|Thursday, 24 September 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 04-05-25
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>May 25, 2004
 Athens will host safe Olympics, minister, ATHOC president tell international conference
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The three-day international conference on Olympic security opened on Monday at the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games headquarters with an audience of 350 attendees - National Olympic Committees representatives, sponsors, security specialists, as well as representatives from Interpol and Europol.
Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis referred to the significance of international cooperation on matters of Olympic Games security and noted that in the time remaining until the Games, security measures will be fine-tuned in order to ensure the best result possible. An excellent working partnership with Athens 2004 allowed for the integration of security planning into the Games program, with roles defined at coordinating, operational and functional levels, he said.
"I would like to make it clear that we will not put people's lives or the Games at risk. Greece is a small country, but has done everything humanly possible to ensure safe Games," Voulgarakis said.
Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki stressed that security is a top priority, adding that "the most significant factor is that Athens has become a very safe city. We possess the know-how, the human resources, and the technology necessary to protect Athens this summer as well as in the future."
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki also made reference to articles appearing in the foreign press: "When I read the international press, I worry. One Olympic winner, member of the Olympic Family, said that athletes at the Athens Games 'are at risk.' Recently, one of our Olympic Advisory Group partners, Australia, chose to issue a travel advisory to all those planning to visit Greece and this during a very successful IOC Coordinating Commission meeting in Athens. I believe that this is damaging the Olympic Games."
"We are not minimizing the challenge, but we shouldn't exaggerate it either. Let us assure our athletes that we are not complacent. No other Organizing Committee and no other host country have placed greater emphasis on security - whether in the Olympic Village, the venues, or the city where visitors will enjoy Athens' history and hospitality," she added.
The British ambassador, Sir David Madden, speaking for the Olympic Advisory Group (OAG), stressed that the role of the group is advisory, and that Greece plans and implements the security program. He also pointed out that cooperation had intensified with OAG conferences taking place monthly, instead of once every three months as in the past. "The threat from international terrorism calls for overall global confrontation. Our common goal is to enjoy a safe and pleasant Olympics," he said.
Chief of Greek Police Fotis Nasiakos described Olympic safety as a huge, complex and brand-new operation for Greece, an operation bound up with the security environment - local and international - as a whole. He emphasized that Greece is one of the safest countries in the world, as the country's low crime rate indicates.
Nasiakos praised Greece's cooperation with EU countries, Russia, as well as with its Balkan and Mediterranean neighbors, among others. On a national level, he praised the collaboration of the Armed Forces, the Fire Brigade, the Coast Guard, the National Intelligence Service (EYP), Athens 2004, and 72 other organizations, each with its own distinctive role and responsibilities, but acting collectively under the guidance of the Unified Coordination and Management Centre.
 Deputy FM discusses Cyprus issue with US State Department official
WASHINGTON 25/5/2004 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis held talks here on Monday with US State Department official Marc Grossman and ascertained "interest in the Greek government's view that the door leading to the reunification of Cyprus should remain open."
Valinakis further said "we believe there is ground for a new effort to be made, but such a thing will depend on the parties involved in the issue."
Referring to the content of his talks with the US official, Valinakis spoke of the importance of creating a region of security and progress in southeastern Europe and of turning it into a "European neighborhood", meaning "promoting neighboring countries in their effort to join the European Union at some time."
The deputy foreign minister later participated in a working lunch hosted in his honor by Washington's Western Policy Center, with representatives of the US capital's "think tanks."
Valinakis will be continuing his contacts in Chicago and Los Angeles before arriving in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Wednesday to represent Greece at the EU's summit with countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
 PM gives his official seal to the return of Samaras to New Democracy
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Monday gave his official seal to the return of former foreign minister Antonis Samaras to New Democracy, after an absence of more than a decade.
Samaras has been outside ND since 1993, when he was dismissed as minister by former premier Constantine Mitsotakis for defying him over the handling of the "Macedonia" issue. He had then quit ND to form the Political Spring party, while Mitsotakis has since considered him responsible for depriving ND of its slim majority in Parliament and forcing early elections that returned PASOK to power. His return has been strenuously opposed in past years by Mitsotakis, who is the honorary president of New Democracy and a very influential figure within the party.
After a half-hour meeting with Samaras, who will be joining the party's ticket for the European elections in June, Karamanlis addressed all ND candidates and stressed that the June elections had both a European and a national dimension.
The prime minister noted that the European elections concerned the Greek path toward ensuring Europe had balanced growth, security and prosperity and policies that would improve the quality of life and day-to-day problems of Europeans. He also highlighted the role of MEPs in defending Greek interests and demands.
 PASOK leader on party's Euro-elections ticket
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou on Monday night termed the party's European parliamentary elections ticket as "a strong message that we are going forward."
Papandreou made the statement in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, when asked by reporters to comment on reactions within the party on the ticket.
"It is a message that we are putting forward the young generation, that there are strong forces of renewal in our movement, that we recognize the silent work of the young people," Papandreou said.
"It is a message that the young generation should enter politics and there is a positive climate in society which embraces this initiative."
 PASOK party leader refers to Greek-Turkish relations in address at Thessaloniki Forum
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou referred to Greek-Turkish relations and to bilateral relations with neighboring Balkan countries in an address at the Thessaloniki Forum on Monday.
Papandreou outlined the main points in his positions regarding Greece's political and economic presence in the Balkans as a continuation of policies implemented by PASOK governments.
The PASOK party leader linked the future of southeastern Europe to the European family and noted the European Union acquiring a strong economic presence and a "strategic depth" in the region as the main challenge posed by the Euroelections.
Referring to Turkey, Papandreou said all problems have not been resolved, adding that "on the basis of decisions taken in Helsinki and Copenhagen, we created the European framework in which the only difference we have on the delineation of the continental shelf must be solved by the two countries resorting to the International Court at The Hague, which is one of the basic obligations of Turkey's candidacy for its European course."
Papandreou said other issues which also had to be solved are "the problem concerning the School at Halki, the Greek minority's property rights, human rights and minority rights and implementing political and economic reforms."
 European Stability Initiative director accuses EU of inconsistency in western Balkans
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)European Stability Initiative director Gerald Knaus, speaking at the 10th Forum in Thessaloniki on Monday, accused the European Union of inconsistency concerning commitments it had undertaken in approaching the western Balkans.
Knaus said the summit held in Thessaloniki in 2003 provided a substantive opportunity to redetermine the EU's commitment towards the countries of the western Balkans, adding that despite whatever positive steps taken the EU did not fulfill its aim.
The speaker referred to lagging appearing in such countries as Albania and Kosovo where, as he said, structural changes are moving in the wrong direction.
He also spoke of the need of shaping an appropriate environment to avoid "social time bombs" appearing in Europe in the future and proposed that the EU should provide additional funds, apart from those offered for stability.
Knaus closed his address with the prediction that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) could begin negotiations with the EU by 2006 and emerge as a "key" state and constitute a model for such countries as Albania, Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia, which have a longer course to follow to achieve their accession to the European family.
 Turkish State Minister on Turkey-EU accession talks
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The reforms will continue in Turkey even if Ankara does not receive a date for the start of accession talks with the European Union in December and this because the country needs these reforms, Turkish State Minister and responsible for the Economy, Ali Babacan, said at the Balkan Business Conference in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on Monday.
He said his country has made great steps in the direction of reforms, while he expressed optimism that Turkey will receive the desired date in December.
 Former alternate FM receives highest Italian distinction
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Italian Ambassador to Athens Jian Paolo Cavarai on Monday bestowed honorary distinctions to six Greek citizens and three Italians.
The highest distinction, the medal of the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell'Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana) was awarded to former alternate foreign minister Tassos Yiannitsis.
Ambassador Cavarai said that Yiannitsis, in his capacity as "labor minister and alternate foreign minister promoted closer relations with his Italian counterparts."
The ambassador also expressed appreciation for Yiannitsis' contribution during the course of Greece's and then Italy's EU presidency in 2003.
Two other Orders of Merit, those of the Cavaliere and the Commendatore, were awarded to Aleka Anagnostopoulou from the foreign ministry and to Panagiotis Adamidis, Director of the Attica Traffic Police.
 10th Thessaloniki Forum aims to redefine role of Balkan economies
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The 10th Thessaloniki Forum formally opened its two-day session on Monday aiming to redefine the role and the interest by the EU, US and Russia for the region's development outlook in the current decade.
The forum is under the auspices of Greece's Foreign ministry and is organized by the Union of Northern Greece Industries (SBBE) and the Greek-American Commerce of Trade. The organizers expect this year's forum to help redefine the expanding strategy of several Greek and international groups in the Balkan region.
The Prime Ministers of Greece, Costas Karamanlis, Serbia-Montenegro Voiclav Kostunica, PASOK leader George Papandreou and NATO's official Gunther Altenburg are giving added political significance to the 10th Thessaloniki Forum.
Nikos Efthimiadis, chairman of the organizing committee of Thessaloniki Forum, in his inaugurating speech referred to a new landscape emerging in Southeastern Europe and to the inflow of direct foreign investments in the area, a trend -he said- offering evidence of Greek confidence in the region.
Macedonia-Thrace Minister Nikos Tsiartsionis said the region has left behind its troubled past, while SBBE chairman Dimitris Symeonidis said that funds earmarked for the reconstruction of the Balkans should be further increased, both by the EU and other developed economies. Symeonidis expressed his belief that the EU, US and Russia would re-examine their interest for the region in the current decade and added that Balkan states could enhance their political stability and institutional restructuring on the hope of integrating with the European Union in the future.
Stephanos Kostopoulos, chairman of the Greek-American Chamber of Commerce, underlined the lack of coordination between state agencies in Southeast European countries, a factor delaying the markets' development. He added delays in funding and insufficient management of money. Kostopoulos stressed that the private sector should become the driving force in the development of the region and to work as a catalyst for reducing unemployment and poverty. He urged for a healthier tax base and more incentives to investments as measures to boost trade between Balkan states. Kostopoulos noted that small- and medium-sized enterprises represented the future and urged for more funds and support programs by the EU.
George Markopouliotis, head of the European Commission's representative in Greece, stressed that the expansion of EU offered great opportunities but urged for more growth incentives to new EU members. Markopouliotis noted that the expansion would add 2.0 percent annually to new member-states' growth rates and 0.5 percent to older members.
US interest in SE Europe remains high - Russia-Albania friendship pact to be signed soon: US interest in SE Europe remains high despite its involvement in the developments in Afghanistan and Iraq, US ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller said Monday, denying "rumors to the contrary".
Addressing the opening session of the 2-day 10th Thessaloniki Business Forum on the Balkans, Miller conceded that US relations with the Balkan region had been somewhat limited, and described as positive the increasing EU activity in the region.
He explained that US interest for peace and prosperity in the Balkans was constantly increasing, and noted the increase in American investments in the region in recent years, as well as the 1,800-strong US contingent in Kosovo.
Miller said the US condemned the violent incidents in Kosovo in March, adding that it's position endorsed the arrest and trial of the instigators.
He also called for the speedy implementation of the measures decided by the UN Security Council after the latest violence, in order that the Kosovo population may live in an environment of peace and cooperation.
Also addressing the 10th Thessaloniki Forum, NATO assistant secretary general for political affairs and security policy Gunther Altenburg clarified that NATO did not intend to "abandon" the Balkans before its work was done.
Turning to the recent unrest in Kosovo, Altenburg said that NATO was prepared to avert a prospective generalization of the incidents, adding that the March violence in Kosovo had reinforced NATO's determination to complete its mission in the wider region.
Russian ambassador to Greece Andrei Vdovin underlined his country's 'traditional' interest in SE Europe, adding that Moscow was not disturbed by NATO and EU expansion in that region.
On Kosovo, Vdovin said that Russia had anticipated March's outbreak of violence, adding that his country endorsed the holding of an international conference on the Kosovo issue, at which the inviolability of the borders and the multinational character of the states of the region should be agreed on.
Russia-Albania peace and friendship treaty: Forty-three years after the historic rift Hoxha-Kruschev rift, the ice is melting between Moscow-Tirana and relations between Russia and Albania are expected to be fully restored with the signing of a peace and friendship treaty between the two countries.
Vdovin announced at the Forum that Russia would be signing an accord with Albania soon, which would turn a new page in relations between the two countries.
Albania-Russian relations had remained at a standstill since 1961, following a clash between Albanian leader Emver Xoxha and (then) Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev over Stalin, at the conference of the 81 communist parties in Moscow, that created a rift between the two countries that lasted up to 1991.
Following the collapse of the regimes, and particularly after 1991, relations started to be gradually restored, and the improvement will be sealed with the signing of a friendship and cooperation pact.
 Development minister presents next six-month policy goals
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Monday presented the ministry's policy goals and briefed the inner cabinet over actions and initiatives taken in the first two months in office.
Speaking to reporters, after the meeting, Sioufas said that the ministry's timetable was divided into two periods -the first beginning after the government took over in mid-March and will end after the Olympic Games and the second begins in autumn and will end at the end of November 2004.
Commenting on an increasing problem of rising fuel prices in Greece, the Greek minister stressed this was an international problem with oil prices surging to their highest levels in 21 years. "Domestic fuel price increases, however, were smaller compared with average price increases in other international markets," Sioufas said, adding he saw signs of prices stabilizing.
Sioufas said that the Development ministry, in cooperation with other ministries and all interested parties, were constantly monitoring developments in the market, with the aim to prevent further increases, and added that the Greek government has asked the EU to agree to a mechanism allowing cuts in fuel taxes in periods of high international oil prices.
The Greek minister stressed that "a special fuel consumption tax in Greece was the smaller in EU". Development Deputy Minister George Salagoudis expressed the government's worries over the issue during a World Energy Organization conference held in Amsterdam in the weekend.
Sioufas stressed Greece's high dependence from oil product imports (reaching 70 percent the country's needs, or 3.8 percent of Greek GDP, compared with only 1.4 percent rate in other EU states). The minister noted that a Competition Commission has intervened successfully, so far, in the market to inspect market operations. He underlined that his call for "responsibility, self-restrain and respect of weaker social groups" was positively met by unions.
 Foreign ministry and Helexpo management discuss policy for trade fairs, economic diplomacy
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis on Monday met with the new management of trade fair organizers Helexpo to discuss coordinating action between Helexpo and the ministry on issues such as Thessaloniki's bid to host the world trade fair EXPO 2008 and initiatives concerning economic diplomacy and trade fair policy in general.
Regarding Thessaloniki's bid for EXPO 2008, the minister said that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had taken up initiatives with the International Bureau of Exhibitions (BIE) and his foreign counterparts, most recently at the recent southeastern European summit in Sarajevo, while noting that bidding on a regional Balkan basis was a new argument in Thessaloniki's favor.
Stylianidis announced that Helexpo will henceforth be assured a place in all business delegations organized by the foreign ministry in target markets, starting with a trip led by President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos to Azerbaijan on June 20-22. He also announced plans to reorganize the central mechanism for economic diplomacy, as well as regional mechanisms in each country, which will then be at Helexpo's disposal.
 EU sympathetic to Greek request for crisis cut in fuel tax
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The European Union's executive Commission is sympathetic to a request by Greece for permission to lower fuel tax in times of major price hikes, Deputy Development Minister George Salagoudis said on Monday.
Salagoudis told reporters at the International Energy Forum in Amsterdam that EU Commission Vice-President Loyola de Palacio had said in a sidelines meeting at the conference that an exception might be made for Greece to lower its tax on liquid fuel in cases of crisis, mainly due to the 2004 Olympics to be hosted by Athens in August.
Energy ministers from the European Union met informally at the forum to debate fuel price movements and investment.
De Palacio, who is also the EU's energy commissioner, said that recent oil price movements were linked to both temporary and fundamental structural weaknesses in oil markets; and that it was unacceptable for producers and consumers that at a time of adequate supply prices had risen even above the ceilings agreed by producing nations.
Amongst factors behind the current upsurge of oil prices, De Palacio identified the threat of demand outstripping supply as the oil needs of large consumers and economies such as the USA and China escalated; and due to market perceptions of a higher than normal short-term risk to future supplies, which had provoked precautionary buying and a heightened level of speculation.
As a response, the commissioner advocated a more concerted approach within the EU in the management of strategic oil stocks. In addition, dialogue between producers and consumers should be intensified to prevent stronger speculative movements on the market.
 Greek tourism to benefit from post-Olympic environment
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)"Although initial expectations for a 'golden year' in tourism in light of the Olympic Games may not have been fulfilled - mainly due to a lack of sufficiently associating the Games with Greece as a tourist destination - the new government's strategy will make the most of the post-Olympic environment, within the context of a broader strategy spanning over a decade and based on 'development, promotion and culture,'" Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told foreign correspondents during a press conference in Athens on Monday.
"We aim to do for the tourism industry what Ireland did for new technologies," he said, estimating that while tourism currently represents 17%-20% of GNP it could well reach 35%-40% over the next decade.
Avramopoulos admitted that the Greek tourism industry during recent years has been less competitive since it lowered its quality and increased its prices. He attributed this in great part to the previous government's lack of strategy and asserted that the situation would change with new initiatives for development, primarily in the form of attracting new investments in the industry.
Referring to increased hotel and room rates this year ahead of the Olympic Games, Avramopoulos said that cases of profiteering are common in all cities that have hosted the Olympics. However, he asserted that "the majority of Greek hotels have kept their rates at reasonable levels," while in those instances of excessive pricing the relevant authorities had already taken action.
"We believe that prices in Athens and in Greece generally, will be within reasonable limits during the Olympic Games," Avramopoulos said.
 Workers, employers sign two-year wage pact
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Workers and employers on Monday signed a two-year collective labor agreement including wage rises for the period.
In 2004, salaries will rise by 4.0 per cent backdated to January 1; and again by 2.0 percent from September 1. In 2005, the increases are 2.2 per cent from January 1; and 3.3 per cent from September 1.
Emerging from the calculation are a nominal rise of 6.0 per cent in 2004 and 5.5 per cent in 2005, which, in practice, is below 5.0 per cent as the second installment is payable each year from September 1.
The contract was signed by the Association of Greek Industry and the General Confederation of Employees of Greece.
 Greek household debt rising fast, central bank says
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Greek households' debt is raising fast, official figures from the Bank of Greece showed on Monday, with consumer loans rising 31.2 percent in March on an annual basis and housing loans rising 24.7 percent over the same period. Total household debt totalled 42.6 billion euros at the end of the first quarter, or 26 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. The EU average rate is 46 percent.
Total debt by businesses and households to commercial banks was 105.3 billion euros in March, or 64 percent of GDP, with credit expansion growth rising slightly to 17.8 percent in March, from 17.2 percent in March 2003.
Bank loans to households grew an annual 28.5 percent in March from 27.3 percent in February, with personal loans rising by 49.4 percent from 43.2 percent over the same period, respectively. Personal loans' growth was 35.2 percent in December 2003, the central bank said in a report.
Credit card debt growth slowed to 23.9 percent in March from 24.8 percent in February and 25.5 percent in December 2003, while housing loans growth rate rose to 24.7 percent from 23.9 percent over the same period, respectively, to 27.9 billion euros.
Bank of Greece governor Nikos Garganas, in the annual report of the central bank on the country's economic outlook, expressed his worry over the rapid growth rates of consumer loans.
Saving deposits rose slightly to 13.4 percent in March from 12.7 percent in the previous month, the central bank said.
 Poseidonia 2004 shipping trade fair, forum in Piraeus June 7-11
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The Poseidonia 2004 international shipping trade fair is to be held at the Piraeus Port Exhibition Centre on June 7 to 11 with over 1,640 companies from 74 countries to display their goods and services.
Also on June 7, around 500 delegates from more than 50 countries will meet at the Poseidonia Maritime Policy Forum to debate shipping policy.
Opening the forum chaired by the president of the Union of Greek Shipowners, Nicos Efthymiou, will be Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis.
Keynote speakers are the secretary general of the International Maritime Organization, Efthimios Mitropoulos; Norwegian Trade and Industry Minister, Angsar Gabrielsen; Hong Kong Secretary for Economic Development and Labor, Stephen Ip; the United Kingdom's minister for shipping, David Jamieson; and the chairman of the Greek Shipping Co-operation Committee, Epaminondas Embiricos.
 Manufacturers, merchants agree to keep prices down for Olympics
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Manufacturers and retailers have agreed to keep prices down ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics, Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanasiou said on Monday.
Following a meeting with trade groups spanning the market, Papathanasiou said representatives of the organizations realized that the benefits would remain beyond duration of the games.
"We have created a national Olympics alliance for the duration of the Olympics with all market groups, employees and consumers," he told reporters.
"We want to publicize Greece's market to 10,000 athletes, 20,000 journalists and two million visitors as a quality market that offers good value for money," he added.
Among measures the government plans to take during the Olympics in August and September are increased market price and food quality inspections, release of a leaflet giving a price range for key goods and services, and provision of European Union funds to aid small and medium sized enterprises.
 Stocks nose up in cautious trade
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Stocks finished higher on the bourse with players cautious despite robust sentiment in other European markets, traders said.
The Athens general share index closed at 2,346.57 points, showing a 0.20 per cent increase. Turnover was 127.2 million euros.
The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalization shares ended 0.30 per cent higher; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks closed 0.14 per cent up; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 0.13 per cent higher.
Of stocks traded, declines led advances at 140 to 138 with 79 remaining unchanged.
 PM scheduled to meet IOC president on Tuesday
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is scheduled to meet with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge on Tuesday morning, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos announced.
The premier is due to speak at the 10th Thessaloniki Forum for southeastern Europe on Tuesday evening at 19:30.
 International leg of Olympic torch relay begins on Wednesday, June 2
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The Olympic flame will make its first trip in history to all five continents, departing from Athens International Airport "Eleftherios Venizelos" on Wednesday, June 2. A special ceremony will be held at the Panathenian Stadium, followed by another ceremony whereby Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki will hand the Torch over to the airplane crew. The Olympic Torch will be transported by a specially-built aircraft and will make its first stop in Sydney Australia.
 OTE Group presents its Olympic sponsorship
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) President Panayiotis Vourloumis, Cosmote Managing Director Evangelos Martigopoulos and OTEnet Managing Director Yiorgos Ioannidis presented on Monday OTE Group's sponsorship of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The Group's sponsorship of ¬ 58.6 million is the highest in Olympic history for the telecommunications category and is half in cash half in kind. Additionally, the Group spent another ¬ 246 million on infrastructure and services.
The Group's representatives assured that all projects will be finished by the end of June at the latest, allowing enough time for tests as well. "The day after the Olympic Games, Greece will have the new technology and infrastructure which was created ahead of the Games," Vourloumis said.
 Opening ceremony for the 44th International Session for Young Participants of the IOA
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The opening ceremony for the 44th International Session for Young Participants of the International Olympic Academy (IOA) was held at Pnyx on Monday in the presence of Kostis Stephanopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic. The Session's main topic is "Olympism," with special focus on "The Olympic Games: Cultural and Moral Parameters."
"The special theme of this year's Session is especially interesting and timely since the Olympic Games will be held in Athens in two months and 20 days. By combining sports with culture and education, Olympism aims at creating a way of life that is based on joy through effort, the educational value of setting a good example and respect for prevalent international moral values," Hellenic Olympic Committee President and IOC member Lambis Nikolaou said in his opening speech. "The Olympic Games are a meeting point for all peoples of the world, an excellent opportunity for the forging of peace, friendship and cooperation and the opportunity to share ideas and different experiences," he added.
IOA President Dr. Nikos Filaretos emphasized that, "It is imperative, more than at any other time, for young people all over the world to realize the course and results sports events achieve and the benefits they provide to people."
IOC President Jacques Rogge emphasized that those participating in the IOA's International Session will experience something unique as the Olympic Games return to their birthplace. "The Olympic Games is the global gathering of young people all over the world. It is also the only event which brings together the men and women of 202 National Olympic Committees, overcoming cultural, religious and political differences," he noted.
Alternate Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia wished the IOA success on its international session and added, "I would like to invite all of you to the great celebration in August - the best and safest Olympic Games ever organized."
Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni spoke of the importance of Greece's ancient legacy and the emphasis Greeks placed on developing both body and mind as the basic principle of good and virtue. "I would therefore like to wish to all the young people who are here today, on Acropolis' sacred hill, to embrace the most noble of elements passed down to us from the ancient world - the Olympic Spirit. Today's world certainly is in great need of the Olympic Spirit's most fundamental and timeless element - that of 'noble competition,'" Bakoyianni said.
Deputy Culture Minister responsible for sports George Orfanos said education was the foundation of the Olympic Movement. "Sports is not only a form of entertainment, it is first and foremost, education, training, a way of life, a strong foundation which shapes every individual's personality," he added.
Following the above speeches and the IOA Board's decision, honorary awards were given to IOC Honourary President Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (represented by Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki), the City of Athens (represented by Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni) and Voula Patoulidou as the only Greek female athlete to have won a gold medal at an Olympic Games, while Rogge gave the "Olympic Order" award to Ioannis Papadoyiannakis, member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee and Head of the Olympic Team for the 2004 Athens Games.
"I feel that this prize you are presenting me with today is not for me personally, but for all of us in the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games who have been working so hard day by day, for a successful Olympic Games," Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said upon receiving the award. "The year 2004 is a milestone for Greece. This year, the whole of the country has been working for the return of the Games to the land where they were born and revived. We are all putting our shoulder to the wheel in order to revitalize and enhance Olympic values and the values of peace and participation," she said.
The IOA session begins Tuesday in Ancient Olympia.
 Last section of Rio-Antirrio bridge span inserted on Monday
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The last section of road surface to complete the Rio-Antirrio bridge span was slotted into place on Monday, linking western Greece with the Peloponnese and bringing to a close the largest and most ambitious public works project ever to be carried out in the country.
With a total span of 2,252 meters, the Rio-Antirrio bridge is the longest cable-stayed suspension bridge in the world. It straddles the entrance of the Corinthian Gulf to connect the city of Patras, Greece's third-largest sea port, with Aetoloakarnania and northwestern Greece.
It will allow vehicles to traverse the distance from Rio to Antirrio in about four minutes, greatly reducing the time currently needed for crossings by car ferry and also eliminating problems caused by bad weather. It is estimated that average vehicle traffic across the Straits will increase from 8,500 cars per day at present to 10,000 cars per day once the bridge is opened, rising to 25,000 cars per day at peak periods.
The official inauguration ceremony will take place on Saturday evening at 18:00 when the mayors of Rio and Antirrio and their municipal councils will walk across the bridge to meet in the middle of the straits.
A grand ceremony to mark the opening of the bridge will take place on August 7, the day before the Olympic Torch relay is scheduled to pass over it on its way to Athens and the start of the Olympic Games.
An announcement by the two municipalities said that the completion of the bridge finally realizes a dream first envisioned in the late 19th century, when it was first presented as an idea in Parliament by the Greek politician Harilaos Trikoupis in 1889.
The project finally got underway in 1991, when a tender was proclaimed, and the first offers were submitted in December 1993. A contract between the Greek state and the construction company Gefyra SA was signed at the start of 1996 and work officially began in 1997.
The bridge is considered a pioneering project from the technical side due to its length (which comes to a total of 2,883 meters including the two access viaducts), the poor quality of the subsoil on which it was built and the strong and frequent seismic activity in the Corinthian Gulf.
Its innovative design includes extremely deep foundations built on caissons with a diameter of 90 meters that sit on the seabed, which was first reinforced by inserting steel rods to a depth of 25-30 meters beneath the caisson base and covering them with a three-meter layer of gravel.
The structure is supported by four pylons, whose bases are up to 65 meters below sea level, and two approach viaducts at either end. The deck is 27.2 meters wide and has two lanes for traffic, plus a safety lane and a pedestrian walkway in each direction.
It has been built to withstand tectonic movement, earthquakes with a peak ground acceleration of up to 0.48 g and a maximum spectral acceleration equal to 1.2g between 0.2 and 1.0 second (conditions estimated to occur not more than once every 2,000 years), a collision with a 180,000-tonne tanker sailing at 18 knots and extremely high wind speeds.
The total budget for the bridge is 740 million euros, co-funded by the European Investment Bank (50 per cent), the Greek state (40 per cent) and the contractor (10 per cent), who also has rights to commercially exploit the bridge after its completion.
According to Gefyra SA, the bridge toll will initially be set at 9.72 euros for private cars, while it is considering special offers for daily customers.
 Processing of European constitution expected to be completed in June
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The European Union's Council of Foreign Ministers convened in Brussels on Monday to examine the Intergovernmental Conference, while the processing of the European constitution is expected to be completed in June. Greece was represented at the Council by Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis.
The Greek minister said discussions on pending issues concerning the European constitution were held in a constructive spirit and with a compromising mood with the intention of having them "closed" in the Irish EU presidency and, more specifically, by the Brussels summit on June 17-18.
The pending issues discussed concern the way of evaluating votes at the Council with a double majority (a majority of countries and populations), while proposals fluctuated from 50+1 in both cases, a view also promoted by Greece, to 50+1 for the number of countries and 60 percent for the population criterion.
The foreign ministers also addressed the issue of the European Parliament's composition and the minimum number of Eurodeputies anticipated for every member-state, that must be about five to enable smaller countries to have an adequate presence.
Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos clarified that with such assessments Cyprus will have six Eurodeputies and in the event of the island's reunification two of them could be Turkish Cypriots.
The Council's agenda also included the issue of whether the constitution's prelude will mention the Christian religion. Molyviatis said the Greek government favors reference to Christianity in the prelude, not in the form of a statement of a religious nature that would turn away other countries from the EU but as an indication of respect for European history that will be of historic and cultural significance.
 Greek public prosecutor wants Kokkalis accounts in Germany opened
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)The Greek public prosecutor's office on Monday revealed that it has asked German authorities to allow it to investigate bank accounts kept by Greek IT tycoon and football club owner Socratis Kokkalis in Germany, in the framework of an investigation into Kokkalis regarding a suspected case of bribery.
The public prosecutor's office is acting on a request made by the examining magistrate who was put in charge of the case after criminal and other charges were brought against Kokkalis as a result of an inquiry carried out by the public prosecutor's office lasting several months.
Greek authorities are expected to send a similar request to Swiss authorities in the next few days regarding the same investigation.
 Weak earthquake jolts Egion, no damage reported
Athens, 25/5/2004 (ANA)A weak earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale jolted the town of Egio early Monday, but no damage was immediately reported.
According to the Patras University Seismology Laboratory, the trembler was recorded at 3:03 a.m. at a distance of 8 kilometers northeast of Egio, in the sea, with an epicentral depth of 15 kilometers.