SOURCE: AMNA

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The central line of Thessaloniki's metro and the extension to Kalamaria will be ready to begin test runs in 2019, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis announced on Wednesday, in a statement following the arrival of a second tunnel-boring machine at Analipsi station. Its arrival completes, with a delay of six years, the opening of both tunnels in the project.

Spirtzis also announced the start of a tender for line 4 of the Athens metro system on Thursday, noting that this was another major project worth about 1.5 billion euros.

Questioned about the archaeological finds discovered during work to build the Thessaloniki metro system and the delays these had caused, Spirtzis noted that protection of cultural heritage was an important parameter. He noted that the antiquities uncovered near Agia Sophia station were not a problem, however, since the significant finds were outside the station's shell.

BRUSSELS (ANA/ Ch.Vassilaki) - The European Commission confirmed on Wednesday the convergence achieved at yesterday's high-level meeting in Brussels between Greece's economic team and the institutions.

It was a "very good meeting, during which the views of the institutions and the Greeks were heard," European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breithardt said and added: "The Commission considers that convergence was achieved on key issues that could lead to significant progress in Malta."

Another EU official explained to the Athens Macedonian News Agency (ANA) that a preliminary agreement was achieved on Tuesday based on a compromise between the IMF and the Greek side. However, it remains to be seen in the teleconference tonight whether this compromise has the political approval of all the sides to be forwarded to the Eurogroup. The aim of Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem is to present to eurozone's Finance ministers a "political agreement" that would pave the way for achieving a technical agreement soon, noted the same source.

The Greek Foreign Ministry in an announcement on Wednesday condemned the deadly attack in Syria.

"We express our abhorrence and unequivocal condemnation of the heinous deadly attack that took place on Tuesday in northern Syria's Idlib province. We expect a speedy and thorough investigation of this tragic incident, which in itself highlights the need to intensify the international efforts to end the bloody conflict in Syria" said Foreign Ministry in its announcement.

Former Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos was released on Wednesday by decision of the five-member Court of Appeal for Felonies.

The court, by a majority of three to two, accepted the request of the former minister, suspending the execution of the first-instance sentence of twenty years on probation.

The former minister was jailed for receiving kickbacks from contracts for the purchase of submarines and TORM1 missiles when he was head of the defence ministry. Tsochatzopoulos remains hospitalised in a hospital in Attica.

"Brexit is clearly a failure of Europe and a warning sign for the course of the region's non-balanced and democratically based economic completion, which must be fixed immediately if we want it to be continued. And one way to do this is to have a constructive rapproachement with Britain," Dimitris Papadimitriou, Greek Economy and Development Minister said on Wednesday.

Addressing a seminar on "Brexit, opportunities and challenges for Greece, the UK and the EU during the negotiations period and the day after," organized by the Greek-British Chamber of Commerce, Papadimitriou said that according to the first directives to EU member-states, effort will be made for a "conventional divorce" and in parallel building new bonds with Britain.

Papadimitriou said that depending on the course of negotiations and the agreement to be reached between Britain and the EU for the repayment of 57 billion euros to the EU, the impact of a Brexit on the Greek economy could range between 0.3 pct and 1.0 pct of GDP over a two-year period. "It is rather a mild impact if the good scenario prevailed," he noted.

The Greek minister said Greek exports of goods and services will be hit, along with British investments because of a devaluation of the British pound, adding that there would be an indirect cost from a likely turmoil in international financial markets, which would trigger an increase in risk and borrowing costs.

"In such a case, a slowdown of economic growth in Europe will further burden domestic liquidity and non-performing loans of Greek banks," Papadimitriou said, adding that the indirect cost included an unavoidable change in the EU budget (the UK contributes 16.56 billion euros, or 11.13 pct of total, while Greece contributes 1.84 billion euros or 1.4 pct of total).

The Greek minister said there were no plans so far on how to replace the UK contribution in the community budget from existing member-states or if the EU budget was agreed to be smaller.

Papadimitriou said trade and economic relations between Greek and Britain have a long history and meaningful importance. There are 40-45,000 Greeks living in the UK, there is a significant Greek student community in UK universities and a significant action around Greek culture.

Bilateral trade is also important, with UK imports totaling 1.3 billion euros and Greek exports amounting to 1.08 billion euros (2015 figures). The mixture of Greek exports to Britain is mainly pharmaceuticals (14.3 pct), electric and electronic equipment (10.8 pct), fossil fuel, oil products (8.3 pct), vegetables, food, dried nuts (8.2 pct), etc. The UK is the seventh largest export destination for Greek products with a market share of 4.2 pct (2016 figures).

Tourism has the largest share in the bilateral balance of payments, with receipts of 2.1 billion euros and 2.4 million tourist arrivals from Britain in 2015, or 14.3 pct of total receipts and 9.2 pct of tourist arrivals in the country.

Gross annual capital inflows from Britain are around 250 million euros in the last six years, with investment interest focusing on tourism, real estate, financial services, technology and energy.

A Brexit is expected to raise the cost of money, to limit community support and to reduce shipping companies' profits, Papadimitriou said, adding that opportunities could also arise in the shipping industry as Piraeus port could benefit from any likely exit of shipping companies from London. He added that the pharmaceutical sector could also benefit as the sector has great prospects in the country.

Three Greek novels, "Dendrites" by Kallia Papadaki, "The Greek doctor" by Carolina Mermiga and "The calligraph's night shift" by Maria Xylouri were included in the shortlist for the European Union Prize for Literature that will be bestowed on May 23 in Brussels.

The prize highlights the creativity and diversity of the Europe in literature and promote it with translations of awarded works and promotes the intercultural dialogue.

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Problems will soon be resolved and the people will reap the fruits of their sacrifice, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday said in a meeting with the president of the European Council Donald Tusk.

Our aim is to have some results before the Easter, he said adding that every day of delay, it has an impact on the Greek economy.

"We are not willing to observe any more games against the Greek people and Europe's prospects," he underlined.

Tsipras also asked for a summit if there is no agreement with the institutions at the Eurogroup meeting on Friday.

"Every time we are close to an agreement with the institutions, some table additional demands and violate those already agreed," Tsipras underlined in joint statements with Tusk. "Even today, some of the creditors continue to be unrepentant. After the delays in the first review, because of unnecessary additional measures required for 2018, they are repeating the same delay policy."

"We are not playing a game; we are playing with the people's future," he underlined adding that he shares the same view with Tusk that "we are very close to an agreement." However, if an agreement is not reached at the Eurogroup on Friday, then initiatives at a higher level must be assumed.

"I want to congratulate Greece because not a single euro was lost in the last programming period" stated European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu, addressing the special standing committee of European Issues and the special standing regions committee of the Greek parliament on Wednesday.

"Greece is one of the countries that suffers more from the challenges the EU is currently encountering. For this reason I am very proud and happy to come to Greece as a Commissioner of Regional Policy in order to assist in any possible way. We suggested the co-financing up to 100 percent for Greece and I want to congratulate Greece because all EU funds were fully absorbed in the last period, something that is a very good sign" she added.

Referring to the challenges, she noted that "it is a huge feat and a very difficult one but the EU will succeed" said Cretu and cited Jean Claude Juncker statement that "if we really want it we can have a common bright future, but all together".

In order this to happen we must close immediately the gap of what the citizens want from EU and of this that can really offer EU" claimed Cretu and noted that EU can't do miracles if the member stated do not play their own role".

She underlined the need for all to state their views in the dialogue that will start on the future of the European projects and noted that the national parliament should have a word in order altogether to decide what kind of Europe we want to have from tomorrow and afterwards.

"We must give the citizens the hope to believe in Europe" said Cretu and underlined that the policy of equality, the economic solidarity among the countries constitute a strong reason to believe in Europe. However, she clarified that the cohesion policy can't, by itself, heal Europe but certainly Europe can't be healed without the cohesion policy.

The European Commissioner said that the results of the cohesion policy should be visible to the citizens (better road network, better access to the internet, better schools e.t.c) and within this context she referred to infrastructure as the Rio-Antirrio bridge and the Athens metro, stating that she hopes she will visit the Thessaloniki metro by the end of her term.

Cretu informed the members of the parliament that on Thursday she and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will inaugurate the tunnel in Tempi (on Athens-Thessaloniki motorway). "I want to congratulate you because this is an old work that needed over 20 years to be constructed. This shortcut is very good news for all Europe". She also said that on Friday she will be Thessaloniki and will visit a solid waste plant in western Macedonia to highlight how many things has done and will continue to do in the next years the cohesion policy for Greece.

"We have 20 bln euros on the table for 2020 and with this we will continue to support Greece to continue to lay the foundations of the new social model which will enhance enterpreneurship, exports, research and the innovation and will take the steps for the establishment of a network especially in the remote regions of the country" said Cretu underlining that the broadband network is a huge opportunity for the development of the economic activity in the remote regions.

She estimated that the work of political cohesion will be more effective in Greece if we tackle three major challenges, the crackdown of bureaucracy, the upgrading of the administrative potential and the strengthening of the coordination among the institutions. "This should be your engagement" said Cretu addressing the parliament's committees and noted that huge simplifications in the procedure are necessary particularly on the land expropriation. She noted there are the funds in EU for works that are pending because the member states do not have the administrative ability to manage them. "Now the money will be here for the cities to use them directly and it is a huge challenge in order high project to be implemented" she stated noting the matter of coordination which is very crucial for all the regions, social partners, government, administration to unite their forces towards the implementation of the works".

"We do not have the luxury to miss the opportunities" Cretu stressed adding that the next months will be determinative for the future of EU's future and political cohesion.

Finally, she said that in June she will visit Greek islands plague by the refugees crisis noting that it is important the islanders to be supported.

We are not willing to observe any more games against the Greek people and Europe's prospects, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday said in a meeting with the president of the European Council Donald Tusk.

Tsipras also asked for a summit if there is no agreement with the institutions at the Eurogroup meeting on Friday.

"Every time we are close to an agreement with the institutions, some table additional demands and violate those already agreed," Tsipras underlined in joint statements with Tusk. "Even today, some of the creditors continue to be unrepentant. After the delays in the first review, because of unnecessary additional measures required for 2018, they are repeating the same delay policy."

"We are not playing a game; we are playing with the people's future," he underlined adding that he shares the same view with Tusk that "we are very close to an agreement." However, if an agreement is not reached at the Eurogroup on Friday, then initiatives at a higher level must be assumed.

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Greece is firmly moving on its European course, with huge sacrifices from its people, which are not only due to its own mistakes, Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos on Wednesday said in a meeting with the president of the European Council Donald Tusk.

Pavlopoulos stressed that Europe would not be the same without Greece and this needs to be taken into consideration during the second programme review.

He explained that the Greeks cannot even imagine their future outside the European Union and its hardcore, the eurozone, and reiterated the need for Europe to become strong and attractive once again. For this to be achieved, Europe must complete its integration and primarily to proceed to the strengthening of its role and the consolidation of Peace, Humanism, Democracy and Justice.

Addressing Tusk, he wished him luck to his European mission and reaffirmed that Greece will contribute to that as much as possible.

On his part, Tusk stated that they share the same values of solidarity and unity in the European Union.

Regarding to the course of the negotiations, he said that significant progress has been achieved and added: "I feel that this is the point that solidarity must be shown in practice."

Moreover, he said: "We are very close to the conclusion of this phase of the procedure" as regards the negotiation, and praised Greece's sacrifices and commitment to achieving this goal".

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