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Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 98-04-05

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, 05/04/1998 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Greek positions at ASEAN II
  • Joint defence industry schemes urged
  • Banks see losses due to single currency
  • Greek stocks jump on fresh round of buying
  • Gov't sees minimal price impact of devaluation
  • New real-time stock data service
  • US Senate votes on visa-free travel
  • Athens protests desecration in Turkey
  • Turkish chief of staff due in Athens
  • Forty illegal immigrants arrested
  • Nationwide strike on Thursday
  • Optimism over Greece's EMU target
  • NATO planning director in Athens Monday
  • Minister rejects anti-immigrant backlash
  • UNHCR spokeswoman in Athens Wednesday
  • OA management, unions continue talks on airline's future
  • Greece outlines position on CAP
  • Coordinated European transport networks
  • WEATHER
  • FOREIGN EXCHANGE

NEWS IN DETAIL

Greek positions at ASEAN II

Speaking at the Euro-Asian summit (ASEM II) in London on Friday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis stressed the significance of boosting efforts to overcome a "crisis of confidence" and to restore normal conditions in the functioni ng of recently hard-hit Asian economies.

He made three points regarding certain lessons to be drawn from the crisis:

Firstly, the necessity of creating conditions of greater stability in the international economy's functioning.

"We must boost the mechanisms that prevent and avert such serious crises, particularly in international capital markets," he said.

Secondly, that actions of the European Union in that regard should take into account the need for safeguarding success in meeting the challenge of the common currency.

And thirdly, the need for promoting structural changes in Asian economies.

He also stressed the importance of the provision of technical aid for financial restructuring, the fight against mechanisms for money laundering and drug trafficking, as well as cooperation in the fields of environmental protection and protection of the dignity of women and children. Referring to the drachma's recent incorporation to the European Union's Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), the prime minister said he had found full support from his EU counterparts attending the summit.

"All (the leaders) I spoke to offered their support and congratulations. They also expressed their conviction that the Greek economy had taken steady steps forward and is now entering the final phase towards Economic and Monetary Union," Mr. Simitis said.

In a related development, Mr. Simitis said yesterday that he had accepted an invitation to visit the People's Republic of China following a meeting on the sidelines of the Europe-Asia summit.

The invitation was made by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, and the date will be set through diplomatic channels, Mr. Simitis said.

He also described Greece's relations with China as extremely good.

Finally, Mr. Simitis and his Japanese counterpart Ryutaro Hashimoto also met to discuss closer bilateral economic ties. Currently, the trade balance is in Japan's favour.

The two premiers also discussed boosting Japanese tourism to Greece, Mr. Simitis said.

Joint defence industry schemes urged

The Greek defence industries must participate in joint production programmes if they wish to survive, Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said yesterday.

"Weak demand for weapons systems is already leading many industries in Europe to collaborations and mergers," he told a conference on the subject, organised by the Institute of Defence Analyses.

He said it was no coincidence that the issue of coordinating and unifying defence industries was on the agenda of the meeting of Western European Union (WEU) foreign and defence ministers in Rhodes next month. He forecast that the terms for such collaborations among all European countries would be finalised within 1998.

Tsohatzopoulos reiterated that the government was committed to an overall speedy reorganisation of the country's defence industries, with support for initiatives in the setting up of new schemes.

"The defence ministry is already in consultations with domestic research institutes and is seeking cooperation with foreign such centres with a view to bringing know-how and technology to Greece," he revealed.

"The initiatives in the defence industries will be of a similar scope to those in the broader public sector, as their problems are the same," he added, stressing the need for radical restructuring of operations.

This was a necessary condition that would contribute to the attainment of the foremost national goal, the country's participation in European Economic and Monetary Union, he said, noting that the budgets of all concerns in the broader public sector amounted to no less than five times the national budget.

He called for the commencement of substantive dialogue between government, management and unions for the rehabilitation of ailing public utilities, stressing that workers were not the only ones to blame for their current problems, and that responsibilities rested with all three sides.

"Two huge mistakes have been made by all governments in the last 23 years, consisting of the identification of trade union representation with labour representation, and the identification of the state with management," he said.

Banks see losses due to single currency

Greek banks expect losses of 30-40 billion drachmas, amounting to around three to four percent of their total net operating expenses, in their drive to work towards a single European currency, a National Bank of Greece study said.

Theodoros Karatzas, the bank's governor and chairman of the Greek Banks Union, presented the study on the impact on the Greek banking system of adoption of the euro.

He said the cost of adaptation to the euro was affordable for the country's financial sector. The study, which is the result of several months of research, is expected to become an aid for the management of banks ahead of the adoption of the single currency and the ensuing changes.

Nikos Karamouzis, National Bank of Greece's deputy governor and the architect of the study, said that Greek banks also faced another 30 billion drachmas in losses from adjusting their operational systems to the euro.

He said that the cost of replacing drachma notes and coins with euros was still unknown.

Investment banking was expected to be the first banking sector in Greece to feel the euro's impact, followed by treasury and dealing rooms, asset management and corporate finance.

Retail banking was expected to have the least trouble. Mr. Karatzas urged Greek banks to take initiatives by expanding into new markets, offering new products and investing in new technology in order to remain competitive in the EMU market from January 1st, 1999.

He said that the drachma's entry into the euro by 2001 was a national goal and the most important development in the country's history after the Second World War.

Mr. Karatzas said that in the transition period from January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2000, the euro should be dealt with as another foreign currency by the Greek banking sector.

He said that the drachma was safe within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism because the government would have to strictly adhere to monetary stability as set by the Maastricht criteria.

Karatzas dismissed speculation that the Greek currency was expected to face new pressures ahead of an EU summit in May to decide the euro's participants.

Greek stocks jump on fresh round of buying

Greek equities ended the week sharply higher on Friday boosted by renewed buying activity following a further drop in domestic interest rates.

The general index closed 3.43 percent higher at 2,063.50 points with all sector indices scoring major gains.

Banks rose 4.11 percent, Insurance ended 3.10 percent up, Leasing increased 0.99 percent, Investment was 2.71 percent higher, Industrials jumped 3.19 percent, Miscellaneous rose 2.48 percent, Holding ended 2.03 percent up, but Construction bucked the tr end to end 1.02 percent down.

The parallel index for small cap companies rose 2.77 percent while the FTSE/ASE-20 blue chip index jumped 3.82 percent to 1,220.49.

Trading was heavy with turnover at 65 billion drachmas.

Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation ended 310 drachmas up at 8,110 in heavy volume of 731,500 issues.

Broadly, advancers led decliners by 172 to 65 with another 23 issues unchanged.

Ergodata, Maillis, Rokas, Delta Inform, Lykos, Keranis and Strintzis scored the biggest percentage gains at the day's 8.0 percent limit up.

Viokarpet, Etma, Macedonian Plastics, Sportsman and Boutaris suffered the heaviest losses.

National Bank of Greece ended at 36,700 drachmas, Ergobank at 23,300, Alpha Credit Bank at 24,650, Delta Dairy at 3,560, Titan Cement at 22,965 and Intracom at 19,100.

In the domestic money market, the drachma was substantially higher against most foreign currencies, rebounding from a two-day decline.

The Greek currency rose by 0.46 and 0.44 percent against the Ecu and DMark respectively in the week.

On a weekly basis, the general index showed net gains of 0.09 percent. The index stood at 583.87 points, or 39.46 percent higher since the start of the year.

The miscellaneous sector scored the biggest percentage gains in the week at 13.43 percent, while the construction sector suffered the heaviest losses at 11.40 percent.

Trading remained heavy to total 364.6 billion drachmas, or a daily average of 72.9 billion, down from 78.8 billion the previous week.

Traders said that the market would, in the short term, closely watch convergence towards the European Union's economic and monetary union.

Prospects of a final solution to a dispute between the government and Olympic Airways workers were seen as a factor that could boost to the market.

Gov't sees minimal price impact of devaluation

Greece's government said a jolt to prices stemming from the drachma's 14 percent devaluation last month would soon ease, leaving inflation unscathed.

A coordinating ministerial committee agreed at a meeting on Friday that the devaluation, linked to the country's entry into the European Union's exchange rate mechanism, would not lead to a resurgence of declining inflation, government sources said.

Helping to keep prices down were healthy competition and spot checks by the government's financial crimes squad.

New real-time stock data service

OTEnet SA, a subsidiary of Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation, tomorrow launches real-time trading data from the Athens Stock Exchange via Internet.

Users will be able to track transactions, share prices and indices live throughout the bourse's trading session.

The service, available on http://www.otenet.gr/sofokleous, also allows portfolio management and analysis.

OTEnet has devised the service in conjunction with Dow Jones Markets Hellas SA and Natfeed Live Technologies SA.

In the near future, OTEnet will provide more data for the service including news, mutual funds, foreign exchange parities and international market indices.

US Senate votes on visa-free travel

The US embassy in Athens has announced that the US Senate approved a bill on April 1 to adjust criteria for the "Visa Waiver Pilot Programme", something that will very likely result in visa-free travel towards the United States by Greek and Portuguese nationals.

The announcement said the bill is now on US President Bill Clinton's desk awaiting his signature.

Several criteria remain, after the law is signed, for countries to meet in order to enter the pilot visa prorgamme.

The embassy advised travellers to continue to obtain a visa before departing for the US, as it is not yet known how long it will take to determine whether Greece meets these criteria.

Athens protests desecration in Turkey

The foreign ministry has lodged a strong protest with Turkey over the recent desecration of a Greek Orthodox cemetery in Istanbul.

The adviser of the ministry's directorate for Greek-Turkish affairs, Georgios Avgoustis, summoned an official of the Turkish embassy in Athens and conveyed the government's "extreme displeasure" about the vandalism itself and the fact that the perpetrat ors remain at large "just as those responsible for desecrating churches and cemeteries of the Greek community in Turkey also remain at large".

The government on Thursday described the vandalism as a "barbaric act" and called on Ankara to "deal decisively with such deplorable acts".

Vandals desecrated dozens of graves in the Greek cemetery in Istanbul early Tuesday, breaking marble slabs and scattering beheaded skeletons.

Last year another Greek cemetery in the Istanbul suburb of Kantili was the target of vandals and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was the target of a bomb attack for the third time in recent years. In January, the sexton of the Agios Therapon Church in Istanbul was found murdered. No arrests were ever made.

Archbishop of America Spyridon urged members of the US Congress as well as national, civic and religious leaders in the United States to respond to the latest desecration against a Greek Orthodox cemetery in Istanbul.

Spyridon urged the political and spiritual leadership in the United States to come to the defence of the faithful and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the worldwide centre of Orthodox Christianity. He also addressed a letter to US Presiden t Bill Clinton.

Turkish chief of staff due in Athens

Turkey's military chief of staff, General Ismail Karadayi, was expected to arrive at Athens east airport around 1600 local time on Sunday after flying in from Istanbul.

Karadayi is coming to Athens to take part in a meeting of the chiefs of staff of the Western European Union, of which Greece holds the rotating six- month presidency.

Also expected to arrive at an unspecified time on Sunday are the British and Norwegian representatives to the meeting.

The remaining chiefs of staff of WEU member countries, affiliated countries and observers are expected on Monday ahead of a closed-doors session at 1500-1700 local time to prepare the meeting's agenda.

On Monday evening, a dinner will be held in their honour by Greece's chief of staff, Wing Commander Athanasios Tzoganis.

The following issues are likely to be debated at the meeting:


The future role and powers of the WEU's planning group
The powers of a three-star general as permanent chairman of the WEU's military committee, and as director of its military staff
Participation by affiliated countries in meetings of the military committee's group on WEU's policy on exercises
Possible participation by members of WEU's military committee in NATO's military committee, and WEU's rules on exercises

Forty illegal immigrants arrested

Authorities today arrested 40 illegal immigrants and the Turkish man who had ferried them over to the island of Samos, near the Turkish coast, in two groups earlier today.

Port authority officials had set a trap for the smuggler after he left the first group of illegal immigrants, all from Iraq, at the Akrotirio area, on the eastern side of the Greek island.

The 28 men, five women and seven children included a heavily pregnant woman who was transferred to the Samos hospital, as were two of the men injured during the landing.

The rest of the illegal immigrants will be moved to a refugee center, while the Turkish man is expected to be charged later today.

Nationwide strike on Thursday

The board of the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) decided to join the 24-hour nationwide strike scheduled by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) for Thursday.

The ADEDY board, in a statement, expressed objections to the privatisation, mergers, or abolitions of public utilities and organisations, and that their proposed conversion to societes anonymes raised questions regarding even the constitutionally established permanent employment status of public servants.

Optimism over Greece's EMU target

European Commissioner Christos Papoutsis has expressed optimism over Greece's entry into Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), saying the target was feasible.

The Commissioner was speaking during a conference by the Institute of Economic Management, en titled "Euro: The Greek business and EMU".

Mr. Papoutsis also referred to the drachma's incorporation onto the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), which he said "was a necessary and important step". He added that "it was a decision which showed Greece's polit ical commitment for EMU".

NATO planning director in Athens Monday

The head of NATO's Planning Office, L. Dietriechsen, is sheduled to officially visit Greece from April 6 to 13, at the invitation of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics' (AFCEA) Greek bureau.

During his stay, the NATO official will have a protocol meeting with National Defence General Staff Chief Gen. Athanasios Tzoganis.

Mr. Dietriechsen will also visit installations of the General Directorate of Armaments, the Hellenic Aerospace Industry (EAB) and Intracom facilities, while he will also brief military officials on the NATO office's activities.

AFCEA, comprised of NATO member-states, works for bringing together the defence industries and for an improvement in the alliance's administration and communication control systems.

Minister rejects anti-immigrant backlash

Public Order Minister George Romeos yesterday criticised a spate of local reactions attributing the increase in crime to the presence of foreigners in Greece, saying they were "unjustified".

"The measures taken by the ministry and the activity of the police will bear fruit and soon restore the sense of security, dealing with all criminal phenomena," he said on arriving in Thessaloniki.

He said he had invited local authorities to list the problems they were facing so that they could be solved with the cooperation of the police, rather than trying to solve them on their own.

"Working on their own could lead them to having to deal with incidents worse than those they are currently facing," he warned.

Turning to recent reports that a new ministry bill will free police's hands to use their weapons, he said that the police had the right to use arms but with due care.

"I don't think we have reached the point where we can give the police a free hand to use their arms in any situation," he said.

Romeos could not be drawn on whether he would be visiting the village of Palio Keramidi during his trip to Katerini today.

The village of Palio Keramidi recently decided to impose a curfew on the movement of Albanians who are illegal immigrants and residing in the village to offset what villagers said was an increase in break-ins.

The decision was widely criticised and declared illegal by the police and lifted soon after.

UNHCR spokeswoman in Athens Wednesday

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Judith Kumin is scheduled to give a press conference on the refugee situation worldwide, during her one-day visit to Athens on Wednesday.

Ms Kumin, whose visit takes place on the occasion of Greece's National Day for Refugees (April 5), will refer to the extensive problem of refugees in regions such as the Great Lakes in Central Africa, countries in the former Soviet Union, the Middle Eas t and the Balkans.

The UN official will aslo speak at the launching of a Greek-language version of the second edition of the book 'The state of the World's refugees', addressing the issue of 'Asylum in Europe'. The main speaker will be Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos.

Another press release by the UNHCR office in Athens, entitled "Few reasons to celebrate", stated:

"The Panhellenic Refugee Day dawns with refugees in Greece and abroad facing hard times, in a world of shifting priorities and economic constraints.

In Greece, UNCHR, the United Nations' organisation in charge of refugees, hopes that improvements in the asylum procedure and reception facilities which are under preparation, will swiftly materialise".

OA management, unions continue talks on airline's future

The latest round of talks between management and workers at Greece's ailing national carrier, Olympic Airways, was expected to end later today.

Management had consecutive meetings with representatives of unions involved in Olympic in the course of the day and workers told reporters that there had been progress and there was hope for a way out of the impasse.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday that the government's legislation on revitalising the national carrier would be submitted to Parliament on Tuesday and up for debtate and vote on Thursday.

Speaking in London, Simitis said that there would be no change to the legal framework of the bill, but "interesting proposals" by the workers would receive "serious consideration."

He stressed that the government was committed to reforming the national carrier.

Tabled by Transport and Communications Minister Tasos Mandelis in Parliament last Tuesday after a two-month deadline on talks between management and workers expired, the bill provides for a three-year freeze on salaries at December 1997 levels, the abolition of a number of bonuses and other perks, and a number of changes to labour relations, including more flexible working hours.

The government's original plan to have the bill debated under a rush law introduced in 1967 was later changed to allow a full discussion of the issues and to give workers and management another chance at conciliation, with a fresh round of talks beginning on Thursday evening.

Worker representatives said that today's talks had focussed on specific regulations relating to a number of sector-specific unions involved in OA. The issues of finances was still unresolved, they said.

The union of flight attendants and a number of other unions have scheduled press conferences for Monday to outline their positions, while a 24-hour nationwide strike to protest the government's plans to restructure state- run firms, including the demand that Olympic Airways respect collective labour agreement, is expected to be held on April 9, the day the OA bill faces a Parliament vote.

Greece outlines position on CAP

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the framework of the "Agenda 2000" for enlargement was the key issue of discussion at a meeting in a central Athens hotel on Friday.

Greek Agriculture Minister Stephanos Tzoumakas outlined his ministry's positions on the European Commission's proposals, which he said if implemented will have a negative impact on Mediterranean products and will increase spending in the EU's Agricultur al Fund budget.

Mr. Tzoumakas had presented these positions at a recent farm ministers council, saying he was expecting a period of tough negotiations.

Some of the points raised by Athens include: P all products, north and south, should be dealt with jointly P EU funds should be raised to avoid trouble with the smooth finance of the Common Agricultural Policy. P there should be provision for extra funding in the future, in case forecasts in the guidelines for farming are not adequate. P provisions to cope with natural disasters. P there should be explicit provisions for the islands P an appropriate ratio of national, regional and local measures and actions, should be set with focus on the development of the provinces. P there should be explicit provisions for new farmers, etc.

Referring to the EU's expansion, the agriculture minister said Greece was in favour of enlargement, stressing however, that the part in a Commission report saying that future funding of Cyprus' accession course will depend on the progress to be made in resolving the Cyprus issue should be thrown out.

Mr. Tzoumakas underlined that the government will provide incentives and take structural measures to further develop the farming sector.

"This year, 1.64 billion drachmas will be allocated to the agricultural sector both through the state budget and EU subsidies", he said, adding that "producers should take more initiatives and undertake more responsibilities to utilise the potential of allocations".

Representatives of agricultural cooperatives and associations also strongly criticised the European Commission's proposals in the farming sector.

Coordinated European transport networks

The need for developing coordinated means of transport and infrastructure projects related to axes connecting European countries was stressed during a second international conference for the promotion of transport between west ern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Speakers from more than 25 nations, including about 100 Greek businesspeople, stressed that coordinated transports are a basic priority for the development of economic relations between east and west.

Russian Transport Undersecretary A. Kazantzeo singled out the particular importance of the 9th Pan-European Axis, which includes the line Moscow- Novorosyiisk-Sofia-Alexandroupoli for promoting trade in the Black Sea, and stressed the need for ferry ser vices linking the Black Sea with the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis stressed Greece's strategic role through the Egnatia motorway, now under construction across the breadth of northern Greece, and the adjoining ports on the Aegean, but recognised the existence of major border pr oblems which hinder the efficient integration of transport networks.

Cypriot Transport Minister Leontios Ierodiakonou asked for the free movement of Cypriot-flagged vessels, while he also noted that airport and ports in his country were being modernised with a view to providing high- standard services. His proposal for th e holding of the next international conference in Nicosia was accepted.

WEATHER

Mostly fair weather is forecast for most parts of Greece today with local clouds in the afternoon only on the mainland. Winds will be variable, light to moderate. Temperatures in Athens will range between 8-22C, while in Thessaloniki from 6-22C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Friday's closing rates (buying): U.S. dollar 318.730 British pound 530.859 Japanese Yen(100) 236.711 French franc 51.320 German mark 171.988 Italian lira (100) 17.442 Irish Punt 432.710 Belgian franc 8.337 Finnish mark 56.621 Dutch guilder 152.644 Danish kr. 45.134 Austrian sch. 24.428 Spanish peseta 2.027 Swedish kr. 39.759 Norwegian kr. 41.648 Swiss franc 208.012 Port. Escudo 1.678 AUS dollar 209.510 Can. dollar 224.132 Cyprus pound 591.232

(C.S.)


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