Municipal employees block Athens, Thessaloniki dumps Municipal staff said on Friday that they would close landfills in Athens and Thessaloniki beginning Sunday to protest reforms tabled in Parliament last week granting the right to municipal authorities to hire private firms for local waste management. Protesters have called for a response by Tuesday threatening they will step up their protests. Meanwhile on Samothrace, an island in the northern Aegean, authorities continued gathering thousands of tons of trash from roadsides following a 50-day strike by local street cleaners. It is hoped they will be finished by Saturday. CHRISTMAS SHOPPING Store opening hours announced Shops in Athens will switch to a Christmas timetable from Monday, December 15, it was announced on Friday. Stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekday, apart from Wednesday 17, 24 and 31 when they will close at 6 p.m. On Saturday, December 20 and 27, shops will close at 8 p.m. Stores will also be open on Sunday, December 21 until 6 p.m. Shops will be closed on Friday, January 2. Stores in Piraeus will follow the same timetable but will open at 9 a.m. every day. Ship released A Greek-owned cargo ship that was seized more than two months ago by Somali pirates has been released with all 25 crew members unharmed, it was revealed on Friday. The Centauri was carrying salt between Ethiopia and Kenya when it was seized on September 18. All 25 crew members are from the Philippines. It was not revealed if the owners of the Centauri paid a ransom for the ship’s release. Cyprus talks Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias said on Friday that peace talks could be concluded next year if Turkish authorities cooperate. «If Turkey adopts a good attitude, if it shows understanding, we could have a solution in 2009,» he said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat should show more independence from Ankara, he added. «Community leaders need to be free to negotiate,» he said. Guard shot A security guard was being treated in hospital on Friday after he tried to stop a thief stealing electronic appliances from a store in Pallini, northeast of Athens. The robber had grabbed several laptops and digital cameras after forcing open the door to the shop. When the security guard responded to an alarm and tried to stop the robbery, the thief shot him. Explosive disappearance Two artillery shells are missing from a high security military munitions depot in Alexandroupolis, northeastern Greece, it was revealed on Friday. During a regular inspection, officers found that two padlocks had been changed on one of the warehouses and that two 81-mm shells were unaccounted for. Unbalanced diet The consumer rights protection group EKPOIZO has told Skai it is getting an increasing number of complaints from visitors to slimming centers which are allegedly using illicit methods to recruit would-be slimmers. According to EKPOIZO, some customers have been persuaded to take out bank loans of betwen 20,000 euros and 60,000 to pay for slimming programs.