|Friday, 16 April 2021|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-04-04
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 4 April 2008 Issue No: 2860
 FYROM to become NATO member only if name issue is solved, PM Karamanlis saysBUCHAREST (ANA-MPA/S. Goutzanis)
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis addressed a message on Thursday to the Greek people from Bucharest, where he is participating in the NATO summit, stressing that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will only become a member of NATO if the issue of its name is solved.
He underlined that FYROM will not join the Alliance following Greece's veto, pointing out that "I had said in all tones that no solution means no invitation. And this is what I did," adding that this development is in favor of national interests and that when determination and arguments are used appropriately they produce results.
"Greece waged a tough struggle over the past months. It is exercising its foreign policy with self-confidence, with determination, with prudence. We reiterated our strong arguments during NATO's negotiations. However, we were not isolated as some had feared but, on the contrary, we found supporters. The issue does not end here, we still have a way to go. What is coming to an end is the illusion of those who think that they can participate in the international community without fulfilling their commitments," the prime minister said, adding that "rules should be respected by all."
"We are in the middle of a difficult path, I am proud of what we have achieved together," Karamanlis said and noted that "our aim is not to humiliate the neighbors but to support them to stand on their feet. We are aiming at a solution that respects the sensitivities of all."
Karamanlis appealed to the neighboring country's leadership to participate in the process of finding a mutually acceptable solution in the framework of the UN and stressed that Greece has the strength to defend its interests provided that the Greeks are "reliable abroad and united at home".
He underlined that "all that has taken place in Bucharest proves that Greece has all the strength to defend its interests. Two are the preconditions for us to achieve our goals: We must be reliable abroad. We must be united at home."
The prime minister further noted that "we are a society that is entitled to feel self-confidence, the difficulties are many but we can solve both the big and the small problems with a great deal of work" and concluded his message by thanking the Greek people for their confidence.
 PM Karamanlis holds telephone conversation with President PapouliasBUCHAREST (ANA-MPA/S.Goutzanis)
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis communicated by telephone with President Karolos Papoulias on Thursday afternoon and briefed him on developments at the NATO summit so far and on its results.
 Bakoyannis: Greece satisfied with NATO result on FYROMBUCHAREST (ANA-MPA - S. Goutzanis)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday stressed that the Greek government was absolutely satisfied with the outcome of the NATO summit in terms of extending an invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join the Alliance, since it had fully achieved its goals.
During talks on Wednesday evening, NATO heads of state and government decided not to invite Greece's neighbor to join the Alliance at this time, while included in the summit conclusions is a decision by NATO member-states to extend an invitation only after a mutually agreed solution to the dispute with Greece over FYROM's name has been achieved.
In statements after the morning session of the summit, Bakoyannis underlined that the text of the summit conclusions was not open to misinterpretation and that there was no time limit for finding a solution to the name issue.
"There is a wish for as speedy an end to the negotiations for finding a mutually accepted name as possible," the Greek minister added.
She also underlined in a message addressed to the people of neighboring FYROM that the Greek people had benign and friendly feelings towards them.
"We wish to see Skopje get into NATO but a condition for this are good neighbor relations and finding a mutually accepted solution to the name issue," Bakoyannis underlined, adding that Athens would continue to work with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz toward this end.
Replying to questions asked by journalists from FYROM, Bakoyannis also clarified that Greece did not wish to impose a name of its own choosing but to reach agreement on a name that was acceptable to both sides.
Regarding Greece's refusal to agree to FYROM's entry with the temporary name established under the interim agreement of 1995 and currently in use at the UN, the minister said that this proposal would not have solved the problem but only covered it up.
She underlined Greece's desire to help FYROM join Euro-Atlantic structures and said that this desire had already been demonstrated.
Asked whether Greece would adopt a similar stance in September with respect to FYROM's efforts to join the European Union, Bakoyannis replied affirmatively, saying that the determination shown by the government had brought results and that its future policies would show the same persistence and determination.
She ended by stressing that Greece had broadcast a strong message, achieving the diplomatic targets it had aimed for and that the next step for Athens would be to continue efforts to resolve the problem with Skopje, adding that the final result would be good for stability, peace and development in the region.
 NATO summit communique refers to 'name issue'BUCHAREST (ANA-MPA)
Representatives of NATO member-states on Thursday reiterated that a future invitation towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to join the Alliance is linked to resolution of the "name issue" between Greece and the NATO hopeful.
The text of the final communiqué of the Bucharest NATO summit, which recognises the efforts made by the government of FYROM to meet NATO conditions and criteria for accession as well as the country's contribution to NATO missions, also cites the Alliance's regret that the problem was not resolved.
The Alliance, therefore, expressed its encouragement for the rapid resumption of negotiations between Athens and Skopje in order to find a mutually acceptable solution, one that will open the door for the Balkan country's NATO membership, as it said.
 PASOK on FYROM NATO bidMain opposition PASOK party on Thursday commented on a decision by NATO members, at a Bucharest summit the previous day, not to issue a membership invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), following the objections raised by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis
"Greece's objective was not the tabling of a veto, but finding a solution to the (neighboring republic's) 'name issue'," newly appointed party spokesman George Papaconstantinou told reporters.
"Given the point where things were led to by the government, through its backtracking, double meanings and a murky political landscape, the prime minister achieved what is self-evident, namely, what we have insistently demanded and what the Greek people demanded and expected. The prime minister moved along the red lines laid down in a timely fashion by PASOK, something that has become the property of the Greek people. The problem, however, is that Greece's objective has not been achieved," Papaconstantinou said, in referring to the fact that the dispute still remains.
"Greece must exit the (NATO) summit reinforced, with a stronger negotiating position, and within this framework the president of PASOK will continue the political initiatives he has already undertaken with a meeting he had (Tuesday) with the prime minister, while examining the final conclusions of the summit," he added.
Responding to a relevant question, the spokesman said a "continuation of PASOK leader George Papandreou's initiatives also means a probable visit to FYROM."
 KKE leader: Greek veto was 'timid'Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga said on Thursday that her party would wait for the final communique from the NATO summit in Bucharest before commenting on the outcome, adding that if the government attempted dithyrambs, the KKE would not join in.
During a press conference at the Thessaloniki Journalists' Union, Papariga described the Greek government's veto on FYROM accession to NATO as "timid", and elaborated: "The Greek government went to Bucharest with a steadfast position. It did not clearly state the veto, but simply implied it. The substances of the decision, however, is that, within the game of arguments, an extension of time was given to (NATO) enlargement by chance".
She added that this matter could be exploited by the government in national or European Parliament elections, or in order to turn attention away from the labor problems.
"We want a peaceful relationship with FYROM, but we will not acknowledge this issue as a success to any government -- neither ND nor PASOK -- given that they most certainly have assumed commitments in NATO. We will not extend congratulations to them," the KKE leader said, and described the NATO summit as a "pack of wolves fighting over the market shares and spheres of influence".
She expressed concern that a new cycle of exploitation of minorities was opening up in Europe, stressing that every minority was an inalienable part of the labor movement of each country.
Papariga further accused main opposition PASOK and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentary alliance of engaging in an "argument without substance", adding that they were articulating on 'deep political change', but warned that another PASOK-SYRIZA collaboration would be a "superficial change that assists the (existing) system".
She also criticised the leaderships of the country's two main umbrella unions -- the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) -- of lacking credibility and of defeatism, and called on the working people to "wage the battle" for the collective branch labor agreements by taking part in April 16 strike called by the KKE-affiliated PAME union organisation.
 Jewish community in Thessaloniki condemns insults to Greek flag, PM in SkopjeThe historic Jewish community of Thessaloniki on Thursday issued a statement sharply condemning the recent defacing of the Greek flag in billboards put up in the city of Skopje -- the white Cross on the flag was replaced with a Swastika -- as well as a local magazine's caricature of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' dressed as an SS officer.
"The defacing of the national symbol and the attempt to depict the Greek prime minister to a Nazi officer constitute unacceptable actions and an insult to the Greek people as a whole including members of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki," the statement reads, days after the billboard posters appeared -- and subsequently disappeared -- in the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The statement adds that these actions become more heinous because Greece was among the first countries in Europe to clash with the tide fascism and the first to defeat Axis Forces on the battlefield in WWII, referring to the Albanian front (1940-1941), "where Jewish and Christian Greeks fought side by side."
"Furthermore, the use -- for the sake of creating impressions -- of symbols that are directly linked with the period of the worst crimes committed against humanity is an insult to the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust and those who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps," the statement reads.
"Our Community welcomes the stance adopted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a descendant of the Mallah family from Thessaloniki, who backed Greece's positions on the self-evident Greekness of Macedonia," the statement concludes.
 Gov't on administrative reformA 631-mln-euro operational programme on administrative reform for the period 2007-2013 was drawn up and is under implementation for the first time in Greece, alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said on Thursday.
Antonaros said the operational programme under implementation applies "horizontal policies" and targeted actions aimed at making public administration more flexible, functional and with less redtape in sectors plagued for years by administrative bureaucracy and problems.
 FM Bakoyannis hails opening of Nicosia's Ledra StreetBUCHAREST (ANA-MPA/M.Spimthourakis)
Greece hailed on Thursday the opening, earlier in the day, of a crossing point to and from the Turkish-occupied areas in historic Ledra Street, in the heart of Cyprus' capital Nicosia.
"We hail the opening of the Ledra Street. It is an important, symbolic step of rapprochement of the two communities," Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told reporters here, on the sidelines of a NATO Summit.
"We hope that the opening of other passages will follow. We also hope that today's development will contribute to the reinforcement of confidence on the island and to the immediate implementation of what was agreed between (Cyprus) President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat on March 21, so as to have a substantial progress for the start of a full negotiating process. For a just, viable and functional solution," Bakoyannis added.
The Ledra Street checkpoint opened on Thursday after being closed for nearly 45 years.
The opening of Ledra Street was agreed by Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, during their meeting on March 21. The two leaders also 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 and to meet in three months time 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.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 PASOK hails opening of Nicosia's Ledra StreetThe main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) hailed the opening, on Thursday, of a crossing point to and from the Turkish-occupied areas in historic Ledra Street, in the heart of the capital Nicosia.
"We salute the opening of Ledra Street, it is a move with great symbolic importance, because it confirms our conviction that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots want and can share a common future within the European family," party spokesman George Papaconstantinou told reporters.
"It also confirms the new possibilities for a Cyprus solution, under the Presidency of Mr. (Demetris) Christofias, always within the framework of UN resolutions and of European Union conditions, with full respect to the European acquis communautaire, in the interest of both communities in Cyprus," the spokesman concluded.
 Rehn hails opening of Ledra Street crossingBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - V. Demiris)
The opening of the Ledra Street crossing in Nicosia, on the dividing line between the free and Turkish-occupied areas within the island's capital, was hailed by the European Commission on Thursday via a written statement issued by European Commissioner for enlargement Olli Rehn.
The Commissioner said he was "delighted that the two sides on the island had proceeded to make this very important decision" and stressed its symbolic importance, saying that it would have "immediate beneficial consequences for those living and working in old Nicosia".
Rehn noted that the opening of the crossing demonstrated that "the two sides are ready to set aside the difficulties of the past and work together to achieve a comprehensive solution for the reunification of Cyprus under the auspices of the United Nations".
The European Union fully supports both communities in this effort, he added.
According to the announcement, the European Commission has made more than 100.000 euros available to UNDP to carry out works for security at the crossing point, in the first phase of a programme funded by the EU and managed by the UNDP. This will be followed by the second phase of the programme, scheduled to last three months, that will carry out improvements in the area and restore Ledra Street as the living centre of Nicosia where all Cypriots will be able to meet.
 Justice minister sends informative note on cohabitation pact to deputies, EurodeputiesJustice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis has sent an informative note to deputies and Eurodeputies of all parties, analyzing the main terms contained in the cohabitation pact and its philosophy "to prevent any misinterpretation and distortion," according to an announcement by the justice ministry on Thursday.
The announcement said that the bill will be forwarded to the Central Law Processing Committee in the next few days for necessary preparation and then it will be tabled in Parliament for discussion and ratification immediately afterwards.
The bill will also include new arrangements regarding the modernization of family law and of society, that will concern the speeding up of divorce procedures, adoption and parental care and new beneficial policies for drug users, falling under the jurisdiction of the justice ministry.
 Deputy FM Doukas discusses bilateral economic diplomacy issues with Turkish ambassadorDeputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas discussed bilateral economic diplomacy issues with Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol, during their meeting on Thursday morning.
Views were exchanged during the meeting on bilateral economic relations issues, the sector of airline and road transportation in particular, energy and phytohygienic checks.
Also probed were possibilities of further strengthening commercial and investments relations that, as has been jointly ascertained, have development prospects now, contributing greatly to the improvement of political relations as well.
 Gov't cuts GDP growth estimates for 2008-2010The Greek economy has a strong dynamism but was affected by international economic conditions and its prospects, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Thursday.
The Greek minister, speaking to reporters, said the government was revising it forecasts for Greek economic growth, following a pattern of other European countries, due to international economic developments, although he stressed that budget targets remained unchanged.
Specifically, Alogoskoufis said international uncertainties grew since last autumn, oil prices went further up and foreign exchange markets remained in turmoil over this period, leading national governments to revise their economic forecasts for the period 2008-2010. There will be revisions of all stability and growth programs in the EU but the current climate did not support discussion over extending targets to presenting balanced budgets by 2010.
Alogoskoufis said Eurozone GDP would be cut to 1.8 pct this year, from a 2.2 pct growth forecast made in September 2007, while Eurozone's inflation rate would rise to 2.6 pct from 2.1 pct.
World economic growth would be cut to 3.8 pct this year, from a 4.8 pct forecast made in autumn 2007, while estimates over international oil prices were raised to 90-100 US dollars per barrel, up from a forecast of 78.8 dollars made last autumn. Alogoskoufis also noted that international commodities prices grew by 12.7 pct, up from an earlier forecast for a growth rate of 4.3 pct and underlined that the Economic ministry would proceed with a revision of its economic growth forecasts.
However, he reassured that any impact on the Greek budget would be insignificant since spending will not be raised as a percentage of GDP, while revenues will not fall.
Greek economic growth for the period 2008-2009 is revised to 3.6 pct, rising to 3.8 pct in 2010, while the inflation rate in the country was expected to rise to 3.5 pct this year, up from an earlier estimate of 2.9 pct, reflecting higher imported inflation pressures. Alogoskoufis said real average wages would be raised more than 4.0pct in the country.
Presenting the government's incomes policy for 2008, Alogoskoufis said public sector workers will receive a 4.5 pct pay increase, while pensioners a 5.0 pct pension increase this year. Payment will be made in two tranches, starting from Jan. 1, 2008 with the second tranche in October 2008.
The Greek minister said he expected the unemployment rate to fall to 7.5 pct of the workforce this year, although at a slower pace because of higher labour costs.
Commenting on developments with listed Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE), Alogoskoufis said the government was nearing an agreement to create a balanced management scheme, ensuring the future of the telecoms and telephony utility.
 Government forced to admit its forecasts were off, PASOK stressesEconomy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis had finally been forced to admit that his forecasts for the Greek economy were off, main opposition PASOK's new spokesman George Papaconstantinou stressed on Thursday. He was responding to the finance minister's announcement that the government was revising national economic forecasts to adjust for an emerging global economic slow down.
"He has been forced to admit, after a long time, that he was wrong in his forecasts: growth will be slower, inflation higher and unemployment greater," Papaconstantinou stressed.
The spokesman said the government had failed to live up to its pre-election promise to preserve the high growth rates of 2003, which had stood at 5 percent of GDP in the run up to the Athens Olympic Games.
"According to Mr. Alogoskoufis and most international organizations, growth rates in 2008 have dropped to 3.6 percent, while 2008 will be the first time in many years that GDP per capita, or the average income in the country, will fall," he added.
Papaconstantinou pointed to rising inflation, which this year hit 4.5 percent, and expressed surprise that the finance minister, in revising the size of GDP on Wednesday, insisted that the budget would be executed as planned.
The spokesman warned the government, meanwhile, not to attempt to plug gaps in the budget by once again increasing VAT.
PASOK's criticism of the minister also focused on the timing of his announcement and the fact that he had chosen to announce the incomes policy for the state sector so late, while essentially ignoring the national collective labour agreements signed just days before.
"Today we are seeing wage increases that are below those of the national collective labour agreement and inflation and which will lead to a reduction of real income for public-sector employees," Papaconstantinou said.
Earlier on Thursday, Alogoskoufis said that the Greek economy has a strong dynamism but was affected by international economic conditions and its prospects, adding that the government was revising its forecasts for Greek economic growth in line with other European countries but that the budget targets remained unchanged.
He pointed to rising oil prices and turbulent foreign exchange markets as the main causes, saying they would lead to revisions of all stability and growth programmes in the EU.
 KKE, Coalition on 2008 income policyThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE), referring in an announcement on Thursday to income policy in the public sector this year, termed the government's announcement on salary increases a "mockery".
"What the government announced as increases is a mockery. Its income policy is tailored to suit the measures decided by the European Union. It is moving in the same direction as the charity increase signed by the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) with the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB)," the announcement said.
"It is not at all by chance that the government chose a day after the NATO summit to announce an income policy of savage austerity and looting of salaries and pensions, at a time when official inflation and price increases even more so are galloping out of control," said Panayiotis Lafazanis, the Coalition of the Left and Movement's (Synaspismos) economic and social policy rapportuer and deputy of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).
 Greek tourism facing gloomy '08 outlook, trade group sayGreek tourism enterprises painted a gloomy picture over this year's coming tourist season after three consecutive years of steady growth.
Speaking to reporters, Stavros Andreadis, president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), said that "if Greece achieved last year's figures it will be a successful year," adding that it was difficult to maintain high growth rates after three years of steady growth.
Andreadis warned that Greece's tourism product was in danger of losing its "glamour", obtained by the successful organising of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, and urged for an urgent solution of structural problems undermining the sector.
He noted that main tourism activity indices were showing signs of fatigue, with lower tourist arrivals growth rates, even larger decline in foreign exchange revenues and lower per capita tourist spending in the country. Andreadis also said the share of Greek tourism's main markets (UK, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) has dropped by around 6.0 pct in the period from 2000 to 2006, while the country's penetration into new tourism markets was not sufficient to counterbalance the loss from main markets.
 Piraeus Bank says 2008 profits to be significantly higherPiraeus Bank Chairman Mihalis Sallas on Thursday expressed optimism over the course of the country's banking system and the Greek economy, in general, despite an international credit crisis.
Addressing the bank's general shareholders' meeting, Sallas said Piraeus Bank will become stronger this year, as it grew in a healthy and dynamic domestic banking and economic environment and predicted that 2008 profits would be significantly higher from 600 million euros in 2007.
Sallas said the Group's business plan for the period 2008-2010 was progressing smoothly and said that from a total of 17 financial institutions (nine international and eight Greek) that were monitoring the bank's share price, 16 recommended hold with an average target price of 29 euros.
The shareholders' meeting approved a board plan to pay a 0.72-euro per share dividend to shareholders, up 41 percent from last year. Dividend payment will be made in Monday May 26.
 Alpha Bank expects good Q1 resultsAlpha Bank on Thursday categorically denied that it was discussing changes in the domestic banking system (i.e. mergers and acquisitions).
Yiannis Kostopoulos, Alpha Bank's chairman, addressing a general shareholders' meeting, expressed his optimism over the bank's course, saying that Alpha Bank will continue growing with steady and cautious steps focused on ensuring shareholders' interests and offering satisfactory returns.
Commenting on the conditions prevailing in global economy from recent credit turmoil, Kostopoulos said it was now more imperative to promote structural reforms, particularly in the pensions system and to promote investments in the energy sector to offer a new boost to the Greek economy.
Kostopoulos said Alpha Bank's profitability in the first quarter of 2008 will be satisfactory and noted that there was no cause of concern over the servicing of debt by retail banking customers.
Demetrios Mantzounis, the bank's chief executive, said international credit turmoil has found Alpha Bank with strengthening liquidity, justifying its money management policies.
The general shareholders' meeting approved a board plan to pay a 0.90-euro per share dividend to shareholders, up 20 percent from the previous year. Dividend payments will begin on April 15.
 Eurobank event on int'l trade and transportTransport and Communications Minister Costas Hatzidakis on Thursday addressed an event organised by Eurobank EFG.
The event's theme was titled "Future Tendencies in International Trade".
The transport minister referred to Greece's effort to become a transit centre in the broader region of southeast Europe, as well as to the Transport and Communications Ministry's programmes and actions which aim at the upgrading of the country's infrastructures and the improvement of services offered to the citizens.
Eurobank managing director Nikolaos Nanopoulos, addressing the start of the event's sessions, spoke of the importance which international trade and transport have for the global and Greek economic growth. He referred to the continuing international credit crisis and to the dangers in the export and transport sector. He stressed that in the present economic circumstance, Eurobank's initiative is extremely timely.
 Åconomic sentiment index down in MarchGreek economic sentiment index fell to 98.9 in March, from 102.7 in February, negatively affected by international credit turmoil and remained below EU average levels, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Thursday.
In a monthly report, IOBE said the March figure was the lowest in the last two years, while it remained below the average rate in the period 2001-2007. Business expectations in the retail sector and services continued falling, while business expectations rose slightly in the manufacturing and construction sectors. However, consumer confidence remained negative.
Business expectations in the manufacturing sector showed an increase in production activity and inventories, while expectations over new orders fell in March.
In the services sector, business expectations fell, as in the retail sector. In the construction sector, business expectations remained negative, although employment showed some improvement.
Consumers' confidence fell further in March, to -39 points, from -34 in February. Greek consumers remained one of the most pessimistic in Europe, behind Hungarians (-49) and Portuguese (-43).
 Two injured, four arrested in shipyard workers' protestTwo people were lightly injured and four placed under arrest in scuffles that broke out during a protest by shipyard workers outside the Merchant Marine and Island Policy ministry on Thursday. The protestors were about 500 workers from the Perama shipyard zone that were protesting against the social insurance reforms recently passed by the government.
The workers clashed with police and coast guard officers, who used tear gas in efforts to disperse them but the arrests triggered further violence, during which shipyard workers knocked down protective railings surrounding the ministry and managed to get inside.
Finally, a delegation of workers met Merchant Marine Minister George Voulgarakis and outlined their demands, after which the four men detained were released and the shipyard workers departed peacefully.
 ELVO employees hold protestHellenic Vehicle Industry (ELVO) employees held a protest outside the finance ministry building in Athens on Thursday to demand a meeting with Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis.
Protesters expressed opposition to government policy, maintaining that it is downgrading the Thessaloniki-based industry.
 Greek Shipowners Union on pollutant emissionsBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni)
The Greek Shipowners Union (EEE) discussed the participation of merchant shipping in the international effort to curb pollutant emissions, during its directorate's visit to the European Commission's headquarters here on Thursday.
The directorate met with Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, Health Commissioner Androula Vassiliou, European Economic and Social Committee President Dimitris Dimitriadis and with EU officials.
Speaking during a press conference, EEE President Nikos Efthymiou said that there was a favourable attitude on the part of the European Commission and a positive handling of issues of interest to European commercial shipping, the most timely being the curbing of atmospheric pollutants by ships.
Efthymiou stressed that whatever measures are taken in this sector must be international and not only European, otherwise there shall be negative consequences for European merchant shipping in the face of its competitors in the Far East.
According to data provided by EEE, over 90 percent of international trade depends on merchant shipping. The number of merchant ships in the world does not exceed 44,000 ships.
 Consumer group promises to fight higher road tollsThe consumer group EKPIZO (Consumer Union - Quality of Life) on Thursday announced its intention to use all legal means at its disposal to oppose the new higher road tolls recently imposed for using Greek national highways.
The group stressed that it "provoked public opinion" to charge in advance for road works that were several years away from completion and for which there were no guarantees that they would ever be carried out, nor of their quality and usefulness.
"Additionally, it is not possible to ask consumers to pay another fee when the quality of the national [road] network is tragic, with hundreds of fatal road accidents every year," the group adds.
 Greek mutual funds' assets down 3.0 pct in MarchGreece's mutual funds market's assets eased to 21.32 billion euros in March, from 21.98 billion a month earlier, for a decline of 3.0 percent, reflecting a negative course in the Athens Stock Exchange over the same period, the Association of Institutional Investors said on Thursday.
The Association, in its monthly report, said all mutual funds' categories suffered losses, with the exception foreign money market funds which rose 0.4 pct, while the sector suffered capital outflows totaling 402 million euros in March. Domestic equity funds recorded an average return of -20.69 pct so far this year followed by foreign equity funds (-14.67 pct), domestic combined (-9.56 pct) and foreign combined (-8.67 pct). The average return of the category (-20.69 pct) was slightly better compared with a 23.03 pct decline in the composite index of the Athens Stock Exchange since the beginning of the year.
 Greek stocks end 1.49 pct lowerGreek stocks ended lower on Thursday, reversing a six-day rally in the Athens Stock Exchange. The composite index of the market fell 1.49 pct to end at 4,100.18 points with turnover a low 369.7 million euros, of which 43.5 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors ended lower, with Industrial Products (3.03 pct), Food/Beverage (2.89 pct), Technology (2.85 pct) and Personal/Home Products (2.69 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Utilities (3.48 pct), Oil (0.85 pct) and Raw Materials (0.15 pct) scored gains.
The Big Cap index fell 1.80 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 1.84 pct lower and the Small Cap index eased 0.51 pct.
Rainbow (10.10 pct), Mermern (10.0 pct) and Praxitelio (9.88 pct) were top gainers, while Diekat (19.3 pct), Maxim (13.33 pct) and Tria Alpha (10.08 pct) were top losers. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 177 to 72 with another 42 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.85%
Personal & Household: -2.69%
Raw Materials: +0.15%
Travel & Leisure: -1.42%
Food & Beverages: -2.89%
Financial Services: -1.79%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, Alpha Bank and Marfin Popular Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 21.70
Public Power Corp (PPC): 27.30
HBC Coca Cola: 30.02
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.52
National Bank of Greece: 35.94
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 20.00
Bank of Cyprus: 8.38
Hellenic Post Bank: 11.30
Piraeus Bank: 20.14
Titan Cement Company: 28.00
Marfin Popular Bank: 5.50
Marfin Investment Group (MIG): 4.92%
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices ended with a discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover shrinking to 148.798 million euros. The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a disoucnt of 2.42 pct, while the April contract on the FTSE 40 index at a discount of 0.55 pct.
Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 11,809 contracts worth 124.268 million euros, with 28,933 open positions in the market, while on the Mid Cap index volume was 150 contracts worth 3.734 million euros with 272 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 11,395 contracts worth 15.674 million euros, with investment interest focusing on OTE's contracts (2,135), followed by Marfin Investment Group (819), National Bank (1,032), Alpha Bank (619), Intracom (516), Marfin Popular Bank (1,724), Mytilineos (655) and Hellenic Postbank (976).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market shrank 970 million euros on Thursday, of which 390 million euros were buy orders and the remaining 580 million were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2017) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 435 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds rose to 0.49 pct, with the Greek bond yielding 4.48 pct and the German Bund 3.99 pct.
In the domestic interbank market, interest rates were mixed. National Bank's overnight rate was 4.07 pct, the two-day rate was 4.07 pct, the one-month rate 4.37 pct and the 12-month rate 4.76 pct.
 Parliament President in NY for Greek ParadeNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)
Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas arrives in New York on Thursday evening (NY time) heading a large parliamentary delegation to attend the annual Greek-American community celebrations marking the March 25 Independence Day anniversary.
Sioufas will be the Grand Marshal in the Greek Parade, to take place Sunday on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with the participation of 90 Greek-American community organizations, a total of 50 floats and 20 philharmonic bands.
The Evzones of the Greek Presidential Guard will also march in the parade, which will be attended by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, US Congressmen, municipal, state and federal authorities.
Sioufas and the members of the Greek delegation, among them parliament members who participated in the Greek parades in Philadelphia and Chicago last Sunday, will meet Friday with Archbishop Demetrios of America and visit the St Demetrius Greek-American School in Astoria, NY. They will also visit the Minoan Civilization exhibition at the "Alexandros Onassis" Public Benefit Foundation's Cultural Centre in New York.
On Saturday, the delegation will meet with AHEPA and World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) members and attend the Cyprus Federation of America convention.
Sioufas will visit the New York University Chair in Democracy on Monday, while the Greek Parliament delegation will visit the Hellenic Classical Charter School and the Three Hierarchs parish school in Brooklyn, NY.
The Greek delegation is scheduled to attend all Greek-American Community events organized for Friday and over the weekend on the occasion of the Greek national anniversary.
This year's festivities, the Greek Parade included, are organized by the Hellenic Societies of Greater New York association, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
 Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos visits ImvrosISTANBUL (ANA-MPA/A. Kourkoulas)
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos paid a two-day visit to the island of Imvros, his birthplace.
He expressed the "hopes and optimism over the fate of the pained and the unfairly treated island."
"And this time that I am at Imvros, as is the case in every visit of mine, in every one of my returns to the homeland, I feel that I am being rejuvenated, that I am taking strength so as to continue my difficult duties," Vartholomeos said during a reception, directing himself to clerics, officials and inhabitants of the island, in the presence of the metropolitan of Imvros and Tenedos and of the General Consul of Greece in Istanbul, Alexis Alexandris.
 US wildfire expert team in GreeceThe US embassy in Athens on Thursday announced that another team of US Forest Service experts, the third since last summer's devastating wildfires in southern Greece, visited the country this week to establish a framework for cooperation for the coming two years.
"The United States stands firmly behind Greece's long-term recovery effort," said US ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard.
The four-member US Forest Service team discussed additional opportunities for cooperation in fire fighting and fire prevention activities with a wide range of Greek experts, according to a press release issued by the embassy.
This is the third US team of experts to come to Greece, and it is part of an ongoing, larger US effort to assist Greece both in its recovery from last year's fires and in addressing the threat of wildfires in the future. Following the declaration of a state of emergency in Greece late last August, USAID offered US$700,000 in emergency funds and commodities to the Hellenic Red Cross and $1.2 million in protective gear for firefighters and technical assistance to the Greek government, resulting in a total of US$1.9 million in US government aid, the embassy announced.
 Munich aid to OlympiaThe Municipality of Munich has offered 150,000 euros for the reforestation of the Kronios Hill and the protection of the archaelogical site of Ancient Olympia.
The German ambassador in Greece Wolfgang Schultheiss handed over a check to Culture Minister Michalis Liapis at the ministry office, with the latter asking the ambassador to convey Greece's appreciation to Munich.
According to a German embassy announcement, Munich, which hosted the 1972 Olympic Games, feels particularly attached to Ancient Olympia, and furthermore, the Munich mayor Christian Ude has long-standing ties to Greece, being pronounced an honorary citizen of the Cyclades island of Mykonos in 2001.
 Ignacio Ramonet address in AthensThe former director of Paris-based 'Monde diplomatique', journalist and writer Ignacio Ramonet, on Thursday expressed his concerns for the period until general elections in the United States in November, citing the possibility of a military strike against Iran and even worries over Barack Obama's safety, during an address at the Athens Megaron concert hall.
Referring to NATO expansion, Ramonet said he believes NATO should have disbanded after the Soviet Union's collapse, while asking what its mission is in Afghanistan. "NATO is a North Atlantic alliance and its presence in Afghanistan leads Muslims to think that it represents a modern form of Crusaders".
Ramonet also offered his opinion that the world's biggest hope comes from political and social developments in South America. He also pointed to poverty as a geopolitical threat.
 Anti-racist rally in ThessalonikiA rally against racism will be held in Thessaloniki on April 5 within the framework of a national action day on the rights of migrants and refugees held in Greece.
Similar rallies will be held in Athens and other cities.
 Tanker runs aground, no fuel leakage reportedA Greek-flag tanker ran aground on Thursday in the Thermaikos Gulf, but no injuries were reported among the crew members.
According to the Thessaloniki Harbor Authority, the tanker "Asfaltar" had set sail for the port of Larnaka in Cyprus, carrying oil, but ran aground on a shoal, under circumstances as yet undetermined, in the sea region Paliomana, off the Thermaikos Gulf.
Harbor Authority vessels rushed to the vessels assistance, and an operation was underway to dislodge the tanker.
No fuel leakage was reported.
 Juvenile arrested in large drug haulA 16-year-old Romanian was arrested on the Aegean island of Lesvos by coast guard officers on Thursday after they found 10.210 kilos of hashish stowed in his luggage after he disembarked from a ferry boat plying a domestic route.
The boy's suspicious behavior as he got off the ferry-boat "Theophilos" attracted the officers' attention and prompted them to search him, while the drugs were found with the assistance of a specially trained dog.
The 16-year-old said that it was the first time that he had visited the island and that the sole purpose of his visit was to deliver the suitcase containing the drugs and return to Piraeus, where he is permanently resident.
The coast guard announced the start of an investigation to find the rest of the ring that would pick up the drugs, while the 16-year-old was led before a public prosecutor and is expected to be referred to an examining magistrate.
 Cloud, rain on FridayCloudy and rainy weather with westerly, southwesterly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 5-6 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 6C and 18C. Cloudy with the possibility of rain in the afternoon in Athens, with southwesterly 4-5 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 7C to 18C. Rain in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 8C to 16C.
 Ledra Street crossing point closedNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cyprus government decided Thursday evening to close the newly opened Ledra Street crossing point due to a breach of the agreement regarding the opening of Ledra by the Turkish occupation regime.
In statements to CNA Minister of Justice and Public Order Kypros Chrysostomides said that the crossing point closed "due to the violation of what was agreed by the occupation authorities".
The closing occurred just 11 hours after Ledra Street was opened earlier Thursday morning.
The newly opened crossing point closed because a number of uniformed Turkish Cypriot so-called policemen were seen in the buffer zone, in violation of the agreement reached between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities.
The minister added that the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has been informed about the development and said that the government of Cyprus awaits for their reaction.
"My opinion is that the UN believe there has been a violation of the agreement. We insist that the Turkish Cypriot side abides by the agreement reached between the two leaders", he added.
The minister said that the crossing point will remain closed "until there are new decisions".
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou said that the instructions regarding a violation of the agreement say that the crossing point will have to close.
"Unfortunately the Turkish Cypriot side has violated the provisions regarding the opening of Ledra and the crossing point had to close until the agreement is restored", he added.
The spokesman said that all necessary representations have been made to the UN and concluded by saying that the government of Cyprus awaits for the reaction of the Turkish Cypriot side.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third.
 Christofias: Opening of Ledra street a positive developmentLARNACA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias described, Thursday afternoon and before the crossing point closes, the opening of Ledra street as a positive development in efforts to reach a Cyprus settlement, adding that the government will now promote demanding along the ceasefire line in Nicosia and the opening of a crossing point at Limnitis, on the north west.
He also said that the priority in the coming days will be the start of working groups and technical committees, which will deal with day to day issues as well as substantive aspects of the Cyprus question.
In statements before his departure for London to attend a round table discussion hosted by the British Prime Minister for leaders of left-centre parties, Christofias said the opening of a crossing point to and from the island's northern Turkish occupied areas, at Ledra street, in the heart of the capital, "is a positive development in our effort to pave the way towards a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus."
He said that efforts to open this crossing point had been going on for some years now, there were some problems which have been overcome and the crossing point opened his morning based on an agreement reached between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides.
The president said that difficulties may arise again but "we are determined to address them and I hope and wish that the things that have been agreed will be followed."
He noted that right now the focus must be on the positive elements, such as the opening of Ledra street. Credit must be given to the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mehmet Ali Talat for Thursday's development, which the international community has described as "historic", he added.
"We are reserved. We believe this is an important development in our effort and it affects Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. We are talking about the heart of Nicosia and we appreciate that the next step will be demanning across the old city of Nicosia as well as the opening of crossing point at Limnitis," he said.
Asked whether the opening of Ledra street is the first step for the opening of other crossing points, Christofias said that "this is how we see it" and added that during his meeting with Talat on March 21 "we both tackled it in this way."
Responding to questions, he said "our priority in the coming days is to see the working groups and the technical committees begin their work."
He also said that he may have a meeting with Talat before any results emerge from the work of the committees.
Christofias, who returns to Cyprus on Sunday, will address a special gathering of Cypriots living in the UK on Saturday night.
 Ledra Street opensNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Ledra Street, which was the main shopping street of the capital Nicosia, has opened on Thursday at 0900 local time (0600 GMT), for the first time in nearly 45 years, signaling a renewed momentum in efforts to bring about a settlement to the Cyprus problem.
At 0900 local time, representatives from both communities cut a ribbon in Kykkou street a road between Ledras and what it known as Locmatzi point in the Turkish occupied part of Nicosia, releasing balloons into the sky, indicating the opening of the street closed since 1963.
Addressing the ceremony, Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou said this day is "an auspicious occasion" as it signals the opening of the fifth crossing point in Cyprus.
''We want to be auspicious because we aspire in the elimination of the crossings and the opening of all roads in this country for all its citizens with no obstructions as consequence of its reunification'', he added.
''Already we have started negotiations, we are establishing working groups and technical committees to look at all aspects of the problem and we will try our best to reach an agreement for the settlement of the longstanding Cyprus problem as soon as possible'', he added.
Iacovou recalled that the opening of Ledras was not a "bed of roses". ''In fact I could say it has been a difficult road to reach a happy celebratory occasion", noting the obstacles have been overcome and "I hope we will overcome all the difficulties that we face in the process to find a solution to the problem of Cyprus that will lead to the reunification of the country and its people,'' he concluded.
Ozdil Nami, aide to the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, on his part said the opening of Ledra Street is a historic event.
''We are witnessing the overcoming of one of the obstacles for the reunification of the island. Almost half a century of division has been symbolised here,'' he added, noting that Thursday's ceremony ''is symbolic in the fact that we are now in a new era, a new process has started, it started in a very positive mood.''
In Nami's words, ''we are now at a new age, new understanding, we have to make good use of it. Let us not forget it is important for us, not G/c and T/c only, but the world is also watching us and watching closely how we are going to manage our conflict.''
The so-called mayor of the Turkish occupied part of Nicosia, Cemal Bolutoglulari, referred to the hard work by all in achieving the opening of Ledra Street, adding that he and Eleni Mavrou, Mayor of Nicosia in the government controlled areas of the Republic, worked for the opening of this symbolic crossing point "without politicians".
''All this time Eleni and I worked together and today locmatzi is opening,'' he added.
In her address, Mavrou said that the opening of Ledra Street ''generates a renewed sense of hope for both communities in the island that progress towards a comprehensive settlement that has been elusive for far too long has been achieved.''
Interim Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Elizabeth Spehar, described Thursday's ceremony as historic because it constitutes ''tangible evidence that what has appeared impossible for decades is in fact attainable.''
She also said that this day is ''historic in its symbolism, as the barriers that came to embody the division of this beautiful island finally give way to let all the people of Nicosia come together in the heart of the city.''
''We all know that the opening of Ledra Street does not mean the Cyprus problem has been solved. That will require much more work among Cypriots as well as support from all those who wish to see a just and durable settlement in this country. But the opening does give us a glimpse of what is possible when those elements come together,'' she added.
According to Spehar, ''there is a new environment in Cyprus, one that has raised many hopes and expectations here and around the world. We in the United Nations will do our utmost to help as the Cypriots proceed to shape the future of their country. I sincerely hope that today's historic event will be only one of many markers of progress on that road.''
The opening of Ledra Street was agreed by Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat during their meeting on March 21. The two leaders also 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 and to meet in three months time 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.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
Spokesman: Ledra street opening shows potential for a settlement
The opening of a crossing point to and from the island's northern Turkish occupied areas, at the heart of the capital, sends an optimistic message, the government has said.
Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanos said the opening of Ledra street, blocked for decades, shows that the two communities in Cyprus can and must work together to achieve a political settlement that will end the de facto partition, reunify the country and vindicate its people, he said, hours after Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots began walking across the divide, through the opening.
"The government welcomes the opening of Ledra street, which has been achieved after moves and initiatives we have undertaken without much fanfare, with insistence and patience," he said.
The spokesman stressed however that the opening of Ledra street and generally opening of crossing points along the cease fire line "does not constitute the settlement of the Cyprus problem."
He said "the road is long and difficult before the people are vindicated and a lot of hard work will be needed".
"Vindication for us is equivalent with the end of the Turkish occupation and the reunification of Cyprus, in the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation," he said.
"The objective is to achieve a settlement which will be just, viable, functional and mutually acceptable by both communities," Stephanou said and expressed the hope and the expectation of the Government that there will be a constructive spirit in the dialogue that will begin between the two communities at the level of the working groups and the technical committees which will discuss day to day concerns and substantive issues.
Stephanou also expressed hope that Turkey will contribute positively to this new effort.
"We hope that we shall have results out of this fresh effort on the basis of which the leaders of the two communities will start negotiations on the substance of the Cyprus question that will lead to a solution," he told his daily press briefing.
Asked about the opening of other crossing points, the spokesman recalled that the 21st March agreement between Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat provided for the continuation of the dialogue as regards the opening of more crossing points "with Limnitis crossing points, on the west, being a priority."
"This is an area where the opening of a crossing point will serve both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots," he concluded.
House President warns against wrong impressions on Ledra
President of the House of Representatives Marios Karoyian has expressed satisfaction with the opening of the Ledra street crossing point but warned against any wrong impressions which could be given to the international community.
He pointed out that Turkish troops continue to occupy part of Cyprus and violate human rights since 1974. The Ledra crossing point, in the heart of the capital, is to facilitate movemen to and from the island's northern Turkish occupied areas.
"We express our satisfaction with the opening of Ledra street, in Nicosia, and hope for the opening of more crossing points, like the one in Limnitis, on the west. However, we are concerned because we do not want to give out false impressions to the international community", he said.
The House President described the opening of Ledra as a positive step but pointed out that the consequences of the Turkish invasion and occupation are still present on the island.
He said that President of the Republic Demetris Christofias continues to outline the government positions and the preconditions that would allow engagement in a process to implement a UN-brokered agreement in July 2006, which provides for discussions at working groups and technical committees to achieve progress towards substantive negotiations.
Progress, he said, "depends on the stance of the Turkish side which has so far given no sign of such a political will".
Karoyian said he did not endorse celebrations held Thursday on location to mark the opening of the crossing point at one of Nicosia's main commercial streets, Ledra.
"We do not agree with celebrations as the ones we witnessed today. The Turkish occupation continues, the reasons which prevent the reunification of our country and our people continue. The Turkish occupation troops remain on the island, fundamental human rights are being violated, settlers continue to come illegally to the island and the consequences of the Turkish occupation are still there", he stressed.
Karoyian pointed out that progress is needed on these issues and towards achieving a functional and viable solution.
"Turkey's stance will be judged based on those factors and the international community is expected to exert effective pressure on Turkey to make her change its position and thus fully abide by the international law, the EU obligations and the European acquis communautaire," he added.
Invited to comment on the fact that some hours before the opening of Ledra, so-called policemen of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime entered the UN area, the House President noted:
"We have had our concerns whether Turkey would abide by the agreements reached. The UN has assured us that the other side would stick to what was agreed. I am sure that the Cypriot government has made the necessary representations which in turn led to the opening of Ledra", he concluded.
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