Party ratings – ND tops polls, but Simitis still favored The ruling socialists have gained in popularity since June but opposition New Democracy (ND) is holding onto its lead, according to the results of MRB’s latest biannual poll released yesterday. The pollsters’ countrywide survey, conducted between November 29 and December 4 on a sample of 2,000 Greeks, showed ND with 34.8 percent of votes against 28.2 percent for PASOK – a difference of 6.6 percent as compared to 8.9 percent last June in MRB’s last poll. Only 11.4 percent thought PASOK would win the next elections however, compared to 24.4 percent last June. But Prime Minister Costas Simitis is still seen as the best man to govern the country with 1.9 percent more votes than ND head Costas Karamanlis. Cotton protests Farmers start to block off highways across Greece Cotton farmers around the country blocked off some key highways for a few hours yesterday to protest against lower EU crop subsidies. Macedonian farmers continued their protests by closing the Thessaloniki-Edessa Highway at Nea Halkidona. In Kilkis, farmers blocked the Thessaloniki-Evzoni Highway at the Polykastro flyover. Meanwhile, olive producers from Messinia used their tractors to block the national road from Tripoli to Kalamata on Monday night. Farmers have given the government until next Thursday to increase EU subsidies, otherwise they say they may continue to block major roads indefinitely. Earthquake Skyros hit again An earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale was felt in Athens yesterday just after 6.30 p.m. The quake’s epicenter was in the sea off the Aegean island of Skyros, 125 kilometers northeast of Athens. It follows Friday’s earthquake near Skopelos, in the northern Sporades, which measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. There was considerable damage on Skyros during a 5.7-Richter earthquake in July. Greece-Albania. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou yesterday met his Albanian counterpart, Pandeli Majko, in Tirana. Papantoniou told reporters after his meeting that Greece would help Albania improve its military infrastructure and would encourage Greek private investment with its Balkan neighbor. Papantoniou also met Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta and President Rexhep Meidani. His three-day visit ends tomorrow. Illegal immigrants. Turkish security forces have detained 41 illegal immigrants trying to cross the border into Greece over the last four days, according to reports from Ankara yesterday. The migrants, who reportedly came from Pakistan, Thailand and Iraq, were taken to the hospital for treatment after exposure to snow and freezing temperatures. An Iraqi national froze to death while trying to cross from Turkey into Greece after heavy snowfall yesterday. A 25-year-old Pakistani migrant also died from hypothermia near the Greek border on Sunday, when temperatures in the region dropped to minus 6 degrees Celsius. Court strike. Athens judges and prosecutors abandoned their duties for two hours yesterday, demanding state measures be taken to speed up the administration of justice and safeguard its quality. Their key demands include the creation of more posts and higher pensions. The president of the Judges’ and Prosecutors’ Union, Constantinos Valmantonis said misdemeanors are being tried after a five-year delay and criminal cases are delayed by up to 12 years. Miller on prostitutes. The US Ambassador in Athens, Thomas Miller, yesterday defended his wife’s statements regarding the treatment of foreign-born prostitutes in Greece, following a conference addressing the issue on Monday. Miller told reporters his wife Bonnie, who has worked with foreign-born prostitutes in Bosnia, expressed the same views as the Greek Chief of Police, Fotis Nasiakos, when she said foreign prostitutes were treated better in Bosnia than in Greece. Meanwhile, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said the position of the USA is not epresented by the wives of its ambassadors, adding that the government would soon announce measures to tackle the problem. FYROM visit. The chairman of opposition New Democracy, Costas Karamanlis, on a visit to Skopje, yesterday met the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ljubco Georgievski, and President Boris Trajkovski. The ND chairman is due in Belgrade today.