National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday he was optimistic about the course of the economy, ruling out any change in the government's economic programme after conferring with Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. The government's programme, he said, would be followed "to the end".
Mr. Papantoniou based his optimism on the condition the economic programme would be implemented without deviation and said the prime minister agreed with the assessment. "The convergence programme is being applied and is producing results," Mr. Papantoniou said. He said this was proved by the positive rates with which the economy was moving and added that this was also ascertained by representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mr. Papantoniou said the national economy's lost credibility was being restored and this would continue to proceed positively. This, he said, was the main conclusion drawn from the Greek economy's latest indicators and this was the policy the government would continue to steadfastly observe.
On the question of hiring in the public sector, which was reportedly discussed at length between the two men, Mr. Papantoniou said a ceiling existed substantively since the number of civil servants was decreasing every year. He said there were no intraparty pressures for hiring but social ones.
Mr. Papantoniou expressed the view that the IMF's report this year would be much better than last year's.
International Monetary Fund officials arrived in Athens yesterday to review the course and prospects of the Greek economy, sources at the National Economy Ministry said. The IMF delegation was briefed by leading ministry experts and met with Nation al Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou.
The delegation, which is preparing a report on the Greek economy, will meet today with officials of the State Treasury department. Ministry sources said the IMF officials are focusing their review on efforts by the government to stamp out tax evasion, trim the size of the public sector, curb inflation and cut state expenditures.
The same sources said the officials are also keen on examining the effects of the Mexico crisis on the Greek money market and the socialist government's plans to privatise state companies.
Greece yesterday harshly criticised statements by Turkish Minister of State and government spokesman Yildirim Aktuna referring to the Moslem minority in Thrace as Turkish. "Mr. Aktuna's visit has begun inauspiciously, due to the provocative and obviously premeditated statements of his regarding the Treaty of Lausanne and the legal status of the Moslem minority in Greece," government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said.
"In a period in which Turkey is being criticised by the entire international community for its systematic and persistent violations of international law and human rights, such statements as Mr. Aktuna's simply serve to confirm the observations and recommendations of many international organisations," Mr. Venizelos added. He was responding to statements by Mr. Aktuna earlier in the day, on his arrival to begin a three-day tour of Thrace, that he was in Greece to visit "fellow countrymen" and that the Greek Moslem minority was a "Turkish minority".
"Mr. Aktuna is in a foreign sovereign state and is obliged to respect its legal order and the norms of international law, even if these are blatantly flouted by Turkey, as is the case unfortunately with the Treaty of Lausanne," Mr. Venizelos said.
"His statements do not aid the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations and are contradictory with the stated official stance of his country, the credibility of which (Mr. Aktuna) is undermining," Mr. Venizelos said.
The top-ranking Turkish official kicked-off his tour of Western Thrace, northern Greece, saying Moslems in the region were Turkish kinsmen. "My visit aims at meeting with fellow countrymen living in Western Thrace. The Turkish government is very sensitive to the issue of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace," Mr. Aktuna said.
The issue of the 130,000 Moslem minority in Western Thrace has frequently fuelled tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, also at odds over Cyprus and Aegean sea rights. The rights of the Moslems in Greece and the Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul are set out in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which excluded them from a major population exchange at the time.
The Greek community in Istanbul has dwindled to a few thousand from 150,000 in the 1920s. Under the treaty, the minority in Western Thrace is referred to as "Moslem" and the Greek state has the right to appoint Moslem religious leaders, just as Ankara appoints the Patriarch in Istanbul.
Mr. Aktuna denied that he was contesting the Lausanne Treaty by referring to the minority as Turkish. He said: "There is no intent to provoke, we are just saying what is right. Minorities are not defined by religion but by ethnicity ... and the minority living in this region is sheer Turkish".
His comments contrasted strongly with those of his president Suleyman Demirel who, referring to the 12-million-strong Kurdish minority in Turkey, told the Turkish Daily News that "no one was granted rights in Turkey due to ethnicity or faith. If such rights were granted then those who were a majority in Turkey at present would end up becoming a minority. However, there are no minorities in Turkey."
Earlier, Mr. Venizelos said statements made by Mr. Aktuna in Ankara before his departure "did not presage anything positive", regarding his visit. Mr. Aktuna's statements "are part of the climate of exporting Turkey's domestic political problems and creating artificial tension which Greece has rejected," Mr. Venizelos said.
Mr. Venizelos reiterated that Mr. Aktuna's visit was private and he would have no contacts of a political level. He said the Turkish minister's entourage was "large, luxurious and unusual." It includes one MP and 25 journalists.
Replying to a questioner as to why Mr. Aktuna's large entourage was being allowed to enter the country, Mr. Venizelos said Greece did not consider it expedient to create obstacles for the entry of a number of persons in the entourage because the focus of discussion would be transferred from the Turkish minister's statement to the ban on the entry into the country of a small number of Turks.
Mr. Venizelos said the Greek state was open and Turkish deputies and journalists would have the opportunity to ascertain how Greek citizens of the Moslem faith lived and make the necessary comparisons.
Meanwhile, opposition parties lashed out at Mr. Aktuna's statement and criticised the government's handling of the issue. Main opposition New Democracy party spokesman Vassilis Manginas said the Turkish minister should have been more careful and should have known there was no Turkish minority in Greece but only Greeks of the Moslem faith.
He added that Mr. Aktuna should respect international agreements, rejecting the Turkish minister's statement favouring a revision of the Lausanne Treaty.
Political Spring party spokesman Notis Martakis criticised the government for not heeding his party not to allow Mr. Aktuna's arrival to prevent political symbolisms and the problems presently being faced.
Mr. Martakis called on the government "to abandon its complacency and realise the magnitude of the problem created by its tolerance."
If the Americans have any other legal methods which can be applied in the fight against terrorism, they must propose them to Greece, in the framework of their bilateral co-operation agreement, government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos told reporters yesterday. His statement came in the wake of a US State Department report accusing Greece of dragging its feet on terrorism.
Mr. Venizelos added that incidents such as the recent Oklahoma City bombing occurred to a much lesser degree in Greece than in other western countries, and that the report contains erroneous information and even more erroneous appraisals, which Greece is trying to rectify.
Referring to a statement by former New Democracy prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis Sunday that the report was "accurate and possibly an understatement of reality", and charging the government of not wanting to fight terrorism, the government spokes man said Mr. Mitsotakis had hastened to adopt the State Department's claims, and called on New Democracy party leader Miltiades Evert to state whether he approved of Mr. Mitsotakis' positions. "The (Greek) people must know whether the main opposition defends the country's international stature or not," he said.
New Democracy party spokesman Vassilis Manginas yesterday refused to comment on Mr. Mitsotakis' statements, saying the government was aware of the party's positions on terrorism. Mr. Mitsotakis returned with new statements yesterday, saying he had been forced to speak out because of what he said was a conspiracy of silence.
He reiterated that the abolition of his government's anti-terrorism law, forbidding the publication of proclamations by terrorist organisations, had made life easier for terrorists in many ways.
Greece's Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will begin a two-day official visit to Hungary on Monday, May 8, at the invitation of his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs, foreign ministry spokesman Gabor Szentivanyi said here yesterday.
The Greek minister will meet Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Parliament President Zoltan Gal. The development of bilateral economic relations and the integration of Hungary with international organisations, mainly the European Union, will be on the agenda of Mr. Papoulias' talks.
President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos yesterday received a courtesy call from the muftis (Moslem religious leaders) of Xanthi and Komotini who congratulated him on his new post.
The president thanked them and underlined the importance of the pastoral role which they have towards the Moslem minority in Thrace.
Environment Minister Costas Laliotis said yesterday a traffic ban in the once chaotic commercial centre of Athens had had "impressive results" and announced plans for similar action in other Greek cities.
All private cars, taxis and motorbikes were banned from a two square km area below the Acropolis two months ago in a bid to combat choking air pollution and restore the character of what once was Athens' most exclusive shopping district.
Mr. Laliotis said ministry officials were drafting plans for similar bans in Thessaloniki, Patras, Iraklion as well as other districts in Athens, such as Kolonaki. He said the ministry was also planning to introduce a staggered working hour schedule for the summer as of June 15 -- introduced on a trial basis last year -- to alleviate peak-hour traffic and subsequent air pollution.
According to the schedule, workers at public utility organisations would begin work at 7 am, those at government offices at 7:30, bank employees at 8:15 and shop assistants at 9.30.
President of the Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) Dimitris Kouselas has already said he opposes the reintroduction of staggered working hours.
A public prosecutor yesterday ordered an investigation into the conditions under which Zairean soccer player Muganti Chimanga, of the third division Atromitos club, died on Sunday. Chimanga collapsed during a match and died on the way to hospital, where doctors diagnosed an acute inflammation of the lung.
There were charges that neither a doctor nor an ambulance were available at the ground and there was an excessive delay in transporting the player to hospital. Meanwhile, Under-Secretary for Sports George Lianis yesterday said the government would grant material support to the deceased footballer's family, and that Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou himself had shown interest in the case. He also announced a number of measures, including preventive health checks and special health care cards for athletes.
Ruling socialist PASOK party Central Committee Secretary Akis Tsohatzopoulos yesterday attended an informal meeting of the European Socialist Party's (ESP) president and deputy presidents, focusing on preparing the agenda of the ESP presidency's conference in Brussels on June 6.
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said views were exchanged on "the initiatives we will take to have the ESP's role shaped" in view of European developments. He said the meeting was of a procedural nature and concerned proposals the ESP would promote at the inter-governmental conference in 1996 which would also be discussed at the European Socialist Party summit, due to take place in Cannes on June 24. An initial allocation was also made of the eight deputy presidents' responsibilities in view of the preparation of proposals the ESP would support.
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos has undertaken, as a sphere of responsibility, the European Union's Mediterranean policy, ranked among major issues in the months to come both at the European Council summit in Cannes (June 29-30) and the Euro-Mediterranean Conference to be held in Barcelona in autumn.
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos cut short his visit to London and hurried back to Istanbul yesterday to stand by his mother, who broke a hip bone on Monday. Meropi Arhontoni, 94, slipped and fell during a walk and was taken to the Greek Baloukli Community Foundations' hospital for treatment.
The Ecumenical Patriarch was met at Istanbul airport by the Metropolitan of Halkidona Ioakeim who accompanied him to the Baloukli hospital. He was in London to attend the second part of an international ecological conference organised at Windsor Castle under the sponsorship of the Duke of Edinburgh and was due to attend events marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, at the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.
The Ecumenical Patriarch was due to make an address during a special service at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. It is not yet clear whether he will return to London.
Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, accompanied by the members of the National Council, the island's top advisory body on the handling of the Cyprus problem, leaves today for Athens for talks with Greece's Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
Government spokesman Yiannakis Cassoulides announced that all the Council members will go to Athens with the exception of House of Representatives President Alexis Galanos, who will stay here as acting president of the republic.
According to the programme, President Clerides will arrive in Athens at 11:15 am and around 1:00 pm will visit the recently-elected Greek President Kostis Stephanopoulos. The Greek president will later receive the National Council members while the Cypriot president will go to the Greek Military Academy, where he will inaugurate the academy's swimming pool, which was constructed with Cypriot funds.
Tomorrow morning, Mr. Clerides will open the deliberations of a Greek Cypriot business meeting at the Grande Bretagne hotel in central Athens. At noon, the Cypriot president will have a private meeting with Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. It will be followed by a meeting of President Clerides with those attending the National Council and the Greek premier.
After the historic meeting, President Clerides and Premier Papandreou will give a joint press conference. The same night, the Greek prime minister will host an official dinner in honour of the Cypriot president. On Friday, President Clerides will fly from Athens to London.
Alternate Industry Minister Christos Rokofyllos told Parliament's Economic Affairs Committee yesterday that the government was ready to place debt-ridden Halkis Cement Co under special liquidation and invite tenders for its sale.
National Bank Governor George Mirkos told the Committee the bank was unable to provide a solution to the issue of the company's excessive debts, and asked deputies to refrain from attributing responsibility where it was not due, as he had received death threats from the November 17 terrorist organisation PASOK deputies criticised the National Bank for its handling of the affair, with former minister Vassilis Kedikoglou describing it as "run-down shop". Mr. Mirkos replied said it was up to the government to find a solution to the problem.
A Greek delegation of businessmen and manufacturers from northern Greece will arrive in Albania today to examine investment possibilities in the neighbouring country, in the context of upgrading relations after the recent trip to Tirana by Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias.
Albanian President Sali Berisha and Prime Minister Alexander Meksi are scheduled to receive the delegation, which will also meet with business representatives. Macedonia-Thrace Ministry Secretary General Nikos Afentoulides is heading the delegation, which is also scheduled to visit villages in northern Epirus.