Prime Minister George Papandreou on Thursday called a meeting with leadership of the foreign and defence ministries to discuss the situation in Libya. During this he was also briefed on the operational capabilities of the NATO bases in Souda, Crete and Aktio, western Greece.

At the meeting were Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas, Alternate Defence Minister Panos Beglitis, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis (who visited both Egypt and Libya while coordinated operations for the evacuation of Greeks in those countries) and foreign ministry general secretary Ioannis Zeppos.

The prime minister, who returned to his office on Thursday after a four-day bout with flu, asked to be briefed on the latest diplomatic and military developments in Libya and the action taken by the Greek government to defend the country's interests.

Papandreou also chaired a meeting with his closest aides to prepare for a session of PASOK's National Council on Friday and a meeting of the Party of European Socialists (PES) presidency that will take place in Athens on Friday and Saturday.

Foreign ministry meeting on events in Libya

A meeting attended by diplomats, academics and a special envoy for the Middle East was held at the foreign ministry on Thursday to discuss events in Libya and the surrounding region, foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras announced.

Talks focused on more immediate issues, such as the need for humanitarian aid, migration pressures and Greek businesses in the area, but also plans for the 'day after' and a Greek proposal for a 'Democracy Centre' to help countries in the region shape democratic societies.

The meeting decided to set up a working group that will submit its proposals and conclusions to the foreign minister before the EU General Affairs Council on March 10, which will pave the way for an EU summit.

Delavekouras noted that Greek business activity in the three countries of the region came to one billion dollars while he stressed the ministry's satisfaction with the successful operation to evacuate Greeks from five points in Libya.

Concerning the UN Security Council's decision to impose sanctions, Delavekouras said this was very important since it "acts as a legitimising factor that makes it easier to determine the next steps".

Delavekouras underlined that the international community had to remain united and stressed that a humanitarian disaster was currently underway in Libya, one that was being constantly aggravated by the constant use of force.

"The violence has to stop immediately. The attempt to control popular movements is wrong," he underlined.

Defence minister on events in Libya

Greece is carefully monitoring all actions by countries in the Middle East and North Africa, National Defence Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on Thursday. He noted that the situation was still unfolding and levels of stabilisation were different in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya.

Venizelos was replying to a question made by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis, who had asked whether the base at Souda in Crete might be used to launch an international or NATO operation in the region and whether Greece would ensure that there was at least one Greek officer on the base.

The minister pointed out that any international initiative in the region would begin at the United Nations Security Council, while noting that setting up a 'no fly' zone over Libya would take at least 14 days.

He noted that a Greek-flagged frigate was now stationed in international waters off the coast of Libya and interchanging with another frigate in Crete in the framework of action taken by NATO, while noting that the "appearance of an independent and distinct European voice" would not be easy.

The minister also pointed out that there was always a Greek officer at Souda, who controlled the movement of aircraft, ships and personnel, and he said it was unlikely that the base would be used to launch an operation given that there were the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy.

Chinese minister expresses appreciation over evacuation efforts

Chinese Transport Minister Li Shenglin, in a letter of appreciation to Marine Affairs, Islands & Fisheries Minister Yiannis Diamantidis, expressed the sincere gratitude and respect of the Chinese government and people for Greece's efforts in the evacuation of several thousand Chinese nationals from Libya.

"With the strong support of the Greek government, and, mainly under your supervision, more than 13,000 Chinese have reached Crete so far," Li stressed.

Additionally, he praised the minister's recent visit to China, noting that the practical cooperation between the two ministries will lead to more important achievements, while he expressed a hope that the two sides will jointly promote cooperation in the shipping sector.