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Greece's Tsipras to chart post-bailout strategy in keynote speech

AFP logoAFP 9/8/2018
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is trying to bounce back from poor ratings exacerbated by Greece's worst fire tragedy in July in which nearly 100 people died near Athens © Provided by AFP Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is trying to bounce back from poor ratings exacerbated by Greece's worst fire tragedy in July in which nearly 100 people died near Athens

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to unveil his government's post-bailout economic strategy in a keynote speech on Saturday as thousands protested against a controversial planned name deal with neighbouring Macedonia.

Speaking at the annual Thessaloniki Trade Fair, where economic policy for the coming year is traditionally announced, Tsipras is expected to roll out a plan to scale back cuts to work benefits, enforced from 2010 onwards under the terms of Greece's three international bailouts.

"(It) is a historic moment... after eight whole years, we can now plan (and) envisage Greece as we wish it, within, of course, the fiscal frame we have decided," Tsipras said Saturday during a visit to the fair ahead of his keynote address.

"We are leaving behind recession and austerity," he said.

Over 7,000 people are demonstrating in the city in separate protests against the government's economic policies, and in opposition to a recent diplomatic agreement aiming to end a quarter-century name row with neighbouring Macedonia.

Thousands of police are deployed to keep protesters apart from each other, and at a safe distance from the fair venue.

Riot police fired tear gas at one group of demonstrators who threw flares and stones at them as Tsipras was about to begin his speech.

Opposition parties and unions dispute that the end of Greece's third bailout last month leaves much cause for celebration.

"(Greeks) believe that austerity is not over. All that has ended is the obligation of creditors to give the country money... and a tough tutelage remains," said Yiannis Panagopoulos, head of Greece's leading union GSEE.

Unemployment has fallen below 20 percent for the first time since 2011, but most Greeks continue to struggle under heavy taxation and drastically reduced income.

The 44-year-old Tsipras is trying to bounce back from poor ratings exacerbated by Greece's worst fire tragedy in July in which nearly 100 people died near Athens.

He reshuffled his cabinet last month, and last week indicated he would bolster labour safeguards and raise the minimum wage.

Elections are not scheduled for another year but there is speculation a snap ballot could be held by May.

The preliminary agreement with Macedonia in June, to be confirmed by a referendum by Skopje later this month and a Greek parliamentary vote early in 2019, will see the Balkan state renamed North Macedonia.

The tiny landlocked country had joined the United Nations in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece also has a northern province named Macedonia, the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom, and many Greeks fear the deal will officially enable Skopje to lay claim to their cultural heritage.

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