|Sunday, 19 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 06-12-22
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Parliament approves 2007 state budget, PM Karamanlis terms it vote of confidence for reformsParliament in the early hours of Friday voted in favour of the 2007 state budget. 166 deputies voted for while 134 against it, out of the 300-member House.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis termed on Thursday night the voting of the 2007 state budget as a vote of confidence for the continuation of reforms in all sectors, adding that elections were a "serious matter".
Addressing Parliament, during the debate on the 2007 state budget just before the vote took place, Karamanlis said that "I understood that even with minced words, you are calling for elections," directing himself to main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou.
"I would be tempted to answer with a saying which says: Be careful when you advance demands, because sometimes they become acceptable," Karamanlis said.
Commenting on Papandreou's speech earlier on, the prime minister expressed his disappointment because, instead of proposals he heard "insults, outcries and voices of tension and division, which in essence prove poverty of substance and weaknesss of political discourse." The citizens' interest and the quality of public life "are not promoted, neither with aphorisms, neither with extremities, neither with insults, neither of course with building walls of division, which you are attempting to erect," Karamanlis said.
Replying to Papandreou, the prime minister said:"The elections and the institutions are a very serious matter. You can play. I do not play. We have work to do, we have work to advance. The elections will be held at their own time, when we complete this work. And then, really, we will tell the citizens: Judge us by our work and by this they will judge us. However, they will also judge you. And then you will receive the answer you fit."
Karamanlis, who termed 2007 "a year of continuity of reforms, but also a year of preparation for the major institutional reforms, which will follow the 2008 elections," called for Parliament's positive vote "in order for us to continue the cleansing of the economy and to rid the country from the problems and the pathologies, which held it stuck to yesterday, fearful in front of the new. I ask for a vote of continuity of reforms in all sectors, the economy, the structures of the state and the broader public sector, higher public education, health and the environment. I call for a vote of confidence to the road of the future and of responsibility."
The prime minister said that the 2007 budget depicted clearly the way the government was achieving its difficult targets for the reduction of the deficit, the slowing down of the public debt, a growth having at its centre man, and for an economy of opportunities. The budget, he said, "is an example of mild fiscal adjustment and a foundation of a new momentum for development. It is based on realistic forecasts on incomes as well as expenditures. It means credibility, consistency, effectiveness."
"The reform strategy which we are implementing, already yields the first results. The rate of growth has reached 4.4 per cent while the fiscal deficit has decreased by 4 per cent limiting itself to under 3 per cent. Investments are beginning to return to Greece, as the latest EU Commission report notes," the prime minister said.
He said his government opted for dialogue in implementing reformes. "There were cases where we exhausted all time margins. But this cannot go on indefinitely," Karamanlis underlined.
Provisions of the budget
According to the 2007 state budget, the growth rate of the Greek economy is anticipated at approximately 3.8 percent, spurred chiefly by investments. A 6.5 percent increase is also forecast in exports of goods and services while, on the negative side, a 7.0 percent increase is forecast in imports.
The main targets of the 2007 budget are boosting development and gradual reduction of the state deficit, while measures are provided for boosting the growth potential, consolidating the climate of fiscal discipline and stability in the economy, increasing the economy's outwardness, and strengthening social cohesion.
The budget further advances reform in the taxation of natural entitites, while the dialogue between the social partners will also be continued on reforming the country's social insurance system.
The draft budget provides tax reliefs for natural entities, and also foresees an improvement of the existing taxation environment for legal entities with the gradual reduction (by 2008) of the tax rate on corprorate profits, as well as steps to stem tax evasion, corruption, the black economy and smuggling.
Total net revenues will increase by 6.2 per cent compared to 2006. According to this foercast, revenues will be at 25.4 per cent of GDP compared to 25.6 and 24.8 perc netb in 2006 and 2005 respectively.
The central government's deficit will decrease to 4.3 of the GDP.
Revenues from direct taxes are anticipated at 19.450 billion euros, up by 4.8 percent in relation to 2006, while revenues from indirect taxes are anticipated at 28.580 billion euros, up by 8.8 percent over the corresponding revenues in 2006.
A substantial increase of 10.0 percent is further anticipated in revenues from Value Added Tax (VAT), estimated to reach 17.435 billion euros.
Regular budget spending (excluding interest payments) are projected to ease to 25.6 pct of GDP next year from 25.9 pct in 2006, with spending on supporting weaker economically classes totalling 1.2 billion euros.
Expenditure for salaries and pensions will account for 48 percent of the primary expenditure, whereas expenditure for insurance and healthcare will account for 22 percent of the overall primary expenditure.
The Public Investment Programme is forecast to reach 8.75 billion euros next year, of which 6.35 billion euros for projects co-funded with the EU and the remaining 2.4 billion for projects exclusively funded by national money.
Finally, it is anticipated that strong economic activity will boost employment, thus containing the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent.
 PASOK leader terms 2007 budget 'last' of ruling partyMain opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou said on Thursday night that the 2007 state budget tabled by the ruling New Democracy (ND) "makes arrangements regarding obligations towards specific interests and signals the end of tenure of the government."
"It is the last budget tabled by the ND," Papandreou said during the debate on the 2007 state budget.
Papandreou termed as "completely untrustworthy" the depictment of public finances in the draft budget. "You transfer pending expenditures with interest, you eliminate the hospitals' debts, you fabricate the data on unemployment, you find excuses to wipe out jobless from the registration forms," Papandreou added.
He said that the reforms proposed by the government were "in essence clientele arrangements," asking Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis "to name just one reform that has profited the citizens, that has improved their standard of living, that has benefitted the country."
Papandreou also accused the government of "a revival of pockets of parastate conceptions within the police force."
The PASOK leader committed himself on four governmental measures, promising, when in power, to "govern with sincerity and transparency without shadows and dependencies."
The committments concern, as he said, equality of taxation between dividends and salaries, transparency in the distribution of funds, the maintenance of the public sector's strategic role in the Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and the Public Power Corporation (DEH).
He also promised a 5 per cent of the GDP for education, a one per cent for research and innovation and 5 per cent for public investments.
Responding to Papandreou, Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said that citizens "have memory, they remember who has created the enormous debts and the great economic and social problems of the country."
 KKE SG Papariga accuses ND and PASOK of 'an anti-popular alliance'Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga on Thursday night launched a strong attack against the ruling New Democracy (ND) party and the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), accusing them of "anti-popular alliance."
"Both the ND government and that of PASOK in the past have the same logic for anti-popular laws and the only difference between them is the time conjuction. The bus in essence is moving in the same direction," Papariga said during the debate in Parliament on the 2007 state budget.
She also spoke of an "anti-popular class budget," adding that "as long as economic policy remains in this axis, in no way can it move in a pro-popular orbit or produce a pro-popular dividend."
The KKE leader further spoke about Article 16 of the Constitution, arguing that "the objective is the privatisation of higher education."
She went on to say:"If only there were three parties and have a class difference. We will not become a crutch of any party. Neither of the ND in order for PASOK not to return, neither of PASOK for ND to leave."
 SYN leader Alavanos focuses his speech in Parliament on educationCoalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synasmismos) leader Alekos Alavanos during the debate in Parliament on Thursday night on the 2007 state budget, focused his speech on education issues and the problems faced by youths, at the same time criticising the government for its policy and stance.
"For the New Democracy government, the youth constitute a fiscal difficulty. For Synaspismos, they are a source of great fiscal and social wealth," Alavanos stressed.
He also made particular reference to Article 16 of the Constitution, noting:"We have the least funds for education in relation to other countries of the European Union. The apotheosis of the government's policy are its positions for universities where we see black crows over the body of the public university."
 Roussopoulos addresses Parliament on 2007 state budgetMinister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos said on Thursday evening that "the 2007 budget marks the continuation of a course which started two-and-a-half years ago for putting in order the economy, its riddance from distortions and the adoption of a new developmental model."
Speaking during the debate in Parliament on the 2007 state budget, Roussopoulos said that the budget "marks the passing of the economy into a period of countable economic reality."
 Interior Minister Pavlopoulos tells Parliament 'government has done substantial work'Interior, Public Administration and Decentralisation Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said on Thursday night that "the government, contrary to the steadfast practice of the PASOK governments which remained in unfulfilled proclamations and rested in the safety of stagnation and apathy, is putting in practice its committments and presents substantial work."
"All the sectors, which in the past years were stable in the first positions of the 'black list' on the part of the citizens' judgements, are henceforth classed by the citizens themselves as positive points and results in the implementation of the government's policy and definitely in those sectors which present fewer problems for them," the interior minister said.
Pavlopoulos gave emphasis to the functioning of the Centres for the Service of Citizens (KEP) "which are gradually being transformed into Centres of Integrated Transactions."
 2007 budget to 'crush' middle classes, PASOK's Arsenis predictsA major part of the middle classes with an annual income between 18,000-30,000 euros, numbering some 1.5 million families, will be financially "crushed" by the 2007 budget proposed by the government, main opposition PASOK MP Gerassimos Arsenis predicted in Parliament on Thursday, fifth day of the budget debate.
"Economic and social development is never achieved with a hibernating middle class," he added.
The MP and former PASOK minister emphasised the differential treatment of income from salaried employment and income generated by profits from capital, pointing out that tax paid by private individuals in the last year had increased 6.8% to reach 620 million euros, whereas businesses paid just 120 million euros or 2.7% more. At the same time, GDP had risen by 7.1% and state spending by 6.2%, while income tax by only 4% and indirect taxes, which most heavily burdened those on low incomes, by 8.8 %.
 Athens comments on COREPER decision for EU-Turkey relationsGreek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos on Thursday said that COREPER had been persuaded to open only one chapter in the accession negotiations with Turkey - instead of the seven originally sought - by the Greek side's arguments that the clear EU message to Turkey must not be weakened.
Commenting on COREPER's decision on Wednesday, Koumou-tsakos confirmed that the initial idea was to open four chapters in the first phase, to be followed by another three.
Emphasising the pivotal role played by Greece's representative on the Council of Permanent Representatives, the spokesman said that the arguments made at COREPER had stressed that the EU's handling of Turkey's accession bid should not lead to either direct or indirect conclusions that the clear message given by the EU General Affairs Council on December 11 might be modified or weakened.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, Koumoutsakos said that a specific process agreed by the two sides involved was underway.
"We hope that this process will progress and produce results, so as to prepare in the best possible way the possible start of a full negotiation process for resolving the issue," he added.
The spokesman also stated that Greece will support the German presidency of the EU in its basic priorities and especially on that of the European Constitution.
 Koumoutsakos on Gul's visitForeign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will visit Bulgaria on January 1, 2007 to attend events held on the occasion of the country's formal accession into the EU, stated foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos during the weekly press briefing on Thursday.
Koumoutsakos responded negatively to the question on whether he has received a letter by the so-called "Advisory Committee" of the Muslim minority in northern Greece, in view of the planned "pseudo-mufti election", adding that the minority has legally recognized religious leaders who exercise their religious and judicial duties.
"The handling of the Greek minority's rights by Greece is known and clear and I don't think that it is an issue in bilateral relations with Turkey", he added, referring to the mufti issue.
Responding to a question on the likelihood of a visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to the region, given the fact that this "election" will be held in the meantime, he stated that the fact that there is no skepticism and concern on behalf of the Greek State in case of foreign visitors to any region of the country is still another way to attest that the Muslim minority, its present and future, is not a bilateral relations issue with any other state.
 Koumoutsakos on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipelineDevelopments progress toward the signing of an agreement on the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline early next year, commented on Thursday foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, responding to a question concerning the visit of foreign ministry officials to Moscow.
Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said on Wednesday that Greece, Russia and Bulgaria are nearer to agreement on a final pact for the construction of a pipeline to carry Russian oil to Greece through Bulgaria.
 Koumoutsakos on Blair's statements in TurkeyForeign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos on Thursday cited a response by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis when asked to comment on the recent statements on Cyprus made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his visit to Turkey.
Koumoutsakos added that the progress on the Cyprus issue is made within the framework of the UN based on the relevant Security Council resolutions which are in effect and Great Britain, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has contributed toward reaching them.
Bakoyannis had stressed that the EU leaders took a joint decision regarding Turkey that was binding for all EU member-states responding to statements made by Blair during his visit to Ankara last week calling for the immediate opening of new chapters in the accession talks with Turkey.
During a press conference held in Ankara, the British prime minister had called on Ankara to open its ports and airports to ships and planes from Cyprus but also urged the EU to "end the isolation of northern Cyprus".
 Koumoutsakos on the Holocaust conference in TehranForeign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos expressed Greece's deep concern, reflecting the overall atmosphere in the EU, regarding the conference held in Tehran on the Holocaust.
Koumoutsakos stated that the conference aimed at creating doubts over the Holocaust issue and added that the Greek parliament has passed a law declaring January 27 as Holocaust Day, while Greece has participated in the UN Security Council decisions and resolutions reached on the issue.
 Greece seeking clarifications on incident at Brussels airportAthens has asked Belgian authorities to provide clarifications concerning an incident at Brussels airport in which Piraeus Prefect Yiannis Mihas was detained by police, foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos announced on Thursday. Mihas was part of a delegation of Greek officials that included Athens-Piraeus Supra-Prefect Fofi Gennimata.
The incident occurred on Wednesday, when the Piraeus Prefect complained about the delay of a flight and the loss of luggage. He was then accosted by Belgian police, who detained him and hand-cuffed him for one-and-a-half hours. All the members of the Greek delegation and the Greek MEPs travelling with them were also held.
Koumoutsakos said that Greek diplomatic services had mobilised immediately and demanded to be fully briefed on the incident by Belgian authorities, so that they might lodge the appropriate protests, he added.
"Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis spoke with Mrs. Gennimata, there was a meeting at the Belgian foreign ministry between ministry staff and a full briefing on the incident was requested. With a clear picture, we will make any protest that is called for," he added.
 Deputy finance minister holds talks with Chinese officials in AthensDeputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas on Thursday received a delegation of visiting Chinese officials at his offices in Athens for talks on further strengthening ties between Athens and Beijing in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The two sides also discussed the organisation of a major international conference in Beijing on the contribution of ancient Greek and ancient Chinese philosophy to modern thought.
The minister said that the visit, in additional economic issues, had also covered educational and cultural exchanges to take place before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
 Justice minister stresses modernisation of Greece's prison systemJustice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras on Thursday evening presented his tenure at the ministry and the plans for next year, noting "the qualitative upgrading of the administering of law and the modernisation of our prison system."
Starting from the improvement of Justice, Papaligouras underlined that "the government helped politically and morally the Justice's leadership in its duty to eliminate the last stain from the corps of honest judges," stressing that the procedure will continue until this target is achieved.
Addressing Parliament during the debate on the 2007 state budget, the minister noted the speeding up of the administering of justice, in the framework of which, from a total of one million pending cases, about half of them were put on file or written-off.
 New director for EU Commission representation in AthensThe European Commission on Thursday announced the appointment of Ierotheos Papadopoulos as director of the Commission's representation in Greece. Papadopoulos has been acting director since February 2006 and officially takes over his duties on January 1.
The EU Representation is the official representative of the European Commission in Greece and is responsible for informing the public regarding EU programmes and policies, acting as a contact for Greek media and informing the Commission on political, social and economic developments in Greece.
 Athens Bar Association comments on report by committee for the prevention of tortureThe Athens Bar Association in an announcement on Thursday said that the assessments of the latest report on Greece by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture "should directly be of concern to us."
The Committee's report on Greece was made public on Wednesday.
The Athens Bar Association coincidentally held an event on Tuesday on the theme "The protection of human rights in Europe".
"The Committee's report against torture came to bring us down to earth with a bump. These assessments should concern us directly and intensely, particularly those whom the State as-signed an institutional role in the confrontation of these extreme phenomena," the Association said in its announcement.
 Tutors, students gather outside Parliament to protest revision of Article 16University professors, teachers and students gathered in front of Parliament on Thursday night to express their opposition to the revision of Article 16 of the Constitution and called for more funds for education, especially for universities.
Due to the gathering, Vassilis Sofias Avenue, at the height of Academias Street, remained closed for about an hour.
Meanwhile, unidentified youths at 8:40 p.m. threw fire-bombs at the police station in Athens' suburb of Zographou.
The fire-bombs landed and exploded in the street, without causing any damage.
 Archbishop Christodoulos sends congratulations to Patriarchs of Romania, BulgariaArchbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos on Thursday sent letters of congratulation to Patriarch of Romania Theoctist and Patriarch of Bulgaria Maxim on the occasion of their countries' European Union accession on January 1.
"For us, Christian Orthodox, the entry into the European Union of other Orthodox States of Europe is of particular importance, as the voice of Orthodoxy is being reinforced for the common handling of the various problems and especially the negative consequences for modern man and peoples of the earth from globalisation and the so called New Era," the Archbishop notes in his letters.
Archbishop Christodoulos also sent similar letters to the heads of state of the two countries.
 Finmin gives parl't stability planFinance Minister George Alogoskoufis on Thursday gave parliament the country's updated growth and stability plan for 2006 -2009.
Speaking on the house's last day of debate on the 2007 budget before a midnight vote, the minister said the plan contained minor improvements.
The plan demonstrated progress made in the economy, including reduction of the fiscal deficit, high rates of growth, lower unemployment, and an improvement in competitiveness, he added.
 Gov't welcomes inflation declineEmployment and Social Protection Minister Savvas Tsitouridis said on Thursday that employment had declined by three percentage points since 2004 when the ruling New Democracy party took office.
"The results of our policy have refuted the Cassandras who forecast that after the Athens 2004 Olympics joblessness would surge," the minister told the final day of a parliamentary debate on the government's 2007 budget.
He cited government statistics that showed the unemployment rate at 8.3% in the third quarter of 2006 from 11.3% in 2004.
 Kefaloyiannis defends port privatisation measures in ParliamentSpeaking in Parliament on the fifth and final day of the debate on the 2007 budget, Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Kefa-loyiannis on Thursday defended government efforts to open selected services in Greece's two major ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, to the private sector.
At the same time, he denied that the plan was a privatisation, pointing out that 75 percent would remain in the state sector.
Justifying the move, Kefaloyiannis pointed out that the payroll accounted for 75% of running costs for the Piraeus Port Organisation.
"There was a risk that, at the end of our four-year term, we would hand over a new, bankrupt "Olympic Airways", where 100% of the costs would be the payroll," he added.
He also claimed that there were distortions and excesses in the present system, with a few privileged employees earning up to 12,000 euros a month, or the payment of 2.5 million euros in overtime to 70 individuals for the maintenance of 12 vessels that were not currently sea-worthy.
 State natgas firm to get more businessPublic Gas Corporation (DEPA) is to boost its business in coming years due to projects for natural gas pipelines joining Greece with Turkey and Italy, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said on Thursday.
Also contributing will be an extension of natural gas supplies to another 13 prefectures, the minister told reporters during a visit to a liquified gas station in Revythousa, an islet in the Saronic Gulf.
"In the years to come, DEPA will be excavating in the whole of Greece, from the Peloponnese to Epirus and Thrace," Sioufas noted.
He added that the Revythousa plant, which is currently being upgraded, would become one of the largest and most modern liquified natural gas plants in the Mediterranean and southeastern Europe.
"This is the largest energy investment in Greece at this time that will top 48 million euros," he said.
 Government welcomes arbitration court decision for OAThe government on Thursday said it was absolutely satisfied with the decision of an arbitration court, which ordered the Greek state to pay Olympic Airlines 564 million euros in compensation for its premature eviction from the old Elliniko airport and the move to the airport at Spata.
Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis said the decision was a "happy coincidence" that created new possibilities and prospects for OA, since the government now had very strong arguments for offsetting the court-awarded compensation against the money that the European Commission has ordered OA to pay back to the Greek State as illegal state subsidies.
He said that the airline would continue to fly without problems, with the agreement of its staff.
The European Commission in Brussels, meanwhile, said it would await clarifications from Greek authorities regarding the court's decision before the Commission presented its conclusions.
A spokesman for European Commissioner Jacques Barrot stressed that the decision did not put into question Greece's obligation to recover the funds illegal given to OA without delay.
 Redundancy support at fertilizer plantAlternative forms of redundancy support will be found for workers at Phosphoric Fertilizers Industry in Thessaloniki under a legal amendment formulated by the ministers of finance and employment.
The workers are to lose their jobs under a revitalisation plan for the ailing company.
The amendment, which is destined for parliament in the near future, aims to help staff who fail to meet requirements for a full pension due to redundancy.
On offer will be self-employment schemes, new jobs, retraining, regular unemployment subsidies and a special jobless allowance.
 Aktor, Athena build waste plant in RomaniaA consortium comprising Aktor SA and Athena SA signed an 83.5 million euro contract for construction of a wastewater treatment plant in Bucharest, Romania after winning an international tender for the project.
The construction deadline in the state project is three years, the consortium said in a statement on Thursday.
 Athens Bourse Close: Stocks riseThe Athens share index closed at 4,395.43 points, showing a rise of 0.31%. Turnover was 451.4 million euros, including 195.8 million euros in block trades.
The FTSE/ASE-20 index for high capitalisation shares ended 0.29% up; the FTSE/ASE-40 for medium cap stocks 0.35% lower; and the FTSE/ASE-80 for small cap shares finished 0.93% down.
Of stocks traded, declines led advances at 168 to 85 with 56 remaining unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.61%
Personal & Household: -0.31%
Raw Materials: -0.70%
Travel & Leisure: +2.68%
Food & Beverages: +0.45%
Financial Services: -0.37%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Alpha Bank, Commercial Bank, OTE and OPAP.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 23.30
Public Power Corp (PPC): 19.54
HBC Coca Cola: 30.00
Hellenic Petroleum: 10.28
Emporiki Bank: 23.58
National Bank of Greece: 34.60
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 27.20
Titan Cement Company: 40.86
Derivatives Market Close: National Bank top in stock futures trade
Equity Index Futures:
Total derivatives market turnover: 86.2 million euros
Bond Market Close: 10-yr benchmark at 4.14 pct
Foreign Exchange Rates
Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.328
Pound sterling 0.676
Danish kroner 7.514
Swedish kroner 9.037
Japanese yen 157.1
Swiss franc 1.616
Norwegian kroner 8.198
Cyprus pound 0.582
Canadian dollar 1.527
Australian dollar 1.691
 Strong earth tremor registered off Skopelos islandA strong earth tremor measuring 5.4 points on the Richter scale occured at 20:30 on Thursday, with epicentre the sea region, 20 kilometres north of the island of Skopelos.
According to the Geophysics Laboratory of Thessaloniki University, earthquakes have also occured in the specific region in the past, while seismologists are observing the development of the phenomenon.
The tremor was felt in Volos, Sporades, Evia, but also in Thessaloniki.
 Mass exodus for Christmas period has begunThe greatest exodus in past years for the Christmas period began on Thursday.
Thousands of excursionists are abandoning the big cities, taking advantage of the festive holidays.
Most of them are travelling to the provinces and abroad. More than 250,000 Greeks will spend Christmas in European capitals, in tourism destinations and exotic islands.
There will be an increase in movement in the coming days at the country's airports, as many will pass the festivities abroad and at tourism places domestically.
At Athens' "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport, from December 22-28 there will be more than 300 extra flights and another equal number is estimated to be made during the New Year period."
However, those who enjoy winter sports and are planning to have a white Christmas in one of the ski centres of Europe and Greece will most probably be disappointed, as the lack of snow is unprecedented for this period.
From Friday, traffic police are expected to take extraorinary measures in the national highways so as to facilitate the exodus of the excursionists.
 Culture Minister visits "Ark of the World" in KolonosCulture Minister George Voulgarakis on Thursday visited the "Ark of World" children's shelter set up in the run-down Athens district of Kolonos by 35-year-old Father Antonios, an Orthodox priest that for the last 10 years has been providing support and assistance to the children of immigrants and one-parent families.
The nearly 200 children at the 'Ark', whose families mostly originate from Asia and Africa, are offered three meals a day, taught Greek and prepared for Greek school before they return home at night.
Assisted by a group of volunteers that include teachers, paediatricians, psychiatrists, cooks and many ordinary people, the 'Ark of the World' and Father Antonios try to offer the children necessities but, as he stresses, "without institutionalising them".
The 'Ark' was singled out in 2004 by a European Observatory as the best example of action against racism and xenophobia, given that Father Antonios accepts all children regardless of religion.
During his visit, the minister handed out gifts to the children, tickets for performances at the National Theatre, National Opera and the Porta Theatre and a symbolic sum of money to cover the needs of the 'Ark'.
He also heard a request by Father Antonios seeking the ministry's support for a fund-raising concert, whose proceeds will be added to sum collected by an ERT Telethon in order to build a suitable building for the 'Ark', which is currently housed in a former coffee shop in Kolonos.
 Transport Minister Liapis inaugurates UNICEF's Christmas eventsOn the occasion of the 60th anniversary of UNICEF's activities in Greece, Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis on Thursday inaugurated the big Christmas Bazaar and a photographic exhibition at Athens' Syntagma Metro station.
The Christmas events of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which are organised under the auspices of the transport ministry, will last until December 24, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
 'Clay and Colour' exhibition at Byzantine and Christian MuseumAn exhibition entitled "Clay and Colour" opened its doors at the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens on Thursday.
The exhibition displays clay, china and porcelain objects obtained from the I and D Passa Foundation in the form of a 20-year loan, during which the museum must store, preserve and exhibit the various items that once decorated palaces and noble residences in Europe and Byzantium.
They include 75 valuable pieces of Delft, Sevres and Meissen porcelain of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and 147 ceramic decorations of the Byzantine era.
 New SAE president sends holiday message to Greeks abroadThe recently-elected new president of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), Stefanos Tamvakis, on Thursday noted that a "new page" was opening for the SAE regarding the goal of realising its vision for Greeks throughout the world, in a message for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
"Let us all join hands to strengthen the role of the Communities, Federations and all the other organisations that existed before the SAE and are now called to go with it as a force that is Greek and thriving," he said.
 Pensions paid with counterfeit banknotesTwo Hellenic Post, ELTA, employees have been accused of putting into circulation a total of 40,000 euros in counterfeit 200-euro banknotes, which they distributed among pensioners in Lamia.
One of the accused, a Hellenic Post cashier removed a total of 40,000 euros from his cash desk and replaced them with counterfeit banknotes. Another employee later distributed the counterfeit money to mailmen in order to pay pensions.
A total of 80 pensioners in the region of Domokos, central Greece, were paid with the counterfeit banknotes.
Police has located 200 of them, 91 of which were in the possession of pensioners, while 109 were found in the ELTA central offices safe in Domokos.
 Under-35's account for most e-purchases in Greece, survey findsPeople aged 16-34 accounted for 61 pct of all purchases made over the Internet, according to a survey released on Thursday by Greece's National Statistics Service (NSS). Of these, 61.5 pct were high school or tertiary education graduates and 55 pct were wage earners.
The low penetration of e-shopping in the general population was attributed mainly to consumer habits (58 pct), insecurity about providing personal information over the Internet (44.9 pct) and no necessity to make electronic purchases (35.6 pct).
The products bought over the Internet were mainly books, magazines, newspapers, eletronic training material and computer software.
Complaints over purchases made in the last 12 months were quite low at just 4.8 pct, with the main problems quoted was lengthy delivery time (47.6 pct), difficult or unsatisfactory response to complaints and demands for compensation (25.4 pct) and difficulty in finding information regarding product warrantees.
The survey was carried out between April 2005 and March 2006.
 Iakovos Yosakis to be released on bailFormer Archimandrite Iakovos Yosakis, one of the defendants in the judicial corruption scandal case, will be released from jail by order of the Council of Appellate Judges.
According to the council ruling issued after accepting a release request filed by Yosakis, he will be free on a 30,000-euro bail, while he is not be allowed to leave the country and will have to appear to a police station twice a month.
 Prosecutor orders the release of three Mount Athos monksA prosecutor on Thursday ordered the release of the three monks arrested in connection with the scuffles recorded on Wednesday at the Holy Monastery of Esfigmenos' quarters in Karyes, Mount Athos, occupied for the past few months by a small group of "rebel" monks not recognized by the Holy Community.
According to police in Karyes, the situation has now returned to normal.
The clashes erupted when monks attempting to visit the monastery's Karyes' quarters were met with a fierce attack by "rebel" monks armed with iron bars and fire extinguishers. Four monks were taken to hospital suffering from head injuries as a result of the fracas.
 Light snow in northern GreeceLight snowfall is being recorded since Thursday morning in the mountainous regions of northern Greece. Rain falls in Thessaloniki and the surrounding regions and temperatures are low.
Cars moving on the Florina-Kastoria provincial road, via Vitsi, have to use snow chains from the 20th to the 30th kilometer, while no problems are being recorded on the rest national and provincial road network.
In Kozani, Florina and the rest urban centers in northwest Greece temperature is between 2C and 5C, while snowfall is being recorded in the region's mountain villages and ski centers.
 Group claims responsibility for arson attacks in AtticaThe "Revolutionary Liberating Action" group on Thursday claimed responsibility for three arsonist attacks using gas canisters that took place in Attica in the early hours of that morning.
They included a fire set in the Evangelismos Metro parking garage at 1:45 that damaged two vehicles, simultaneous explosions at 2:40 at the New Democracy offices in Melissia and a car belonging to the Korean Embassy parked outside an embassy employees home in Halandri, and an explosion at 2:50 under the car of an Albanian national parked outside the bank in Agios Panteleimonas.
 Weather Forecast: Temperatures down on FridayColder weather is forecast in all parts of the country. Gale force northerly winds in the Aegean. Temperatures in Athens from 5C to 10C; and in Thessaloniki between 2C and 6C. Morning showers or sleet in Attica, mainly in the north and east.
 Greek press reviewThe 11-year-old hooded troublemaker who took part in clashes on the anarchists' side, the Arbitration Court decision on the OA compensation by the state, ELAS (Greek Police) being outfitted with motorbikes, the Greeks opting for Christmas holidays abroad, the Council of Europe report on the treatment of people in custody during their arrest and detention and the accusations launched by Metropolitan Bishop Theoklitos of Ioannina against Archbishop Christodoulos were the main front-page items in Thursday's dailies.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Here are the supporters of terrorists and hooded troublemakers - Evidence made public".
ANO KATO: "(Prime Minister) Karamanlis straightens things out - The prime minister's messages in parliament this evening will be directed at a number of recipients".
APOGEVMATINI: "Kiss of life to Olympic Airlines - Transportation Minister Michalis Liapis briefed the prime minister".
AVGHI: "The people criticize the backing provided by Karamanlis - The attack by (Public Order Minister) Polydoras is met with overwhelming condemnation".
AVRIANI: "Top secret documents uncovering those responsible for the Sofokleous (Athens Stock Exchange) looting were stolen".
CHORA: "The government ministers who are calling for early elections either in June or October".
ELEFTHEROS: "Thousands of new jobs through the OAED (Greek Manpower Employment Organization) programmes - The elderly, women and sensitive groups to benefit first".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Conscientious arsonist - The unbelievable story of the 11-year-old from Thessaloniki - The role of the family, school and society".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Torturers in the detention cells - The Council of Europe issues condemning report on Greece".
ESTIA: "The green myth on taxation - An allegedly fairer distribution of taxes".
ETHNOS: "Christodoulos gets an earful - Theoklitos lashes out, accusing him of uncontrolled ambition and more than enough self-complacency".
KATHIMERINI: "Court decision serves as life vest for Olympic Airlines - The state to pay a 585.8-million-euro compensation".
LOGOS: "A breather for Olympic Airlines - It won an arbitration case against the state".
NIKI: "The 11-year-old becomes a prey - The TV channels follow in Polydoras' steps - Karamanlis to be faced with his share of responsibility for the government minister's delirium".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Civil action is outlawed - Unprecedented announcement by the ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) management".
TA NEA: "They will use motorbikes to chase robbers - Polydoras' secret weapon".
TO VIMA: "From Vitina to Vienna - The great Christmas exodus".
VRADYNI: "Four measures against unemployment - Thousands of new job positions are being created".
 Papadopoulos:EU 25 to open or close Turkey's negotiating chaptersNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said on Thursday that Wednesday's decision by the permanent representatives of EU members to open the chapter Enterprise and Industrial Policy in Turkey's accession negotiations is in accordance with the conclusions of the European Council.
At the same time, he stressed that every member state, at an Intergovernmental level, maintains the right to allow or block the opening of negotiating chapters, based on the acquis commu-nautaire and the criteria set out for candidate states.
Speaking during a tour of National Guard posts, President Papadopoulos said the Republic of Cyprus will examine every chapter in the accession negotiations on the basis of circumstances at the time and Turkey's positions, the contents of the chapter and the way it is promoted.
President Papadopoulos said that the eight chapters which the European Council had decided to freeze for the time being are interconnected.
"Every chapter will be examined according to existing circumstances, depending on Turkey's attitude towards Cyprus and the contents of the chapter," the Cypriot president said.
The president dismissed press suggestions that there was an effort on Wednesday to exert pressure on Cyprus.
He said that some countries believe that the sanctions imposed by the EU on Turkey for failing to comply with the provisions of the additional protocol to the Ankara agreement are sufficiently serious.
Others, he noted, believe that they are light and therefore all remaining chapters should open without any problem.
''Cyprus contests the inalienable right of member states to decide for each separate chapter, based on the criteria of the acquis communautaire," he stressed.
Asked if there are developments concerning a bridge built by the Turkish occupation regime at the end of Ledra Street, in the divided capital Nicosia, the president said he was not aware of anything new, adding that the government position on the matter is known to the UN and the Turkish Cypriots.
''If the bridge does not come down, we are not going to discuss the matter further,'' he said, noting that no crossing point will open at the commercial Ledra street, until the bridge and all the symbols which have been erected there are removed.
Cyprus, an EU country, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the islandÔs northern third.