Balkan extension of giant European research network inaugurated The EU Commission yesterday announced the completion of the extension of the European high-speed electronic network GIANT – which links academic and research communities – to Balkan countries. The project, implemented through the EU’s SEEREEN program, has given rise to the Inter-Balkan Research and Internet Network Training Network which was inaugurated in the presence of Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos at Thessaloniki University yesterday. According to the Commission, GIANT is now the world’s most powerful research network in the world by far with a capacity of 185 Gbit/s, and with the addition of Balkan nations it serves 43 European countries, networking more than 3,500 research and academic institutions. SEEREEN’s ultimate aim is to limit the «digital gap» that separates the region from the rest of Europe. «SEEREEN is an apt example of the EU’s solidarity with Balkan countries,» said Enterprise & Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen. Tsochadzopoulos said the project turns Greece into an international Internet hub, facilitating the connection of the region’s EU aspirants with European networks. ABC targets Olympics to promote investment interest The Athens Business Club (ABC) has launched a revamped Internet portal (www.athensbusinessclub.gr) which enables members to seek in full confidence business partners, investment opportunities and information. ABC, set up by the government’s Hellenic Center for Investment, in collaboration with Athens 2004, the organizers of the Olympic Games, aims to tap the potential for foreign investment during the summer events and is preparing the Sarogleion Mansion on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue as a hub for important meetings and contacts. Shopping mall management A joint venture set up by Sotiropoulos Bros and Britain’s Cushman & Wakefield, offering a broad range of management services for retail outlets, including shopping malls, was launched on January 1. Services include property transactions, promotion, market research and consultancy. «The large number of shopping malls under construction has had a catalytic effect on the formation of this joint venture. It will offer significant support to the further development of the sector in Greece, which has a large growth potential,» said Sotiropoulos’s general manager, Niki Sympoura. Car sales New private car sales dropped 4.2 percent to 258,000 last year, compared to 2002. Toyota topped the league by increasing sales 0.9 percent to 24,170, followed by Hyundai which sold 4.5 percent less, or 20,930 cars. Supermarkets Supermarket operators estimate changes in supply schedules and overtime work in view of the Olympics will up costs by 15 million euros but expect to reap greater benefits afterward as a result of the country’s upgraded profile and rise in tourism, sector officials said.