By Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Prime Minister Antonis Samaras reiterated a message of optimism on Saturday that Greece will soon overcome the debt crisis by sticking to a painful three-year austerity and reform drive which bears fruits, pledging economic recovery from 2014.
"Greece is turning page. After six years in recession Greek economy is becoming competitive again," he said in a keynote opening speech at the 78th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF) in the northern Greece city.
Addressing a gathering of businessmen, Samaras appeared confident that 2014 will be the year of recovery and Greece could reach pre-crisis levels of prosperity before 2020.
"Last year we were facing predictions of a Greek exit from the euro. This year there are forecasts of Greece's exit from recession...Our country is a bastion of stability across the euro zone and a volatile region," he added.
Outlining the government's economic policy in coming months, the Greek Premier called for adherence to the fiscal consolidation and structural reform program to slash deficits, attract investors and restore growth.
He stressed that no further austerity policies are on the cards, as trade unions and opposition parties forecast ahead of the new review of the Greek program later this month by auditors of International Monetary Fund and European Union lenders before the disbursement of the next rescue loans tranche.
On the contrary, Samaras promised some relief measures for low earners once Greece clinches a primary budget surplus by early 2014, as expected, acknowledging the heavy burden of salary cuts and tax hikes on citizens.
In regards to enterprises he repeated that his government's goal is the introduction of a unified tax rate of 15 percent to strengthen development.
The latest figures from the Greek Statistical Authority published this week show that Greece is on the right course. Improved tourism receipts slowed down recession in the second quarter this year to 3.8 percent rather than the 4.6 percent initially forecast a few months ago.
Buoyed by the result, the Greek leader voiced certainty on Saturday that Greek overall recession in 2013 would be smaller than forecast by troika creditors and the country will achieve a primary budget deficit, paving the way for further debt relief from creditors as agreed last year.
Samaras closed his address with a plea to citizens to show some more patience, as the country has come two- thirds of the way through the tough course set out three years ago under bailout deals with lenders and the program ends next spring.
However, reactions to the harsh economic policies introduced to counter the crisis remain strong. Amidst delays in the implementation of key policies and mounting pressure from lenders to Athens to meet all targets on time in exchange of further aid, Greek citizens fear that things will get worse before they get better.
Greece's umbrella labor unions of public and private sector employees and opposition parties plan to stage mass anti-austerity rallies in Thessaloniki later on Saturday, inaugurating a new round of strikes and protests this autumn.
The annual fair which this year runs to September 15, traditionally provides an opportunity for local and foreign entrepreneurs to show their products and services, for political leaders to present the state and prospects of the national economy and for trade unions to protest government policies.
The leader of the main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA party, Alexis Tsipras, is expected to be among protesters in Thessaloniki on Saturday evening, as approximately 4,000 police officers have been deployed across the city to keep order.