the negotiation periods such as the yearly adjustment of Cola instead of the removal of consumer tax, (a suggestion) which was made on behalf of my Peo colleague."
Kittenis said Sek had make the statements so that the public could understand that, "we determined unanimously that some changes had to be made."
Thursday, December 23, 1999
 Consumers groups adds its voice to meat debateBy Anthony O. Miller
THE CONSUMER Protection Association of Cyprus said consumer confidence in the island's meat markets could be expected to plunge following reports that slaughterhouses were killing sick animals or dressing out those that had died of illnesses.
The citizens watchdog group noted that a spate of news stories in recent weeks had claimed some farmers were slaughtering sick animals or dressing out dead ones and bringing the meat to market as fresh.
Of particular note were "reports and information, which recently got publicity concerning the illegal killing of dead or sick pigs," the Association said.
Also hurting consumer confidence were reports that some supermarkets were selling last year's frozen turkeys as fresh after defrosting them.
"Unfortunately, this tends to make consumers lose their trust in the quality of the meats," the Association said.
The group said a survey it did a year ago showed some slaughterhouses were in "very bad condition," and were slaughtering animals "after hours" without checks by the Agriculture Ministry's Department of Veterinary Services.
The consumer group said it not only alerted the public last week to the dangers of bad meat, but long ago sent its research data to Agriculture Minister Costas Themistocleous, seeking action by him.
"Unfortunately, one year after this research, and to our great surprise, the situation has not changed at all," the Association said yesterday.
"Our association calls on the Agriculture Minister personally to look into this situation and immediately order an investigation so the facts will emerge and the guilty can be punished," it said.
The government's Veterinary Services on Monday sought to reassure consumers that the island's butchers and supermarket meat-counters were selling meat that was fresh and of good quality.
The Greens Party, which first alleged the illegal slaughtering on December 15, associated it with a sudden glut of incredibly cheap pig products in Cyprus markets - some priced as low as 30 cents per kilogram.
© Copyright Cyprus Mail 1999