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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 11-08-03
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Wednesday, 3 August 2011 Issue No: 3854
 OECD's Gurria: 'Vote of confidence' in Greek economyOrganisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) secretary general Angel Gurria on Tuesday gave a vote of confidence to the Greek economy and an economic program currently implemented to deal with Greece's excessive public debt.
Presenting the organization's report on Greece, Gurria said "I am here to give a vote of confidence to Greece, to Greek citizens, to the Greek economy and the government," adding that "the Greek program will succeed, but reforms must continue".
The Paris-based Organization, in its report, forecasts that Greece will return to growth in 2012, while Gurria stressed "there is life after debt".
"We see the first evidence of macro-economic adjustment, exports are improving along with competitiveness," he said.
Gurria urged an effective battle against tax evasion and acceleration of reforms in the labour market. "Efforts must continue on reducing deficits, improving tax collection mechanisms and combating tax evasion," he said.
Gurria said the Greek government privatization program was ambitious and noted it was linked with growth and that combined with economic reforms, it could contain the country's debt to below 60 pct of GDP by 2035.
"The effort you are making is making sense. It is feasible to succeed and we are here to help you succeed to stop this uncertainty and negative climate created by the crisis," the OECD's chief said.
Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the message sent by Gurria towards markets and the world was simple and clear: "Yes, Greece can", adding that Greece must not only succeed in having a sustainable public debt, but also the state and the society. Commenting on European help to boost economic growth in the country, Venizelos said "a European Marshall Plan for Greece has already begun".
He reiterated that the domestic banking system was stable and stressed that there are guarantees of the liquidity and capital adequacy of banks, even of the smallest ones.
Development, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis said that "at last, the Greek economy has begun producing good news and that's the basic thing we must hold on to in OECD report".
 EU problems wider than Greek debt crisis, Greek FM tells BBC's HARDtalkLONDON (ANA-MPA - L. Tsirigotakis)
The problems of Europe and the Eurozone were wider than the debt crisis in Greece, as reflected by the Eurozone leaders' decision for a permanent financial assistance mechanism, Greece's Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis stressed in an interview broadcast by the BBC programme HARDtalk on Tuesday.
"Scape-goating Greece is not the answer," he told HARDtalk's Tim Franks, while insisting that the Greek government and Greek people had demonstrated both the necessary political will and a readiness to make sacrifices in order to bring about essential changes and reforms.
He highlighted the need for tax reforms in Greece, noting that the revised tax system paid more attention to assets than declared income in a bid to combat tax evasion. He especially highlighted the need for a change in tax culture, reporting a small "cultural revolution" in Greek attitudes to paying taxes and action to usher in a much fairer tax system.
Lambrinidis conceded that Greece was unique in that it had "an explosive combination of debt and deficit" but insisted that Europe had structural problems that ran deeper, as shown by recent attacks on the credit ratings of large European economies like Italy.
Lambrinidis noted that until now, Greeks had been called to make sacrifices and European tax-payers to put up money that seemed to be going nowhere because the debt problem was not a purely Greek problem but a European problem that required a European solution in order to be stabilised.
The Eurozone's new bailout package of 150 billion euro for Greece would give the necessary stability for Greece to carry out tough reforms without pressure from markets or anyone else, he added, noting that the recent decisions of the Eurozone summit had begun to address Europe's problems effectively.
The minister underlined that Greece's goal now was to convert the deficits that increased debt to primary surpluses in the next two years, noting that the government had succeeded in reducing the deficit by 5 percentage points in 2010 alone, a feat unprecedented by any European economy.
 PM to chair inner cabinet meeting on unemploymentPrime Minister George Papandreou will chair an inner cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting will focus on tackling the probem of unemployment and on changes in implementing programmes for the training of unemployed persons.
 Samaras accuses gov't of incompetence in managing NSRF projectsMain opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on the government, accusing it of oligory and incompetence in managing the projects funded under the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF).
Samaras said that he has in vain been trying, for the past 20 months, to convince the government to move ahead with the NSRF projects, while he also accused the government of immobilizing the mechanisms, instead of activating them, and for having 'forgotten' for many months to even designate the relevant secretary general.
"In a difficult period for the economy, a sum of 18 billion euros remains provocatively inactive," Samaras said, accusing the government of preferring to cut salaries and pensions and leaving unexploited a real opportunity for jump-starting the Greek economy.
He said that it had been necessary for the EU partners to point this out to the government for it to finally mobilise, and noted that immense loss has resulted from that delay.
Calling on the premier to take a stance and assume his responsibilities, Samaras questioned who is to blame for this "provocative indifference", and: "Who will give account, Mr. Papandreou. No one?"
 Development ministry counters ND criticism citing OECD report on NSRF absorption ratesReplying to criticism from main opposition New Democracy on Tuesday concerning absorption of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funds, the development, competitiveness and shipping ministry said the main opposition party was suffering from "confusion".
It replied to ND's accusations of "negligence and ineptitude" by citing the annual Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on Greece published earlier the same day that "welcomed recent achievements in the direction of a faster absorption of EU structural funds".
"It is unfortunate but it seems that there is confusion within ND, perhaps because the disaster scenarios on which they have largely supported their opposition tactics are failing to be verified," the ministry countered.
The OECD report urged Greece to continue the good work that helped lift organisational and other obstacles to the absorption of Community funds.
 ND on the tourism minister's comments"The government has proved that it does not really want a consensus and that its interest in tourism, the country's biggest industry, is non existent," main opposition New Democracy (ND) party spokesman Yiannis Mihelakis stressed on Tuesday.
He made the comments in response to statements by Tourism and Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos after a proposal by ND leader Antonis Samaras suggesting the establishment of a "national contract for tourism".
"Using insults and lies, the government rejects specific proposals tabled by ND in support of the tourism sector," he said, adding that the proposals in question have the backing of the Federation of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE).
In an announcement, Geroulanos had accused Samaras of making the proposals in an attempt to mend his party's image in the wake of society's outcry after ND had incited the taxi owners's protests, without considering the cost to tourism or the country's image abroad.
 KKE on the European Commission's decisions on ESPAEuropean Commission's new proposals that lowered national participation in the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) programmes were characterized by opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) as "additional measures that support business groups and accelerate anti-popular labour market restructuring".
A statement issued by the KKE Central Committee on Tuesday underlined that the new proposals are placed within the framework of the efforts aimed at implementing a new attack on the workers and the peoples of the EU as dictated by the "agreement on the euro".
 LAOS tables question in parliament on 'new Marshall-type plan for Greece'Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis on Tuesday tabled a current question in parliament addressed to the prime minister on the "new Marshall-type plan for Greece which mainly concerns the disbursement of NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework, or ESPA) funds".
Karatzaferis asks prime minister George Papandreou what the latter's government intends to do to substantially cut down on bureaucracy and to create a more attractive environment for prospective Greek and foreign investors.
He also asks when the process of disbursement of NSRF funds will begin, and towards what areas those funds will be channeled.
 Justice minister lashes out at taxi owners opting for extreme forms of mobilizationsJustice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou on Tuesday lashed out at striking taxi owners who resort to "extreme forms of violence".
Speaking to an Athens private radio station, Papaioannou stressed that "in essence, certain individuals wish to disrupt the country's democratic development; the stabilization of the economy. They are criminals to say the least."
He accused the taxi owners' representatives of not responding to the invitation for dialogue made by the prime minister and added that "they did not show consideration for Greece's tourism. Most of all, they did not respect the country's image. The picture of Greece sent abroad is not doing justice to the country. The picture created by certain taxi owners is not reflective of Greece."
The justice minister stressed that the increased use of violence tends to become an "endemic phenomenon", adding that "society cannot tolerate such situations".
"Aside from cancelling out important things, like the country's economy, it undermines democratic function and the democratic institutions. They should realize that this country has a Constitution and laws which we have to respect," he stressed.
"Such issues need to be prevented, they call for ideological and political handling and they should be met with unreserved condemnation. A government decision might not be the best but this cannot justify the phenomena we are experiencing," he concluded.
 "Hood-wearing individuals will not be allowed on the internet," justice minister saysA legal framework for crimes committed on the internet will be promoted by the ministry of justice starting with the identification of blog providers, it was announced on Tuesday.
Briefing the parliamentary Special Permanent Committee on Institutions and Transparency, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou warned that "the internet will cease to be the host 'hood-wearing' individuals".
"Electronic crime should be combated without undermining the freedom of speech and opinion," the justice minister stressed and told MPs that a law preparatory committee will be set up immediately chaired by Council of State vice-president Athanassios Rantos. The committee will focus on the identification of blog providers and internet service users and on expanding the list of crimes for the investigation of which disclosure of confidential communication is allowed.
The committee proposals should be presented by the end of September.
 Minister renews cooperation agreement between Security Studies Centre, U.S. collegeA memorandum of cooperation between John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University in New York and the Centre for Security Studies (KEMEA) in Greece was renewed on Tuesday, with the signatures of Greek Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis and John Jay College President Jeremy Travis.
The memorandum extends cooperation between KEMEA and John Jay College that began in 2007, focusing on issues linked to cross-border threats. It calls for the joint organisation of laboratories, simulation exercises, seminars and conferences, including an international conference on security in Athens in 2014 and two seminars on "Migration and Security".
Also under the agreement, two police officers and two firemen are to receive additional training in the United States.
"This concersn the renewal of an extremely successful cooperation," Papoutsis said afterward, stressing that security went beyond national borders and could not be achieved without adequate knowledge of the international environment and international cooperation in all areas.
"Without excellent knowledge of scientific and technological developments, threats such as terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking and electronic crime that have become international will constitute a global threat," the minister underlined.
 Thousands falsely claiming disability pensions, cross-checking revealsA total of 20,000 pensions being claimed by people who are ineligible - and costing state insurance funds an estimated 120 million euro - have been traced as a result of crosschecking, Labour Minister George Koutroumanis said on Tuesday.
Speaking to a private television station in Athens, Koutroumanis also added that "as a result of the inspections conducted, there are many who now conform and declare the deaths of pension recipients instead of unlawfully collecting the money".
Koutroumanis revealed that by the end of the year IKA, Greece's largest state insurance fund, will need an additional 800 million euro. Of these, 600 million have been included in the state budget, while the remaining 200 million euro will arise by cutting expenditures.
He underlined that for years, many businesses were not paying contributions to social insurance funds and that notices have been posted for debts of over 1 million euros to be followed soon by notices for debts of over 500,000 euros.
Meanwhile, Deputy Health and Social Solidarity Minister Markos Bolaris stated that recipients of a benefit for the visually impaired will be re-examined to ensure that they are still eligible, after inspections revealed that an excessive percentage of the population were receiving the benefit on the Ionian island of Zakynthos.
The benefit is currently paid to 625 people on the island, corresponding to 2 pct of the prefecture's entire population. The findings will be forwarded to the responsible prosecutor to investigate possible criminal liability of those involved.
Similar inspections will be conducted in other regions where such phenomena occur, according to a statement issued by the ministry of health.
 Attica Bank examines partnership with Proton BankAttica Bank on Tuesday announced its intention to examine a partnership with Proton Bank, as part of a strategy to forge a larger-scale bank. Attica Bank, in a statement, said it was examining the possibility of a partnership with Proton Bank because of the synergies resulting from such a deal and the need to boost its size, a necessary tool for the development of the group particularly within current conditions.
 Eurobank Properties returned to profitability in H1Eurobank Properties on Tuesday reported net profits of 8.2 million euro in the first half this year, after losses of 3.31 million euro in the same period in 2010. The company attributed this significant improvement to lower losses from a re-evaluation of its investments reflecting a stabilization of prices in foreign markets, lower income taxes and improving operating profitability.
Operating earnings rose to 21.094 million euro in the January-June period, from 20.617 million euro in 2010. Cash reserves totaled 144 million euro, while debt loan totaled 88 million euro. The company's internal value NAV fell to 11.24 euros per share, from 11.49 euros in December, 31 2010.
 ADEDY calls for wave of strikes over state agency mergers, abolitionsThe civil servants' union federation ADEDY on Tuesday urged its members to react to a series of state agency abolitions and mergers announced by the government with escalating strike action between the August 15 holiday and a rally planned on September 10 at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). They call on federations and unions to commit to a plan of labour mobilisations that includes 24-hour, 48-hour and long-term strikes and protests.
ADEDY is also discussing new forms of protests, such as sit-ins at workplaces, refusing specific duties and especially those that involve collecting fees and charges from the public for the use of services, neighbourhood information campaigns and others.
Meanwhile, at a press conference held by the POSPERT staff union at the state broadcasting organisation ERT and those of another 11 state agencies faced with mergers and outright closure, unions announced a rally outside Parliament at noon on Thursday to protest against the proposed draft bill and also announced plans for labour mobilisations.
Workers at Hellenic Defence Systems are continuing 24-hour rolling strikes began on July 27 and have also occupied the management's offices in protest against the company's privatisation.
 Business Briefs-- Titan Cement Group on Tuesday reported a 65.7 pct decline in its net after tax provisions and minorities earnings to 23.4 million euros in the first half of 2011, compared with the same period last year. The Group said turnover totaled 557 million euros, down 18.2 pct compared with 2010, while EBITDA fell 12.4 pct to 141.4 million euros.
 Greek stocks end sharply lowerGreek stocks ended sharply lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday, pushing the composite index of the market to new 2011 lows, amid a negative climate in other European markets. The index dropped 3.25 pct to end at 1,144.29 points, with turnover remaining a low 50.874 million euros.
The Big Cap index fell 3.37 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 3.57 pct lower and the Small Cap index fell 2.98 pct. Titan (1.94 pct) and Viohalco (1.20 pct) were the only blue chip stocks to end higher, while Piraeus (7.87 pct), Ellaktor (7.46 pct), MIG (6.67 pct), PPC (4.76 pct) and Hellenic Postbank (4.13 pct) suffered losses.
All sectors moved lower, with the Financial Services (5.59 pct), Health (4.64 pct) and Utilities (4.36 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 117 to 30 with another 30 remaining unchanged. Druckfarben (9.38 pct), Nexans (8.93 pct) and Eurobrokers (8.0 pct) were top gainers, while Maillis (12.5 pct), Proton Bank (10.64 pct) and Shelman (10 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -3.29%
Personal & Household: -0.48%
Raw Materials: -3.81%
Travel & Leisure: -3.53%
Food & Beverages: -3.89%
Financial Services: .-5.59%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP, Alpha Bank and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 2.95
Public Power Corp (PPC): 8.00
HBC Coca Cola: 17.00
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.23
National Bank of Greece: 4.43
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 2.54
Bank of Piraeus: 0.82
 ADEX closing reportThe September contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.52 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Tuesday, with turnover improving slightly to 27.055 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 8,500 contracts worth 21.565 million euros, with 30,350 short positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 15,322 contracts worth 5.490 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (5,318), followed by Eurobank (1,789), OTE (764), PPC (608), Piraeus Bank (671), Alpha Bank (1,191), Mytilineos (650), Cyprus Bank (452), Hellenic Postbank (239), ATEbank (936) and MIG (986).
 Foreign Exchange rates - WednesdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.438
Pound sterling 0.884
Danish kroner 7.560
Swedish kroner 9.148
Japanese yen 111.25
Swiss franc 1.121
Norwegian kroner 7.760
Canadian dollar 1.382
Australian dollar 1.327
 Plaka, the 'Neighborhood of the Gods', where past and present remain vibrantPlaka, the "Neighborhood of the Gods" situated beneath the northeastern slope of the Acropolis, is perhaps the most representative place in Athens where not only old meets new, but where antiquity remains as vibrant as the present.
Athens' oldest historical neighborhood, developed mostly around the ruins of the Ancient Agora in an area that has been continuously inhabited since antiquity, Plaka is built atop the residential areas of the ancient town of Athens, and its narrow labyrinthine streets are lined with neoclassical buildings.
It is known as the "Neighborhood of the Gods" due to its proximity to the Acropolis and plethora of archaeological sites, but the area is also dotted with little churches, most of them built in the 11th century with impressive hagiographies, where services continue to be held, and a number of museums.
During the Ottoman rule of Greece, Plaka was the seat of the Turkish 'voevode' (governor). In the 1821 Greek War of Independence, Plaka, like the rest of Athens, was temporarily abandoned by its inhabitants due to the heavy battles that took place, mostly in 1826, but was later repopulated. A massive fire in 1884 burned down a large section of the neighborhood, and archaeologists conducted excavations in the Roman Market and Hadrian's library, with excavations continuing since the 19th century.
Indeed, excavations have proven that Plaka's main Adrianou Street is the oldest street in Athens that is still in continuous use with precisely the same layout since antiquity.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists swarm to Plaka all-year-round. The aura of the old neighborhood remains unchanged, as Plaka is under strict zoning and conservation regulations. It is the only neighborhood in Athens where utilities (water, electricity, cable TV, telephone, internet and sewage) lie underground in fully accessible, custom-made tunneling, while motor vehicles are totally banned.
 Striking taxi owners in Patras give cruiseship arrivals free sightseeing tourStriking taxi owners in the western port city of Patras on Tuesday decided to break from the blockades of ports and airports staged by colleagues around the country for the past four weeks and decided to take tourists on free sightseeing tours themselves.
Tens of taxis went to the new Patras port on Tuesday and awaited the arrival of a cruiseship from Cyprus.
They informed the disembarking passengers of their ongoing strike and other mobilisations and gave the travelers free rides to Patras and a tour of the city's sites.
The cab owners said that this was their way of helping the tourism sector, a major contributor to the Greek economy and currently in peak season, which has been hard-hit by the economic crisis and recession, but also the taxi strike.
 Rescue operation launched for 13 migrants adrift off CorfuGreek authorities at 15:30 launched a major operation to rescue a group of 13 illegal migrants, possibly of Afghan origin, sailing adrift in the sea at a distance 25 nautical miles west of the Ionian island of Corfu.
The migrants were spotted by an Italian fisherman that informed the Italian coast guard. Italian authorities alerted the Greek coast guard that launched a search-and-rescue operation using a Bell helicopter that has already picked up four of the migrants and a Super Puma helicopter.
Due to rough weather in the northern Ionian, coast guard vessels were unable to reach the spot where the migrants were adrift but surrounding ships have been alerted to provide assistance if necessary.
 Man drowns, another missing after fishing boat overturnsA 49-year-old man was found drowned off the coast of Sitia, Crete island, and a 51-year-old man is missing when their fishing boat overturned and sank. A third man, aged 27, was found alive and was picked up by a tug boat, and has been hospitalised.
The three men had gone fishing on Monday when their boat started taking on water and sank, leaving the three men stranded in the sea.
A rescue team rushed to the spot and found the younger man on an islet and the body of the 49 year-old in the sea.
A search and rescue operation is underway to locate the missing man.
 Major wildfire burns through Corfu island; arson suspectedA wildfire that started in no less than 25 separate locations on the Ionian island of Corfu on Tuesday led authorities to declare a state of emergency.
The outbreaks, recorded in the north, west and south of the island, erupted almost simultaneously. Corfu Mayor Yiannis Trepeklis told ANA-MPA that villages are threatened by the flames and spoke about an organised plan of arson.
The fire is just 10 km away from the city of Corfu, burning through forest and farm land and spreading rapidly, fanned by strong winds blowing in the region.
Forty firemen with 20 fire engines and two units of fire-fighters on foot are battling the blaze, assisted by six water-bombing aircraft and two helicopters. More firefighters are expected to arrive on the island soon.
 Wildfire reported on ZakynthosA wildfire was reported on Tuesday in a remote region of forest at Lagadakia on the Ionian island of Zakynthos. The fire began in a ravine and is climbing up a mountainside. Eight firemen with four fire-engines and three water-bombing aircraft are attempting to put out the blaze. Wind speeds are moderate and no inhabited areas are at risk.
 The Tuesday edition of Athens' newspapers at a glanceThe new tax bill to be tabled in October in parliament and the taxi owners mobilisations, mostly dominated the headlines on Tuesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Greece in state of 'yellow' emergency".
AVGHI: "Taxation in favour of the wealthy".
AVRIANI: "Full speed ahead for restructure of state debt in 2013".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Storm of taxes on real estate properties".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Finance Ministry proceeded with deposits in PROTON BANK while it was under investigation".
ESTIA: "Society 'self-destructing'."
ETHNOS: "Promotions for career soldiers".
IMERISSIA: "Double injection for liquidity".
KATHIMERINI: "879 million euros additional inflow from Community funds in context of co-funded projects".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Changes in tax legislation from point zero".
RIZOSPASTIS: "New memoranda on the horizon at the people's expense".
TA NEA: "Taxis head-on collision without brakes".
VRADYNI: "Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras' five proposals for tourism sector".
 Leaders continue discussion on governance and power-sharingNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu continued Tuesday their talks on the issue of governance and power-sharing in the context of the intensified phase of UN-led direct talks to solve the Cyprus problem.
Speaking after the meeting that lasted almost five and a half hours, UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on Cyprus, Alexander Downer said that the leaders spent a fairly long amount of time on Tuesday focusing on the issue of governance and power-sharing.
"Leaders did discuss governance and power-sharing, and they will be meeting again on Friday (5 August) in a similar format. And we'll take up from where we've left off today and focus on governance and power-sharing", he said.
Downer reiterated that the UN consider that the less is said publicly about what happens in the discussions the more the chance is of having a degree of success in the negotiations.
"These are very difficult negotiations, as we all know. We need to make sure that they are conducted in a way that maximizes the opportunity for reaching agreement. With that in mind we try to keep the contents of the discussion at this stage, during this intensive stage, as confidential as possible; that's a very important component of the process," he said.
He added that the substance is what ultimately matters, but having a good process is an important component of that.
Replying to a question whether Eroglu submitted any new proposals on the issue of governance and power-sharing, Downer said that it's best for the purposes of the exercise not to go into the different proposals that the two sides make.
"I think both sides should be able to talk around issues without any prejudice to their final positions. There's been a good deal of discussion about those sorts of questions today. I think this is a work in progress and it's important it's understood to be a work in progress", he said.
Cyprus was divided when Turkey invaded in 1974. UN led negotiations have been ongoing since 2008 between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, in an effort to reunite the island under a federal roof.
President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu met with UN SG Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, on July 7th, and according to Ban's statement after the meeting, they agreed to enter into an intensive period of negotiations on the core issues of the Cyprus problem, with an aim of achieving convergences before meeting again in New York, next October.
 US supports a solution that would reunify CyprusWASHINGTON (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The United States strongly supports the Cyprus negotiations aiming to reach a settlement reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, a US State Department spokesperson has said.
Invited to comment on statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his recent illegal visit to Cyprus' Turkish occupied areas, Deputy Spokesperson of the US Department of State Mark Toner said that the US position on Cyprus is well-known.
''The United States strongly supports the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General's Good Offices Mission under Alexander Downer to reach a settlement reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation'', he noted.
Furthermore, he recalled that ''as Secretary Clinton reiterated during her recent trip to Turkey, 'the status-quo - in Cyprus - has gone on for too long'''.
The spokesperson added that both Greek Cypriots as well as Turkish Cypriots could benefit from a solution on the island.
''We believe that both sides would benefit from a settlement, and we strongly support the renewed, reenergized efforts that the United Nations is leading and that the Cypriots themselves are responsible for, because ultimately, they're the ones who have to make the hard decisions about how to resolve all of the outstanding issues'', he went on to say.
In his statements Erdogan had questioned the existence of the Republic of Cyprus and warned the EU that its accession negotiations with Ankara would freeze if Cyprus assumes the Union's rotating presidency in July 2012 without a political settlement. He also ruled out the return of the Turkish occupied areas of Morphou and Karpass to the Greek Cypriots in an overall solution.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. UN-led negotiations began in 2008 between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, in an effort to reunify the island under a federal roof.
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