UN envoy de Soto to go to Africa but ready to resume old role United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending his special envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, to the western Sahara where he is to replace the UN’s current representative, UN officials said yesterday, noting however that de Soto would «remain engaged in Cyprus.» But UN chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan would only reappoint de Soto to mediate in Cyprus negotiations «to help the parties achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem when both parties and both motherlands show a genuine commitment to come to terms.» UN-mediated Cyprus talks broke down in March. PROFITEERING CRACKDOWN Firms face action over bottled water, 15 ferry companies to face prosecutor A group of companies are to face the state Competition Commission for allegedly charging extortionate prices for bottled water and soft drinks, while 15 ferry firms will be prosecuted for failing to display prices in buffets, Deputy Development Minister Kimon Koulouris said yesterday. Recent state inspections found the offending firms were making gross profits of more than 350 percent, the ministry said. The firms are accused of colluding to set prices for bottled water and soft drinks at an extortionate level. ATHENS FIRE No injuries after blaze in center A fire which broke out on the fourth floor of a five-story apartment block at the junction of Ermou and Athinas streets in central Athens yesterday afternoon caused damage to machinery in a clothing manufacturer’s workshop but no injuries. A team of 45 firemen with 13 fire engines took half an hour to extinguish the blaze, which started due to a short circuit in the air-conditioning system. Firemen managed to rescue a couple trapped on the fifth floor using a crane. Employees on other floors fled the building directly after the fire broke out. Visa problems The Hellenic Association of Travel & Tourist Agencies (HATTA) yesterday complained about the suspension by US authorities of two programs allowing Greek travelers to pass through American airports without a visa. Greeks are now the only citizens in the European Union who are obliged to acquire a visa to pass through the USA en route to other countries, HATTA complained, noting that many Greeks had already had their travel plans ruined because they had been unable to gain a visa in time. Exarchia shooting A 27-year-old man was in hospital yesterday after being shot in the buttocks shortly after 2 a.m. by unidentified assailants following an argument in a bar in Athens’s central Exarchia district. Police have attributed the shooting – which occurred outside the Snack In bar following an argument between Nikandros Skoutelis and another patron of the bar – to a settling of accounts. The two assailants fled on foot. Skoutelis was taken to Athens’s Geniko Kratiko hospital by his girlfriend, who had been with him in the bar. TV fee The charge levied on all citizens for the provision of state television, regardless of whether or not they own or rent a TV set, is to be increased by 31 cents, under an amendment tabled in Parliament yesterday. The increased charge, which is included in electricity bills, will apply retroactively from July 1.