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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-01-28

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>

NEWS IN ENGLISH

Athens, Greece, 28/01/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • US firms indicate interest in Greek energy projects
  • Greece preparing for post-EMU era, Simitis says
  • Gov't to plough Dr12 bln into port of Piraeus
  • Stocks post new high after early profit taking
  • Drachma stays firm, 10-year bond price noses up
  • Bill on economic cooperation with Albania approved
  • Clinton considering visit to Greece in November
  • AFSOUTH commander in Athens
  • Swedish defence minister in Athens
  • Students'road blocks continue to hamper traffic in Athens
  • Ombudsman institution in fourth month of operation
  • Pricewaterhouse Cooper signs contract for Athens 2004
  • Pangalos harshly criticises KKE during debate on Amsterdam Treaty
  • Tsohatzopoulos visits Larissa military installations
  • Simitis on Schengen compliance
  • Papantoniou lists gov't economic priorities for '99
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

US firms indicate interest in Greek energy projects

Senior executives of eight US energy multinationals held contacts with Development Minister Vasso Papandreou in Houston on Tuesday, showing interest in achieving closer cooperation with Athens in the energy sector.

Specific proposals and plans paving the way for integrated investments in energy programmes in Greece and their involvement in the entire range of development projects in the natural gas industry were made by representatives of Conoco, Amoco, Enron, Briton, Texaco, Unocal, Pennzoil and El Paso Energy.

Discussions on the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline within the framework of Hellenic Petroleum's study and in general the transfer of energy sources throughout Greece were also held.

Interest was focused on programmes linking Greek natural gas transportation networks with the East and West to western countries through the Italian network, securing the necessary link for supplying Greece and other neighbouring countries - Turkey, Bul garia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Albania - with natural gas of multiple origin and so creating a high level of security for the procurement of energy. In the East, the link is expected to take place with Turkey's network. Due to its position, Greece can secure the possibility of procuring natural gas for Turkey from the Italian network.

The possibilities of producing electric power with natural gas after the market is deregulated in 2001 were also discussed, as well as plans for the joint production of energy and other investments linked to the use of natural gas such as underground storage, the development of new technologies for application in various production sectors, new equipment, etc.

Greece preparing for post-EMU era, Simitis says

Greece is already preparing for the period after entry into European economic and monetary union by 2001, but complacency should be avoided, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday.

Despite major progress, the road towards EMU needed caution, Mr. Simitis said.

He was speaking after a meeting with the board of state-run National Bank of Greece, the country's largest commercial bank and a blue chip on the Athens bourse.

The prime minister visited National Bank's headquarters - the first visit by a premier to the bank in 55 years - accompanied by National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and the bank's governor, Theodoros Karatzas.

Mr. Simitis also said that a sharp decline in interest rates on long-term state bonds had brought the country even closer to the Maastricht bond criterion, another sign of progress in the economy.

The prime minister also predicted a further decline in the spread between deposit and lending rates.

He said that the country's banking system was evolving through mergers, alliances and the creation of new banks.

There was no danger that a recent wave of bank mergers would hinder free competition in the market, he added.

Gov't to plough Dr12 bln into port of Piraeus

The national economy ministry has earmarked 12 billion drachmas to allow an immediate start to improvements for the port of Piraeus, Merchant Marine Minister Stavros Soumakis said yesterday.

Mr. Soumakis also said that parliament will debate next week a bill on the transformation of Piraeus Port Authority into a societe anonyme.

The minister noted that the money to upgrade passenger and cargo facilities at Piraeus was part of European Union funds the government had allocated to upgrade ports around the country.

He said the projects would help both the city of Piraeus and the country's economy by enabling the port to cope with increasing passenger traffic ahead of the 2004 Olympics, to be hosted by Athens.

Stocks post new high after early profit taking

Equities surged to a new record high yesterday, continuing the previous day's rally on the Athens Stock Exchange despite some profit-taking.

The general index ended 0.44 percent up at 3,045.50 points, off the day's highs of 3,100. Turnover was 124.3 billion drachmas.

Sector indices mostly scored gains.

Banks rose 0.49 percent, Leasing was 0.12 percent higher, Insurance increased 2.51 percent, Investment ended 0.09 percent up, Industrials rose 0.52 percent, Miscellaneous ended 0.25 percent up, Holding rose 0.56 percent but Construction bucked the trend to end 0.26 percent off.

National Bank of Greece ended at 71,300 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 32, 500, Ergobank at 37,900, Ionian Bank at 15,900, Titan Cement at 23,190, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,370, Intracom at 14,155, Minoan Lines at 7,355, Panafon at 8,650 and Hellenic Telecoms at 8,230.

Drachma stays firm, 10-year bond price noses up

The drachma remained firm in the domestic foreign currency market to end at the central bank's daily fix at 322.150 against the euro from 321.700 in the previous session, trading at 321.65 against the euro late after the fix.

The price of 10-year bonds auctioned on Tuesday edged up to 116.45-116.40, with past 10-year paper trading at 116.45-116.40.

Electronic bond trade totalled 27 billion drachmas.

Short-term rates in the interbank market crept lower with the overnight around 10.20 percent and one-month funds 11.60 percent.

Bill on economic cooperation with Albania approved

A Parliamentary committee yesterday gave unanimous approval to a bill ratifying an economic cooperation protocol between Greece and Albania containing an agreement for a 20-billion-drachma loan to Tirana.

Of the total loan amount, two billion drachmas has already been disbursed to Albania.

Of the remaining sum, five billion will be granted for social infrastructure programmes, five billion for housing programmes, three billion to help support the neighbouring country's balance of payments and five billion as assistance to the private sector.

Clinton considering visit to Greece in November

US President Bill Clinton has expressed a desire to visit Greece in November for talks with the Greek leadership, diplomatic sources claimed in Athens yesterday.

According to the sources, which underlined that it was still too early to say with certainty that the visit will eventually take place, Mr. Clinton will be in Istanbul on Nov. 18-19 to attend an OSCE summit.

The same sources said Mr. Clinton wants to take advantage of this occasion to hold talks on the region's problems, including the Cyprus problem and Greek-Turkish relations.

The Greek side, according to the same sources, is however very guarded about whether such a visit would have a successful outcome, particularly in the absence of the necessary groundwork. The sources say Greece has proposed to the White House he also visit Cyprus.

An earlier meeting between Greek PM Simitis and Mr. Clinton cannot be ruled out in April, on the sidelines of events marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NATO. The events will be held in Washington from April 22-24.

AFSOUTH commander in Athens

NATO AFSOUTH commander Lt.-Gen. Jack Nicks will pay an official visit to Greece from Feb. 3-5.

Mr. Nicks will pay courtesy calls on National Defence General Staff Chief Gen. Athanasios Tzoganis as well as Lt.-Gen. Efthymios Petinis.

He will also visit the battleship "Averof" and the special forces training centre at the Megalo Pefko camp.

Swedish defence minister in Athens

Swedish Defence Minister Bjorn von Sindoff will pay an official visit to Greece on Feb. 1-2, according to an ANA dispatch from Stockholm.

The minister's talks are expected to focus on security and cooperation issues as well as regional cooperation within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace programme.

Students'road blocks continue to hamper traffic in Athens

The government said yesterday that it will ensure the law is enforced, referring to violence from young protesters during road blocks in Athens and other parts of the country.

"These acts are to be condemned...and the government, which has up to now chosen to keep its distance, has demonstrated extraordinary sensitivity," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said.

"The government is not neutral observer but will ensure the normality of public life."

Students again set up road blocks on yesterday, despite indications that the number of occupations of school premises had fallen since the beginning of the week.

Infuriated motorists clashed with protesters at road blocks.

More traffic chaos is expected today when students hold a rally and march - the third in as many weeks - through the city centre. Supporting the march is the General Confederation of Greek Workers which has called a four-hour work stoppage.

Mr. Reppas said the government regretted the behaviour shown to passersby and motorists by the young protestors, saying that the government was committed to resolving the problem.

Referring to the breakdown in talks between the ministry and teachers' representatives on Tuesday night, Mr. Reppas said teachers had only damaged their own cause by their intransigence.

The collapse of the talks seemed to kill hopes for a quick end to the crisis after teachers refused to consider modifications by the ministry to its contentious reform law.

Teachers insisted on a return to the old system of examinations, Education Minister Gerasimos Arsenis said after the meetings ended.

Students have been calling for the abolition of the reforms with objections focusing on provisions that include second senior high school grades being taken into consideration for university entrance.

"The government is open to dialogue and the education minister has his door open 24 hours a day so that this dialogue can proceed," he said.

Ombudsman institution in fourth month of operation

More than 1,662 Greek citizens have filed for help in their dealings with the state with the new office of Ombudsman in the first four months of its operation, Nikiforos Diamandouros told a news conference yesterday.

Mr. Diamandouros said an extra 500 people had phoned the office for advice, but had not officially filed a request.

The majority of cases centred on pension and social insurance issues, town planning problems and conflicts with the tax bureau and public utilities, he said.

The role of the ombudsman is to intervene between the public and services with the aim of dealing quickly and effectively with complaints and snarls.

He stressed that the office was "no Robin Hood" but an institution designed to assist state administration in meeting the needs of citizens.

He also said the state sector had reacted positively to date to the office's efforts, attempting to resolve any problems arising primarily from ineffective communication between the public and the overstaffed and impersonal state sector.

Pricewaterhouse Cooper signs contract for Athens 2004

A contract between the firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper and the 2004 Olympics organising committee "Athens 2004" was signed yesterday in Athens.

New York- and London-based Pricewaterhouse Cooper was selected as the financial consultant for concession contracts for the 2004 Olympics.

Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos stressed that the tender for the selection of the "Athens 2004" financial consultant had set a dual example of observing a time limit and for employing transparent procedures.

"Athens 2004" managing director Costas Bakouris said that the self- financing projects presented certain particularities and that Pricewaterhouse staff had already started relative studies.

Pangalos harshly criticises KKE during debate on Amsterdam Treaty

The first day of debate at parliamentary committee level of the Amsterdam Treaty was cut short yesterday, following a no-holds-barred attack by Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos on the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

"The Communist Party of Greece questions, both politically and theoretically, Parliamentary democracy. It questions it in practice, organising the upheaval of social life, through mob rule, which supposedly expresses the best interests of the people, as this is perceived by minorities, of course, " he told the committee meeting.

"Such procedures led to callous dictatorships, in which ruthless bureaucracies exterminated entire peoples in eastern Europe," he added.

The Communist Party of Greece has long opposed Greece's membership in the European Union and has called for a national referendum to be held on the prospect of European unification, which the Amsterdam Treaty represents.

Mr. Pangalos' introductory remarks to the debate by the special Parliamentary committee - made up of members of the foreign affairs and defence committee, the European affairs committee and others - immediately drew fire from KKE deputies, who called his remarks "unacceptable" and a "distor-tion" of the KKE's positions on European Union.

The committee suspended deliberations after the clash between Mr. Pangalos and the KKE deputies and will reconvene again on Tuesday.

The committee's discussion will be followed shortly after by a three-day debate by the parliamentary plenary and ratification of the Treaty by the 300-member Parliament.

Tsohatzopoulos visits Larissa military installations

National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos paid a visit to Larisa yesterday afternoon where he revealed the government's intentions to proceed with the construction a NATO air force subheadquarters in the area.

Mr. Tsohatzopoulos told local and military officials that the Koutsohero HQs in conjunction with the Tyrnavos HQs will greatly contribute to the area's development.

His first stop was the Tyrnavos Town Hall, before visiting the Schinas army barracks where the HQs will be built. He was briefed on the progress of works under way.

The defence minister further told local authorities that he approved of a demand for the construction of a civil airport to cater to the needs of both local residents and NATO officials visiting the headquarters.

Simitis on Schengen compliance

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday stressed that Greece will have fulfilled all conditions prescribed by the Schengen Treaty. Answering a relevant question, the prime minister said experts considered "our efforts to comply to the treaty positive." Mr Simitis also said airports are already in compliance with regulations of the treaty, but admited that there is work to be done on sea and land borders, which should be accomplished in a few months, with the hiring of the necessary personnel and necessary equipment.

Papantoniou lists gov't economic priorities for '99

National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, speaking at the Foreign Press Association yesterday, said that a stronger social policy, privatisations and structural changes in the public sector as well as improvement in competitiveness were the government's economic policy priorities.

The minister stressed that the "war against inflation" was still on-going and he invited the business world to decisively contribute in lowering inflation.

He said the changes in all areas during the past five years were "revolutionary" and that they resulted in Greece adjusting to Maastricht treaty criteria faster than other European countries.

Mr. Papantoniou placed special emphasis on the policies to combat unemployment, pointing out that 500 billion drachmas will be spent for the creation of 400,000 new jobs between 1998-2000.

WEATHER

Cloudy weather will prevail throughout the country today with rain in western central Greece and in the north. Snow in the mountainous regions. Winds southerly, strong to gale force. Rain expected in Athens with temperatures ranging between 8-16C. Similar weather in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 4-11C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Thursday's rates (buying) U.S. dollar 277.185 Pound sterling 458.344 Japanese yen (100) 242.604 French franc 48.719 German mark 163.395 Italian lira (100) 16.505 Irish Punt 405.774 Belgian franc 7.922 Finnish mark 53.748 Dutch guilder 145.016 Danish kr. 42.993 Austrian sch. 23.224 Spanish peseta 1.921 Swedish kr. 35.932 Norwegian kr. 37.021 Swiss franc 198.678 Port. Escudo 1.594 Aus. dollar 174.691 Can. dollar 182.330 Cyprus pound 549.568

(C.E.)


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