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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-01-26

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

January 26, 2006


  • [01] Inner Cabinet briefed on weather-related problems
  • [02] Government on problems caused by bad weather
  • [03] Papandreou again calls for heating oil subsidy
  • [04] Athens mayor briefs Parliament on city's work for homeless
  • [05] President Papoulias meets Italy's Berlusconi, Prodi and Fini
  • [06] Gov't on recent Turkish proposals for Cyprus issue
  • [07] Turkish ambassador briefs foreign ministry sec. gen. on Ankara's Cyprus proposals
  • [08] European Commission views Greece's National Reforms Program 'positive in general lines'
  • [09] Athens: No revision of Greek-US judicial assistance pact envisioned
  • [10] Greek-Japanese talks at foreign ministry
  • [11] PM Karamanlis addresses ND's Secretariat for Women
  • [12] Bakoyanni in Salzburg for 'Sound of Europe' conference
  • [13] Protocol for health sector standardization signed
  • [14] Greece to gradually raise withholding tax rates for companies
  • [15] Advance tax hike for companies deemed necessary, gov't says
  • [16] Industrialists oppose new tax plan
  • [17] Inner cabinet discusses draft bill on sale & lease back plan for public sector's assets
  • [18] Gov't approves 48 mln euros for IT projects by Greek SMEs
  • [19] SEBE organizing trade mission to Beijing
  • [20] Eurosystem and Mediterranean central banks meet for third Euro-Mediterranean seminar
  • [21] Deputy FM, Spanish ambassador discuss Greek participation at EXPO 2008
  • [22] Greek trade deficit down 0.2 pct in Jan-Nov, yr/yr
  • [23] Greek stocks fall on profit taking
  • [24] Two events in Thessaloniki on Sunday for Holocaust
  • [25] Two arson incidents
  • [26] Fire on Intercity train
  • [27] Congress of regional authority chiefs cancelled
  • [28] Cyprus asks Straw to convey to Ankara rejection of Gul's proposals
  • [29] Straw: UN efforts for Cyprus settlement have to run parallel with EU
  • [30] President: Straw's visit has caused more tension between Cyprus-UK
  • [31] UN carefully studying Turkish proposals for Cyprus

  • [01] Inner Cabinet briefed on weather-related problems

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Weather-related problems dominated a good part of an Inner Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, as snowfall continued to blanket the greater Athens area whereas mostly transport-related problems and a spate of power outages were reported in other parts of the east Mediterranean country.

    One worry expressed by top government ministers was the prospect of subzero temperatures and accompanying frost overnight.

    On his part, Public Works Minister George Souflias said the goal was to keep all national roadways open, as well as Athens' central thoroughfares.

    Regarding the gridlock experienced at the Tempi Valley bottleneck late Monday and throughout Tuesday, a problem that generated the severest media criticism, Souflias said such incidents, albeit unfortunate, are not uncommon elsewhere.

    "In Greece we need to learn to gravitate towards moderation and not exaggeration," Souflias merely noted.

    Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas also briefed participating ministers at the session -- chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis -- that power consumption in the country on Tuesday exceeded 3,600MW, far higher that a 3,250MW figure recorded during a peak last summer.

    The most serious power outage affected the Ionian islands of Cephallonia and Ithaca.

    In other related developments, numerous schools around the country remained closed, as did most courts.

    Conversely, the two largest airports in the country - in Athens and Thessaloniki - remained open.

    The situation on the national and provincial road networks was mixed, as inclement conditions necessitated snow tires on the few cars and trucks that ventured onto the major Athens-Thessaloniki highway. A majority of the roads in the foothills and mountainous regions of mainland Greece - Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly, Sterea Ellada and northeastern Thrace - were either closed to traffic or accessible only by properly equipped SUVs.

    Some of the lowest temperatures, meanwhile, were recorded in mountainous Epirus (NW Greece), including a figure of -17C in one site, the so-called "Katara" district.

    Finally, most of the longest ferry boat routes from Piraeus and Rafina (greater Athens area) to various Aegean islands were cancelled.

    [02] Government on problems caused by bad weather

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Outlining the measures taken by the government to deal with the cold weather front that has swept over Greece in the past two to three days, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Wednesday underlined that state services had managed to keep all national highways throughout the country open at all times, with the exception of a bottleneck at Tempi.

    He noted that the problems faced by drivers at Tempi had been the result of a pile-up, compounded by the breakdown of a large lorry and a truck that had fishtailed in the road.

    "However well we prepared for events, the specific problem was not one that could be dealt with immediately, it required some time," he noted.

    Roussopoulos said that Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos was in charge of coordinating the activities of civil protection, which had kept all main roads on the national road network open, while in other areas snow chains were needed.

    Trains, the metro and the Proastiako railway would continue to work non-stop for the next 24 hours by order of Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis and all the main airports were open, he added.

    The spokesman noted that certain flight cancellations had been due to high winds rather than problems with airport services.

    Roussopoulos said that 156 snow-ploughs and other machinery had been deployed by the environment ministry to keep roads clear, while the development ministry was busy repairing problems that occurred with the electricity supply to certain areas, the most serious of which was in Cephallonia and Ithaki.

    He said that a ban on the movements of heavy goods vehicles after 18:00 and before 6:00 would also be enforced on Wednesday night to avoid accidents that kept roads closed and drivers trapped in freezing snow. Excepted from the ban are fuel-tankers over 26 tons carrying fuel, tankers carrying milk and trucks moving fruit and vegetables to avoid distribution problems and profiteering.

    [03] Papandreou again calls for heating oil subsidy

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Wednesday reiterated his proposal for an immediate heating oil bonus to low-income families, an idea he again tabled in light of a harsh cold front passing through the country.

    He made the statement during a visit to the working-class municipality of Aghia Varvara, west of downtown Athens.

    Papandreou also criticized the government for dealing only with its communications policy, as he said, and not with "people's real problems".

    [04] Athens mayor briefs Parliament on city's work for homeless

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni on Wednesday briefed a Parliamentary committee discussing measures for the handicapped on the work being done by the city for the homeless. During the session, she also appealed to members of the public to contact the municipality's 195 hotline when they find homeless people in need of help.

    Bakoyianni said the municipality had organized teams of doctors and social workers to provide hot food four times a day, sleeping bags and tents to people without shelter during the last days' extreme cold and snow.

    Up to 1,000 people had been admitted into the city's reception centers and another 200 were being housed in hotel rooms rented by the municipality.

    [05] President Papoulias meets Italy's Berlusconi, Prodi and Fini

    ROME (ANA-MPA/N. Megadoukas)

    President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias, currently on a five-day official visit to Italy, on Wednesday had successive meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italian centre-left leader Romano Prodi and Italian deputy premier and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

    Berlusconi also hosted a luncheon in honor of President Papoulias, which was attended by Education and Religious Affairs Minister Marietta Yiannakou, Macedonia-Thrace Minister Nikos Tsiartsionis, Deputy Foreign Minister Panagiotis Skandalakis and Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis.

    At the meeting with Berlusconi, a review was made of Athens-Rome bilateral relations and the need was stressed for cooperation to be further promoted in the economic, commercial and cultural sector.

    Also discussed was the situation in the Balkans, developments in Europe and Turkey's European Union accession course. Papoulias briefed Premier Berlusconi on the Cyprus issue and on Athens-Ankara relations.

    In President Papoulias' meeting with Prodi, the former European Commission president stressed to the Greek president that the election campaign period is tough in Italy. Prodi told reporters that they discussed the situation in the Mediterranean, the future of Europe, Turkey's EU accession course, the Cyprus issue and the situation in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo.

    Foreign Minister Fini told reporters that he did not discuss with President Papoulias Turkey's latest "proposals" for the Cyprus issue, but about the Middle East and the Balkans.

    In the afternoon, Papoulias inaugurated in the Italian capital an exhibition of Cycladic Art which will last until February 26.

    [06] Gov't on recent Turkish proposals for Cyprus issue

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The government spokesman on Wednesday merely referred to a foreign ministry announcement regarding a recent set of proposals unveiled by the Turkish foreign minister regarding the Cyprus issue.

    "The Turkish points will be studied; but at first glance it does not appear that they differ in substance from similar Turkish proposals made in the past," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

    [07] Turkish ambassador briefs foreign ministry sec. gen. on Ankara's Cyprus proposals

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Foreign ministry secretary general Haralambos Rokanas on Wednesday received Turkish ambassador in Athens Tahsin Burcuoglu.

    According to foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, the envoy had requested to meet with Rokanas to formally present the Turkish thoughts regarding the Cyprus issue.

    In reply to press questions, Koumoutsakos said that naturally, the thoughts would be reviewed, but added that "at a first glance, they do not seem to differ from older, similar Turkish proposals".

    [08] European Commission views Greece's National Reforms Program 'positive in general lines'

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)

    The European Commission's assessment of Greece's National Reforms Program for the revised Lisbon Strategy is in general lines positive and was made public here on Wednesday along with the National Reforms Programs of the other 24 European Union member-states.

    In its evaluation, the Commission at the same time insists on the need for the objectives which Greece has set within the foreseen timeframe to be fully implemented with decisiveness.

    Particularly, in the conclusions of the chapter on Greece, the Commission notes that "in accordance with the general guiding lines which have been given, the National Reforms Program locates and corresponds to the basic challenges which Greece is called on to confront, mainly in public financing, employment, training and education, as well as in certain policy concerning the economy and the environment."

    According to the Commission, the modernization of public administration is of paramount importance for the implementation of these commitments and the securing of the stable growth of the economy.

    [09] Athens: No revision of Greek-US judicial assistance pact envisioned

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The Greek government on Wednesday said there was no issue of revising a bilateral judicial assistance pact between Athens and Washington, in response to press questions fielded by the government spokesman at a regular briefing.

    The statement followed reporters' questions citing recent reports and allegations of torture against terrorist suspects in third countries and knowledge of this alleged practice by US intelligence services.

    [10] Greek-Japanese talks at foreign ministry

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The possibilities of economic cooperation and common Greek-Japanese actions in the Balkan region were examined during talks at the foreign ministry on Wednesday.

    The talks, which were held by high level officials of the two foreign ministries, focused on energy infrastructures, transport, tourism and shipping.

    The meeting was a sequel of Japan's participation in the Athens meeting of the SE Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) foreign ministers on Tuesday and a result of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' visit to Japan last November.

    [11] PM Karamanlis addresses ND's Secretariat for Women

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday addressed an event organized by the ruling New Democracy (ND) party's Secretariat for Women.

    On the occasion, Karamanlis expressed his sympathy to the citizens and families which have to cope with the ongoing bad weather sweeping the country.

    "It is a phenomenon that does not often occur to such an extent and intensity," said the premier, adding that "the state apparatus had taken all the necessary, there was anticipation, briefing, a state of alert and constant mobilization."

    Karamanlis noted that all the ministries and services are in continuous communication and coordination, so as to minimize problems and deal with them as soon as possible.

    The prime minister recognized the difficult task of those people who are working under such inclement weather conditions and thanked all the personnel in the public sector, in prefectural and local government, the Greek Police, The Fire brigade, the Port Authority, the Armed Forces and volunteers.

    Karamanlis underlined that the state apparatus will continue to be on full alert these days.

    The prime minister referred to the actions taken by his government for supporting Greek families. He said the ruling New Democracy party has taken important measures such as the setting up of the General Secretariat for Equality, while, as he noted, all ministries were acting toward serving the family and equal opportunities between men and women.

    Karamanlis spoke of the "bold reforms" which the government is making "for a transition to a state of increased opportunities, rid of bureaucracy, mismanagement, phenomena of corruption, for an effective and responsible state of law."

    The prime minister also said that the government "is planning actions for the next four-year period." Among other things, he underlined that "the government is preparing a national strategic development plan for capitalizing national and EU funds, and has started a broad dialogue for the revision of the Constitution orientated to the needs of the new era."

    [12] Bakoyanni in Salzburg for 'Sound of Europe' conference


    Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni will participate in a joint European Commission and Austrian presidency conference Friday and Saturday in Salzburg, entitled "The Sound of Europe".

    Bakoyanni, officially invited by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, is the only mayor from a European city set to attend the event.

    The conference's participants are expected to discuss fundamental questions related to the future of Europe, European values, identity and culture.

    "The Sound of Europe" takes its lead from a series of events held in 2004 under the Dutch EU Presidency on the theme of "Europe: A Beautiful Idea?" which culminated in a final conference in Rotterdam.

    According to the event's organizers, more than 300 international personalities from the world of politics, science, arts & letters as well as the media will deliberate on prospects and proposals for making progress on the European project in view of global challenges.

    The conference also coincides with "Mozart Year 2006" events, which celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

    [13] Protocol for health sector standardization signed

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, representing the Central Health Council and the Greek Standardization Organization (ELOT) respectively, on Wednesday signed a cooperation protocol for standardization in the health sector.

    The deal aims to improve the system of establishing Greek National Standards and National Specifications, in conjunction with European Standardization.

    In a joint announcement, the two ministers said the signature of the Protocol was a chance to send a message regarding the role of standardization in improving quality and creating the conditions for achieving economies of scale.

    [14] Greece to gradually raise withholding tax rates for companies

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Wednesday said the government would gradually raise withholding tax rates for companies over the next few years, to reach rates currently existing in the rest of Europe.

    Speaking to reporters, after an inner cabinet meeting, Alogoskoufis said the withholding tax rates in some European countries reached 100 percent, compared with 55 percent (companies) and 60 percent (banks) in Greece. Only for wage earners the withholding tax rate reached 100 percent in Greece, the minister said, adding that the new measure would not affect enterprises. He underlined the fact that the government lowered tax factors and said tax inspections on companies would intensify with the aim to effectively combat tax evasion in the country.

    Alogoskoufis said a draft legislation aimed to make a more efficient use of the public sector's real estate assets was at its final stages of preparation and that the ministry was expected to deliver the draft bill for consultation with interested parties soon. The Greek minister said the new bill would ensure funding and know-how to build and reconstruct buildings owned by the public sector, while he noted that local authorities (municipalities) would be exempted from the new law.

    The new law would offer investment opportunities to the private sector but our goal was to safeguard the public sector's interests, Alogoskoufis told reporters.

    [15] Advance tax hike for companies deemed necessary, gov't says

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The government decided to increase the percentage of advance tax paid by businesses in order to bring them more in line with the tax payments made by wage earners and by companies in other EU countries, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said on Wednesday.

    Roussopoulos pointed out that the level of advance tax paid by societe anonyme companies was just 55 percent and had stayed the same since 1998, while the 60 percent advance tax paid by banks had not been changed since 1997.

    He said that legal entities based in other EU member-states often paid higher levels of advance tax than those in Greece. As examples he cited Germany and Denmark, where companies paid 100 pct advance tax, Italy (93.5 pct), Portugal (85 pct), Austria (80 pct) and Spain (75 pct).

    The spokesman said the measures would require Greek societe anonyme companies to prepay 65 percent of their total earnings and banks 80 percent of the total earnings.

    This will increase the rate of collecting budget revenues by about 450 million euros in the coming year without imposing new taxes on lower income groups and acting against social cohesion, he added.

    Roussopoulos also ruled out that the increased cost would be passed on to consumers, saying that there were regulatory bodies for this.

    [16] Industrialists oppose new tax plan

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Greek industrialists on Wednesday expressed opposition to a government plan raising advance payment rates on corporate withholding taxes to 65 percent, from the current level of 55 pct.

    Dimitris Daskalopoulos, vice-president of the Federation of Greek Industries, speaking in Parliament during a debate on the government's new tax draft legislation, said that small- and medium-sized enterprises would find it difficult to meet higher withholding tax rates, while he noted that measure would undermine companies' budgets and lead them to short-term borrowing in order to meet increased tax burdens.

    New Democracy (ND) party deputy Elias Kalioras, responding to Daskalopoulos' criticism, said current rates were lower in Greece compared to the EU average rate.

    Christos Gortsos, secretary-general of the Bank Association of Greece, however, agreed with the government's plan, saying Greece could face problems if the country did not harmonize with existing EU standards.

    Under the draft law, the state is expected collect 450 mln euros in its coffers from advance tax payments.

    [17] Inner cabinet discusses draft bill on sale & lease back plan for public sector's assets

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    An inner cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, on Wednesday discussed a draft legislation -sponsored by the Economy and Finance ministry- over the sale and lease back of public sector's real estate assets.

    Speaking to reporters, after the meeting, Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said the draft legislation offered the opportunity for the transfer of capital and know-how from the private sector to the public sector with the aim to make a more efficient use of the latter's real estate assets.

    The Greek minister said the draft bill would be presented for consultation with interested parties in the next few days and would be formally presented next week. Alogoskoufis said a ministry decision to raise tax down payment rates for businesses said the measure would not lead to higher taxation but it was aimed to make a more effective the collection of taxes. The minister said the measure would not affect corporate profitability while it was harmonizing Greece with EU legislation.

    [18] Gov't approves 48 mln euros for IT projects by Greek SMEs

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Wednesday approved plans to offer financial support, worth 48 million euros, to 1,291 enterprises participating in a ministry-sponsored program "Electronic Enterprising", budgeted at 129.5 million euros.

    Speaking to reporters, Sioufas said the ministry managed to complete a first phase of the program and to achieve a 50 percent absorption rate.

    The projects refer to investment plans submitted by Greek small- and medium-sized enterprises aiming to upgrade their information systems. The "Electronic Enterprising" program is the biggest program of state subsidies, funded by an "Information Society" Business Program.

    [19] SEBE organizing trade mission to Beijing

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The Association of Exporters of Northern Greece (SEBE) is organizing a trade mission to Beijing from April 18-20, it was announced on Wednesday.

    SEBE has undertaken the coordination of the trade mission as the national consultant for the EU's Asia Invest program for all of Greece.

    The mission includes pre-scheduled meetings in the context of an event titled Asia Enterprise EU - China Packaging 2006, to be held on the sidelines of the Packaging 2006 exhibition and the International Conference on Packaging.

    The meetings will be scheduled on the basis of individual requests, the profile and the targets of each individual enterprise, and concern all branches of the packaging sector.

    More information is available from SEBE, tel: 2310-535333, fax: 2310-543232, and e-mail:

    Applications for participation in the trade mission must be sent to SEBE by February 20.

    [20] Eurosystem and Mediterranean central banks meet for third Euro-Mediterranean seminar

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The third Euro-Mediterranean seminar, which brings together Eurosystem and non-euro area Mediterranean central banks, was jointly organized by the Bank of Greece and the European Central Bank (ECB) and held in Nafplion on Wednesday. In preparation for this seminar, a workshop was held at the ECB in Frankfurt on September 21-22, 2005, bringing together senior experts from the central banks of the Eurosystem and the Mediterranean partner countries.

    The need was expressed for further capital account liberalization and the reform of monetary policy.

    Seminar participants were welcomed by Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, and Nicholas C. Garganas, Governor of the Bank of Greece. The seminar was attended by government and high-level representatives of the entire Eurosystem, including Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, as well as by governors and high-level representatives of the central banks of Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian National Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. The seminar was also attended by the Vice President of the European Investment Bank and a high-level representative of the European Commission.

    The Eurosystem attaches great importance to international contacts and exchanges of views with other central banks at the global level, and its relationship with the central banks of the Mediterranean region is no exception. This Euro-Mediterranean seminar was the third at the level of central bank governors. The first meeting was held in Naples in January 2004 and initiated a multilateral dialogue between Eurosystem and non-euro area Mediterranean central banks, which was continued in the second meeting in Cannes in February 2005. This third seminar showed the continued commitment of these meetings as a regular forum for pursuing an active and ongoing dialogue with the central banks of the Mediterranean countries.

    Seminar participants underlined the fact that economic and financial developments in the region were generally benign in 2005, with robust growth observed and inflation remaining under control, despite some upward pressure on prices.

    [21] Deputy FM, Spanish ambassador discuss Greek participation at EXPO 2008

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Greece's deputy foreign minister Evripides Stylianidis on Wednesday met with Spanish ambassador in Athens Juan Ramon Martinez Salazar, with whom he discussed the participation of Greek agencies at the EXPO 2008 to be held in Saragosa. They also discussed Stylianidis' upcoming visit to Spain.

    The purpose of Stylianidis' visit to Madrid is to promote bilateral economic relations and closer cooperation between the two countries on matters of international developmental cooperation.

    [22] Greek trade deficit down 0.2 pct in Jan-Nov, yr/yr

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The Greek trade deficit fell by 0.2 percent in the January-November period in 2005, compared with the same period in 2004, the National Statistics Service said on Wednesday.

    NSS, in its regular report, said the country's trade deficit totalled 25.877 billion euros in the first 11 months of 2005, from 25.930 billion euros in the previous year, reflecting higher exports and lower imports.

    The value of export-deliveries totalled 12.605 billion euros, from 11.094 billion in 2004, for an increase of 13.6 percent, while the value of import-arrivals totalled 38.483 billion euros from 37.024 billion euros in 2004, for an increase of 3.9 percent.

    [23] Greek stocks fall on profit taking

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Greek stocks ended lower Wednesday as investors took profits during the last hour of trading at the Athens Stock Exchange.

    The composite index fell 0.31 percent to end at 4,007.40 points, with turnover a heavy 555.5 million euros.

    The Food and Beverage index suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day (3.73 pct), followed by Utilities (2.90 pct) and Health (0.73 pct), while the Manufactured products (2.73 pct), Retail (2.37 pct) and Insurance (1.28 pct) sectors scored the biggest gains.

    The Big Cap index fell 0.29 pct, the mid cap index ended 0.48 pct higher and the small cap index rose 0.28 pct.

    Volume in future contracts of the FTSE 20 index was 4,661 contracts, worth 51.338 million euros, with a total of 1,073 bid options contracts -worth 11.795 million euros- and 1,025 call options worth 11.268 million euros.

    In the FTSE 40 index, volume was 1,068 contracts, worth 21,157 million euros, with 381 bid options (7.470 mln euros) and 148 call options (2.902 million euros).

    Volume in future contracts on equities totaled 12,297 contracts, worth 25.377 million euros, with focus on future contracts of Hellenic Telecoms (1,875 contracts).

    Volume in stock repos totaled 684 contracts, while in reverse stock repos totaled 1,158 contracts.

    Foreign Exchange Rates: Thursday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.239

    [24] Two events in Thessaloniki on Sunday for Holocaust

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Two events are scheduled on Jan. 29 in the northern port city of Thessaloniki in honor of the victims of the Holocaust, with the first organized by the city's Jewish community in a central square where Jewish males from around the district were ordered by Nazi forces to assemble in the summer of 1942.

    The assembly was a prelude to their conscription into forced labor brigades.

    The second event will be held at the American College of Thessaloniki in the evening, and is dedicated to the memory of the children exterminated during the Holocaust of WWII, including 10,000 Greek Jewish children of Thessaloniki.

    According to reports, French Interior and Regional Development Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is amongst the international dignitaries expected to send a message for the event. Sarkozy's maternal grandfather emigrated from Thessaloniki's once thriving Sephardic Jewish community to France in the first quarter of the 20th century.

    The Greek government will be represented by Macedonia-Thrace Minister Nikos Tsiartsonis.

    [25] Two arson incidents

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    Two incidents of arson occurred early Wednesday in the greater Athens area.

    A home-made incendiary device exploded at 5:55 a.m. outside a Bank of Cyprus branch in the Kypseli residential district of Athens, causing damage to the bank's glass entrance.

    Earlier, unknown persons doused two motorcycles with gasoline and set fire to them, causing serious material damage.

    [26] Fire on Intercity train

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    The engine of an Intercity train caught fire at 11:00 on Wednesday morning, on route from Thessaloniki to Athens with 160 passengers on board.

    The train was forced to stop at the 479th kilometer of the line near Platy in Imathia, where the fire was put out by two fire engines and six firemen. Firemen said the blaze was caused by an electrical fault.

    None of the passengers on board was at risk at any time, while half an hour later they continued their trip to Athens on another train.

    [27] Congress of regional authority chiefs cancelled

    ATHENS, 26/1/2006 (ANA)

    A congress of regional authority heads with Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos presiding that was scheduled to take place in Ioannina from Wednesday until Sunday was cancelled due to the bad weather.

    The Epirus Region General Secretariat that was organizing the congress will set a new date as soon as the weather conditions allow this.

    [28] Cyprus asks Straw to convey to Ankara rejection of Gul's proposals


    Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs George Iacovou on Wednesday asked British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to convey to Turkey that the suggestions submitted Tuesday by Ankara regarding the Cyprus issue are rejected by the government of Cyprus.

    In statements to the press after an official lunch hosted by the Cypriot Minister in Straw's honor, Iacovou expressed the view that ''Turkey, in all haste, announced its proposals, hoping to derail its course regarding its EU obligations,'' to open its ports and airports for Cyprus, an EU member state since May 2004.

    ''I told Mr. Straw to convey to Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul that his suggestions mean nothing, they add nothing at all and leave us at the same point as May last year, when Turkey made similar suggestions,'' Iacovou said.

    Turkey on Tuesday suggested, among other things, the opening of its ports and airports to Cyprus -a Turkish obligation towards the EU-, asking at the same time from Cyprus to allow the opening of the illegal airport and ports in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.

    Iacovou said that Straw did not make any effort to try to persuade the Cypriot side to accept Turkey's proposals, despite the fact that Straw's first reaction to the proposals was that they include some positive elements.

    ''Turkey's proposals connect issues that cannot be connected with each other. Opening its ports and airports for Cyprus is an obligation it has to fulfill in order to enter the EU and this can not be connected with the Cyprus issue, nor does it concern the UN Secretary General,'' Iacovou stressed.

    Furthermore he said that the Cypriot side cannot accept the Turkish proposals for a customs union of the occupied areas with the EU, the separate representation of Turkish Cypriots at international fora, the opening of the illegal airport in the occupied areas, but it does put back on the table its proposal regarding the opening of the occupied port of Famagusta.

    During the meeting, Straw reaffirmed the commitment of Britain for a solution based on a bicommunal and bizonal federation and refuted that his visit to Cyprus was encouraged in any way by the UN Secretary General.

    ''We reaffirmed that the Cyprus issue remains under the UN auspices. Mr. Straw has not conveyed any message from the UN Secretary General, nor did he say that he is here with his blessings,'' Iacovou said.

    He added that he informed Straw that the UN have had the chance to sound out the interested parties regarding a new initiative for the Cyprus issue, but had not done so, since ''the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey stick to their positions.''

    Asked if there is going to be any mobility with a view to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, the Cypriot minister referred to Straw's statement that there are two matters that run parallel, the efforts for a Cyprus settlement and Turkey's EU course.

    He expressed the view that ''concerns that Cyprus has the upper hand regarding Turkey's EU course will lead to a new initiative so that there are no problems in the EU-Turkey accession negotiations.''

    Iacovou added that efforts to solve the Cyprus issue and Turkey's EU course must not necessarily have the same duration, and he reminded that in a few weeks Turkey will be evaluated by the European Commission and the European Council in matters regarding the fulfillment of its EU obligations, some of which concern the normalization of the Cyprus-Turkey relations and the extension of Turkey's Customs Union with Cyprus.

    The Cypriot minister said that Straw also expressed his disappointment for the Greek Cypriot stance regarding Britain.

    ''He told me that he feels misunderstood, since Britain has worked for Cyprus' accession to the EU, even if that meant that this small island would be given real chances to exert pressure over Turkey and that this shows Britain's friendly attitude towards Cyprus,'' he stated.

    Iacovou said he held a very frank discussion with Straw and conveyed to him the concerns of the Cypriot side over the British stance on the Cyprus issue over the years, ''a stance that at times, not only did not help Greek Cypriots but put them in very difficult situations as well.''

    During the meeting, Iacovou put forward a proposal for both countries to appeal to the International Court in The Hague regarding the role of Britain in Cyprus, stemming from the 1959 Treaties for the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus.

    His proposal was not accepted by the British side, since Britain does not allow former colonies (Commonwealth countries) to appeal against it in matters regarding international law, according to Iacovou.

    The Cypriot minister indicated that Britain has to abide by the international treaties and cooperate with the Republic of Cyprus, in order to achieve more sincere bilateral relations.

    [29] Straw: UN efforts for Cyprus settlement have to run parallel with EU


    British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that efforts for a Cyprus settlement have to run parallel with the EU, noting that both are dependent on the other.

    Straw was speaking at a press conference at Ledra Palace here Wednesday where he stressed that his meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat does not imply recognition of the so called regime in the Turkish occupied areas, or upgrading of relations.

    He emphasized that he came to the island ''as a friend of Cyprus,'' adding that he regards Cyprus as one of his highest priorities for 2006.

    Straw remarked that the present deadlock serves nobody's interests, pointing out that the main obstacle is the lack of dialogue between the two communities and that the only route for reunification is negotiation and compromise.

    In his opening remarks, Straw described his visit to Cyprus as ''very important'' for him for many reasons, because Cyprus matters, the relationship between the UK and Cyprus go back a long way. ''The links are deep and strong. The UK championed the accession of Cyprus to the EU because we believe it would be good for Cyprus and good for the Union as a whole.'' he said.

    Cyprus, he said, ''is a valued EU partner and we in Britain, when the government in which I have been a member since 1997, are proud of the fact that we played in ensuring that Cyprus was able to join the EU, not withstanding the divisions on this island.''

    ''I come here as a friend of Cyprus and with the support of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan,'' he said, noting that he regards Cyprus ''as one of my highest priorities for 2006.''

    He said that he was due to review progress Wednesday afternoon with Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs George Iacovou on the Cyprus-UK structured dialogue.

    ''We are committed to helping finding a solution to the divisions of the island, because the current situation is bad for Cyprus, is bad for Eastern Mediterranean and it is bad for the EU,'' he said.

    Straw remarked that ''the present deadlock serves nobody's interests, and the longer a settlement is delayed, the harder it will be to achieve.''

    He gave as an example ''those Cypriots who long to return to their properties,'' noting, ''They shouldn't be kept waiting. One reason why an early settlement is needed.''

    Straw said ''we also need progress on the issue of the missing persons'' and announced that ''the UK is donating a further 45 thousand pounds Sterling to this effort to help train forensic archaeologists from both communities.''

    The British official noted that ''the main obstacle is the lack of dialogue between the two communities'' and said, ''The only route for reunification is negotiation and compromise. Only a negotiated settlement will support the command of both communities and there can be no imposed solution. Any solution will require the active consent of those both communities.''

    He said, ''The UK has never seen itself as a mediator. But I am concerned that there has been no dialogue since the referendum in 2004. The UN has made clear that the gap between the two communities is wide. It's not for us to initiate a new process, but as ever, we do stand ready to support the two communities in seeking a solution. The solution is up to the people of Cyprus. I come here today to see for myself, to see the divisions on the island and to see the scope for moving to a united Cyprus based on a comprehensive, lasting and just settlement.''

    Straw said he already met Iacovou once and ''the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Mehmet Ali Talat, in line with precedent.''

    ''My meeting with Mr. Talat does not imply recognition of the so called Turkish republic of northern Cyprus nor an upgrading of our relations,'' he stressed.

    Referring to Gul's proposals for Cyprus, Straw said ''Abdullah Gul made an important statement which, as the EU Commissioner, Olli Rehn, has said, which I say, deserves to be taken seriously.''

    Turning to Turkey's EU course, Straw said that ''opening the EU accessions with Turkey was a priority for our presidency, not, let me say, as a UK initiative but as something which the whole of the EU regarded as important.''

    ''Failure would have been a disaster for Cyprus. The prospect of Turkey joining the EU is something on which the interests of the UK and of Cyprus converge rather than diverge,'' he pointed out.

    Straw said ''we have a common interest in a democratic Turkey, which is a force of stability and prosperity in this region, and which is a dynamic partner for the EU.''

    Moreover, he added, Turkey's accession process ''creates a new impetus for normalizing relations between Cyprus and Turkey and for achieving a just settlement for Cyprus as a whole.''

    Straw turned to what he described as isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, noting that it has to be lifted. ''This is a separate track from Turkey's EU accession process but it's in all our interest to bring Turkish Cypriots closer to the EU.''

    He thanked all those who have helped him gain a better understanding of the situation in Cyprus. ''I hope that 2006 can indeed be a year for progress here,'' he added.

    Straw said he has read a lot about the history of the island and remarked that ''the history of Cyprus is the reason why there is a problem.''

    ''The future is the reason why we have to find a solution,'' he concluded in his opening remarks.

    To a question by CNA whether he has achieved the purpose of his visit to the island, bearing in mind the strong anti-British feeling it has caused amongst the Greek Cypriot community, Straw said he had a very constructive meeting with Iacovou and looked forward to another one.

    ''We in the UK government, indeed my party, backed by other parties, who led the way to ensure that Cyprus was able to join the EU, not withstanding that Cyprus is a divided island. Without that, Cyprus and therefore the Greek Cypriot community would be outside the EU. I think that was an act of friendship, we remain very strong friends of Cyprus. We and the government of Cyprus have the same policy towards the accession of Turkey,'' he said, adding that Cyprus along with the UK and other EU partners ''all agreed that Turkey should start the negotiations.''

    Invited to deny or confirm reports that he is here as a UN envoy to initiate a new momentum for Cyprus talks and whether it is a coincidence that he is on the island now that Turkey has put forward proposals to the UN, Straw said he was grateful for Kofi Annan's wishes for his visit.

    ''But I am not here as his special envoy. I am here as the British Foreign Secretary. We are in very close touch with the Secretary General and the Secretariat because the issue of a peace settlement is the responsibility of the Secretary General who works under a Security Council mandate. This is a UN responsibility,'' he said, adding that the fact that the conference was taking place at Ledra Palace ''demonstrates the responsibilities the UN has here but also the obligations of the whole of the international community to find a solution to this longstanding issue.''

    Regarding the timing of his visit and the announcement of the Turkish proposals, Straw said that it was ''a matter for them and not for me.''

    Asked to comment on President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos' refusal to meet with him, Straw said, ''I make no point, it is up to his Excellency, the President of Cyprus whether he is available to see me or not. My interlocutor is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and we had a good meeting.''

    Invited to say whether Britain encourages or discourages the British to continue buying property in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus belonging to Greek Cypriots, Straw said Britain has issued a travel advice to British citizens.

    Asked in what context he envisages the Turkish Cypriots becoming part of the EU, Straw said ''Cyprus as whole was admitted to the EU, although it was accepted that temporarily the acquis of the EU can only apply in respect of about two thirds of the land mass of the island and the southern part of the authority of the government of Cyprus also extends itself of the Green Line.''

    ''The circumstances of which the acquis being applied in the north are very straight forward when there is a settlement, which illustrates the way in which the UN track has to be running parallel to the EU track and that both are depended on the other,'' he said.

    [30] President: Straw's visit has caused more tension between Cyprus-UK


    Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said here Wednesday that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's visit to Cyprus could have proved very significant but its aims and pursuits were affected by disregarding the sensitivities of the people of Cyprus.

    ''Instead of strengthening relations, it has caused further tension and bitterness between the people and Great Britain,'' the Cypriot president said after attending a lunch hosted by the Holy Synod in honor of Archbishop of America Demetrios.

    Asked if the meeting could have been important for the Republic of Cyprus, President Papadopoulos replied ''it could have been very significant,'' adding that ''the purpose and pursuits have been affected by ignoring the sensitivities of the people, and instead of strengthening relations, it has created further tension and bitterness among the people and Great Britain.''

    Regarding the proposal submitted Tuesday by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul on Cyprus, President Papadopoulos said he did not hear that it was welcomed by ''anyone apart from the press.''

    Referring to Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn's statements on the proposal, President Papadopoulos said ''his statement was that it (the proposal) warrants serious consideration and every effort to solve the Cyprus problem is welcome.''

    [31] UN carefully studying Turkish proposals for Cyprus


    The UN Secretary General's Spokesman, Stephan Dujarric, has said that ''the UN is carefully studying the action plan on lifting restrictions in Cyprus announced by Turkey,'' noting that the action plan ''merits close analysis.''

    He added that ''all parties concerned, in particular the two sides in Cyprus, as well as Greece and the EU, need to be fully consorted on the matter.''

    ''The UN is also in the process of obtaining further clarification from Turkey regarding its proposal,'' he said, adding that only after continued thorough analysis would the UN be in a position ''to determine whether there would be a role for it to play.''

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