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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 97-07-23

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>

NEWS IN ENGLISH

Athens, Greece, 23/07/1997 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • First oil exploration leases for western Greece approved
  • Greece to finalise '98 economic policy in October
  • Greek EU-funded post office plan in jeopardy
  • Dollar jumps vs drachma
  • Aspis to begin Yugoslav operations in the fall
  • Greece backs simultaneous EU accession talks for 11 nations
  • Special forces reinforce security along Greek-Albanian border
  • US says major opportunity at hand for solution to Cyprus problem
  • Museums, archaeological site hours extended for August, September
  • Cache of ancient coins found on Corfu
  • Greek telecom successfully increases share capital
  • WEATHER
  • FOREIGN EXCHANGE

NEWS IN DETAIL

First oil exploration leases for western Greece approved

The government yesterday signed two contracts with a US consortium for oil exploration and exploitation in four stretches near Ioannina and the northwest Peloponnese.

The contracts were granted to a consortium comprising the companies Enterprise Oil Ltd, Union Texas (Transnational) Ltd. and Mol Ltd., while the DEP-EKY group, a subsidiary of the Public Petroleum Corp., signed for the state.

Development Minister Vasso Papandreou said at the signing ceremony that allowing exploitation of mineral resources marked the beginning of modernisation for the country's petroleum exploration policy, which could mean tremendous benefits for the overall economy.

She said the contracts allowed for the utilisation of local petroleum potential, the transfer of technology and know-how, creation of new jobs and additional revenues for the national economy.

Under the terms of the contracts, the contractors will conduct six years of exploration in the Ioannina area, with a minimum investment of US$20 million.

In the northwestern Peloponnese, the consortium's companies are committed to four years of exploration, with a minimum investment of $17 million.

The consortium was also obliged to assign a consultant approved by the government to carry out an environmental study for each region, Ms Papandreou said.

In addition, the government has the right to discontinue all work in the event environmental problems occur. It can also take measures to restore certain environmental damage at the expense of the consortium, which is further obliged to compensate damage caused to property or persons, as well as to ensure protection for neighbouring regions.

Greece to finalise '98 economic policy in October

The government will base 1998 economic policy on its plan to align with other European Union countries and finalise the details in October, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday.

Speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Mr. Papantoniou said the primary goal of economic policy would be to bring consumer price inflation below three percent, helping to ensure the country's entry into EU economic and monetary uni on.

Mr. Papantoniou refused to be drawn on 1998 taxation, saying only: "Economic policy will be within the framework of the convergence programme".

According to government sources, economic policy for 1998 will centre on public sector wage increases of up to four percent in two phases of two percent each; a freeze on public utility charges to aid falling inflation; and drastic public sector spendin g cuts.

The new budget is expected to incorporate an 800-billion drachma rise in revenue stemming mainly from new measures to improve tax collection. No increases in indirect taxes are foreseen, and the government may consider adopting index-linked taxation for incomes.

Lastly, the government is expected to maintain its "hard drachma" policy in 1998, again as part of efforts to lower inflation.

Greek EU-funded post office plan in jeopardy

Greece, which has failed to claim 40 billion drachmas in European Union funds to overhaul its post offices, may have to scrap the plan and ask for the money to be allocated to other programmes, an EU Commissioner said yesterday .

"The Commission is currently studying a new proposal from the Greek authorities. However, existing problems can only be resolved by means of specific, timely decisions and moves by the proper authorities," Commissioner Monika Wulf Mathies said.

In December 1995 the EU endorsed the government's proposal to reshape its antiquated post office system between 1994 and 1999 but a business plan has yet to be submitted, barring the release of funds.

"In the absence of the right moves, Community funds earmarked for the (post offices) programme can, in principle, be moved to other Community Support Framework programmes in Greece," Ms. Mathies said.

She said Hellenic Post Offices had failed to make organisational changes, including the creation of a unit to monitor the programme, that would facilitate the release of funds.

Ms. Mathies was replying to a question by Greek conservative Eurodeputy Kostis Hadzidakis, a member of the main opposition New Democracy party.

Dollar jumps vs drachma

The dollar's sharp rise on international markets yesterday was reflected in its parity against the drachma, hitting an all-time high of 283.61 drachmas at the central bank's daily fix. On world markets, the dollar was around 1.8150 marks, the highest lev el in 70 months. The greenback has gained 14.57 percent on the drachma since the beginning of the year.

The pound sterling also rose sharply against the drachma on the domestic foreign exchange market, closing at 474.84 drachmas at the fix. The domestic money market was stable after shedding last week's turmoil. Short- term depo rates held below 12 percent after hitting 13 percent last week.

Aspis to begin Yugoslav operations in the fall

The Aspis group's insurance sector activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) are scheduled to begin this autumn. That decision was announced officially during a recent visit to Athens by the president of the Dunav group, Milorad Skrbic.

The company to be established will be headquartered in Belgrade, with Aspis retaining a 49 per cent share.

In the framework of cooperation between the two companies, the insurance agency BBI is already operating in Thessaloniki and specialises in insuring goods carried to and from Serbia through the port of Thessaloniki.

Greece backs simultaneous EU accession talks for 11 nations

The European Union should begin accession talks with 11 applicant countries next year, not just six, Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos said yesterday.

At a press conference following an EU Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, Mr. Pangalos told reporters that Greece supported simultaneous talks with all countries interested in Union membership.

In "Agenda 2000", an accession report released recently, the European Commission recommended that accession talks begin early next year for Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

It also recommended that Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia prepare for a second round of accession talks at an unspecified future date.

Greece joined Denmark, Italy and Sweden in calling for simultaneous accession talks with all interested countries early next year.

Negotiations should begin simultaneously but develop according to the economic and political reality of each country, Mr. Pangalos said, defending Greece's stance.

Of the six accepted for the first round of talks, he said that Cyprus is the only one that offers an established market and successful democratic institutions.

The foreign minister also said the European community should also discuss along with accession talks "who will bear the financial burden of (EU) expansion, the specific changes that must be made on community policy, especially in terms of fiscal options and agricultural policy, so that we are in a position to propose to applicant countries the type of Union they will become members of".

Referring to Albania, Mr. Pangalos said Greece and the EU council were satisfied with developments following national elections. This was officially stated in a council statement released following the meeting, he said.

Mr. Pangalos said the other issues discussed at the council included the Middle East issue, relations with Iran and the merger of Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas backed by the United States, which is meeting with opposition from the European Commission.

In relation to the Middle East, Mr. Pangalos expressed hope that talks between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in Brussels would bear fruit.

"Israel should make some gestures of good will in issues such as the opening of the airport and the Gaza port," he said.

Special forces reinforce security along Greek-Albanian border

Army commandos yesterday began taking up positions along the border with Albania near Kastoria and Florina, following government decisions to strengthen border security.

A Hellenic Air Force helicopter at noon flew to local airport, where it will remain stationed in order to patrol the mountainous region from Ioannina to Florina.

One helicopter had already been patrolling the region and it is hoped that the second will contribute to increasing security.

Meanwhile, joint army and police patrols operating in the region will be reinforced by the formation of new units.

The government took the decisions to increase security in northwest Greece at a two-hour meeting of ministers on Monday.

The measures are aimed at checking the activities of armed gangs of Albanian criminals along the border.

US says major opportunity at hand for solution to Cyprus problem

US State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said a major opportunity is emerging for a solution of the Cyprus problem.

The spokesman was speaking during his last regular press briefing yesterday, as he is to be posted in Athens as the new US ambassador.

"I think that we are being given a great chance in eastern Mediterranean. We have a new relation between Greece and the US, which means that we can move forward in a way that we could not in the past. We have a great respect for Prime Minister Simit is and Foreign Minister Pangalos. We can work with them especially on Cyprus, " Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Burns stressed that the efforts for a Cyprus solution should be made in cooperation with the UN, while he placed emphasis on the leading role played by US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke on the issue.

At the same time, the US official assessed that recent government changes in Turkey will positively contribute to the efforts.

Museums, archaeological site hours extended for August, September

The country's most popular museums and archaeological sites will remain open until 9 p.m. during August and September, following a decision yesterday by the culture ministry.

Speaking at a press conference, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the opening hours of archaeological sites, museums and monuments during the summer were not only for reasons connected to tourism, but also ''the correct promotion of our cultural heritage''.

Less visited archaeological sites which normally close at 3 p.m. will remain open until 7 p.m. during August and September, Mr. Venizelos said, adding that the same hours would apply on weekends and on public holidays, such as August 15 - the Assumption of the Virgin.

Mr. Venizelos said no new museum staff would be hired, since existing personnel would be able to satisfy the new requirements.

The 9 p.m. closing time will apply to 58 museums and archaeological sites around the country, including the museums of the Acropolis, ancient Olympia, Knossos, Vergina, Epidavros, Dion, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the Byzantine Museum.

Cache of ancient coins found on Corfu

A cache of 206 ancient silver coins was discovered yesterday during salvage archaeological excavations on the Ionian island of Corfu, in the Paleopolis area.

Archaeologist Kalliopi Preka-Alexandri said the coins were found in an ancient pot of little value.

The group includes a tetradrachma coin issued during the reign of Alexander the Great, a drachma by Lysimachus and a very rare coin issued by Illyrian King Monumius.

Greek telecom successfully increases share capital

An increase in the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation's (OTE) share capital has been successfully concluded.

The share capital marks the largest increase in the annals of a corporation registered at the Athens Stock Exchange and with the highest percentage of coverage ever to be achieved in the Greek capital market.

OTE's old shareholders, including the Greek state, exercised their rights by 97.97 per cent and backed the enterprise's effort despite the downward trend of the share's price at the bourse over the same period, while institutional investors covered 93 per cent of the percentage corresponding to them.

The investors' confidence yielded 189.89 billion drachmas for OTE, which is destined for funding of the telecoms utility's investment plans. Moreover, OTE's second introduction of a package of shares at the bourse has benefitted the national economy by about 151 billion drachmas.

In another development, dues received by OTE from mobile telephony companies (Panafon and Stet), which use its network will be readjusted.

According to a decision by OTE's board, the dues will be redefined for 1995 on the basis of a new study, which will be prepared by the National Telecommunications Committee.

Additionally, OTE has a pleasant surprise in store for Internet users, since according to a decision it has taken it will decrease the cost of calls at night. Consequently, from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. one unit will be charged for three minutes and from 11 p.m.- 8 a.m. one unit will be charged for 10 minutes.

Long distance calls will be charged as normal from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. (as is the case with the automatic system) and from 11 p.m.-8 a.m. with one unit for 10 minutes in all zones charged.

WEATHER

Fair weather is forecast over most of the country today, with light cloud in the north and east. Winds mostly northerly, moderate to strong, becoming very strong in the southeastern Aegean. Athens will be sunny, with locally strong winds and temperatures ranging from 22-33 C. Thessaloniki will also be sunny, with temperatures of 20-32 C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Tuesday's closing rates - buying US dlr. 281.341 Pound sterling 471.041 Cyprus pd 531.414 French franc 46.033 Swiss franc 189.318 German mark 155.248 Italian lira (100) 15.956 Yen (100) 242.098 Canadian dlr. 204.054 Australian dlr. 208.047 Irish Punt 417.930 Belgian franc 7.520 Finnish mark 52.636 Dutch guilder 137.913 Danish kr. 40.779 Swedish kr. 35.942 Norwegian kr. 37.666 Austrian sch. 22.065 Spanish peseta 1.844 Port. Escudo 1.539

(L.G.)


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