A sharp slide in index heavyweights National Bank and Alpha led the Athens bourse lower yesterday, on worries their merger may face obstacles, brokers said. The benchmark general index ended 1.97 percent lower at 2,523.85 points, piercing technical support levels. National Bank dropped 3.69 percent to 24.50 euros with Alpha Bank ending 3.23 percent lower at 18.56 euros. «There are rumors of difficulties in the merger and this led to pressure which spilled over to the broader market,» said analyst Elias Lazaris at Artion Securities. «But this could also be a pretext; investors are weary, there is no market-moving news and prices move on thin volumes,» he added. Turnover slumped anew, after perking up briefly late last week to top the 100- million-euro mark. Yesterday, total turnover was 87.83 million euros, on 15.7 million shares changing hands. The FTSE/ASE-20 index of blue chips tumbled 2.28 percent to 1,365.50 points while the FTSE/ASE-40 index of mid-caps fell 2.41 percent. Small-caps lost 2.41 percent. Losers outnumbered winners 303 to 25 with 19 stocks unchanged on 347 traded. (Reuters) Spending under the Regional Operational Program for Central Macedonia, including national resources and EU investment subsidies of the second Community Support Framework (1995-2001) reached 281.9 billion drachmas, representing an absorption rate of 106.2 percent, the Economy and Finance Ministry said yesterday. The program, which additionally attracted 23.2 billion in private investment, financed 1,568 projects and 5,223 sub-projects.