NY Times — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday pledged millions of euros in relief for those hit hardest by Greece’s financial crisis and heralded a “turning point” for its battered economy, saying that relief was in sight as thousands of people protested against austerity.
In a speech at an annual trade fair in the northern port of Thessaloniki, an event where Greek prime ministers traditionally outline economic policies for the coming year, Mr. Tsipras said he was drafting a five-year plan for “a new Greece.”
“We are passing from the nadir of a seven-year recession to positive signs of growth,” he said, noting that economic growth had increased 0.2 percent in the second quarter of this year and that “all estimates point to positive growth in the second half of the year.”
In a bid to make good on promises to lighten the load on Greeks weary of austerity measures, Mr. Tsipras said that 246 million euros, or about $276 million, raised from a recent auction of private television licenses would go toward “the needs of the welfare state.”
He said the funds would be used to provide thousands more free meals at schools and additional kindergarten classes as well as to recruit 10,000 new doctors and nurses for state hospitals. He also said the revenue would pay for a program aimed at repatriating professionals who had left the country because of the crisis.
Mr. Tsipras said the government would be able to cut taxes in two years. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It is visible.”
Earlier on Saturday, about 15,000 protesters demonstrated in Thessaloniki against the continuing austerity programs while 5,000 police officers stood guard.
Many protesters held black balloons and banners saying “Relieve the debt” and “E.U. and I.M.F. out,” referring to the country’s international creditors. The bailouts were delivered in exchange for tax increases, pension cuts and other measures that have hurt the economy and left one in four Greeks unemployed.
Mr. Tsipras’s speech was not broadcast by private Greek television channels because employees were on strike to protest cutbacks and decreasing job security.
Mr. Tsipras was elected in January 2015 on a promise to end austerity measures. He reversed course that summer and signed Greece’s third bailout, ushering in a new round of budget cuts and belt-tightening.
The government hopes to soon start talks to lighten the country’s debt burden, which stands at around 175 percent of national output. But many European Union countries, led by Germany, are reluctant to offer major concessions, fearing a backlash from their voters.
The International Monetary Fund, which joined Greece’s first two bailouts, has insisted on debt relief to make Greece’s debt more sustainable before it signs onto the third program.