The Commander of Allied Forces in Southern Europe, Admiral Leighton Smith, yesterday expressed a wish for the speediest possible activation of the 7th NATO Allied Tactical Air Forces and Land Forces headquarters in Larissa, after meeting with the chief of the Greek General Defence Staff, Admiral Christos Lymberis. The two men tackled general issues of co-operation between the Greek armed forces and the NATO command. The meeting comes a week before NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes visits Athens for talks.
The NATO commander said the issue of activation was political rather than military, observing there were specific preconditions which Turkey believed Greece should accept. Replying to questions, Admiral Smith said he had not been briefed on US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke's proposals for the promotion of confidence-building measures in the Aegean. "What I can say is that we must do everything possible to develop confidence between Greece and Turkey, which are partners in the Alliance," said Admiral Smith.
Admiral Lymberis concurred that the issue was of a political nature and said confidence-building measures had not been discussed but that there was no lack of them for the situation to improve. "What is required is the willingness of the other side to abandon expansionist aspirations and provocative behaviour against Greece," he said.
Earlier, a Defence Ministry spokesman had reiterated Greece's positions on the subject, adding that the US had applied no pressure. Admiral Smith described the situation in the Balkans as very tense and dangerous, adding that NATO had drawn up a plan for a possible evacuation of peacekeepers from the former Yugoslavia, but added he hoped there would be no need for it. The NATO commander also paid a courtesy call on Defence Under-Secretary Nikos Kouris.
NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes is expected to visit Greece on May 17-18, the National Defence Ministry said yesterday. It added that the agenda for Mr. Claes' talks with the political and military leadership of the ministry had not yet been prepared.
German Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies arrived in Athens yesterday and is scheduled to meet today with the finance and economy ministers as well as those responsible for the major infrastructure works, government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said.
The spokesman said that the German commissioner for regional policy, structural funds and cohesion fund might also meet with Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou at noon tomorrow. Ms Wulf-Mathies' talks here will focus on the financing of works and programmes and the absorption by Greece of the relevant funds.
National Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis will travel to Lisbon on Monday to participate in a Western European Union (WEU) meeting. Mr. Arsenis will be accompanied by European Affairs Minister George Mangakis.
Air Force General Staff Chief Athanasios Tzoganis has arrived in the US to attend a meeting of NATO air force chiefs. The meeting will be held in Washington and will focus on issues concerning air force security and development. Consultations are held twice a year in NATO countries.
Four Balkan states will hold their first-ever joint military exercise later this month, the National Defence Ministry said yesterday. It said troops from Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania will participate in the four-day exercise beginning May 22 near Kalamata, in the Peloponnese. The sources did not say how many soldiers would take part and what the nature of the military exercise would be.
Tuesday's meeting between National Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis and the US ambassadors to Athens and Tirana was a courtesy call, according to an announcement by the National Defence Ministry yesterday. The National Defence Ministry further disclosed that the dates on which Mr. Arsenis would visit the US and Syria had not yet been set.
Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis leaves for London today to attend the sessions of the regular meeting of House speakers of the 15 European Union member states, May 12-13.
The meeting will focus on issues related to the intergovernmental conference scheduled for next year and matters concerning parliamentary control. Mr. Kaklamanis will have private talks with a number of his counterparts on the sidelines of the meeting.
President Kostis Stephanopoulos said late Tuesday that Moscow could play a role in convincing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to abandon its intransigent stance and break the deadlock in the Athens-Skopje dispute.
Speaking at a reception at the Greek embassy here Tuesday night, Mr. Stephanopoulos stressed that "Greece is not the one creating problems in the region". "Athens-Tirana relations are improving apace," he said, stressing that Greece maintains harmonious relations with Bulgaria and Romania.
"I hope, with the support of the United Nations and mediator (Cyrus) Vance, that soon the Skopje dispute can be resolved," he said, adding that Russia, "given its good relations with Skopje, can offer some proper advice" to the leaders of Skopje.
Skopje, he said, "is the one trying to destabilise the Balkans, by following an aggressive policy towards Greece", a policy characterised by the use of the name "Macedonia" and of ancient Hellenic symbols and by the existence of irredentist sections in the FYROM constitution. "If the leaders of Skopje realise the imprudence of this course," he said, "Greece is predisposed to assist Skopje in all areas; it is in our interests to support the existence of a Skopjan state".
Referring to Greek-Turkish relations, Mr. Stephanopoulos said the dispute over the Aegean continental shelf could be resolved at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. "The great problem of Cyprus, which is also an issue of international law, would have been resolved if Turkey had complied with numerous UN resolutions on the issue," he added.
He also stressed the significant opportunities for Greek business in Russia and the CIS states, which, he said, could provide a basis for the further development of bilateral relations.
Earlier, at a dinner hosted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin for foreign leaders and heads of state attending celebrations marking the end of W.W.II, Mr. Stephanopoulos met with Mr. Yeltsin, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Albanian President Sali Berisha and Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.
The Greek delegation returned to Athens yesterday after attending events in London, Paris and Moscow marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
On his return, Mr. Stephanopoulos expressed bitterness over the fact that Greece's contribution to the Allied victory was not projected. He did not rule out the possibility that the failure by speakers at the events to make any mention of Greece's contribution to the war was an "intentional omission".
Replying to questions concerning Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, who was also in Moscow, Mr. Stephanopoulos said that he could have approached her during an official dinner in the Kremlin last night. He had not done so, Mr. Stephanopoulos said, because of the events which took place in the meantime during the visit to Thrace of Turkish Minister of State Yildirim Aktuna. Mr. Aktuna caused great irritation during his visit to Greece with a series of highly provocative statements.
"Had it not been for this, if the impressions (from Mr. Aktuna's visit) were not still fresh, and if Ms Ciller had not subsequently made her inflammatory statements, it would not have been a bad thing to approach her," Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
The president said that he would most probably meet with Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the next few days to brief him on his contacts in London, Paris and Moscow and to be briefed by the premier on the latest developments in Greece.
The decision that President Kostis Stephanopoulos should not attend the military parade in Moscow was taken at a government level and in co-operation with the other European countries, government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said yesterday.
The spokesman was referring to the parade in Moscow Tuesday concluding three days of Victory Day celebrations across Europe marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The leaders of the US, Germany, France and Britain stayed away from the parade to protest the Russian military intervention in Chechnya.
Replying to questions, Mr. Venizelos said that the decision for Mr. Stephanopoulos not to attend was within the framework of the joint foreign and defence policy of the 15 European Union member states. Greece was represented at the parade by its military attachi in Moscow.
Conservative main opposition leader Miltiades Evert left for the United States yesterday for talks with officials on key Greek national issues. New Democracy party sources said Mr. Evert would kick off his US tour from New York where talks are scheduled with Archbishop Iakovos, United Nations special mediator Cyrus Vance and US special envoy for the Skopje issue Matthew Nimetz.
The conservative leader will then fly to Washington to meet with US Vice-President Al Gore and Defence Secretary William Perry. Party sources said the talks would centre on efforts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, a long-running row between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greek-Turkish relations and NATO issues.
Greece and Bulgaria have agreed to grant consular visas as of May 8 of a one-year duration for multiple use to Greek and Bulgarian businessmen whose business activities are ascertainable. The development follows talks between Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias and his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Pirinski in Sofia March 30-31.
Greek and Bulgarian Chambers of Commerce and Industry will have to ascertain the capacity of businessmen applying for visas. The measure was decided by the two countries in an effort to strengthen their trade and economic relations in every possible way.
Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, during his two-day official visit here, tackled the protracted issue of the acquisition or restitution of Greek citizenship to many of Hungary's 3,000-strong ethnic Greek community, and provided assurances of his intention to follow the matter through.
He also said he would examine with colleagues the issue of the transfer of social security and pension rights to Greece, and the setting up of a Greek Cultural Institute, in the framework of the existing Greek-Hungarian cultural agreement.
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou yesterday met consecutively with PASOK Central Committee Secretary Akis Tsohatzopoulos and government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos. The issue of the draft bill on the mass media was touched upon, during the meetings and Mr. Venizelos was asked to promote dialogue among the interested parties, so that the bill might be tabled as soon as possible.
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said that the PASOK party considered the dissemination of information a public good and that it should not be controlled by financial interests. Both these positions are covered by the draft bill, he added.
Mr. Venizelos said he did not discuss a reshuffle with the premier and Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said there was no such issue. He added he had also discussed PASOK political and organisational issues with the premier.
Prominent members of the PASOK ruling party yesterday attended the launch of the 'George Yennimatas Association', named after the late national economy and health minister, and designed to promote his values, ideas, principles, the particular way of thought and action, and to strive for the application of his political bequests.
Transport and Communications Minister Thanassis Tsouras referred to Yennimatas' basic philosophy that "only a man of vision can look ahead, and therefore, become a realist in implementing this vision".
Former interior Under-Secretary Miltiades Papaioannou expanded on his late colleague's basic positions, the drawing up of a national strategy, the buttressing of democratic institutions, democratic modernisation, the need for social dialogue, and heeding the social dimension of development of economic policies.
Dr. Fathi Arafat, president of the Cairo-based Red Crescent, received an award from the Greek Red Cross on World Cross Day yesterday. "With this honour Greece is showing its support for peace; peace for the children of Palestine, peace for the children of Israel and peace for the children of all nations," Mr. Arafat said at the ceremony.
The Red Crescent president and brother of PLO leader Yasser Arafat praised Greece's support for the Palestinian people, saying its assistance has gone undiminished throughout the course of the Palestinian struggle.
"The Greek people have always stood by us. I remember coming to Athens with a group of injured Palestinians after the Israeli invasion and scores of doors opened to our assistance. This help has gone undiminished," he said.
But a year after a landmark PLO-Israeli deal setting up Palestinian self ruled in Gaza and Jherico, Mr. Arafat voiced criticism over limited international support in the reconstruction of the areas.
"Donations and millions of dollars in international pledges are either coming in too late or they are becoming conditioned. We have received only a small percentage of what was promised," he told the ANA. The Palestinian Authority, Israel and donor nations signed a three-way plan last month designed to meet the shortfall in start-up costs for Palestinian self-rule. Donors have agreed in principle to earmark 25 per cent of the $1 billion said they had pledged for 1994 and this year. Mr. Arafat said problems were created by Israeli obstacles in easing the flow of goods between the Jewish state and Palestinian areas.
Others who received awards yesterday included Andreas Potamianos, for his "long and significant contribution to the work of the Greek Red cross", the Greek Cardiology Institute for its "significant services in the area of preventative medicine and particularly cardiology" and the Greek Cultural Foundation for "its attempts to project the achievements of Greek culture".
Addressing the ceremony, the president of the Greek Red Cross Andreas Martinis said "times are hard, but the flame of the Greek Red Cross cannot be extinguished."
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos met with Israel's Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Setrit here yesterday and expressed his satisfaction at the protection afforded Orthodox churches in the Holy Land.
The meeting was also attended by officials of the religious affairs ministry, Patriarch of Jerusalem Diodoros and representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. During his visit, Vartholomeos will meet with the Israeli President Ezer Weizman, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmer.
Store-owners and small businessmen yesterday cut short a 48-hour nation-wide strike in what they called a "goodwill gesture" towards the government. Following talks with National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, however, representatives said that there had been "no results". They handed the minister the resolution decided at a general assembly earlier and said that the minister had promised a continuation of dialogue.
The stoppage, which began yesterday, was originally scheduled to continue today but a decision reached during a general assembly decided to suspend the strike "stressing the need for dialogue with the government to outline the dire economic situation".
After the assembly meeting, the strikers marched to the Ministry of Finance and staged a sit-down protest outside Parliament. The strike was in protest against the government's new "objective criteria" taxation law under which they pay taxes based on assumed rather than declared income, and in demand of reinforcement.
The government on Tuesday announced a 730 billion dr. package of measures to assist small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), including income tax breaks and subsidies. Mr. Papantoniou said Tuesday that 20-25 per cent of the net profits of SMEs that decided to merge would be exempt from income tax for a period of five years, while the interest on loans contracted by SMEs for investments would be subsidised by 20 per cent for a period of two years.
Addressing the strikers' assembly, merchant and small business association representatives called the aid package "a mockery" and accused the government of leading them to "extinction". Despite the strike, many shops in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki opened up for business as usual, although association representatives claim 85 per cent of stores around the country shut.
The resolution delivered to National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou called for the immediate abolition of the objective criteria tax system, the initiation of a fair tax system, a national development plan, substantive measures to curb the unchecked development of multinational department stores and a new law on office space.
The resolution also demanded the safeguarding of Sunday holidays, implementation of humane working hours for all shops and the allocation of scheduled funds from the Delors II package to offer SMEs substantive help to establish partnerships.
Responding to yesterday's developments in the sector, the main opposition New Democracy party said one in three SMEs was closing down while in a similar announcement the Political Spring party called on the government to hold a dialogue with SMEs. ND said that when the tax law was being ratified in Parliament it had warned the government of injustices and deadlocks it would create.
"With its tactics the government is deepening recession and widening unemployment instead of creating new jobs with a bold development policy," an announcement said. Political Spring spokesman Notis Martakis said merchants and craftsmen had shown their goodwill to the government in suspending their strike action.
Environment and Town Planning Minister Costas Laliotis yesterday announced plans by the government to boost development and create jobs in the chronically-depressed port town of Lavrion.
Mr. Laliotis said the 25 billion drachma project was designed in conjunction with the ministries of industry and national economy. The plan aims at bolstering industry and providing immediate unemployment assistance to Lavrion's 7,000 jobless.
A Greek humanitarian aid mission is stranded but safe in a hotel in the town of Banja Luca in Bosnia, a journalist accompanying the team told a Patras radio station yesterday.
Reporter George Karvouniaris told Greek Radio (ERA) in Patras that the members of the mission were told by local authorities last night that they would not be able to leave for Greece yesterday as scheduled because of fighting near the town of Goridor on the only road to the airport.
The mission was organised by the Patras-based "Ayios Savvas" Greek-Serbian Friendship Association. Mr. Karvouniaris said that the entire Bosnian Serb political and religious leadership, including Radovan Karadzic, leader of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb Republic, had been holding meetings in the same hotel since the morning.