No cases of Asian killer virus in Greece, health officials say There have been no outbreaks in Greece of an Asian killer strain of atypical pneumonia that has affected parts of Southeast Asia, but national hospitals and health centers remain on alert to cope with possible emergencies, Greece’s Center for the Control of Special Infectious Diseases (KEEL) announced yesterday. A total of 1,622 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have been registered worldwide (mostly in Asia) with 19 apparent cases in Europe, KEEL said, citing World Health Organization figures. Anyone who has recently traveled to Asia and develops a fever, headaches or a dry cough should contact a doctor immediately, KEEL said. STATE HOSPITAL STRIKE Minimal staff today and tomorrow for Iraq protest, union pay demands State hospitals across the country will be operating on skeleton staff today and tomorrow as doctors, nurses and paramedics strike over pay and working conditions. Doctors and nurses are joining the 24-hour strike called for by the civil servants’ union as a protest against the war in Iraq tomorrow, while doctors in Athens and Piraeus have another 24-hour strike planned for Friday. Also, the National First Aid Center (EKAB) will be operating on emergency staff today and tomorrow. Workers want higher salaries, the recruitment of more permanent staff, and the acknowledgment of their professions as hazardous. HUMAN RIGHTS IN GREECE US sees abuse of migrants, Gypsies Greece’s record in respecting its citizens’ rights last year was relatively good, but there were some worrying trends of mistreatment of illegal immigrants and Gypsies by security forces, according to the US State Department’s annual human rights report, whose findings were made public yesterday. The report included accounts of alleged racist attacks on Albanians and the trafficking of women and children as prostitutes, and noted the continuing existence of legal restrictions on members of ethnic minority groups. It noted, however, that there were no terrorist attacks in Greece last year, a reference to the arrest of 19 suspected members of the November 17 group. Earthquake trial The first civil claimants’ trial against five senior officials of a pharmaceuticals factory in the northern suburbs of Athens that collapsed in the September 1999 earthquake, killing eight employees and the company chairman, started yesterday. The case for compensation has been brought against the five officials of the Faran factory by the families of the victims. Another court is to try Faran’s founder, its chief executive, two members of the board and its civil engineer on charges of murder with possible malice aforethought. EU Ombudsman Greece’s outgoing Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, yesterday officially assumed his official duties as European Ombudsman during a ceremony in Luxembourg. Diamandouros, 60, replaces the EU’s first Ombudsman, Jacob Soederman of Finland. Diamandouros, who is also professor of political science at Athens University and was director of the National Center for Social Research (EKKE) from 1995 to 1998, was picked for the job of protecting EU citizens against maladministration in a European Parliament vote in January. Bank robbery A gang of five armed robbers yesterday made off with 120,000 euros after raiding a bank just before noon in Athens’s busy Exarchia district. Police believe the assailants, who have not been identified, are members of a gang responsible for another three recent armed robberies in Athens. Yesterday’s robbery was the 39th in Attica since the beginning of the year. Cycle race An international round-country cycling race starts at 4 p.m. today in the Athens suburb of Nea Ionia. A total of 106 athletes from across the world are due to participate in the 536.5-kilometer, 13th Round of Greece. Lawyers protest Athens lawyers are to join a work stoppage from noon until 3 p.m. tomorrow in protest against the US-British invasion of Iraq. The action was called for by the General Confederation of Greek Labor.