|Saturday, 18 May 2013|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-03-22
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Saturday, 22 March 2008 Issue No: 2849
 PM: Gov't producing lasting public benefit, fears no political cost -- Parliament debate on youth rightsThe government was not pursuing ephemeral impressions, and did not fear temporary political cost when it was certain that it was producing lasting public benefit, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said Friday in parliament, during an off-the-agenda discussion on the youth's rights to education and culture, initiated by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga.
"We don't bow down to populism when the citizens, as always, need relations of trust that are vindicated in the passing of time," he added.
In a clear reference to the social security system, Karamanlis stressed that the reforms being advanced by the government "produce results" in the long-standing problems and "open up new roads and prospects of hope", and, referring to "the pessimistic view that the youth are headed towards a worse future", Karamanlis stressed that "the future would be grim if we had not proceeded with the reforms necessary".
The premier rejected criticism that unemployment was growing, noting that he was not doing this to glamorize situations; "On the contrary, we look upon the concealment of problems, inertia in the face of impasses, and phobia towards solutions, as a huge mistake".
An even bigger mistake was the attempt to distort the reality, the attempt to dispute the policies that produce measurable results, the attempted reaction to reforms that produce solid solutions, he continued, adding that "such practices do not contribute to the country moving forward", and stressing that "the future demands assumption of responsibilities by everyone, and bold decisions that are far removed from dogmatism".
Specifically regarding the claims of increased unemployment, Karamanlis said that "the reality belies the razing criticism", given that unemployment was running at 8.3 percent, "which is the lowest annual rate in the last 15 years".
Noting that unemployment remained the biggest social problem in the country, he said that it also remained in the target sight of the policy of his New Democracy (ND) government, which will "continue to finance human potential development programmes with increased national and Community funds".
On Education and charges of "Greece's global record in export of (university) students", Karamanlis said that if the situation was perpetuated, all those who persistently and irrationally refused the revision of Article 16 of the Constitution (which would allow the establishment of private universities in Greece) would be to blame.
He announced that the national plan for combating narcotics, with the emphasis on prevention, the development of new therapeutic structures and the advancement of new regulations for the social and productive reintegration of former users, would be tabled in the coming days in the authoritative parliamentary committee, while also planned were an organisational upgrade of OKANA (Organisation Against Drugs, the national coordinator and services and programs provider in the fields of prevention, treatment and reintegration) and the introduction of methadone units in public hospitals.
Karamanlis reiterated that his government has opted for "changes and reforms" to avert perpetuation of the problems, and policies that look out for the young people's needs and open up new paths of opportunities and security.
Modern-day policy needs to be selected with the future as the criterion, and must serve, in action, the values of solidarity ad social justice, Karamanlis said, adding that policies with tangible results and policies that produce benefit for the many, for the present and the future, must be applied: "That is what we have said, and that is what we are doing. Our choices and positions prove it," he concluded.
In taking the podium for a second time, Karamanlis charged that "petty populism has short legs", in paraphrasing a Greek parable. "The opposition has lost another opportunity to present trustworthy solution that society needs, because they became trapped in a competition of populism".
Speaking in turn, Papariga said that "one important difference between us and other parties is that we don't speak about 'opportunities', but about 'rights'. The term 'opportunities' means that a large section of youth is chasing after chimeras -- and whoever succeeds, succeeds. We say 'rights', and that, in the framework of the collective rights there should be the ability for personal evolution".
Papariga criticised the existing system in education, beginning from pre-school all the way up to secondary and higher education, calling it "outdated" and aiming at producing "cheap labour". She said that "no youths under 18 years of age should work, but should be getting an education...in the framework of a 12-year general, mandatory education, with professional training beginning after 18 years of age", while artistic education "must become an inseparable element of the education process, from kindergarten all the way to university".
The reality, however, was different, she said: Not only were youths abandoning school, but many were working during their working at jobs during their years of education -- "30 percent of the AEI (university) students and 60 percent of the TEI (technical college) students, according to statistics, frequently in 'black' labour, resulting in the downgrading of their studies".
She charged that no measures have been taken to eliminate the phenomenon, and called for reinforcement of the family, with truly free education, and, in the case of working students, steps should be taken so that they would be working 6-hour days with 8-hour wages and time off for exams.
In taking the podium for a second time, Papariga dismissed criticism of catering to the basest form of populism, saying that her party considers the workers as capital and not "big capital".
"You cannot criticise us for populism, when we support permanent work, the seven-hour work day, and later the six-hour work day. This is not populism, this is our belief," she concluded.
 Stylianidis defends govt's education policyEducation Minister Evripides Stylianidis on Friday sternly defended the government's education policy, during an off-the-agenda debate in Parliament on the issue of youth rights, initiated by the Communist Party.
In speaking from the podium, Stylianidis accused the opposition, as a whole, as simply being against any reform because of petty partisan reasoning, while adding that the target of 5 percent of GDP for education remains, whereas absorption of Community funding for the education sector has surpassed 80 percent.
"The issue of education is not just funding, but how the funds are managed," he said, charging that main opposition PASOK party mismanaged 2.5 billion euros from CSF programmes when it was in government.
Turning to Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) Parliament head Alekos Alavanos, the minister said it was insulting for a politician to speak in the name of the younger generations.
"You may thank the minority in your party, but I feel the need to thank the overwhelming majority of the student body that is in favour of education reform," Stylianidis said.
Among others, he also noted that the long-standing issue of ensuring professional rights for various segments of graduates will be resolved within in the year, "in light of the fact that over the years PASOK had established universities and technical institutes (TEI) in every nook and cranny of the country without guaranteeing professional rights, thus creating armies of unemployed (graduates)."
Finally, he said a recently ratified framework for higher education is being implemented.
Other opposition parties
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou described ND's policy on education as an "extremely class policy" and accused the prime minister of "living on another planet, giving pretty descriptions of ND's supposedly immense work, while in reality nothing of that is true".
He said that PASOK championed a new leap for the young generation, while charging that the new social security bill being passed by the government would create a "labor Middle Ages", which he pledged his party would abolish when it took over the government.
"With your bill, there will be no ability for serious pensions, but fear, particularly among the youth, with uninsured work, without payment and overtime. You are bombarding the yougn general with insecurity," Papandreou said, adding that his party had a specific proposal to put forward, that begins at birth, up to 26 years of age, with the creation of provisions for 4-year financing with full social security, from state dispensation".
Papandreou further criticized the Left's stance on Article 16 of the Constitution, stressing that efforts should focus on upgrading the public universities, and adding that an absolute priority was to solve the issue of their autonomy, with full self-administration but subject to evaluation.
Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary alliance leader Alekos Alavanos, welcomed what he called the "awakening" of the young generation after decades and realizing their strength and their resistance to the "commercialization of everything", and to the "deduction of their rights" which he charged was taking place with the tolerance, if not the collaboration, of the government.
"Ask the students who work part-time what will happen if they have an accident, a problem, what they will do without a healthcare booklet?," Alavanos said, addressing himself to education minister Evrypides Stylianidis.
Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis stressed the need for closer cooperation among the political parties, adding that although they were "on opposite shores" ideologically, this did not hinder the opposition parties from agreeing that a referendum should take place on the social security system's reform.
He proposed that a referendum should also be held regarding private universities, noting that LAOS was in favor of allowing private universities, but on condition that, as in private hospitals, 15 percent of the seats should be given to poor children.
 Vote on pension reforms re-scheduled for Wed.A final Parliamentary vote on the recently tabled social security draft, originally expected at noon Friday, was postponed for Wednesday.
Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas made the relevant announcement, clarifying at the same time that the vote was not postponed due to opposition parties invoking Article 104 of the House regulations, but to the fact that there was no "legislating pressure, and that the government was not exercising any pressure for an immediate vote on the bill."
Wednesday's process will come via a roll call voting at the request of main opposition PASOK party.
 Athens-Skopje talks on 'name issue' to resume in NYC on Tues.BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis met here on Friday with her counterpart from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Antonio Milososki, part of ongoing negotiations between Athens and Skopje to finally resolve the nagging "name issue" separating the two Balkan neighbors.
"It (meeting) was a useful and sincere exchange of views; several thoughts and ideas were tabled, we will study these and relevant directions will be given to our negotiators, who will meet (with diplomats representing the FYROM side) in New York City next Tuesday," Bakoyannis said.
The Greek FM again reiterated that the Greek side attended Friday's meeting -- which was hosted by a top US diplomat -- with a sincere volition to find a mutually acceptable solution, "with clear-cut positions, strong arguments and a determined stance."
In response to press questions, Bakoyannis said no agreement or memorandum was signed during Friday's meeting.
Asked about Athens' positions over a possible solution, Bakoyannis noted that "our position is quite clear ... we desire a name that will describe a difference between the wider geographical region of Macedonia and the area covered today by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). I believe that this is fair and unambiguous, as well as significant for the region's stability."
Finally, she said that the ongoing negotiating process, under UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, is neither being replaced. "Meetings taking place with the initiative of the United States are supportive vis-à-vis this process."
After the meeting foreign ministry spokesman George Koumtsakos stated: "The two Foreign Ministers met today, ahead of the NATO Summit meeting in Bucharest (in early April), in order to advance the ongoing efforts, and with the aim of the UN process leading to a mutually acceptable outcome."
He said that the US hosted Friday's meeting, aiming to support the achievement of agreement, in the framework of the negotiations taking place under the UN chief's personal envoy on the FYROM name issue Matthew Nimetz.
"It was a useful discussion and a frank exchange of opinions. The two ministers underlined the commitment of the two governments to achieve a solution. Both sides look forward to their next meeting with Matthew Nimetz on 25 March in New York," Koumoutsakos said.
 Deputy FM Valinakis holds talks with Russian counterpartsMOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th. Avgerinos)
Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis discussed the issue of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) name, Kosovo and other important international and bilateral issues here on Friday with three of his counterparts and President Vladimir Putin's adviser on European Union issues Sergey Jastrzembski.
Valynakis spoke of a "very interesting" series of contacts with the Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Andrey Denisov, Alexander Grushko and Vladimir Titov, stressing that "the phenomenon of Greek ministers visiting Moscow to exchange views with their counterparts is now frequewnt and this is precisely what our two leaders decided when they laid the foundations for a new action programme for the years to come."
Implementing the political consultations programme, the deputy foreign minister described as very important that Russia, being the Security Council's presiding country, should have a "full picture of our positions."
He added that he outlined analytically for his counterparts that Greece "is making efforts for a solution on the issue of the name of FYROM through a mutually acceptable solution," adding that "we have done what we had to do, the other side is insisting on its intransigence and I explained precisely that under such conditions there can be no invitation for it to join NATO."
Valinakis also referred to the fact that this year marks the 180th anniversary of diplomatic relations being concluded between Greece and Russia, a diplomatic tradition that Greece is honouring with the intensification of contacts "with the Russian side through political dialogue and continuous consultations."
He went on to term the issue of Kosovo a "burning issue for all our region," assessing that "it has dangerous dimensions that must be taken note of," while explaining to the Russian side that Greece "is in that, small of course, group in the EU that has not recognised Kosovo."
Greek-Russian diplomatic consultations also included OECD issues since, as of January 1, 2009, Greece will be holding the Organisation's presidency and it is interested in Russia's ideas and proposals.
Speaking of Russia's "very important" role in this part of the world, Valinakis referred to cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector with the creation of "pipelines of peace, development and stability and, indeed, at a time when the cost of energy is increasing."
He also stressed "as being a priority" the increase in bilateral contacts in the cultural and tourism sectors with "the attraction of a bigger wave of Russian tourists to our country," while visiting on the occasion Moscow's MITT International Tourism Exhibition on Thursday.
Valinakis also visited Greek General Consulate in Moscow, expressing his support for the tourist development ministry's great effort to boost the tourist wave from Russia to Greece.
An announcement by the Russian foreign ministry referred to the Greek-Russian consultations, noting that the two sides "discussed the consideration of joint European cooperation and certain issues of Greek-Russian cooperation in practical sectors."
Valinakis is due back in Athens on Saturday morning.
 Papandreou calls for unity at National Council meetingMain opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou, speaking on Friday at a meeting of the party's newly elected National Council, called for unity in the party and stressed that the Political Council, due to be elected during the meeting, should, "first of all, express unity, renewal and meritocracy in PASOK."
"We are leaving the spiritual rift behind us, the camps, personal strategies and bitterness that it is human to have been created. In such a party as PASOK there can be no such case as a 'presidential guard' or an 'intraparty opposition'," he said.
Papandreou welcomed the newly-elected members of the National Council in particular and, referring to renewal in the party, he said that "we must give ground to the new generation, give it a role and opportunities, it will make mistakes as well, but it will also provide a new impetus."
The PASOK leader further said that "many things have been written about you and your election, I read and heard scenarios, speculation and interpretations and I want to say one word to would-be or real scenario writers: You are wasting your time. We are one fist for change in the country."
Papandreou reiterated the main elements of PASOK's criticism regarding the social security bill, due to be voted on Wednesday, saying that "it is a shame for the government to count on the dissension of society so as to be saved politically" and called once again for a struggle until it (the government) "takes back the social security disarray", as well as for a "struggle for PASOK's victory in the next elections to enable it to bring fair social security reform."
He went on to say that "PASOK's congress can and must constitute a new starting point for the party and for society", repeating the three main points in PASOK's proposal for a new growth model, which is "a strong, simple and effective social state with quality services and a fair redistribution of wealth produced and a law-abiding state."
Papandreou also denounced "the systematic effort by centers lying outside institutions to degrade the country's political life", stressing that "this deals a blow more so at the democratic movement" and adding that "politics are the only authentic expression of the people and there are no saviors outside it."
The PASOK leader termed democratic policy a stronghold that defends the rights of the weak and the interests of the many, while noting that "the will of the Greek people is the only authority and the citizen is the only one who shapes his future."
 Ragoussis elected new secretary of PASOK's National CouncilYiannis Ragoussis was elected on Friday as new secretary of the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement's (PASOK) National Council.
He was proposed by party leader George Papandreou.
A total of 273 members of the National Council voted, while there were 59 blank and 12 invalid.
Ragoussis, who has until now served as party spokesman, received 159 votes and Pantelis Iconomou 43 votes.
 KKE condemns ban of Czech Communist Youth UnionThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has sent a letter to Czech Republic prime minister Mirek Topolanek condemning "in the most categorical way" the government's decision to outlaw the Czech Communist Youth Union (KSM).
The letter, signed by KKE leader Aleka Papariga, the party's Central Committee members, MPs and Europarliamentarians, said that the October 2006 decision to ban the KSM "aims at halting the pioneering struggle of the communist and labor movement for workers' and youth rights, for fundamental democratic freedoms, and against the installation of the US 'anti-missile shield'.
It said that "this unacceptable decision is party of a more general ongoing anti-communist campaign by the European Union, and criminalizes communist ideology and anti-imperialism action, and the struggle for the socialist reform of society".
The decision directly targets the democratic rights and people's freedoms, the KKE letter said, adding that it "proves the 'value' of the EU's and the bourgeois state's demagogic declarations contained in the 'Euro-treaty' -- the Lisbon Treaty".
The KKE called for immediate rescinding of the ruling by the Prague court, adding that "the people's right to choose the social and political system in which they want to live is non-negotiable".
A Prague court on Thursday upheld the Czech interior ministry's decision as being "in accordance with law", rejecting a complaint lodged by the KSM.
 Justice minister on co-habitation agreements, Church's stanceJustice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis reffering to the burning issue of the government's intention to introduce co-habitation agreements, and the Church's reactions, said on Friday that "The state is required to look forward" and "embraces all the citizens", adding that the government is "determined to keep up with the social reality, as it develops over the years, and must effectively confront the existing social problems".
Hatzigakis also expressed his appreciation to Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos and all the Hierachs for their positions on such issues, and for the sense of awareness of social sensitivity with which they were facing the government's proposals.
"The Church must not give the impression that it remains indifferent to the existing social problems and that it does not maintain strong its love and understanding for all people, Hatzigakis said..
 Southeastern Europe contributed 15 of average Greek GDP in last decade, reportThe Greek economy is gradually enjoying the fruits from its economic interconnection with Southeastern Europe, which is estimated to have contributed 0.6 percentage points to the Greek average annual growth rate in the last decade (or 15 pct of the country's average annual growth rate over the same period), according to an analysis by the National Bank of Greece.
The analysis, titled: "Greece: Economic and Market Analysis", stressed that Southeast European market with a population of 115 million boosted demand for Greek exports of goods and services, while the Greek manufacturing sector was able to export higher added value products.
At the same time, the inflows of around one million immigrants from Southeast European states improved the domestic labor market's flexibility, while through their gradual integration in the Greek economy also boosted domestic demand and the country's economic growth rates.
National Bank analysts stressed that trade relations between Greece and Southeastern Europe grew rapidly in the last decade with Greek exports' share in the region rising to 22 pct of total Greek exports, from 7.5 pct in 1997.
Greece also plays a significant role in the economies of the region, holding one of the top positions among foreign investors in Southeastern Europe, with total investments of more than 12 billion euros, while more than 3,500 Greek businessmen have established activities in the region.
 FinMin Alogoskoufis addresses AHEPA event at Zappion MansionFinance and Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis addressed a conference on the theme "The sponsorship institution from antiquity until today", organized by the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) at the Zappion Mansion on Friday, making special reference to national benefactors.
"The great contribution by national benefactors must not be forgotten and it must be an example for all modern-day Greeks. We must honor their work forever. Because without this work, our country would have achieved far less," the minister said.
Alogoskoufis stressed that boosting the country's cultural level is a priority in government policy, pointing out that "this backing is possible thanks to the dynamic growth of our economy. We have considerable funds for cultural activities and for the promotion of our cultural heritage."
The minister further said that promoting Greek culture can also constitute an important financial source for the country in the framework of cultural tourism that is widespread at international level.
Lastly, Alogoskoufis said that programmes are being utilized for the promotion of cultural heritage, such as the "Information Society" programme and dozens of museums and private collections are being digitalized and Greek culture is being highlighted through the Internet.
 GNTO director re-elected chairperson of European Travel Commission for JapanSophia Panayiotaki, director of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) office for Japan and S. Korea, has been re-elected as chairperson of the European Travel Commission (ETC) for Japan, for the second consecutive year.
The 24 representatives of the European National Tourism Offices in Japan praised Panayiotaki's work in the ETC chairmanship during 2007, particularly singling out the creation of the first Europe-wide tourism portal, titled "Europe, a never-ending journey" (www.visiteurope.com/jp <http://www.visiteurope.com/jp>) in the Japanese language, which is the Japanese version of "visiteurope.com", the organisation of the first ETC Japan Media Workshop, which was attended by 270 well-known Japanese journalists and senior executives of that country's major travel bureaus, and the dynamic projection of Europe, with the production of tens of television programs and articles on European travel destinations, and decided to entrust the Greek tourism office's director with another term in office.
 IMO head meets with Greek merchant marine ministerMerchant Marine Minister George Voulgarakis on Friday met with Efthimios Mitropoulos, the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), for talks on international maritime issues, such as ways to attracting young adults to the shipping industry, ratifying international agreements and protocols reached by IMO, measures to boost maritime safety in the Aegean ahead of the operation of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline as well as hosting a series of events to celebrate World Shipping Day in Greece (Sept. 19 and 20).
The Greek minister reassured the head of IMO that the government fully supported IMO's work and initiatives, acknowledging that IMO was safeguarding the wider international regulatory framework covering the shipping industry.
 Deputy agricultural development minister visits KarditsaDeputy Agricultural Development and Food Minister Constantine Kiltidis inaugurated the local Agricultural Development Centre in Karditsa, central Greece, on Friday.
In the presence of Deputy Education Minister Spyros Taliadouros and local authorities, Kiltidis inaugurated this new structure for the region and, referring to the ministry's actions and measures taken, he said that they "have and will have the Greek farmer and stockbreeder as its focal point."
The prefect of Karditsa, Fotis Alexakos, stressed the need for agricultural services to be housed together and delivered a relevant memorandum to the deputy agricultural development minister.
Kiltidis also represented the government at festive events held in the municipality of Arni on Friday, on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the last battle of the revolution in Thessaly.
 OTE union opposing DT share acquisitionThe union representing employees of state-run Hellenic Telecoms (OTE) on Friday announced three one-day strikes next week -- essentially a 72-hour industrial action from Wednesday to Friday -- to protest the recent acquisition of 20 percent of the telephony utility's shares by Deutsche Telekom (DT).
DT purchased the shares last week from Athens-based Marfin Investment Group (MIG).
The OME-OTE union's board will convene next Friday to consider further action, a press release added.
 Ex-ATEbank Gov. Lambrou convicted in massive breach of faith caseThe former governor of ATEbank -- formerly Agricultural Bank of Greece -- on Friday was sentenced to a three-year jail term following his conviction in a closely watched breach of trust case linked with the issuance of questionable loans to a local business group some six years ago.
Petros Lambrou, along with eight other former ATEbank executives, was convicted by an Athens first instance court. Sentences for the former executives and bank directors ranged from three to one-year terms. Two defendants were acquitted.
The court action was initiated after current ATEbank governor Dimitris Miliakos forwarded a voluminous file on the case to the prosecutor's office, following his appointment to the state-run and listed bank's helm in the wake of a New Democracy election victory in March 2004.
According to the indictment, the business and construction group's obligations towards ATEbank are currently listed at 190 million euros. Court records also point to the prospect of the loans becoming non-performing, due to the financial situation of the borrower.
All of the convicted plaintiffs were set free pending appeal.
 Proton Bank says tax burden affected 2007 profitsProton Bank on Friday said its after tax profits fell to 20.8 million euros last year, from 32.9 million euros in 2006. The bank noted that its 2007 results were not directly comparable with the previous year's since they were affected by extra tax burdens and higher amortizations.
Proton Bank said assets totaled 2.4 billion euros, up 49 pct, while loans jumped 45 pct to 1.4 billion euros and saving deposits rose 39 pct to 1.5 billion euros. Consolidated gross income totaled 94.2 million euros, up 45 pct from 2006, while consolidated pre-tax profits fell to 30.3 million euros in 2007 from 38.3 million in 2006.
The bank plans to pay a 0.20 euros per share dividend to its shareholders. Proton Bank operates a network of 29 branches.
 Inform Lycos reports mixed 2007 resultsInform Lycos on Friday reported a 6.3 pct increase in its consolidated turnover to 73.4 million euros last year, while consolidated pre-tax, interest and amortization earnings (EBITDA) rose 11 pct to 12.6 million euros.
Consolidated pre-tax profits, however, fell by 9.2 pct to 7.6 million euros, burdened by higher financial expenses related with the construction of a new production unit in Romania and the acquisition of Austria Card.
Consolidated after tax profits totaled 5.2 million euros, down 20.1 pct. Parent turnover rose 4.8 pct to 39.2 million euros, EBITDA rose 5.6 pct to 6.3 million euros and pre-tax and financial results earnings rose 6.8 pct to 3.9 million euros.
 New 24-hour strike at Bank of Greece on MondayThe Bank Union Federation (OTOE) on Friday announced the continuation of strike action by employees at the Bank of Greece, over the social security issue, with the calling of a new 24-hour nationwide strike on Monday, March 24.
OTOE mentioned in its announcement that "the struggling reactions by the bank employees sector will continue on separate bank premises and in various forms, they will be intensified and they will have a depth of time until final vindication."
 Industrial new orders index down 4.1 pct in JanuaryGreece's new orders index in the industrial sector (measuring both the domestic and foreign markets) fell by 4.1 pct in January, compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Friday.
The average index in the 12-month period from February 2007 to January 2008, however, remained unchanged at the previous 12-month period.
The country's turnover index in the industrial sector jumped 18.7 pct in January, compared with the same month last year, reflecting a 7.5 pct rise in the mining index and an 18.9 pct increase in the manufacturing index.
The average index in the 12-month period from February 2007 to January 2008 rose 4.9 pct compared with the previous 12-month period.
 Building cost index up 5.0 pct in FebruaryBuilding materials' price index rose 5.0 percent in February, compared with the same month last year, the National Statistics Service said on Friday.
The statistics service said the index was up 0.5 pct in February from January, while the average index in the 12-month period from March 2007 to February 2008 rose by 6.0 percent compared with the previous 12-month period.
 Interior minister issues message on World Day against RacismInterior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos issued a message on Friday on the occasion of World Day against Racism, saying that Greece "tolerates racial, national, cultural, linguistic and other differences and particularities and provides for their creative and fertile promotion and utilization, by giving substantial chances and by promoting social cohesion."
"The recent, full and comprehensive incorporation into national law of a series of Directives regarding equal treatment, regardless of racial or national origin, religious or other convictions, disability, age or sexual orientation, constitutes important progress towards eradicating phenomena of racism and xenophobia, with emphasis on access to employment," the minister added.
In a symbolic gesture, meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Athanasios Nakos visited the Athens-area 5th high school, where 70 per cent of pupils are foreign nationals.
 Athens Academy honours Greek Independence DayThe Athens Academy honored during an extraordinary meeting on Friday evening the Greek Independence Day, celebrated on March 25, in the presence of President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.
Academic Constantine Svolopoulos was the main speaker at the event which was attended by government officials, Church officials and academics.
 Foreign national arrested for 'road rage' murderA 23-year-old Albanian national was arrested on first degree homicide charges on Friday in connection with a brutal "road rage" incident in downtown Athens in early March, which left a 40-year-old father of one dead.
According to police, the suspect was the motorcyclist involved in an argument over right-of-way with a 70-year-old driver, before the vehicle's passenger, the 40-year-old, exited and struck the Albanian.
The latter, reports state, immediately left the scene to retrieve a handgun from a nearby residence and catch up with the vehicle, shooting the victim at close range.
Another Albanian man, 24, was arrested and charged as an accomplice for allegedly driving the motorcycle during the attack.
Police said the 23-year-old, whose name was not released, provided the whereabouts of the weapon used in the attack, which was located and sent for ballistic testing.
The arrests came amid an ongoing manhunt for the suspects, with one police officer spotting the make and model of the rare motorcycle driven by the perpetrators in a downtown street on Thursday. An on-the-spot arrest was made, authorities said.
 Arson attacks in AthensA barrage of arson attacks against banks and other targets took place in the first hours of Friday over a space of 25 minutes in various parts of greater AThens.
Unknown persons placed home-made incendiary devices comprising small propane canisters at the targets, causing damage to buildings and cars, between 1:00 and 1:25 a.m.
The first arson attack was against a Millennium Bank branch in Pangrati, followed by explosions in a car belonging to a private security company in Koukaki, at the entrance of a construction company in Kifissia, an Emporiki Bank branch in Aghia Paraskevi, an electrical appliances store in Aghioi Anargyroi, a car belonging to a private security company in Petralona, and outside a building housing a private security company in Galatsi.
No organization has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
 Athens to launch recycling fest on Sun.The City of Athens will officially launch its "Recycling Fest" on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) in central Syntagma Square.
The initiative, to run until April 5, comes under the auspices of the ministries of environment, town planning & public works and education.
 Police arrest two men for possession of switch bladesPort authority police on Friday arrested two foreigners who attempted to sell ten switch blades through the port of Karystos, on the island of Evia, while they were bargaining the price.
Their weaponry, which was found in the trunk of a car belonging to a 40-year-old man, also comprised of numerous swords, axes and clubs.
 Soldier dies of meningitisA 19-year old soldier serving in the Air Force died of meningitis on Friday.
The soldier was initially transferred to the 411 Military Hospital of Tripoli, Peloponnese, and later to the intensive care unit of Panarkadiko Hospital where Air Force doctors from Athens arrived on Thursday night to try to deal with his illness. However, he died on Friday morning.
The Air Force General Staff made known that all the precautionary measures are being taken and are on constant alert for the protection of the health of the permanent staff.
 Twinning of Kalamata with China's XianThe city of Kalamata will be twinned with the capital of ancient China, Xian.
The protocol for the twinning is expected to be signed in May.
 Cloudy on SaturdayCloudy weather with westerly, southwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Saturday, with wind velocity reaching 5-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 2C and 22C. Cloudy in Athens, with westerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 7C to 19C. Same in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 6C to 15C.
 Christofias and Talat agree to meet again in three monthsNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on Friday to meet again in three months to review the work of the working groups and technical committees dealing with aspects of the Cyprus problem, the results of which will be used to start negotiations under UN auspices for a solution.
The UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Michael Moller, speaking after a meeting of the leaders of the two communities at his residence, announced that ''the leaders met on Friday in a very positive and cordial atmosphere and exchanged views on a number of issues, achieving a great degree of convergence.''
''They have decided to ask their respective advisers to meet this coming week in order to set up a number of working groups and technical committees, establish their agendas and also in the most expeditious way possible. In taking full responsibility for the conduct of future negotiations, the leaders have also agreed to meet three months from now to review the work of the working groups and technical committees and using their results to start full-fledged negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary General of the UN,'' Moller said.
He added that that ''the leaders have also agreed to meet as and when needed, prior to the commencement of their formal negotiations.''
''They have also agreed that Ledra Street will, as soon as technically possible, open and function in accordance to the established practices at other crossings,'' he noted.
Moller said ''the issue of the opening of the Limnitis crossing and other crossings is also on the agenda for the coming meeting of their advisers.''
Replying to questions, President Christofias said ''the statement read by Mr. Moller is very clear,'' adding that ''the coffee was Cypriot coffee.''
''So, I look forward that the committees and the working groups will start their work immediately after the meeting of our advisers and we shall have in these three months time results which are going to help both of us to resume the full-fledged dialogue under the auspices of the Secretary General,'' he added.
President Christofias pointed out that ''we have to be optimistic, anyway, and we agreed that we shall work together in good will, so let us see what is going to happen in this time and I hope, really, that Mr. Talat and Christofias, as old friends, will not become enemies.''
Replying to questions, Talat said the wording of the statement is ''very clear'' and added that ''we are establishing the working groups and technical committees and we set a date to start the negotiations, so this is a new era we are starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem.''
''Our target is to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem as soon as possible,'' he added.
To other questions, Talat said that ''in three months we will meet according to our agendas, if it is needed.''
''We are not avoiding any meeting coming together in these three months,'' he added.
Asked if they disagreed on the process to be followed, Talat said ''we did not enter these discussions.''
''We just discussed the procedure for the time being. We did not mention any basis, any parameters regarding the solution. We just discussed the process and we agreed on the process,'' he added.
At this point, President Christofias said ''we want to underline what we agree and not anything we disagree,'' adding that ''we shall examine any possible disagreements together, so the message we want to express is the message of what we agreed to do.''
Replying to questions regarding a date for a settlement, Talat said ''the Turkish Cypriot side's position is the end of 2008 but the situation now is as soon as possible.''
To a remark that efforts to reach a settlement have been going on for the past 40 years, President Christofias said ''we have tried for the past 40 years and I do not want to say that because we tried over the last 40 years we shall solve the problem yesterday.''
''We shall try our utmost in order to come to an agreed solution to the interests of the Cypriot people of both communities as soon as possible. This is our ambition,'' he added.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
Former President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos and Talat agreed on 8 July 2006, during a meeting in Nicosia in the presence of UN official Ibrahim Gambari, to begin a process of bicommunal discussions on issues that affect the day-to-day life of the people and concurrently those that concern substantive issues, both contributing to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.
 Statement of the two community leaders - Full textThe UN Special Representative of the Secretary General and Chief of Mission of UNFICYP Michael Moller read the following statement of the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities in Cyprus, following their meeting Friday.
The full text of the statement is as follows:
"I am very pleased to announce the following on behalf of the two leaders.
The leaders met today (Friday) in a very positive and cordial atmosphere and exchanged views on a number of issues, achieving a great degree of convergence. They have decided to ask their respective advisers to meet this coming week in order to set up a number of working groups and technical committees, establish their agendas, and to do so in the most expeditious way possible.
In taking full responsibility for the conduct of future negotiations, the leaders have also agreed to meet three months from now to review the work of the working groups and technical committees, and using their results, to start full-fledged negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The leaders have also agreed to meet as and when needed prior to the commencement of their formal negotiations.
The leaders have also agreed that Ledra Street will, as soon as technically possible, open and function in accordance with the established practices at other crossings.
The issue of the opening of the Limnitis crossing and other crossings is also on the agenda for the coming meetings of their advisers."
 Britain, US welcome meetingThe outcome of Friday's meeting of Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat is an important first step towards negotiations, aiming at Cyprus' reunification, British High Commissioner in Nicosia Peter Millett has said.
Invited by CNA to comment on the meeting, Millett said in a written statement that he welcomes the outcome of the meeting between the two leaders and their agreement to launch the procedure of working groups and technical committees immediately.
"This is an important first step towards negotiations, which we hope, will lead to the reunification of the island," the British High Commissioner said and added: "it is a clear demonstration that the two leaders have the political will to tackle the issues and work for a solution."
Millet also underlined that "the UK stands ready to support this process working with the United Nations and together with the P5 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council).''
The US also has welcomed the outcome of the meeting, saying it is ready to lend its full support to their efforts to reach a negotiated settlement.
"We welcome the positive outcome of today's (Friday) meeting between President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, and wish them great success in their efforts to reach a comprehensive Cyprus settlement under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, a statement issued by the US embassy in Nicosia said.
Furthermore, the US embassy reiterates that "as always, we are ready to lend our full support for these efforts."
A crossing point to and from the island's northern Turkish occupied areas is set to open at Ledra street, one of the capital's main commercial streets, in the heart of the city, following Friday's announcement by the two leaders.
 Government welcomes outcome of Christofias-Talat meetingThe Cyprus government has welcomed the outcome of Friday's meeting between the leaders of the island's two communities, saying that there is still a lot of hard work that needs to be done.
The government also announced that George Iacovou, Presidential Commissioner, and Ozdil Nami, adviser to the Turkish Cypriot leader, will meet on Monday.
Commenting on a meeting Friday between President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, Government Spokesman
Stephanos Stephanou pointed out that "due to the importance of the work that needs to be done, Iacovou and Nami will meet next Monday, in order to agree on the number and the agenda of the working groups and technical committees" to be set up.
The spokesman reiterated that at the meeting, "the two leaders have agreed to set up working groups and technical committees, which, through their work, will pave the way for the start of comprehensive negotiations towards the solution of the Cyprus problem, after a three month period and according to the conclusions and the outcome of the work of the technical committees and the working groups."
Replying to questions, Stephanou recommended a comparison between Friday's agreement and a UN-brokered agreement in July 2006, in response to criticism that there is no reference in Friday's statement to the July agreement.
''It is enough for someone to read and compare the July agreement with the outcome of the today's meeting," he said.
In addition, Stefanou pointed out that "the 8 July 2006 provides discussion at the level of technical committees and working groups, on issues that affect the day-to-day life of the people and those that concern substantive issues".
"Therefore", Stefanou concluded, "everyone can draw his own conclusions".
 EU Commission welcomes meeting of leaders in CyprusThe European Commission welcomed Friday the meeting between Cyprus President Demetris and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, adding that the EU is ready to support negotiations on a political settlement.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated in Brussels on Friday that "the European Union welcomes the successful meeting between the two leaders and their agreement to take full responsibility for the future conduct of the negotiations".
He commended their decision to meet again in three months' time to review the work of the working groups and technical committees and, using their results, start full-fledged negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations and added that "the EU stands ready to support the negotiations and both parties".
Rehn congratulated the leaders on the "important symbolic decision" to open the Ledra Street crossing point, to and from the island's northern Turkish occupied areas, forty-four years after it was closed, and noted that "the Commission has made more than 100.000 euros available to UNDP to carry out works at the crossing point."
The Enlargement Commissioner concluded his statement by saying that he looks forward to walking across the Green Line at Ledra street himself in the near future.
 US encouraged by Cyprus community leaders' meetingWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)
The United States has welcomed the outcome of Friday's meeting between the Cypriot President Demetris
Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
"We welcome news of today's (Friday) positive meeting between Republic of Cyprus President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Leader Talat," US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Speaking at his daily press briefing, McCormack pointed out that the US is encouraged by the leaders' agreement to rejuvenate working group meetings immediately, and to resume full-fledged negotiations in three months in pursuit of a comprehensive settlement that would reunify the island into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
"We congratulate the leaders on their agreement to reopen, as soon as possible, the Ledra Street crossing in Nicosia, after over forty years of closure," the spokesman said, and added: "Such steps build requisite confidence between the parties to advance toward a comprehensive settlement."
Finally, McCormack pointed out that "the United States will continue its full support for this constructive dialogue, and for efforts by the United Nations to forge a just and lasting Cyprus settlement."
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met Friday at the residence of the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Michael Moller.
The two leaders agreed to set up a number of working groups and technical committees, which they will deal with aspects of the Cyprus problem. They also agreed to meet again in three months to review the work those groups and committees. Their results will be used to start negotiations under UN auspices for a solution.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 The Friday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe by-Article vote on the social security draft law in the midst of labour unions' and opposition reactions, culminating in Wednesday's nationwide labor strike and demonstrations throughout the country, and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis' crucial meeting on Friday in Brussels with her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki dominated the headlines on Friday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "The country free from 'labour-fathers' minorities - At last they're stopping the strikes".
APOGEVMATINI: "The social security draft law passed and the strikes stop - Despite the opposition's and labour unions' strong reactions".
AVGHI: "SYRIZA party proposes a referendum on the social security draft law -The opposition agrees".
AVRIANI: "State-dependent guilds and labour fathers' irregular retreat - They ended the mobilisations after beleaguering the people and causing major damage to the economy".
CHORA: "Retirement after 37 years of work without age limit (regardless of age) - As of today the social security bill is a law of the State".
ELEFTHERI ORA: "The government disregarded us and passed the social security draft law - The government didn't consider the nationwide reactions, the strikes and the opposition's massive reactions".
ELEFTHEROS: "Major rally against social security reforms", referring to Wednesday's nationwide labor strike.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "The social security draft law was passed without any leakages (in votes from the ranks of the ruling party MPs)".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Three bombs against social security reforms - Huge demonstration (referring to Wednesday's strike and protest rally)".
ESTIA: "Major opportunity for overture - (Main opposition) PASOK's moderate voters left uncovered".
ETHNOS: "Three moves for dismantling the social security reforms - Perpetuating mobilisation in order to overturn the 'carmagnole' draft law".
KATHIMERINI: "Strikes end -The final vote on the social security bill in parliament on Friday - Workers in Public Power Corporation (PPC) and municipal sanitation workers suspend their mobilisations".
LOGOS: "The social security draft law stumbles but will proceed - Impressive participation in mobilisations against the social security draft law".
NIKI: "The battle is over, but not the war - Strikes and major demonstration send a resounding message".
RIZOSPASTIS: "People's message: The mass class struggle will continue ruthlessly".
TA NEA: "Major rallies throughout the country a 'referendum' manifesting the people's rage over the social security draft law".
TO VIMA: "Towards an agreement with FYROM under the name 'New Macedonia' - Foreign Ministers of Greece and FYROM to meet on Friday in Brussels".
VRADYNI: "Social security: The morning after".
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