Greek Premier spoke at the 71st Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. Police fire teargas at rioting youths, 15 arrests
Thessaloniki.- The reforms policy is unwavering and non-negotiable, underlined Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis in his talks with the governing boards of the HELEXPO SA and TIF SA on Saturday morning, prior to his touring the facilities of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). The goal is for Greece to land the leading role and this goal is neither undermined nor bargained, argued the Prime Minister, heralding a dialogue on the reforms. Karamanlis is to meet the cityʼs productive bodies.
Furthermore, he delivered a weighty speech at the official dinner to be hosted by the administrative council of the TIF. While inaugurating the 71st TIF late on Friday, Karamanlis outlined the Government policy, referred to the major works undertaken in northern Greece and Thessaloniki in particular, and highlighted Greeceʼs geopolitical and strategic role in the international forum.
On the other hand, the countryʼs major union trades, namely the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), the Supreme Administration of Greek Civil Servants and Trade Unions (ADEDY), All Workers Militant Front (PAME) and several other unions and social bodies, organized massive street protests and marches for Saturday evening. Police fired teargas at rioting youths and rounded up 11 suspects for their participation in the Saturday disturbances. 15 more arrests were made on Saturday, after a demonstration of PAOK Thessaloniki soccer supporters.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis again emphasized wide-ranging reforms as the centerpiece of his government’s policy in inaugurating the 71st Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) Friday evening, days after extending an open invitation for a “strategic investor” to takeover the national telecoms utility and following the successful sale of a major state-run bank over the summer.
“In a world of insecurity and uncertainty, Greece is safeguarding a new course for stability, development and progress. We are facing, with boldness, the challenges arising around us, with progressive reforms and not with conservatism; with radical changes and not a stagnant management; with responsibility and not with cheap populism,” he said from the podium of the TIF convention centre. At the same time, he flatly dismissed opposition criticism of the high-profile reforms.
Moreover, days after a “mini summit” in Athens with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov to finalise the long-delayed construction of an oil pipeline connecting the Black Sea with the Aegean, Karamanlis referred to the creation of an “energy community” in SE Europe, noting that both the oil pipeline project as well as an under-construction natgas pipeline extended from Turkey reinforced regional cooperation and peace.
As far as the former is concerned, Karamanlis said the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline project is a “historic decision” that benefits all sides.
In touching on foreign policy, Karamanlis reiterated that Athens desires good-neighborly relations with Turkey and favours the latter’s harmonization with the EU’s economic and political acquis, along with the Union’s principles and values.
“Its (Turkey) absolute compliance with its commitments towards Europe is necessary, however, as is the case with every candidate-state, in each step of its accession course. The progress, therefore, is dependent on Turkey itself,” Karamanlis said.
The premier noted that Greece is decisively promoting its interests, responsibly and seriously, amid an international climate of insecurity, “Greece stands out as a factor of stability in the wider region”, he characteristically said.
Turning even farther to the east, Karamanlis referred to Greece’s positive role in the recent crisis in Lebanon, before focusing on the long-standing Cyprus issue, where he repeated that the goal is a “truly functional, viable European solution to be found as soon as possible”.
Additionally, he repeated standing Greek policy backing the European orientation of all the Balkan states, while referring to the creation of a unified financial, energy and trade zone throughout southeastern Europe.
“That’s why we are promoting the creation of a free trade zone that will include all of our northern neighbors. We’re also promoting the construction of major road and rail axes,” he added.
Returning to the domestic front and particularly to the area that hosts the TIF every year, Karamanlis outlined a series of ongoing projects and initiatives for the greater Thessaloniki area, following “15 years of unfulfilled promises,” as he charged.
Among others, the cited the completion of the entire Egnatia motorway project spanning the breadth of northern Greece by 2008, the Malliakos bypass on the main north-south highway as well as the commencement of two projects for metropolitan Thessaloniki that have been on the drawing boards for a decade and a half: a metro network and an underwater highway off the city’s seawall.
“Whatever we said will be done. Thessaloniki has passed from the words of the past to the works of the future,” he told an audience in the hall convention centre.
Meanwhile, Karamanlis also devoted a noteworthy part of his address to the development of the border Thrace province in the country’s extreme northeast, saying that the government was particularly interested in all of the province’s citizens.
“We’re developing a model and modern European minority policy; we’re demonstrating in practise that Greece is a land of equality for all before the law.”
He concluded his address by saying:
“Greece today is ensuring the conditions for a constant and balanced development based on the citizen; it is building an economy of opportunities guaranteeing a personal benefit for each and every citizen…” Karamanlis stressed.
“Every speech by Kostas Karamanlis is an attempt, an operation of deceit of the Greek people. The page turned by Karamanlis is a page backwards, towards conservatism and retrogression, towards a clientele rationale and the violent redistribution of income for the few and against the many,” stated PASOK Press spokesperson Nikos Athanasakis, referring to the PMʼs speech in Thessaloniki.
“His so-called reforms are a myth and he has to rename them as progressive, indicating the need to hide his real policy, which is for the few and his partyʼs followers, a policy against the few, a policy of social injustice, inequality and undermining of social cohesion,” said Athanasakis, adding “PASOKʼs vision and aim is for a fair society demanded by the country its people.”
Replying to the criticism, Government spokesman Thodoros Roussopoulos stated: “During PASOKʼs rule, Thessaloniki only heard big promises. During New Democracyʼs rule, it finally sees major works materialised.”
In an announcement, KKE described Greeceʼs participation in military operations, such as in Lebanon, as offensive and dangerous, while underlining: “The criteria for the works announced by the PM, even for the ones that should have been constructed years ago, are not the peopleʼs needs, but the capitalʼs profits. The employees will pay for their construction and their usage.”
In a written statement, SYN Political Secretariat member Panagiotis Lafazanis said: “In his speech, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis presented a crude attempt of deceit, while concealing the embellishment of an extreme, neo-liberal course supporting business interests against society.” What is more, he spoke of unfulfilled or incomplete promises that point to a vague future.
In his speech to productive bodies and in the context of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF), Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis announced the Governmentʼs intention for continuing reforms and structural interventions. What is more, he called on citizens to compile a common pact for reforms, and stated “conditions now are more mature than ever.”
The Prime Minister noted that the Governmentʼs pre-election commitments will be adhered to, while announcing raises in Agricultural Insurance Organisation (OGA) and Pensionersʼ Social Solidarity Supplement (EKAS) pensions and cuts in taxes by the new tax law. “We are preparing the next, major institutional reforms with a spirit of understanding and composure,” said Kostas Karamanlis referring to the Constitutional Review, changes in Local Self Government and the social security issue, while describing educational reforms as a priority.
The Prime Minister also referred to the major works advanced, while announcing the formation of the General Directorate of Fiscal Inspection for securing high-principled fiscal management and transferring the financial audit of declaration of assets to members of the administrations supervising crucial services.