|Tuesday, 20 April 2021|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 16-03-04
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 4 March 2016 Issue No: 5125
 Tsipras: The situation is difficult but manageableGreece cannot accept or tolerate the failure to implement the decisions of the last European Council on refugees, or the fact that the countries along the so-called "Balkan route" acted unilaterally and in concert with countries outside the EU, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told a cabinet meeting held to discuss the refugee crisis on Thursday.
The situation in Greece with respect to the refugees was "difficult but manageable," Tsipras said during the meeting, which focused on the positions that Greece will adopted at the upcoming EU-Turkey summit on Monday. At the same time, he noted the need for immediate action to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. Referring to the Greece-Turkey High-level Cooperation Council taking place in Izmir on Tuesday, the prime minister said Greece's aim was an active intervention and noted that Greece plays a key role in Turkey's relations with Europe, while European leaders consider that Greece has an important role in EU-Turkish relations.
According to government sources, Tsipras said the main problems were how to restrict the flow of refugees to the northern border and the lack of any restriction of flows in Turkey. On management within Greece, the prime minister said that the relevant services were steadily setting up the required hospitality facilities but called for political initiatives on the level of Greece, the EU and Turkey to prevent things getting any worse.
The core Greek positions at the summit will be the same as those outlined in joint statements with European Council President Donald Tusk earlier on Thursday, Tsipras said. These will be based on the following lines:
In its handling of the refugees, Greece will meet its obligations to the EU but chiefly to the refugees themselves, based on their humanitarian needs. This means that Greece will create the maximum possible places for temporary shelter but will not become a "warehouse" for people and will cite the founding treaties and EU law that imposes a proportional distribution of the burdens and responsibilities. On no account will the permanent hospitality positions exceed one fiftieth of total flows, Tsipras said, noting that this was the share that fell to Greece based on its population and economic capability.
Greece will demand an immediate reinforcement and acceleration of processes for refugee relocation from Greece and resettlement from Turkey, Tsipras said, noting that there must be a specific reference in the Council conclusions that describes the relevant processes clearly.
The prime minister also cited a need to speed up processes for granting all types of financial assistance to cope with the refugee crisis and referred to Turkey's role, saying it must implement the EU-Turkey agreement in order to stop migration flows and illegal trafficking. Another immediate goal, Tsipras added, was to strengthen and make clearer the process for the readmission of migrants that had no right to asylum.
Referring to the handling of the refugee situation on the domestic front, the prime minister said there had been fast operational and organisational results and noted that coordination between the ministries was satisfactory, with Alternate Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas acting as coordinator of the government's management team.
The prime minister also stressed the need to keep Greek society on board, maintaining its willingness to support refugees, and the need to create a global movement with the same aim, with the help of international personalities and celebrities.
"It is crucial that we have local communities on our side and equally crucial to maintain Greek society's willingness to support the refugees. Either humanity or the far-right will prevail," Tsipras concluded, while noting that Greece had greatly benefited from the interventions on this issue of international figures, such as the Pope, the UN Secretary-General, and a number of intellectuals and artists throughout the world.
 PM Tsipras outlines Greece's positions on the refugee issuePrime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed the need for unity and brave decisions in Greece and Europe after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday.
The Greek prime minister said a message ahead of the EU-Turkey summit on March 7 that Greece will not host temporarily or permanently more refugees than those allocated in accordance with its population.
Tsipras said that the European Union proved its weakness in the way it handled the refugee crisis, and therefore its weakness to handle the common problems and the common future.
He condemned member states' unilateral acts without former coordination which oppose to the conclusions of the European Council and have led to the drastic reduction of flows from the Balkan route, with serious repercussions both for refugees and for Greece.
"These actions have been added to member states' refusal to participate in the relocation process, ie, legal channels for the movement of asylum seekers refugees from war zones," he stated.
"Greece has assumed a larger part of the problem than it ought to. However, our response was immediate and this does not only have to do with our obligations towards the EU, but especially our duty to our own values and our culture ... But the culture of some other EU partners, unfortunately, turns out to be different. Greece will do what is possible so as not to leave anyone helpless," Tsipras noted.
"We expect that the EU will explicitly recognize that Greece cannot assume all the responsibility by itself. A basic founding principle of the European Union, explicitly defined in the Lisbon Treaty, is the principle of solidarity between member states, which means fair distribution of responsibilities. Greece will demand the full respect of the European treaty otherwise there will be sanctions for those who do not respect it," he added.
Tsipras stressed that since refugee flows have been drastically reduced at the borders of Idomeni, the relocation of the refugees should take place immediately in decent conditions, stressing the need for the implementation of a comprehensive EU policy regarding the return of undocumented migrants to their countries.
In order for Greece to meet this challenge, he said, it needs sufficient funding for the construction of the necessary infrastructure and the hiring of the necessary staff as well as humanitarian aid.
Therefore he called on member states to refrain from unilateral actions. "Only when we respect each other, can we advance," he underlined. The recent unilateral acts are unacceptable and should be condemned by everyone, he stated.
Regarding the construction of hotspots, Tsipras reiterated that Greece meets its obligations. "Hotspots on the islands have been completed," he reassured.
On his part, Tusk called on all potential migrants not to come to Greece, to Europe, not to believe the traffickers, because Greece will not be a transit country. He also expressed his respect to the Schengen Agreement and urged everyone to avoid conflicts because they dissolve the trust.
He also underlined that "the EU will not abandon Greece, it will not leave it alone."
Both officials stressed the need for respect to those agreed as well as the decisions of the European Council.
Finally, Tusk who will leave immediately for Turkey said that EU-Turkey joint action plan remains a priority that must be successful.
 Our goal is a common European solution for migration, Tusk says"Our goal is a common European solution for migration," the president of the European Council Donald Tusk posted on Twitter upon his arrival to Maximos mansion on Thursday.
 PM Tsipras discusses management of refugee flows with DavutogluPrime Minister Alexis Tsipras had a telephone conversation with Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday, during which he called for the need to reach an understanding between the European Union and Turkey to make the refugee crisis more manageable, government sources said on Thursday.
Tsipras noted this would create an exceptional background for a successful and productive intergovernmental meeting in Izmir next Tuesday, on which Davutoglu agreed with.
The same sources said the prime minister is in contact with all the European governments on the refugee crisis ahead of the EU-Turkey summit.
 EU leaders must make decisions to end war in Syria, President Pavlopoulos says in meeting with Jordan Parliament presidentThe European Council next Monday must take decisions for an immediate end of the war in Syria and management of the refugee crisis in a manner that accords with the handling of human beings, President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos said on Thursday, receiving the Jordanian Parliament's President Atef Al Tarawneh.
Pavlopoulos noted that Greece is carrying a heavier burden than any other European Union country with respect to the refugees issue, in spite of the massive problems that the country faces in terms of its economy and social cohesion. He said that Greece will continue to act in accordance with the ideals of Europe, of humanity and democracy, and noted that certain EU member-states "appear not to have understood what Europe means and why they asked to become member-states".
The president praised Jordan's stance in response to the refugee crisis, saying the country had risen to the occasion, both in terms of attempts for peace in the Middle East and to end the war in Syria.
Tarawneh outlined his country's experiences with the refugee crisis, especially the difficulties faced due to the economic crisis in Jordan and the fact that its borders with neighbouring countries were closed.
 FM Kotzias welcomes Speaker of Jordanian parliamentForeign Minister Nikos Kotzias discussed bilateral relations with the Speaker of the Jordanian parliament, Atef Tarawneh on Thursday, during the latter's visit to Athens.
"As part of our intensification of economic, cultural and strategic relations with Jordan, I'm pleased to have this meeting with the President of the Jordanian Parliament, who knows the Greek culture well because he is a graduate of Athens' Polytechnic University," Kotzias said after the meeting.
The meeting was held after the trilateral cooperation which was agreed recently between Greece, Jordan and Cyprus.
 Government sets up center to coordinate refugee managementGreece completed the creation of a coordinating center whose function will be to better coordinate ministerial efforts to tackle the refugee crisis, the Defence ministry announced in a press conference on Thursday.
The center, headed by Alternate Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas, will be comprised by representatives from the six ministries involved in managing the issue - Defence, Migration Policy, Civil Protection, Infrastructure-Transport and Networks, Shipping and Macedonia-Thrace.
Speaking to journalists, Vitsas said Greece is completing its obliations towards Europe and is now focusing on the creation of temporary housing centers, in cooperation with local government. He also said the decisions of the EU-Turkey summit on March 7 will be a landmark for the center. "Based on the summit's decisions, we'll readapt our entire policy."
He added that the government wants to create another 15,000 positions of temporary accommodation by next week in areas where they can be "set up quickly", noting that the majority of the venues used today for accommodation are unused military camps.
"It is a serious effort to become more efficient operationally," Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said in his turn.
Describing the responsibilities of the center, the Defence ministry's general secretary, Yiannis Tafyllis, said its work is to "form the general picture" of the situation and the problems which arise and then to plan, monitor, implement and review its measures and decisions.
According to data collected by the centre this morning, Greece's four hotspots are accommodating 2,501 refugees and migrants, the four open accommodation centers in Schisto, Diavata, Nea Kavala and Hersos have 8,647 people, another 720 reside in the accommodation centre of Eleonas, west of Athens, and 5,290 people are staying in the buildings of the former airport, Elliniko.
It is also estimated that 10,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Idomeni, and 1,800 in Piraeus. Another 490 people are accommodated in hotels rented by the UNHCR in Thermopyles and near Karditsa.
 Alt. Migration Min Mouzalas says his statements were misinterpretedAlternate Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas speaking to ANT1 TV on Thursday said that his statement that Idomeni will not reopen and that Greece will be a settlement country for refugees was misinterpreted.
Mouzalas clarified that the refugees will stay at the temporary hosting camps for as long as it is needed and during the planning the government bears in mind the possibility of closed borders.
"That brings us to another phase. From reception and transit country, Greece turns into a country where people will be trapped. It is our duty to take care of them and not to leave them wandering in the streets," he noted adding that there is another plan for areas with much better conditions in order the refugees to stay as long as it takes until their relocation in European countries.
The minister recognised that the refugees inflow, with the crossing point at Idomeni closed, will lessen but this will take time, noting that he does not know how many refugees the country can host, but he estimated that the number will be under 150,000.
Asked to comment on Slovak prime minister Robert Fico's statement that "we have come to the time when Greece is likely to be sacrificed for the good of the EU," Mouzalas referred to 'suicidal policies'.
 Greece needs support with refugee crisis but cannot relax reform efforts, Schaeuble says in LondonGreece needs additional support to cope with the challenges posed by the refugee crisis but that does not mean that it can relax efforts to reform and regain competitiveness, German Finance Minister Wolgang Schaeuble said on Thursday, in a lecture analysing Germany's role in Europe at the London School of Economics.
"There is a new situation, the refugee crisis, so Greece needs - beyond the old discussion - additional solidarity and that is what we are granting to them. But this does not mean that Greece should not continue to work on what is a difficult thing for Greeks to achieve, to regain competitiveness," he said.
Sticking to his guns on the need for fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, Schaeuble said that the issue of moral hazard was "huge" in the construction of the monetary union, while levels of indebtedness on all levels left much less "space" for fiscal stimulus and creating new debt.
"The old way to stimulate growth will not work," he said, accusing of economists of forgetting "half of Keynes," namely that in times of surplus, spending must be reduced.
Asked if he was about to be "softer" with Greece on pension reform, Schaeuble stressed that the deal agreed in the summer of 2015 must be honoured by all sides.
"We have taken a decision in the summer time. The whole story is very short..." he said, noting that he had warned Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras years earlier that he would be unable to keep his promises if he campaigned to stay in the EU while not accepting the fiscal reform programme.
"He promised, he won and six months later he did the opposite. And Greece had to pay a terrible price for this, it was very expensive for Greece," he said.
"We took a decision in July-August last year and since we have taken a decision, we have taken a decision. A deal is a deal," Schaeuble added. "We made a deal in the summer and everyone has to stick with what has been agreed."
At the same time, the German finance minister acknowledged that a way had to be found to support Greece as it struggled with the new challenge of the refugee crisis, noting that Greece was currently "suffering a terrible lack of solidarity from alot of European member-states."
"We have to find European solutions," he said, adding that Europe was moving toward more solidarity on the refugee issue and this would be seen after the summit on Monday, while the European Commission had taken too long but had just presented a plan for supporting Greece.
Germany will resist pressures, both from German voters and many of its neighbours, to take decisions that would "two days later [make] Greece a failed state," Schaeuble commented.
"We will not do it. This is in the interests not only of Greece, it is in the interests of Europe, because Europe has to defend its self, its values" he said, noting a need for more engagement - and spending - in neighbourship, as well as the countries of origin and those neighbouring the war zone, such as Turkey.
Fielding more questions on Greece, he noted that a deal had been struck with Greece in the summer after difficult negotiations and "therefore Grexit is not on the table."
"We stick to this, to this deal...It is up to Greece to stick to what has been agreed and we stick to what has been agreed," while stressing that completing the reforms was a "must".
Asked why a review of Greece's programme has not yet been concluded, the German finance minister pointed squarely at Greece for not delivering what the agreements called for.
"It is not a problem for the institutions, it is problem for Greece to deliver what has been agreed," he said, while adding that it was up to the three institutions to find solutions for the financing needs of Greece, given the additional needs created by the refugee crisis," he said.
He warned, however, that Greece "had an interest not to be misunderstood" that it will use the migration crisis in order to not stick to the agreements for overcoming the eurozone crisis. Regaining competitiveness in Greece was "a very specific case and very difficult to achieve," he acknowledged, especially without the instrument of external devaluation, "but good luck and we are supportive as much as we can."
 500 refugees crossed the Greek-FYROM buffer zone the last 24 hoursA total of 500 refugees have crossed the Greek-FYROM buffer zone over the last 24 hours.
According to police, around 10,000 refugees have camped at Idomeni and another 4,000 refugees are hosted in special facilities at Nea Kavala and Herso, Kilkis.
 Fyrom closes buffer zone at IdomeniFyrom authorities on Thursday closed again the Greek-Fyrom buffer zone.
The neighhouring country's authorities proceeded to this action when a group of refugees occupied the railway tracks.
The crossing point was open on Thursday and the flow of refugees that passed was conducted slowly but normally.
 Over 5,300 refugees identified on the northern Aegean islandsA large number of identified migrants and refugees are on the islands of the northern Aegean waiting to depart for Piraeus.
3,307 refugees are on Lesvos and the number of refugees identified at Moria hotspot in the last 24 hours reached 1,268.
940 refugees were identified on the island of Chios while 1,227 persons are waiting to leave for the Pireaus or Kavala.
Finally, 857 persons are on Samos while 63 refugees were identified in the last 24 hours.
 Cooperation in transports discussed in Greek-Turkish meetingDeputy Foreign Minister for International Economic Relations, Dimitris Mardas, met on Thursday with the Turkish Ambassador to Greece, Kerim Uras, at the ministry to discuss bilateral economic and trade relations.
The meeting was also scheduled to prepare for the 4th meeting of the Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council, which will take place in Izmir on 8 March and ahead of the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevl?t ?avu_olu to Athens on Friday.
Particular emphasis was put on bilateral cooperation in the transport sector, with a focus on the creation of a high-speed rail line linking Thessaloniki and Igoumenitsa with Istanbul, as well as a ferry link between Thessaloniki and Izmir. Regarding the latter, the Turkish side expressed particular interest, noting its intention to introduce a reduction in port duties at the port of Izmir to make the ferry link more attractive.
Uras also informed Mardas of the great interest of Turkish companies in carrying out productive investments in Greece.
 Labour Min Katrougalos blames IMF for the delay of pension reforms bill"The voting of the bill on pension reforms has been significantly delayed and this is due to IMF's stance and its unreasonable demands," Labour Minister George Katrougalos on Thursday said in statements to Praktorio 104.9 FM.
The negotiation with the creditors was and is difficult, Katrougalos noted, but it could have reached an agreement if it were not for the IMF stance.
The Labour Minister underlined that the bill should have been submitted to parliament by the end of March adding that the European creditors share the view of the Greek government to conclude the first program review as soon as possible.
Asked on whether a political problem will raise in case the government proceeds with new pension cuts, Katrougalos reiterated that this is a red line and it will not retreat to demands not included in July's agreement. "We will remain adamant on this position, new pension reductions do not concern only pensioners, it will have a recessionary impact on the economy," he stressed.
 Greek FinMin optimistic that review of Greek programme will be completed soonGreek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Thursday expressed his optimism that a review of the Greek programme will be completed soon. Speaking in Parliament, the Greek FinMin strongly criticized the IMF for holding at hard stance both towards Greece, by asking for more measures, and towards Europe, to see the Greek debt issue. On the other hand, "our positions are very close" with the European Stability Mechanism, the European Central Bank and the Commission and differences existing are within the framework of negotiations and could be discussed," Tsakalotos said.
He said that during a speech in the European Parliament on Wednesday, he expressed "his strong concern" over the fact that "the institutions came to Greece February 1-5, they left for 10 days and since then a month has passed without returning". Tsakalotos said it was difficult to comprehend why the IMF asked for many more measures, compared with the ones agreed last summer, given the fact that economic conditions have improved markedly since then "and there is no one economist suggesting that we performed worse than expected, so the reasonable thing was to talk about less measures".
The Greek Finance Minister said that pensions could be cut further in Greece since they played the role of basic family income and they have been cut 11 times in the past few years. Tsakalotos said he did not know whether a solution could be reach in the next Eurogroup, but expressed his confidence "that a solution will be found soon as there were too many players pushing for a solution the soonest possible".
 IMF team to return to Athens 'soon' says spokesmanThe technical mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will soon return to Athens, its spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday during a regular press briefing, noting that good progress was made during the institutions' dinner on Wednesday evening in Brussels.
"We expect an early return of the mission," he was quoted as saying, adding that the exact time will be announced after the Eurogroup next Monday. "We share the opinion that the review must be completed as soon as possible," he said.
Rice also confirmed that during the institutions' dinner participants, who included Poul Thomsen, Director of the IMF's European Department, discussed the Greek program. The IMF maintains that additional measures worth 4-5 pct of GDP are needed to cover the fiscal gap until 2018, he said.
Asked to comment on criticism that the Fund is harsh with Greece, he said: "Our job is to be objective and realistic. We are called to do the work that we have been commissioned to do for our members."
 European Commission sees progress in work of technical teams in AthensBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/Ch. Vassilaki)
European Commission sees progress at the technical works held in Athens as well as in the deliberations with the institutions on the beginning of the program review.
According to European Commission spokesperson Annika Breidthardt, "the technical teams are in Athens and progress has been made for the return of the institutions in Athens."
Asked on the meeting of the institutions' high officials on Wednesday in Brussels, she said that "the European Commission does not confirm the details of such meetings", however she noted that "many deliberations are carried out between the institutions that are involved in the Greek programme" and programme has been recorded.
 Greek gov't, Commission discuss EU-funded programmesThe Greek government has secured all necessary funds to fully finance projects included in the previous EU-funds programme (2007-2013) and were currently in a completion stage, while efforts are made to find solutions to problems dating back to the 2000-2006 programme, Economy, Development and Tourism Deputy Minister Alexis Haritsis told EU Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu during a meeting in Brussels.
The meeting focused on actions currently implemented by the ministry for a smooth completion of programmes in the 2007-2013 period and the dynamic launch of new programmes in the period 2014-2020.
Discussions also focused on investment opportunities arising through the exploitation of so-called Juncker-plan, the European Fund for Strategic Investments.
 Parliament approves bill on bank deposit guaranteesA finance ministry bill on the deposit guarantees scheme and the Deposit and Investment Guarantee Fund was approved in principle and in its entirety by parliament on Thursday, with all parties voting in favour except Golden Dawn and the Communist Party.
 Fiscal adjustment through spending cuts, not tax increases, SEB saysSwift completion of a review of the Greek programme and fiscal adjustment not through tax increases but through spending cuts and expanding the tax base the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEB) said during meetings in Brussels with top European officials.
SEB president Theodore Fessas, accompanied by Federation members, stressed that enterprises and households are bending under the burden of over-taxation and presented data showing that total average tax burden (wages and contributions) on enterprises and taxpayers significantly surpassed tax burdens in OECD countries, discouraging investments and the creation of more job positions in the private sector.
"A 42 pct of income tax revenue is paid by a 3.0 pct of taxpayers. Tax paying ability of those who systematically support state revenues has been exhausted. That's why covering any fiscal gap should not come from a new tax strangling of private initiative. It should be achieved through a real expansion of the tax base and full adoption of electronic transactions and e-billing," Fessas said.
Referring to an ongoing negotiation with creditors, SEB underlined that the Greek economy has shown remarkable performance and resilience in the last few years which should not be undermined by another prolonged negotiation and requested both from European officials and the government to accelerate completion of the first review. The Federation also requested an acceleration of privatizations and resolving the non-performing loans issue.
SEB expressed the concern of the business world over developments in a refugee influx and underlined the need for a common policy. "Greece gives an uneven struggle in the refugee crisis and has significantly improved -lately with the help of our partners- border controls. We must avoid -at any cost- the return of border controls in Europe as it would undermine all progress made in the last few years and would victimize the single market, European business activity and the European vision," it said.
 Greece will have difficulty accessing markets for next 15-20 years, says director of IOBEGreece will have a difficulty accessing markets for its lending for the next 15-20 years because everyone will remember that it went bankrupt, the Director General of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) Nikos Vettas, said at an event for women managers in Thessaloniki.
Vettas said limiting the country's trade deficit could be a solution for the economy, which is something that "he is not sure if it has been fully understood", since the debate continues to revolve around additional tax measures.
"If we want to live better in the next few years compared to 2016, we need a production organization oriented towards more innovative and outward-looking businesses," he told the event, reminding that in 2008, the value of imports exceeded exports by 31 billion euros.
According to the head of IOBE, the positive adjustment seen in the last few years in the country' s trade balance is not the result of higher exports, but of lower imports, due to the economic crisis which limited the ability of consumers to buy expensive foreign products.
 Alpha Bank reports losses in 2015Alpha Bank on Thursday reported after tax losses of 1.3 billion euros in 2015 and said that net capital income was 1.932 billion euros, up 0.6 pct from 2014. Net interest margin was 2.8 pct in the fourth quarter of 2015, despite a 5.0 pct drop in assets, while commission net income fell 5.8 pct (commission income rose 20.1 pct in the fourth quarter to 83 million euros).
The bank said its capital position was strengthened after a successful share capital increase plan worth 2.56 billion euros, fully covering the needs of the adverse scenario of European Central Bank's comprehensive assessment CA.
The CET1 rate was 16.7 pct at the end of 2015. Pre-provision results rose 8.4 pct to 1.149 billion euros. New loans in delay totaled 214 million in the fourth quarter, from 520 million in the third quarter, while the loan delay coverage rate grew to 69 pct at the end of December 2015.
P. Mantzounis, Alpha Bank's chief executive, commenting on the results said that the bank's strong capital position, a more favorable legal and institutional framework and increased business activity to deal with NPLs will allow the bank to offer long-term solutions to its customers with the aim to raise the repayable value of NPLs.
"In 2016 we will seek to improve our operating profits through initiatives to cut operating costs and funding costs. A successful and timely completion of the first review was a necessary precondition for economic recovery in 2016 as the economy was expected to return to positive growth rates in the second half of the year and to return to a sustainable course," Mantzounis said.
 State overdue debt to private sector up in JanGreek state overdue debt to the private sector grew slightly in January to 4.765 billion euros, from 4.641 billion in December 2015.
The General Accounting Office, in a report released on Thursday, said that pending tax returns fell to 706 million euros in January from 739 million in December. Social insurance organisations were the biggest debtors with overdue debt of 2.819 billion euros in January (from 2.765 bln in December), followed by state hospitals (1.020 billion in January from 931 million in December).
 Migrant traffic helped offset slump in domestic passengers in 2015, ferry company association chief saysThe extra business generated by transporting refugees and migrants from the islands of the Aegean to the mainland helped offset a 7 pct slump in regular domestic passenger traffic during 2015, the head of the Greek Passenger Shipping Companies Association (SEEN) Michalis Sakelis said on Thursday.
He noted that signs of reduced passenger traffic in ferries were also apparent in 2016 as a result of falling domestic demand, but also a fall of passengers in air transport. He noted that the economic crisis had led to accumulated losses of 1.2 billion euros for coastal shipping firms in 2009-2014, leading nine Greek shipping lines to iether declare bankruptcy or cease operations.
The Adriatic lines had seen a 12 pct slump in passenger traffic and a small rise in cargo traffic in 2015, he added.
Sakelis also predicted that tourist traffic to the eastern Aegean islands will be significantly affected by the refugee crisis this summer, despite the increase in passenger movements overall. The island of Lesvos was currently the most affected, he said, noting that there was zero religious tourism to the island this year.
He said ferry companies were investing chiefly in foreign tourists due to the lower purchasing power of domestic consumers. He said that roughly half of the cruise ships scheduled to call at Mytilene, the island's main port, had cancelled in 2015, while 33 out 44 cruise ships scheduled to call in 2016 had cancelled.
 National Insurance elects new chairmanNational Insurance on Thursday announced that Christoforos Sardelis, an independent non-executive member of the board, will take over as chairman of the board replacing Dimitris Dimopoulos who resigned as chairman to focus on his duties as alternate chief executive in National Bank.
National Insurance also said that Stavros Konstantas was elected as alternate chief executive of the board, temporarily acting as CEO.
The company's board also includes, Pavlos Mylonas, first vice-president, Panagiotis Dasmanoglou second vice-president, Panagiotis Georgiou independent non-executive member, Alexandros Katsiotis independent non-executive members, Nikolaos Milios independent non-executive member, Telemachos Palaeologos non-executive member and Miltiadis Stathopoulos non-executive member.
 Greek stocks extend rally for sixth successive sessionGreek stocks ended sharply higher in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, extending their rally for the sixth successive session and pushing the composite index of the market back to the 550-point level. The index rose 2.91 pct to end at 551.36 points, gaining 16.25 pct in the last six sessions. The Large Cap index jumped 3.01 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 2.70 pct higher. Turnover was a low 64.393 million euros in volume of 102,001,385.
Viohalco (11.54 pct), National Bank (10.75 pct) and Eurobank (9.08 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day among blue chip stocks, while OTE (1.91 pct), OPAP (0.76p ct) and Jumbo (0.35 pct) suffered losses. Piraeus Bank and National Bank were the most heavily traded securities of the day.
Among market sectors, Banks (6.24 pct), Commerce (6.17 pct) and Financial Services (6.17 pct) scored big gains, while Telecoms was the only one to end lower (-1.91 pct). Broadly, advancers led decliners by 78 to 35 with another 23 issues unchanged. Iaso (26.08 pct), AAA (19.19 pct) and Akritas (19.77 pct) were top gainers, while Pegasus (20 pct), Tzirakian (19.23 pct) and Trastor (18.93 pct) were top losers.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a discount of 0.95 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 2,987 contracts with 14,518 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 64,227 contracts with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (29,847), followed by Alpha Bank (7,418), Piraeus Bank (12,605), Eurobank (8,918), MIG (939), OTE (646), PPC (791), OPAP (425), Hellenic Exchanges (230), Titan (113), Viohalco (194), Mytilineos (293), Hellenic Petroleum (158), Motor Oil (184), Metka (128), GEK (163), Ellaktor (683) and Jumbo (152).
 The hope of open borders is the last one to die at IdomeniIDOMENI (ANA-MPA/George-Byron Davos)
The newcomers among the refugees in the camp of Idomeni, at the borders between Greece and FYROM,can be distinguished from the old ones. A mixture of hope, activity and eagerness is still visible in their eyes and gestures. An attitude that changes over the days. And also they still have to find their way around, discover where to find food, pampers for their babies, some sanitary goods.
Huda, a mother head of family, crossed Turkey and the Aegean Sea along with other eleven members of her family?one of whom is the baby of her 21-year old daughter. They arrived yesterday night and now they are trying to find some wood to build a fire. One of the young boys climbed on a tree and cut branches, another child tried to find paper cups to feed the flames. A plastic bag thrown to the bonfire to boost it filled the air with strong smell and thick smoke.
Their first reaction after our, obvious, questions is to ask if we have some news about the opening of the borders. "We heard it is closed but we could not wait. My husband is already in Germany and is waiting for us. We crossed Turkey, we risked to be separated along the way and in the boats, but we managed to make it here, all of us", said Huda.
"How shall we live?", asks her daughter, when we inform them that the borders might remain closed indefinitely. "Sooner, or later our money will be finished and how shall I feed the baby?"
The long journey from Syria to the FYROM borders has drained them financially. As they explained, to get to Idomeni have paid?expensively?two taxis from the train station in Thessalonica to discover they had also to pay for the tent if they wouldn't like to spend their night wrapped only in a blanket?the only facility the authorities and the human aid organizations had to provide them at the time. Now they organize their budget in order to send one of the members of the clan to buy bread and groceries from the village.
Food is a priority to everyone. But in order to get it you have to pay, since the meagre sandwich the camp authorities offer is not enough, both in number and in substance. So, the refugees must do their own shopping. Till now, the situation is manageable, but what if, after ten days of camping for the majority of them, the money runs out? None has foreseen this possibility.
Another potential bomb, which is a matter of time to explode, regards the sanitary condition of the refugees. As the camp gains dimensions, as the number of the refugees increases, the facilities of the place do not suffice at all. The couple of dozen of the existing latrines are already saturated and the scarce showers and faucets for drinkable water cannot satisfy the continuous needs. The few dustbins as soon as they are emptied, almost immediately, are filled again. The ground is filled almost everywhere with the remains of food, or old socks and broken shoes?none can monitor the kids, for whom the only toys are that rubbish.
The dispensaries of the Medecines Sans Frontieres, or the Red Cross, are incessantly filled with people with respiratory problems, diarrhea and other health problems related with the poor conditions these people live for months. The volunteers fear they will not be able to manage the situation if the number of the newcomers keeps rising.
However, if one turns his eyes to the entrance of the village, or the nearby fields, from everywhere, new groups of migrants walk towards the camp. Some of them, after some hours they turn back and find refuge to the mini camp, that is built at the parking lot and, now, the fields around a gas station before the intersection of the motorway to Idomeni. There at least they have at reach the mini market and a small restaurant that previously served the track drivers coming to rest to and from their way to Evzoni cross point to FYROM and for now they have some more free and cleaner space.
 Refugee gives birth to baby boy in helicopterA refugee on Thursday gave birth to a healthy baby boy inside a Super Puma helicopter that was taking her from the island of Kastellorizo to Rhodes.
The doctor on Kastellorizo informed early Thursday on the imminent labour of the woman and a helicopter took off from Rhodes to take her from Kastellorizo to Rhodes hospital. However, the baby was born during the flight with the assistance of Rhodes hospital doctor Polymnia Galanou that accompanied the woman in labour.
 "Blue Star 1" with 580 refugees aboard docks to the port of Piraeus"Blue Star 1" ferry carried 580 refugees and migrants from Chios and Mytilene to the port of Piraeus.
"Diagoras" ferry with 515 refugees from Leros and Kalymnos is expected to dock at Piraeus port later on Thursday.
The port authorities have offered passenger stations and a warehouse to host the refugees. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders and the Medical Accosiation have examined more than 400 children with health problems.
 Lesvos Petrified Forest Museum to be presented at ITB exhibition in BerlinThe Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest at Sigri will have its own pavilion at the World Geoparks Network at the International Tourist Exhibition ITB that will be held in Berlin from 9-13 March.
Visitors of the ITB, one of the most important tourist exhibition worldwide will have the opportunity to get acquainted with the history of the petrified forest of Lesvos Geopark.
" A large number of enterpreneurs activating in the travel business, tour operators, journalists and official delegations from all over the world are among the visitors of ITB exhibition in order to be informed on the latest development in the tourist sector. At a very crucial period for Lesvos and for all Greece, UNESCO's World Geoparks Network supports and promotes the island of Lesvos as a high quality tourist destination on the development of geotourism" said the head of the Museum Nikos Zouros to ANA-MPA.
 Ancient statues, hidden in warehouse for 94 years, to be exhibited in ThessalonikiAncient statues that came from the ancient city of Rhaidestos, modern-day Terkidag in Turkey's Eastern Thrace, to Thessaloniki 94 years ago (in 1922), will be exhibited for the first time at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.
The exhibition, titled "Rhaidestos - Thessaloniki: Antiquities in a refugee journey" will run from 29 January 2016-31 January 2017 and will showcase objects that had been hidden in the museum's warehouses since their arrival in the city, allowing visitors to see them for the first time.
 Greek Football Cup called off for entire season due to violenceDeputy Minister for Sports, Stavros Kontonis, called off the Greek Football Cup for the 2016 period on Thursday, citing numerous violent incidents that have plagued recent matches between football clubs.
"Imposing the law is justified in cases where legal rights are jeopardized like social peace, which are unquestionably superior to other interests which may be affected, economic or athletic (i.e. losing match tickets or participation in European matches)," the minister said in a statement.
 Rain on FridayRain in most parts of the country is forecast for Friday. Southerly winds will reach 7 on the Beaufort scale. Heavy rain in the northern and western parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 04C-16C. Partly cloudy in the morning and rain in the afternoon in the eastern parts and temperatures between 06C-17C. Rain and gusty southerly winds over the Aegean islands and Crete, 09C-17C. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the afternoon in Athens, 08C-17C. Rain in the afternoon in Thessaloniki, 05C-14C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: Zero hour for the refugee issue
DIMOKRATIA: Shock for Greece
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: The price list of advertisements
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Retrospective cuts on pensions
ESTIA: Tsipras' class hatred
ETHNOS: Berlin changes route
IMERISSIA: The bomb of bad loans
KATHIMERINI: Contradictory messages from Berlin
NAFTEMPORIKI: Liquidity injection by corporate bonds
RIZOSPASTIS: Big responsibilities of the EU and NATO
TA NEA: Whoever gets in, stays in
TO PONTIKI: Agree or we are lost
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