Growth for 2005 was strong and higher than expected, figures show The economy grew at a healthy 3.67 percent annual clip last year, the National Statistics Service said yesterday. This was slightly higher than the government’s targeted 3.6 percent expansion rate. In the fourth quarter, gross domestic product grew by 3.7 percent year-on-year, one of the strongest growth rates for that period in the 25-nation European Union. (Page 5) BALKAN RELATIONS Foreign minister starts tour of region, ministry welcomes Cyprus initiative Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis begins a tour of the Balkans today during which she is to visit Sarajevo, Pristina and Belgrade, the ministry said yesterday. The aim of the tour is to emphasize Greece’s interest in the region and get an update on developments, ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. Koumoutsakos described Tuesday’s talks between Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as «a very positive development.» RESIDENCE PERMITS Deadline for foreigners extended Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos signed an amendment yesterday extending the deadline to April 30 for foreign nationals to renew their residence permits. Anyone whose permit ran out at the beginning of the year will have it automatically renewed until the end of April under yesterday’s amendment Phone tapping The government vehemently denied a report in the Ta Nea newspaper yesterday alleging that the prime minister and his top aides knew much earlier than they admitted that their phones were being tapped and that the source of the snooping was located close to or in the US Embassy in Athens. «The government has made any evidence it has public. The only thing I can say is that everything else mentioned in the report is fiction,» said government spokesman Theodoros Rossopoulos. Athens mission The prime minister wants a cleaner and greener Athens, according to the city’s new mayor, Theodoros Behrakis, who met with Costas Karamanlis yesterday for the first time since assuming his duties. Behrakis said the two men also discussed other key problems facing the city, including the regeneration of the Votanikos district, Panathinaikos’s new stadium, recycling and pay parking. Smuggling convictions A Piraeus court yesterday handed down eight-year jail sentences on two Greeks, aged 46 and 54, for complicity in the attempted smuggling of 3.5 tons of cocaine in 2003. Both Giorgos Panagopoulos and Giorgos Paralis were released after appealing against their sentences. The pair had been exonerated in November 2004 but were ordered to face a retrial after a prosecutor called for the verdicts to be overturned. Vavilis holdup Yiannis Vlachos, lawyer of Apostolos Vavilis – the drug dealer with alleged involvement in shady deals with the Church of Greece, the police and foreign secret services – said yesterday that he will travel to Italy to find out what is holding up his client’s extradition. Vavilis is in a prison in Bologna even though Italian authorities approved his extradition last month. Protesting farmers Farmers were handing out small parcels of rice to passing motorists yesterday at Malgara, northern Greece, to protest against a Public Power Corporation (PPC) decision imposing fines on them totaling 47,000 euros. PPC said recently that the farmers used more electricity than they had been allocated under a cut-price scheme, but the producers claim the power company changed the terms of the deal without informing them. Lawyer appeal A prosecutor recommended yesterday that the council of appeals court judges reject celebrity lawyer Sakis Kehayioglou’s request that he be released from Korydallos Prison, where he is currently being held pending trial for bribery, fraud and money laundering. The charges concern his alleged participation in a trial-fixing ring. Kehayioglou was remanded in jail in December after the council deemed him a flight risk. The lawyer denies the charges.