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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-12-09

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, 09/12/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • `Clarity` in EU-Turkey, bilateral relations now necessary
  • Inflation upturn won't hurt rate alignment
  • Budget revenue surplus totals Dr 430.9 bln in Jan-Nov
  • Change to penalty rates on overdue loans
  • Equities slump again in lower turnover
  • Bonds rise again on planned drachma revaluation
  • Greek-Bulgarian group okays road project
  • Ipekci committee proposes special award for Cem
  • Tsohatzopoulos calls for unhindered EU accession talks with Cyprus,
  • Gov't spokesman on PM's reference to early elections
  • School students defy government ban
  • Stephanopoulos ranks high in opinion poll
  • Greek views promoted at London symposium on Marbles
  • WEATHER
  • FOREIGN EXCHANGE

NEWS IN DETAIL

`Clarity` in EU-Turkey, bilateral relations now necessary

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday called for "clarity" in relations between Turkey and the European Union as well as between Ankara and Athens, just two days before the 15-member bloc prepares to discuss Turkey's candidacy bid.

"It is necessary that there be clear positions in regards to the ways and the rules of behaviour of all the participants, our European partners, Greece, Turkey, so that we can be led to solutions and not to impasses with the new relation of Turkey with the European Union," Mr. Simitis told reporters after chairing an inner cabinet meeting. The meeting was called to discuss Greece's position on Turkey's bid for EU candidacy, to be discussed at the Helsinki summit tomorrow.

The prime minister said Greece had outdone itself in attempting a friendlier relationship with Turkey, in the same way that it had worked towards developing a better climate in relations with the EU on this issue.

He said he hoped that European partners would share Athens' position that the interests of all and particularly the Union's future demanded workable solutions which would ensure the common goals of the European Union.

He cited the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations as two of these problems which required that "the rules of the game be set out on issues which have arisen in the past, or on possible issues which may arise in the future".

"It is obvious that occasional and repetitive crises and tensions in our relations with Turkey led to a climate of uncertainty and mistrust in the region, something which costs both sides," he said.

Inflation upturn won't hurt rate alignment

A recent rise in inflation due to higher world oil prices will not upset the convergence of domestic interest rates with the euro zone, National Economy and Finance Minister Yannos Papantoniou said yesterday. The timetable for the decline in rates rested largely with the Bank of Greece, Mr. Papantoniou added.

Addressing a conference on the Greek economy organised by the Hellenic- American Chamber of Commerce, he predicted that inflation would remain at the present level over the next two months.

The minister also said that the eventuality of early general elections would not affect Greece's application in March 2000 to join the European Union's economic and monetary union.

A decision is due in June.

Turning to the Athens Stock Exchange, Mr. Papantoniou anticipated an upward trend despite temporary fluctuations.

Budget revenue surplus totals Dr 430.9 bln in Jan-Nov

The budget surplus from revenue totalled 430.9 billion drachmas in January to November, the finance ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The rise in revenue was 10.8 percent, higher than the government's target of a 5.7 percent increase.

In November, budget revenue rose by 15.4 percent, overtaking the target by 114 billion drachmas.

Change to penalty rates on overdue loans

Prime Minister Costas Simitis announced yesterday that the method of calculating penalty rates on overdue loans would change, saying the measures were imperative.

"The measures are necessary to normalise the business activity of many firms, particularly small and medium sized companies," the prime minister said.

He was speaking after a meeting with National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and National Bank of Greece governor Theodoros Karatzas.

The problem of penalty payments emerged from high interest rates coupled with a reluctance by banks to refinance loans taken out at 18-25 percent.

Under the new measures, total interest due on existing loans may not exceed double, triple or quadruple the capital owed, depending on the period of overdue payment.

In other words, the measure will place a ceiling on the debt owed.

Equities slump again in lower turnover

Equities continued their downward trend on the Athens Stock Exchange yesterday with turnover also marking a decline.

The general index ended 1.45 per cent lower at 5,271.42 points. Turnover was 265.624 billion drachmas.

The parallel market index for small capitalisation stocks dropped 5.64 per cent to 1,856.36 points.

National Bank of Greece ended at 22,950 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 24, 700, Titan Cement Company (common) at 37,290, Hellenic Petroleum at 4,420, Intracom at 12,100, Panafon at 3,620 and Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation at 6,475.

Bonds rise again on planned drachma revaluation

Bonds in the domestic secondary market rose in healthy turnover yesterday with the action focused on mid-term paper after central bank governor Lucas Papademos said the drachma would be revalued in June 2000 against the euro, which would have a positive impact on inflation.

Trade is expected to shift to 10- and 15-year paper when the finance ministry issues the country's first ever 20-year bond in early 2000.

Salomon Smith Barney has advised its clients to hold longer-term positions in Greek secondary market paper on the likelihood of gains from the drachma's revaluation in the European Union's exchange rate mechanism II.

Investors have already discounted a rate cut by the central bank of around 0.50 percentage point expected this month.

Talk of a one percentage point reduction in the central bank's key intervention rates that would spill into other areas of the market would give the market even more impetus, analysts said.

Greek-Bulgarian group okays road project

A standing Greek-Bulgarian cooperation committee met in Athens yesterday to discuss projects being undertaken under the European Union's Phare and Interreg programmes.

The committee endorsed 24 million euros in funding under Phare for the construction of a road from the Greek-Bulgarian border, a continuation of the Komotini-Nymphaia link in Greece.

The committee also agreed to promote environmental conservation in the area spanning the two countries' borders.

Chairing the meeting was the secretary general of the investments and development division of the national economy ministry, Kostas Pheos.

Heading the Bulgarian side was V. Garnisov, deputy minister for regional development and public works.

Ipekci committee proposes special award for Cem

A Greek-Turkish friendship group proposed Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem for a special award after he said that Ankara was committed to following EU norms on resolving border disputes.

The secretariat of the Ipekci Awards took the decision unanimously to propose Mr. Cem for the 'Special Abdi Ipekci Peace and Friendship Prize".

A statement from the group's secretariat said it was responding positively to statements from Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who said that Mr. Cem's "efforts and activity" should be rewarded, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's EU summit in Helsinki, expected to discuss Turkey's bid to become a candidate member.

Mr. Cem said in statements on Tuesday, after visiting the Turkish daily "Miliyet" that Turkey would be "committed to harmonising with the rules of (the EU's) Agenda 2000 in relation to the resolution of border differences."

Mr. Cem is a first cousin of the pacifist journalist Abdi Ipekci, who was assassinated in the late 1970s.

Tsohatzopoulos calls for unhindered EU accession talks with Cyprus,

Athens remains steadfast in its demand for the unhindered completion of EU accession negotiations for Cyprus and another five candidate-states, Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said yesterday.

Following a meeting with his Hungarian counterpart Janos Szabo, the Greek defence minister also said that positive preconditions for closer EU-Turkey ties are more apparent now than ever.

He also expressed the view that it is the EU's responsibility to formulate a clear framework for the accession negotiations for Cyprus and the other five candidate states, which include Hungary.

The Hungarian minister said his country is very interested in the date of accession as it is a candidate state.

"We would be happy if tension in the region was decreased over the next six months and a period of prosperity would dawn in all countries in the region, " he added.

Cyprus, Hungary and another four European nations comprise the first tier of 12 countries expected to enter the Union in the next enlargement.

Gov't spokesman on PM's reference to early elections

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said yesterday that Prime Minister Costas Simitis' reference on Tuesday to the country being "led to elections in a few months' time" was self-evident, given the designs of the main opposition New Democracy party.

"We are convinced that the present Parliament can elect a president of the republic, and our position that the government must exhaust its four-year term still stands," he said.

Parliament will have to be dissolved in March if it fails to elect a president with a three-fifths majority, which the ruling party alone does not possess. PASOK is the only party which has said it will support the re- election of incumbent Kostis Stephanopoulos.

School students defy government ban

Teachers and high school students held protest rallies in Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities yesterday, demanding changes to recent education ministry reforms and to a more recent government move to allow the prosecution of those organising sit-in prot ests at schools. In Athens, the march down central Stadiou and Filellinon streets to the education ministry was guarded by a strong police presence, which prevented marchers reaching the ministry and averting a repeat of past violence.

Representatives were allowed to enter the ministry building to deliver a list of demands which include increased spending on education.

According to the government, occupations at schools last year caused an estimated six billion drachmas in damage.

The Cabinet, acting on the recommendation of the justice ministry, decided last Friday that a legislative act should be drawn up to allow public prosecutors to intervene at any schools being occupied to determine if damage had been caused or non-students were involved in the protest.

Stephanopoulos ranks high in opinion poll

President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos apparently enjoyed widespread support among voters just a few months before the election of a new head of state by Parliament, according to a recent opinion poll published in several Athens dailies yesterday .

A poll conducted by the firm "Metron Analysis" - held before his high- profile address at a state dinner in honour of visiting US President Bill Clinton last month - shows a sweeping majority of 88.5 per cent as considering Mr. Stephanopoulos' presidency a success.

Asked to choose between Mr. Stephanopoulos and popular Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos for president, 66.3 per cent of respondents in the poll preferred the current president - 23.7 per cent opted for Mr. Avramopoulos. In the same comparison between Mr. Stephanopoulos and ND honorary president Constantine Mitsotakis, an overwhelming 75.4 per cent preferred the former against 15.5 percent who opted for the former New Democracy premier.

Greek views promoted at London symposium on Marbles

The government expressed the view yesterday that the British Museum had been the 'loser' in a recent London symposium to discuss the condition of the Parthenon Marbles, on display at the museum.

Speaking at a news conference, Culture Minister Elizabeth Papazoi said Athens had "gained new friends" following its presentation of the facts at the symposium.

"It is obvious that this was a symposium with a pre-defined aim," she said, adding that British historian William St Clair, who revealed the damage done to the Marbles during cleaning attempts in the 1930s, had been targeted by many of the symposium's participants.

"The British Museum attempted to show itself as a credible agency maintaining and protecting the Marbles in the presence of Greek experts. "The climate turned around towards the end of the symposium and obliged them to talk about the present-day condition of the Marbles," Ms Papazoi said. She also announced that ministry secretary general Lina Mendoni left for London yesterday to take part in a conference on cultural heritage and it is expected that she will once again raise the issue of a return of the exquisite friezes.

WEATHER

Overcast weather will prevail in most parts of Greece today with the possibility of scattered showers in the northwest of the country in the afternoon. Winds variable, light to moderate. Partly cloudy with sunny spells in Athens and temperatures from 8-17C. Overcast in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 2-12C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Thursday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          318.124
Pound sterling       517.011
Japanese yen (100)   309.950
French franc          49.674
German mark          166.600
Italian lira (100)    16.828
Irish Punt           413.734
Belgian franc          8.077
Finnish mark          54.803
Dutch guilder        147.861
Danish kr.            43.805
Austrian sch.         23.680
Spanish peseta         1.958
Swedish kr.           38.019
Norwegian kr.         40.097
Swiss franc          203.370
Port. Escudo           1.625
Can. dollar          215.046
Aus. dollar          202.884
Cyprus pound         565.698
Euro                 325.842
(C.E.)
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