Transformers using clophen will be gone by July, ministry says The Finance Ministry yesterday confirmed reports that an electricity substation in its basement in central Athens’s Syntagma Sq contained toxic clophen gas (a type of polychlorinated biphenyl or PCB) used in transformers. University of Crete experts said in May the clophen level was 9,000 times that in Athens’s air and that employees in the building were exposed to the gas 64 times more often than those not working in an affected building. The Finance Ministry said the levels were still lower than safety levels in Germany but added that the existing clophen-operated transformers will be replaced by July 10. The ministry said the basement area had been made airtight in May. HOUSING LOANS Government help for Gypsies and foreign-born Greeks The government will provide 4,500 housing loans for Gypsies and foreign-born Greeks this year, as compared to 3,500 last year, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis said yesterday. A total of 12,500 «repatriated» Greeks and 2,500 Gypsies have applied for mortgage loans to date, the committee said. New legislation will cover municipalities setting aside land for these homes. LUCKY BREAK ATM robber nets 220,000 euros A lone robber yesterday walked away from the ATM of a Thessaloniki bank 220,000 euros richer after attacking a security guard who was loading the machine. The unidentified assailant grabbed the cash after spraying anaesthetic into the eyes of the guard. Defense issues Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and US Ambassador in Athens Thomas Miller yesterday discussed the role Greece would play in rebuilding Iraq and in NATO’s new command structure. Miller told Papantoniou that Greek firms can make bids for participating in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. Air space violations Defense Ministry sources said 44 Turkish warplanes violated flight regulations in the Athens Flight Information Region 17 times yesterday and violated Greek air space 45 times in the southern, central and northern Aegean. Greek fighters intercepted them and there were eight mock dogfights. Hole in road The ground suddenly gave way on Kaftatzoglou St (between Patission and Acharnon streets in central Athens) yesterday afternoon, leaving a hole nearly 7 meters deep and half a meter wide. A sewage pipe leak was suspected. Miners protest Around 100 miners remained holed up in the TVX Hellas mines in the village of Stratoniki in Halkidiki, northern Greece, for the second day in a row yesterday, protesting against the imminent closure of the site. The protesters have been on a hunger strike for the last two days ahead of today’s court hearing which is to discuss the firm’s appeal for bankruptcy. Workers’ rallies The Communist-led PAME movement is staging a rally at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Syntagma Sq in central Athens to protest at worker layoffs. Similar rallies are to start at 6.30 p.m. tomorrow in Thessaloniki and Patras. Zimbabwe The Foreign Ministry, speaking for the EU presidency, yesterday warned Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe against a violent crackdown on a five-day opposition protest against his rule. The EU «calls on the government of Zimbabwe to desist from any violence and respect the rights of its citizens to demonstrate and express their views peacefully,» the ministry said in a statement. «The excessive force which characterized (the government’s) response to the stay-away of March 18-19 in no case should be repeated,» it added. Road safety A European-wide campaign to ensure the safety of children on the roads was launched in 25 countries including Greece yesterday. The campaign, organized by the International Red Cross and funded by the EU, aims to reduce the number of children between the ages of 7 and 11 killed or injured in road accidents, especially on their way to and and from school.