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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 05-03-30
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>March 30, 2005
 Inner cabinet approves Greek updated economic program
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)An inner cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, on Tuesday approved the government's updated economic program aimed to cut deficits.
The program was announced by Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis.
It includes a package of serious and important decisions taken by the government with the aim to address the country's huge fiscal problem and to ensure the strict implementation of this year's budget, Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister George Souflias told reporters.
Speaking to reporters, after the meeting, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said the Prime Minister and the inner cabinet approved the updated stability and growth program of the economy which included "unavoidable measures to support the economy without affecting the social state". The Greek minister added the measures were announced on time.
Education Minister Marietta Yiannakou said the measures were fully necessary and they would bring the country out the crisis in the next two years.
 Greece unveils Stability, Growth Program for 2004-2007 period
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)The Greek economy is facing serious but temporary difficulties that it will overcome, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis stressed on Tuesday while unveiling the country's updated Stability and Growth Program for the 2004-2007 period.
Speaking to reporters during a news conference, the Greek minister reiterated that problems would be left behind and that economic growth will be maintained at high levels (average annual growth rate is forecast at 4.0 percent in the period 2005-2007). The updated program was based on a forecast of oil prices falling from 44.8 US dollar per barrel in 2005 to 35 dollars per barrel in 2007.
The Economy ministry aims to cut the general government's deficit to levels below 3.0 percent of GDP in 2006, in line with recommendations made by the ECOFIN council.
The updated Stability and Growth Program envisages that Greece will begin a large-scale effort aimed at fiscal stabilization in 2005, with the general government's deficit to be cut by 2.6 percentage points of GDP to 3.5 percent, and with the country's public debt cut to 108 percent of GDP.
At the same time, an expanding tax base, a more effective tax revenue collection system, a significant reduction of primary spending and lower spending in a Public Investments Program, are expected to contribute towards achieving the program's goal.
For the period 2006-2007, the program envisages a further reduction of both fiscal deficit and public debt, to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2006 and to 2.2 pct in 2007 and from 108 pct of GDP to 99.9 pct in 2007, respectively. The program also envisages a further slowdown in inflation next year.
The Greek minister said the stability program foresees large-scale structural reforms during 2005-2007. "The government," he said "plans to introduce a more effective system of controlling public spending with the creation of an independent authority of fiscal inspectors".
The government is also considering a new operating framework for state-owned enterprises, one that will combine a strict implementation of business plans, contained incomes policy and controlled borrowing needs.
The program also foresees measures to boost competitiveness in domestic markets, establishing new enterprises and reforming the country's healthcare system. Alogoskoufis said the government would soon begin a dialogue on the latter issue.
The main goal of reforms was to ensure the viability, in the short-term, and sustainability of the system in the long-term, by securing a satisfactory level of services to Greek citizens, the minister said. The program also includes a rescheduling of state hospitals' debt to suppliers, a procedure currently under way.
Alogoskoufis said the updated program was a program of "mild and unwavering fiscal adjustment and of bold structural reforms". Moreover, he emphasized efforts to reduce total state spending from 50.4 percent of GDP currently to 49 percent of GDP over the next two years.
The Greek minister reiterated that reducing public spending would not undermine social benefits, while he stressed there would be no increases on income taxes.
Gov't spokesman: In earlier statements, government spokesman Thodoris Roussopoulos reiterated that the updated program continues the government's "mild adjustment" policy for the economy.
"Our pre-election commitments -- in favor of the weaker classes -- stand in full; a two-year period is necessary to deal with the problems accumulated in the country's economy by previous governments, problems that will, of course, be solved," he told reporters at his daily press briefing.
PASOK party leader strongly criticizes government over economic measures announced: Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou strongly criticized the government on Tuesday over economic measures it announced earlier in the day, terming them a "confession of failure."
Also referring to the issue of the 'main shareholder' law and the invocation of the constitution, the PASOK leader accused the government of using the Greek flag as a flag of convenience.
Papandreou said the government's failure concerns all sectors of the economy and deals a great blow to Greek taxpayers and Greek households, adding that the government is calling on the Greek people to pay for its failure.
He further said that this is the policy of the Right-wing, the policy of inconsistency and unreliability and the policy of (Prime Minister Costas) Karamanlis and New Democracy and placed personal responsibility on both the prime minister and the Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis.
Papandreou also said the country is regressing with the ND government and the expectations of the Greek people are being denied pitifully, while ND only promises insecurity for three more years.
Opposition parties, labor unions criticize economic measures announced: Opposition parties and labor unions criticized economic measures announced by the government on Tuesday.
"The new government measures constitute a new tax raid on popular income. They must meet with a popular outcry and organized mass struggle action," the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said in an announcement.
KKE expressed support for the abolition of VAT on items of mass consumption and the establishment of a minimum salary amounting to 1,200 euros, while the minimum pension should be 960 euros and 400 euros for farmers.
A representative of the Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) said "the ND government, breaking all its promises completely, announced - after the unprecedented increase in toll fees - a savage package of tax levying measures and expenditure cutbacks for which the Greek people will pay dearly."
The president of the National Greek Trade Confederation (ESEE) Dimitris Armenakis said "the measures announced could have met with acceptance by businesses and citizens as a 'necessary evil', if they had been preceded by the taming of state extravagance and the rationalization of public expenditures and the bold privatization of public enterprises and services."
The General Confederation of Professionals, Handicraftsmen and Merchants (GSEBEE), commenting on the new measures, spoke of a decline in the "possibilities" of family income, a high cost of living, a decline in the turnover of businesses and fewer jobs.
The president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) Drakoulis Fountoukakos, on the other hand, said the measures were necessary and stressed that there is a need for funds to enable the Greek economy to comply with the mandates of the Stability Pact.
He also called on the government to proceed immediately with structural changes, privatizations and mergers of public sector services in order to curb the fiscal deficit.
Trade unions react strongly to government's economic measures: GSEE, the country's largest trade union umbrella, and ADEDY, civil servants' union, on Tuesday reacted strongly to the provisions of an updated stability and growth program unveiled by the Greek government.
Speaking to reporters, GSEE's president Christos Polyzogopoulos criticized the government of using tax-raid policies that were undermining all collective agreements, while he announced that the union would meet on April 5 to decide any further actions.
ADEDY also criticized the government of "hemming in the real economy in a state of reverse redistribution and more imbalanced distribution of income". The government's policy will result to exhausting wage income and a constant and increasing austerity.
 FM Molyviatis concludes US visit, Greek Independence Day celebrated at White HouseWashington D.C. 30/3/2005 (ANA/T. Ellis)
Greece's foreign minister Petros Molyviatis on Monday wound up a 5-day official visit to the US with talks with US state department's new undersecretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns, who is a former US ambassador to Greece, and attended an event organized at the White House commemorating the March 25 Greek Independence Day anniversary.
During his visit, Molyviatis also visited New York, where he held talks with UN secretary general Kofi Annan that covered, inter alia, the Cyprus issue, FYROM and Kosovo.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Burns, who was the US ambassador to Greece from 1997 to July 2001, Molyviatis said the talks had been "very useful, constructive and friendly", noting that his friendship with Burns dated back to the undersecretary's ambassadorial posting in Athens.
The talks focused on bilateral relations and on international issues of interest to both Greece and the US.
"We discussed all the issues of interest to us, and once again reaffirmed the excellent level of our bilateral relations. We also examined issues concerning the wider region, the Balkans and FYROM and the developments in Kosovo. We further discussed the Middle East, the Cyprus issue, naturally and, given Greece's (non-permanent) seat on the UN Security Council, we also discussed the situation in Sudan and the vote to take place next Wednesday on this issue," Molyviatis said.
Burns was sworn in as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, the third highest ranking in the State Department, last week. Molyviatis was the first foreign minister to meet with Burns in his new capacity.
Synopsizing his meetings in New York and Washington, Molyviatis described his visit as "very positive", and spoke of the "good results", noting that the most important outcome was the "new momentum" given to Greek-American relations with respect to both bilateral affairs and in the framework of cooperation at multilateral level.
Commenting on the White House event marking Greek Independence Day, which he attended earlier in the day as the guest of US president George Bush, with whom he held a brief discussion, Molyviatis said it had been a touching celebration. The event was also attended by Archbishop Demetrios of America, and leading members of the Greek-American community, among others.
"Personally, I thanked President Bush for his personal contribution to honoring Greece's national holiday. President Bush's address (to the event) was an inspired speech, delivered from the heart, as he put aside his prepared speech and spoke off-the-cuff, from the heart, honoring Greece and its struggles for freedom and democracy," the Greek foreign minister added.
In his address, Bush praised Greece's contribution to history and the modern world, and reiterated his congratulations for its impeccable staging of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
The US President also expressed appreciation for Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis' work, and recalled their numerous meetings throughout the past year, including their bilateral talks during Karamanlis' official visit to the White House last May as well as their talks in the framework of multilateral summit meetings. He further asked Molyviatis to convey his warmest greetings to Karamanlis.
Further, Bush issued a proclamation on the occasion of Greek Independence Day emphasizing the contribution Ancient Athens had made by founding the principles of democracy, which later served as a source of inspiration for the founders of the American nation. He also referred to ties between Greece and the US, as the two promote freedom and democracy in addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
The White House event was also addressed by Archbishop Demetrios, who thanked Bush for his active support in the protection of political and religious freedoms, and stressed the need for implementation of the principles of freedom and democracy in the cases of Cyprus, FYROM and Kosovo, as well as with respect to the unobstructed function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Before heading for Washington, Molyviatis conferred in New York with UN chief Kofi Annan, to whom he conveyed the Greek government's observation of a "convergence of views aimed at the reopening of negotiations for a Cyprus solution based on the Annan plan" following the 'presidential' elections scheduled to take place in three weeks' time in the Turkish-occupied northern sector of the island republic.
Molyviatis and Annan agreed that any new effort would have to be very well prepared in advance so as to avert the prospect of a new failure and, in that direction, the foreign minister briefed Annan on ideas that are felt would enable a lifting of the present impasse.
Annan insisted that, prior to the assumption of a new initiative, he expected Cyprus president Tassos Papadopoulos to submit, clearly and in writing, the improvements he desired to the Annan plan. "The Secretary General wants to know where his initiative will lead to," according to diplomatic sources in New York. The same sources said that a significant development was the fact that none of the sides, including the UN, were putting forward a demand for close deadlines.
Another issue discussed between Molyviatis and Annan was the FYROM name issue, given that the UN's special mediator on the issue, Matthew Nimetz -- with him the Greek foreign minister also met in New York during his visit -- was preparing a compromise proposal that would be tabled in the UN.
 PM and ND secretary discuss economic measures, main shareholder issue
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and ruling New Democracy party secretary Vangelis Meimarakis held an across-the-board discussion at the Maximos Mansion on Tuesday, including an examination of economic measures announced by the government earlier in the day and developments regarding the main shareholder law.
Speaking after the meeting, Meimarakis said the measures taken are moderate adjustment measures in a crucial two-year period. He added that they do not affect low-income groups, but that "they are necessary to enable us to get past this stage." According to Meimarakis, "an effort was made to ensure that they would be as painless as possible."
The secretary did not refer to the main shareholder law but, according to reports, he appears to be of the view that the constitution is one matter and the executive law another and that the government is adamant in defending the constitution, while leaving open the possibility of discussing changes to the law with the European Union.
 Gov't calls Jerusalem Patriarch's stance vis-a-vis probe a 'negative surprise'
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)The government spokesman on Tuesday referred to a pending foreign ministry announcement regarding the briefing of political parties' representatives over the perturbing developments rocking the Jerusalem Patriarchate's leadership.
Nevertheless, spokesman Thodoris Roussopoulos did confirm that a group of experts dispatched to Jerusalem by the foreign ministry failed to gain the cooperation of embattled Jerusalem Patriarch Eirinaios (Irineos).
Roussopoulos, who also holds the Minister of State portfolio, said Eirinaios refused to disclose the Patriarchate's financial records, while cooperation with the Patriarchate's services also proved problematic.
The spokesman, in fact, referred to the development as a "negative surprise".
Deputy FM Panayiotis Skandalakis has already briefed top PASOK cadre Mihalis Chrysohoidis, Communist Party (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga and Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) leader Alekos Alavanos over developments at the Patriarchate.
Eirinaios, the head of the ancient Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Holy Land, has been severely criticized in the Palestinian areas and by Orthodox Christian Arabs over recent reports that the Patriarchate illegally sold-off properties in east Jerusalem to Israeli interests.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Israeli ambassador to Athens Ram Aviram on Tuesday stressed, in response to a press question, that the state of Israel continues to support the Patriarchate's current status quo.
 Gov't points to official response as next chapter in 'primary shareholder' issue
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)The government spokesman on Tuesday clarified that he won't answer any more press questions on the contentious media ownership issue -- which usually refer to the so-called "primary shareholder" bill -- until Athens' official response to the Commission's reservations is unveiled.
Spokesman and Minister of State Thodoris Roussopoulos said his decision aims to prevent a "recycling of rumors".
Additionally, Roussopoulos dismisses a string of mostly newspaper reports citing government dissatisfaction with Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a constitutional law expert and one of the authors of the "primary shareholder" law.
"Mr. Pavlopoulos works within the framework of policy set out by the government since it was still in the opposition. This is an issue of significant political interest and the work done so far has been in the right direction," he said.
 Turkey tells EU it will extend custom protocol, Cyprus included
ANKARA 30/3/2005 (ANA)The European Commission on Tuesday announced that it has received a letter from the Turkish government agreeing to extend a customs union protocol with all of the European Union's new members -- including the Republic of Cyprus.
Ankara must sign the agreement by Oct. 3, 2005 in order to begin accession negotiations with the 25-nation bloc.
Speaking on Tuesday to the ruling AKP party's parliament group, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul merely referred to a "technical issue" dealing with the "freedom of movement of goods".
Moreover, he said Ankara will not officially recognize the government of Cyprus but will continue to recognize the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", a pseudo-state declared in the Turkish-occupied north of the island republic in 1983.
EU hopeful Turkey continues to occupy roughly one-third of Cyprus' territory 31 years after it invaded the island.
 EU Commissioner calls Turkey's decision to extend customs protocol a 'good sign'
BRUSSELS 30/3/2005 (ANA/B.Demiris)European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn on Tuesday termed Turkey's decision to extend the customs protocol to include the 10 new EU member-states as a confidence-building measure and a step towards normalizing relations with Cyprus.
Specifically, while addressing the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Rehn called Turkey's decision a 'good sign' ahead of the accession talks that are scheduled to begin on Oct. 3 between Turkey and the EU.
Rehn also said that during the recent EU summit, held March 23 and 24, he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and requested that Turkey sign the protocol without delay.
 Russian envoy meets with ND's Parliament group sect
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Ruling New Democracy's Parliament group secretary, Apostolos Stavrou, on Tuesday received the Russian ambassador to Athens Andrei Vdovin at his office in Parliament.
Bilateral relations and international developments were discussed, according to reports. Both men also underlined the constant upgrade in bilateral ties.
 Greek gov't announces higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol, raises VAT factors
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)The government's two main economic goals are to contain public spending, without undermining the state's main services, and raising public revenues with the least possible side-effects to citizens, Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Tuesday.
Presenting the government's updated Stability and Growth Program for the period 2004-2007, Alogoskoufis said the biggest effort focused on containing excessive spending and announced the introduction of a minimum special consumption tax on cigarettes, raising a special consumption tax on alcohol drinks by 20 percent and higher VAT factors, to be put into effect from April 1st.
The Greek minister said the government would introduce a minimum special consumption tax on cigarettes, estimated at 50.45 euros per 1,000 cigarettes, resulting to a rise in the price of a pack of cigarettes to 2.70 euros. A 20 percent increase in a special consumption tax on alcohol drinks will be cut in half for ouzo and other similar products, and for alcohol drinks consumed in the Dodecanese islands. Alogoskoufis said that Value Added Tax factors would be raised to 19.0 pct, 9.0 pct and 4.5 pct from 18.0 pct, 8.0 pct and 4.0 pct currently.
Alogoskoufis said the government would not introduce any more tax raises.
Development minister calls on industry and retailers to absorb VAT increase: Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas indirectly called on industry leaders and retailers to absorb the increase in VAT which was announced by Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis earlier on Tuesday as part of a package of economic measures for 2004-2007.
Speaking at the annual meeting of ECR Hellas, Sioufas also presented data according to which, prices in Greece and particularly food prices, have increased at a faster pace than in the rest of the EU.
"Companies in the retail and wholesale sectors, as well as industrial companies, must realize that the economy, international competition, society and their own interests demand that they contain prices as much as possible," he stressed.
He also said that businesses must realize their social role and responsibility in maintaining healthy market conditions. "Reducing costs and containing prices are key prerequisites to ensuring business activity," he said.
Sioufas presented specific facts and figures to support his claims. According to Eurostat, Greece's GDP rose 22%, while turnover in the retail sector rose 30% in the period 2000-2004. During the same period, the EU's GDP rose 10%, while turnover in the retail sector rose 6%.
Between 1998 and 2004, consumer prices in Greece increased cumulatively by 26% compared with 13% in the EU, while producer prices in industry rose 24.6% in Greece compared with 9.6% in the EU.
Differences are even more significant in the food and beverages sector. Between 1998 and 2004, producer prices in the food sector in Greece went up 24.6%, while retail prices climbed even higher by 28.5%. Increases in the EU remained in the single digits, at 7% and 5%, respectively.
"These figures prove that much can be done to improve and to reinstate healthy competition within the Greek market," Sioufas said, adding that "on our part, we will try even harder to do what is needed."
 Greece, Albania eye increased bilateral trade, investments
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Greece and Albania took additional steps this week to broaden their already voluminous trade and investment relations, with Athens particularly interested in quicker VAT rebates to Greek firms active in the neighboring country, faster commercial licensing and an equal tariff regime for Greek products and services.
Bilateral trade and cross-border ties, in fact, dominated talks at the 9th Greece-Albania joint inter-ministerial committee meeting, which concluded on Tuesday in the northwest lakeside city of Ioannina with the signing of a protocol listing areas for continued cooperation, especially in the telecoms and energy sectors.
Some 250 Greece-based firms are currently active in the west Balkan nation, with Greece ranked as Albania's largest foreign investor and the country's largest development aid donor. Greece is also Albania's second largest trading partner after Italy. Athens to date has provided a total of 190 million euros to Tirana in the form of infrastructure projects and know-how.
Beyond cutting red-tape in Albania and cooperation on specific sectors, both sides discussed funding of a key highway expected to link extreme northwest Greece (Thesprotia prefecture) with the neighboring Sarande district of southwestern Albania -- a significant project for Athens because the roadway will provide access to several otherwise remote ethnic Greek villages in the district.
Regarding the latter project, Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said one condition for the roadway is the participation of Greek firms in construction consortia.
Additionally, the Albanian side agreed to alleviate any glitches with the transmission of state-run Greek broadcaster ERT's signal in the neighboring country and to include a reference in this week's protocol for continued harmonization with the European Union's acquis communautaire.
"This inter-ministerial meeting, held four years after the previous one, marks a new milestone in Greek-Albanian relations, as well as a commitment by (Greek PM) Costas Karamanlis for developing the provinces and the border areas," Stylianidis said after the end of the sessions here.
Minister of Economy Anastas Angjeli headed up the Albanian delegation.
 Greek merchandise trade deficit up 3.0 pct in January, yr/yr
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Greece's trade deficit rose 3.0 percent in January compared with the same month last year, although it fell by 6.6 percent excluding trade in oil products, the National Statistics Service said on Tuesday.
NSS, in its monthly report on the country's trade balance, said the January deficit totalled 2.242 billion euros from 2.176 billion euros in January 2004.
The January figure reflected an 1.3 percent increase in the value of total import-arrivals to 3.087 billion euros, from 3.047 billion euros last year (imports fell 6.1 percent excluding oil products), and a 2.9 percent decline in the value of total exports-deliveries to 845.7 million euros from 870 million euros over the same period, respectively, (off 4.8 percent excluding oil products).
NSS said the January figures reflected only merchandise trade and did not include trade in services and unregistered transactions.
 Food inspection agency presents action plan for 2005
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)A National Council of Food Inspection Policy met in Zappeion Hall in Athens on Tuesday to discuss the whole range of food safety in the country. The meeting, chaired by Food Inspection Agency (EFET) president Nikos Katsaros, also included high-ranking state officials, and representatives from social agencies and political parties.
Addressing the meeting, Katsaros presented a review of EFET's activities, focusing on a 30 percent increase in the agency's budget this year, compared with 2004, a 40 percent rise in its staff and more inspections by its groups of inspectors.
EFET said 40 percent of inspections made in 2004 resulted to recommendations to improve facilities in the food sector and announced that 80 percent of companies rapidly adopted quality measures.
Katsaros said the European Union would introduce, from January 1, 2006, four new regulations demanding from EU member-states to implement and prove the existence of a single inspection system and a single penalty system. The Council adopted proposals made by EFET on an action plan for 2005.
 TIF announces participation in IBF trade fair in Brno
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Thessaloniki International Fair SA will take its first step in the Central and Eastern European market with its participation in an international construction and building materials' trade fair to be held in Brno, the Czech Republic, April 19-23.
It will be TIF's second step outside Greece after its participation in the Alimentaria food and drinks trade fair in Lisbon, April 10-13.
A total of 13 enterprises from Thessaloniki will participate in the Brno trade fair, with the Greek pavilion expected to cover an area of 200 square meters. Greek companies will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the international business community on scheduled meetings arranged by the Finance and Trade Affairs bureau of the Greek embassy in Prague.
The IBF trade fair attracted 90,000 visitors last year and 1,500 exhibitors from the Czech Republic and around the world. IBF is the biggest trade fair of its kind in east and central Europe.
 Greek stocks end lower on Tuesday
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Greek stocks ended lower on Tuesday as the market reopened after a four-day holiday with investors unable to find new incentives in the Athens Stock Exchange.
The composite index fell 0.59 percent to end at 2,930.67 points, with turnover a moderate 151.9 million euros.
Most sector indices ended lower, with the Textile (2.90 pct), Telecommunications (2.09 pct), IT (2.07 pct) and Insurance (1.73 pct) recording the biggest percentage losses of the day, while the Banks (0.65 pct), Food-Beverage (0.33 pct) and IT Solution (0.25 pct) sectors scored gains.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavy traded stocks eased 0.32 percent, the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index ended 0.79 percent lower and the FTSE/ASE SmallCap 80 index fell 0.35 percent.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 202 to 79 with another 60 issues unchanged.
 Health minister says emergency duty system effective
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Health and Social Solidarity Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis said that the new emergency duty system which has been in effect as a pilot program at Athens hospitals during the past four months, has produced positive results.
According to Kaklamanis, camp beds which used to crowd hospital corridors have been reduced by up to 92% even in hospitals, such as the Laiko, which have been plagued with problems of overcrowding.
Since the pilot program has so far proved so effective, its implementation will be extended for another six months, Kaklamanis announced. Furthermore, a delegation from the health ministry will be going to Thessaloniki to examine the possibility of implementing the program there as well.
As for the World Health Organization's warnings that an influenza epidemic may be imminent, Kaklamanis said that necessary measures have been adopted.
 Convicted satanist cult killer Katsoulas arrested for attempted rape while on 5-day leave from prison
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)A 31-year-old convicted satanist cult killer has been arrested in Itea on charges of attempted assault and rape of a young woman while on a 5-day leave from Malandrinos prison, where he is serving two life sentences for the ritual killing of two women, including a 15-year-old girl, police said on Tuesday.
Asimakis Katsoulas, the leader of a 20-member satanic cult, was convicted and sentenced to prison together with two other cult members in 1995 for the ritual murders that shocked the country.
Katsoulas is charged with attempted assault and rape and impersonation of an officer of law.
According to police, Katsoulas, driving a car, approached a young Albanian woman in Itea, Fokida prefecture, at 4:30 p.m. Monday as she was returning home from work and, impersonating a policeman, demanded to see her papers.
The girl did not have her residence and working permits with her, and Katsoulas put her in the car and drove with her some 10 kilometers, near the village of Chrysso. The girl apparently fainted, and Katsoulas drove back to Itea where he abandoned her near the local KTEL inter-city bus station.
Acting on her description, police arrested Katsoulas a few hours later. He was due to be returned Tuesday to the Malandrinos prison facility.
Assimakis Katsoulas is serving out two life sentences plus 20 years for the ritual killings, which were uncovered shortly before Christmas 1994. His second-in-command Manos Dimitrokallis is also serving two life sentences plus 15 years, while Katsoulas' ex-girlfriend and cult member Dimitra Margeti was sentenced to 18 years and four months imprisonment as an accessory.
The first victim, 15-year-old Dora Syropoulou, was murdered in August 1992 after the three allegedly drove her to a deserted area outside Athens where the two men raped and tortured her before killing her and then burning her body.
Later that month, the three abducted and killed a 30-year-old hotel maid, Garyfallia Yiourga, while the third victim, 30-year-old Sultana Kriskian, was found dead around Easter 1993, and a medical examiner said she had been raped before her head was smashed with a stone.
The three detainees told police after their arrest in 1993 that they had conducted animal and human sacrifices at deserted buildings on the outskirts of Athens over a period of three years
The three defendants were found guilty in the cases of Yiourga and Syropoulou, while the charges in the case of Kriskian were dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence for a conviction.
 Greek poet M. Sahtouris dies at the age of 86
Athens, 30/3/2005 (ANA)Greek poet Miltos Sahtouris died at the age of 86 on Tuesday.
Born in Athens in 1919, Sahtouris studied law, but abandoned legal practice early in order to devote himself to poetry. His work was first published in the periodical "Nea Grammata" in 1944.
In 1962, he won the second National Poetry Award, in 1987 he won the first National Poetry Award and in 1995 he was awarded the Order of the Phoenix.
Sahtouris' poems - such as "Face to the Wall," "Forgotten Woman," "The Stigmata," and others - have been translated into several languages.
 Cyprus President Papadopoulos hopes Turkey will implement EU protocol
NICOSIA 30/3/2005 (CNA/ANA)Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos said the text of the protocol extending Turkey's customs union to the ten new EU member-states, including Cyprus does not contain anything adverse for the Republic of Cyprus.
Speaking as he arrived at the Democratic Party's executive bureau meeting on Tuesday, Papadopoulos, who is also the party's chairman said that the government has in its possession the document for some days, adding that Cyprus' permanent delegation in Brussels has been actively involved in the last two weeks in successful deliberations to achieve the protocol's initialing.
He remarked that Turkey has pledged to make a statement as far as the recognition of Cyprus is concerned, something which it has been claiming for 30 years now.
"I suppose it (Turkey) will reiterate the same position," said the Cypriot president adding that what is important is the protocol expanding the agreement, which will be presented before the committee of permanent representatives and later at the Council of Ministers where it will be approved.
Asked if Turkey has accepted the text of the protocol forward to it and whether this can be interpreted as initialing it, President Papadopoulos said "initialing means that we agree that the text which we will sign will be the specific text."
Invited to comment on reports from Brussels that Turkey will make a statement on October 3, which will mention the non-recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, President Papadopoulos replied that he is not aware of Turkey waiting until that date.
"I have said a long time now that I foresee Turkey being forced to initial the agreement well before the 3rd October and this is taking place right now," the president said.
Asked if Turkey will sign the protocol during the British presidency of the EU, he said that "this might be Turkey's desire, it has that right."
The Cypriot president said that the signing of the protocol is an important first step to normalizing relations with Turkey, adding that there are many interpretations by member states about international agreements.
"Implementation is the end result of signing," President Papadopoulos said. He assured that Cypriots will work until the end to try to promote the implementation of the protocol as an inevitable consequence of its signing."
Asked if the right to veto Turkey's accession course remains an alternative, he said that there will be many cases where decisions are taken on an intergovernmental level with unanimity.
"If this right will be exercised or not it will be a political decision," the president concluded.
 Cyprus spokesman: distinct improvement of circumstances for talks
NICOSIA 30/3/2005 (CNA/ANA)The Cyprus government believes that there is a distinct improvement in the conditions that could lead to the resumption of negotiations towards a solution, compared with the
period after the rejection of an UN-proposed solution plan, Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said on Tuesday.
He also said that preparations for the resumption of a fresh round of negotiations are at an advanced stage.
The spokesman clarified that the National Council, the top advisory body to the President on the handling of the question of Cyprus, will decide whether or not the Greek Cypriot side will submit to the UN Secretary General the changes it wants to have on the UN plan (the Annan plan).
''What we want is to have proper preparation prior to the resumption of negotiations in order to define a reasonable framework and a reasonable procedure that would ensure a successful course of these negotiations,'' he added.
Nicosia, he said, continues to support negotiations on the basis of the good offices mission of the UN Secretary General.
The spokesman was speaking a day after Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis met in New York with Kofi Annan. Molyviatis informed President Tassos Papadopoulos on Monday night about his talks with Annan.
''The President and the government have been working for a long time to create the right circumstances for the resumption of negotiations.
It appears that it is widely accepted that there will be no timeframe, no arbitration and that talks must be well prepared in order to have a chance of success,'' Chrysostomides added.
He pointed out that it would be ''particularly damaging'' if a new effort for a solution were to end up in failure.
He recalled that after April 2004, when the overwhelming majority of the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan, there was talk of recognition of the self-styled Turkish Cypriot regime in occupied
Cyprus and isolation of the Greek Cypriot side in addition to threats that there can be no changes to the Anna plan to render it acceptable to the Greek Cypriots, since the UN and others considered it fair and balanced.
''I believe there is a very distinct improvement of these circumstances at present,'' the spokesman pointed out.
Responding to questions, he said ''the National Council will decide on whether or not we will submit our positions prior to the start of any negotiations, and if we are to table our views, what exactly will be submitted.''
The spokesman warned of risks in submitting our codified negotiating positions.
Annan has called on President Papadopoulos to table the changes he wants to introduce to the UN solution plan before Annan launches any new initiative for a fresh round of talks.
The National Council will convene on 12 April.
 US anticipates to see Cyprus achieve its full potential, says diplomat
NICOSIA 30/3/2005 (CNA/ANA)US Ambassador in Nicosia Michael Klosson said his country looks forward to the day when Cyprus will be able to achieve its full potential in the EU and the day when the opportunities and responsibilities of the partnership can be shared by all Cypriots alike through a comprehensive solution.
He made the statement addressing a gathering of the Cyprus Fulbright Alumni Association entitled "Freedom: The Mission of American Diplomacy".
In his speech, Klosson referred to the 1974 coup and Turkey's military intervention noting they were "disastrous for the island and caused untold suffering to Cypriots from both communities" with substantially increased presence of foreign military forces on the island, stressing that the United States has long opposed the militarization of the island.
"The only realistic way to achieve the vision we all share -- that of a peaceful, stable and reunited Cyprus which puts behind it almost five decades of problems -- is through a comprehensive settlement negotiated by the parties under the auspices of the UN Secretary
General's Mission of Good Offices," he said.
"We remain committed to supporting the UN Secretary General vigorously in pursuit of a settlement that will resolve all security concerns on the island and see the removal of foreign forces," Klosson remarked, adding that "the passage of time does not work in favor of a solution."
 UN spokesman says UNSG does not wish another failure of Cyprus talks
UNITED NATIONS 30/3/2005 (CNA/ANA)UN Secretary General's spokesman Fred Eckhard has said Kofi Annan wishes to secure that there is solid ground before the resumption of talks on Cyprus, because he does not wish another failure of efforts to reach a settlement.
Eckhard also said that Annan expects Greek Cypriots to outline in writing the changes they wish to be brought to his plan for a settlement.
Eckhard's statements came after a meeting Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis had here with Annan, with whom he discussed among other issues the Cyprus question.