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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 98-04-09

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, 09/04/1998 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Gov't wants party politics kept out of the economy
  • Unions launch 24-hour nationwide strike
  • OA management, employees reach draft agreement
  • Tsohatzopoulos praises Greek-German defence sector cooperation
  • Simitis article in new PASOK magazine
  • Pelican habitat destruction decried
  • Polish President winds up visit, meets with Simitis
  • Treasures of Mount Athos exhibition to end April 30
  • Greece welcomes EU approval for Thessaloniki metro tender
  • Greek stocks trade in narrow range, end flat
  • Greek mutual funds jump 15.77 pct in Q1
  • Greek tourism authorities speed up asset sale
  • OECD report on Greek economy sees '98, '99 improvement
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Gov't wants party politics kept out of the economy

The Greek economy is finally on the right track and party politics should not be allowed to block progress, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday.

Mr. Papantoniou was speaking at the opening of an economic roundtable organised by the "Economist" magazine in Athens.

"There is a strong inclination towards progress in the Greek economy and that is something that various political parties should take note of," he said.

The recent inclusion of the drachma in the European Union's Exchange Rate Mechanism was the latest indication that the economy was on the right path after years of mistakes, he said.

Mr. Papantoniou outlined the government's plans for structural reforms in the economy, particularly in the public sector, that aim to speed up privatisation.

"The government is aiming at a climate of consensus so that workers can actively contribute to the restructuring of Olympic Airways and other state companies," he said.

The minister said changes in the social security system would be announced by the government by the end of the year if there was progress in talks with the parties involved.

The changes would include defining the retirement age, and they would be included in a timetable of reforms beginning in 2000.

Unions launch 24-hour nationwide strike

The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Civil Servants' Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY), today launched a 24-hour strike bringing most public transport utilities, banks and the public sector to a standstill.

Banks and public services will operate only with skeleton crews, while Olympic Airways flights, rail connections and urban bus schedules will be severely disturbed. However, staff and drivers of Urban Transport Organisation (OAS) "blue buses" will not strike between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, passengers travelling to the islands faced problems throughout the country's ports yesterday as dockworkers began a 48-hour strike to protest a government plan to privatise the country's two largest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki.

In addition, the Panhellenic Seamen's Federation (PNO) will take part in a 24-hour strike called for today.

A PNO statement said that Greek seamen are protesting "the government's austerity policy and the abolition of labour rights".

At a branch level, PNO is demanding the signing of collective labour agreements that will take into account the recent 14 per cent devaluation of the drachma.

PNO also wants to see jobs safeguarded and cabotage restrictions retained.

OA management, employees reach draft agreement

A draft agreement was signed yesterday between Olympic Airways' board and representatives of the secondary-stage trade union (OSPA) and representatives of civil aviation pilots, flight engineers and stewards, by which a new labour regulation for OA staff was accepted.

Objections and reservations were raised by stewards and flight engineers, but only over working hours. Specifically, they did not accept a 10-hour workday. On the contrary, they agreed on flight and landing hours, and leave of absence.

"Our decisions today will determine whether the national air carrier will be there tomorrow, or whether it will be replaced by other airlines," Prime Minister Costas Simitis told Parliament yesterday, explaining the government's philosophy behind the cont roversial OA restructuring bill.

Mr. Simitis called on trade unionists reacting to the bill to realise the if the current state of affairs was preserved, this would "lead to the company's closure with mathematical precision". He further rejected opposition objections to the bill, saying that the main opposition New Democracy party was more interested in harming ruling PASOK, rather than contributing to moving the country ahead.

Nevertheless, the prime minister admitted that the OA streamlining programme implemented since 1995 had failed to achieve its targets.

All Olympic Airways flights scheduled for the Orthodox Easter holiday next week will be carried out as scheduled and workers who had accepted the new general regulations would be required to stop all labour action as of Friday.

Tsohatzopoulos praises Greek-German defence sector cooperation

Relations between Athens and Bonn in the defence sector were the focus of talks yesterday on Crete between Greek Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos and his German counterpart Volker Ruehe. Both men arrived in Hania late Tuesday night.

Mr. Tsohatzopoulos called his meeting with his German counterpart "useful" and told reporters that they would meet again on Rhodes when the Western European Union defence ministers' council convenes later in the year. Greece presently holds the rotating six-month WEU presidency. Mr. Ruehe said that bilateral relations were at a very good level, adding that his meeting with Mr. Tsohatzopoulos was "positive".

Simitis article in new PASOK magazine

In an article published in the new magazine "Ekfrasi" ('Expression'), published by the ruling PASOK party, Prime Minister Costas Simitis stressed the presence of a modern socialist Left without a "state logic" and encoura- ging the activities of the indivi dual.

On the question of shaping a modern Left proposal, Mr. Simitis said it is necessary for the Left to "break away with the deeply rooted distrust of the traditional, and particularly the communist, Left towards the individual. We must strengthen the auton omy of citizens, fortify their freedom with new institutions to encourage their initiative and their creativity."

"The need is evident for a fruitful dialogue on the major problems of the Left, Europe and the country.

PASOK Secretary Costas Skandalidis, who spoke at the launching of the magazine held at the Foreign Press Correspondents'(FPA) offices in downtown Athens, stressed that "seriousness, independence and an attractive style" will characterise the new publi cation.

The first 20,000 copies of Ekfrasis will hit the newsstands today, priced at 500 drachmas each. The publication is a continuation of the PASOK affiliated newspaper "Exormisis," which ceased publication only recently.

Former government spokesman and PASOK minister Telemahos Hytiris has been appointed as the magazine's director, while Andreas Pappas is the managing editor.

Pelican habitat destruction decried

The Hellenic Ornithological Society (EOE) and the World Wildlife Fund - Hellas (WWF) yesterday denounced what they called unprecedented destruction in one of the world's most important natural habitats for pelicans.

The two groups pointed to the Greek state for showing what they called a "criminal indifference" towards the Florina prefecture's Mikri Prespa Lake. The lake serves as a habitat for the silver pelican species. According to the two groups, a hunter enter ed the region on April 3 and fired shots at the birds' nests, which subsequently drove them away.

The same hunter remained in the area for three hours, resulting in the destruction of about 200 nests, or 80 per cent of the total number. The Pespes Lakes Protection Society has lodged a complaint, while legal action was initiated against the hunter.

The EOE announcement said that the conviction of one person was obviously insufficient in doing justice and laying responsibilities.

The group demanded a solution over the pelican habitat's protection and posed two questions, one regarding the reason why such a large area is practically unguarded, and the other on why nothing has been done so far to implement a progrmme for that ecosystem's protection.

Polish President winds up visit, meets with Simitis

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski wound up an official three-day visit here yesterday with talks with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who underscored Athens' willingness to support European enlargement and Warsaw's entry to European organisations.

"The participation of countries which are at present negotiating their accession will considerably change the balances and procedures in the EU. We are willing to provide Poland and any other country currently negotiating with advice based on our experience in the EU," Mr. Simitis said.

The important thing for Poland is for the will to exist for EU enlargement, Mr. Simitis said, adding that Greece was in favour of Poland's accession.

Thanking Mr. Simitis for Greece's support, Mr. Kwasniewski said with respect to his country's accession to the EU and NATO that "we have a friend and ally in Greece."

In a related development, Parliament yesterday ratified a friendship and cooperation protocol between Greece and Poland, with approval by all parties except the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

Treasures of Mount Athos exhibition to end April 30

The highly successful "Treasures of Mount Athos" exhibition will end on April 30, while on the same day 15 Orthodox prelates will meet in Thessaloniki to prepare for a church synod, scheduled for the year 2000.

According to Byzantine Museum figures, 650,971 visitors - of which 168,677 were students - visited the exhibition.

Greece welcomes EU approval for Thessaloniki metro tender

Greece yesterday welcomed a decision by the European Union to shelve a complaint over the award of a tender to a French-Greek consortium for construction and operation of a metro for Thessaloniki.

"The EU has given the green light for the continuation of negotiations with the second interim winner of the tender so that this key project for Thessaloniki can be accomplished," Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis said.

The complaint was lodged in 1996 by Makedoniko Metro, a consortium that was originally named the tender's interim winner. It was led by Michaniki, a listed Greek engineering contractor.

After two and a half years of talks, the two sides failed to reach agreement and the government embarked on negotiations with the Thessaloniki Metro consortium to carry out the long-delayed project.

Speaking at a news conference in Thessaloniki, Mr. Laliotis said that the European Commission's decision vindicated the government's line.

Talks with the new consortium on a contract would finish by June, funding for the project was ensured, and its completion was expected in five years. The contract would go to parliament for approval, he said.

The European Investment Bank would then be approached for the award of a loan to the new winning consortium, and commercial banks asked to provide loan guarantees.

Asked to name the cost of construction, Laliotis said the estimate was 40 billion drachmas in 1993 prices.

Of the total, 25 billion drachmas had been allocated to other projects, but the remainder would be secured from third Community framework or national funds.

A traffic survey of Thessaloniki was nearing completion that was essential to finalising the metro scheme, Mr. Laliotis said.

Greek stocks trade in narrow range, end flat

Greek equities yesterday moved in a tight range on the Athens Stock Exchange to end lower despite a surge in the construction sector following announcement that the Thessaloniki metro project will go ahead.

The general index closed 0.20 percent lower at 2,124.76 points with most sector indices losing ground. Banks fell 0.19 percent, Insurance eased 1.09 percent, Investment dropped 0.64 percent, Leasing rose 0.77 percent, Industrials fell 0.61 percent,

Miscellaneous was 0.97 percent off, Holding rose 2.45 percent and Construction soared 4.13 percent.

The parallel market index for small cap companies rose 0.90 percent reflecting investors' appetite for smaller capitalisation stocks.

The FTSE/ASE-20 index fell 0.05 percent to 1,261.10 points. Trading was heavy with turnover at 54.3 billion drachmas.

Broadly, decliners led advancers by 135 to 104 with another 17 issues unchanged.

Epilektos, Shelman, Papahellinas, Katselis, Hellenic Sugar, Alte and Varyte scored the biggest percentage gains at the day's 8.0 percent limit up.

Nafpaktos Mills, Mouriades, Britania, Yalco and Rocas suffered the heaviest losses.

National Bank of Greece ended at 37,900 drachmas, Ergobank at 24,655, Alpha Credit Bank at 24,895, Delta Dairy at 3,685, Titan Cement at 23,200, Intracom at 19,650 and Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation at 7, 950.

Greek mutual funds jump 15.77 pct in Q1

Total assets of Greece's 167 mutual funds soared to 8.3 trillion drachmas in the first quarter of 1998, an increase of 15.77 percent since the start of the year, a statement by the Union of Institutional Investors said yesterday.

The composition of the mutual funds market based on assets on March 31 showed money market funds accounting for 65.55 percent of the market, followed by fixed income funds with a 21.91 percent share, combined funds with a 9.07 percent stake and equity funds with 3.37 percent.

There are 28 mutual fund management firms currently operating in Greece.

Greek tourism authorities speed up asset sale

The Greek National Tourism Organisation (EOT) is speeding up the process of selling its assets after a new timetable set by Development Minister Vasso Papandreou.

GNTO is expected to launch a tender for the lease of its three Xenia hotels in Nafplion as a single unit to become more attractive to investors, sources said yesterday.

Tenders are also planned for the lease of Xenia hotels in Lagonissi, Attica.

GNTO was expected to set conditions for a minimum annual fee of 200 million drachmas for a 30-year lease.

Investors would be obliged to invest in the hotels.

OECD report on Greek economy sees '98, '99 improvement

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) yesterday made public its bi-annual report on economic conditions in Greece.

According to the report, the Greek economy will continue to improve in 1998 and 1999 if the government continues structural changes and keeps salary raises in check.

The OECD report said inflation decreased by two percentage points in 1997 and the public deficit fell to 4 per cent of GDP during the same year, as compared to 7.5 per cent in 1996.

The report noted that the deficit of the external balance - 4 per cent of GDP in 1997 compared to the 2.5 per cent in 1995 - led to a 14 per cent devaluation of the drachma at its incorporation into the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) last March.

OECD also notes that inflation must reach the European Union average in 1999, while the current transaction deficit must be stabilised in 1998 and 1999.

The organisation expects a small slowdown in the growth rate to 3 per cent in 1998, due to the strict fiscal policy and the loss of buying power, while a recovery is expected for 1999.

The report calls for a reduction of the public deficit to 2.4 per cent of GDP in 1998 by reining in public spending by 1 per cent of the GDP, but it estimates that it will end up at 2.9 per cent.

It also calls on Greece to continue structural changes in the job market and the public sector, which has a considerable deficit.

Finally, the organisation noted that the danger of a recession will be decreased by the effective application of the 1998 budget.

WEATHER

Scattered clouds throughout Greece today with the possibility of rain in the north, western and central regions in the evening. Winds southerly, moderate to strong. Athens will be sunny with a few clouds and temperatures between 12-24C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 10-22C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Wednesday's closing rates (buying): U.S. dollar 316.448 British pound 528.081 Japanese Yen(100) 238.159 French franc 51.584 German mark 172.916 Italian lira (100) 17.504 Irish Punt 435.885 Belgian franc 8.379 Finnish mark 56.978 Dutch guilder 153.502 Danish kr. 45.344 Austrian sch. 24.579 Spanish peseta 2.038 Swedish kr. 39.878 Norwegian kr. 41.616 Swiss franc 208.211 Port. Escudo 1.685 AUS dollar 208.528 Can. dollar 222.347 Cyprus pound 592.224

(C.E.)


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