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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 08-06-19
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 19 June 2008 Issue No: 2922
 Parliament ratifies OTE and Deutsche Telekom agreementThe Greek Parliament ratified in the early hours of Thursday a strategic alliance agreement between the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and Deutsche Telekom. 151 deputies of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party voted for the ratification, while 144 deputies of the oppostion parties voted against. 295 deputies, out of the 300-member House, participated in the vote.
 Govt, opposition clash in Parliament over OTE dealThe government and main opposition political parties clashed in Parliament on Wednesday during a parliament debate for the ratification of the agreement.
He underlined that the agreement was to the benefit of both the organization, consumers, minority shareholders and the Greek economy in general, while he accused the main opposition of pretending to react since it was too searching for a strategic investor when it was in government.
PASOK party deputy Evangelos Venizelos accused the government of adopting a "dark, long-term and illegal practice, proof of the legal and political responsibility of the government".
ND deputy Giannis Manolis said he would vote in favour of the contract although he stressed he would oppose any decision to cut the state's equity stake in OTE below 25 percent.
Communist party deputy Giannis Mavrikos and SYRIZA party's deputy Panagiotis Lafazanis, both expressed their parties strong opposition to the agreement.
Opposition leaders on OTE-DT agreement
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Wednesday evening termed a strategic alliance agreement between the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and Deutsche Telekom "a colonialist agreement" while addressing a Parliament debate for its ratification and referred to "political and legal responsibilities" of the government. He also announced his party's intention to table a proposal for the setting up of an Investigating Commission.
On their part Communist Party of Greece (KKE) rapporteur Spyros Halvatzis, Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alekos Alavanos and Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) party leader George Karatzaferis referred to "a selling out of an organisation of strategic importance for the country."
Defending the government's policy, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis charged that the main opposition PASOK party "in front of its impasses it resorts to pure negation and a rhetoric of nihilism, denouncing at the same time its own recent government past."
 Prime Minister briefed by FM Bakoyannis on Cyprus tripPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis was briefed by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday at the Maximos Mansion, on her recent visit to Cyprus and talks with the political leadership.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, the foreign minister said that she informed the prime minister on her trip to Cyprus and the discussions she had with the political authorities. Bakoyannis stressed that an in-depth discussion was held on the preparations for the "important" European Union Summit which begins on Thursday in Brussels.
Bakoyannis outlined that the Summit discussions will deal with economic issues and the problems faced by all the European societies, as well as European political issues following the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland.
 FM covers entire spectrum of Greek foreign policy, comments on Irish 'no'Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Wednesday covered the gamut of Athens' foreign policy issues, with particular weight given to the fluid situation regarding the EU's Lisbon Treaty following a recent Irish "no" in a relevant referendum, days after Greece's Parliament ratified the treaty.
Referring directly to the Irish "no" vote, Bakoyannis said it "undoubtedly creates concern ... I would add, in fact, that it justifies certain feelings of uncertainty as to what exactly the future holds for the course and efforts to build a democratic, effective, and by extension, strong Europe. It does not justify, however, a lack of political volition and determination ...Our goal should be to not let the European Union slide back into an unproductive self-examination; an introverted inertia."
Turning to Greece's immediate neighbourhood in SE Europe and the Balkans, Bakoyannis said the Kosovo issue looms as particularly significant, given the new situation created by its unilateral declaration of independence, "and regardless of the fact that the independence has been recognised by a majority of our partners and allies in the EU and NATO".
Moreover, she said Greece had not received a request from Kosovo for the establishment of a "liaison office" in Athens, adding that if such a request is made, "in the spirit of reciprocity, we would not have a problem with accepting this (request)". She also reminded that a Greek liaison office has operated for many years in Pristina, and will continue to do so in its current status.
"For it to be upgraded to embassy level, a prior recognition is necessary, something that has not occurred," Bakoyannis said.
She also reiterated Greece's standing position that Serbia's Euro-Atlantic course is also supremely important for the wider region.
FYROM 'name issue'
Regarding the tenuous situation in the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) following recent snap elections there, the Greek FM expressed concerns over the incidents that marred the first round of elections in the former Yugoslav republic -- primarily in the predominately Albanian districts.
"We are now awaiting the formation of a stable and effective government (in Skopje) that will abandon its often-times extreme nationalist rhetoric. We will continue to strive for the achievement of a mutually acceptable solution to the 'name issue', to the benefit of bilateral relations, regional stability and cooperation, and towards the benefit of the neighbouring country's European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations."
As per Turkey, she said it is obvious that Turkey's European prospects require a "new breath, which only Turkey itself can provide through substantive decisions for continuation of its reform effort".
Speaking at the same press conference, Bakoyannis said, in a reference to the Cyprus issue, that "we are once again at a decisive turning point", while citing the "more generalised messages and good atmosphere that characterises contacts between the two communities, which justify some optimism".
She added, however, that "the road to a solution; to a fair, viable and functional solution on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, will not be strewn with roses".
"It is up to Cypriot President Demetris Christofias to decide whether there will be negotiations between him and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat," Bakoyannis added, responding to a relevant question. She also rejected any notions of a link between a UN Resolution on renewal of UNFICYP's mandate and the rejected Annan Plan, stressing that this is confirmed by the fact that the Greek Cypriot side has already expressed satisfaction.
"Reciprocity" with Turkey
Responding to a question on whether Athens and Ankara are discussing the Muslim minority in Thrace on the basis of reciprocity, she stressed that "reciprocity in terms of respecting and implementing policies that protect human rights is an inconceivable notion in our time, in the sense that it is democratic states' duty to respect these rights and implement relative policies.
"Greece is doing just this as far as the Muslim minority in Thrace is concerned. It implements a policy of equality before the law while respecting the principles and provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne," she said, adding: "On its part, Turkey, not on the basis of a rationale of reciprocity, has to do the same for an additional and very important reason: as a candidate for EU membership it has undertaken the obligation to meet certain principles, criteria and prerequisites, among the most important of which is respect of religious freedom, the protection of minorities and the respect of their rights," Bakoyannis stressed.
"Within this framework Greece, as an EU member and due to its expressed special interest, raises issues that concern the operation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Theological School of Halki, the ethnic Greeks in Istanbul, their property rights and the islands of Imvros and Tenedos. Those issues are being raised by our side as a very important parameter of a wider discussion on Turkey's European prospect and not strictly as bilateral issues. This is the framework and the basis on which we deal with Muslim minority issues, when raised by Turkey in accordance with our known policy," Bakoyannis noted.
Regarding a proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for creating a Mediterranean Union, Bakoyannis said Athens was favourable to the initiative.
She said that the Greek foreign ministry was working with France and its Arab partners in order to undertake specific initiatives and actions that would strengthen cooperation between Mediterranean countries and anyone else wishing to participate in this effort.
"Essentially, we are focusing all our efforts on specific projects, through which we can achieve North-South cooperation that will benefit us all. The first issue that, of course, requires closer cooperation by all is illegal migration," Bakoyannis said.
Relations with Washington
In another sector, she stressed that Greece and the United States continued to enjoy good relations of alliance based on the historic friendship between the Greek and American peoples, when asked to comment on the aftermath of the NATO Summit in Bucharest.
"At this moment there is multiple-level activity in the political, economic, alliance and other areas. There are also issues over which Greece and the United States have different positions. One of these issues is that of Skopje," Bakoyannis said in response to questions regarding the current climate in bilateral relations between the two countries.
"We had previously expressed our strong displeasure over the US decision to recognise the (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) with its constitutional name. This is a different position that we support," Bakoyannis underlined.
Regarding her upcoming meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Vienna next Tuesday, she said they would discuss all issues of mutual interests openly, honestly and in an "undoubtedly friendly atmosphere".
During the Allied summit in Bucharest in April, Greece ignored US support of FYROM's bid to join NATO and blocked an invitation by the Alliance leading to membership, on the grounds that FYROM failed to meet criteria of good neighbour relations because of its intransigent attitude in negotiations with Greece to resolve the "name dispute".
In reference to a recently signed deal for Greek participation in the Russian-backed South Stream natgas pipeline project, Bakoyannis emphasised that Greece considers its role as an energy hub as important, while strictly adhering to European Commission policy.
Turning to the Middle East, Bakoyannis said that "despite some timid signs of improvement, the political and diplomatic pendulum continues, unfortunately, to swing between suspicion and tension".
Finally, she unveiled details of the foreign ministry's draft law concerning its translation service, which she said needed to be upgraded due to the significant increase in the number of languages requiring translation, the doubling of petitions and the immense volume of work following EU enlargement.
She explained that the draft law was based on a study of what was in force in other EU countries and the UN.
 Bakoyannis on relations with FYROM, name issue talksFinding a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute over the name issue was the sole object of the negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis stressed on Wednesday during a press conference. She had been asked to comment on statements by FYROM officials that Greece must first "accept the existence of a Macedonian ethnicity and language" before a solution to the name issue could be found.
"We have repeatedly stated that this negotiation has one and only object. We will not get dragged into a discussion that might finally lead to a derailment of the negotiating effort from its object," Bakoyannis stressed.
The minister indicated that Greece was satisfied with the text of conclusions agreed with EU foreign ministers with regard to FYROM and its prospects of joining the EU.
"The discussion at the General Affairs Council was intense, the final text satisfactory, while the processing and discussion for the text of the European Council's conclusions is continuing at this time. In Greece's view, this must be a text whose messages are clear," she said.
Commenting on the elections held in FYROM, meanwhile, Bakoyannis noted incidents of violence that led to flagrant irregularities in the election process and said that the process appeared to have ended with the repeat elections.
"At the same time, however, I do not think that anyone can overlook the fact of a very specific result, in which the VMRO and its head emerged as the strongest factor in FYROM's political life," she added.
"We look to the formation of a stable government, which will be in a position to ensure a smooth course and the cohesion of this multi-national neighbouring country, far from extreme, nationalist rhetorics that can only cause problems," Bakoyannis noted.
The minister said that Greece, as in the past, would act like a responsible neighbour that believes in the need of a stable FYROM and sincerely hoped that the neighbouring country would take those steps necessary to ensure its European and Euro-Atlantic prospects, stressing that a fundamental element of these prospects were an active respect for the principles of good neighbour relations.
"In this framework, a mutually accepted solution is a condition for us and we will work in this direction," Bakoyannis underlined.
 PM to depart for EU summit on ThursdayPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis is scheduled to depart for Brussels on Thursday in order to take part in the European Council meeting, alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros announced.
Karamanlis will attend the European People's Party (EPP) summit, then the European Council meeting at 17:00, followed by the European leaders' working dinner.
On Friday morning at 9:45, Karamanlis will meet Belgium's prime minister Yves Leterme and will then take part in the second summit meeting. After this he will make statements and then return to Greece.
 PASOK spokesman on current issuesMain opposition PASOK party spokesman George Papaconstantinou, referring on Wednesday to the government's rejection of the opposition's proposal for the holding of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, said that "a great opportunity was lost on Tuesday for a serious dialogue on the European Union to take place."
Focusing on issues concerning the Greek economy, the spokesman said that "today is a great day for the Greek economy with the recreation of the Market Inspection Service. However, nobody is aware what this service will be, because it took so long for the government to make a similar move by creating a Body, without duties to check cartels and oligopolic practices."
As regards the Brussels EU summit and the participation of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, PASOK's spokesman claimed that Karamanlis will attempt to mislead Greeek citizens on two issues:
"That it was he who included the issue of high prices in the agenda with his letter to (EU Commission President Jose Manuel) Barroso, when it is known that the issue had already been entered in the agenda and, secondly, that the problem of the economy is due to imported inflation."
Lastly, referring to PASOK leader George Papandreou's interview with a private television channel on Tuesday, and on whether the issue of PASOK's leadership closed on November 11 last year, when Papandreou won party leadership elections, Papaconstantinou said that "as of November 11, 2007, PASOK's great effort is focusing on the problems of the citizen. Whatever distracts attention from this, does not help the Party."
 Athens Archbishop holds talks with PASOK officialArchbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos met on Wednesday with the main opposition PASOK party's political representative for employment and social protection issues, Evi Christofilopoulou, and discussed with her issues which, as the Archbishop himself said later, have an impact "on the quality of social life, problems that we face on a daily basis, issues for which we can make plans and programmes to enable man to live better, particularly the man who has problems and difficulties."
In another development, the Non-Governmental Church Organisation "Allilengii" (Solidarity) proposed to the family of the tragic children from the city of Orestiada, who were found dead last week, to offer hospitality to their brothers "so that they can become part of society, to go to school and to attend studies."
According to a relevant announcement, food, clothes and toys will be sent to the family's other children, that are living under miserable conditions, while a delegation of the Organisation, composed of a psychologist and a social worker, will visit the home where the tragedy took place to offer support to the rest of the family's members.
 Communist Party leader meets Archbishop IeronymosCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday paid a visit to Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos, the first since the archbishop was elected to head the Orthodox Church of Greece.
After the meeting, Papariga said that she listened to the Archbishop's views and expressed her party's positions on certain issues and on the problems faced by particular groups of Greeks that were over and above those faced by the great majority.
Among these she listed children with special needs, the elderly on low incomes and people that were alone and also coping with chronic ailments requiring substantial assistance and care.
 SYRIZA Parliamentary Group convenesThe Parliamentary Group of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) and a delegation of the party's Coordinating Secretariat stressed their satisfaction over the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish people, in an announcement they issued following their joint session on Wednesday.
The announcement said that "SYRIZA hails the Irish no to the European Treaty, as being an important milestone in the struggle against the policies of neo-liberalism, racism and militarism," adding that SYRIZA "reiterates its steadfast position on the rejection of the European Treaty and the unanimous demand for a Referendum that will also give working people in our country the opportunity to unite their voice with the Irish no."
It further stressed that the importance of a united expression by the Parliamentary Group on major political issues was underlined during the discussion, to facilitate the effectiveness of the struggle and in this direction the creation of an Operation Regulation in the near future was agreed.
 European Parliament on immigrationPARIS (ANA-MPA/O. Tsipira)
Addressing the European Parliament plenum on Wednesday during the discussion on the "directive-return", the head of the ruling New Democracy party's Eurodeputies, Ioannis Varvitsiotis, underlined the character of the immigration problem all over Europe.
Varvitsiotis said that out of the 112,000 illegal immigrants that Greece received last year, most of them had other European countries as their destination "which means that the problem of immigration is a European one, meaning that it concerns all of us and all of us must confront it together."
The head of the main opposition PASOK party's Eurodeputies, Stavros Lambrinidis, said that there are certain principles in Europe that should be "non-negotiable."
Lambrinidis said that in Europe "in no way can a person be jailed for 18 months and indeed when he himself is not to blame, but because authorities of the country that he comes from refuse to cooperate in his deportation process. This should be a non-negotiable principle."
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Eurodeputy Thanasis Pafilis said in his intervention that the directive reveals "in a cynical way, the real inhuman character of the European Union and of its policy."
Referring to the detention period, he stressed that "it is being enacted that impoverished immigrants should be detained for 18 months, even underaged children in concentration camps with living conditions that are a disgrace for human civilisation," while adding that with the new measures what will be increasing will be "the turnover of immigrant smugglers and of gangs because the tougher the measures get the more the prices increase."
 Public works minister delivers another section of Egnatia MotorwayThe drive between the cities of Ioannina, northwestern Greece and Thessaloniki has become 20 minutes shorter after Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias opened another section of the Egnatia Motorway to traffic on Wednesday, between the Ioannina overpass and the Arachthos bridge that has a length of 20 kilometres.
This section includes Greece's biggest tunnel at Driskos, 6.5 kilometres long, the Katouna bridge and the Pamvotitha tolls, while it will also be functioning as a bypass from Ioannina to the region of Anatoli.
The cost of buildig the Ioannina highway as far as the Arachthos bridge has amounted to 251 million euros, including VAT.
The Egnatia Motorway in Ipiros has a total length of 123 kilometres. A total length of 96 kilometres has been opened to traffic, while the rest is under construction.
Souflias said in a statement that about 30 percent of the Egnatia Motorway in Ipiros is composed of major technical projects, with 32 twin tunnels covering a motorway length of 30 kilometres, as well as 7.5 kilometres in double bridges.
 Public works minister on Egnatia Motorway workEnvironment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias said on Wednesday that construction work on the part of the Egnatia Motorway passing through the prefecture of Trikala, in central Greece, will have been completed by February, 2009, at the latest. Souflias made his statement en route to the prefecture of Grevena.
Souflias did not rule out the possibility of the work even being completed by the end of 2008, but added that incalculable factors always exist in such major projects.
Referring to the operation of a quarry in the same region and to the local inhabitants' reactions, Souflias said that the local societies must help in the supply of materials close to where the projects are taking place, adding that "we respect the environment" and that "we are taking measures for both the environment and development."
 Greek Transport Minister discusses bilateral issues in South KoreaGreek Transport and Communications Minister Costis Hatzidakis participated in an OECD ministerial conference on "The future of Internet Economy", held in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The ministers from the 30 member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development signed a declaration aiming to promote the technological convergence of digital networks and application-services related with the Internet, encouraging innovation in the development and use of the Internet, strengthening security in the Internet and intensifying efforts to reduce a digital gap between member-states.
The Greek minister, on the sidelines of the conference, met with South Korea's Transport Minister Chung Yong Van and the President of the Communications Commission and agreed to examining the possibility of Korean investments to Greece in the sectors of transportation and communications.
Hatzidakis also met with the President of Korean Air and discussed the issue of launching direct flights between Athens and Seoul.
 PASOK suggests relief measures for farmersMain opposition PASOK party presented a package of relief measures for the farm sector in a press conference on Wednesday.
The immediate return of the special consumption tax on petrol, payment of subsidies to farmers, adoption of measures aimed at cutting farm production cost, activation of control mechanisms against cartel impunity and implementation of specified policies on foodstuffs were among the measures suggested by PASOK.
The party's rural development officer Vasilis Exarchos stressed that the agricultural sector is experiencing one of the biggest crises in its history, which was characterized by limited investments, high production costs, shrinking numbers of farmers and a big deficit in the farm products' trade balance.
Exarchos criticized the government for major delays in the implementation of the agricultural development programme, accusing it of lacking specific planning when dealing with farm sector problems.
 Hellenic-American Economic and Trade Cooperation CommitteeWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T. Ellis)
The fifth session of the Hellenic-American Economic and Trade Cooperation Committee will take place here on Thursday. The issues to be discussed primarily concern two axes: strengthening bilateral economic and trade cooperation and promoting investments, as well as promoting joint activities in the sector of development cooperation.
Two business events will also be taking place in cooperation with the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce, with the aim of highlighting business opportunities in Greece.
 Hellenic Banking - Investment Ombudsman exclusive interviewThe majority of complaints made by the public as regards banking transactions, namely 80 percent of them, concern credit cards and loans, according to Hellenic Banking - Investment Ombudsman Antonios Foskolos in an exclusive interview with the ANA-MPA televised bulletin.
The number of complaints in the first five months of 2008 marked an increase of 10 percent compared to the same period last year, he underlined. Topping the list are complaints on the behaviour of the debt collector companies, Foskolos said, pointing out that the establishment of an institutionally backed ethics code on behalf of the banks and the strict observation of its implementation are imperative.
Referring to the current period with the international fiscal crisis is progress, the ombudsman suggested to conservative investors to opt for deposit accounts that are safe and have good investment return as opposed to high risk mixed investment products.
According to Foskolos, 70 percent of the problems are solved following a simple intervention by the ombudsman's office, while 41 percent of the cases are settled in no more than 15 days.
 Parliament ratifies Greek-Australian pension agreementThe Greek Parliament on Wednesday ratified an agreement between Greece and Australia regulating social insurance and pension entitlement issues, alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros announced.
The spokesman said the agreement was the result of lengthy and painstaking negotiations and had been a standing demand of Greeks living in Australia, who for decades had sought to secure their pension rights so that they could return to Greece without losing the fruits of years of labour.
"It is now certain that these rights are secured to the maximum degree possible," he added, stressing that the agreement first signed by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during a visit to Australia in May 2007 was of tremendous importance to hundreds of thousands of Greeks that had taken up residence in Australia and now wanted to return to Greece during their retirement.
He explained that, until now, those returning had been unable to claim all the pension to which they were entitled based on their years of work in Australia and that this agreement had finally settled this problem.
 PASOK against sale of ATE InsuranceMain opposition PASOK party on Wednesday expressed strong objections to the sale of ATE Insurance S.A.'s (a subsidiary of the ATEbank group) equity stake and the handing over of its management to a strategic partner.
In a meeting with ATE Insurance Chairman Dimitris Miliakos and Vice-president Panagiotis Varagis, PASOK rapporteurs Louka Katseli Dimitris Kouselas pointed out that the company is profit-making and plays a unique role in the crucial sector of agriculture. They also stressed that it can play a leading role in the wider region of SE Europe.
 International exhibition industryThe international exhibition industry's rate of development might slow down or even register a slight decrease in 2009, under pressure from such factors as the surge in oil prices.
However, this fact does not appear to be daunting the organisers and managers of exhibitions around the world, who have laid the foundations for the extension of exhibition installations by 13 percent by the year 2010, with 2006 being the starting point.
Moreover, it does not appear to be daunting the Asian tigers, China and India, as well as Russia, whose exhibition industries are expected to continue to develop with speedy rates, according to an interview given to the ANA-MPA by World International Exhibitions Union President (UFI) Cliff Wallace in Thessaloniki.
Wallace noted that the international exhibition industry has experienced healthy development over the past 3-5 years, at the level of turnover, exhibitors and visitors, but with the recent changes on the international economic map a slowdown is being observed worldwide or stagnation in certain markets.
 OPAP unveils new organising structureOPAP SA, Greece's lottery and betting services operator, on Wednesday unveiled its new organisational structure, a move completing a restructuring of OPAP Group, which began in November 2007.
Presenting the new structure, Christos Hatziemmanouil, OPAP's chairman, said the aim was to achieve more flexibility, reduced costs on a medium-term basis and to create preconditions for new directions of the listed company, such as verticalisation of operations, overseas expansion and developing new operations.
Under the new plan, the OPAP parent company will determine and monitor the development of the group's operations, while OPAP Services SA - a subsidiary - will act as executive offering support operations. The new structure of the Group was a plan submitted by the consultants AT Kearny Spa and Planning SA.
Hatziemmanouil said the new structure has the approval of OPAP's workforce and will emphasise, among other things, on social issue, marketing upgrade and relations with investors. He noted that the organisation seeks to reduce the number of its retail network without any impact on OPAP's profitability and stressed that OPAP examined plans to expand operations to Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.
 Kalamata hosts event on Renewable Energy SourcesA two-day conference on Renewable Energy Sources (RES) in Greece opens in Kalamata on Wednesday organized by the ministry of development.
The conference aims at familiarizing specific target-groups, like local administration, engineers, investors and the public, with the advantages of renewable energy sources, while indirectly contributing to the increase of RES technology applications in sectors of special interest (domestic, industry).
 Athens hotels' occupancy rates slightly up in AprilHotel occupancy rates rose slightly in the Athens-Attica region in April, official figures showed on Wednesday. A monthly report by the Union of Athens-Attica Hoteliers, said average occupancy rates rose 0.70 pct in April, compared with the same month last year, with five- and two-star hotels recording increases of 2.1 pct and 2.2 pct, respectively, while occupancy rates in four- and three-star hotels fell by 0.5 pct and 1.2 pct, respectively.
A report said the hotel industry in Athens was showing signs of relative stability during a critical month of the tourist season, and stressed that Greece was enjoying satisfactory prospects as a convention destination. It also welcomed the foundation of the Athens Convention Bureau by the municipality of Athens.
 Greek stocks fall for eighth successive sessionGreek stocks ended lower for the eighth consecutive session at the Athens Stock Exchange on Friday, as the market was unable to find any support. The composite index of the market fell 0.99 percent to end at 3,662.42 points, with turnover easing to 274.2 million euros of which 19.8 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Utilities (4.39 pct), Raw Materials (2.29 pct) and Commerce (2.10 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses, while Telecommunications (1.58 pct), Travel (0.76 pct) and Insurance (0.75 pct) scored gains.
The FTSE 20 index dropped 1.13 pct, the FTSE 40 index ended 0.73 pct lower and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.71 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 169 to 62 with another 49 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -1.54%
Personal & Household: -0.59%
Raw Materials: -2.29%
Travel & Leisure: +0.76%
Food & Beverages: -1.20%
Financial Services: -0.31%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, Alpha Bank, HBC Coca Cola and Public Power Corp (PPC).
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 19.48
Public Power Corp (PPC): 20.50
HBC Coca Cola: 19.20
Hellenic Petroleum: 10.08
National Bank of Greece: 31.10
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 16.50
Piraeus Bank: 18.80
Titan Cement Company: 27.40
Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.561
Pound sterling 0.799
Danish kroner 7.519
Swedish kroner 9.458
Japanese yen 168.96
Swiss franc 1.628
Norwegian kroner 8.104
Canadian dollar 1.592
Australian dollar 1.659
 ADEX closing reportGreek futures contract prices ended with a discount in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover jumping to 319.970 million euros. The June contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 0.38 pct and the June contract on the FTSE 40 index at a discount of 0.68 pct.
Volume in futures contracts on the Big Cap index totaled 14,802 contracts worth 281.682 million euros, with 34,310 open positions in the market, while on the Mid Cap index, volume was 111 contracts worth 2.555 million euros with 233 open positions.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 37,062 contracts worth 32.411 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Marfin Popular Bank's contracts (5,958), followed by Eurobank (929), OTE (4,059), National Bank (1,157), Intracom (4,059), Cyprus Bank (2,077) and ATEbank (4,799).
 Greek bond market closing reportTurnover in the Greek electronic secondary bond market totaled 1.633 billion euros on Wednesday, of which 1.0 billion euros were buy orders and the remaining 578 million were sell orders. The three-year benchmark bond (March 20, 2011) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 365 million euros. The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German bonds eased to 0.65 pct, with the Greek bond yielding 5.26 percent and the German Bund 4.61 percent.
In money markets, interest rates eased slightly. The 12-month Euribor rate was 5.42 pct, the six-month rate 5.12 pct, the three-month rate 4.96 pct and the one-month rate 4.46 pct.
 Greece sends two firefighting aircraft to CyprusNICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)
Two Greek firefighting aircraft arrived at Larnaca airport from Greece on Wednesday to help efforts to extinguish a huge wildfire raging in mountainous regions in the area of the cities of Larnaca and Limassol, southern Cyprus, which threatened villages and some of which were evacuated.
The two firefighting aircraft are CL 415 of CANADAIR with eight pilots and nine technicians.
The government of Cyprus also requested assistance from Israel and Lebanon, but the two countries were unable to respond.
 ERT digital TV facilities inauguratedThe Greek public broadcaster's (ERT) digital television facilities were inaugurated in Athens on Wednesday by Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos in the presence of Minister of State and government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. Digital television is now "ERT's legacy", Rousopoulos stated, adding that Greece was lagging behind in the sector but the first steps have been made and very soon viewers will have the opportunity to interact with the broadcaster.
 Britain's 'climate envoy' in AthensBritain's "climate ambassador", John Ashton, concluded a two-day official visit to Athens on Wednesday with an address at the British ambassador's residence, entitled "Politics & Climate Change", a day after the foreign secretary's special envoy on the utterly timely issue held meetings with Greek officials in Athens.
An open discussion and debate, given the presence of Greece's six-person team at the upcoming international Debating Championship (Sept. 2008), focused on the question of who should do more to fight the causes of climate change: governments or the public?
On Tuesday, Ashton met with European affairs secretary general Amb. Dimitris Katsoudas and the chairman of the economy & finance ministry's Council of Economic Experts, Plutarchos Sakellaris.
 Gov't, Athens discuss upgrading of municipal clinicsHealth Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos met with Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis at City Hall on Wednesday to discuss the upgrading of current municipal clinics into urban-style health centres in order to relieve public hospitals' outpatient departments.
The project comes within the framework of an earlier memorandum of cooperation signed between the municipality and the health ministry.
Kaklamanis, a former health minister himself, also announced that a three-building detox centre for adults and adolescents is under construction next to the Sotiria Hospital of east Athens and will be ready in a little more than a year.
 SAE assistance to fire-stricken families in EviaWorld Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) coordinator for Oceania and the Far East, George Angelopulos, presented checks worth a total of 30,000 Australian dollars to nine families that suffered massive damages from last summer's wildfires in Evia, including families who lost loved ones in the disastrous blazes, on a gesture of support by the SAE and the Greeks of Australia, during a special ceremony at the Evia prefectural headquarters on Tuesday evening.
Angelopulos said that the Greeks of Australia had from the very outset mobilised to collect assistance for the fire-stricken people, and established the Sydney Overseas Greeks Emergency Family Fund, through which the money was collected, adding that the effort was still ongoing.
Evia prefect Athanasios Bourandas praised the SAE initiative and the global organisation's role.
Bourandas also announced that, in January 2009, the prefecture will host 20 students, both of Greek and non-Greek origing, who are studying Greek at the University of Perth.
 Famous "Gospel at Colonus" staged in AthensThe famous gospel version of Sophocles's tragedy "Oedipus at Colonus" titled "Gospel at Colonus" will be staged on Saturday at the Herod Atticus Odeon, at the foot of the Acropolis, in the framework of this year's Athens Festival.
The show was created in New York City in 1985 by Lee Breuer, the experimental-theatre director, and composer Bob Telson, founders of the troupe called Mabou Mines.
Breuer told a press conference in Athens on Wednesday that in the 'Gospel at Colonus' "a link is established between paganism and Christianity, resulting in the redemption of the tortured Oedipus by a happy death."
Taking part in the cast are The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Legendary Soul Stirrers and The Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York.
The performace is taking place in cooperation with American-Hellenic Arts Centre and under the auspices of the U.S. embassy.
 Audiovisual media literacy data base for children, young adultsThe absence of an information centre on media literacy issues will be compensated by the audiovisual education Data Base for children and young adults created and managed by the Hellenic Audiovisual Institute (IOM).
Operating as a social and scientific network, the Data Base aspires to constitute a modern and updated registry of audiovisual sector institutions and scientists. Toward this end, IOM calls on all interested organizations and private individuals to actively contribute to the enhancement of the endeavour with new publications and research, educational methods, evaluation models, policies and events taking under consideration the challenge of using, understanding and evaluating the digital era media.
The data base is available on the website: www.medialiteracy-iom.gr .
 Legendary locomotive out of retirement for Sunday day-tripTen years after the old Thessaloniki railway line was shut down, the Friends of the Trikala Railway club - at the prompting of the Railway Museums Society - has organised a journey down memory lane this coming Sunday, inviting members of the public to join a day-trip to Velestino on the legendary Linke-Hofmann locomotive that faithfully served the line for 20-odd years.
The specific Linke-Hofmann locomotive was built in Germany in 1937 and was first used by the railway network in the Peloponnese, arriving in Thessaly in 1978. The specific train was a replica of the first Intercity trains operating in Germany and is today the one and only surviving section in the world of the type of train that was dubbed the "Flying Hamburger" (or 'Fliegender Hamburger' in German) in Germany during the pre-WWII era.
Many Trikala residents had journeyed on this train to visit Paleofarsala and Volos and Sunday's day-trip is an opportunity to re-experience this journey.
 British tourist dies in Samaria gorge, CreteA 62-year old British national died on Wednesday while walking through the Samaria gorge on the island of Crete.
The man, who according to first reports died from pathological causes, was part of a 50-member group of tourists who early Wednesday morning departed from Rethymno to visit and walk through the gorge. At 14:00 hours, the British tourist lost consciousness but when two doctors arrived to examine him he was already dead. His body was then taken to a hospital in Chania for autopsy.
Following the incident, the head of the Civil Protection Department in the Prefecture of Chania reiterated a past warning by which he draws the attention of tourist guides to inform tourists that crossing the Samaria gorge required good physical condition and health.
 New Europe-wide system detects stolen vehicles at border postTwo stolen luxury cars were confiscated by customs authorities at the Kakavia border post on the Greek-Albanian frontier this week following activation of the trans-European SIS-Schengen system. The vehicles were stolen in Greece in February and March 2008, respectively.
The Kakavia border post in the past has reportedly been a gateway for the transit of stolen cars from Greece and western Europe into Albania, with law enforcement officials from both countries increasing cooperation and scrutiny of vehicles passing through the border crossing.
Four suspects, two Greeks and two Albanian nationals were arrested.
 Earthquake jolts ArgosAn earthquake measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale rattled the city of Argos, northwestern Peloponnese at 4.58 Wednesday morning, according to the Geodynamic Institute of Athens and local researchers. No damages were reported.
 Illegal immigrants found on board ferry to ItalyA group of 11 illegal migrants were found hidden in a truck on board the car ferry "Blue Horizon" that had set sail from Patras heading for Italy on Wednesday.
The ship's captain alerted the Igoumenitsa Port coast guard, which was the ferry's next port of call, and handed over the 47-year-old driver of the truck, a foreign national, and the 11 illegal migrants to authorities when the ship docked at Igoumenitsa.
Three of the immigrants were taken to the Igoumenitsa health centre by ambulance on their arrival in order to receive first aid.
The entire group will be handed over to the Patras port authority, which will conduct an investigation.
Border police near Paramythia in Thesprotia prefecture, meanwhile, reported finding yet another illegal immigrant in the boot of a car abandoned by suspected migrant traffickers. The vehicle was one of two cars owned by Albanian nationals that had been abandoned by the side of the road.
Under questioning, the man found by police said that two unidentified Albanians had offered to smuggle him and another eight of his compatriots into Greece for a fee. He was led before a Thesprotia public prosecutor and the two cars were confiscated, while their owners and the other eight missing illegal immigrants are being sought.
Throughout the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, authorities arrested 63 illegal immigrants in total over the last 24 hours that were returned to their country via the border crossing at Kakavia.
 Public transport organisation on reports of free busesThe Athens public transport organisation OASA on Wednesday said it was unaware of any plans by its workforce to disable ticket stamping machines and offer passengers transport on public buses on Thursday.
OASA said that it had not been alerted to any such decision by its workforce unions and had no idea which of its workers had decided on the offer of free transport announced in a General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) press release.
 Christofias says new meeting with Talat to redefine basis for solutionNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the Republic Demetris Christofias said on Wednesday that the only meaning to a new meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was to clearly redefine the basis on which the Cyprus problem will be solved, adding that he did not see the reason why Talat was reacting to a solution providing for a state with a single sovereignty, citizenship and international identity.
Replying to questions regarding Tuesday evening's dinner with UN Undersecretary General Lynn Pascoe, President Christofias said he wished Talat had attended.
He said they did not discuss the Cyprus problem in depth but ''exchanged views on possible developments'' and talked about ''international issues and our everyday life.''
''It is clear that in a new meeting, my effort will be to clearly redefine the basis on which the Cyprus problem will be solved,'' President Christofias said, adding that he saw ''no reason for Mr. Talat to react because we are talking about a state with a single sovereignty, citizenship and international personality.''
He expressed hope that ''this will be clarified so that we have the same prospect before us, speaking the same language.''
President Christofias added that his wish and that of Talat was ''the reunification of Cyprus,'' noting that ''this reunification must be made on the right basis in order for it to be viable, functional and restore the independence and territorial integrity of the united federal Republic of Cyprus, and of course relieve us of the presence of the occupation troops and the settlers.''
Asked if this was his aim of his upcoming meeting with Talat, President Christofias said it was, adding that he placed the meeting towards the end of the month.
Regarding the Lisbon Treaty, President Christofias said it would be examined by the EU27 at the European Council, and expressed hope that the decision of the Irish people would not be ignored, noting that ''the Lisbon Treaty for the Irish and many other people is no different from the Constitutional Treaty, which some peoples rejected.''
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
 UN senior official: leaders are committed to a settlementNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
UN Undersecretary General Lynn Pascoe has found that the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus are very committed to moving forward and finally resolving the Cyprus problem and to getting a unified Cyprus, and expressed optimism regarding the outcome of the process.
Speaking at a press conference at Ledra Palace in the UN-controlled buffer zone on Wednesday, having concluded a visit to Cyprus, Pascoe said the advisers of the leaders would be meeting on Thursday with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Taye Brook Zerihoun, in order to set the date of the next meeting between President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, which he hoped would take place next week.
Referring to his meetings on Tuesday with the leaders of the two communities, Pascoe said he found that ''the two leaders are very committed to moving forward and finally resolving the Cyprus problem and to getting a unified Cyprus,'' adding that ''this is a huge effort that has been going on for so many years and is one that the UN want to be as totally supportive of as we possibly can be.''
''The process is centered here, what the two leaders decide and their teams decide is what is important to its people. The rest of us on the outside are trying to be helpful. I think the two leaders were off to a very good start with the March 21 and the May 23 statements. The UN and the entire international community are solemnly behind their statements and the direction to which they are heading,'' he added.
Referring to the working groups and technical committees (bicommunal teams of experts), Pascoe said ''this process is going quite well,'' adding that his understanding is that they will continue ''as a supporting mechanism to help the leaders who are going to be working on the hard political questions'' and expressed hope that ''as the time goes on, hopefully we will have agreements out of these groups.''
Replying to questions, Pascoe said the leaders of the two communities ''are working along very well, we are trying to be helpful to the process where we can.''
''The advisers of the two leaders are to meet with Mr. Zerihoun tomorrow to set the date of the next meeting between the two leaders, which should come hopefully next week, schedules permitting. Of course there are going to be bumps in the road and ups and downs but my strong sense is that the overall direction is a very positive one. I remain optimistic that the process is moving forward and I think we will be getting in substantive talks in the not too distant future,'' Pascoe noted.
He added that ''the process has been moving forward and the leaders' statement on the 23rd of May is extremely encouraging of the process and moving things forward and what they are going to be doing.''
''Everyday because this is quite an intense issue, and rightly so, you are going to follow every little up and down in the process. One day it will look better,'' Pascoe said.
He noted that the working groups and technical committees ''were not designed to negotiate and resolve problems,'' explaining that ''their job is to look at the past body of work, to look at new ideas, to put everything out there together on the table, anybody can put anything on the table that they want and you see what there is already agreement on.''
''This is not about negotiating major issues. This is looking at the whole thing to see what they really need to talk about and what they don't. And in that respect it is going very well. It is not a surprise that on the last controversial topic more progress has been made,'' he added.
To other questions, Pascoe said the UN Secretary General ''came out with a very strong statement of support after the May 23 statement and the Security Council report with some back and forth which can be argued, but at least they very strongly said they were supportive of the report.''
''I think the issue and the most important thing to me is that I really look forward to the day when no one will care what is in any of those reports. Because what is important is what is going on, on the ground here, not what we are reporting a word change here a word changed there,'' he said.
Pascoe also expressed the surprise of the UN Secretary General about ''the number of times in talking with world leaders that people ask about Cyprus.''
''This is a very hot issue internationally. There are huge expectations internationally that Cyprus will make it this time,'' Pascoe pointed out.
Replying to questions, Pascoe said he had ''several extensive discussions with the Turkish government, as well as the Greek government, as well as the EU, as well as others that are involved in this issue and I detect a very strong desire to move forward in all these capitals too.''
The UN official also said that ''we should not be pessimistic about the process if we want it to work,'' adding that ''it is very important that we not spend all of our time living in the past but we talk about building the future.''
''I am optimistic, I think we are going to make it, and I hope the people of Cyprus, both north and south, believe that we are going to make it. If they don't believe that we are going to make it this time, we won't make it. But if they believe we will, we can do it,'' he said.
Pascoe's comments came at the conclusion of his two day visit here, as part of UN efforts to help the ongoing discussions in Cyprus between teams of experts to prepare the ground for substantive negotiations between the two community leaders. The objective is to reach a settlement that will reunite the country, which has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
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