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Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 99-12-22
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>
NEWS IN ENGLISH
Athens, Greece, 22/12/1999 (ANA)
NEWS IN DETAILParliament approves 2000 budget
Parliament early Tuesday 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.
National Bank in majority purchase of FYROM's Stopanska Banka
SKOPJE (ANA/AFP) "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Finance Minister Boris Stojmenov signed an agreement Tuesday with the representatives of several banks, including National Bank of Greece, concerning the purchase of a stake in the local S topanska Banka. The agreement was also signed by representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (BERD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
According to the agreement, National Bank will secure a 68.4 per cent majority share in the FYROM bank's capital with a total investment amounting to 117 million marks, while BERD and IFC will each hold a part of the capital "up to 10.5 per cent with a value of 18 million marks" according to an announcement by the institutions.
"The presence of BERD and IFC next to National Bank of Greece, which is the strategic investor, will restore confidence in the banking system of FYROM, " said BERD's director for FYROM Henry Russel.
He underlined that Stopanska Banka is "the first bank which is being privatised by an economic strategic investor" and this will help "in attracting future foreign investments into the country."
G. Papandreou outlines positive results of Helsinki summit
The outcome of the EU summit at Helsinki is a hopeful message of optimism for the Balkans, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said in Parliament on Tuesday.
Speaking on the final day of a five-day debate on the 2000 budget, Mr. Papandreou said the summit had ensured Cyprus' accession to the EU, bolstered the chances of Bulgaria and Romania and given the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) a specia l relationship and stability.
"Helsinki has opened up opportunities for Turkey, but has not ended the problems," he said.
"It will be a challenge "Greece, Turkey and the EU will be judged on whether they have exploited the chance to 'ease' the problems of Cyprus and the (Aegean) continental shelf," he said.
"We have been given the opportunity to transform our region from a region of tension to a region of security. We hail the willingness of the Turkish government to proceed unstintingly down the difficult road it has chosenITurkey should know that Greece w ill be its aide to its efforts for a joint European vision of peace, development and security," he said.
Thessaloniki Concert Hall to be inaugurated
The Thessaloniki Concert Hall will be inaugurated on Jan. 2 by Prime Minister Costas Simitis in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
The Patriarch accepted an invitation to attend the event and will travel to Thessaloniki for this purpose. The culture ministers of five Balkan states namely, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Yugoslavia. He will also visit Thessaloniki for the ceremony and to attend a meeting on Jan. 3 with their Greek counterpart to jointly decide on conditions and prospects of cooperation of their countries in events concerning the new concert hall.
The facility can seat 1,476 spectators and can be used as an opera, theatre and convention centre. Its construction will cost 14 billion drachmas.
The concert hall will discontinue its operation for three months after the two-day inauguration ceremony to enable finishing touches to be placed to the building before beginning operation in May.
Contract for patrol boats' construction signed
The general armaments directorate yesterday signed two new contracts with the Skaramanga Shipyards for the construction of four new patrol boats and two support ships.
The contracts, worth a total of 62 billion drachmas, also include an option for the construction of two more patrol in the future.
Offset benefits to Greek firms total 37 per cent of the contract value, while the foreign companies Signaal, Imtech, Wartsila, Redifon, Flender and Sacem, will award subcontracts totaling 2.6 billion drachmas to Intracom, Signaal Hellas, GMC, Smart, Tsi rikos SA and Olympic Tool, among others.
Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said further approval of the five-year armaments programme will be discussed during the Jan. 14 Government Council of Foreing Affiars and Defence (KYSEA) meeting.
New deputy sworn-in
Ruling PASOK runner-up in the Rodopi prefecture, Haralambos Damianidis, was sworn-in as a deputy yesterday afternoon and immediately assumed his duties as a member of Parliament.
He succeeds Dimitris Tsetines, who died of heart failure on Monday while addressing the Parliamentary debate on the state budget for 2000.
Mr. Damianidis, a lawyer by profession, was born in 1938 in the Sappes region. He is married and has a son. He was elected a PASOK deputy in Rodopi prefecture for the first time in 1993.
WEATHERRainy weather with rainstorms is forecast throughout most of the country on Thursday, with snow in eastern Macedonia,Thrace and the mountainous regions. Winds southeasterly moderate to strong,turning gale force in the Aegean Sea. Rain in Athens with brief sunny spells and temperatures from 3- 10C. Snowfall expected in Thessaloniki with temperatures from -1-5C.
Wednesday's rates (buying) U.S. dollar 325.098 Pound sterling 524.093 Japanese yen (100) 320.297 French franc 49.943 German mark 167.503 Italian lira (100) 16.920 Irish Punt 415.976 Belgian franc 8.121 Finnish mark 55.100 Dutch guilder 148.662 Danish kr. 44.065 Austrian sch. 23.808 Spanish peseta 1.969 Swedish kr. 38.162 Norwegian kr. 40.739 Swiss franc 204.903 Port. Escudo 1.634 Can. dollar 219.728 Aus. dollar 209.848 Cyprus pound 568.971 Euro 327.608(M.S.)
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