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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 05-03-03

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <>

March 3, 2005


  • [01] PM Karamanlis holds talks in Belgrade, calls for greater involvement by EU in Kosovo issue
  • [02] PM Karamanlis meets with Croatian premier
  • [03] PM meets Chinese and Turkish envoys
  • [04] PASOK leader meets with former Turkish FM Cem
  • [05] Australian PM John Howard in Athens on April 24
  • [06] Deputy FM meets with Patriarch of Jerusalem
  • [07] Parliament passes draft bill for transparency in justice
  • [08] Greece awaits U.S. consent for transfer of American weapons from Germany
  • [09] PM has meetings with ruling party MPs, Papathemelis
  • [10] Main opposition PASOK readies for 4-day party congress; 5,898 delegates to attend
  • [11] Syrian Baath party delegation holds talks with Communist and Coalition parties
  • [12] Government Foreign Affairs and Defense Council appoints new armed forces leadership
  • [13] FM Molyviatis to undergo scheduled surgical procedure next week
  • [14] President Stephanopoulos hosts reception for EU member-state envoys in Athens
  • [15] Mild fiscal adjustment to continue, FinMin says
  • [16] Gov't spokesman on LAFKA development
  • [17] European Commission adopts draft regulation to improve budgetary statistics
  • [18] Commission to consult on future maritime policy
  • [19] FYROM premier addresses investors' council meeting
  • [20] Eurobarometer: Small majority of Greeks back new EU farm policy
  • [21] International wine contest opens in Thessaloniki
  • [22] Stocks drop in across-the-board profit taking
  • [23] Winter storm hits northern Greece
  • [24] Tourist development minister visits U.S. film industry in Los Angeles
  • [25] Athens 2004 President to meet with Premier on Friday
  • [26] Jerusalem Patriarchate seeks to freeze assets of former manager's spouse
  • [27] Orfanos meets with Japanese Deputy Minister of Education and Sports
  • [28] Sports media association names Stephanopoulos honorary president
  • [29] US human rights report on Cyprus not objective

  • [01] PM Karamanlis holds talks in Belgrade, calls for greater involvement by EU in Kosovo issue

    BELGRADE 3/3/2005 (ANA/A. Panagopoulos)

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis held talks with Serb President Boris Tadic and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in Belgrade on Wednesday, in the framework of his tour of Balkan countries, and called for greater involvement by the European Union in the issue of Kosovo in statements he made later.

    "For us the issue is clear: We desire greater involvement by the European Union since a solution to the issue of Kosovo is required which will be in agreement with European criteria and European values. At the same time, Serbia's path to Europe will also open at last. Both President Tadic and all the political leaders of Serbia and Montenegro are aware of preconditions set by the European Union, including the ICTY, for this path to become wide open," Karamanlis said.

    "It is clear that the full participation of Belgrade, both at this stage of criteria evaluation and in scheduling talks for the future status of Kosovo, constitutes an essential and necessary precondition for the security of the region. The position of Serbia and Montenegro is in united Europe," he added.

    Karamanlis also said that both he and President Tadic expressed satisfaction in observing a new momentum in bilateral economic relations, as well as an increased interest for Greek investment and business possibilities in Serbia.

    "As it was natural, we discussed the European prospect of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as the issue of Kosovo. The position of Greece is known: Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Kosovo, cannot constitute the 'black hole' of Europe. European unification remains incomplete for as long as it does not include all the countries in our area without exception," he said.

    Following his talks with the Montenegrin prime minister, Karamanlis referred to the very interesting presentation made by Djukanovic on the reform program taking place in Montenegro.

    He stated that he supports the European prospects of Montenegro and on the question of a possible separation of Serbia and Montenegro, based on the proposal made, Karamanlis said the agreement reached in Belgrade must be respected by all sides, stressing that "it is the right of peoples to decide on their future" (the Belgrade agreement anticipates a referendum on this possibility in 2006).

    The Greek prime minister further said that stability in the region must be the criterion and the shortest and most preferable path leading to the completion of the European course.

    According to reports, Greece's position is identical with that of the European Union in that there is no question of a return to the status existing before 1999, when Kosovo was part of Serbia and that the final status of Kosovo must not lead to its partitioning or to its reunification with other neighboring countries.

    The Greek government believes that whatever solution is decided can be more viable if Serbia is involved in the next phase of talks. However, it is clear that the Serb side desires a different status for Kosovo.

    Greek government sources stressed that Karamanlis's visit to the area is aimed at the permanent confirmation of good relations and their improvement and the greatest possible support by Greece in resolving problems, since Greece will be assuming the presidency of the Inter-Balkan Conference as of May, while in July it will be assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council, when the phase of evaluating criteria set for Kosovo might have ended and final decisions be taken at that time.

    Karamanlis will be continuing his brief Balkan tour until Thursday afternoon.

    [02] PM Karamanlis meets with Croatian premier

    ZAGREB 3/3/2005 (ANA/A.Panagopoulos)

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis met with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader here on Wednesday, as part of his tour of the Balkans.

    "I had a particularly useful meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, whom I thanked for the warm reception we were given," Karamanlis said after the meeting.

    "We conducted a brief overview of our bilateral relations. I must emphasize that on a political level our bilateral relations are excellent, a fact that was also confirmed during today's meeting. We agreed to cooperate even more closely so that our economic relations may be on a par with our political relations," Karamanlis added.

    Zagreb was the first stop on Karamanlis' Balkan tour. "It is absolutely natural - and I want to emphasize that - for the starting point of our tour to be Zagreb. Greece's strategic aim is to promote the European prospects of Southeast European countries, so that we can transform our region from a 'powder keg', as it was once called, to a European neighborhood," Karamanlis said. He also emphasized that Greece has and will continue to support Croatia's EU accession efforts. "Our country's stance is that cooperation with international courts is always necessary in order to maintain international legality. We must reward this cooperation," Karamanlis added.

    On March 17, it will be decided whether Croatia has fulfilled the criteria necessary for accession talks to begin.

    Additionally, the two political leaders also discussed developments in the Balkans, with particular emphasis on Kosovo. Karamanlis noted that Greece, as an EU and NATO member, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council as well as in view of its assumption of the presidency of the Inter-Balkan Cooperation in May, is working closely with countries in the region.

    In closing, Karamanlis congratulated Sanader and his government for progress made in terms of reforms. Sanader thanked Greece for its support.

    On Wednesday evening Karamanlis departed for Belgrade where he will meet with the leaders of Serbia & Montenegro, followed by a visit to Pristina on Thursday. On Friday, Karamanlis will receive Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano in Athens.

    [03] PM meets Chinese and Turkish envoys

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis received the Chinese Ambassador to Athens Tian Xuejun and the Turkish Ambassador to Athens Tahsin Burcuoglu on Wednesday morning for the customary courtesy visits paid to the premier by foreign envoys in Athens.

    During his meeting with the Chinese envoy, Karamanlis discussed issues concerning Greece and China and cooperation between the two countries in organizing the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

    No statements were made after the meetings.

    [04] PASOK leader meets with former Turkish FM Cem

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Tuesday met with former Turkish foreign minister Ismail Cem, who is currently visiting Greece.

    "It is with great joy that I receive Mr. Cem. Ismail is an old friend, we have worked very hard to create a new era in Greek-Turkish relations, and of course a new era in European-Turkish relations," Papandreou said after the meeting.

    On his part, Cem said that he was very happy to be meeting with his "good, old friend, George" and to be in Athens.

    Cem is representing the Republican Popular Party of Turkey at the PASOK Congress, which opens Thursday.

    Papandreou was foreign minister of Greece at the time that Cem was foreign minister of Turkey. The two men, as foreign ministers, are credited with launching the Greek-Turkish rapprochement.

    [05] Australian PM John Howard in Athens on April 24

    MELBOURNE 3/3/2005 (ANA/S. Hatzimanolis)

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard will be making a stopover in Athens while going to Gallipoli on April 24, press reports said on Wednesday.

    The reports added that he will be going to Gallipoli to attend events marking the 90th anniversary of the battle of the same name. During his stay in Athens, the Australian prime minister will be meeting his Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis.

    [06] Deputy FM meets with Patriarch of Jerusalem

    JERUSALEM 3/3/2005 (ANA/P.Haritos)

    Deputy Foreign Minister Panayiotis Skandalakis met with Patriarch of Jerusalem Irineos on Wednesday in order to reassure him of Greece's continued support of the Patriarchate and to be briefed on the latest developments in the crisis within the Greek Orthodox Church. On the latter issue, Irineos told Skandalakis that "you know more about all this, the ball was thrown into Jerusalem's court from over there [Athens]," he said.

    After the meeting, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, Irineos thanked the Greek government for the interest it has shown, reassured the Greek people that he would not let them down and told reporters that he remains undaunted because he is not guilty of anything. "God knows," he said.

    On his part, Skandalakis said: "I had the opportunity to talk with the patriarch and for him to present to me the problems that have arisen at the Jerusalem Patriarchate recently. My presence here, as a member of the government, denotes the support of the state and of the Greek government towards the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which has done a great deal for Christianity. We will continue to help the institution of the Patriarchate, which is carrying out a difficult task under unfavorable conditions in the sensitive region of the Middle East."

    [07] Parliament passes draft bill for transparency in justice

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The Greek Parliament on Wednesday passed a draft justice ministry bill that aims to promote transparency and internal control of corruption in the courts by the judiciary, during a vote on the individual articles of the bill.

    Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras also told the assembly that the justice ministry had set up a committee to look into other aspects of the justice system that might be linked with corruption. Among these he listed the system of administration of higher courts and public prosecutors departments, the appointment and promotion of judicial officials and the terms and conditions for judge transfers. He said the committee's report, and a draft bill arising from this, will be ready in roughly three to four months.

    The government came under fire during the vote, however, over the latest developments concerning rebates of the LAFKA supplementary pension contributions and the outstanding litigation in the courts by pensioners seek retroactive payment. Main opposition PASOK MPs demanding that the issue be settled with an act of legislation.

    The minister rejected the proposal, however, reiterating that the government will pay any rebates due once a final ruling ordering payment was issued on the first such case by the courts.

    [08] Greece awaits U.S. consent for transfer of American weapons from Germany

    WASHINGTON 3/3/2005 (ANA/T. Ellis)

    Greece is awaiting consent from the United States to receive weapons of American origin from Germany which Washington had sold to Berlin in the past.

    Replying to a relevant question on Tuesday concerning the procedure for transferring American weapons to Greece, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed in a written statement that "the German government has requested from the United States to allow the transfer of weapons of American origin to Greece. American legislation imposes on the recipient of such defense products to secure the consent of the U.S. before going ahead with a transfer to a third party. This request (by Germany) is at the stage of internal examination. The moment a decision has been taken, we shall reply to the government of Germany."

    [09] PM has meetings with ruling party MPs, Papathemelis

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday had meetings with ruling New Democracy MPs, the next in a series of scheduled meetings with ND's entire Parliamentary group.

    The premier also met with independent MP Stelios Papathemelis, a former PASOK minister and party leader that ran on New Democracy's ticket in the last elections.

    No statements were made by the ruling party MPs as they emerged from the meetings.

    Papathemelis referred to the ecclesiastical scandals, stressing that the issue had to close for the good of the Church and that he did not see any reason for Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece to resign.

    "Christodoulos has not been accused of sex scandals or bribery or any other such things. Why should he resign?" Papathemelis told reporters.

    Regarding his talks with Karamanlis, he said that he called on the premier from time to time to exchange views and that Wednesday's meeting had been an opportunity for fruitful discussion that had "not excluded the issues concerning the Church".

    On the issue of rebates of LAFKA supplementary pension contributions, Papathemelis said these should be paid but that he had not discussed the issue with the prime minister.

    [10] Main opposition PASOK readies for 4-day party congress; 5,898 delegates to attend

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Main opposition PASOK's spokesman on Wednesday stressed that the party's congress, which opens on Thursday, will be a milestone for the beginning a "PASOK of the new age".

    "We want it to transform and ratify our political positions, the new structure of an open participatory party ... so we can operate as a consistent opposition to the New Democracy government; so that tomorrow we are ready for a new government," spokesman Nikos Athanassakis said.

    He added that 1,250 affiliated groups of members and supporters have conveyed their conclusions ahead of the four-day congress, which will be inaugurated with an address by former foreign minister and PASOK leader George Papandreou. An address by the party's secretary, election of a party presidium and addresses by foreign dignitaries will follow.

    Athanassakis said six 'round-table' discussion groups will focus, separately, on the following issues: the European constitution; schools open to society; a society of citizens and participatory democracy; young peoples' employment in a changing society; immigration and illegal trafficking of migrants, as well as European socialist parties in the 21st century: challenges and prospects.

    Finally, the party spokesman said delegates will number 5,898, with men making up 69 percent and women the remainder. Elected delegates number 4,484 (64 percent men, 36 percent women), of whom 35 percent have been elected in the previous party congresses, 1999 and 2001. The remaining 65 percent of delegates were elected for the first time to a PASOK congress.The congress ends on Sunday.

    [11] Syrian Baath party delegation holds talks with Communist and Coalition parties

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    A delegation of Syria's Baath party, headed by Central Committee member Dr. Barakat and Syrian Ambassador to Athens Souad Al-Ayoubi, held talks with a Greek Communist Party (KKE) delegation on Wednesday, confirming relations of solidarity between the two parties and exchanging views on latest developments and on the situation in the area.

    According to a party press release, the two delegations expressed concern over the ''machinations of the United States, Israel and other leading forces of the European Union, aimed at extending the zone of destabilization and instability from Iraq to the entire region and implementing the plan of the U.S. for a wider Middle East."

    Barakat and the Syrian ambassador held similar talks with a delegation of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology party.

    Coalition Politburo member Panos Trigazis said "we want an end to occupation and to foreign military presence everywhere in the Middle East and the turning of the region into a zone of peace, with justice and democracy and without nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. We are strongly concerned over the threats of new military interventions on the part of the U.S. and we call on Europe to dissociate its position clearly from similar plans."

    Barakat rejected accusations made against Syria by the U.S. of harboring terrorism, saying that Syria has nothing to do with the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, nor with the recent explosion in Tel Aviv and does not condone such acts.

    [12] Government Foreign Affairs and Defense Council appoints new armed forces leadership

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The Government Foreign Affairs and Defense Council (KYSEA) appointed a new leadership for the armed forces on Wednesday.

    The new leadership is the following:

    National Defense General Staff Chief: Admiral Panayiotis Hinofotis

    Army General Staff Chief: Lieutenant General Nikolaos Douvas

    Navy General Staff Chief: Vice Admiral Dimitrios Gousis

    Air Force General Staff Chief: Georgios Avlonitis

    Fleet Commander: Vice Admiral Margaritis Tzavaras.

    [13] FM Molyviatis to undergo scheduled surgical procedure next week

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Foreign minister Petros Molyviatis will undergo a programmed surgical procedure next week, the foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.

    Molyviatis will enter the Errikos Dynan hospital next Wednesday, where he will undergo scheduled vascular surgery, the announcement said.

    Molyviatis will remain in the hospital for 2-3 days, the ministry said.

    [14] President Stephanopoulos hosts reception for EU member-state envoys in Athens

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos on Wednesday afternoon hosted a reception in honor of the ambassadors of European Union member-states in Athens.

    [15] Mild fiscal adjustment to continue, FinMin says

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The government's economic policy has already posted positive results, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said Wednesday.

    Speaking to reporters, Alogoskoufis presented a review of the government's economic policy in its first year in office as well as its prospects.

    The Greek minister said a mild fiscal adjustment would continue in the next few years and announced several privatizations in the current year.

    Alogoskoufis stressed that the government faced a difficult situation, an 'economic derailment', as he said, that could have had painful consequences to the economy and the Greek society.

    He stressed that the government had a clear and specific target, namely, to bring its fiscal situation under control and to promote a closer cooperation between the private and the public sector in major projects around the country.

    Alogoskoufis said the government had a clear privatization program, including a restructuring of state-run enterprises and making better use of public real estate assets based on the public sector's interest.

    He said that under the government's privatization plan, the public sector's share in the economy could fall by 1.0 percent of GDP over the next five years.

    Commenting on the country's pension and labor systems, Alogoskoufis said that both issues should be solved on consensus. Existing laws are implemented but they have weaknesses on the funding arm, he said, adding that the government would move cautiously towards resolving these issues and intervening when necessary.

    The Greek minister reiterated the government's pledge to pay retroactive rebates from LAFKA pension supplementary contributions to pensioners if there was a final judicial decision in favor of pensioners.

    Folias: On his part, Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Christos Folias said that 2005 would be a much better year than 2004 for the Third Community Support Framework program and expressed his satisfaction over a new development law in the country.

    Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Petros Doukas said the government's economic team has inherited many problems from previous governments and expressed his optimism over a further improvement of economic conditions.

    Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Adam Regouzas stressed that the ministry has taken successful steps towards improving relations between the state and citizens with results expected this year.

    He added that the use of new technology would combat corruption in the economy.

    Alogoskoufis said that Greece's final public deficit figures for 2004 would be published by Eurostat, although he acknowledged that final figures would exceed a 5.3 percent initial estimate.

    The Greek minister said that Greek economic growth rate would be 3.9 percent this year, according to one of the economic scenarios included in a Stability and Growth Program to be presented to the European Commission this month.

    [16] Gov't spokesman on LAFKA development

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The alternate government spokesman on Wednesday fielded repeated questions on the sudden development regarding a longstanding lawsuit demanding the retroactive rebate of a special supplementary pension contributions, while stressing that Deputy Economy Minister Petros Doukas' resignation is not on the government's agenda.

    The issue burst onto the national limelight a day earlier when a political aide to Doukas, pensioner Vassilis Goulas, abruptly withdrew his lawsuit demanding the retroactive rebate of Solidarity Account for Social Insurance Bodies (LAFKA) contributions.

    On his part, spokesman Evangelos Antonaros reiterated that the government will pay back the contributions to public sector pensioners when a final court decision is handed down.

    Moreover, he said that Goulas -- who resigned hours earlier -- assumed the "personal responsibility" for his action", namely, to end his legal challenge.

    Asked if the government could employ a presidential decree to initiate such a rebate -- expected to tap roughly 900 million euros from the state's coffers -- Antonaros merely repeated that the government remains steadfast in its commitment to pay out the sum once the legal process is finalized.

    Amid stern criticism from the opposition and in the press, Antonaros stressed that it was the Karamanlis government that promised to pay back the contributions, "whereas others who beat their breasts in favor of pensioners had condemned them (pensioners) to paying the LAFKA contributions until the end of 2007".

    Deputy FinMin's political aide resigns: Vassilios Goulas, the controversial pensioner who made headlines with his surprise decision to withdraw a litigation demanding the retroactive rebate of LAFKA pension supplementary contributions, on Wednesday announced he was resigning from his post as director of Finance Deputy Minister Petros Doukas' political office.

    In a statement to the press, Goulas said that his decision to seek, through judicial actions initiated in February 2003, the abolition of pension supplementary contributions from his pension was a purely personal choice, just as his decision to withdraw his litigation from retroactive rebates.

    Goulas stressed that both decisions were taken under no outside pressure and said his decision to withdraw from retroactive rebates was taken because it was not right to be in litigation with the government's Economy and Finance ministry since he was a staff officer in the ministry.

    He added that the decision to resign from his post was taken due to personal sensitiveness. Goulas said the withdrawal of his litigation did not damage any Greek pensioner since several similar cases were expected to be come up for hearing soon. Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas accepted Mr Goulas' resignation.

    The Greek government, on Tuesday, said it would honor any final ruling in favor of payment of retroactive rebates of LAFKA pension supplementary contributions.

    Coalition (Synaspismos) leader accuses government of 'doubletalk' on LAFKA issue:

    The leader of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) party Alekos Alavanos on Wednesday accused the government of saying one thing and doing another with regard to the payment of LAFKA rebates to pensioners.

    "The government's stance on the issue of the LAFKA rebates is reminiscent of a bent bishop, who says one thing from the pulpit and does another in practice," Alavanos said.

    The Coalition leader said the government had pledged to pay out rebates as soon as the first court decision in favor of pensioners was issued, while at the same time taking steps to 'sabotage' such as decision.

    "That's just dishonest," Alavanos added.

    Pledging that his party would strive for the vindication of pensioners' demands, Alavanos also stressed that any action taken should be swift, given that the advanced years of prospective beneficiaries. "Elderly people should receive the rebates while they were still on this earth, while they are grandfathers and grandmothers, so that they can improve their lot even a little. Not when they have gone to heaven," he said.

    Gov't raps predecessor for failing to scrap pension tax: The government on Wednesday charged its predecessor with failing to abolish a pension tax to the Solidarity Account for Social Insurance Bodies (LAFKA), which has since driven pensioners to seek retroactive rebates for their contributions through court action.

    "Instead of abolishing LAFKA contributions since 1998, as it should have done, the (formerly ruling) PASOK party voted through a bill to maintain taxation of pensioners until 2007," spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said in a statement.

    "The (current) New Democracy government put a final stop to this thievery last July, protecting pensioners' interests," Antonaros said.

    The government has said it will pay the rebates after the first court ruling is released.

    In a separate statement, the Communist Party of Greece said the government had "cheated" pensioners in a refusal to pay the tax rebate. Also separately, the General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE), the country's largest trade union umbrella group, said that pensioners had believed the prime minister's assurances before national elections a year ago that the tax contribution would be returned.

    The GSEE called on the government to pass a law immediately that would allow a swift return of the cash to pensioners.

    Government sources say government will honor its commitment on pension tax issue: Greek government sources said here on Wednesday in connection with the pension tax to the Solidarity Account for Social Insurance Bodies (LAFKA) that "the government is not hiding behind its finger, nor behind Goulas" and it will honor its commitment.

    "The government will honor its public commitment and when a ruling has been finalized the retroactive rebates will be given," the sources said.

    Commenting on a statement by main opposition PASOK party spokesman Nikos Athanassakis about ''chicken thieves'', high-ranking government sources remarked that "if PASOK speaks of chicken thieves, then we can speak of thieves who withheld 800 million euros from pensioners."

    [17] European Commission adopts draft regulation to improve budgetary statistics

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The European Commission on Wednesday adopted a draft regulation aimed at improving the quality of national budgetary statistics, an essential step towards fulfilling the fiscal surveillance duties assigned to it in the EU Treaty. The draft regulation provides that Eurostat, the European Union's statistical office, will be able to carry out in-depth monitoring visits in the member states, on top of its regular missions, to verify the reported fiscal data. The proposal also generally enshrines in a legal text existing best practices with regard to the compilation and reporting of data in the context of the excessive deficit procedure.

    "Budgetary surveillance is a necessary and crucial task to ensure the smooth functioning of the single currency area. But this task can only be fulfilled if the Commission receives reliable and timely statistics from the member states and if Eurostat is able to get a speedy response to its questions and can monitor the processes and accounts that justify the reported data," said Joaquin Almunia, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner.

    The Commission today adopted a proposal for a Council Regulation as regards the quality of the statistical data in the context of the excessive deficit procedure which aims at:

    • Providing a legal base to existing best practices on the compilation and reporting of data (as laid down in the Code of Best Practices adopted by Finance Ministers in February 2003).

    • Providing a more systematic approach to monitor the quality of the data by allowing for in-depth monitoring visits in addition to the regular missions currently carried out.

    • Bringing more transparency, and consequently more accountability, throughout the whole process, at both Member States and Commission levels. The proposal foresees, for example, the publication by the Member States of the reported data and of the inventories with sources and methods used to compile the accounts, as well as the mission reports.

    The in-depth visits would allow Eurostat to monitor the processes and accounts which justify the reported data and to draw detailed conclusions as to compliance with accounting rules and overall quality of the reported data. Eurostat officials may be assisted by national experts, including from other Member States, as well as officials from other Commission departments. Member States, on the other hand, should ensure that their services directly or indirectly involved in the production of government accounts provide the mission officials with the necessary assistance.

    [18] Commission to consult on future maritime policy

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The European Commission on Wednesday announced its decision to launch a consultation process on a future maritime policy for the Union.

    In a communication presented jointly by President José Manuel Barroso and Commissioner Joe Borg, the Commission set out the reasons behind this initiative. The communication said that the contribution that the sea "makes to our livelihood and well-being is considerable as is the potential for economic growth. The challenge is to ensure that we make the most of this potential in a sustainable manner. An integrated approach would help avoid conflicts and optimize synergies between the various sea-based activities so as to boost their economic potential and safeguard the environment".

    A Task Force, made up of commissioners responsible for sea-related policies and chaired by Commissioner Borg, will prepare a consultation paper on a future maritime policy. The publication of this document, scheduled for the first half of next year, will launch an extensive consultation exercise as to possible options for a maritime policy. The Commission will then examine all the contributions and decide what shape and form the new policy should take before preparing proposals in this direction

    "Europe's past, present and future is anchored in the oceans and the seas. Only if we take good care of them, the oceans and the seas will be able to care for us and future generations. A maritime policy for the EU can help releasing Europe's tremendous growth potential, while protecting our marine environment. Through responsible management of our common marine resources, the oceans and the seas can remain a source of wealth and pleasure for everyone in Europe years ahead," Commission President Baroso said.

    "A maritime policy would enable us to identify, co-ordinate and implement sea-related measures in the Union in a way that optimizes economic and recreational returns from the sea in a more participative and sustainable manner. I very much look forward to working with my colleagues and public and private stakeholders on this exciting project." Commissioner Joe Borg, responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said.

    The sea is very important to the Union. Twenty Member States have coasts stretching to almost 70,000 km. Almost half of the EU population live less than 50 km from the coast. The EU maritime regions of the 15 Member States already accounted for over 40% of the GNP. Shipbuilding, ports, fisheries and related services industries employ two and a half million people

    [19] FYROM premier addresses investors' council meeting

    SKOPJE 3/3/2005 (ANA/N.Frangopoulos)

    Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski was the keynote speaker at an event held by the International Council of Investors (ICI) here on Tuesday.

    Buckovski said that his government is committed to improving the economic and business climate in FYROM. The government has already taken certain steps in this direction, such as creating the National Economic Council and the Agency for Foreign Investment.

    He noted that FYROM is a safe country for investments and called on ICI to contribute in the effort to attract foreign investors.

    The government has also formulated specific development programs in the energy and telecommunications sectors (e.g., privatization of the electricity company and liberalization of fixed-line telephony).

    FYROM's premier also emphasized his government's willingness to fight the black economy and to reform the justice system. He seemed optimistic that his country's image abroad would soon change. Thus, Buckovski expressed hope that FYROM will become an EU candidate country by the end of 2005, while he predicted that in 2006 it will be invited to join NATO.

    ICI President Aristides Vlachos acknowledged the FYROM government's efforts to improve the country's economic and business climate, but stressed that for the government to be successful in its efforts, it must proceed decisively in completing legislative framework, in fighting graft and corruption, and in defining the goals of its economic policy.

    Vlachos also called on the government to keep the promises it made to foreign investors and emphasized that ICI would contribute to all efforts aimed at improving FYROM's economic environment.

    ICI is a non-profit organization, founded in FYROM in 2002. Its main objectives are analysis of issues concerning foreign investment, cooperation with national and government organizations regarding legal issues, promotion of private initiative, etc.

    ICI members are representatives of companies from various countries that have invested significant amounts of capital in FYROM. Many are from Greek companies, since Greece is FYROM's top foreign investor.

    [20] Eurobarometer: Small majority of Greeks back new EU farm policy

    BRUSSELS 3/3/2005 (ANA/M Spinthourakis)

    The majority of Greeks welcome the European Union's revised common agricultural policy, according to a Eurobarometer opinion poll released on Wednesday.

    Fifty four percent of Greeks support the policy, the second smallest figure after Portugal, which showed a satisfaction rate of 52%, versus 77% for Poland, ranking top.

    Believing that the revised policy's main priority should be a steady income for farmers were 61% of Greeks against an EU average of 36%. Sixty percent of Greek polled said that the policy failed to protect small-and medium-sized farming operations against the bloc's average of 49%, the survey showed.

    [21] International wine contest opens in Thessaloniki

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The Thessaloniki International Wine Contest began in Thessaloniki on Wednesday, the only event of its kind in Greece.

    Lasting until March 4, the event is arranged by Union of Northern Greek Vintners with Helexpo as part of the international Detrop foods and beverages trade fair.

    [22] Stocks drop in across-the-board profit taking

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Stocks finished lower in short-term profit taking across the board, traders said.

    The Athens general share index closed at 3,071.49 points, marking a decline of 1.51%. Turnover was 224.3 million euros.

    The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalization shares ended 1.72% down; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks also closed 1.72% lower; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 2.16% down.

    Of stocks traded, declines led advances at 288 to 28 with 33 remaining unchanged.

    [23] Winter storm hits northern Greece

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Freezing temperatures and snowfall continued to plague much of northern Greece on Wednesday, with snow tires and heavy clearing equipment employed to keep major highways and provincial roads open.

    Most schools in northern Greece were also closed for the day, whereas the region's largest city, Thessaloniki, was blanketed by snow throughout the day. The airport in the city was closed up until 7:30 a.m., whereas delays in train routes were also reported.

    Further south, snow drifts in the mountainous portions of Fthiotida prefecture, central Greece, have exceeded the 80-cm mark, while schools throughout the area were closed.

    Finally, snow ploughs were mobilized along the Athens-Lamia national highway to keep the main north-south road artery in Greece open.

    Homes evacuated in Lavara, Evros after river floods its banks: Emergency services and all local and regional authorities mobilized on Wednesday after the Evros River flooded its banks near Lavara, where homes were evacuated and at least 25 were inundated by water.

    The army, the fire department and volunteers are currently trying to help as many local residents as they can, since several people are refusing to abandon their homes and property.

    Earlier in the day, two elderly women trapped by floodwater were rescued in a successful operation mounted by emergency services, which were also helping residents remove household effects from homes at risk from the encroaching water and trying to prevent water reaching other homes in the area.

    Trains through the district also stopped running after the railway tracks were flooded.

    A meeting of all local bodies and services involved was held at Lavara on Wednesday afternoon, chaired by Eastern Macedonia-Thrace Regional Authority general secretary Mihalis Angelopoulos.

    One of the proposals considered was that emergency services should enlist the aid of the army in artificially breaching the Evros River's embankment near Mandra and redirect the water that has flooded Lavara back into the River via a nearby stream in order to avoid the flooding of more houses in the area.

    On Monday, 800 hectares of agricultural land were flooded after embankments gave way at Vyssa. Authorities say that continued snowfall in the area throughout Wednesday morning, meanwhile, has made the situation critical.

    [24] Tourist development minister visits U.S. film industry in Los Angeles

    NEW YORK 3/3/2005 (ANA/P. Panagiotou)

    Tourist Development Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, currently on a visit to the United States, met with a number of important personalities in the U.S. film industry in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

    Avramopoulos presented a specific plan at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel, prepared in cooperation with other relevant ministries, concerning the attraction of major foreign producers to Greece.

    It is an initiative aimed at rekindling Greece's relations with the international film industry, which had been a basic factor in promoting Greek tourism in the decades until the '70s.

    The minister's contacts included 20th Century Fox President Jimmy Yiannopoulos and Warner's Production President Steve Papazian.

    "Greece is developing into one of the most attractive places for producing great films. This also ties with the past when our country was promoted and advertised thanks to such splendid productions which wrote history," Avramopoulos said after his meetings.

    Avramopoulos is also due to hold talks with the publishing group and journalists of the New York Times newspaper and will be meeting Greek community representatives and the Archbishop of America Dimitrios.

    Meanwhile, Information Secretary General Panos Livadas, who is accompanying Avramopoulos during his visit, indicated that encouraging prospects are appearing for the making of Hollywood films in Greece in coming years.

    "We are optimistic and the conclusions from our efforts will be jointly evaluated and examined when we return to Athens," Livadas said in a statement to the Athens News Agency.

    [25] Athens 2004 President to meet with Premier on Friday

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, President of Athens 2004, the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, will meet with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday at Maximos Mansion. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki will be briefing Karamanlis on the organizing committee's financial status.

    It will be her first official reappearance after an absence of approximately two months and after health-related problems, which her family said were due to exhaustion.

    According to Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, Athens 2004 will be presenting its balance sheet on March 31, while the government will send its auditors to review data before June, when the company will be closed.

    On Saturday, the Athens 2004 President will be attending the PASOK Congress at the Taekwondo facilities in Faliro where she will be awarded by main opposition PASOK President George Papandreou for her contribution in staging successful Olympic Games in 2004.

    [26] Jerusalem Patriarchate seeks to freeze assets of former manager's spouse

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    An Athens First-Instance Court on Wednesday heard a request by the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which is seeking a court order partially impounding the assets of the spouse of Nikos Papadimos, a former manager of the Patriarchate's estate accused of embezzlement.

    The Patriarchate is asking the court to freeze assets up to 135,000 euros, which it says is only part of the sum taken by Papadimos from the Patriarchate, which according to current estimates approaches 600,000 euros.

    An investigation into the case has been launched by both the First-Instance Court Public Prosecutors department in Athens and by Israeli authorities, while Papadimos himself is being sought to answer the charges against him.

    The Patriarchate's application was heard without the cross-examination of witnesses, while the defendant was not represented by a lawyer.

    The court is expected to reach a decision in the next few days.

    [27] Orfanos meets with Japanese Deputy Minister of Education and Sports

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    Japanese Deputy Minister of Education and Sports Rion Shionoya congratulated Deputy Culture Minister responsible for sports George Orfanos on the 17 medals Greek athletes won until now at the 8th Winter Special Olympics in Nagano, during their meeting on Wednesday.

    Shionoya also referred to the successful staging of the 2004 Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games, saying that "Due to the success of the Athens Games, Olympism was reborn.(...) Greece, with the fantastic Games it held, helped sports in my country a great deal, since in Japan people love everything that is associated with the Olympics."

    On his part, Orfanos thanked Shionoya for Japan's contribution in helping Greece organize successful Games and congratulated him for the 37 medals Japanese athletes took home.

    "By its excellent staging of the Games, Greece proved that the international community can trust it for investments. It [Greece] proved its dynamism in organization, security, construction, cleanliness and discipline," Orfanos stressed.

    Additionally, the Greek deputy minister also highlighted Greece's success in staging safe Games, with security measures that were effective without being overbearing.

    In terms of future, major sporting events Greece is hoping to host, Orfanos said that "We hope to be selected for the staging of the World Aquatics Championship in 2009 so that we can see once again in Athens, among the world's top swimmers, the superb Japanese swimmers and [Kosuke] Kitajima in particular, who won two Olympic medals in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events. Also, thanks to the soccer stadiums that were built in Athens and the provinces (Iraklio, Volos, Patra), we are bidding for EURO 2012."

    [28] Sports media association names Stephanopoulos honorary president

    Athens, 3/3/2005 (ANA)

    The Executive Board of the Panhellenic Association of Sports Media (PSAT) visited President of the Hellenic Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos on Wednesday and named him PSAT Honorary President as an expression of gratitude for the support he offered sports writers throughout his two presidential terms.

    During the visit, Stephanopoulos discussed sports with the PSAT board members. He said he is a fan of classic sports and asked whether there were any further developments regarding the case of Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, the two Greek champions who dropped out of the Athens 2004 Olympics after being charged with missing doping tests.

    The president was surprised to learn that more than 10 sports dailies exist in Athens and Thessaloniki and acknowledged the difficulties journalists face.

    [29] US human rights report on Cyprus not objective

    NICOSIA 3/3/2005 (CNA/ANA)

    Demetris Christofias, President of the House of Representatives and Acting President of the Republic, on Wednesday described a US human rights report on Cyprus, critical of the situation on the island in 2004, ''not objective in its assessment, arbitrary in its conclusions'' and not friendly.

    He also said that such reports do not help maintain good bilateral relations and indicated that Washington continues its punitive measures on the Greek Cypriots because they dared reject a UN-proposed solution plan, which the US backed fully.

    ''No Cypriot can be satisfied with this report, on the contrary there is disappointment. There is no objectivity in the evaluations of the report. One could say it shows no respect for UN resolutions on Cyprus,'' he said.

    Christofias pointed out that ''the report draws arbitrary conclusions, it sidelines to a great extent the Republic of Cyprus and it uses terms which I would say upgrade the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in the occupied north.''

    The House president noted that such reports ''do not help create the best preconditions that would allow bilateral relations continue as normal and would assist efforts to solve the question of Cyprus, through the UN, on the basis of UN resolutions.''

    ''I regret to say that this action can be described as not friendly towards the Republic of Cyprus,'' he said.

    Responding to questions, he said the report ignores and sidelines UN resolutions which state clearly that the Republic of Cyprus is a UN member state that was attacked in violation of international law, the consequences of which are still evident on the island.

    He stressed that UN resolutions describe the secessionist move of the Turkish Cypriots as ''legally invalid'' and call on all states not to facilitate in any way or recognize this secessionist entity in occupied Cyprus.

    ''International law should be respected and we insist on that,'' he added.

    Christofias said that the report gives the impression that ''the US continue their punitive policy towards the Republic and the Greek Cypriots because they dared say no to the specific plan (the Annan plan).''

    The annual US State Department human rights report claimed that ''the (Cyprus) government continued to block any effort by Turkish Cypriot authorities or international parties to open Ercan airport or any port in north Cyprus for travel to destinations other than Turkey.''

    It also alleged that the government ''had pressured the media to support its position on the (Annan) plan'', which Greek Cypriots rejected in their overwhelming majority saying the plan would not reunite the country and it satisfied Turkey's demands instead of meeting the needs of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

    The report claimed that in the week immediately before the referendum two major Greek Cypriot media outlets ''refused to give the UN special envoy and the EU Commissioner for Enlargement programming time on their broadcasts.''

    It also said that the head of the single major party that supported the Annan plan filed a protest with the Council of Europe alleging manipulation of the media in the pre-referendum period. The protest was subsequently withdrawn.

    On Tuesday Cyprus Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides rejected the report saying it was unfair and omitted to note the reality of the continuing Turkish occupation. The government said it would make representatives about the report to Washington.

    Greek Cypriot political parties condemn US report on Cyprus: The four main parliamentary parties at the House of Representatives have condemned a US human rights report on Cyprus, saying it is partial, unjust, arbitrary, and not objective.

    Party leaders have said the report serves political expediencies, it attempts to upgrade the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in occupied Cyprus and also pointed out that the US has no right to act as the world's policeman and judge other states, suggesting that Washington should apply self-criticism before becoming critical of others.

    ''The report serves political expediencies, does not refer to the continuing Turkish occupation as the root of various problems, ignores in a provocative manner international law and shows disrespect to human rights,'' Andros Kyprianou, spokesman of the left-wing AKEL party, said here on Wednesday commenting on the report.

    He noted the annual US State Department human rights report refers to all countries worldwide barring the US, something that ''is obviously serving Washington's political objectives.''

    Nicos Anastassiades, leader of the main opposition right-wing Democratic Rally party, said the report attempts to give a different status to the occupation regime and this, he pointed out, must be taken seriously into consideration.

    ''The Republic of Cyprus is an independent state and we are not under the supervision of somebody else. We are not accountable to any other state except the European family to which we belong as an European Union member,'' he said.

    Acting President of the Democratic Party Nicos Kleanthous said much of what the report says are ''unjust, misleading, arbitrary and contradictory'' with the principles of international law and order.

    ''We see an attempt to absolve Turkey of its crimes against Cyprus, the continuing occupation. We had expected a more credible and objective analysis from a country that wants to appear as the keeper of international law and human rights,'' Kleanthous added.

    Yiannakis Omirou, leader of the Social Democratic Movement EDEK, said the report was ''unfair, partial, not objective, a monument to hypocrisy and injustice and it should be dismissed as such.''

    ''If the US had wanted to say something positive, they would have been self-critical with regard to Iraq, Afghanistan and the tolerance they display of massive human rights violations,'' he said.

    Meanwhile, party representatives have described as ''outrageous'' State Department claims that US-made weapons, used by the Turkish occupation army in Cyprus, are legally on the island.

    ''What is Turkey doing in Cyprus?'' Anastassiades asked with regard to the State Department position on the presence of American arms in occupied Cyprus.

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