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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-12-22

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, 22/12/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Parliament approves 2000 budget
  • Premier rejects Karamanlis formula for early elections
  • Defence ministry budget reduced in 2000
  • Greece: Only difference with Turkey is Aegean continental shelf
  • Stocks slump, fail to hold 5,000 points
  • Greece one of the safest countries in Europe
  • BSEC Bank allocation for Ukraine gas compressor station
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Parliament approves 2000 budget

Parliament early this morning approved the government-proposed state budget for 2000, the last before the country's anticipated entry into the euro zone, as the European Union is expected in June to endorse Greece's bid to join the euro by January 1, 2001.

The budget, which combines fiscal discipline and social spending raised from surpluses, was passed in the 300-member House with 160 votes in favour, 133 against, and one abstention. Six MPs were absent from the session.

The budget targets a 5.8 percent rise in revenue, a reduction in the government deficit, tax cuts worth 470 billion drachmas, and a 7.4 percent increase in public spending.

The vote came at the end of a customary five-day debate that began on Friday.

Apart from the economy, speakers during the budget debate focussed on the likelihood of early general elections in March if the government failed to secure backing from opposition parties for the re-election of incumbent President Costis Stephanopoulos.

Premier rejects Karamanlis formula for early elections

Prime minister Costas Simitis on Tuesday rejected a proposal by main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis for early general elections in exchange for backing the re-election of Costis Stephanopoulos as President of the Republic.

Earlier, in addressing Parliament during discussion on the 2000 budget, Karamanlis proposed "elections on March 26, 2000 or earlier," adding that in such a case ND "will vote for Stephanopoulos".

"The premier stated recently that he predicts elections for the 26th (March) and you claim that you are not worried. Commit here and now to elections in March 26 or earlier if you so wish. Let's move on to elections, disentangling them from the presidential elections," Karamanlis said, addressing himself to the ruling PASOK party.

In his response, Simitis said "I tried to follow the meanders of Mr. Karamanlis' rationale. I concluded that he proposed a deal, namely, to elect Mr. Stephanopoulos and then have elections. In this way he is attempting to side step the main problem.

"This problem is simple. The process of the election of the President of the Republic begins in February. Mr. Stephanopoulos enjoys tremendous approval by the people. He enjoys the approval of the parties. Mr. Karamanlis said that his work is also recognised by ND," he added.

The premier also called on ND to take a clear stand on the issue of the presidential election without terms and conditions, thus respecting the Constitution and the institution of the Presidency.

"My answer is simple: take a clear stand, without terms and pre-conditions. Leave elections out of it. The elections you wish, according to the Constitution, on grounds of a political issue, do not depend on the election of the president. If elections must take place, it will depend on the decision of this government and not by you," Simitis said.

In his counter-reply, Karamanlis denied he proposed any 'deal'. "There is a political problem, that is why we are demanding general elections. We do not pose the presidential election as a condition for general elections."

The President of the Republic is elected by Parliament. If no candidate for the post secures 180 votes in the 300-seat House, then Parliament is dissolved and national elections must be held under Article 110 of the Constitution.

Under the Greek Constitution, Parliament can make up to three attempts to elect a President.

A two-thirds majority of 200 votes is required in the first round. If no winner emerges, then a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes is held in the second round, where again a two-thirds majority is required.

A three-fifths majority of 180 votes suffices in the third round to elect a President.

In the event Parliament fails to elect a President in the three rounds, then it is dissolved and general elections are called.

The new Parliament that emerges from the general elections also has three attempts to elect a President, with an absolute majority of 151 votes sufficient in the third round.

The President of the Republic is elected for a five-year term.

Defence ministry budget reduced in 2000

The defence ministry budget will be reduced by 3.5 percent in 2000 but the ministry's budgeting will be far more effective, Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said on Tuesday.

Speaking to Parliament during the debate on the 2000 budget, the minister said that Greek industry was 42 percent involved in defence contracts for the Armed Forces, the highest percentage in the past three years.

He said the armed forces was being transformed into a professional force and that Greece was a definitive factor for safety in the wider region.

Tsohatzopoulos said Greece had to look beyond economic andmonetary union and attempt to breach the gap separating Greece from other European countries.

A competitive economy could exist harmoniously with a social state, something that the government's economic policy aimed at, he said.

Turning to recent developments, he said that the EU summit in Helsinki had provided the framework for a "peaceful but challenging course for Greece and Turkey on a range of issues" and reiterated Greece's support for Turkey's European vocation.

Greece: Only difference with Turkey is Aegean continental shelf

Greece said on Tuesday that it had only one bone of contention with Turkey that the International Court of Justice at The Hague could deal with and that was the delineation of the Aegean continental shelf.

Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas was commenting to reporters on statements made by U.S. State Department spokesman Jim Foley, who said that the Hague or some other conflict resolution body could resolve "Greek- Turkish differences".

Reppas added that recourse to the Hague over the continental shelf delineation required the drafting of an agreement, called a compromissum, to refer the dispute to arbitrators and mutual consent.

"There are no other problems between Greece and Turkey," Reppas said, adding:

"If Turkey believes that there are other problems then it can seek recourse to the International Court of Justice at The Hague."

Stocks slump, fail to hold 5,000 points

Equities continued a downward trend on the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday with the general index ending 1.34 per cent down at 4,967.23 points.

Turnover was 194 billion drachmas.

The parallel market index for small capitalisation stocks was down 7.18 per cent at 1,595.48 points.

The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks ended 3.66 per cent lower at 2,608.87 points.

Sector indices ended as follows: Banks (-0.54 pct), Leasing (-6.68 pct), Insurance (-1.83 pct), Investment (-3.92 pct), Construction (-6.72 pct), Industrials (-0.98 pct), Miscellaneous (-2.27 pct) and Holding (-2.33 pct).

Of 316 shares traded decliners led advancers at 280 to 24 with 12 issues remaining unchanged.

Greece one of the safest countries in Europe

Greece is one of the safest countries in Europe, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoides said on Tuesday, rejecting what he said was a popular misconception that Greece was in the grip of a crimewave.

Chrysohoides, speaking in parliament on the final day of a debate on the 2000 budget, said the government's policy of 'safe cities' had resulted in a 15 percent decrease in the level of crime in the first year due in part to the effectiveness of the programme to increase police foot patrols in areas with high crime rates.

The minister said that the programme would be bolstered and that another 3, 000 policemen inducted into the force up until 2003.

On a European level, he continued, Greece placed fourth safest. Robberies had fallen 7.0 percent, homicides 17.0 percent, thefts 23 percent and thefts of cars and motorbikes by 4.0 percent, the minister said.

For the first time ever, the number of accidents fell 3.3 percent, with fatal accidents falling 5.0 percent, he said.

BSEC Bank allocation for Ukraine gas compressor station

Thessaloniki-based Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB) has agreed to allocate up to 12 million dollars for the construction of a gas compressor station in Ukraine, the first project the new bank has financed since opening for business in June this year.

The gas compressor station is part of a project to build a Balkan natural gas pipeline.

The project is co-financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and is expected to significantly increase the capacity of the pipeline, which begins in Russia and transverses Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, before ending in Turkey.

The contractors are the Gastransit consortium, established by Russia's Gazprom, Ukraine's Naftogaz, and Turkey's Transbalkan and Turusgas.

BSTDB was established in 1998 by the 11 member-states of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organisation to fill the gap of an international financial institution with a strong regional orientation. It provides support for economic development and regional cooperation by financing projects and commercial transactions of private and public companies of its members.

The 11 members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation are: Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Russia and Turkey

WEATHER

Rainy weather with rainstorms is forecast throughout Greece today, with snow in the mountainous regions. Winds variable, strong to gale force in the Aegean and Ionian seas. Rain in Athens with brief sunny spells and temperatures from 9-14C. Snowfall expected in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 2-5C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Wednesday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          325.019
Pound sterling       522.070
Japanese yen (100)   318.273
French franc          49.994
German mark          167.671
Italian lira (100)    16.936
Irish Punt           416.392
Belgian franc          8.129
Finnish mark          55.155
Dutch guilder        148.811
Danish kr.            44.084
Austrian sch.         23.832
Spanish peseta         1.971
Swedish kr.           38.138
Norwegian kr.         40.612
Swiss franc          205.061
Port. Escudo           1.636
Can. dollar          219.331
Aus. dollar          208.816
Cyprus pound         568.416
Euro                 327.935
(L.G.)
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