|Saturday, 24 October 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-12-13
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>December 13, 2006
 PM chairs Inner Cabinet session on economy, EU FMs' meeting
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Tuesday met Environment, Town Planning and Public Works minister George Souflias to discuss a planned amendment concerning the further privatization of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) and ministry issues. The meeting was followed by an Inner Cabinet session that mainly focused on Monday's decision by the EU Council of Foreign Ministers' to suspend eight of the 35 chapters in the accession talks with Turkey and on economic issues, particularly the new developmental law that goes into effect in 2007.
Souflias told reporters later that the ruling New Democracy party's (ND) proram was absolutely precise and specific with respect to OTE and plans to turn to privatize physical and also non-physical state monopolies. The program stated that a strategic alliance may be set up with the State, and naturally with the proper management, in the sense that the State will not lose control of the management, he added.
The strategic alliance, namely the State and the investor that will come in as a partner with the State, will together hold 34 percent of the organization's share package, and the management will not exit the control of the State, he explained.
Replying to questions, Souflias said that he had learned on Tuesday of the amendment, adding that it required clarifications and explanations in order to be in line with the program. He also said that the program provided the concession of the management, but added that the State in turn would continue to have control of the management.
Souflias further said that the OTE issue was not discussed during the Inner Cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Karamanlis.
According to national economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis, meanwhile, the positions regarding OTE's privatization in the government's program were clear-cut, as were the announcements of the ministerial committee on privatizations on September 6 and the decisions taken on September 9 by the ministerial committee on the DEKO (public utilities and organizations) regarding the change of personnel regulations in loss-making state companies.
Alogoskoufis stressed that the change in employment terms was necessary for OTE, regardless of the privatization plan, to enable the former state telecom to hold its own in the new competitive environment and to be competitive -- as was its mobile telephony subsidiary CosmOTE -- and successfully meet the challenges of the future.
On the OTE privatization, Alogoskoufis said that the program clearly provided for a strategic alliance, and that was the privatization procedure being followed. He added that the strategic ally to be selected would have participation in the management.
Asked whether the OTE management would be conceded, Alogoskoufis reiterated that the strategic partner "will have participation in the management".
New developmental law: The new (revised) developmental law that will be in effect for the period covering 2007-2013 was also discussed at the Inner Cabinet meeting.
Alogoskoufis reported satisfactory results for the develop-mental law in its present form, which was currently winding up its course and entering a new stage with the new map of (EU) regional reinforcements. He noted that 2,660 investment schemes valued at 3.4 billion euros, which accounted for more than 10,000 new jobs and a large number of indirect new work positions, had been approved under the existing law.
The minister added that the law had yielded results, and would continue to do so with the new map for the period 2007-2013, and will enter into effect on January 1, 2007 and the relevant regulation had already been tabled in parliament.
In the 20 months since the 2004 law came into force, the economy and finance ministry had received a total of 4,236 applications for funding of investment plans valued at 10.7 billion euros, he added.
Compared with its predecessor, that was in force from 1998-2004, the average annual rate of applications submitted had increased from 682 to 2,542 while the number of investment plans approved for funding increased from 468 a year to 1,356 a year, he said.
The majority of the 2,260 investment plans approved concerned the manufacturing sector, which accounted 1,347 of their number, while 625 were tourism-related projects, 127 concerned the primary sector and 161 represented the service sector, Alogoskoufis reported.
The areas in which the most projects were approved, according to the minister, were the region of Crete (529 projects budgeted at 378 million euros) and the Central Macedonia Region (216 projects budgeted at 271 million euros), followed by the Western Greece Region (189 investment projects budgeted at 125 million euros).
Development minister Dimitris Sioufas said that the country has for the past 20 months had the best developmental law it ever had, and the same lines would be followed in the period 2007-2013.
He said the tri-zonal system of distribution of the prefectures, with a proportion of 20-30-40 percent and in addition up to 20 percent, and also small and medium-size enterprises, would reach a subsidization proportion of 60 percent.
Sioufas further said that a large number of plans have been submitted, half of which were already being carried out, thus giving development to the country and the periphery. "And this is how we will continue," he added.
Later, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that a total of 4,236 applications for incorporation under the developmental law had been submitted, accounting for investments of 10.743 billion euros and subsidies of 4.990 billion euros. He explained that the recommendations committee, on the basis of developmental law 3299, had approved 2,260 of the investment plans, budgeted at 3.364 billion euros, while the subsidies approved totaled 1.399 billion euros. Those investments created 10,187 new jobs, he added.
FM Bakoyannis: Foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis told reporters after the Inner Cabinet meeting that the OTE issue had not been discussed, but added that she endorsed the reforms carried out by the government, stressing that they were absolutely necessary.
Bakoyannis said she briefed the inner Cabinet on the decisions taken on Monday by the Council of EU Foreign Ministers -- which focused on Turkey's EU accession course and decided to 'freeze' eight negotiation chapters -- and expressed her satisfaction over the fact that three goals that had been set out were achieved.
She said there was a clear-cut message that Turkey is obliged to fulfill its obligations to the EU if it desired a smooth European course.
"The door is open to Turkey, but on condition that it accepts and honors (abides by) the European acquis," Bakoyannis underlined.
Replying to a press question, Bakoyannis said that with Monday's decision by the EU foreign ministers, a rift at the EU Summit later this month had been averted, given that the issue would not be discussed there. She also added that Monday had been a difficult day, with deliberations among the foreign ministers lasting for 10 hours, "but we finally achieved what we wanted".
 PASOK leader attacks government over EU-Turkey relations, OTE
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Tuesday attacked the government over EU-Turkey relations and its handling of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) privatization plans, after a meeting of his party's Parliamentary Group.
Papandreou said that the government's policies were leading the country into an impasse on all levels, while he accused Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of saying one thing and doing another.
Commenting on Monday's decision by the EU General Affairs Council to suspend eight of the 35 chapters in the accession talks with Turkey, the main opposition leader said the government had been forced to accept a compromise that resulted from the policy it had followed so far and which deviated substantially from the result that it claimed to seek.
According to PASOK's leader, the issue of recognition of the Cyprus Republic by Turkey should have been settled in December 2004 or, at the latest October 2005, when the EU decided to begin accession talks with Turkey.
Instead of adopting a firm stance, the government allowed itself to slide to the level of an Eastern bazaar through a lack of initiatives and the absence of the prime minister, he added. This had led to a time frame of postponement rather than commitment for Turkey, Papandreou said.
He also stressed that Greece needed a policy with clear-cut goals and a government that protected its national interests.
On domestic issues, Papandreou accused the government of secretly and without warning undermining the country's growth by bringing last-minute amendments on major issues, such as the developmental law, and of being in a hurry to sell off OTE, which was an asset that did not belong to the government, in contradiction to ruling New Democracy's pre-election promises.
 Athens on EU-Turkey accession negotiations
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)The government on Tuesday was again called on to comment on recent developments concerning EU-Turkey relations, a topic that has more-or-less dominated the foreign affairs limelight recently, with the government spokesman repeating that Athens' policy is condensed in the phrase of "complete fulfillment of obligations by Turkey for complete EU accession."
Moreover, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said a recent decision by the EU's foreign ministers move in this direction.
Meanwhile, in an ANA dispatch from Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul lamented the decision by the 25 EU member-states' foreign ministers to freeze eight chapters in EU-Turkey negotiations, saying it displays a lack of vision by the Union.
Responding to a press question on whether Ankara will open its ports in case the EU opens direct trade with the Turkish Cypriot community, Gul stated that he would not refer to the benefits the Greek Cypriots would have from the opening of a Turkish port nor to benefits for the Turkish Cypriots in case an airport in the occupied areas opens to international flights. He said commenting would jeopardize ongoing Turkish diplomatic efforts.
Gul added that "for me, however, what's important is to have results, namely, what steps we can impose on the EU over the future of the Turkish Cypriots."
 DM Meimarakis visits Greek troops stationed in Afghanistan
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)National Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis on Tuesday visited Kabul on the occasion of the change of guard of the Greek force stationed in Afghanistan, in light of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, and exchanged wishes and gifts with the officers and troops of the Greek force.
The minister was accompanied by Armed Forces General Staff chief Lieutenant-General Dimitrios Grapsas.
Meimarakis also visited the Special Brigade and the mobile surgery-hospital.
Addressing the Greek troops, the defense minister hailed their contribution both in the consolidation of a climate of security in the region and the strengthening of Greece's role in the international scene, as a factor of peace, security and stability.
The Greek mission, along with 90 members of the Greek force in Afghanistan, was due to return to Athens late Tuesday.
 Ambassador Vassilakis addresses UN Security Council open session
NEW YORK, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA/P. Panagiotou)Greece's Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, speaking during Tuesday's open session of the UN Security Council, said that "Greece reconfirms its dedication in the conducting of the vision of two democratic states, of Israel and Palestine, who will live side by side in peace and security and in internationally recognized borders."
The Security Council discussed the situation in Iraq.
Ambassador Vassilakis said that "the proposals contained in the report of the Secretary General offer a calm and informed vision as to the way of implementing progress in this direction."
 Coast Guard chief on three-day official visit to Turkey
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)The head of the Greek Coast Guard, Vice-Admiral Ilias Sionidis began a three-day official visit to neighboring Turkey on Tuesday.
Sionidis has been invited by his Turkish counterpart, Rear Admiral Can Erenoglu and began his visit on Tuesday by depositing a wreath at the Kemal Ataturk mausoleum in Ankara. The two coast guard chiefs then held talks on developing mutual trust and understanding between their two forces.
On Wednesday, Sionidis is scheduled to visit the Greek Embassy in Ankara before departing for Istanbul, where he will visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fanar and be received by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Thursday.
 Archbishop Christodoulos to meet Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Thursday
13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos departs on Wednesday for the Vatican and starts the first visit by a prelate of the Church of Greece to the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, which will be concluded on Saturday morning.
Archbishop Christodoulos will meet Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, while during his stay in Rome, he will be proclaimed honorary professor of the Vatican University.
In a statement on Tuesday, Archbishop Christodoulos said:"Throughout humanity today there is talk for the need of cooperation between religions and not only between Christian churches. And this, because we must, in every possible way, safeguard peace in the world which is threatened many times by certain fanatical people who hide behind and act under the guise of religion."
 Archbishop of Salzburg visits Ecumenical Patriarch
ISTANBUL, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA/A.Kourkoulas)Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser paid a visit on Tuesday to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and held talks with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos.
Archbishop Kothgasser was accompanied by Bishop of Inzburg Manfred Scheuer and a group of catholic clerics.
 Gov't steadfast over OTE decision; cites PASOK's past practices
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)The government on Tuesday again appeared steadfast in its intent to further privatize state-run and bourse-listed Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE), with the government spokesman answering a barrage of press questions and emphasizing that reforms will be implemented.
In response to opposition, trade union and press criticism, in fact, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos read out an excerpt from New Democracy party's pre-election program, and specifically the portion that refers to the party's objective of transferring state control of OTE so the telecoms utility can operate effectively in a new "liberalized market within the framework of a strategic alliance".
Roussopoulos underscored that this is still ND's policy, stressing that the Greek state currently controls 38 percent of OTE's shares, with envisioned changes leaving the state and a strategic private investor with 34 percent of OTE and its management.
Roussopoulos also reminded that since 2005 OTE's management and the government have proceeded with reforms that essentially saved OTE "from turning into another Olympic Airlines" -- a reference to the debt-ridden national carrier.
He also stated that changes to the personnel code will only affect employees hired after July 2005, after the imminent changes were announced.
Sharp criticism of PASOK: Furthermore, Roussopoulos lashed out at main opposition party PASOK by stressing that when it took over in 1993 the state controlled 100 percent of OTE, a figure that dropped to 38 percent by 2004 following subsequent flotations of OTE shares on both the Athens and New York stock exchanges by order of successive PASOK governments.
Additionally, he said PASOK introduced a more flexible labor regime for OTE mobile telephony subsidiary Cosmote - in comparison to the civil servant-like status enjoyed at OTE - only to now bemoan the government's decision to export this regime to OTE for new hirings.
In winding up his counter-attack, Roussopoulos emphasized that PASOK at one point introduced legislation for Olympic Airlines changing the status of all employees overnight.
KKE leader Papariga on developments in OTE: Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, referring to developments in the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE), said on Tuesday that "to the final blow which the government is preparing for OTE, the answer of course is not for us to return to the state-run OTE which we knew, neither is the 'venemous' privatization which was made by (main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement) PASOK the answer."
Papariga noted that "the working people must from now set their target and forge ahead to gain a public agency in communications, which will not co-exist with any form of private activity and which, of course, will operate in the service of the people, the service of the working people and to the benefit, as much as possible, to today's or tomorrow's conditions, a self-sufficient popular growth which is the only way to claim equivalent cooperation."
 Parliament turns down demand by PASOK and Coalition for withdrawal of amendments to tax bill
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Parliament on Tuesday night rejected the demand of 39 deputies of the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and of Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology for the withdrawal of the Economy and Finance Ministry's amendments which concern the implementation of the investment law also to the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE).
The amendments were tabled in the bill "Changes in the Taxation of Incomes".
"The amendments have been timely announced, PASOK has expressed its position on these, they were submitted within the timeframe foreseen by the Parliament's regulation and are completely relevant to the bill," said Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, answering to Coalition President Alekos Alavanos and PASOK's Parliamentary spokesman George Floridis and of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Antonis Skyllakos, who termed the amendments "irrelevant".
 Romtelecom briefs Bucharest on growth plan
BUCHAREST, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA)The chairman of Athens-quoted OTE telecom and Romtelecom, Panayiotis Vourloumis, on Tuesday briefed the Romanian premier on the company's growth plan.
OTE, which owns the Romanian fixed-line provider, is expected to invest about half a billion euros in high-tech networks for Romtelecom on the basis of the growth plan, the government said in a statement.
 Stylianidis addresses 4th Mixed Ministerial in Amman
AMMAN, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA)Visiting Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Evripides Stylianidis on Tuesday called for the societies and markets of Greece and Jordan to join forces in order to maximize their mutual benefit, during an address to the Greece-Jordan 4th Mixed Ministerial Committee and Jordanian business people.
Stylianidis arrived in Amman at the head of a delegation comprised of the representatives of 40 Greek businesses, Greek trade bodies and non-governmental organizations, in a bid to boost bilateral trade relations with Jordan. The last mixed ministerial was held 20 years earlier in 1986.
The 4th Mixed Ministerial is scheduled to end on Wednesday with the signature of a cooperation agreement in research and technology, as well as the signing of six memorandums between various Greek trade and industry groups and their Jordanian counterparts.
The ministerial meeting is also complemented by a business conference, where Greek and Jordanian business interests will have the opportunity to make contact and air potential cooperation plans or strike initial agreements.
The Greek mission hopes to increase exports, arrange joint ventures and attract investment.
Stylianidis expressed a desire for a swift end to negotiations for an agreement on avoiding double taxation, to complement the agreements signed in December during a visit by Jordan's King Abdallah II on protecting investments and cooperation in tourism.
During his address, the deputy minister emphasized energy management issues and Greece's emergence as an energy hub for southeastern Europe, which he said offered opportunities to investors, while noting the development of alternative energy sources and the expertise that Greece can offer Jordan in this area.
Other possible areas for cooperation listed by the minister included construction, where Greece could provide both know-how and high-quality building materials, high-quality Greek agricultural goods, water management know-how and resources, ship-building and shipping.
In talks with Jordanian Planning and International Cooperation Minister Suhair Al Ali, Stylianidis said that Jordan was one of the priority countries for Greece under its new developmental aid program HellenicAid, which contained fewer target countries but allowed for more projects in each and provided a longer space of time for their completion.
 Energy Community Regulatory Board holds first meeting in Athens
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas on Tuesday described the first meeting of the Regulatory Board of the Energy Community of SE Europe in Athens as a "historic event", stressing that Greece had played a leading role in all the processes for setting up the Energy Community 14 months earlier.
The Regulatory Board's first meeting took place in Athens on Monday, with the support of the Athens-based Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE).
Representing the European Commission at Monday's meeting was EU official Heinz Hilbrecht, while other participants included Sir John Mogg, chairman of the UK Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, RAE chairman Prof. Michalis Karamanis and representatives of the Energy Community's 14 regulatory authorities.
The meeting focused on the institutional organization of the Regulatory Board and set in motion processes for a convergence of energy markets in the Energy Community with the unified EU energy market. It also discussed regional cooperation issues and Greece's presence in SE European energy markets.
During the meeting, the chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Slave Iwanovski was elected chairman of the Regulatory Board of the Energy Community of SE Europe, while working groups to deal with the various energy resources were set up.
The first results of the Regulatory Board's actions are expected to be presented at its next session, which is scheduled to take place in Athens in February next year.
The Energy Community was founded in a treaty signed in Athens on October 25, 2005 and first went into operation in July 2006.
Sioufas stressed Greece's support for the operation of the first regional energy market in Europe and underlined the major prospects this created for Greece, noting that investments in excess of 21 billion euros were anticipated in the electricity sector alone over the next 14 years, in addition to major investments in natural gas pipelines.
 EU: Limited progress in Greek growth, jobs reformBRUSSELS, 13/142/2006 (ANA-MPA)
Limited progress has been seen so far in implementing the Greek National Reform Program for growth and jobs, the European Union's executive Commission said in a report released on Tuesday.
The bloc-wide analysis, which is part of the Commission's latest annual progress report on the Lisbon Growth and Jobs Strategy, will be submitted to EU leaders at a European spring summit in March 2007. The leaders will be invited to formally adopt recommendations aimed at helping individual member states and securing agreement on action.
"The Commission concludes that progress towards meeting the challenges facing Greece has been limited. Though Greece is moving ahead relatively strongly in the macro-economic area, progress with micro-economic and employment reforms are still insufficient. There is a limited policy response to commitments made by the 2006 Spring European Council. Regarding governance, better coordination and stronger ownership among administrative levels are needed," the report said.
"The Commission identifies as a particular strength of the reform process in Greece: the good progress made on the consolidation of public finances. There are also promising signs of progress on: improving public resource allocation; improving the business environment; R&D and innovation; ICT; and education and training," it noted.
The Commission made the following recommendations to Greece:
to ensure continuation of fiscal consolidation
and debt reduction and fix a timetable for the implementation of pension reform with a view
to improving long-term fiscal sustainability
to modernize its public administration by building up effective regulatory, control and enforcement capacities, including through upgrading skills,
to ensure effective use of Structural Funds
to modernize employment protection including legislation, reduce the tax wedge on labor, and strengthen active labor policies to foster flexibility and security in the labor market and transform undeclared work into formal employment
to increase investment in compulsory and higher education, implement the reform of lifelong learning
and improve quality and responsiveness to labor market needs, reduce early school leaving, and increase adult participation
In addition, the Commission said that it will be important for Greece to focus on accelerating efforts to set up a research and innovation strategy and increase investment in R&D; improve the incorporation of internal market directives; ensure that structural funds are used effectively to help underpin Greece's reform policies, including environmental protection; speed up progress towards meeting SME policy targets set by the 2006 Spring European Council; implement policies to encourage women's participation in employment; and put in place a consistent active ageing strategy.
The EU's Lisbon Growth and Jobs Strategy aims to reform Europe's economies to secure a prosperous, fair and environmentally sustainable future, by ensuring that Europe is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation and to cope with demographic changes that will mean more older people and fewer young people of working age in society, the Commission stated.
 Export drive for Greek wine, fruit
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Agriculture Minister Evangelos Basiakos said on Tuesday that a drive would be launched to promote Greek exports of wine and fruit to the USA, Canada, India, China and Japan.
The European Union has approved two programs for the promotion of Greek exports with a total budget of seven million euros, the minister said.
 Exports board in pact with Greece-Japan chamber
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)HEPO, the exports promotion board, said on Tuesday that it had signed an alliance with the Hellenic-Japanese Chamber of Trade.
The pact falls within a strategy of working with outward-looking organizations in order to better coordinate Greece's presence abroad, HEPO said in a statement.
 Greece seen having 25 bln barrels in oil deposits
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)Greece has an estimated equivalent of 25 billion barrels in the form of oil deposits, according to estimates released at a meeting on Tuesday.
The estimate covers underground and undersea deposits, according to a session of the Southeastern Europe Energy Institute on research and exploitation of hydrocarbons.
 Athens Bourse Close: Stocks rise
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)The Athens share index closed at 4,270.94 points, showing a rise of 0.27%. Turnover was 324.5 million euros.
The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalization shares ended 0.26% up; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks 0.52% higher; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 1.03% up.
Of stocks traded, advances led declines at 159 to 97 with 54 remaining unchanged.
Foreign Exchange Rates: Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.335
Pound sterling 0.680
Danish kroner 7.514
Swedish kroner 9.133
Japanese yen 156.1
Swiss franc 1.605
Norwegian kroner 8.197
Cyprus pound 0.582
Canadian dollar 1.536
Australian dollar 1.698
 Premier Karamanlis inaugurates exhibition on 'Greeks of the Diaspora'
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)More than four hundred of rare and precious objects are displayed at the exhibition "Greeks of the Diaspora" which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Tuesday evening at the Parliament building in Athens.
The objects cover a period extending from the 15th to the 21st centuries.
Addressing the inauguration event, Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki said that Greeks of the Diaspora were "an inseparable part of Hellenism which contributed in a substantial way to the development of the new Greek State in every way and continues to support Greece in its national causes every time the need arises."
The exhibition, she added, "is particularly precious, comprising an acquaintance with the life of Greeks of the Diaspora through a rich collection of newspapers and reviews as well as photographs."
 FYROM reports sharp rise in illegal immigrant arrests
SKOPJE, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA)Authorities here this week announced that 1,470 illegal immigrants were arrested in the country over the first nine months of the year -- double the number in relation to all of 2005 -- with most of the illegal intercepted on the FYROM-Albania and FYROM-Greece frontiers.
Moreover, local authorities said nearly 750 illegal immigrants were intercepted by Greek authorities after having just crossed into the country from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), with the majority identified as Albanian nationals.
Moreover, authorities referred to coordinated efforts over the recent period between Skopje and Athens to eradicate migrant-smuggling rings active in the region.
Along those lines, a closely watched trial in Skopje concluded last week with some 40 individuals charged in a major migrant-smuggling operation, including local truck drivers, police officers and customs officials in the neighboring land-locked country.
According to a FYROM police spokesman, "the majority of illegal immigrants enter the country from Albania in either a legal or illegal manner. Afterwards, the ring transports them to locations close to the border with Greece. When a large enough number (of migrants) is attained, their smuggling into Greece is attempted, either through border crossings, whereby the price charged by the ring is higher, or via illegal (frontier) passes".
 Commission has its sights on Greece for violation of EU legislation
BRUSSELS, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA)The European Commission decided in Brussels on Tuesday to refer Greece to the European Court for insufficient staffing of its veterinary services.
The European Commission in an announcement said that despite the actions taken by Greece, following the justified opinion which the Commission issued in 2004, Greece has not managed to cover but only a number of positions which are viewed necessary for the proper implementation of European legislation for veterinary issues.
The Commission on Tuesday also threatened to refer Greece to the European Court for three environmental violations of European legislation.
According to an announcement, the first violation concerns the dangerous waste which continues to pollute the Thriasio Pedio, the second the use of fuel with a high level of sulphur dioxide and the third the insufficient processing of urban refuse in Greece.
The European Commision further decided to send to 16 member-states, including Greece, justified opinions, which constitute the second stage of the procedure of recourse, for violation of Community legislation regarding the opening of the energy market.
Specifically, the Commission sent justified opinions to Greece, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech, Estonia, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia and Great Britain.
 Commission raps Greece for not abiding to unified European sky regulation
BRUSSELS, 13/12/2006 (ANA-MPA)The European Commission decided on Tuesday to refer Greece to the European Court for not abiding to Community legislation regarding the founding of a national supervisory authority in the framework of the unified European sky.
The framework regulation for the unified European sky has been valid since April 2004. It foresees, on the one hand, the separation of the granting of aeronautical services and on the other, the supervision and regulation settlement of the services in question.
To date, Greece has neglected to abide by the legislation for the full founding of an independent authority, a Commission announcement said.
 Australian veterans' scholarship to Crete student
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)An annual award given by the Australian war veterans and retired servicemen's association to a student from Crete with the highest grades in the university entrance exams was won by a female student from Hania.
The award, established in memory of Archimandrite Agathangelos Lagouvardos, was awarded to Sofia Dimitra-kakis, who has enrolled in the University of Crete's education college.
The award, accompanied by a money prize of 2,500 Australian dollars, was delivered by Australian ambassador to Greece Paul Tighe during a ceremony held at the Hania prefecture.
 Russian book exhibition
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)A Russian scientific and educational book fair will be open until December 15 at the Athens University Cultural Centre organized by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in cooperation with the Russian embassy to Greece and the Russian Science and Culture Centre.
The inauguration ceremony will be held on Tuesday evening. Messages will be addressed by National and Kapodistrian University Rector professor Christos Kittas and Russian ambassador to Athens Andrey Vdovin.
 Photo exhibition to Native American Indians this month in Athens
ATHENS, 13/12/2006 (ANA/MPA)An exhibition of historical photographs by noted photographer Edward S. Curtis will open in Athens this month and last until late January 2007, entitled "Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian".
The 60-photo exhibition, opening on Friday, will focus on the tradition way of life of the Native American Indian tribes at the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries.
The exhibition will be hosted in the Plaka-district cultural centre of the University of Indianapolis' Athens branch - 5, Marcou Avriliou St. The event is also organized by the US embassy in Athens, with the support of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece.
For more information, call 210.3239908.
 Cyprus government satisfied with EU FMs decisions
NICOSIA, 13/12/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)The Cyprus government has expressed its satisfaction with the unanimous conclusions of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on Turkey.
"We are not overjoyed with this outcome. But at the same time we do not underestimate its importance," Government Spokes-man Christodoulos Pashiardes said.
The spokesman noted that the foreign ministers of Cyprus and Greece, acting in concert with some of their EU counterparts, worked very hard to eliminate the strong reaction of other partners and finally satisfied some of the main demands of the Greek Cypriot side, adding that "the conclusions of the Council meet to a great extent the basic goals we had set."
"It was not an easy outcome. Discussions lasted for hours and there was a lively debate. Some countries demanded persistently the freezing of only three chapters in Turkey's accession negotiations, they aimed to link the Cyprus question to Turkey's accession course and to avoid fixing a date to assess Turkey's behavior," he noted.
"The conclusions of the Council meet to a great extent the basic goals we had set. They freeze eight chapters of the accession negotiations of Turkey, disassociate the Cyprus question from Turkey's accession course, provide for the reassessment of the progress towards the fulfillment of Ankara's obligations towards the Republic of Cyprus and provide that no chapter closes until the Commission verifies the implementation of Turkey's commitments, related to the Additional Protocol," he noted.
Pashiardes also noted that the Cyprus government remains firm on its position that Turkey has to fully comply with the prerequisites to have a normal and unhindered course towards Europe.
Responding to questions, the spokesman said "consensus and compromise is the rule in the EU," adding that the rule applied in this case as well.
"We are satisfied without of course saying that we are enthusiastic about this," he noted.
Invited to comment on the fact that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett referred while speaking before the Council to Cyprus' occupied areas as "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", Pashiardes said he would like to believe that this was a serious slip of the tongue.
To another question, Pashiardes noted that the annual reports of the Commission to the Council form a concrete time frame in which Turkey is called to respond to its obligations.
"So an effective mechanism of evaluating and monitoring Turkey's behavior is set up and it will be used in order to exert pressure on Ankara to fulfill its obligations and commitments," he added.
Pashiardes said some EU partners, which insisted that no date for the evaluation of Turkey's accession course is included in the conclusions, reacted strongly.
He noted that the measures provided in the conclusions consist a form of sanctions and send the message to Turkey that its normal accession course is linked with its obligation to honor and implement the European rules and prerequisites.
''If Ankara does not wish to take this message into consideration and continues not to comply, it will be judged in the near future by the EU and additional sanctions are not something that can be ruled out," he added.
Responding to another question Pashiardes said that no one can deprive the Republic of Cyprus of its right to block chapters of the accession negotiations, other than the eight decided to be frozen.
As regards the issue of direct trade of the Turkish Cypriots with the EU, Pashiardes said the relevant EU regulation does not refer to any ports or airports through which trade will be taking place.
He said the issue of direct trade is noted by the Council as a political agreement to be included into the Council's conclusions in January.
Pashiardes said "our side does not object to discussions" on the direct trade regulation.
"We are not against commercial activities of Turkish Cypriots when they are conducted through the legitimate procedures," he concluded.
 EU Presidency expresses full support for Cyprus settlement
NICOSIA, 13/12/2006 (CNA/ANA-MPA)The European Union Presidency after Monday's discussions at the General Affairs and External Relations Council has
expressed full support for the ongoing efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to resume negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem in line with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and the principles on which the EU is founded.
In a statement, the Presidency welcomed the positive responses of the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Communities to a letter of United Nations Under-Secretary General Gambari on the implementation of their July 8 agreement.
The Presidency emphasizes the need to quickly start this preparatory work in order for the United Nations Secretary General's Good Offices mission to resume without unnecessary delay.
Furthermore it encouraged the two communities to ensure that the right atmosphere prevails for this process to flourish.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed on 8 July 2006 to begin a process of bicommunal discussions on issues that affect the day-to-day life of the people and concurrently those that concern substantive issues, both contributing to a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem.
Following the agreement, senior aides of the two leaders in Cyprus, Tasos Tzionis and Rasit Pertev, began meetings in the office of the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cyprus Michael Moller in the UN-controlled buffer zone to work out the modalities for the implementation of the July agreement.