Christmas, New Year hours come into effect on Thursday Athenian stores will be open for the following hours during the Christmas shopping season, the Athens trade association announced yesterday. December 13 and 14 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, December 15, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday, December 17, to Friday, December 21, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, December 22, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, December 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday, December 24, (Christmas Eve) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday, December 27 and 28, from 9 a.m to 8 p.m., Saturday, December 29, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Monday, December 31, (New Year’s Eve) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stores will be closed on Wednesday, January 2. Northern Sporades shaken by 5.1-Richter earthquake An earthquake registering 5.1 on the Richter scale shook central and southern Greece at 9.45 yesterday evening. The quake, which was felt in Athens, had its epicenter in the sea around the northern Sporades group of islands, 160 kilometers south of Thessaloniki, and is not believed to be linked with the Skyros fault which produced a strong earthquake in the summer. No casualties or damage was reported. Greeks have lowest buying power Greece would have the fourth highest cost of living in the 15 European Union member states if the same salary scales were applied throughout the EU, the Consumer Protection Institute (INKA) announced at a press conference yesterday. But calculations based on the actual levels of wages and pensions show that Greeks, along with the Portuguese, have the lowest purchasing power. Shipping ban.As of noon yesterday, all passenger ferries to the islands of Chios and Mytilene from Piraeus and to the Cyclades from Rafina were confined to port due to bad weather. Telephone bills. The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) announced yesterday that it will not be issuing bills between December 11, 2001 and January 6, 2002, in order to facilitate the changeover in currency from the drachma to the euro. Bills which would normally have been issued during that period will be for three months and will be due in March, payable only in euros. Plane-spotters’ wait. A prosecutor is close to submitting a report on 12 British and two Dutch plane-spotters accused of espionage, but they are not likely to be released before next week, their lawyer, Yiannis Zacharias, told The Associated Press yesterday. The plane-spotters have been in prison since their arrest on November 8 for allegedly photographing military air bases, which is banned in Greece. Heart patients. The British government this week announced a drive to allow patients waiting for more than six months for surgery on the National Health System to get free treatment in private hospitals or abroad. Kenneth Taylor of the company Operations Abroad told The Guardian newspaper that the Interbalkan European Medical Center in Thessaloniki was offering to do 25,000 operations next year at costs perhaps 30-40 percent lower than private hospitals in the UK. According to Athens News Agency sources, Olympic Airways is ready to contribute to a package bringing British patients to Thessaloniki on daily flights. Twin taxis. An Athens taxi driver trapped in a traffic jam on Kifissou Avenue yesterday noticed that the taxi in front of him bore exactly the same license plate as his own. Giorgos Katsanis called police, who shortly afterward arrested the driver of the other taxi, Giorgos Tsotsos, and charged him with forgery and violating the traffic code. Smokers. Greece tops the European list in incidences of a lung condition that is caused by smoking in 99 percent of cases in the Western world. In Greece, about 300,000 people currently suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and deaths have doubled in recent decades, according to announcements made at the 11th Panhellenic Medical Conference on Respiratory Diseases in Thessaloniki. Campus fire. A short circuit in photocopying equipment started a fire in the electricity department laboratory at the Zografou National Technical University of Athens campus yesterday morning. The fire was soon brought under control.