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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 98-04-17

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, 17/04/1998 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Greece prepares for Orthodox Easter celebrations
  • National Bank of Greece to merge with Mortgage Bank
  • Greek stocks soar, seen testing 3,000 pts in short term
  • Mining company finds gold in northern Greece
  • Foreign funds sweep into Greek bourse
  • Gov't welcomes 37 pct sale of Macedonia-Thrace Bank
  • Vigil for elder Karamanlis continues
  • Stephanopoulos in Hungary next week
  • Apostolakis heads for Jerusalem for transfer of Holy Fire
  • Van den Broek: Cyprus EU accession could end Turkey's aspirations
  • Balkan rapid deployment force renamed
  • Gov't announces additional measures to combat crime
  • Early elections speculation denial
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Greece prepares for Orthodox Easter celebrations

Greece prepares to celebrate Orthodox Easter the weekend as most urban dwellers are scheduled to leave the cities for the provinces and islands.

More than 700,000 residents of the greater Athens area were expected to leave Attica, while Thessaloniki will empty as well.

According to public order ministry estimates, released yesterday, 120,000 vehicles in the greater Athens area are expected to pass through toll posts on the two main motorways leading out of the capital to central and northern Greece and to the Peloponn ese.

The Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE), bus companies (KTEL) and the Piraeus Port Authority have scheduled additional routes. Police are taking special measures to facilitate the flow of traffic on main and secondary roads, while ambulances will be positioned at key points.

Problems for travellers have been created by cancellations and delays in Olympic Airways flights, resulting from staff shortages.

National Bank of Greece to merge with Mortgage Bank

National Bank of Greece, the country's largest credit institution, will absorb its subsidiary Mortgage Bank after the two boards officially endorse the move at a meeting on April 23, it was announced yesterday.

Proposed will be a stock swap of 1.9 shares in Mortgage Bank to one share in the parent company.

The calculation takes into account bonus shares due for distribution to National Bank's shareholders, a move already endorsed by its board.

Consolidated data will show assets of 12.5 trillion drachmas, deposits of 10 trillion drachmas including 3.4 trillion in foreign currency, and loans of 3.3 trillion drachmas.

The two banks' network will come to 605 domestic branches and more than 100 abroad.

Combining the banks' 1997 balance sheets would show pre-tax profits including provisions of 175 billion drachmas.

The absorption will cut operational costs.

It will also allow better management of assets and liabilities, and greater scope for the development of mortgage credit, in which Mortgage Bank is already a market leader.

In addition, money market operations will gain a new impetus as the new unit will acquire a single dealing room.

The absorption is expected is allow the expanded bank a stronger presence in domestic and foreign money and capital markets.

Both National Bank of Greece's governor, Theodoros Karatzas, and the national economy ministry have said that the average size of Greek banks needs to increase before introduction of the euro, when competition is expected to become tougher.

Greek stocks soar, seen testing 3,000 pts in short term

Greek equities yesterday continued their breathless rally, breaking into new record territory for the third session in a row and the fourteenth in the last 23 sessions.

The general index closed 4.67 percent higher at 2,448.55 points, and turnover jumped to a heavy 126.6 billion drachmas.

Traders expect the market to test the 3,000 level in the short term, although warning of a short-lived downward technical correction.

Most sector indices were higher.

Banks rose 4.64 percent, Insurance ended 4.83 percent up, Leasing soared 8.0 percent, Investment increased 3.06 percent, Construction surged 7.41 percent, Industrials were 4.54 percent up, Holding rose 6.30 percent but Miscellaneous bucked the trend to end 0.26 percent off. The parallel market index for small cap companies rose 3.60 percent. The FTSE/ASE 20 blue chip index ended 4.67 percent up at 1,459.58.

Broadly, advancers led decliners by 212 to 39 with another 15 issues unchanged.

General Bank, Bank of Piraeus, Alpha Leasing, Allatini, Papoutsanis, Aegek and Sysware scored the biggest percentage gains at the day's 8.0 percent limit up. Fintexport, Hadzioannou, Halyps Cement and Athinea suffered the heaviest losses.

National Bank of Greece ended at 46,400 drachmas, Ergobank at 26,250, Alpha Credit Bank at 27,000, Delta Dairy at 4,465, Titan Cement at 25,800, Intracom at 20,000 and Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation at 9, 400.

Mining company finds gold in northern Greece

Silver Ore & Barytes SA, the country's largest mining company, said yesterday that Thracian Gold Mining SA, which had been prospecting for precious metals in northern Greece, has been successful in locating gold.

Silver Ore & Barytes, which has a 33.3 per cent stake in Thracian, said gold deposits had been located in a privately-owned zone 700 metres long and 100-300 metres wide.

In the summer, the company will release the exact location of the gold deposits and its plans for their exploitation.

The results of drilling carried out in nearby areas - Southern Perama and Perama Dasaki - were also encouraging, the firm said.

The French company La Source SAS, which is managing the project, has a 44.5 per cent holding in Thracian, and the Canadian firm Inmet Mining Corporation has 22.2 per cent of shares.

In ancient times, Greece was a major gold producer with mines centred mainly in Macedonia.

In recent decades however, there has been little activity.

Foreign funds sweep into Greek bourse

Investors on the Athens Stock Exchange are living historic moments with share prices soaring to successive records reflecting optimism over a government restructuring programme in the public sector.

Traders said yesterday the market was confident that the government would succeed in its effort to restructure public sector enterprises and complete its ambitious privatisation programme.

Foreign and domestic capital continued pouring into the Greek market ahead of an expected third flotation of Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation by the end of summer.

According to government sources, the state telecom will float a further 15 percent worth 480 billion drachmas.

A final decision will be taken after the Easter holiday this weekend. The government is also expected to announce its decision on the sale of the state-run Ionian Bank. The government's restructuring programme for the country's banking system will be completed with a sale of a 23 percent stake in General Bank, a third and final tender for the sale of Cretabank and an international tender for the sale of Bank of Central Greece.

The market is also expecting a public offering for the listing of 20 percent of Hellenic Petroleum and a series of convertible bond issues by several public sector enterprises.

Greek listed companies expect higher profitability in the first quarter of the year.

According to estimates, pre-tax profits for the market's 23 largest capitalisation stocks were expected to exceed 1.0 billion drachmas, a 37 percent increase on the corresponding period last year.

The general index ended the week 13.46 percent higher to show a net gain of 65.48 percent since the start of the year.

The index has jumped 59.27 percent since the drachma's devaluation on March 14.

The week's turnover totalled 347 billion drachmas to show a daily average of 86.9 billion, up from 60.4 billion last week.

The banking sector remained the driving force in the market's rally, showing an 83.80 percent rise in the last month.

Gov't welcomes 37 pct sale of Macedonia-Thrace Bank

The government yesterday expressed its satisfaction over the way a 37 percent stake in state-run Macedonia-Thrace Bank was sold to private Bank of Pireaus. Banking sources said that the procedure, a transfer of stocks through the Athens Stock Exchange, was fully transparent, complied with international standards, and set an example for future deals in the country.

The government also welcomed the fact that the sale was agreed at a price higher than the bank's market price.

The deal was approved by Macedonia-Thrace Bank's shareholders, National Bank of Greece, ETEBA, Post Office Savings Bank and National Capital.

Vigil for elder Karamanlis continues

Former president of the republic Constantine Karamanlis' attending physicians yesterday announced that his condition remained "un-changed and critical".

They said that today they will be able to know whether the latest fever and white blood cell count constitute a new infection.

The possibility of a new infection has not allowed doctors to remove the former president from a respirator for the next 24 hours.

Furthermore, physicians are concerned over renewed heart problems, since Mr. Karamanlis has been hospitalised for 10 days.

A medical bulletin released yesterday morning said the 91-year-old statesman had developed a slight fever.

Mr. Karamanlis was admitted to a northern Athens hospital on April 7 with a lung infection.

Stephanopoulos in Hungary next week

President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos will begin a three-day visit to Hungary next Wednesday at his Hungarian counterpart's invitation.

The Greek president will hold private talks with Hungarian President Arpad Goncz and leadership, while he will also inaugurate a Greek-Hungarian business conference.

Mr. Stephanopoulos will also visit the ethnic Greek village of Beloyiannis and will address that country's Parliament.

Apostolakis heads for Jerusalem for transfer of Holy Fire

National Defence Undersecretary Dimitris Apostolakis leaves for Jerusalem today, Good Friday, to attend the ceremony of the Holy Fire at the Anastaseos Cathedral and its ensuing transfer to Greece.

The Holy Fire will be transferred to Athens in a C-130 transport aircraft, expected to land at Hellenikon airport at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Good Saturday. The Holy Light will then be distributed to all the churches in the country.

During his stay in Jerusalem, Mr. Apostolakis will visit the Holy Places and the Cathedral of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and will attend a relevant church service. He will also meet the Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Diodoros.

Van den Broek: Cyprus EU accession could end Turkey's aspirations

EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek said yesterday that the accession of a divided Cyprus into the European Union could put an end to Turkey's aspirations of becoming an EU member.

During a press conference here, Mr. van den Broek, responsible for central and eastern Europe as well as for Turkish and Cypriot affairs, reminded that the EU started negotiations with Nicosia at the end of March, hoping that the two communities on the island would ultimately create a "joint delegation" for negotiations.

Asked on the possibility that such a "joint delegation" could never be created, he said that this could lead to a "divided island" being accepted as a member of the EU, adding that this division could then become a "permanent situation."

"Turkey could consider that if there is a divided Cyprus in the ranks of the EU, this could also mean the end of its aspirations to become a member of the EU," he added.

Mr. van den Broek also estimated that five or six years will be required for the six candidate-countries - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia - to fulfill necessary preconditions prior to becoming EU members.

Balkan rapid deployment force renamed

Military and political experts from six Balkan countries, including Greece, convening in Bucharest since Wednesday, decided yesterday to rename a Balkan rapid intervention force into the "Multinational Force for Peace in Southeastern Europe" .

According to participants at the meeting, this diplomatic formula was chosen to overcome the reservations of certain countries, the first being the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Speaking at a press conference, Romania's military chief Gen. Constantin Degeratu said that from the beginning FYROM had expressed certain reservations, primarily concerning the name of the force, but there is no problem now.

The countries participating at the meeting are Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, FYROM, Romania and Turkey. Slovenia, which had initially refused, sent a representative at the last moment and yesterday stated that it is "absolutely available to join this force ," Gen. Degeratu said.

One of the main differences which remained to be resolved is the choice of a venue for the establishment of the force's general staff, whose strength will not exceed a brigade, namely, about 2,000 troops.

Gov't announces additional measures to combat crime

Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Public Order Minister George Romeos yesterday decided to adopt additional measures to combat rising crime and prevent the entry of illegal immigrants into the country.

The two men decided to allocate another 100 billion drachmas in order to bolster police in both manpower and equipment. In addition, approval was given for the recruitment of 1,300 new officers to tackle urban crime and help guard the borders.

Part of the funds will be spent on buying new patrol cars and police motorcycles, replacing older models, and upgrading buildings.

They also decided the recruitment of 2,000 police officers, through the process of nation-wide examinations.

The reinforcement of border patrols by military units in cooperation with police and the coast guard was also decided, while a procedure of allocating duties to municipal police departments will be accelerated.

Finally, it was decided that a new border corps of 1,000 officers will be formed by the end of the year.

Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Alekos Papadopoulos, National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos, National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis also participated.

Mr. Simitis stressed that citizens must feel that the state is protecting them.

Early elections speculation denied

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said yesterday there are no plans for a Cabinet reshuffle or early elections.

He added that the government has a duty to confront the nation's problems, ensuring political and economic stability as well as the nation's prospects.

"Everything else is an unnecessary luxury," Mr. Reppas said.

Earlier, main oposition New Democracy party spokesman Aris Spiliotopoulos asked the government to take a position on the electoral system for the next general elections, whenever they might occur.

WEATHER

Partly cloudy weather throughout Greece today with the possibility of scattered showers in eastern Macedonia, Thrace, the islands of the northern and eastern Aegean Sea, Crete and the Dodecanese islands. Rain expected in the evening in the northern Ionian Sea, Epirus and the western mainland. Winds westerly, moderate to strong. Athens partly cloudy with temperatures between 10-25C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 8-22C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Thursday's closing rates (buying): U.S. dollar 312.778 British pound 527.149 Japanese Yen(100) 238.090 French franc 51.608 German mark 172.955 Italian lira (100) 17.504 Irish Punt 436.480 Belgian franc 8.379 Finnish mark 56.951 Dutch guilder 153.562 Danish kr. 45.334 Austrian sch. 24.582 Spanish peseta 2.035 Swedish kr. 40.283 Norwegian kr. 41.547 Swiss franc 207.680 Port. Escudo 1.687 AUS dollar 203.558 Can. dollar 217.942 Cyprus pound 593.216

(C.E.)


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