|Sunday, 19 January 2020|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-01-12
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 12 January 2012 Issue No: 3971
 PM receives visiting UAE official, discusses cooperation in energy sectorPrime Minister Lucas Papademos and Deputy Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis on Wednesday held a meeting with United Arab Emirates Special Envoy and Assistant Foreign Minister for energy and climate change issues Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber.
During the meeting, Dr. Al Jaber indicated that the UAE is interested in participating in the planned privatisations of Greek energy sector utilities, as well as the search for oil and natural gas on Greek territory.
The UAE official is currently in Athens to attend a Greek-Arab business forum with the participation of business people and political figures from both countries.
The meeting with the prime minister was also attended by the UAE's ambassador to Athens and the Greek ambassador to Abu Dhabi.
According to diplomatic sources, Dr. Al Jaber asked for a detailed briefing on both privatisations and the search for oil and gas in Greece, with Maniatis supplying information on the privatisation process for Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), the Public Power Corporation (PPC), the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA), as well as the tenders declared for seismic research in the Ionian Sea and the exploratory drilling in the Patras Gulf, Katakolo and Ioannina.
The two sides also examined the prospects for cooperation in tourism and renewable energy sources, an area where UAE is making significant investments that include the Masdar City programme that aims to be a prototype 'green' urban development.
Maniatis was invited to visit the UAE in the near future for further discussion on prospective cooperation in the energy sector.
 Investments, closer ties discussed by FinMin, UAE FMEfforts by Greece and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seek to forge a strategic partnership at the political and economic level were discussed here on Wednesday by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The latter is on an official visit to Athens.
Talks reportedly focused onthe UAE's participation in investment opportunities in the east Mediterranean country through an ongoing privatisation plan.
The meeting also touched on developments in the implementation of decisions taken during the Oct. 26-27 EU Summit.
 President receives United Arab Emirates foreign ministerPresident Papoulias on Wednesday received the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who is in Athens for a Greek-Arab business forum.
During the meeting, Papoulias extended his thanks to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan for the interest he has shown in Greece. The two men also discussed developments in the Middle East and energy issues.
 PM Papademos holds talks with Greek Shipowners Union directorateThe meeting between Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and the directorate of the Greek Shipowners Union (EEE) at the Maximos Mansion was held in a very good climate.
EEE president Theodoros Veniamis said in a statement "the meeting went very well. I cannot prejudge what will happen with the present government, but the prime minister listened to our positions with great sympathy."
Referring to the issue of the reestablishment of the Merchant Marine ministry and its direct linkage with the Harbour Corps, Veniamis said "we want a ministry to have the dominant position, in the global shipping policy that is being shaped," adding that "we are neither making proposals, nor do we have demands. What we want is the reestablishment of the ministry with the Harbour Corps, as it was, for Greece's good."
Lastly, Veniamis said "we are not interested if it functions or does not function purely for the shipping issues only."
 PM Papademos to chair cabinet meeting on ThursdayPrime Minister Lucas Papademos will chair a cabinet meeting at 3 p.m. on Thursday that will deal with issues concerning the duties of the Development, Competitiveness and Shipping ministry.
 Finance ministry Omnibus bill tabled, vote next weekThe finance ministry's omnibus bill on "Urgent Regulations pertaining to the implementation of the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy 2012-2015) was tabled in parliament late Tuesday night, and will be debated and voted on in the parliament plenary next week, after submission for examination to a joint meeting of parliament's Standing Committees on Economic Affairs and on Production and Trade on Thursday.
Debate on the omnibus bill will begin in the 300-member parliament on Tuesday.
The bill, tabled late Tuesday night by government vice president and finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, ties up loose ends in Greece's obligations ahead of a second EU-IMF bailout loan, including the 'opening' of the so-called closed professions (lawyers, notaries public, road transports, etc), the facilitation of the privatisations and more efficient tax audits and checks.
It also contains auspicious arrangements for taxpayers with overdue debts to the state and for businesses with overdue contributions to social security funds. More specifically, the bill provides for the settlement of overdue debts to the state in up to 60 monthly installments of 100 euros or more, in an effort to facilitate taxpayers.
The bill further provides for the utilisation of collection agencies for collection of these debts to the state.
For businesses, an arrangement is introduced for settlement of overdue contributions to the social security funds with a one-off payment or payment in three installments with a 100 percent discount in surcharges (for late payment), a 75 percent discount in surcharges for payment in 4-6 installments, and a 50 percent discount in surcharges for payment in 7-9 installments. Court procedures are further envisaged for overdue contributions to social security funds exceeding 150,000 euros.
Also, the bill provides for the introduction of objective criteria for the determination of the taxable income of professionals during the process of a tax audit, with the turnover, and thus the tax that must be paid, to be determined during the audit based on a series of factors such as the auditee's liquidity, bank deposits, expenses paid in cash, net position, and price and sale ratio to the overall turnover.
 PM, municipalities' union discuss local authority funding issues, problemsPrime Minister Lucas Papademos on Wednesday had a meeting with representatives of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece, attended by Interior Minister Tassos Yiannitsis and Minister of State Pantelis Kapsis, expressing his faith in the ability of local government to respond to the urgent needs created by the current period.
The delegation representing the municipalities included the head of their national union KEDE, Kallithea Mayor Kostas Askounis, representatives of each political party and Athens Mayor George Kaminis.
They were assured that all agreements made with the finance ministry concerning the 2012 budget and money due to municipalities, amounting to 450 million euro, will be fully carried out.
The prime minister urged municipalities to submit proposals for absorbing Community funds, while KEDE representatives said the state should trust local authorities and their ability to quickly and efficiently implement initiatives.
According to Askounis, one of the issues stressed by municipalities were the problems created by bureaucracy, which delayed the implementation of programmes, and time-consuming processes of the Court of Audit that delayed the issue of rulings.
 FM Dimas holds talks with Israeli DM Ehud BarakForeign Minister Stavros Dimas held a meeting at the Foreign ministry on Wednesday with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, lasting for over 40 minutes, in the framework of the Israeli official's visit to Greece.
Greek-Israeli relations in their entirety and developments in the wider region were examined during the meeting, as well as the economc crisis in Greece and Europe. The possibilities of further cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector and the transfer of energy to Europe were also discussed.
The meeting's agenda included Syria, Iran and the Arab Spring.
Barak also expressed his appreciation for Greece's contribution to the extinguishing of the fires that took place in Israel last year.
 ND leader meets with Israeli Defence ministerNew Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras met on Wednesday with visiting Israeli Defence Minister and deputy prime minister Ehud Barak.
No statements were made after the meeting, but according to sources the two officials discussed all the bilateral issues as well as issues concerning the wider region.
Samaras had met with Barak during his visit to Israel last December and their meetings focused on energy and cooperation in defence as well as issues concerning the tourism sector.
The ND leader met later on Wednesday with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan who is currently visiting Greece.
 PASOK spokesman on possible Papandreou bid for re-election as party leader"Nobody can forbid PASOK party president George Papandreou from again standing as a candidate for the party's presidency," PASOK spokesman Panos Beglitis said on Wednesday, speaking to a private radio station.
The ex-minister also said political infighting in the previously ruling party is a dead-end. "Mr. Papandreou tabled a specific proposal with the priority being the salvation of the country and unconditional support to Lucas Papademos' government," he said.
 Legislation for private-sector wage cuts an 'undemocratic derailment', Tsipras saysAny legislation for a reduction of private-sector wages would amount to an "undemocratic derailment", Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday. He also claimed that the negotiations underway for the PSI bond swap were little more than "a sham".
"There is no negotiation between Greece, the prime minister, the government and its creditors and partners. Everyone is sitting on the same side of the table," he asserted, adding that the creditors simply announced their decisions and the prime minister was in charge of presenting the harsh, extortionist dilemmas to the Greek people.
He questioned the right of the current government to impose such wage cuts through acts of legislation, as leaked in rumours to the press, pointing out that it was led by a prime minister who did not have the backing of the popular vote.
Tsipras made the statements after meeting the national union federation of tax office staff, where he stressed that a corrupt political system had in past years deliberately chosen to promote and allow tax evasion and tax avoidance to go unchecked and was now trying to place the blame of tax officials.
According to Tsipras, the corrupt tax officials that existed were simply "cogs" in a system whose aim was to preserve an unfair and class-ridden tax system that alone in Europe placed such a high burden on low incomes, while high-income earners were unscathed.
 ADEDY to hold protest against labour reserve measureThe civil servants' union ADEDY on Wednesday called on its member-federations to participate in a protest rally against the labour reserve measure and planned layoffs in the public sector. The demonstration is scheduled to take place on Thursday outside the Parliament building in central Athens.
 Education Minister Diamantopoulou visits research centres in IsraelEducation Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, accompanied by Research and Technology secretary general C. Kokkinoplitis and the members of the National Research and Technology Council Artemis Simopoulou and Ioannis Iliopoulos on Wednesday visited two important research centres of Israel, the Weismann Science Institute and the Agricultural Research Organisation ARO and at the University of Tel Aviv.
The Education ministry announced that "the experience and know-how of these foundations were at the focus of her contacts at all three foundations, for the utilisation of the results from research that is being produced there, with considerable benefit for society and the economy."
 Minister discusses energy issues on CyprusNICOSIA (AMNA/A. Viketos)
The prospects of a natural gas pipeline linking Greece with Cyprus dominate talks here on Wednesday between visiting Greek Energy Minister George Papaconstantinou and his Cypriot counterpart Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou.
Papaconstantinou said Greece is taking major steps in hydrocarbon exploration and expressed optimism that new drillings would be launched by the end of the year.
As regards the issue pipelines, Papaconstantinou pointed out that there is "interest in bilateral cooperation even though the issue of the pipelines is a complex one."
He also referred to the prospects of bilateral cooperation in the power supply, saying both sides agreed that they will examine technical and economic issues concerning the creation of a grid between Cyprus and the island of Crete, with a view towards expanding to mainland Greece.
On her part, the Cypriot minister said the natgas finds recently discovered in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone (EEZ were discussed. She underlined that the issue is of major importance considering that it can contribute to the economic growth and prosperity of both countries, while reinforcing the energy sector in the EU.
Papaconstantinou also met with the Cypriot government advisory committee on natural gas.
 Greece, Cyprus environment ministers discuss cooperation during Cyprus EU presidencyNICOSIA (AMNA - A. Viketos)
Greek Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister George Papaconstantinou on Wednesday held talks with Cyprus' Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Sophocles Aletraris on environmental and sustainable development issues likely to occupy Cyprus' EU president in the second half of 2012.
In statements after the meeting, Aletraris said that the two ministries in Greece and Cyprus will continue to work together, putting together joint working groups. He said that Papaconstantinou had expressed his willingness to support the Cyprus agriculture ministry on these issues, as well as others that may arise during the Cypriot presidency.
He mentioned that a Memorandum of Cooperation signed by Greece and Cyprus allowed advisors on sustainable development issues to be sent from Greek ministries to Cyprus permanent representation in Brussels during Cyprus' EU presidency.
 35 PASOK MPs oppose presidential decree on out-of-zoning construction banThirty-five PASOK MPs have requested the withdrawal of a presidential decree that prescribes an absolute prohibition on building outside urban planning zones, it was announced on Wednesday.
The letter, addressed to the relevant environment minister, underlines that "millions of real estate properties are being downgraded ... owners once again are being trapped and be-fooled by the state ... the construction sector, which is struggling to survive, is being dealt yet another blow".
The MPs also warned that "a new generation of illegally constructed buildings is in the works."
The 35 PASOK deputies called for the withdrawal of the presidential decree and proposed that it be tabled in Parliament in the form of a legislative clause, allowing MPs to express their positions and vote.
 Development Minister: Deficit fell to 9.6 percentDevelopment Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis claimed that the news from the effort to curtail the deficit is 'positive', in his speech on Wednesday at the Greek -United Arab Emirates (UAE) economic forum held in the coastal Athens town of Lagonissi.
Chryssohoidis said that the absorption of the EU funds so far is "beyond our expectations" and has completely met its target foreseen in the Memorandum, adding that this success has contributed to the reduction of the deficit, which now is 9.6 percent, and "this is an accomplishment of the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework)".
 Greece, UAE sign MoU in tourism sectorGreece and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding in the tourism sector, envisaging the promotion of mutual tourism packages through the exchange of information and advertising materials, partnerships between travel agencies from the two countries and, in particular, special forms of tourism, such as agri-tourism, cultural tourism, cruises etc.
The memorandum also cites closer cooperation in tourism education and training.
"We are in an era where development and investments are the cornerstone for the recovery of Greek economy. Tourism is a main lever in this effort. We pledge to promote the necessary reforms, offering fundamental and permanent solution needed to create a new dynamism," Petros Alivizatos, the deputy tourism minister said during the signing, held on the sidelines of a bilateral business forum in the south Athens seaside resort of Lagonissi.
"Greece needs high-quality investments with long-term performance, with respect to the particularities of the country's natural wealth, as well as investments in a model that will extend the tourism season (beyond summer)," he said.
 Greece giving 'dynamic presence' in Vienna International Tourist ExhibitionVIENNA (AMNA/D. Dimitrakoudis)
Having good prospects to increase tourist movement from Austria this year, Greece is giving a dynamic "presence" with the pavilion of the Greek Tourist Organisation and its joint exhibitors at this year's international Tourism Exhibition of Vienna which will be opening its gates on Thursday and lasting until Sunday and expecting, with its 750 exhibitors from 70 countries, up to one hundred and fifty thousand visitors.
As a summer tourist destination, Greece continues to remain in the first position of preferences in the Austrian tourist market and this despite the fact of many months of intensive negative news for Greece in almost all the Austrian media.
Messages sent by the representatives of Austrian tourist enterprises and travel agencies were quite optimistic over the prospects of Greek tourism during this year, who participated in a special event-account of the previous year, recently held by the Greek Tourist Organisation's Austria office in Vienna and at which the importance of the Greek tourist product in the Austrian tourist market was stressed by them.
 National Insurance says pre-tax profits more than 85 mln euros in 2011National Insurance on Wednesday said its pre-tax and write-off earnings will surpass 85 million euros last year as a result of efforts aimed at improving operating results, controlling damage costs and reducing operating expenses..
Yiannis Katsouridis, chief executive of the group, addressing a seminar, said that containing damage costs, particularly in hospital contracts, reorganizing internal procedures, strengthening capital adequacy ratios and harmonizing with Solvency II were the main policy priorities for the current year.
Stavros Konstantas, general manager of the company, said National Insurance successfully revised its credit and payment policy in 2011 and stressed that this effort will continue this year.
 Inflation up 2.4pct in December 2011Greek inflation rose by 2.4 percent in December 2011, according to figures released on Wednesday by the independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).
ELSTAT, in a report said that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in December 2011 compared with December 2010, increased by 2.4%. In December 2010, the annual rate of change of the CPI was 5.2%.
The CPI in December 2011 compared with November 2011 decreased by 0.1%. In December 2010, the monthly rate of change of the CPI was 0.4%.
In the twelve-month period from January 2011 to December 2011 compared with the period from January 2010 to December 2010 the annual average rate of change of the CPI was 3.3%. The corresponding annual average rate of change of the CPI in the previous year (January 2010 to December 2010), was 4.7%.
Also, the Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) in December 2011 compared with December 2010, increased by 2.2%. In December 2010, the annual rate of change of the HICP was 5.2%.
The HICP in December 2011 compared with November 2011, decreased by 0.2%. In December 2010, the monthly rate of change of the HICP was 0.5%.
In the twelve-month period from January 2011 to December 2011 compared with the period from January 2010 to December 2010, the annual average rate of change of the HICP was 3.1%. The previous year, in the corresponding twelve - month period, the annual average rate of change of the HICP was 4.7%.
 Greek economic sentiment index up slightly in Dec.Greece's economic sentiment index rose to 70.4 points in December, from 68.6 in November, the Institute for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said on Wednesday.
IOBE, in a monthly report, said that this improvement reflected marginal improvements in business expectations in the construction sector and in consumer confidence, while business expectations in the manufacturing and the retail sectors worsened afresh. A stabilization in the political climate in the country with the formation of a partnership government was the main factor behind this improvement.
Business expectations in the manufacturing sector worsened over production and new orders, while expectations over inventories showed signs of improvement,
In the services sector, expectations over the current level of works and demand fell further, although forecasts over the short-term demand recovered slightly.
In the retail sector, expectations over current sales and sales prospects in the next quarter worsened, while inventories' levels fell in December.
In the construction sector, expectations over the level of works recovered along with forecasts over employment in the sector.
In consumer confidence, forecasts over households' finances remained almost unchanged, while expectations over the country's finances worsened slightly. Expectations over saving recovered, after a record low reading in November, while expectations over unemployment remained at record high levels.
In the Eurozone, the economic sentiment index fell to 93.3 points in December, while in the EU-27 the index fell to 92 points.
In Greece, the consumer confidence index recovered in December to -81.9 points, remaining within range of its record low levels. Consumer confidence is hit by a deep economic recession, with Greek consumers remaining the most pessimistic in Europe, followed by the Portuguese, Hungarians, Cypriots, Bulgarians and Romanians.
The report showed that the percentage of Greek households saying they "hardly managed to make their living" rose further in December.
 Bussiness Briefs-- The success of a private sector involvement (PSI) programme in a Greek bond swap plan is crucial for reducing Greek state debt to sustainable levels, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management said on Wednesday.
-- Electricity demand in Greece fell in 2011, for the third consecutive year, official figures showed on Wednesday. An annual report by the power grid manager showed that domestic demand for electricity fell 1.6 pct last year compared with 2010, while in the period from 2009 to 2011, electricity consumption fell by an accumulated 7.5 pct, returning to 2004 levels.
 Stocks end up in technical reboundStocks ended slightly higher at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as a technical recovery of bank shares helped the market to end a six-day decline with total losses of 8.09 pct. The composite index rose 0.60 pct to end at 629.08 points, the first gains this year, off the day's highs of 633.88 points. Turnover was a slightly improved 33.670 million euros.
The Big Cap index rose 1.33 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.76 pct higher and the Small Cap index rose 1.28 pct. Marfin Popular Bank (11.79 pct), Cyprus Bank (5.31 pct), National Bank (4.58 pct), Alpha Bank (4.29 pct) and Eurobank (3.44 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Coca-Cola 3E (2.16 pct), Titan (1.76 pct) and Folli Follie (0.58 pct) suffered losses.
The Banks (5.45 pct), Technology (4.49 pct) and Oil (2.37 pct) sectors scored gains, while Food (2.12 pct) and Constructions (1.33 pct) ended lower.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 81 to 68 with another 18 issues unchanged. Pairis (28.82 pct), Spider (26.76 pct) and Alpha Trust Andromeda (22.86 pct) were top gainers, while Nakas (29.88 pct), Bitros (20.04 pct) and Sato (19.74 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +2.37%
Personal & Household: -0.07%
Raw Materials: +0.93%
Travel & Leisure: +0.15%
Food & Beverages: -2.12%
Financial Services: +0.52%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OPAP, National Bank and Jumbo.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.44
Public Power Corp (PPC): 3.44
HBC Coca Cola: 12.69
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.88
National Bank of Greece: 1.37
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.30
Bank of Piraeus: 0.23
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 26.83 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 28.65 pct and the German Bund 1.83 pct. There was no turnover in the market.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving lower. The 12-month rate was 1.86 pct, the six-month rate 1.53 pct, the three-month rate 1.25 pct and the one-month rate 0.87 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a discount of 1.17 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a low 7.609 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 4,340 contracts worth 5.190 million euros, with 17,139 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 18,470 contracts worth 2.419 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (12,606), followed by MIG (197), OTE (192), PPC (216), OPAP (150), Piraeus Bank (331), Alpha Bank (3,346), Mytilineos (300), Cyprus Bank (513) and Hellenic Postbank (113).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.290
Pound sterling 0.838
Danish kroner 7.547
Swedish kroner 8.940
Japanese yen 99.34
Swiss franc 1.230
Norwegian kroner 7.765
Canadian dollar 1.312
Australian dollar 1.254
 Suicides on rise in last three yearsSuicides and attempted suicides in Greece have marked a sharp rise in the three-year period 2009-2011, according to figures from the Greek Police (ELAS) presented in parliament on Wednesday by citizens protection minister Christos Papoutsis, in response to a question tabled by New Democracy (ND) deputy Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
More specifically, the number of suicides and attempted suicides nationwide jumped from 507 in 2009 to 622 in 2010, marking a 22.5 percent increase, and to 598 in the year 2011 up to December 10.
In Athens, the number went from 158 in 2009 to 178 in 2010 and to 198 in 2011 (up to Dec. 10).
In Thessaloniki, the number went from 55 in 2009 to 98 in 2010 and to 97 in 2011 (up to Dec. 10).
In his text, Papoutsis said that suicide is undoubtedly a major social issue that needs to be dealt with by everyone, the state, citizens, the scientific community, parents and related organisations, given that "we all must contribute to preventing and averting such self-destructive actions, to the degree possible".
In his question, Pavlopoulos cited press reports of a radical rise in suicides attributed to the economic crisis in the last 12 months.
 Greek minority school to reopen on ImvrosThe Greek minority school on the northeast Aegean island of Imvros (Gokceada in Turkish) will reportedly reopen, 47 years after it was closed by Turkish authorities.
According to representative of minority foundations in Turkey's General Directorate of Foundations, Lakis Vigas, the Greek minority school has received permission to reopen. Members of the island's minority community filed a relevant application with Turkish authorities last year.
Associations of Imvros natives in Greece hailed the decision and underlined that the school's reopening will give the opportunity to many families with children, currently living in Istanbul and Greece, to return to the island.
They also stressed that the decision "in part, corrects some of the great injustices of the past. It constitutes a step toward a better future for Imvros, with all its residents enjoying equality before the law and the state."
 Two groups of Australian classical studies majors in Greece this monthThe Australian embassy in Athens on Monday welcomed a group of 36 students and professors of classics and ancient history from the Australian National University in Canberra.
In collaboration with the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens, the students will undertake a three-week study programme and visit archaeological sites throughout Greece.
A second group of 25 students and professors from the School of Classics and Ancient History of the University of Queensland in Brisbane will visit Greece for a three-week study tour this month and in February.
"These visits underscore the close ties between our two countries, as well as the great respect and admiration of all Australians for Greek history and culture. I commend the students and their teachers for this important initiative and wish them well in their studies," Australian ambassador Jenny Bloomfield said in welcoming the group.
While in Greece, the Australian university students and academics will also meet with Greek counterparts to explore opportunities for further strengthening cultural and educational cooperation, a press release by the embassy stated.
 Stolen post-Byzantine icons returned to Greece from LondonEleven post-Byzantine era icons stolen from chapels in the provinces of Epirus and Thessaly have been returned to Greece, it was announced on Wednesday.
London's Temple Gallery last month handed over the icons to the Greek embassy in the British capital. The valuable religious objects are being temporarily kept at the Byzantine & Christian Museum in Athens.
Another six icons, stolen from churches and monasteries in northwest Epirus, were returned to Greece from Amsterdam last month. Six more were returned last spring after being traced again to the Temple Gallery.
Greek authorities have cited the existence of a network trafficking in antiquities and icons.
 Snowfall hampers traffic around greater Athens areaSnowfall in northern Attica prefecture, north of greater Athens, continued to cause problems to motorists on Wednesday.
The main roadway leading up to Mt. Parnitha, to the northwest, was closed to traffic.
Authorities also advised motorists to use snow chains when travelling up Mt. Hymettus, overlooking Athens from the east, and Mt. Penteli, due north of the city's centre.
 Roman-era marble slab unearthed on SantoriniA Roman-era engraved marble slab was unearthed on Tuesday on the island of Santorini near the settlement of Perissa, during excavations for a water supply and sewage system that were being conducted under the supervision of the 2nd Ephorate for Byzantine Antiquities.
The slab is 1.82 meters in length and 0.91 meters in height, with a thickness of 0.25m, and depicts two adult male figures. The right-side figure bears the inscription MELIS and the left-side figure the inscription HARICLES.
The wider area of Perissas where the marble slab was found is of great architectural interest.
 750 have sought exemption from AMKA system, minister reportsThe labour and social insurance ministry has so far received 750 applications from people wishing to be excluded from the AMKA social insurance number system on religious or constitutional grounds, according to a document sent to Parliament by Labour Minister George Koutroumanis.
The minister said that similar requests have also been received by individual social insurance funds, while some citizens have applied for a public prosecutors' order for their exemption and others have tabled lawsuits demanding the suspension and cancellation of their inclusion in the AMKA system to the Council of State.
Koutroumanis supplied the information in response to a question tabled by main opposition New Democracy MP Spyros Galinos, who said he had received complaints from pensioners that their pensions had been stopped because they refused to collect their AMKA numbers, which was a condition for their registration.
 Four arrested for armed robberies of fuel stations, homes, as criminal gang disbanded by policeA criminal gang involved in armed robberies and burglaries in the wider region of Corinth was dismantled by police, which linked the organisation to four armed robberies at liquid fuel stations and a home, as well as a burglary of another home, and four suspects were arrested.
Police said on Wednesday that it emerged from an investigation that four Albanian nationals aged 23-28 had set up a criminal organisation "with a lasting and structured activity" with the aim of carrying out armed robberies and burglaries, and changing composition in each theft.
Police said the gang had carried out armed robberies over the last six weeks in liquid fuel stations on the Corinth-Tripolis stretch of the national highway and in Sofiko, and indeed twice in one of the fuel stations, while they also carried out burglaries in residences.
The four Albanians were arrested, charged with setting up a criminal organisation, robberies, attempted homicide and violation of the law on arms possession.
 Twelve-year-old among arrested for west Attica taxi heistsA 12-year-old boy has been arrested as a member of a gang responsible for a spate of recent robberies targeting taxi drivers in west Attica.
The youngster was taken into custody on Monday by West Attica Security police in Egaleo, along with a 17-year-old and 19-year-old. Authorities are now seeking another two suspected members of their gang believed to be their accomplices.
All three of the youths arrested were Roma living in west Attica gypsy camps. They operated by hailing taxis in various areas of Athens and then giving as their destination various deserted areas of Aspropyrgos and Agia Varvara.
Once there, either acting on their own or with the aid of accomplices waiting in ambush, they would use force to make the taxi drivers hand over their money and valuables.
According to an investigation conducted by West Attica Security Police, the gang had committed five such robberies targeting taxi drivers in the last fortnight, four in Aspropyrgos and one in Agia Varvara.
The suspects were led before the appropriate juvenile or adult court prosecutors on Wednesday while authorities are investigating their possible involvement in other crimes.
 Rainy on ThursdayRainy weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Thursday, with wind velocity reaching 3-8 beaufort. Temperatures will range between -3C and 13C. Local rainfall or sleet in Athens, with northerly 4-8 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 4C to 11C. Fair in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 0C to 9C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glancePrime Minister Lucas Papademos' outline of the government's targets and his message to the social partners, and the burning issue of possible cutbacks in private sector salaries mostly dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Reppas (administrative reform minister): No issue of layoffs n public sector".
AVGHI: "Conspiracy against the salary earners".
DIMOKRATIA: "Lucas Papademos' 90 consultants!".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "They (troika and government) insist on the reduction of minimum salary and abolition bonuses".
ESTIA: "Internal devaluation".
ETHNOS: "The Gospel According to Lucas (Papademos) has four messages".
IMERISSIA: "Three-year suspension of the Christmas and Easter bonus on the table".
KATHIMERINI: "Towards convening a political leaders' meeting".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "The conditions under the agreement for the haircut will be sealed".
RIZOSPASTIS: "All together in the struggle against the new anti-labour measures".
TA NEA: "Government to social partners: Find a solution for the salaries or else.....".
VRADYNI: "Beneficial arrangement for retirement of parents and spouses of invalids".
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