PASOK's social profile, along with economic growth and stability, are priorities for the ruling party, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said yesterday.
Speaking to the party's Parliamentary Group, ahead of the start of the new Parliamentary session, Mr. Papandreou said the group would convene again early next month to discuss the party's "social face" in depth. "There are many diversions, since our policy on this issue has not been adequately presented," Mr. Papandreou said, adding that he would speak extensively on the issue at the meeting.
The prime minister said the justifiable grievances voiced by the Parliamentary Group could be traced to non-co-operation between the ministries and the respective PASOK parliamentary working groups. He called on Parliamentary Group Secretary Dimitris Beis to keep him informed on future violations in the sector.
Mr. Papandreou said the party had won crucial battles in parliament over the past two years, but warned that the next two years would be decisive for the course of the country and the party. "The government's work will only be assessed at the end of its four-year term," he said.
Stressing that the party should centre efforts on the great problems facing the country, Mr. Papandreou urged the deputies not "to waste time" on "television conflicts". Mr. Papandreou said criticism was welcome, but added that it should be made in good faith, be substantiated and should be made in party forums and not on television.
The bad image of the government "is not due to the presence of an opposition," he said. "There is no opposition outside PASOK," Mr. Papandreou said. "The party's bad image is the result of two trends in PASOK: The first trend promotes the formation of groupings, and the other promotes public conflict."
Turning to other issues, Mr. Papandreou said Europe was going through critical times as it proved incapable of dealing with the great problem of unemployment and expressed hope that major regional and other works in Greece will supply a solution to this problem as far as Greece is concerned.
Mr. Papandreou said the present time was critical also for national issues, adding, however, that "the government's peace policy in the Balkans plays an important role in the region".
Concluding his speech, Mr. Papandreou addressed an open invitation to his party's deputies to visit him. "I will see you whenever and if you want," he added.
Meanwhile, main opposition New Democracy party spokesman Vassilis Manginas said ND did not interfere in PASOK's internal affairs but that it was his "duty to tell the people that these phenomena would have been comical if they did not concern the government and those supporting it". Commenting on the premier's statement that opposition was non-existent, Mr. Manginas said: "I'm grieved that Mr. Papandreou has lost touch with reality."
In an announcement on the same issue, the Coalition of the Left and Progress said "monotonous monologues by leaders before silent Parliamentary groups are provocative and tiring".
On leaving the meeting, Mr. Papandreou gave the four high-profile dissidents in PASOK a veiled warning to stop making statements that harmed the party. Mr. Papandreou said he was not preoccupied with public statements but that they annoyed him when they harmed PASOK.
Replying to a questioner whether with its moves the group of "four" aimed at raising a leadership issue in PASOK, Mr. Papandreou said the issue did not preoccupy him. Asked how he intended to tackle the issue created politically, he replied "in the way I have tackled it."
One of the four, former minister Theodoros Pangalos, criticized the workings of government in an interview published in the daily Ethnos yesterday. Asked whether there was a leadership problem in the party, Mr. Pangalos replied "obviously". "This arises from the way the prime minister works today and not from his personality," he said.
"It is necessary (for PASOK) to operate as a party like all the others which exist in democratic nations in Europe." "The issue is will he leave - because at some point he will leave -- behind him a broken democratic movement and a torn social democratic sector?" Mr. Pangalos said. Mr. Pangalos hinted at running as an independent, saying that his judgment of events did not necessarily mean a new party, and added that the "group of four" had to transform itself into a flow of ideas.
National Defence Minister Gerasimos Arsenis and his German counterpart Volker Ruehe met in Athens yesterday on Greek-German defence co-operation, particularly at the level of defence industries, as well as issues related to the Western European Union (WEU) and NATO. Developments in Bosnia, bilateral co-operation issues, NATO expansion eastwards and the completion of its structure based on existing decisions as well as issues concerning the Western European Union were discussed. Mr. Ruehe and Mr. Arsenis also exchanged views on the agenda of the informal meeting of NATO defence ministers which begins in the United States tomorrow.
Mr. Arsenis called yesterday's talks in Athens "interesting", adding that solid foundations for bilateral co-operation had been laid during his visit to Bonn at the beginning of the year. He said they had an interesting exchange of views on peace and security in the Mediterranean and the Balkans and peace in Bosnia, as well as on actions which must be taken after a solution to the Bosnian question is found, to maintain peace and cooperation in the region.
On arrival in Athens earlier yesterday, Mr. Ruehe said that there were "well-founded" hopes a peaceful solution to the problem in former Yugoslavia would be found in the next few weeks. Mr. Ruehe, added, however that there were still a number of difficulties which he would have the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Arsenis.
Mr. Arsenis said the co-operation programme between the two countries in the defence sector was proceeding satisfactorily. On his part, Mr. Ruehe said his meeting with his Greek counterpart was "fruitful".
Referring to Europe's new defence identity in the framework of the European Union and the Western European Union, Mr. Ruehe said Greece and Germany had more or less identical positions and clarified that Greece was positive towards Germany's initiative for a joint meeting of WEU defence and foreign ministers on consolidating the new identity.
Asked whether Germany would undertake an initiative at Williamsburg in the US at the informal NATO defence ministers' meeting on activating NATO headquarters in Greece, or even the land headquarters, Mr. Ruehe said it was an issue to be discussed and one which Germany had a constructive position on. Mr. Arsenis confirmed Germany's constructive stance on the issue and said he looked forward to its continuation. He said he was not particularly optimistic a decision would be taken on the issue at Williamsburg since Turkey would be represented at the informal session by its ambassador to Washington and not his Turkish counterpart.
Mr. Ruehe said his country was positive towards the establishment of a rapid intervention division on NATO's southern flank. On the question of a modernization programme for Greek F-4 jets, Mr. Ruehe said there was interest on behalf of a big German company and relevant discussions had been held in the past. He said the basis existed for good co-operation.
Referring to a programme on building frigates in Turkey being financed by Germany, Mr. Ruehe said the frigates would not alter the balance in the Aegean. He explained that the frigates would be used for NATO's purposes.
The defence ministers said the issue of German compensation was not discussed at the meeting since it was not a matter of their jurisdiction. Mr. Ruehe referred to statements by the German Chancellor and foreign minister on the issue.
The two ministers held a private meeting on the Ionian island of Cephalonia on Sunday.
Political Spring party leader Antonis Samaras yesterday did not rule out the possibility of early elections, saying that the course of Greece's national issues and the "tragic" economic situation "may determine the duration of the current Parliament."
Speaking on the occasion of Parliament's new session, Mr. Samaras said his party was ready for such an eventuality, adding that he was not concerned about rumors "that PASOK and New Democracy are consulting with each other to vote in a new electoral law tailored to them."
The main opposition New Democracy party's Parliamentary Group will convene today under the chairmanship of ND leader Miltiades Evert. Mr. Evert is expected to review the current political situation and developments on national issues, where he will reiterate his party's stance and underline that ND intends to table a motion against the government in the event that Skopje is recognized as "Macedonia".
The first contacts between Athens and Skopje in the framework of the two nations' interim accord will be held in the Greek capital today. The meetings are being held to thrash out the technical details ahead of the official implementation of accord, such as passports and travel documents, as well as the establishment of a Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) liaison office in Athens.
Government spokesman Telemahos Hytiris said that the Greek side would be headed by Ambassador Dimitrios Kypraios, director of the A3 Balkan Issues Directorate at the Greek Foreign Ministry.
The eight-member FYROM delegation, which arrived in the northern Greek capital of Thessaloniki yesterday, is headed by Lupco Arsorski, a senior foreign ministry official, who told reporters that the two sides would be discussing trade issues relating to the interim agreement and the establishment of liaison offices in Athens and Skopje.
Two C-130 planes of relief aid and a 30-member team of doctors, seismologists and specialist rescue squads was due to leave Athens last night for southeast Turkey to assist victims of the devastating 6.0 earthquake which killed at least 35 people on Sunday. Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou yesterday sent a message to his Turkish counterpart Tansu Ciller expressing his condolences for Sunday's devastating earthquake in southeastern Turkey that killed at least 35 people.
"I wish to express the most sincere condolences and support of the Greek government and myself over the loss of human lives and the material damage caused by the devastating earthquake that struck your country," Mr. Papandreou said in his telegram. "I would also like to inform you of my government's readiness to provide every possible assistance," he added.
Government spokesman Telemahos Hytiris later said that the foreign ministry was in contact with Ankara.
President Kostis Stephanopoulos has called off his trip to Bucharest, slated to begin Thursday, press reports said yesterday. The reports said renovations to the Romanian Parliament had forced the cancellation of the planned plenary session at which Mr. Stephanopoulos was to speak.
President Stephanopoulos' trip has been rescheduled for the beginning of November.
Laser technology in medicine, industry and telecommunications and in consumer products such as compact discs and laser printers will be the subject of a three-day international conference opening tomorrow.
The conference, beginning tomorrow, will also present the latest developments in the use of laser in the preservation and restoration of artwork and monuments. The conference, under the auspices of the EU's EUREKA-EUROCARE programmes, is jointly organized by the Research and Technology Institute (ITE), the University of Crete and the National Art Gallery.
European and US experts will also be attending the conference, which aims to present the prospects arising from the adoption of modern laser technology in a variety of applications for preserving the cultural heritage of countries and responsible determination of the limitations.
In the past five years, the ITE and the National Art Gallery's preservation department have used laser applications in the preservation of paintings to determine their composition and structure. In addition to roundtable discussions, delegates will visit the ITE's laser laboratories in Iraklion for demonstrations.
Mines discovered in the mountainous area of Tzines on the northern Aegean island of Thassos may be the oldest mines in Europe, archaeologists said yesterday. The prehistoric Stone Age mines were worked for red ochre 10-15,000 years ago when Thassos was the sole supplier for the whole of Europe. The miners used deer antlers and small animal bones as tools, while excavations have also revealed flint blades and a number of artifacts made from bone and horn.
The discovery of the mines is particularly significant, since it provides evidence that Thassos had relations with the rest of Europe thousands of years ago. Excavations are scheduled to continue with the participation of scientists from abroad.
Metropolitan Prokopios of Fillipon, Thasou and Kavalas officiated at the blessing of the new Parliamentary session yesterday on behalf of the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Serapheim. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and leaders of the opposition.
Alternate Foreign Minister George Romeos yesterday stressed Greece's explicit opposition to moves to pressure European Parliament deputies to approve the ratification of the customs union between Turkey and the European Union at the European Union's General Affairs Council in Luxembourg. Greece was also opposed to the Community granting economic aid to Albania for as long as the Tirana government failed to resolve problems faced by Greek minority schools.
The ministers examined the issue of the European Parliament ratifying the customs union between the EU and Turkey before the end of the year. There was almost a unanimous agreement on this issue that if Ankara did not show goodwill and failed to take measures on improving human rights the European Parliament would not ratify customs union.
For this reason, the British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind proposed that the 15 governments should exert pressures on their Eurodeputies, which obliged the Greek representative to remind his counterparts that the European Parliament is an independent institutional Community agency and its members directly elected by the peoples of member-states and, consequently, any intervention or pressure at the European Parliament was absolutely inconceivable.
Commissioner Hans van den Broek announced that the European Commission intended to go ahead with the necessary preparation for a start to negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for Community economic aid to be granted through the PHARE programme for the recovery of the economy of central and eastern European countries and the upgrading of the Commission's diplomatic relations with FYROM, after the implementation by FYROM of the agreement signed with Greece in New York on September 13.
Mr. Romeos said all this depended on whether FYROM observed the New York agreement absolutely which in his view meant that it should turn up at the negotiating table not only for the symbols, the flag and its constitution but also for the second part of the agreement which anticipates negotiations for the change of its name.
Mr. Romeos called on Greece's Community partners to abstain from any move constituting recognition of FYROM with a different name than the one with which it became a UN member (FYROM).
A European Commission representative said it congratulated Greece and FYROM on the agreement reached in New York "which we hope will be implemented so that we can have our proposals ready by the end of October for upgrading our diplomatic relations with this country" and for the preparation of the mandate the Council of Ministers should give the Commission to enable it to go ahead with economic aid for FYROM through the PHARE programme and negotiations for a commercial and economic co-operation agreement.
Greece yesterday expressed its "particular pleasure" at the victory of the socialists in the Portuguese general elections. Government spokesman Telemahos Hytiris said Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou would be sending Portuguese Socialist Party leader Antonio Guterres a message of congratulations.
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos will make an official visit to France November 2-10, the first such visit by a spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church. Vartholomeos will also meet with French President Jacques Chirac during his visit, which is taking place at the initiative of the French Christian Churches Council.
The Patriarch's visit coincides with celebrations marking the centenary of the St. Stephanos Greek Cathedral in Paris There are approximately 150-200,000 Orthodox believers in France.
The Patriarch will also attend the Catholic Bishops' Synod scheduled to take place on November 6.
The Orthodox religion is, as of yesterday, an official religion in Hungary, according to an announcement. In a recent decision by a Budapest court, the ecclesiastic presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Hungary was recognized as a legal entity named "Ecumenical Orthodox-Patriarchate Exarchate of Hungary" and is now equal to the other religions in the country.
The government denied a report in yesterday's edition of the Athens daily Apogevmatini claiming that Greek ships participated in a NATO exercise on the 25th parallel, a development possibly meaning a de facto partitioning of operational control in the Aegean. Government spokesman Telemahos Hytiris said yesterday the exercise was held in the Black Sea and that merely national exercises were carried out to the east of the 25th parallel en route to the exercise.
Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos yesterday met with Gregor Gyzi, president of the parliamentary group of Germany's Party of Democratic Socialism, and its vice-president, Ivan Kaufman. Bilateral relations and relations with central and eastern Europe were discussed.
Daniel Tsiokas and Christina Fili yesterday clinched Greece's ping-pong championship in the men and women categories respectively.
In the men's finals, Tsiokas beat Yannis Vlotinos 3-1, who took second place, while third place was shared by Christos Lamis and Yannis Kordoutis. In the women's finals, Fili beat Arhodoula Volakaki. Third place was shared by Despina Dandoula and Maria Moirou. The championship in the men's doubles was taken by Vlotinos and Kordoutis and the women's double by Moirou and Diana Zerdila, while the mixed double by Vlotinos and Dandoula.
The results: Men's: Tsioka-Vlotinos 3-1 (23-22, 11-21, 21-17, 21-7) Women's: Fili-Volakaki 3-1 (21-7, 21-15, 19-21, 21-17) Men's double: Vlotinos/Kordoutis - Tsiokas/Karytsas 2-1 (19-21, 21-17, 24-22) Women's double: Moirou/Zerdila-Doumeni/Kaloyanni 2-1 (18-21, 21-17, 24-22) Mixed double: Vlotinos/Dandoula - Tsiokas/Moirou 2-1 (21-13, 17-21, 21-16).
A reduction in the main housing loan interest rate to 12 per cent (stable over a period of five years), announced by the Credit Bank last week, will lead to corresponding reductions by major commercial banks. According to reports, the reductions will be announced this week and will ultimately press interest rates of all categories downwards. Most interest rates, with the exception of those concerning credit cards, have fallen considerably in past months and a further reduction is expected since banking competition has been greatly increased.
Continuous interest rate reductions have created a degree of concern both at the Bank of Greece and the Finance Ministry which sought reductions but at a more reserved rate. Cause for the voicing of concern was given by a decrease in the housing loans to 12 per cent by the Credit Bank, and primarily by the prospect of similar reductions by the National Mortgage Bank and big commercial banks such as the National, Commercial and Ionian banks.
Energy Commissioner Christos Papoutsis will inaugurate the sessions of a two-day international conference on the linking of energy networks in the Balkans on October 16. Organized by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy, the conference is expected to draw ministers, government officials and representatives of energy organizations, banks, engineering and construction companies from Balkan and Black Sea countries.
Investment programmes relating to energy link-ups in the Balkans and in the broader region of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea will be examined at the conference. Plans will also be presented concerning the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the natural gas pipeline and the Greece-Italy power grid link.
Breaking all past participation records, more than 140 Greek exhibitors are displaying their products at seven specialized pavilions at the world's biggest foodstuffs and beverages exhibition, ANUGA, in Cologne. A total of 6,300 exhibitors from all over the world are participating in the exhibition.
The Greek participation covers an area of 2,718 square meters. Greek products on display are tinned food, olive oil, wines, ouzo, raisins, honey, fresh fish, poultry, dairy products, frozen goods, confectionery products and tsipouro. Germany is Greece's best customer, absorbing 23.7 per cent of Greek exports, while more than a quarter of Greek exports to Germany (27.6 per cent) concern foodstuffs and beverages.