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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-03-31
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>
NEWS IN ENGLISH
ATHENS, GREECE, 31/03/1999 (ANA)
NEWS IN DETAILGreek aid to FYROM, Albania to support Kosovo refugees
The government said yesterday that Greece will provide 2.5 billion drachmas (around $8.5 million) of humanitarian aid to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania to deal with the influx of refugees exiting the war-torn Yugoslav province of Kosovo .
Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou announced after an inter-ministerial meeting that two ambulances, tents, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals will be flown by C-130 aircraft today and tomorrow, while 250 out of around 500 pre- fabricated homes would be disp atched immediately to both countries and Serbia.
In addition, two centres will be established in Ioannina and Thessaloniki to coordinate and supervise the agencies handling refugee affairs.
Replying to reporters' questions whether refugees have already crossed the Greek border, Ms Papandreou said the situation at the borders was normal and that no refugees had reached Greece, while she said "FYROM had asked Greece to accept refugees, although the Greek government feels that it would be more effective if the people remained near their homes, which was the intention of the humanitarian and financial aid to Skopje."
Commission: Greece expected to meet EMU criterion for inflation
The European Commission has forecast inflation rates of 2.1 in 1999 and 1.9 per cent in 2000 for Greece, meeting one of the two remaining criteria for participation in Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) by 2001.
The other criterion is a convergence of interest rates.
The forecast is contained in the Commission's six-month report on the economies of member-states in 1998, released yesterday, which also provides forecasts for 1999.
"The performance of the Greek economy continued to improve: GDP growth accelerated while significant progress was achieved in curbing inflation and correcting fiscal imbalances...
"Investment activity continued to be strong while exports contributed to an acceleration in real output to an estimated rate of economic growth of 3.6 per cent," the report noted.
"The situation in the labour market improved in 1998, albeit marginally, and the unemployment rate resumed a slow downward path...Slowing demand and labour costs assisted the containment of inflation in the post-devaluation period. On average consumer prices rose by 4.8 per cent in 1998, down from 5.5 per cent in 1997.
Year-on-year CPI inflation reached 3.7 per cent in January and February 1999 and is expected to decelerate further as from April when the impact of last year's devaluation will have been fully absorbed.
"The general government deficit in 1999 is forecast to be 2.1 per cent of GDP...The primary surplus is expected to reach 6.5 per cent of GDP in 1999 and 2000, thus contributing to a further decline in the debt ratio in both years."
G. Papandreou-Karamanlis meeting focuses on Balkan crisis
Foreign Minister George Papandreou said a coincidence of views regarding the political framework for resolving the Kosovo crisis was ascertained during his meeting with main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis at ND's offices yesterday after noon.
Mr. Papandreou said the government's initiatives are continuing at diplomatic and humanitarian levels with contacts and communications he had with his counterparts of Balkan countries, as well as of the US and Russia.
He said he will continue his contacts with the other political parties as well and with former foreign ministers of both PASOK and ND on the issue.
Replying to a question on whether there are fears of refugees moving to southern Albania, he said the aim is to keep the refugees as close as possible to their homes as necessitated by international practice.
Mr. Papandreou said he has had consultations on the issue with his Albanian counterpart and has briefed non-governmental organisations and officials such as Mr. Holbrooke and others on the Greek minority in Albania.
Mr. Karamanlis requested from Mr. Papandreou to have Greece undertake an initiative for a peaceful solution in the region.
Greece condemns killings of Kosovo Albanian leaders
The Greek foreign ministry yesterday issued a press release condemning the murders of several Kosovo Albanian political leaders over the recent week.
"We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the murders. We believe that in these difficult times, the loss of the moderate Albanian personalities, who worked for the protection of human and minority rights and the search for a peaceful solution to the Kosovo problem, is a heavy blow to all those forces within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia who struggle with moderation and realism for an exit from the cycle of violence and blood as well as a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis," the statement read.
China's Li Peng warns against NATO intervention in Yugoslavia
The president of China's National Peoples' Assembly, Li Peng, yesterday demanded the immediate end to the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and return to negotiations.
Mr. Peng, on a four-day official visit in Athens at the invitation of Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis, said NATO actions have already caused loss of human lives and had a serious impact on refugees and distabilisation in the region.
The Chinese leader stressed that "the borders were established during World War II and should remain unchanged", warning that a change in borders "would constitute a major crime."
"The Chinese people are against NATO's armed intervention in Yugoslavia, as a matter of fact (conducted) without UN consent. Our standing position is to oppose interventions in other states' internal affairs," Mr. Peng said.
The Greek Parliament president stressed that China was one of the most consistant supporters of International Law on the Cyprus problem, adding that its significant international standing could allow it to play a key role in southeastern European developments.
Gov't expects no problems in tourism sector from Yugoslav crisis
The government expects no substantive problems for trade, exports and tourism due to the war in Yugoslavia, as Greece lies outside the crisis and is a European country.
However, whatever minor problems which might be created have already been discussed both at government level and with relevant agencies and chambers of commerce, primarily in northern Greece.
Development Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Greek tourism is not facing any problem since no bookings have been cancelled and, on the contrary, bookings have exceeded capacity.
He further said that no problem existed on corridors used by Greece to other European countries. In other words, communication corridors used after 1990 for the passage of Greek goods to central Europe are not being harmed.
On the question of Greek exports to the other Balkan countries, with the exception of Yugoslavia, no problem appears to exist and nor will it exist. On the contrary, economic, technical and humanitarian aid Greece will provide for the hosting of refugees in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are expected to strengthen Greek exports to these countries.
Ethnic Greek organisation in Albania on refugee issue
Omonia, the Greek ethnic party in Albania, issued an announcement yesterday stating that the Greek minority in the neighbouring country follows the latest developments in Kosovo with great concern.
Omonia's announcement expressed its adherence to the protection of peace and its unequivocal rejection to all kinds of violence "no matter the source."
The ethnic Greek party also expressed its solidarity to "all the victims of the humanitarian catastrophe, which is before our gates", and wished "for the creation of necessary conditions which will allow for all (refugees) to return to their homes."
Omonia also requested of the Albanian government and international organisations to prevent public order problems as well as any alteration the area's demographic composition.
Finally, the mayor Gjirokaster yesterday announced that 5,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees will be settled in that town, while another 2,000 in outlying areas, many which constitute the heartland of the Greek minority in southern Albania.
Meanwhile, the Greek Red Cross said in a statement yesterday that it was preparing to send 18,000 packages of sanitary items and 3,000 mattresses to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for refugees fleeing Kosovo.
Alpha Credit Bank eyes 100 pct buyout of Ionian
Alpha Credit Bank chairman Yiannis Kostopoulos yesterday proposed to shareholders that a new meeting should be called in April to vote on the acquisition of the remainder of Ionian Bank, and a share capital rise.
Alpha, the country's largest private commercial bank, has won a tender for the sale of a 51 percent stake in Ionian, the centrepiece of the government's privatisation plan.
Mr. Kostopoulos said the bank's business plan for Ionian, which was part of its bid, is to go into effect immediately.
A contract for the acquisition was signed with Ionian's parent, Commercial Bank of Greece. All three banks involved are listed on the Athens bourse.
The Alpha Credit Group was now the country's second largest bank after the state-run National Bank of Greece Group, Mr. Kostopoulos said.
Alpha's market share among commercial banks had risen to 18-19 percent due to the acquisition of Ionian.
Total assets were 6.1 trillion drachmas, loans 2.3 trillion drachmas and deposits 4.8 trillion drachmas.
The bank will also hold a one-for-one bonus issue, lowering the share's nominal price to 1,500 drachmas from 2,000 drachmas.
The move would make Alpha's share more accessible to the buying public, Mr. Kostopoulos said.
T-bill yields drop in auction
Treasury bill yields fell during yesterday's auction of 12-month paper. The average weighed yield fell to 8.75 percent from 9.20 percent in the previous auction.
Deputy Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said that the bond market was showing signs of stabilisation, and that 10-year bond yields remained within the Maastricht criterion for participation in the euro zone.
Buying was seen in yesterday's secondary market and prices rose after a slump in the previous session.
Mr. Christodoulakis was speaking after a meeting with National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou to review domestic markets.
Government plans tax cuts to aid low wage earners, businesses
The government has drafted tax reforms including support for low incomes and businesses through tax cuts, simpler procedures to improve services for the public, and a wider the tax base, Deputy Finance Minister George Drys said yesterday.
He was addressing a two-day conference on Greece in a new Europe in the 21st century organised by the Hellenic-British Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Drys said that the government hoped to achieve three targets through its tax reform programme.
The goals were to give the public returns for the sacrifices it made to support economic growth and competitiveness; transform the tax system into an instrument of continuous growth; and prepare for entry into a unified tax system in the European Union.
He said Greece supported adoption of a jointly approved floor for corporate tax in the EU in order to prevent unfair tax competition among member- states.
Stocks nose up in volatile trade
Equity prices ended a highly volatile session slightly higher yesterday supported by hopes that the crisis in Kosovo would not be prolonged or deteriorate further.
The general index ended 0.42 percent higher at 3,511.02 points after moving in a range of 125 points during the day.
Traders said the outlook remained positive due to favourable economic fundamentals.
Banks fell 0.53 percent, Insurance dropped 1.71 percent, Investment was 2.38 percent higher, Leasing rose 0.52 percent, Industrials increased 0.99 percent, Miscellaneous ended 1.44 percent up, Construction rose 0.40 percent and Holding increased 0.83 pe rcent higher.
The parallel market index for small cap companies ended 0.95 percent lower.
Turnover was 235.373 billion drachmas and volume 33,228,115 shares, reflecting the transfer of 11,750,000 shares worth 110 billion drachmas from Eurobank to its underwriters following an initial public offer.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index ended 0.15 percent higher at 2,174.85 points.
National Bank of Greece ended at 21,300 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 41, 200, Ergobank at 23,530, Ionian Bank at 23,700, Titan Cement at 23,920, Hellenic Petroleum ata 2,450, Intracom at 19,100, Minoan Lines at 7,305, Panafon at 7,930 and Hellenic Telecoms at 7,360.
Gov't hopes for EU okay in Thessaloniki finance centre plan
Economy ministry secretary general George Papaioannou said yesterday he believed the European Union would endorse a government proposal to create an international financial services centre in Thessaloniki.
Mr. Papaioannou was in the northern port city to attend a meeting with Macedonia-Thrace Minister Yiannis Magriotis and local business officials.
The existence of the centre would strengthen Thessaloniki's position in the region, create around 1,000 jobs and aid operations at the city's stock exchange centre, Mr. Magriotis said.
Conference on EU funds held in Athens
European Union funds to flow into Greece over the 2000-2006 period, roughly nine trillion drachmas, constitute a major opportunity for Greece's further development course, the government and private sector representatives said yesterday during a conference entitled "Agenda 2000-Greek Economy".
The conference was organised in Athens by the Hellenic British Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Federation of Greek Industries (SEB) and Reuters Hellas.
Addressing the conference, National Economy Deputy Minister Christos Pachtas said the funds, both EU and national, destined for the country's development prospects over the 2000-2006 period are estimated to exceed 15 trillion drachmas.
Agriculture Minister George Anomeritis said the third Community Support Framework will only constitute an important opportunity for the country's development if it is combined with the carrying out of structural changes in all sectors in the economy.
The Union of Insurance Companies of Greece (EAEE) has unveiled an Internet website in order to provide information to local and foreign insurance companies operating in Greece. The EAEE website is:http://eaee.gr
Unstable weather will continue throughout Greece today with local showers and rainstorms. Winds variable, moderate to strong. Light rain in Athens with sunny spells and temperatures between 10-17C. Cloudy in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 6-15C.
Wednesday's rates (buying) U.S. dollar 300.844 Pound sterling 486.397 Japanese yen (100) 250.401 French franc 49.195 German mark 164.992 Italian lira (100) 16.666 Irish Punt 409.742 Belgian franc 7.999 Luxembourg franc 7.999 Finnish mark 54.274 Dutch guilder 146.434 Danish kr. 43.440 Austrian sch. 23.451 Spanish peseta 1.939 Swedish kr. 36.029 Norwegian kr. 38.583 Swiss franc 202.269 Port. Escudo 1.610 Aus. dollar 189.432 Can. dollar 198.519 Cyprus pound 557.504 Euro 322.698(C.E.)
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