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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-08-26
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Premier briefed by FM on her Mideast visit, EU meeting on Lebanon crisisForeign minister Dora Bakoyannis on Saturday briefed prime minister Costas Karamanlis on her four-day Mideast tour earlier in the week and Friday's emergency meeting of the EU foreign ministers' general affairs council on the crisis in Lebanon, which decided to send a contingent of 6,500-7,000 peacekeepers to the UN-led expanded international peacekeeping force to be deployed in Lebanon.
She further briefed Karamanlis on Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to Greece next week.
Bakoyannis told reporters after the meeting that the message sent by the EU was clear, as it decided to send a European Union contingent to expand the existing UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in response to the call by UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who also attended the EU foreign ministers' meeting, adding that such a force would give a sense of security to both the Israeli and Lebanese people.
However, she stressed, the situation in the Middle East was a difficult one.
Bakoyannis, who has called for meetings to brief main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou and representatives of the other political parties, ruled out the prospect of increasing the Greek participation in the international force, but clarified that the Greek naval contribution to the force, together with that of Germany and Denmark, would serve as the lever to lift the naval isolation of Lebanon. Bakoyannis said that this had been requested by Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora and that she had conveyed this to her EU counterparts. She added that Moslem countries were also expected to deploy forces in Lebanon in addition to the EU forces.
Speaking in Brussels after the EU Council of Ministers-General Affairs Council emergency meeting on Friday, Bakoyannis said that Europe had responded successfully to the UN Secretary General's call for a peacekeeping force for Lebanon.
"The Special Council of the European Union's Foreign Ministers has been concluded. Europe responded with success, I would say, to the call by the Secretary General of the UN for a strengthened peacekeeping force that will go to Lebanon. A request that was made by the government of Lebanon, as well as by the countries in the region that are involved. In all, the forces that are currently registered at European level are about 6,500 men and an additional 2,000 that are in place. Meaning, over 8,000 men and, of course, the naval and airforce assets that will go to the region as soon as possible," she said.
"Greece had stressed from the beginning that the full implementation of resolution 1701 of the UN's Security Council is imperative. This implementation requires the presence of this strengthened force, it also requires, of course, the immediate lifting of the blockade of Lebanon by sea and air. I would like to hope that today's decision, that is a very important step in this peace effort, will have the results desired," Bakoyannis added.
All EU member-states will participate in the peacekeeping force, with the exception of Lithuania and Latvia. Apart from Greece, Germany and Denmark will also be sending a naval force to Lebanon. According to diplomatic sources, the naval force will contribute to the lifting of Lebanon's blockade.
Lastly, according to Bakoyannis, all the EU countries stressed the need for an initiative for a solution to the Palestinian issue, that will be discussed more extensively at the EU's regularly scheduled informal Council of Foreign Ministers in Finland on September 1.
Bakoyannis further said after her meeting with Karamanlis on Saturday that the role of the Greek presence was important, despite the fact that it was much smaller in number than that of France, Italy or Spain.
It is recalled that Greece on Tuesday decided to contribute two Navy vessels and a specialist commando divers unit to the expanded international peacekeeping force in Lebanon, at a meeting of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (KYSEA) chaired by Karamanlis.
Announcing the decision, Defence Minister Vangelis Meimarakis and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said the KYSA had decided to send one Navy frigate and its helicopter, the diving unit to carry out ship inspections and, if necessary, a Greek landing vessel to transport humanitarian aid from Cyprus to Beirut.
The government also said it will consider sending other units in the future but under the strict condition that the situation in the region has normalised. For the time being, it completely rules out sending Greek land forces to the area.
In addition to the diving unit and Greek Navy vessels, Greece will also provide administrative personnel and support supplies.
A conference of the countries that will contribute forces to the expanded UNIFIL is scheduled to take place at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.
The UN wants the European forces to form the backbone of the expanded peacekeeping force, to a maximum mandates strength of 15,000 troops from the current 2,000-strong UNIFIL. With its pledge of at last 6,500 troops to the expanded force, the EU will be comprising nearly half the expanded force.
Italy has pledged the largest number of troops with approximately 3,000 followed by France with 2,000 and Spain with 1,000-1,200.
Bakoyannis also said that Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to Athens next week for a trilateral meeting with Greek prime minister Karamanlis and Bulgarian president Georgi Purvanov to discuss mainly advancement of the construction of the Burgas-Alexandropoulois oil pipeline was an "important event".
Asked of the long-awaited project would proceed, Bakoyannis said that "all will go well", noting that Greece has evolved into an energy hub in the region, due to the significant work accomplished by the development ministry, and noted the importance of this to the country's foreign policy.
Putin is due to arrive in Athens on September 4 for a trilateral meeting with Karamanlis and Purvanov, at the Russian president's initiative, for talks mainly focussing on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
The agenda of the meeting is energy issues, with the main thrust on the consstruction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline.
Greece, Bulgaria and Russia signed a political agreement for the cross-border pipeline, budgeted at approximately 700 million euros, on April 13, 2005 in Thessaloniki. The 285-kilometre pipeline to carry Russian oil from Burgas in Bulgaria to Alexandroupolis in northern Greece has an estimated investment cost of 750-800 million US dollars with an annual capacity of 35 million tonnes of oil. It will supplement a sea route through the Bosphorus for transportation of the product in the region. It is anticipated that the pipeline will forge a new outlet for Russian oil and for oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe and America.
An estimated 35-50 million tons of crude oil would flow through Alexandroupolis in end-2008, while Greece will profit between 30 and 50 million dollars annually from the transportation of oil via the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, according to 2005 estimates.
Prime minister Karamanlis met Friday morning with Russian ambassador to Greece Andrei Vdovin to discuss the visit.
 PASOK leader repeats criticism of gov'tAs the formal campaigning period for the October 15 local government elections approaches, main opposition PASOK party is intensifying its criticism of the New Democracy (ND) government, with PASOK leader George Papandreou repeating a scathing attack on government policy on Saturday in a third address in four days, addressing his party's expanded prefectural election campaign committee in Grevena.
In a repeat of criticism voiced on Wednesday to the coordinators of his party's parliamentary group and a meeting of the PASOK Political Council on Wednesday, which the government spokesman later rejected, accusing Papandreou of slinging insults which, he warned, were like quicksand, in which "the more you move around, the more you sink", the main opposition leader said that "they call us slanderers, but let them go to Chalkidiki and hear what the citzens have to say".
"We are defending the public interest, common sense and the right to exercise criticism on a failed government," Papandreou said.
The PASOK leader said that the party was proud of its accomplishments, adding that despite the weaknesses it had achieved much, and promised to bring back optimism and hope.
He criticised the government and prime minister Costas Karamanlis on all its policies, accusing them of hiding when difficulties arose and of being permanently on vacation.
On foreign policy, Papandreou accused Karamanlis of having gone into hiding during the negotiations in Switzerland, where he could have said that an end must be put to the continental shelf game. "No one says no to Turkey's course, but this course must be compatible with the respect of international law and Greece's sovereign rights," he said.
On economic policy, Papandreou said that prices were excessively high, and also accused the government of preparing tax exemptions for the high income brackets, while any rebates to the low and middle bracket incomes have already been paid by the taxpayer through the levies on fuel, real estate and other services and goods.
He further accused the government of reducing budget funding for the Public Investments Programme by 40 percent, while also not ensuring the inclusion of the Western Macedonia Periphery in the EU's Fourth Community Support Framework (CSF), adding that due to the government's management the country was losing many billions of euros from the current Third CSF.
Papandreou also reiterated his call for a heating subsidy for lower income earners.
He said the government had also failed in the educatin sector, saying that the fundamental role of the education system was not the generation of revenues for businesses concerns, but to educate.
 Employment minister visits FlorinaThe government will exhaust all the fiscal and other abilities the country has, employment and social protection minister Savvas Tsitouridis said Saturday, replying to a press question on whether the unemployment benefit will be increased, following a visit to the Florina city hall, accompanied by ruling New Democracy (ND) party secretary Lefteris Zagoritis.
After the meeting, Tsitouridis also outlined the government's intention to establish a Social Solidarity Fund aimed at reinforcing the areas of the country with high unemployment rates and declining branches.
"We are advancing a Fund, a special agency, which, with financing from the state budget, EU funds and social expenditures, will be able to reinforce the areas with high unemployment, declining branches and people over 50 years of age who cannot find work. These people, in these regions and these branches, will receive substantial assistance until they find work or until they reach retirement age," Tsitouridis explained.
Main opposition PASOK Political Council member responsible for employment issues Maria Damanaki later said that "whatever the government may give to the economically weaker, it has already collected multiply".
She said that working people this year had paid 1 billion euros more in taxes, adding that "fron the latest summer tax raid, the government collected hundreds of millions of euros".
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